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.

When 1.7% is a reason to celebrate

You know you’re really mad on statistics, when you get excited because the Facebook page’s total likes dropped 0.03% from last week, but yet the amount of Australian fans increased by a solid 1.7%. WAY TO GO!

And yes, I’ve been tracking our progress (geographic breakdown, week over week performance) on a spreadsheet.

I think I need a break. Either that, or a brain transplant.

Taking it to the next level.

Life is about learning, and growing. It’s about making mistakes, recognising that we fcuked up really bad, and knowing we shouldn’t be repeating the same dumb actions anytime soon. Not only do we learn at work, I believe it’s essential, even critical that we learn from every aspect of our lives.

Knowledge is the key to being a better person, and only by keeping an open mind and retaining that willingness –perhaps even an active hunger– to learn, can we get better.

Enough of the life philosophy, we’ll shelf that for a bit. I’m writing tonight because things have come a long way for this latest project in the past months, back when it was just an idea being tossed around on Facebook and emails, to the brand it is fast becoming.

What the hell am I talking about? Namely, the birth of an NBA opinion site known as The Pick and Roll. From a personal perspective, this is becoming an ideal marriage between my two passions, writing and basketball. Add the years of experience from messing around with WordPress, general knowhow with PHP/HTML/CSS, and a stint of writing for other sites since last year, and everything just seems to click into place. Nothing you learn is ever wasted, and this is fast becoming reality.

Granted the site isn’t even launched at this point, but I have high hopes for the site, and am deeply thankful to everyone who has been involved in it so far. The level of enthusiasm and belief in the vision has been mindblowing so far, and should it do well in the days ahead, a great deal of credit will go to everyone at #TeamPnR.

The people factor

What is my role in it though? I sum it up in three words: getting shit done. Uncouth as it sounds, that’s more or less my forte.

Half my time is spent vetting writer applications, proofreading drafts and to stay accessible to writers who need their concerns addressed. As it is with everything else, open communication is the key.

One is limited by one’s resources at hand however, and so the plan is to train up dedicated editors who will be able to form a synergistic relationship with their writers and produce quality work together. As a writer, it is often all too easy to get caught up in pride and believe one’s work is perfect, but sadly reality is often otherwise. Rather than being grammar Nazis, I firmly believe editors are there to offer guidance, support and improve the level of writing.

To quote what I tweeted the other time:

I also spend time talking to potential partners/merchants who would be keen to work together with us in promoting their products. While not a major focus right now, it is something that needs to be done gradually in terms of building relationships. No better time to start than now!

Of course, credit also goes to the social media guys for building up such a strong presence. The Facebook page has been steadily growing since last year, and the Twitter account has gained a decent following of nearing 4,500 at the time of this writing.

Much credit goes to:

  • The unsung efforts of Terry’s analysis in building Twitter up, and also in scouting talented writers who would be keen to join up.
  • The ceaseless work done by our Mr X on tweeting solid content, day in, day out.
  • Steve’s work on the Facebook page, and also on slowly expanding our focus on the NBL, along with Dean.
  • And of course, not forgetting everyone else who are actively contributing to site launch.

The techie bit

The other half is used in research on the site, tinkering with ways to make the backend easier for the writers and editors. WordPress in its vanilla form is functional as a writing platform, but is hardly intuitive for a multi-author site, especially one that requires constant communication and collaborative discussion.

With the use of appropriate plugins, the backend is extensively enhanced when it comes to ease of use. Providing a clean and uncluttered interface is very important for the writers, and showing them a thousand options and menus after logging in just isn’t the way to go.

How about making life easier for the editors as well? It probably doesn’t mean much to the big picture, but I managed to find a plugin that would display a dropdown list of authors as a filter. Trust me when I say it makes a huge difference in the ease of navigation, because an editor would be able to view the posts of his assigned author, rather than having to wade through a chronological sea of posts by everyone else.

Work was also done on setting up an internal mailing list for the writers, just so that important updates reach the ones who are not on the Facebook group. CC and BCC works, but it gets unwieldy after a certain number of people get onto the recipient list.

-start of rant-
Not forgetting the gritty, hands on stuff like domain registration, web hosting, updating patches, creating user accounts, resetting passwords and all that. And talk about teething issues! For a while, there was a real problem with displaying accented characters on the site, which nearly drove me nuts because the hosting provider declared it wasn’t their problem. That brought on countless hours of fruitless Googling. It wasn’t until I did a clean WP install with the same setup (sans data) and proved conclusively it wasn’t the software, that finally got them going for a deeper look. (It turned out to be a PHP setting on the Apache web server in the end.) These are the kinds of issues no one would be interested in knowing about, other than asking if it has been fixed yet. Annoying, but someone has to do it.
-end rant-

The system

More than the technology however, comes the need for a system. There has to be a recognised process in getting things done, along with training/communication in getting everyone to adhere to a common mode of operation.

With this in mind, self-help guides were written and placed within the backend for reference. A simple flow chart was drawn up to clearly illustrate how articles would be handled from inception to publication. Granted advice and guidance is still necessary for everyone to come on board with the system, but I’m a firm believer in documentation being the foundation for structured processes.

As with everything else that requires juggling multiple balls in the air, a tracking system is required. Nothing complex, but something as simple as a spreadsheet would allow tasks to be kept on track, along with writer profiles and other equally important information. The key here is discipline of course.

The legalese

Wording the terms of use, having a privacy policy, all of these are important because they outline what the site does, and demarcates a boundary for everyone to know where they stand. Recognising the rights of the writers in terms of the content they produce, and most importantly? Handling intellectual property with care. It’s easy to be irresponsible and grab stuff off the internet, but treating material with the proper respect takes effort.

Referencing existing policies out there, to understanding what we needed and reworking the terms to our requirements. Even with the assistance of a law professional, all of these took the better part of a week

In short

A lot of work, a lot of energy invested, and along with it comes a lot of hope and pride. It’s no joke juggling a day job while getting this on track, and I have to be thankful to my family for being supportive on this, for allowing me the space and time to get work done.

It’s been an exhausting journey so far, but there’s a lot to be said for things you are passionate about. Things are gonna be LEGENWAITFORITEFFINGDARY.

Freeloader is one heck of a child carrier.

V shared this Indiegogo crowdfunding project called Freeloader earlier in the evening, and hell does it look good!

It’s lightweight, easily packed and strong. It allows a toddler to be carried on your back after they go into the inevitable “I’m TIRED!” mode, begging to be carried after walking only half the distance. So, very useful for parents who go on trips or dislike the stroller for various reasons (I’m one of those).

Granted it’s not a backpack, but hell does it beat carrying a sleepy toddler with your arms, that’s like lugging a sack of stones on a route march. BAD. IDEA. It obviously frees up your hands for other activities too; I’d like to use my hands for other purposes other than Elly-carrying in the months ahead, and this looks like a really useful thing to have. Comfort for me, comfort for Elly. Both win.

So check out the video, and chip in on a really good project. The project is still about $12,000 away from its $30,000 target, so buy one for yourself or just donate – 18 days to go!

*Just so you know, we are getting one. Yes, how can the pram hater not get one! Puh-leeze. It’s a long way to September though – that’s the target shipping period for the Freeloader. Hopefully we can get one sooner.

You know you want one too. Right? RIGHT! I’ll definitely post a review soon as I get my mitts on one.

Problems sync-ing Google and Facebook contacts? Yep.

As of this morning, I retired my HTC Desire (again) and unwrapped the spanking new LG Google Nexus 4 that arrived via overnight Fedex. Kudos to Google for delivering the phone way ahead of the estimated window! I was really bummed out when the email said to expect 3-4 weeks for shipping, because that was cutting it pretty close to my departure for the States. As fate would have it, I got onto the phone much, much, earlier – gotta love good luck.

The Nexus 4 is really, really fast. Jelly Bean and the quad-core processor combine to make this phone literally perform like greased lightning. No complaints, almost everything was good other than that minor fracas between Facebook and Google on API hooks, which led to stock Android phones being unable to merge their Facebook and Google contacts.

Guess which phone’s running off vanilla Android? You got it right genius.

Thankfully, a cool little app called Sync.ME came to the rescue. It performs its job as the intermediary, and allows Facebook profile pictures to be tacked onto the Google contacts without much hassle. It’s really easy to use with an extremely well-designed UI that emphasises simplicity without getting too complicated, it works and it’s free. What else can anyone ask for?

More comments to come as I fiddle around with it, but it’s likely that no sequel will appear – the phone’s working too well at this point for me to have any real complaints. Big and beautiful display, speedy engine, yum. Granted it has its limitations in the integrated battery and the lack of an SD card slot, but I can live with that.

And did I say it’s cheap as bloody chips? $349 without contract is just out of this world. Look at how much the Galaxy S3 costs, ridiculous without a contract really.

Kings of Convenience once more.

It sure has been a while since my first Kings of Convenience concert back at the Esplanade with ZL. Can you believe it has been six years? Sometimes, the passage of time is disturbingly quick. I’m glad I managed to catch them at Hamer Hall today though. It’s their first performance in Australia, and a one night only at that. My thanks to Bill and Jasmine for letting me bail out on the original dinner plan, otherwise I would’ve missed out on this show. I knew Josh was attending the show, but I hadn’t expected him to be sitting in the same row along with his family and Danny as well. Such a coincidence, and I’m glad to know of other people who like KoC too.

My only gripe: KoC only began performing at 930pm. I was seated at 8pm. The first warmup act was okay, but you could tell many people weren’t interested – I wasn’t the only fellow bent over a smart phone, furiously tapping. The second act was much better, a band named Real Estate. The only word I can use to describe their music is psychadelic. Check out the clip below and you’ll see why.

Still, worth a listen. I’m definitely going to spend some time listening to their albums.

Once Erlend and Eirik got onto the stage though, the crowd went wild. The entire performance lasted for about 100 minutes, but it was really good. Loved their hits, especially Cayman Islands and Homesick. Like the last concert I watched, Erlend grabbed a couple of girls up on stage and gyrated to I’d Rather Dance With You in his usual ungainly and carefree manner, such a pleasure to see him enjoying himself without inhibitions. If you’re curious, he dances exactly the same way he did in this music video below.

One noticeable change is the addition of the band, which added a level of depth to the originally simple flavour that is their trademark. Good to hear, but it feels slightly un-KoC-like.

If you’ve never heard of the Kings of Convenience before, I’d highly recommend that you try them today. The simplicity of two guitars and their voices in harmony – seriously, good music. Soothing, evocative and captivating, yet without the complications modern radio hits seem to demand.