The Death of Fitness at the Small Hands of Children
Before the boys were born I went to the gym at least a couple of days a week. I don’t play sports, I don’t have a high metabolism (my pulse is barely alive), and I don’t have a very active job (I sit at a desk) so I need some form of exercise to keep me healthy. As it came closer to the boys’ birth I went to the gym less and less often, dropping my membership entirely a couple of months before they were born. I spent about a year getting used to the new schedule, the lack of sleep, and the overall chaos that two active babies brought into my life. I tried to eat well (I couldn’t let the ice cream go bad!) but I didn’t really partake in much physical activity. I’d have a week here or there where I’d “get back into it” only to slip out of the routine soon after. In the fall of last year I decided to change. For real.
Getting Back on the Proverbial Elliptical
I had a setback almost immediately: the holidays. As much as I tried Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas kept me from getting into any sort of good habits. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do and by January I was ready to make changes. I stopped eating snacks after 7 PM, weaned myself off of the idea that dessert had to be consumed if dinner was consumed, lessened my intake of ice cream, stopped eating candy and snacks at work, got rid of (or ate and didn’t buy any more) candy at home, tried to eat more health meals at restaurants (lot’s of salads), and tried to pack more healthy things in my lunch box. I started to exercise again as well, taking advantage of Sally’s elliptical in the bedroom as well as my free weights. I set reasonable goals. I didn’t have time to exercise for 60 minutes so I didn’t. I didn’t have time to change my eating habits in a drastic way so I didn’t. I decided to spend 20 minutes on the elliptical 3 days a week and do weight training in between. In addition I decided to focus on eating better foods when I could. The combination worked out well during TV season because I could lift weights in the living room in front of TV on days when I had shows to watch and use the elliptical on days in between. By March I was working out 5-6 times a week and seeing progress – definition in my arms and chest and a bit more room in my pants.
As the weather warmed up I hit a bit of a snag. I hate to sweat. It drives me crazy. The more humid the weather the more I sweat and the less I exercise. It was tough to even start exercising and the result was usually a low-energy session. I also started working from home more often due to increased responsibility at work which reduced my evening time and made me resent exercise. It took me about six weeks to adjust but I eventually got “back into it”. Ironically the lack of TV made it much more difficult to exercise so I started to plateau. I was still eating pretty well and had pretty much conquered the idea of dessert and eating after 7 PM but I wasn’t making improvements any more. A week of vacation followed by a trip to Ireland four weeks later and another week of vacation after that made it difficult to get back on track. Then I found The Rack.
A Walker of a Different Color
I had been looking for a dip station to complement the pull-up bar that I have in the mud room doorway. I really like doing body weight exercises, especially for my arms. The pull-up bar can work my arms, chest, and abs, while a dip station could focus specifically on my triceps while also working my shoulders, chest, and abs. The problem with dip stations is that they are big (usually 5 or 6 feet tall) and expensive (usually several hundred dollars). They also don’t fold up and store well. I had looked quickly and given up until I spotted something at Target that looked remarkably close to what I needed. It was called The Rack and it basically looked like a walker with some extra bars on it. It looked funny but it also looked like a 3-foot tall dip station that could fold up and roll under the bed. In addition to dips it could be put into different positions and be used for push-ups and even ab extensions. It cost $99 so I decided to buy it.
The device itself was invented by a guy named Owen McKibbin, a model, former professional volleyball player, and frequent Men’s Health contributor and cover model. McKibbin says that he developed The Rack as a compact way to work out while on location. The workout routines included are based on a concept called Zone Progression Training which revolves around the idea of working one muscle area to fatigue and then moving to another without any rest in between. For instance, the workouts will concentrate on shoulders, biceps, and triceps until they are fatigued and then move to legs until the are exhausted at which time it moves back up to the upper body. It creates an intense aerobic workout while building muscle, supposedly providing 2 – 3x the results of a standard workout in half the time.
Even though I was initially interested in its dip-station capabilities I fully intended to pop in the DVD and follow the workout program. The Rack came at the perfect time. I needed to get to the next level and I was having trouble motivating myself. I needed something with a set program that would tell me what to do so I could just follow it. In a way it takes the stress out of exercise – I don’t have to worry if what I’m doing is “right” or if it works. I can just assume that the package isn’t lying to me and follow its program for 12 weeks to achieve a better body. It also came with a meal plan which I decided to follow as well. Though I had made major improvements to my diet over the last six months I was still eating lots of carbs and sugars in the form of sweets and processed foods. By trying to follow the meal plan as closely as I could, I’d have a chance to eliminate some of those things, lose some additional fat, and hopefully improve my diet in the long run.
50-Minute Work Outs and Eggs Galore
So what is the workout? It’s a 12 week program that combines six different workout routines on different days. The first week is relatively basic – 20 minutes of exercise Monday – Friday, Saturday off, and cardio on Sunday. Even at 20 minutes a day the workout was very tiring. It starts with two kinds of push ups, moves to shoulder presses, squats, bicep curls, dips, more squats, and side squats. Two of those days use the “Ripped Abs” and “Back Chest and Shoulder” workouts. As the weeks go on the amount and intensity increases. The second week is about 30 minutes a day, the third ranges between 30 and 40, and the fourth cranks it up to 50 minutes on occasion. My whole body hurts after 20 minutes so the 40 and 50 minute days are really a feat. It’s been a challenge to keep up my motivation but I already feel like I’m seeing changes.
The workout is certainly working me much more than I’ve ever worked before but the meal plan is working me as well. It is divided into three phases, one for each month, that focus on different goals. The first month is all about “bulking up” and increasing calorie intake (to about 2400 calories a day), with healthy foods of course. The foods are pretty basic – lots of eggs (I mean LOTS, like 8-egg omelets) and other proteins – chicken, fish, beans, turkey; green vegetables, an occasional fruit, some yogurt, some whole grain bread/pasta, oatmeal, and a whole lot of protein powder (up to 7 scoops a day). There are no chips, no candy, no crackers, no ice cream, no popsicles, little fruit juice, no cookies – none of that stuff that I used to eat. Oh, and no COFFEE!
It is not always the most realistic plan to follow so I have to make adjustments. For example, I don’t have time to make an 8 egg white omelet with salsa and cheddar cheese, let alone eat it in the morning before work. I probably couldn’t even fit it in my stomach. Instead I’ll have a breakfast burrito and bring some hard-boiled eggs with me to work to have in the morning. I also can’t stomach the days that call for more than 3 servings of protein powder. There is one day that requires 7 scoops that I completely replace with the meal plan for a different day. I just can’t drink that much protein. I try to follow it the best that I can and that is enough for me. It is most certainly difficult (I’ll hate hard-boiled eggs by the end of it) but it’s good because it forces me to cut out bad stuff.
So far I have done pretty well. I have avoided candy and sweets at work and even made some healthy choices at restaurants. The meal plan includes no concept of a cheat day so I’ve incorporated small cheats here and there to keep me sane. I’ll have a cup of coffee on the weekend or on a weekday when I need a boost. I’ll have a piece of chocolate or snag a chip or two every so often. It’s nothing crazy and I have to be careful not to go overboard but so far I’m doing OK.
Where are my ABS?!
So what’s the plan? I’m going to follow the workout program to the end. If I need to workout for 60 minutes, I will. If I need to eat a million eggs, I will. The last time I whole-heartedly followed a workout regime was in college and I did make progress. I want to see if this program is all that it’s cracked up to be. The only way to find out is to follow it as closely as I can. My fitness plan has always been long-term. My goal is to be proud to take my shirt off at the beach and not have embarrassing lumpy love handles and mega-calves. I’m not looking for rock-hard model-quality body, just a flat stomach and a little bit of definition.
I knew at the beginning of this “journey” that I wouldn’t be where I wanted to be by this summer so I set my goal at next summer; it’s always been a two year plan. I spent the first six months of the year addressing some of my eating habits and establishing a workout routine. I’ll spend the next three following The Rack workout. Once that is over I’ll evaluate where I am and figure out what’s next. If I’m not where I need to be I will probably repeat the 12-week program otherwise I’ll probably slow it down a bit and try to bring some of my favorite foods back into my meal plan in limited quantities.
This workout regime and meal plan is going to be tough. The first few weeks are the easiest so I haven’t even reached the tough stage yet. My busy schedule with the boys and frequent need to work in the evenings leaves me with so little free time that it’s hard not to resent exercise and halt it altogether. It is a tough workout and it makes me tired and sore. The meal plan is restrictive and I’m going to crave things and resent that as well. As I said, tough, but I’m going to focus and get through it. The good news is that I have some events in the next few months that I can use as reflection points. As long as I’m always looking at the calendar and looking forward to events I can get this done.