Saturday, November 21, 2015

Just feel it [period]

We lost our dog Q (short for "Questionable Lady") a few weeks ago. Our poor girl suffered a stroke—which I hear is rare for dogs. She seemed to recover for a few weeks afterward, but then she developed a complication that left her unable to eat. As all pet owners understand, even though we wanted very much to prevent her from suffering, it was very hard to say good-bye.

In the days that followed, there were moments of pain when we were reminded of Q: seeing her folded up cage, reaching for two leashes instead of one, and so on. Also, there were doubts. Occasionally, I wondered if I'd gotten her care soon enough after her stroke. Was there anything else I could have done? Did we make the right decision to let her go when we did?

One time while I was taking a nap, I remembered how Q liked to curl up in a ball behind my knees as I was sleeping on my side. In an attempt to comfort myself, I imagined her snuggled in there right at that moment. It was an attempt to feel as if she was still with us, in part. I did feel some relief, and I smiled.

The next time I took a nap, I tried to imagine Q's presence again, didn't work. It didn't comfort me. My mind became unsettled, and it bounced from attempting to invoke pleasant memories of her to second guessing our recent decisions. 

Two things occurred to me then. The first is that this was a reminder of how I over relied on fantasy to comfort myself when I was a child growing up with my alcoholic father in a very chaotic, unpredictable home. It was my main method for feeling in control and having some power.

When I played basketball in the back yard, I was playing against Larry Bird in the NCAA finals. When I hit the tennis ball against the brick wall of the elementary school for hours at a time, I was hitting a passing shot against Bjorn Borg or John McEnroe to win Wimbledon. I drew my own comics. I pretended I was a rock star as I sang along with my favorite songs. 

It took me well into adulthood to use less fantasy and to use better, more mature ways to feel competent and secure. 

The second thing that occurred to me was that I was mentally scrambling, trying to find a way not to feel hurt about Q's passing. So, instead of staying stuck up in my head, I took a few deep breaths, and I made a gentle request of myself: Quiet down and simply FEEL. Just "miss her," OK? Nothing more, nothing less.

Just miss her.

Once I calmed myself and just sat with my feeling, it was more manageable. She's gone. I can't undo or redo the past. I feel sad. But it's OK. I'll manage just fine.

Since then, a wave of sadness will wash over me from time to time, but it doesn't last long. We did our very best to be humane and to prevent Q's suffering; now I was doing my best to avoid any unnecessary suffering of my own.

I'm very thankful for the time she spent with us. RIP, Q!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Muscle building for older guys

Let me lead with a disclaimer: I'm not a personal trainer. Use this post as "food for thought," and run all ideas past a fitness professional and your doctor before making decisions about any rigorous exercise routine.

I share this information because it works for me and because clients have asked me to share it.

First, I've found that the most important thing is to start off with easy, light lifting and work up gradually. That way, over time, I came to understand what my 54 year-old body can tolerate. For example, I found out that I tolerate 2 weight lifting sessions a week; more than that, and I feel too tired, achy, and foggy headed. I also found that, if I go more than one week without lifting, I needed to work back into my routine slowly, starting with the lowest weights. (Several times when coming back from a longer layoff often due to a vacation, I pulled a muscle or tweaked my rotator cuff.) Finally, I need at least 2 days of rest in between weight-lifting days to recover, but 3 days work better.

Second, I recently aggravated some elbow tendinitis when I decided to use some twisting motions on a few dumb bell lifts (military and and chest). I saw some younger men doing these motions, presumably to work more muscles, particularly in the forearm. However, a few weeks after I started using these motions, I developed an achy elbow. So, for older weight lifters, I recommend not going below a 90 degree angle with your elbows when doing presses and keeping your wrist angled in the same direction, if possible, during the entire lift. In summary, the less twisting at the wrist and elbow, the better. 

Third, I found that my body can't tolerate most high-intensity techniques. (For example, when I pyramid, I pyramid down, not up. Also, I lift heavy weights slowly.) Following from that principle, I use a planned weight lifting technique called Periodization. This technique was developed in the Eastern Bloc countries in the late 80s for their Olympic weight lifters. The basic idea is to move from lower weights and higher repetitions to higher weights and lower repetitions.

So, start by dividing your workouts by body part. I have three weight-lifting workouts:
  1. Biceps, triceps, and forearms
  2. Shoulders, neck (traps), and back
  3. Legs, calves, and chest 
On one day of lifting, do one category (for example, biceps, triceps, and forearms). On your next lifting day, do the next category (shoulders, neck, and back). I do three sets but periodize only the first set, and I use mostly free weights. Pick a few exercises that leave you plenty of room to increase the weight over time (I plan two exercises for each body part, and I fill the rest of my routine with a few alternative exercises). So, I periodize a total of 6 exercises. Write down your lifting regime in a notebook, and bring your notebook to the gym with you.

Let's take a look at a possible schedule for a triceps pull-down (rope) exercise:
  • 15 repetitions at 40 lbs
  • 12 repetitions at 45 lbs
  • 10 repetitions at 50 lbs
  • 8 repetitions at 55 lbs
  • 6 repetitions at 60 lbs
Before scheduling your weights, make sure that you're fairly certain that these weights and repetitions are easily do-able. You can always move up quickly if they are way too easy. When you are finished, write down how many repetitions you managed to do. When you reach the weight for 6 repetitions, see if you can go past that and do more.

So, do one body-part category on every weight-lifting day, and increase the degree of difficult when you cycle back to a given body part. For example:
  1. During your arms routines, do 15 triceps rope-pull-down repetitions at 40 lbs for your first set. (Do what you can for the second and third sets.)
  2. Lift for your shoulders, neck, and back.
  3. Lift for your legs, calves, and chest.
  4. During your next arms routine, do 12 repetitions at 45 lbs.
This way, each body part gets plenty of time to recover, and you're increasing your weights gradually. Also, in a given week, you'll be lifting "heavy" on one body part and "lighter" on another, which overall taxes your body less.

If you find that you successfully lifted the heaviest weight only 6 times, then schedule your next period and increase all the weights by 5 lbs, as follows: 
  • 15 repetitions at 45 lbs
  • 12 repetitions at 50 lbs
  • 10 repetitions at 55 lbs
  • 8 repetitions at 60 lbs
  • 6 repetitions at 65 lbs
If you were able to do more than 6 repetitions on the heaviest weight, increase by more weight accordingly. For example, if you lifted the heaviest weight 10 times, then, on your next schedule might look like this instead:
  • 15 repetitions at 50
  • 12 repetitions at 55
  • 10 repetitions at 60 (because you were able to do this last time)
  • 8 repetitions at 65
  • 6 repetitions at 70 
Finally, nutrition matters. Probably the most important thing to do is to make sure that you're taking in enough protein. Once you've gotten your planned lifting in place, it's time to apply the formula: take in 75% of your lean (non fat) weight daily in grams of protein. 

So, I currently weigh approximately 215 lbs. I figure that my lean weight is probably close to 185 to 190 lbs. My protein intake should be approximately 140 grams of protein a day. A chicken breast is between 20 and 25 grams of protein. That's a lot of daily protein!

Here are specific nutrition tips:
  • I use a reduced cholesterol, whey-based protein that I get at a fitness nutrition store. (it was recommended that I not use soy-based protein, given its tendency to increase estrogen.) I usually drink two full-serving shakes a day, which give me 120 to 140 grams of protein. The rest I get in my regular meals.
  • Before every workout, unless I've eaten a meal recently, I eat something with some carbohydrates. I like eating a Kashi bar, which includes whole grains, some protein, and no high fructose corn syrup.
  • During every workout, I drink an energy drink that contains some Creatine.
  • I take daily Creatine supplements in capsule form (available from a fitness nutrition store).
  • I take an arginine based supplement to boost energy on the day I lift weights (available from a fitness nutrition store).
  • I take a daily supplement called Androbolix to boost my ability to build muscle (available from a fitness nutrition store).
Again, this is what works for me. Consult with your doctor and personal trainer to get expert consultation on what would be best for your nutritional needs and workout regime.

Also, as I mentioned in my recent update about my Belly Reduction Program, I take a break from all weight lifting and supplements during the first week of the month, and I use that as an aerobics-only week to reduce fat.

That's it! I hope you found some or all of this helpful. 


Update on my Belly Reduction Program

Last year, I wrote several reports about my own personal-growth project: to hit the gym, watch my nutrition, build some muscle, and lose some weight off my belly. (I also do meditative exercises along with my elliptical workouts.) I thought I would use this post to give you a project update. 

First, it's been more than a year-and-a-half since I began my project. I'm very close to being down two pants sizes, people have noticed that I look trimmer and more toned, and I've felt an increase in energy. Even though I used to have back problems that resulted in spasms occasionally, I haven't had spasms in six months or so. I've made good progress!

Second, let me share a couple of adjustments I made during the past year that made a big difference in my rate of success:
  • I've lost weight off my belly very gradually for the past 20 months, and it's required patience. Yes, I could have lost a lot more weight much quicker if I'd gone on a crash diet. However, I would have lost muscle, and weight lost to a crash diet often comes right back (and then some). I've been trying to focus instead on the concept of "lifestyle change."
  • Feeling as if I wasn't making progress fast enough, I hired a personal trainer for two 1-hour sessions, so he could consult with me and provide core-building exercises. I highly recommend getting professional advice like this. (I didn't realize that crunches are highly discouraged these days in favor of planking. Good to know!)
  • I had been struggling with a recurring rotator-cuff problem, and my personal trainer helped me resolve it quickly. (For lat pull downs, pull the bar down in front of your face and not behind your head. Be careful not to go beyond 90 degrees when doing bench or shoulder presses.)
  • I found a really convenient, effective snack that kills hunger for up to an hour or two: a small handful of peanuts and one appetite suppressing candy (I like "Fit Chews" from Arbonne, though they are somewhat expensive).
  • I've added a high-intensity bit at the end of every elliptical workout. I set the resistance to a "medium" setting (for beginners, start with a low setting and work your way up). I then do a four-minute exercise that involves alternating between going as fast as I can for 20 seconds and then going slowly for 10 seconds. So, I cycle through these routines eight times in the four-minute exercise. I've found that adding some high-intensity aerobics increased the rate of my progress.
  • I've added treadmill jogging and cycling one day a week, just to mix things up a little bit and to keep my body guessing. I was sure to include hamstring and calve stretches before jogging, and I increased speed and distance very gradually. On the one hand, treadmill running burns calories quickly; on the other hand, jogging can be rough on the knees of older folks. It's perfectly acceptable to avoid all jogging and to stick to the low-impact machines.
  • Because gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time can be very tricky, I needed a tactic other than "burn a lot of calories and don't eat junky foods" to get significant progress. (There are actually blog postings on the Internet asking whether it's even possible to do both at the same time, with some experts suggesting "not worth trying.") The key is patience, and the next bullet presents a modification to my routine that made a world of difference in my rate of success.
  • During the first week of every month, I go on a mini-diet. I stop weight lifting, I come off all supplements (including protein shakes), and I do 3 to 4 sessions of high-calorie-burning aerobics during that week. For nutrition, I eliminate or significantly reduce all starchy carbs (bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes) at meals, I eliminate all snacks (except for the peanuts/candy snack mentioned in a previous bullet), and I am stricter about eliminating fried and fatty foods. (Being happy with the results, I tried to do this diet for two weeks in a row, but I didn't fare as well. One week works beautifully. Two weeks created the typical deprivation cravings that you get from crash diets. I don't recommend doing it for more than a week.)
So, as mentioned, I like to emphasize to my clients that all of us—me included—put effort into personal-growth projects. I coach people to do it, and I do it for myself.

Also, my Belly Reduction Program is a great example of calling upon patience, using trial and error, being willing to receive coaching from people with more expertise, and understanding that major projects unfold step by step over time. 

I'll give you another report if I discover something interesting or when I get down to that second lower waist size (aiming to go from 36" to 34").