Week 8: 200 pound bench press, 18-inch biceps, eating better (and you can too!)

About eight weeks ago -- May 20, 2012, to be exact -- I started a simple exercise and diet program. I was having several health problems, including constant severe headaches, blood pressure spiking to 150/100 for some reason the doctors hadn't figured out, my thyroid was failing (we knew that, and were treating it), and I also knew about a prostate problem. I generally felt like crap, and because of the headaches I was barely able to work 20 hours a week, constantly laying in bed trying to ride out the pain.

Long story short, eight weeks later I can now bench press over 200 pounds, curl over 50 pounds (each arm), and my biceps measure just a hair shy of 18 inches. (They were 16 inches just a few weeks ago.) I don't know the exact numbers, but I know my body fat is much lower, my jeans are looser, my chest is larger, and the headaches and blood pressure spikes are gone.

I don't have any plans on where I want to go with this -- other than to keep working out consistently -- but I know I still have some weight to lose and muscle mass to gain. That being said, I was happy when I went to the pool the other day and a kid asked if I was a body builder; a little ego-stroking never hurts.

Eating better

I have a hard problem dieting. In fact, I hate dieting.

I know from past experience the only way I will ever eat well on a regular basis is if I exercise. There's a positive feedback loop there where you realize, "If I eat this crap now, I'll just be keeping my weight/fat up, and that makes it harder to exercise." (This is especially true if you practice yoga, where you need to hold weight-bearing poses for an extended duration. Losing a few pounds can make yoga much, much easier.)

I still eat some crap -- including a full bag of potato chips a couple of days ago -- but I'm much more conscious of it, and on average I also eat much less of it. So I don't call this a diet, I just call it living.

No longer in pain

I noticed years ago when I started practicing yoga that the first 2-3 weeks were hard, and I had some pain, but after three weeks I wasn't in pain any more. After those first three weeks I felt very loose, extremely energetic, and eager to go to class.

I noticed the same thing about 2-3 weeks ago with weight lifting. I don't have pain any more, I just get a little of that good-feeling soreness or tiredness that comes with a good workout.

And you can too!

There are three main reasons for writing this article:

  1. My ego. :)
  2. To make a note of where I am now, when I started, and what I went through.
  3. To let you know that I'm not doing anything special. You can do this also, if you want to.

The thing I want to stress about my workout program is that I'm not in the gym all the time. I have a lot going on right now, so my workouts are only 40-60 minutes in length, and at most I exercise four days a week. This isn't rocket science, it's just a matter of working out on a consistent basis, and really working out, not wasting time.

If there are any keys to my exercise program, it's just a matter of working hard from start to finish. I usually take about ten minutes to warm up on a treadmill, and then move quickly from machine to machine (or free weights). I intentionally try to keep my heart rate up, and I only slow down when I feel I really need to. Some days I just do cardio work, but most days I try to keep my heart rate up with weight lifting. I check my heart rate from time to time and try to keep it in the 120 to 140 bpm range.

The other thing I do is drink protein shakes. I do this because I eat very little meat, and the body needs protein to build muscles. I don't drink anything special, just a whey protein powder you can buy at Walmart. I've read that whey protein is better than soy protein, and there is some medical evidence showing a relationship between soy protein and thyroid issues (which I already have).

I'm not doing much yoga right now, but there's a big yoga conference coming up in Estes Park (Colorado) at the end of September, and I'm thinking about practicing more so I can attend that.

Summary: Exercise leads to healthier eating

In summary, I want to emphasize that I'm not doing anything special. I'm just committing to exercise on a consistent basis, 40-60 minutes every other day, and in eight short weeks the results have been very satisfying. While I've dropped "only" eight pounds, I'm sure my body fat level is down significantly, and my body shape has changed dramatically.

If you're thinking about "dieting" at all, I encourage you to begin a regular exercise program, and let the diet take care of itself. I think you'll find that regular exercise is a tremendous motivator for dieting. When you're exercising and seeing your muscles grow and your waistline shrink, you have a natural motivation to eat better, and this creates a really terrific positive-feedback loop.

Believe me folks, I'm 49 years old, and if you're reading this, the odds are that you're younger than me. If I can do this, you can too!