The road back to fitness

I have to admit, health and fitness have largely taken a backseat in the past couple of years, and a large part of my excuse was that I didn’t have the time/energy/motivation.

This time round, I’m really determined to make it work. 2016 is the year I renew my focus on health and fitness, and I’m pleased to say that it’s been positive so far.

Disclaimer: what follows will be an extensive log of my gym routine. YMMV, what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you. Feedback is welcome.

Eye on the prize

First off, I had to lock myself in on a goal, or rather two goals.

Primary goal: Gain mass. I had my eye on gaining weight, to something ranging from 72kg to 75kg. This is a projected gain from 9kg to 12kg.

Secondary goal: Strength gain. This was a rather vague goal at first, but it solidified later into this goal. Man, these exercises are crazy!

Basic decisions to get things started

Heaps of decisions made in making things work, which included:

Where: I decided on Zap Fitness. It was no-frills, but I didn’t need extra shit like a sauna or HIIT classes. It checked my boxes: it was affordable ($70 a month for 24/7 access), and convenient – walking distance from the workplace, and a quick drive from home.

How: I was looking everywhere for a routine to start off with, but ultimately went with StrongLifts 5×5, despite the fact that I’d never done compound exercises like squats/deadlifts/barbell rows before. The app seriously sold me, the UX is fantastic.

When: It was more than obvious that the logical gym window would be during the workday, three times a week. I locked it down as Mon/Wed/Fri (to conserve my weekends), and to start my routine before lunch hour.

It was more to make sure I grabbed one of the two available quarter racks for my workout, before anyone else did. Queuing for a rack, seriously sucks.

Also, the timings would not disrupt my nights and take time away from the family or from the website – ideal.

Home equipment: I got a foam roller, and also a weighing scale – both very important tools.

#feedthebeast, also known as food intake

This is obviously an area of emphasis. Fail to feed the body, and you fail to get results.

My strategy basically revolved around two things.

Getting enough calories

Part 1: Dextrose monohydrate

Sylvester was kind enough to point out the need for extra calories. I started off with mass gainers, but he had a better answer: dextrose monohydrate. It’s basically sugar, that gets easily broken down into calories. If you want to win the calories war, this is it.

And the best part is, mass gainers are basically a combination of whey protein and dextrose monohydrate anyway. It makes more sense for you to buy the two separately, and mix your own proportions to your own liking.

Obtaining the dextrose monohydrate cheaply, took a while. Simon pointed me towards a microbrewery in the area, and I lugged a 25kg sack home that same week, which I shared with the brother. Yep, you can tell I’m really determined to make it work.

Part 2: Eating enough

The second part of getting enough calories obviously, comes from the simple fact of eating your damn meals. I made adjustments along the way, and a typical day’s eating looks like this. Have to give a S/O to Sathish here for a conversation I had with him on his daily diet, it helped develop the blueprint here.

I have to put this out there though. My mentality on eating is what I call functional eating. I eat because it’s necessary, not because I think of every meal as a feast. Most of these meals are easy to make, relatively light on the tastebuds and take minimal time to consume. Yes, I’m lazy.

You can imagine this not working for folks who get easily bored and desire variety.

  1. Breakfast: two eggs (scrambled, sunny side, whatever) at minimum, sometimes three. If hungry, add bacon strips and/or bread with cottage cheese. Add a muesli bar on the drive into work.
  2. Mid-morning: banana, along with protein shake. One scoop of WPC on non-workout days, add creatine on workout days.
  3. Lunch: sandwich with cottage cheese, avocado spread and ham, with a protein shake on workout days. I usually eat out on rest days, and try to consume some sort of meat (beef, chicken) without restricting myself too much.
  4. Mid-afternoon: another sandwich (same as above). Add a banana or apple to chomp on, if still feeling hungry.
  5. Dinner: whatever the family’s having. It varies from pasta to rice, accompanied with stew or stir-fried vegetables, salmon, list goes on. Important for me to have plenty of meat.
  6. Pre-bedtime drink: protein shake. Two scoops of WPC, a scoop of dextrose monohydrate, and two tablespoons of Milo (just to make the taste better). Add milk, not water, and shake. Bottoms up!

I’m not exactly counting my macros. Bt judging from results, I’m covering my bases and gaining weight without looking like a slob so this works for me.

Sylvester has also suggested microwaved chicken breasts, but I’m holding that as a thought for now – it’s likely going to replace WPC if I wean myself off it.

Getting enough protein

Fail to supply enough protein, and your muscles fail to repair/grow. I opted for whey protein concentrate (WPC) over whey protein isolate (WPI) because it was cheaper.

I order my WPC from Venom Protein, because prices look good and delivery’s free.

Milk also comes into the equation here, but I seriously could not stomach the idea of doing GOMAD (Gallon Of Milk A Day) or LOMAD (Liter Of Milk A Day). Sorry guys, just can’t do it.

Exercise routine and progress notes

Tip: Get a foam roller

If you do not want to get DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and stagger around like a SOB every post-workout day, get a foam roller and roll the hell out of your muscles. It really helps.

The routine

As mentioned earlier, I started with SL 5×5, and added assistance exercises: planks on one day, chinups on the other.

Planks = core training, love that stuff. I always start feeling like a spasming limp noodle at the 40 second mark, even after all this time.

Chinups on the other hand, kill me. I have never, ever completed 3 sets of 10 reps, and the record still stands.

Props to Alan Thrall for his excellent instructional YouTube videos, I’ve watched them countless times. Practiced my form at home, took videos of myself in the first two weeks of working out, and did as much as I could to make sure I wasn’t fucking my body up somehow.

January to March

It took a while to get my form functional (I won’t even call them right), but I got into the thick of things pretty quick without suffering pains. My workout weights were ramping up, everything was rolling along, I was gaining an average of 2kg every month.

And then the fun part came along.

I got hit by a flu bug in March that had me feverish and incapacitated for the better part of two weeks. Thanks kids, I really needed that.

March to present

I obviously lost my gains (both strength and weight) post-illness. What was interesting, was that I started getting ankle soreness when doing squats. It confused the hell out of me, and I was checking my form to see what I was doing differently. The answer? I couldn’t tell.

It got to the point where I felt I shouldn’t be doing squats, for the sake of my ankles. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure why I needed to squat. It was a great starting point, but I could gain weight without squatting.

So I left squats on the backburner, and dropped my deadlifts too. My grip just wasn’t strong enough to progress at the rate SL 5×5 recommended, so I stuck my guns to one set of 1×5 60kg, period.

At the same time, I tweaked the assistance exercises to compensate (sort of) for the lack of squats, and to increase my focus on bodyweight exercises (BWE).

  • Workout A, I added weighted pushups (3 x 10 with a 2.5kg plate). This later became dips, as I felt dips were more effective.
  • Workout B, I added barbell curls.

Stat check

It’s at the four month mark now, and:

  • I’m benching 50kg, with
  • an overhead shoulder press of 30kg.
  • My barbell row is 40kg.
  • I’m completing my first set of 10 chinups and failing reps on the other two.
  • I can do a first set of 10 dips, and wilt after.

More importantly? I’m at the tip of hitting 70kg, for the first time in my life. It’s rather exciting, to say the least. I started the year at 63kg, and have gained almost 7kg in muscle. I’m saying muscle because my abs have gained definition, which points to the body’s fat% dropping. My shoulders are broader (new clothes needed soon) but I’m happy with the results so far.

It’s a fun journey, and I’m looking forward to consistent improvement as the days go by.

Miscellaneous lifestyle tweaks

Vitamin supplements

Cod liver oil: I came across this while reading Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Body. The book’s got mixed reviews, ranging from positive ratings to flaming outrage at the opinions presented inside, but I found it a fascinating read. The obvious disclaimer here: read everything with a pinch of salt and take your own counsel, do your research etc.

Anyway. Fermented cod liver oil was suggested as a means of increasing testosterone, along with vitamin-rich butter fat. I opted to go with cod liver oil (not fermented), as a means of improving my vitamin A and D intake.

Ginkgo biloba: Improving overall blood circulation, memory. This interesting post on TRP that may, or may not have been a contributing factor in my decision-making process.

Cold showers

This was also suggested in The Four Hour body, more as a means of increasing lean muscle mass and increasing testosterone production. In my eyes: testosterone increase = growth hormone = muscle gain.

Quoted: “Take 5-10 minute cold showers before breakfast and/or before bed. Use hot water for 1-2 minutes over the entire body …  … Expect this to wake you up like a foghorn.”

I’m slowing working my way up to the 5-10 minute shower. It’s basically 2-3 minutes of hot water, and 3 minutes of ice cold water at this point. I can never get used to the initial thirty seconds of freezing shock. V thinks I’m mad for doing this before bedtime, but it’s exhilarating and energizing, to say the least.

And surprisingly, it doesn’t get in the way of me falling asleep. I guess that’s what parents are really good at.

Getting enough sleep

Pretty much a no-brainer. Run short on rest, and your body doesn’t get enough time to repair/grow. I do my best to get into bed by 11pm these days, and fall asleep before midnight.

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