LGN 90: My Third Fitness Anniversary

438 HOURS

3 times/week x 52 weeks/year x 3 years – some = approximately 438 hours of training and classes. 438 days I’ve gone to the gym. 438 ass kickings. 438 hours invested into my health, fitness and wellness account.

Year three is the leather/sunflower/moonstone anniversary, in case you were wondering.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I’m going to repost an edited version of the blog entry that kind of started it all. Or re-jumpstarted it all.

It’s amazing to me how one decision can change your life so drastically. Looking for kettlebell classes online in early 2011 I saw a gym called “Underground Athlete” on meetup.com. I thought I would just be there for a few months and then move on to something else.

Little did I know how much it would challenge me and change my life. I had no idea what I was in for when I first met Justin. I would never have guessed that not only would he help me to get physically better but he would challenge me (and the rest of us) to take that energy into other areas of life, to step outside of my comfort zone, and to never stop growing and improving.

I also would never have thought that a small gym that I chose in part because it was out of the way of my usual pattern (rut) of commuting/living/socializing would end up being a community of people who bring their fitness-unrelated skills and gifts to look out for each other.

That ain’t too shabby. Not bad at all.

LGN 14: Denuding a Clumsy Oaf

Originally posted on March 10, 2009. Edited for tone and content. It’s long.

I’ve been in this health/wanting to look good naked thing for nearly three years. I’m not at single digit body fat percentage but I’m much, much stronger, fitter, faster, and agile. I’ve lost about 40 lbs. since the original post. I’ve gone down a few clothing sizes. I’ve learned a lot about recovery, eating, and that the body is often limited by the mind — namely, an aversion to pain and discomfort.

Underground Athlete has grown a lot in the past three years. The Fairfax location has been renovated and upgraded and is always improving. There’s an Underground Athlete Sterling now that is pretty sweet. There are more coaches. I’ve witnessed fellow trainees undergo physical and mental transformations.

I do miss the days of the smaller gym sometimes. There was more time to just hang out for a bit and talk to coaches. More access? But a larger, more diverse community is a healthier community in more ways than one. I mean, heck. Just look at how the kettlebell team has grown and matured.

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS

You may have noticed that I don’t talk about training as much as I used to. I don’t evangelize as much, so to speak. I don’t even comment much anymore about the stuff my family eats.

Obviously, I’m nowhere near perfect and my own food discipline waxes and wanes with the seasons, life events and mood. The real danger comes when I let myself get hungry. Winter is always a challenge.

I’m still blogging about it, obviously. The truth of the matter, though, is that blogs aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be. There’s so much information and entertainment out there that the opinions of some guy don’t necessarily merit attention when you can read, for example, the blogs of actual fitness experts and athletes. Or watch videos. Or post memes:

THIS PROFESSIONAL FITNESS MODEL HAS THE CUTE FACE OF A TWEEN, THE PHYSIQUE OF A HIGH SCHOOL VARSITY ATHLETE, AND A TIGHT ASS. WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?

Ha! No, some of them are cool, but you know what I mean.

There aren’t many photos of me. I’m usually behind the camera. But when I do post a gym photo, a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. I do what I do and hopefully the results are evident and inspiring to some.

I hope that I’ve helped to inspire a few people to kick off their own routines. It feels like we’re in it together and that gets me out of the apartment and into the gym training hard with a consistency I could not achieve on my own.

Stepping out of my comfort in the gym has opened me up to trying new things — various meetup groups, overnight hikes, indoor rock climbing, archery, kayaking, the gun range (soon) — and that’s the kind of person I want to be, right. Active, curious, always learning, sharing.

STEPPING ON TOES

On this path to becoming more fit and healthy I’m longing to bring friends and family along with me with a passion. Unfortunately, much to my surprise, I’ve managed to offend, anger, provoke, sadden, tweak and generally step on the figurative toes of a lot of people over the past few years. Not because I was a jerk or said anything harsh or mean, but broaching or even grazing the subject ruffles feathers. Talking openly about weight issues ruffles the whole bird.

I know weight and obesity can be a touchy subject but the intensity of the shame, guilt, fear, and fatalism I’ve encountered is stunning. I even made someone cry, for goodness sake.

I don’t pretend to understand or share your experience or pain. I know people’s relationship to food and their bodies can be a complicated quagmire. Eating disorders can be deadly. Women may have hormone or menopause factors that make it especially difficult. I listened to an interview with a woman who was sexually abused as a child and teen. She said she ate as a coping mechanism and she thought that putting on weight would help her escape the sexual attention of her abusers.

Holy crap. I do have compassion for all of these experiences and I understand the trepidation.

But that doesn’t change the fact that we get one body and one life. We’ve got Now and that’s it. One body to live, love, procreate, give birth, age and die in. Whether we have it for 20 years or 100 years is drastically influenced by the choices we make. And so many have made the choice to give up on themselves. Or to accept their condition as their identity.

I say this all out of love and compassion and empathy. I have a lot of family members who are overweight. It’s heart wrenching to see their health deteriorate as they age and their bodies attempt to cope with the stress of being overweight and unhealthy.

It is so %$#@! unnecessary and totally avoidable.

THE TIPPING POINT

I have relatives who have gone past the health tipping point. It’s the point where you get too sick to change. Physical therapy? Try that when there’s literally no cartilage in your knees. Some kind of moderate exercise? Try that with chronic back pain or emphysema. How can you even attempt a more active lifestyle when you suffer chronic dizziness or post-stroke fatigue? And so on.

Despite those harsh realities I choose to believe that we can always do something. If you can walk, walk and then walk a little more. If all you can do is crawl, then crawl. If all you can do is wiggle a finger then wiggle that mo fo until you can make a fist or bend an arm. Whatever you’ve got — no matter how little or how much — use it. Then challenge yourself so it gets stronger and better.

My younger friends and relatives are far from that, but they have so much going on that they just don’t have the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological energy to devote to physical fitness and health.

EVERYBODY’S GOT ISSUES

I was embarrassed the first day I went to Underground Athlete for the fitness assessment. I was kind of nervous about it because I had no idea what it was. I showed up in faded, worn, ill-fitting linty sweatpants. Very overweight and out of shape. After the assessment, Justin told me I could warm up with the incoming class if I wanted to. I did. Promptly winded, I was.

Pitiful. But I was chomping at the bit to make some kind of change. The anticipation was killing me. I had already started doing the “My Body Don’t Bend That Way” yoga class at PIES Fitness in Alexandria but that was one night a week. I needed more y’know. Frankly, I was desperate for change and action and newness.

Because you know what scares me? Dying young. Not even the dying part so much as the “what did you do with your life?” part.

You know what offends me more than the embarrassment of being the fat person in the fitness room? The thought of not living to see my children (if I have children, and yes I really want to) grow up. The thought of not knowing my grandchildren.

Would you rather avoid the discomfort of taking ownership of your body or would you rather be able to play with your kids until they’re tuckered out?

I’m not a big traveler at this point but I would like to see more of the world. Heck. I’d like to take advantage of what the Mid-Atlantic has to offer. It’s so beautiful but you can’t see it from a couch, apparently.

A few years ago my mom and I hiked down a trail to a waterfall near Big Meadow in the Shenandoahs. And I do mean down. It was hard work for her to hike back up. She’s like, “That’s the last time that will happen.” From her perspective, she did it while she still could and will never be able to do it again.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. I’ve gone on meetup hikes led by people years older than her who’ll do multiple strenuous hikes a week. Y’know? But with all of the great things she’s doing for our family and community, copious amounts of physical activity aren’t part of the lifestyle.

I have to ask myself, how long do I want to be active? For how many more years do I want to be able to walk a meaningful distance? Ten years? Twenty? Forty?

BODY IMAGE

It’s not just for women. Although, the societal weight definitely falls on women’s shoulders, I think.

I was always a husky kid and had husky kid issues. In high school I started to get lean. It kind of snuck up on me. In college I was still playing soccer with the Dundalk soccer jock crowd at the courts. Good times. I was practicing martial arts. Mountain biking. Eventually, I was lean, six pack abs, toned.

Then, suddenly it seemed, I was not.

It was a missed opportunity. When I was at my physical peak I had little to no social or romantic life.

And now, bearing down hard on 42, I’m out of the postulated range of desirability. I mean, to anyone younger than 40 that’s kind of old. Part of this effort to look good naked is because I want to be physically attractive. I don’t mean, “good personality” attractive or “a nice guy” attractive or “really sweet” attractive or “once you get to know him” attractive or “makes good money” attractive. I don’t mean “if he lost some weight” attractive.

I mean, even though I, like most of us, will never be Hollywood attractive, there’s still that on contact of sight piquing attraction attractive. If you’ve known me for a while you know that I have a lot of young at heart, beautiful, talented, intelligent, funny, down to earth female friends. Just friends.

I find that to be heartbreaking and decimating to my ego and sense of — abject failure.

Physical attraction can take precedence over measured reasoning with these things. That’s my theory. Even when I was rockin’ a hardbody I was embarrassed to take my shirt off in public, now that I think about it. Body image issues.

When women who love, respect and admire me look at me and say, “You’ll find the right person some day. You’re such a great guy.”

That means, “You’re not attractive to me.”

When a woman who thinks, in her own words, I’m an amazing human being has a choice between me — successful to some degree, well paid with no financial entanglements, many talents, educated, a modicum of intelligence, a little outdoorsy, easy going, eager to please within reason, emotionally stable, respectful, fun to hang out with, an exploratory and curious mindset, young at heart, down to earth, strong, dependable — and a guy who is the opposite of that in many ways and says, “Hmmm. Bye. We can still be friends, right. Well … okay then. Have a good life.”

When a woman has a few drinks and can look across a table at me and then start talking about how horny she is for guys who aren’t me and how her sex drive is getting her into trouble…

There’s something very wrong with that.

Not that having a hardbody will solve all ills. I’m not that deluded. I’m just saying.

I want to change the equation. Alter the variables in my favor.

NOT JUST VANITY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.

Of course, that’s not the only reason I want to LGN or be healthyfit. Have you seen all of these natural disasters in the news? The various crazy people running amok?

If I need to run for my life I want to be able to run. If someone needs help out in the wilds somewhere and all the technological devices are disabled or aren’t getting reception I want to be able to run for a mile or however long to get help.

If a crazy person walks into a school or church or business with a gun or a knife and goes nuts, I want to be strong and quick enough to have a chance for myself and others. To wrestle away a weapon or keep someone from igniting explosives in their shoe or underwear.

If in some disaster or homicidal attack I’m crushed, trapped, stabbed or shot, I want my body strong enough to have a fighting chance. A strong heart, clean arteries, hopefully cancer and disease free. Able to resist infections.

And I want to have good habits to pass on and that inspire the people around me. I want people to look at me and think, “Wow. You can be healthy and still have fun and eat well. The way he does it, it doesn’t seem like a chore. I want to be like that guy when I’m closing in on 40. Hell. I want to be like that guy now.”

MY FORMER BAD HABITS

Here’s what I used to do with no concept of what I was doing to myself. In an effort to be “healthy” I would get two Wendy’s fish sandwiches a few nights every week. And I’d have a glass of juice. Plus a glass of juice chaser. Let’s put aside the quality of the food, and even macronutrients, and talk calories.

2 x 500 calories + 2 x 120 calories. That’s a late dinner of about 1,240 calories. Add that to a large lunch and you figure that I was eating anywhere from 200 to 500 extra calories per day. In those phases where I ate out a lot? Between 400 and 1,000 more calories than my body needed per day.

Straight to the fat deposits. Oy vey.

A few years of that with ups and downs is how I ended up 50 to 60 pounds overweight.

BLOWBACK

What I did not count on is that my enthusiasm about all of this would offend people. I had one friend stop talking to me for months. I thought I was being helpful when in fact I was being hurtful.

Some of my posts have been called self-righteous, hypocritical, arrogant, misguided, and condescending. I can only try to say what I have to say clearer and more effectively. Occasionally, I do have to reevaluate how I say things and even what I think to be true. I’ve got no problem with being challenged and learning.

There are things I believe, though.

Longitudinal obesity is not healthy. Unfortunately, the stigma against being fat or obese and the verbal and emotional abuse that comes along with it makes it hard — at least in some circles — to address the benefits of losing weight. And by weight I mean fat.

I’m still a little overweight, by the way. I tell you. Get towards those upper thirties and your body does NOT want to let go of the fat around the middle. I’m more fit in every way than I was in my 20s, but the extra weight definitely holds me back when it comes to any activity that involves gravity and body weight. That’s most activities, by the way. It’s just plain physics.

Fitness and health come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Skinny is not the same as healthy. All of us can benefit from eating higher quality food. Many of us should eat less food (or less food that is so calorically dense). All of us who are physically able can benefit from moving more.

We don’t need to look like fitness models and not everyone wants to or needs to train intensely. From what I understand, you don’t need to train like an athlete (or weekend warrior) to get significant health benefits and increase your lifespan and quality of life, statistically speaking.

Your best you is not the same as someone else’s.

BETTER

I sometimes use the word “better” when I talk about getting more physically fit. I mean that in the sense that a stronger body is a better body. A body with more stamina and endurance is a better body. A body with more flexibility and resilience to injury and illness is a better body. But please note. I’m saying “better body” and NOT “better person”.

If you need proof that having the discipline, motivation and drive to be physically awesome has nothing to do with the kind of person you are, visit any bodybuilding or fitness forum. Or read the comments beneath some of these fitness and bodybuilding memes going around. You will encounter some vile, ignorant, sexist, abusive jerk faces who think they’re better than you because they have defined abs.

Society sends horrible and powerful messages. Food companies make delicious, sometimes addictive foods that are not healthy but are affordable. Economic forces make it harder for people who have less to eat healthy foods. This is all true. It is in no way fair or just.

That makes it even more important for us to take control of and responsibility for our patterns and habits. Because society and corporations aren’t going to suddenly change on a dime and deliver healthy, delicious food to your door at little to no cost and make sure that your bloodwork and such are optimal.

Think globally, act locally. Is that how that saying goes?

COME WITH ME

I’m still passionate about this. I’ve just taken on a more phlegmatic tone. In truth, I can only “save” myself, right.

What I’m about to say is not a condemnation. It’s a challenge and an invitation. The truth of the matter is, if you don’t change something, today — right now with all of your aches and pains and being winded and prone to injury — is the physical peak of the rest of your life.

Here’s what I’m saying. This has nothing to do with being a good person or a bad person. It has nothing to do with your worth. Not a guilt or shame trip. It’s about reaching your physical potential, longevity, quality of life, and caring for the temple in which you reside.

You can choose to be hurt. Or you can choose to be motivated and maybe even inspired.

Come on. Come with me. Come with us. You’re in good company. We’ve got work to do.

Click here to see all of my LGN (I want to Look Good Naked) and functional strength training posts.

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