Returning to the Gym on a Regular Basis & Changing Routines

Back in June it became apparent that the end of my student loan repayment was in sight and that I needed something new on which to hyperfocus my time and efforts. The only area of my life that made sense to hyperfocus on was improving my health. Several years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and a few years before that I managed to lose 125 pounds only before gaining 100 of those pounds back. I’m not even close to being at a healthy weight for my age or body type and the diabetes diagnosis is proof. On top of that diagnosis, the last time I worked out on a regular basis was in 2004 and 2005 when I lost those 125 pounds. Before 2004 and 2005, the last time I worked out in earnest was when I was participating in high school sports – primarily between the years of 1996 and 1998. And that was a long, long time ago.

There are dozens of different reasons for why I wasn’t able to get into the gym and maintain my health. And unlike the arrogant, self-important, idiotic blogs out there who go crazy telling people that they are their own worst enemy, I fully realize and accept that nearly every single one of my reasons for delaying the focus on my health was valid. I realize and accept this because I’m a realistic person who understands that not everyone is in a personal, professional, or financial position to drop everything and work out like a maniac every single day. If you read any “health” blogs that tell you that all of your excuses for not working out are bullshit, then I highly recommend that you stop reading that website and find a blog where real people congregate and talk about fitness. For my part, just as I realize that not all excuses are bullshit I also realize that many of the excuses that prevented me from working out in the past are no longer valid.

I go to a gym in the basement of the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown.

I go to a gym in the basement of the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown.

And since those restrictions are no longer in place, I recently started going to the gym again on a regular basis. I had to make some big changes in my approach to working out since 2004 and 2005. For example, I lost those 125 pounds by going to the gym once each morning for a swim and then again each night to do either cardio or weightlifting before taking another nighttime swim. Those were probably two of the healthiest years that I had as a young adult and even after losing 125 pounds I was still probably 80 pounds away from the government suggested “healthy” weight for my age and height. Unfortunately, the gym with the massive swimming pool is no longer in business and so swimming is not part of my new workout routine. In fact, I can’t even go to the gym after my workday is over because of other employment and volunteer obligations. And the truth is that the long commute and spending most of my day sitting behind a desk is absolutely exhausting, so I’ve switched my primary workout time to the morning… early in the morning. Very early in the morning! I always woke up early, but now I’m getting up at about 5:00am and leaving to go to the gym at about 5:45am which allows me to workout from about 6:00am until about 7:00am. I’ve found that the hour I give myself in the gym in the morning is all that I really need to get myself pumped up and going for the day.

On that topic, I’ve decided to change up my approach to going to the gym. For instance, instead of trying to find a few free moments to go and work out everyday, I’ve committed myself to going to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday only. Can I go on another day if the feeling hits me? Sure. Why not? Am I crazy if I can’t go on one of those three days each week? Well, I haven’t missed one yet so I don’t know. However, I know that I’ll be in Washington, DC for work next Monday and that I obviously won’t be able to go to the gym that day – so I guess we’ll see! Of course, I’ll probably try to use the gym in the hotel where I’m staying, but that’s another story because some hotel gyms are a total disaster.

The other big change that I’m doing this time around at the gym is I’m moving my focus off of cardio for now. I’m a big guy and one of the reasons why I’m a big guy is because I used to lift a lot of weight when I was in high school. At one point, I was bench pressing 385 pounds and squatting 660 pounds. No normal-sized high school student is able to put up those numbers – especially some 15 years ago when I was doing it before these silly supplements became popular. The only supplement that I needed was the pasta and meatloaf that my Dad used to make for dinner. That’s it! Anyway, I’m a big guy and every time that I’ve attempted to lose weight since those high school days I’ve hyperfocused on doing much more cardio than weight training. I’m not doing that this time for two reasons. First, I always enjoyed lifting weights. Maybe it was because I was always lifting a lot more weight than my peers or maybe it was because I enjoyed the pumped up feeling that you get after a good weight training session. But for whatever reason, I enjoy weightlifting and if I’m going to the gym at 6am, then I’m doing something that I enjoy, period. Second, over the last decade I haven’t been the most successful in losing weight by just sticking to heavy cardio with light lifting except for when I was swimming twice a day. Proper weight training not only builds and works out your muscles (a side effect of which is making it easier to move this big body around each and every day), but it also helps burn calories to aid in weight loss.

If you’re interested in seeing the weightlifting routine that I’m doing, then you can check it out by clicking here. If you scroll down on that page to the Version 2 workout, then you’ll see the routine that I’m using each week. Much different from the approach that I thought I was going to take back in June. What you’ll notice about the workout routine that I’m following is that it is a short workout. I try not to spend any longer than an hour in the gym between lifting the weights that are noted in that Version 2 workout and doing between 10 and 20 minutes of cardio (split with half at the beginning of my workout and half at the end).

Eventually, I’ll move on to an intermediate workout, but not yet. I’m enjoying getting reacquainted with the gym and the different machines that I haven’t used in ages. It’s fun. Once I feel like the gym is a second home again like it used to be, then I’ll begin expanding my “beginner’s workout” into a more intermediate routine (and beyond). And when that time comes I’m sure that I’ll write about it and discuss it here. For now, though, I’m content with the beginner’s routine so don’t look for that entry any time soon.

That’s the update for now. I’ve gone to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in September. The soreness that comes along with starting to lift weights is all gone and I feel stronger and more able to move around. I’m definitely not close to “mid-season form” (a reference for all of the current and former athletes out there), but I feel good; I feel much better than I did even just a month ago. Will I be able to maintain these Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning workout routines over the long-term? I don’t know for sure, but I know that I’m enjoying them right now. I have no intention of stopping the workouts, so I guess we’ll see how far this thing goes and whether it does anything to move the bar on my health. I have a doctor’s appointment next Friday – so we’ll know soon.

Most of the Blogs Out There Are Not Written for Those With Crushing Debt Burdens

Even though this is probably no surprise to anyone out there – I read a lot. From books to magazines to newspapers to websites to blogs to academic reports to you name it. I find myself reading a great deal of varied content on a weekly basis. Right now, for example, I’m reading a book about post-World War II educational curriculum development in America as well as the ninth book in the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. I’m also halfway through a book about how approaches to best educating students has changed in the last 20+ years.

But aside from all of these books and reports I really like to read blogs written by everyday people who accomplish extraordinary feats. I have a small cadre of such blogs fed into my RSS feeder. Some of these blogs are written by people who have lost tremendous amounts of weight, others are written by people who have gone from a skinny physique or a chubby physique to winning bodybuilding competitions. Some of the blogs are written by guys who were introverted and wound up changing their lives to become social butterflies. Other blogs are written by people who have managed to travel around the world for an incredibly small amount of money before they were a certain age.

I don’t necessarily identify with any of these blogs or their writers because none of them really speak to my direct experience. In other words, at one point I lost 125 pounds so I already know how to accomplish that goal, I’ve never been an introverted person so I don’t need tips or pointers on how to get out there and meet people, and I’m not the biggest traveler so those lessons really don’t apply to my life. What I do enjoy about these blogs is reading the sense of accomplishment that these people achieve when they meet their goals. As someone who has met (and continues to meet) certain goals in my life, I understand how great that sense of accomplishment feels.

It’s awesome.

However, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in many of these blogs. All of these amateur writers are missing commentary that speaks to a growing number of individuals in our country. Let me be more direct: not one of these bloggers, these self-professed self-help gurus, these accomplished weight loss success stories, these people who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, etc. have accomplished their major goals and retired a tremendous amount of debt.

While these bloggers build their own ego and create their own hype because they lost [insert large number here] pounds or because they traveled to [insert large number here] countries, you can’t find someone who has managed accomplish a major goal while saddled with a tremendous non-mortgage debt burden. And it’s like this all over the blogosphere. For example, I read a lot of guy blogs (those blogs focused on items of interest to guys in my age group). These blogs range in variety and type from guys who spend a lot of their time working out and talking about the best techniques for working out to guys who claim to have a lot of social success to guys who manage to weave the fundamentals of their faith throughout their daily lives.

All of the writers that I read on guy blogs eventually wind up writing an entry about how their readers can become better at [insert whatever here]. Well, the impetus for writing this entry was a piece of “advice” that I’ve seen pop up over and over again on these guy blogs. And that same piece of advice pops up on all of the blogs that I read – not just guy blogs. That piece of advice is that if you want to be the absolute best at [insert whatever here], then you absolutely cannot have any debt.

That’s right. I’ve read bloggers saying that if you want to lose weight, you can’t have any debt because you need the freedom to be able to spend as much time as possible working out instead of being stuck working one, two, or more jobs. I’ve read bloggers saying that if you want to increase the size of your social circle, you can’t have any debt because if you don’t have excess funds to do new and exciting things, how can you expand the number and type of people that you’ll interact with? I’ve even read bloggers who say that if you want to meet the type of girl that you think you’re most compatible with, then you can’t have debt because that debt weighs on you mentally and restricts your ability to see yourself with a successful girlfriend, fiancée, or wife.

But here’s the question that prompted me to write this entry…

Who doesn’t have some type of debt? I don’t mean that as a matter-of-fact type of question with the expectation that your response would be, “I guess everyone has some type of debt.” That’s not what I’m going for here. Think of the real answer to that question – who doesn’t have some type of debt? Well, you have independently wealthy people or those who come from tremendous wealth and don’t need to pay their own way through life. Okay. You also have those people who have worked their butts off and earned enough money such that they don’t have to carry any debt. Okay. And you know what? You might even find that people who are the exact opposite of these wealthy people also don’t have any debt. That is to say that those people who never took on college debt yet still didn’t graduate with a degree or those people who just graduated from high school (or not) and wound up living in their parents’ basement; the habitual underachievers out there.

Is there any other type of person who doesn’t have some type of debt? I really can’t think of any, but I would suggest that there should be a fourth category – those people who choose to write a blog focusing in depth about their success at achieving a goal other than retiring debt! After spending a few years reading some of these blogs I’ve come to the conclusion that people out there who accomplish what they believe are great things are not saddled with a tremendous amount of non-mortgage debt. They don’t have a significant amount of consumer debt and they don’t have a significant amount of student loan debt. They have that freedom that I referenced above – the freedom to not be tied down to one, two, or more jobs. And with that freedom comes the ability and flexibility to spend more of their time losing weight or working out or hanging out at local clubs or spending their time learning new hobbies or traveling around the world, etc.

They don’t know what it’s like to work an 8am to 6pm job with an hour commute wrapped on either side of that workday plus spending an hour each morning before you leave for the office working on freelance projects and several hours at night when you get home at night working a second or third job. And I specifically wrote that last sentence to begin with “they don’t know what it’s like” because that’s the problem that I’ve been having with a lot of the blogs that I read: the writers just don’t understand how self-righteous and, frankly, alienating they sound when they write their entries.

And here’s the prime example that I know so many of you out there have probably seen before… How many of you have ever read a weight loss blog or a weight training blog that condemns those who say they don’t have the free time to work out? Usually, the writer says that this is just an excuse and that you can make time to lose weight or work out if you really want to…

If you really want to? Really?

Are you fucking kidding me?

The only person who would write such an ignorant comment is someone who don’t wake up at 5am (exhausted) and then fall into bed at midnight after working the entire day to earn money in an effort to retire debt. Who would tell someone who keeps this schedule 5, 6, or 7 days each week that they are lazy or that they are the cause of their own lament because they don’t make time for working out? I know who would tell someone that – a blogger who has never had to try to tackle both [insert a personal goal here] and retire a significant amount of debt at the same time.

The reason why I wrote this entry is because I know I have a lot of random readers on this blog and I can track where some of you come from out there on the internet. Some of you are coming from some of these self-help, conquer the world type of blogs and that’s great. Believe me, I want to conquer the world and improve my health, wealth, and well-being just as much as those other writers. However, I live my life in the real reality – a reality much closer to where you probably exist, too. I understand that it’s hard to train to climb Mount Everest when you have a six-figure student loan debt crushing you and dictating nearly every move you make. I understand that it’s really hard and really difficult to lose weight when you’re working 16 – 18 hour days (or longer). I understand that it’s difficult to put the proper amount of time and effort into increasing your social circle or even finding someone worthwhile to date when you’re so focused and, unfortunately, controlled by crushing levels of consumer or student debt. I understand where you’re coming from – I get it.

And I don’t think that you’re lazy. I don’t think that you’re anti-social. I don’t think that you’re making excuses. Not at all.

What I do think is that you’re stuck in the same rut that the majority of population is stuck in – you’re forced to do things to retire debt (or generally improve your financial position) that prevent you from fully engaging in the other activities that you want to engage in. You’re not going to find this understanding on those self-help blogs or the guys’ blogs or in many other places out there because the truth is that those writers simply don’t understand. In about 6 years I’ve paid off nearly $100,000 in student loan debt and I have another $21,000+ left to repay. I repaid that amount while losing a tremendous amount of weight, gaining most of it back, losing much of it again, and gaining some of it back again. Professionally, I work around the clock; not just a 9-to-5 type of job. Believe me, I understand the burden of debt and how it really does dictate what you can and cannot do with your life.

And, like many of you, I’ve sat there and listened to people in my personal and professional life ask me why I don’t [insert whatever here] while I’m young? These people also have no idea what it’s like to be suffocating under crushing consumer or student loan debt. Folks constantly ask me why I don’t go away on vacation (my last real vacation was back in 6th grade). Well, I don’t go away on vacation because I can’t imagine spending a thousand or two bucks on vacating reality while I still owe money on my student loan. That would be financially foolish. People ask me why I don’t go out and find a “nice” girl to date (usually, their definition of “nice” is different than mine, but that’s another entry). They don’t understand that when you work around the clock, you don’t have much time for socialization outside of your standard circle. And, to mix a little bit of a guys’ blog mindset here, they don’t understand that the girls you meet while you are burdened with immense debt, while you are out of shape, or while you are working around the clock are typically not the girls that you want to marry! I assume it’s the same for the ladies out there looking for a man.

To sum it up, I just warn you all to read these self-help, self-improvement blogs for purposes other than examples to follow. Chances are very strong that the writer you’re reading doesn’t have the same life experiences as you do. And chances are even stronger that they never had to tackle an immense amount of undischargeable consumer or student debt before, during, or after they accomplished whatever it is that made them an amateur expert.

Be rational, believe in yourself, and tackle your debt first. Once you remove that crushing yoke, then focus on your health (losing weight, gaining muscle, etc.), and after that you can focus on your social life. There’s no way around doing what makes sense and this is the path that I really believe makes the most sense for the most people out there.

Now… back to the grind!

Joined a Calorie Counting Website and Put Together a Workout Plan

A few days ago I wrote about some of the folks that I observed at my new gym. As you might imagine, joining that gym wasn’t just a practice in observing the wild and wacky in a public setting. Nope. Actually, I’ve been saying for a few weeks now (dating back to before the new year, in fact) that I’d like to spend some time in 2011 getting into better condition in terms of my health. Right now I’m taking 10 pills each day (6 required, 4 optional) to combat Type 2 Diabetes and I’m hovering around 355 pounds (usually a few pounds less, but that’s been the ceiling over the last two or three years).

That’s not exactly healthy!

Back in 2004 and for most of 2005 I dropped a bunch of weight. I went from weighing 385 pounds all the way down to about 260 pounds. That’s pretty significant. However, during 2004 and 2005 I was a graduate student working two part-time jobs that really didn’t take up much of my free time. In those days, I would go to the gym twice a day if I was feeling good. Then in August 2006 I was hired by my current company on a full-time basis and things changed.

For starters, I went from a daily commute of about 5 minutes to a daily commute of about 2 hours and working 8+ hours in between the commutes. For those of you who are reading this and you’re just getting ready to graduate from college or graduate school – beware of your pending commute! I know that the job market is tough and people have to take jobs where they can find them, but if you’re the type of person that absolutely must spend a good deal of time in the gym in order to stay healthy, then please take that into consideration as you apply for jobs. Having a commute that can actually harm your health is one of the many dirty secrets that I found out about the working world once I got out of school (I found out some other really crappy stuff, but that’s for a future entry).

The other thing that changed was my Father being diagnosed with a terminal illness just two months after I started my new job. That diagnosis made me go out of my way to spend any bit of free time in a different part of the state from where I live (and, incidentally, from where I work). In other words, my free time was not spent in the gym – for good and obvious reasons.

The next big change occurred right after my Father passed which happened to be about a year after I was hired at my full-time job. The change this time was me getting hired as an Adjunct Professor at the local college teaching class two nights each week.

We’ll stop for a minute and review the timeline thus far: I went from having all of the free time in the world to taking on a 2 hour daily commute (not to mention going from a part-time employee to a full-time employee) to spending whatever free time I could muster an hour and a half away from both my job and my apartment so I could be with my family to being hired as an Adjunct Professor teaching twice each week at night.

On top of all of that stuff, I was still operating my website company and managing a few websites (including this blog) as well as reorganizing my finances to better prepare myself for the future (i.e. the huge student loan repayment push last year). When I thought I found a balance that allowed me a few hours of free time each week, I was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees for a national foundation which takes up more time than I care to let on about. Once I figured out how to balance the Trustee position with the rest of my life, I wound up getting hired as an online instructor at an all-online college (in addition to being an Adjunct Professor at the local college and my full-time day job with the commute).

I don’t have to tell you all, but this is an exhausting schedule to keep.

And in addition to being exhausting, it’s also not very healthy. So this year I’ve tried to take advantage of a few things that are working in my favor. First, I wasn’t scheduled to teach at the local college this semester. That means that I’m not going to be teaching in a face-to-face setting until next September so I don’t have to worry about that time constraint. Second, I’ve been spending a lot of time spinning off certain website clients that used to take up too much of my free time with silly, unnecessary requests. Sure, I have more clients to spin off, but the ones that I’ve let go thus far have dramatically decreased the amount of time I spend on dealing with my website company. Third, I’m coming to a head on many of the major items that I undertook as a member of the Board of Trustees for the national foundation. Once these major items are completed (likely by April), I’m going to only take on one project at a time for the foundation – and I’m going to make sure that the projects are small and manageable in my free time. Fourth, the all-online college didn’t schedule me to teach in either the January 2011 or February 2011 semester (each month starts a new semester for them which runs some 10 weeks).

And maybe the best change in circumstances of all is that my day job is planning to move its location from about 45 miles away from where I live to about 30 miles from where I live. In addition to the shorter distance, I plan on going to the office a little bit earlier each day and then leaving a little bit earlier to avoid traffic. With this plan, I could net a gain of about forty-five minutes to an hour each day of new free time.

With all of these constraints on my time being reduced, I figure that now is as good a time as any to try to get back into the spirit of 2004 and 2005 as best I can. To that end, I joined a gym, I spent some time doing research online to piece together a really good, low-impact weightlifting and cardio plan, and joined a calorie counting website to monitor the amount of calories that I’m taking in each day.

Tomorrow, I’ll post an entry about things that will be different this time around for my attempt to get a little bit more healthy. For example, back in 2004 and 2005 I was really looking to drop an incredible amount of weight for reasons of health, but also for reasons of vanity (who doesn’t like looking less heavy?). I don’t really care about that this time around. What I really care about this time around is reducing the amount of pills that I have to take everyday. I’ve had enough of these 10 pills each day!

Anyway, more on what will likely be different this time around in tomorrow’s entry.

Hilarious Planet Fitness “I Lift Things Up and Put Them Down” Commercial

Sometimes, I come across a commercial that makes me do a double take to the television screen. Planet Fitness hit the jackpot the other day with their hilarious “I lift things up and put them down” commercial which has aired over the last few weeks. This commercial is hysterical! Here’s the commercial for your viewing pleasure and then a few of my comments below.

I love it!

Look, I’m a big (overweight) guy these days, but back in high school I was bench pressing 385 pounds, squatting 660 pounds (on a yoke), and leg pressing over 900 pounds. So there was some serious power in this body and I think my performance on the wrestling mat and football field proved that fact. However, once I graduated from high school and began working out at the gym at my college I began to encounter people like the one you saw in the video above. Frankly, I found them to be bizarre people.

Seriously, who goes around grunting and flexing in a weight room? For a former high school weightlifting powerhouse, I was always taken aback by the 150 pound guys who were strutting around the college weight room looking at themselves in the mirror. Weirdos.

Then I graduated from college and joined the local gym and found a whole bunch of meatheads like the one in this video. They didn’t bother me as much after I graduated college because, well, I was a little bit older and didn’t really care. Yet, I find myself wanting to seriously get back into the gym these days. At the same time, I’m somewhat reverting back to a high school state of mind where I don’t want to be aggravated by the presence of wannabes and false meatheads at the gym!

So I saw this commercial again and again over the last few weeks and it prompted me to go online to check out this Planet Fitness gym. Wouldn’t you know it, but they just opened one up at the Monmouth Mall?! Something about working out at the mall didn’t sit right with me, so I didn’t consider joining this place. Then I did some more research and found out that there was also one in an old Walgreens building in Succasunna (my family’s hometown) and that they had amazingly-priced membership deals.

Having one in my family’s hometown makes working out easier and the membership deals make affording a new gym much less impactful on my personal budget. On top of that, my office is moving to New Brunswick and there’s a Planet Fitness near our new office and I can use my membership there, too.

You put all of this together and I had to seriously consider joining this gym. Ultimately, I did decide to join this gym where I won’t find a bunch of meatheads walking around lifting things up and putting them down!

It’s Time To Take A Small Break

After 25 straight days of going to the gym, I’ve decided that it’s time to take a break. The combination of an extremely hectic weekend schedule coming up and the fact that I want to reorganize some of my workouts at the gym have led me to decide that I’m taking this weekend off from the gym. Again, after going to the gym for 25 straight days, I think I’m okay to take the next few days off and get back there bright and early on Monday morning. Plus, most health freaks will tell you that you shouldn’t go to the gym every single day for a variety of physical and mental reasons!

My cardio workouts have been going very well and I enjoy doing them for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been able to read through a bunch of my books that were piling up. My weight lifting routine, though, has been spotty at best. I want to take the next few days and – while I’m driving all over the state tomorrow and Sunday – I want to try to remember my old weight lifting workout.

Also, when I start back up at the gym on Monday morning, I want to ramp up my cardio workouts. I’ve been doing about the same incline and speed on the treadmill for the last few weeks and now I want to change that up a bit. Either slow it down and walk for a longer time or speed it up and decrease the overall time on the treadmill.

In any event, I’ve been very happy going back to the gym again and I’m glad that I signed up for the one that is located right down the street from where I live. It’s great having a place to workout so close to home!