Incrementalism

Plugging away, day after day, at the YMCA

Alabama

January 22, 2011.

I have been working toward this day for a year now. It was exactly one year ago this afternoon that I started the long process of getting back in shape.

Quite honestly, I never imagined that I would be this successful in keeping my old New Year’s Resolution. I dropped 60 pounds, reached my target goal, sustained my commitment to physical fitness, and have intensified my effort on all fronts.

I’m now heading into … Year Two.

Over the years, I had made two serious attempts at getting back to my desired weight. In 2006, I worked out over a period of three months and dropped about 20 pounds. In 2009, I dropped 20 pounds again from December to March, but gained it all back after Spring Break in Florida.

I knew how to lose weight. I simply failed at bridging the disconnect between my bad habits and knowledge of the subject.

Not this time.

In January 2010, I bought a scale and a five subject notebook. I lugged my old free weights and weight bench out of storage. I resolved to get in shape. Then I went to work.

I didn’t look back.

I knew from experience the importance of starting small and developing good habits. The surest way to fail is to start out big and collapse from exhaustion. Those old records motivated me to chart a different course this time around.

I started out with a simple routine: workout six days a week, walk twenty minutes a day, eight upper body exercises with 20 lbs dumbbells, three upper body exercises with 50 lbs barbells, hit the scale in the morning, record my weight and daily progress with marks in my notebook.

I moved to Virginia on February 6, 2010.

A week later, I signed up a membership at the YMCA. I started going to the gym every day with my new roommates. With access to a wide range of equipment, I started using lots of machines and distinguishing between my free weight and machine routines in my records.

Because of the bitterly cold winter weather in Virginia, I chose to do my daily walk on the treadmill. My initial speed was 2.5 for 20 minutes. I used fifteen machines in the gym, barbells for three exercises, and kept doing the eight moves with the free weights.

The weight quickly started coming off. I dropped from 217 on January 29 to 200 on April 3.

I was 195 when I flew to Texas on May 7. On June 13, I was 192.6 when I confronted Jeffrey Imm in DC. When I moved to Birmingham on August 21, I had dropped to 181.8.

By September, I had been working out consistently for seven months. I had lost about 40 pounds. I should have lost more. There were days, sometimes weeks, when I missed a gym session, a walk, or some part of my routine like a free weight routine.

September was the first “perfect month” when I completed every aspect of my routine: runs, gym sessions, walks. In the months that followed, which have all been “perfect months,” I started going back and doing “makeup sessions” for the days that I had missed.

The 181.8 on August 21 had become 176.7 by September 24 which became 173.2 on November 1 and 167.9 on December 1 and then 162.4 on January 1, 2011.

A few days ago, I finally reached my goal of 160. It seems like it took forever to get here. The hardest weight to lose was the last 15 pounds.

That small little measly walking and free weight routine evolved significantly over the intervening months. I have constantly moved the goal posts and looked for ways to improve my lifestyle at the margins.

The “20 minute walk” became a 30 minute walk and eventually a 60 minute walk. I went from a speed of 2.5 on the treadmill to around 5.5. Over the summer and fall, I abandoned the treadmill to enjoy nature trails and city streets with an uneven topography, sacrificing speed for more challenging inclines.

On any given day, the “20 minute walk” is now a dip in the pool for an hour, 30 minutes on the treadmill and 30 minutes doing sprints outside, 60 minutes of sprints or 60 minutes of boxing. At the end of the week, I will at least walk for an hour when I don’t have much energy. I have varied up the routine in half a dozen ways.

The eight move, one set free weight session with 20 lbs dumbbells has evolved into a twelve move, two set light and heavy free weight session with 25 lbs and 35 lbs dumbbells.

The one set, fifteen move upper body machine session at the gym has evolved into a two set, ten to fifteen rep, nineteen exercise upper and lower body session with a combination of machines, barbells, and cables.

Last January, I began to keep daily records with four simple columns: weight, free weights, gym sessions, and walks. Over the last year, I added columns to eliminate soda and fast food from my diet. I also started keeping a detailed food journal and counting calories in the fall.

I still struggle with sticking to my diet. That has been the biggest challenge over the last year. I see it as a process though, not as one giant leap to victory.

Every month, I write a summary of my progress, including where I have failed and where I have succeeded. I have “attacked the margins” by eliminating things from my diet like iced coffee, candy bars, powdered donuts, chips, most fried foods (some sacrifices ask too much), and baked potatoes with lots of butter. I have gotten better at coming up with low calorie substitutes and avoiding high carb foods late at night too.

I now strictly limit how much I drink a week. I drink lots of water, chew gum, and eat almonds to kill my appetite.

Now that I have reached my target weight, I have to radically change my habits again, something which I plan to start on in February.

I have to start lifting heavier weights, focusing more on specific muscle groups, spacing out the days that I work out, moving to a lower rep work out schedule, and eating better food with lots of lean protein.

I’m just starting to get into supplements. I have also been experimenting with cables and different types of bars to add more variety to my workout.

Physical fitness has become so integrated into my daily habits that I literally can’t imagine now going back to a life of idleness. I feel physical irritation now when I haven’t done something.

My trials at the gym have taught me the importance of patience, perseverance, and incrementalism. Small changes in habits add up to significant gains over time.

There are some weeks when your body refuses to cooperate with your short term goals. There are other times when you stumble. That is not a reason to give up and become discouraged though.

I have also learned that beginnings, means, and small steps forward are far more important than focusing on the endgame. Once you get the ball rolling, your habits will take over and momentum will carry you the rest of way.

The same is true of political activism. I will address that subject another day.

Right now I am just proud to say: I did that.

Addendum: Several people have asked me now about my routine. I have anticipated that question. It took me a while to look up the name for the specific exercise or machine that I use.

Cardio

I vary my cardio session in all sorts of ways. The single constant is that I do at least an hour of cardio six days a week.

When I use the treadmill, I usually run on 5.5 for about 30 minutes and spend the other 30 minutes doing something else, whether it is taking a dip in the pool, doing sprints, or putting on a sweatshirt and walking around the neighborhood between sets at the gym.

Sometimes I will just sprint, jog, or walk for an hour depending upon the wear and tear on my body. Other times I will take out my aggression on a punching bag. I mix up all these activities to put in an hour of cardio a day.

Free Weights

I use dumbbells and barbells for my free weight session.

With the dumbbells, I always do two sets a day, six days a week, one set with lighter 25 lbs dumbbells and the other with 35 lbs dumbbells. I retired the 20 lbs dumbbells months ago.

12 pushups
15 standing wrist curls
15 reverse wrist curls
15 standing dumbbell curls
15 overhead dumbbell tricep extensions
15 lateral raises
15 front raises
15 rear lateral raises
15 dumbbell shrugs
15 dumbbell presses
15 bent over rows

I always do 1 and 1/2 sets Monday through Saturday with my abs and barbells.

30 situps
15 side sit ups

15 bench presses (120 pounds)
15 standing barbell curls (100 pounds)
15 deadlifts (100 pounds)
15 military presses (100 pounds)

Machines

I love machines.

I work out with machines six days a week, 1 and 1/2 sets per day, with varying amounts of weight.

Small Room:

15 Leg Extensions (130 Pounds)
15 Standing Calf Raises (140 pounds)
15 Chest Presses (140 Pounds)
15 Seated Cable Rows (140 Pounds)
15 Cable Tricep Pushdowns (140 Pounds)
15 Seated Chest Flys (140 Pounds)
15 Lat Pulldowns (140 Pounds)

Big Room:

15 Bench Presses (140 Pounds)
15 Seated Tricep Extensions (140 Pounds)
15 Pullovers (130 Pounds)
15 Nautilus Abdominal Crunches (120 pounds)
15 Seated Tricep Pushdowns (140 Pounds)
15 Lat Pulldowns (140 Pounds)

15 Nautilus Bicep Curls (120 Pounds)
15 Nautilus Lying Chest Flys (120 Pounds)
15 Vertical Leg Presses (140 pounds)
15 Lateral Raises (120 Pounds)
15 Leg Abductions (100 Pounds)
15 Back Extensions (140 Pounds)

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One Response to Incrementalism

  1. Pingback: Texas Third | From The Provinces

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