The end of the lifting era – for a while, at least.

2019 marks the stoppage of life at the gym at lunch hour.

I’d skipped two weeks earlier in the year, when attending to my grandmother’s funeral. Upon returning home, the lassitude persisted, and I missed another week – this really stank, in my mind. The only times I’d ever missed that many days, was during my annual US trips, and even then I’d made sure to hit the gym after two weeks.

Another thing that really got me though, was the lack of feedback I’d been getting from my trainer. Granted, I was paying for a training regime and diet plan more than anything else, but the strange absence of a “hey mate, noticed you hadn’t done any sessions in three weeks, is everything fine?” just felt, empty. It felt like I was paying money every week for literally nothing, and basically paying about three hundred bucks a month to get myself measured, have a short chat to make myself feel better, and get an updated meal/training plan. So, to make matters easier, I cut the subscription right there. There’s no point in continuing something if the dissonance isn’t going away.

I also took the opportunity to cut my gym fees.

There were a couple of reasons (read: excuses) that went into this decision. V wasn’t having the greatest time at work, and I was subconsciously thinking about ways to reduce expenditure, and every cent counted. So little things like replanning my meal prep budget (less meat, more beans) to cutting monthly overheads – I was just getting ready in case shit did hit the fan.

Also, I’d never really liked compound movements, even though they’re the most efficient workouts by far. I would get ankle and knee soreness from squatting whenever I began pushing heavy. Deadlifts weren’t too bad, but I would often have some faint paranoia of fucking it up and getting a slipped disc or two lingering in the back of my mind.

And to be honest, I’d always liked bodyweight exercises more, and had been trending that way before I began training with Tyson a couple of years back.

My current theory: TUT (time under tension) with bodyweight should achieve hypertrophy. Also, work on core! Get stronger.

So, back it is. I’m focusing on supersets of:

  • slow pushups (3120) x15
  • slow chinups (2030) x5
  • resistance band OHP x10
  • pushups on bosu ball x 5

And on the alternate days, core training in the form of planks, suspended seats on pushup bars, pistol squats on bosu ball, and slow stretches with a wooden stick, and also some yoga.

Something I really miss though – a dips station. John’s recommended diamond pushups, I’ve seen something else called the triceps bow that’s a serious PITA, these will be incorporated.

It doesn’t feel like I’ve lost much mass, still hovering at 71.5kg right now. And I don’t look too different. We’ll see how this works out.

Bulking, macros and intermittent fasting

Bulking has been the main goal ever since I started gym, and I succeeded in gaining 12kg, from 63kg in Jan ’16, to 75kg in Feb ’16 (guesstimate).

Problem: it wasn’t 12kg of muscle, and I was gaining this noticeable band of fat. Skinny fat is real, unfortunately. I still had my abs, but this roll of lard was annoying as hell; it made me feel like I was doing something wrong on diet. You know it’s wrong when your daughter points at your belly and says Daddy, there’s a doughnut!

That was when I started looking at the idea of watching my macros. I created a simple spreadsheet, planned my meals, calculated the daily calories, and kept to it for two weeks. Sure enough, the fats disappeared, my belly flattened out, the daughter exclaimed my doughnut’s gone. It’s pretty magical, I have to say. OTOH, it was a lot of abstinence. I stuck to water, cleaned my diet pretty thoroughly and eliminated a whole bunch of sugar. The idea was to go onto a high fat, high protein, low carb routine.

It’s week five since I started planning my macros on 20 Mar. I’m thinking it might be time to put the pounds back on. This time though, I’m trying intermittent fasting (IF) out. The theory here, is that you consume the same amount of calories/macros in a day, but restrict it within the lunch-dinner window (12pm – 8pm).  Yes, breakfast doesn’t exist. Yes, I do get hungry, and it’s a bitch.

I first got the idea about IF from a Terry Crews interview, and figured it’s worth trying out. Like what the hell, if it doesn’t work after three months I’ll just tweak my diet, no harm done. Worst case? I get skinny fat again; I’ve been there before, I can take it.

Self note: right now, I’m at 69/70kg. The aim is to get back to 73/74kg in three months, but not pack on the fats again. Slow gains, lean gains. I need to start packing the diet back on again, which means more peanut butter and protein shakes during the day. I’ll need to plan and not wing it though, need to make time out for it.

The next challenge (aside from lean gains) is to see how I cope with planning my own workout sessions. Having a trainer is great, but I’m coming to the end of my package and it’s time to figure out how I plan this. I’m thinking a paper notebook more than a spreadsheet, it might be easier to jot my routine/reps/fails at the gym that way. The good thing is, I’ve been diligently asking questions about the training I’ve been doing all these months. For example, why does exercise A go with B in a superset? Why am I doing barbell instead of dumbbell for this exercise? Which muscle groups is this exercise hitting? It’s been pretty fun learning about these, and I’ve written up some test workouts for NZ since a month or so ago, just for warmups.


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.

Basketball: Time to shape up!

So things are picking up and some of the guys (along with me of course) are forming a team to join up on a local basketball league. That’s a new phase of my life starting right there woohoooooo! Never been in a league before lots of fun things ahead I’d say. It would’ve been better if all our regular group people could join in the team but not everyone’s keen on playing in a league (prob due to dirty stuff people pull) but I’m counting my blessings and just feeling happy that at this stage of life, I’m still healthy and able to play ball the way I like.

Wanted to get 14 as my jersey number originally (after Hisashi Mitsui in SLAMDUNK), but Hin wants it too so I’ll be taking 11 instead. Yes yes cue all the puking people, I’m a zillion miles off from what Kaede Rukawa looks like but suck it up!

One of the things about the team though, it looks like I’d have to end up playing C, a position I thought I had left behind in Singapore ages ago. Oh well, at least I’ve played the spot before and if someone else comes along I’m more than happy to step aside and let him do the honours instead. My main objective will be to maintain the zone, keep idiots from cutting in along the baseline, plug the holes, box out and get the rebound – the other guys can have all the pleasure of scoring heh heh.

So my physique has significantly deteriorated in these years of staying in Melbourne, all the muscle gained from those fun days at the gym with XQ have bade their farewells one by one. Time to restart the training program and kick my ass back into shape! Primary focus this time will be on triceps, back and shoulders; I realised that my triceps are consistently the first muscle group to feel soreness after basketball, especially when banging it down in the paint with a bigger guy.

Checked my 1RM yesterday and I’m about 15kg when doing a seated triceps press. That’s a good starting point to build on for now, I think I’ll focus on sets of 8-10 reps at about 60% RM and see how things go. Ordered the creatine and WPI, free shaker bottle and the gear is mostly set. Have to feel lucky that I have a gym right downstairs really, think I’m really gonna miss it when I move out.

Another thing to work out, much as I hate this – running. Hello treadmill, let’s hope I don’t faint from boredom.

Random thoughts on a soak

So I decided that today’s a good day to have a soak in the jacuzzi, and headed downstairs after dinner; Kindle in hand, intending to see if I could actually read in mid-boil. The Bourne Ultimatum is just so good, and so different from what the movie was.

And came across the pool before the jacuzzi. HMMMMMMM.

And the pool looked like a good idea; I hadn’t swum in months.
One of those ideas that seem good at the start, and not-so-good later on. Not-so-good flashed across the mind in neon flashing yellow soon as I felt the water’s chilly embrace. FCUKKKKKKKKING COLD but shut up and take it like a man please. Started to swim and it didn’t seem that bad after a couple of laps, my core was even starting to feel warm. Feels really great getting into the stroke again, I should do this more often. Then the muscles started complaining very loudly, seeing as they hadn’t been used in that fashion since summer. So I stopped after ten laps, still kinda cold.

And hit those two green buttons, and hopped into the jacuzzi. It was HOT! Ice and fire treatment after the frosty swim. Jacuzzi sessions alone are really great; you can just ignore everything else and think about nothing in particular, just stare at nothing in particular and let your mind wander.

(Which reminds me, I really need to get a whiteboard in my bathroom next time; many random thoughts pop up during a hot shower that I so often forget right afterwards.)

And it felt good to just sit there, and soak up the peace and quiet.

And the fading warmth of the waters.

I think I really should do this more often.

Random: How the Alexander Technique parallels keinism in swimming.

I attended an introductory workshop on the Alexander Technique (wiki link) on a gloomy Sunday morning last weekend, and it was actually more interesting than I thought.

In summary, it is a reflective school of thought by a fellow named F.M. Alexander (hence the name), on how you could best improve your everyday movements to minimise unnecessary strain to the body and hence avoid longterm aches and pains.


My coach for the session gave a startlingly simple example: the chair. All of us use the chair in our everyday life, but the back of the chair is actually a crutch that inhibits muscular development of the back. It was proven all too easily when everyone in the group sat straight in their chairs without leaning on the back of the chair for about ten minutes, and promptly began to feel discomfort (me included). Apparently, our backs were not as strong as we thought.

There’s also the obvious defect that chairs are all of the same height for easy production and storage, which does not facilitate comfort for everyone obviously. A short person ends up dangling, and a tall fellow tucks his legs under the chair. Therefore, the chair is also a contributor of discomfort and strain on the body.

Summary: chairs should have straight backs with no padding (because padding = bad support), and adjustable heights to suit different individuals.

Change of postures and physical habits cultivated with years of practice take time, and this is no exception. The Alexander Technique focuses on improvement over an extended period of time, and is not any wonder therapy by any stretch of imagination. And yes, it’s applicable to things like walking, sitting, standing and even singing or speaking.

A quote from the founder that the coach brought up, which I found enlightening:

“You cannot change something by repeating that which you have.”
– St. Dunstan’s Lecture 1949 (link)

Truly, change requires change itself.

This is slightly off-topic, but I found the Alexander Technique teaching similar to what I think about when swimming. The indoor pool at my apartment is about 20m in length, and swimming 1km (my usual distance covered) required 50 laps, which kind of made me feel like a goldfish bumping about in the glass bowl.

Therefore, I switched objectives instead.

  • Being absolutely horrible at the front crawl, I made it a point to observe my motions and subsequently correct them. Swimming after all, is just a set of movements made to move through water with maximum efficiency. Thereafter, I sought to experiment and improve my stroke, and I’m proud to say that the amount of effort for stroking is being reduced.
  • I paid a great deal of attention to every stroke. Similar to how you clench your abs on a situp to achieve a greater workout, I clenched the various muscle groups on every stroke. Tiring, to say the least. I swim less, but feel equally (if not more) tired.

*Note: all of the above happened before I went for the workshop.

(Back to the Alexander Technique.)


There’s also a position called the semi-supine, which is supposed to help relax your muscles and spine after you rest in the recommended position for 10-15 minutes. I tried it in the workshop, and surprisingly it did feel good. It doesn’t require much other than a quiet environment, the floor and a couple of books so you should try it too if you’re interested.

All in all, very interesting. I was tempted to sign up with the five week course after that, but the sessions begin at 7pm on Tuesdays, which is a little tough because I get to the city at 720pm on average. Oh well, self-improvement for now.

I’m currently trying (note on trying) to remind myself to sit straighter everyday, and to observe my everyday movements to see if there are unconscious habits that I should improve on. Granted it would be easier with a mirror and a personal coach, but I’ll take it by myself first to see how things go.

An update on recent reality

It’s going to be the Queen’s birthday next week, and that’s a public holiday around here: the last public holiday in a long, long while. A long countdown to the next one, and that’s Melbourne Cup in November (5 months Z).

I have been pretty occupied with mundane (aka boring) matters recently. Stuff like bashing up people on Virtua Fighter 5 (gogo Jacky!), reading comics online (绝代双骄 is still ongoing, in excess of 500 issues: awesomely unbelieveably long), re-training Cookie (she seems to have unlearned her potty training of all things!).. and clearing my daily work.

Work has been pretty good, but I fried a mobo by accident yesterday, which ended up in a resulting purchase of mobo+proc+RAM+casing (the original PC was pretty old already). The following morning, we discovered that THREE optical drives were fried as well. I was pretty skeptical initially, but reluctantly agreed with the initial prognosis after I tested the drives out on three separate computers.

Moral of the story: static electricity is dangerous for DIY-ing hardware, especially in winter.

I have been keeping up on a almost-daily regime of indoor exercise (not what you were thinking of); 2 sets of 20 slow narrow pushups + 35 crunches, and 1 set of slow wide pushups + 40 crunches. No cardio, because the treadmill downstairs is either crowded or spoilt, and the most important reason of all..

I have deferred an upcoming ICT, and successfully applied for an exit permit up till June 2011. Goodbye IPPT, goodbye ICT!

Life is pretty good : )

More photographic updates when I actually take them, I haven’t been in the mood recently.