I am nearing the 18 month mark on my fitness journey. Regular workouts, more activity, and eating clean are paying off!
Armed with my trusty old York 2600 built in the 80s, a good range of hex dumbbells, and soon to be joined by a new-fangled exercise bike for cardio, I've seen and experienced great gains in size and strength. I went from 200lb bench (3 sets of 8) to the maximum of the home gym (260lbs) with a max one time rep of 340lbs. The guns went from 15 or so inches to 17.5+. Not bad for an old guy!
I've kept eating clean for lots of reasons. I'm in the age-range risk of hypertension, and any excess fat I carry around will also prove a liability as the metabolism slows with age. In the past 100 days, I've made my eating even cleaner. I avoid all red meat, any added bad fats, most refined carbs like bread and pasta, any added salt, and zero refined sugars. My diet mostly consists of high-quality protein in bar and shake form, loads of supplements, creatine powder, tuna, chicken, bananas, and spinach or kale. I also get tons of fibre in making great mixed bean and veg dishes. I don't miss salt since I can flavour with paprika, pepper, and other spices. My taste buds are actually far more sensitive now, and I get plenty of onions, garlic, broccoli, celery, and just about any other good vegetable I can throw into the mix with dinner. Weight wise, in the past 100 days alone I've shed about 7lbs of fat. Granted, I wasn't overweight to begin with, but shedding a bit of the excess is making me feel much leaner and fit.
At the age of 39 you begin to face the real limits of aging, and have to acknowledge those limits. I'm not the twentysomething buck I once was with an easier time building mass or recuperating from workouts as quickly. By about January, I was getting pain and reduced range of motion (ROM) in the distal biceps tendon. Curling 55lbs at 3 sets of 8-10 was a bit too much. Eager for affordable solutions, and not wanting to get collagen-destroying cortisone shots that only mask pain and increase the risk of injury, I came upon an at-home remedy. Here's why and how:
Picture your tendons like a steel cable that attaches to the muscle and the bone. When you experience tears from overuse or improper form, this compromises the entire mechanism. Our first instinct is to just rest it until it heals. In most cases for other tissues, that's a great idea - but not for tendons. The problem with tendons is that they do not get a lot of blood flow, and it is blood that carries all the nutrients in the body to facilitate healing. This makes recovery very slow, such as between three to up to twelve months, pending the degree of tendonitis or tendonosis. Moreover, while you are resting it for months, your attaching muscle begins to atrophy from lack of use, and so this further compromises the entire mechanism. So what do you do?
1. Lay off lifting heavy with the affected area. I mean it. Go light to moderate just to remind the muscle with activity, and to get some blood pump into the area that will benefit tendon repair. Use light(er) weights for higher repetitions. On the non-lifting days, use even lighter weights or a resistance band.
2. Incorporate eccentric curls for the biceps. These involve using your good arm to lift the weight up to the ending position of a normal curl, and then let the injured arm extend slowly and with proper form to where you would usually begin a bicep curl. This puts less stress on the tendon.
3. Use NSAIDs sparingly. They only mask pain by bringing down inflammation. Instead, bump up your vitamin C and especially your Omega-3s (double bonus: good for the heart, too!)
4. Even if your arm feels 80-90%, don't immediately jump back into heavy lifting. Premature loading will just bring back the injury with a vengeance, and possibly delay your goals for longer.
5. Don't try to "work through the pain." Once it starts hurting, stop.
6. Spend much more time warming up. If you're my age or older, warm-ups are absolutely critical to minimizing injury if you like to lift heavy.
Perhaps the only thing preventing me from obesity and health problems has been the grace of genetics. Of course, for several years I was not doing myself any favours, and at some point it would have been inevitable that bad habits would trump the genetic advantage.
For a lot of my 20s, I ate like a conventional 20-something; that is, quite poorly. If it came in a box, bag, was high in carbs, smothered in cheese, loaded with salt, deep fried, and had the nutritional value of cardboard, chances are that made up the majority of my diet. And then, of course, add on to that a 1.5 pack a day smoking habit, and a viking tolerance for high volumes of alcohol on a regular basis, and you have the very portrait of student life.
After my wife passed from a two year struggle with lymphoma, some of those bad habits just escalated. It was completely understandable that one might just give up caring about the self at that point and engage in self-destructive behaviours. However, at some point in that dark place, something in my brain kicked in. Call it the Spartan, survivalist, or rationalization part of the brain, but I simply had to take control over the one thing that was still mine to direct: health.
By November, I ramped down the drinking, and by the end of December, all but cut it out completely except for the occasional beer every few weeks. I bought some free weights and eventually a home gym to get my strength and size back, going back to a gym regimen that I had stopped almost three years prior. I cut down on breads and pastas, started eating clean, incorporated more fruits and veggies, and loaded up on an assortment of vitamins and high fibre/low sugar protein bars (I eat two Quest bars daily - I recommend the brand). To complement a life-diet, I also boosted physical activity and would now be considered "highly physically active." This includes sports, daily hikes/walks, and a highly disciplined weight training regimen.
I'm already seeing the benefits since I started in November: my tiny beer belly is gone. All my muscle groups are noticeably bigger and toned. I don't huff and puff at all anymore. I no longer get the afternoon fatigue. The dark circles under my eyes are fading. I've got the energy and metabolism of what I enjoyed at age 20, if not better. In fact, I don't think I've ever been this healthy as I crest towards the big 4-0.
Eating well and frequent exercise is a habit, and as my daughter sagely said, "once you do something three times, it becomes habit."
In November, I started doing bicep curls of 3 sets of 8 reps @40lbs. My previous high was 45lbs three years ago. I'm now curling 3 sets of 55lbs. I can safely say that I can bench 300, but a better chest workout are flies where I am doing 3 sets of 8-10@260lbs. Sit-ups, which were difficult at first, got ramped up from 3 sets of 10 to 4 sets of 25, but then I was getting bored, so now I do 3 sets of 12 with a 40lb weight behind my neck for added resistance. And when I could barely do 2 chin-ups, I do 3 sets of 7 with relative ease and will need to add more weight.
Last summer, I took 10-25km daily walks. That fell by the wayside, but is back in force. The regimen, in full, is split into two parts: activity and consumption:
*Heavy weight and strength training: 2 days on, one day rest/repair
*Hiking/walking (daily - long distances and/or challenging grade terrain at brisk pace)
*Basketball, frisbee, volleyball, baseball, etc., optional and pending weather.
*2 Quest bars (protein 20g each, ~130% daily intake fibre)
*Low to no carbs
*1 beer / week average
* Upper end RDI of all vitamins, including vitamins A,B6,B12,C; chromium picolinate, omega 3-6-9, zinc (50mg), green tea extract (400g) - all for optimizing tissue repair and metabolism
*Epic fruit smoothies (1.5 litres) using between 12-20 different types of fruit derived from fresh, frozen, and juices.
*Extra veggie helpings.
A diet and exercise regimen is only as good as it is sustainable. Lots of people go on crash diets or start working out only to find the time between workouts widen until it fades out completely. For me, it has been six months without letting up, and it just feels natural. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything food-wise, nor do I find the exercise a burden.