Introducing Workout Tips

Previously, I posted my series on twenty changes that I made that made me healthier and led to my weight loss. I’ve decided that, with summer coming up, I would start to focus specifically on my workout tips. Let me give you some background.

I was a very active child, but with the advent of the Nintendo Entertainment System that all stopped. I went from active to sedentary very quickly. However, in high school I decided that being fat and slothful wasn’t the way to popularity, so I started lifting weights and joined the football team. Football and training for it kept me in good shape, but I didn’t exactly love football. So, after high school, I lost a lot of my motivation for working out.

In college I was only a short walk away from a gorgeous state of the art workout facility. Yet, I rarely used it. Classwork and other stuff kept me busy and one of my biggest regrets is being near my heaviest weights during my college years. It seems to be fairly common since the freshman 15 (pounds) is a stereotype. I had the freshman 15, the sophomore 20, etc. My senior year, I finally got motivated and lost a lot of weight and got fit and was thin throughout most of graduate school. Still, after I got into the “real world” I let myself go again and was back on the yo yo train. It’s not a pleasant ride!

In  2005, I started at my current job as a high school teacher. Although teenagers are gaining weight at dangerous levels, by and large they are thinner and fitter than the average population. You gotta love youth! This was a constant reminder of my own fitness shortcomings and also how far I’d fallen (I had been in great shape in high school and grad school). On August 6th 2007, I decided I had had enough. I was done with the yo yo dieting and tired of being the overweight guy. A switch went off in my head and I started eating healthily and working out. And, I haven’t looked back nearly two years later.

That time has been successful, but also filled with hits and misses, especially with fitness. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what worked for me. For the next couple of weeks, I am going to share my fitness tips on this blog to help others follow in my path. I went from a soft 169 pounds to 150 pounds of almost solid muscle. I’m not saying this to brag, just to let you know that I do have some wisdom to share. Don’t look back in five years and regret that you wasted a large chunk of your life by being fat and unhealthy. Start getting fit today. Check back here to get practical tips.

Family Matters

My brother David and I have struggled with weight since we began puberty. It is surely genetic in some way since my paternal grandpa struggled with weight, my uncle (also dad’s side) died of morbid obesity, and my dad has been very overweight since he was around my age. I fear that my beautiful baby daughter will also struggle, even though her mother has always been thin.  Of course, my grandpa and dad’s wives were/are thin. At least I feel that I am equipped to help my daughter (and my step daughter) make healthy choices. For example, they will never have pop in their home, which is at least a head start in a healthy life.

However, I am very worried about my dad. He is a great guy and I love him a lot. I want him around to watch my kids grow up. He loves his grandkids very much and I know he wouldn’t want to miss out on their lives. And yet, his weight puts him at great risk of not only an early death, but also a declining quality of life. My brother, mom, and I have struggled about how to handle the situation. We sat down and explained how we care about him and want him to lose weight. We also vowed to help him. We bought him a copy of the You On A Diet book and are reading it along with him. Still, we’ve done much of this before and hope this time something will stick. It’s hard watching family members you love struggle with weight, especially when you have been there and struggle yourself.

Change #20: Get Others Involved

If you want to be successful in anything, it’s always helpful to have other people involved. This is especially important with weight loss because family and friends who do not share your health vision can sabotage your own efforts. Sadly, if you decide to get healthy, you may even find that friends may get jealous and purposefully try to get you to stumble, especially if you used to engage in unhealthy behaviors with them. The best way to get others on board with your new healthy lifestyle is to get them involved. Invite family and friends to exercise with you, suggest a restaurant where everyone can get healthy foods, invite them over and cook a great tasting and healthy recipe for them. Just remember that people need to make their own choices and you can’t (and shouldn’t) browbeat, guilt trip, or nag anyone into good health. And don’t be snobby and judgmental about your own fitness and health; remember the struggle and pain you probably endured to get fit.

This concludes my series of posts on my 20 life changes as I went from fat to fit. I’ve been eating well and exercising for a year now and look and feel great! With God’s help, I hope to live this way for the rest of what I pray is a long healthy life. I hope these tips were helpful.

Change #19: Take a Break Occasionally

I always emphasize to people who ask about my weight loss that for me it wasn’t a diet. It was a lifestyle change geared towards health, not necessarily being thin. Granted, eating healthily and working out tend to lead to thinness, but certainly not being model thin, which is often unhealthy. Why am I mentioning this? It’s because a healthy lifestyle will always have room for sweets and higher calorie foods as well as days off from exercising. For example, denying yourself any sweet food, for your entire life, is unrealistic. What matters is that you can put the bad foods in perspective and have them occasionally. I used to go days without sweet foods and then get a hankering and “binge.” Then the cycle would start over. During the last year when I finally got fit, I ate sweets, like cookies or pie, several days a week…in moderation. Guess what? The binges were a thing of past and I lost weight…and have kept it off. So, enjoy the foods you love, just in moderation and always as a part of an overall healthy diet and fitness plan. If you truly are focused on your goal and supported by friends and family, you will be able to find a place for those treats every now and then.

Change #18: Crank Up the Music

If you want to have a longer, more effective workout, then use a portable music device. I remember reading several years ago that people who listened to music while exercising were able to work out for seven minutes longer than those who listened to no music. I personally find that a driving beat in a musical style I enjoy can get me pumped up to not only start working out on days when I feel lazy, but also to increase my intensity and workout length. With some mp3 players selling for as low as 30 dollars, there is no excuse not to use this workout enhancer. Here are many of the groups on my mp3 player:

The Killers
Flogging Molly
My Chemical Romance
The Drams

Change #17: Supplements

I’ve been into vitamins and other supplements for years, but I had fallen into a habit of taking them only occasionally, which given my poor diet (I literally ate sausage pasta for dinner every night for several months), meant that I was probably not reaching optimal levels of certain nutrients if not outright deficient! That changed on August 6th when I decided to get serious about my health. Other than purposefully taken “vitamin holidays” I’ve always taken my supplements. And, I’ve noticed differences in my general health too. For example, in spite of vigorous workouts 6-7 days a week, I never have experienced joint pain. I attribute that to taking Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM. If I need a little mental boost, especially before workouts, I take an Acetyl L-Carnitine. I take Green Tea to help my metabolism too. I take many other supplements, all of which supply something that I need. I would recommend researching supplements very carefully and then making a decision about which ones to take with your doctor. For a good summary of supplements, including current studies and balanced conclusions, please visit the website of Dr. Ray Sahelian.

Change #16: Knowledge is Power

Read, learn, and study about health and fitness topics as much as you can. Here are a few things every person trying to get healthy should learn:

1. Sort out the weight loss and fitness myths from the facts– For example, did you know that doing 100 situps will not burn fat on your abs? The technique of working a particular muscle group, called “spot training” does not necessarily mean you will burn fat on that muscle group. Cardio and negative calorie intake will melt the flab. Also, even though I am a self confessed supplement junkie, I’ll let you in on a secret: there is NO supplement that will miraculously make you lose weight. Some may help, but don’t waste your money on 99% of diet vitamins which are often inexpensive, common, ingredients (like green tea) inflated in price.

2. Learn the correct nutritional content of food– My brother and I, as preteens, were interested in losing weight. We had read that fish is low in fat. So, we went out to Long John Silver’s and ordered a 3 piece deep fried fish dinner and congratulated ourselves on eating low fat. No joke! With the internet there is no excuse not to do the research. It’s especially important to check the calorie content of foods when eating out, although companies at sit-down family restaurants are sometimes less than forthcoming.

3. Learn good fitness techniques– In order to maximize fitness and weight loss and minimize injury, it’s vital to learn proper technique, from a book, a friend, or ideally a trainer.

4. Know thyself– This is not something you can get from a book, but is nonetheless vital. You must identify why you overeat, what motivates you, what triggers your eating binges, what keeps you from the gym, etc. etc. etc. and then get a plan to overcome them that becomes second nature.

David has compiled a great list of books on the right side of this blog. While all are not health related, the ones that are will get you started.

Change #15: Use Your Legs

Being able to walk is truly a gift and yet so many of us take it for granted. If you can walk, do it (even if it’s on a treadmill at the YMCA; my previous post when I “complained” about walkers on machines was meant tongue in cheek). Instead of driving around wasting gas looking for a parking space, park out and walk. Walk to the store if it’s close and safe. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. When you walk to lunch at work, take the long way. Basically, if you can walk safely and it’s a reasonable distance, then do it! It is free and beneficial. While at grad school at Emory University, David and I would walk the 15 minutes one way to class everyday. We burned hundreds of extra calories and saved the 750 dollar parking fee as well as hundreds of dollars in gas a year. Get a pedometer to calculate how many steps and miles you’re adding to your workout. Walking with friends/family is also a good way to bond with others and get support in your weight loss goals. While I don’t advocate walking being your only workout all the time (although it is a good way for sedentary people to get started exercising), it certainly adds to the calories burned and general activity level.

Change #14: Make Your Workouts Count

I’ve often seen people use the fitness room at the YMCA to walk on the treadmill, which I always kind of thought was a little pointless since they could just walk outside without paying for the gym. Granted, I think about this the most when people (including me) are waiting to use them! Although it’s important to start off slowly and work at your level, it’s also necessary to work out hard, not too hard to injure or hurt yourself, but enough to work up a good sweat and get out of breath. Otherwise, what really is the point of going to the gym? A recent Time magazine article seems to confirm this. It’s called the Myth of Moderate Exercise and is worth reading.

Change #12: Get to A Gym

I once overheard an older gentleman at the YMCA telling his friend who was slacking on going to the gym that he had never left the gym feeling worse than when he entered and in fact most times felt better. I thought about it and totally agree. With the exception of the odd days where I may have slightly injured myself or was sick, I always left the YMCA feeling better. I always had more energy (in spite of sometimes hour long workouts), better mental clarity, and greater self esteem. If only I had the energy and mental clarity to get motivated to go to the gym! But, knowing that I always look and feel better goes a long way towards helping me get my butt in the car and drive the 5 minutes to go to the YMCA.