Over the last decade, I’ve made it a habit of trying to work out three times a week. In DC, where there was a fitness center in my building, and in Cairo, where the CSA was at the end of our block, I got closer to 5X/week, but generally, family and work responsibilities made this more difficult when the opportunity was just a little less convenient.
In the CHill, the YMCA is about a ten minute walk from our house. When I was working in Raleigh, I tried to get there twice during the week, either on the days I was working from home, or, if I was driving in, I could get in a quick workout after dropping off the OG at school at Eight, and be at my desk by 9:30, which didn’t raise any eyebrows. And I’ve also been a regular Saturday morning visitor, armed (eared?) with the new edition of Wefunkand the podcast of Shields and Brooks, which, if I put it on when I walk out, is just finishing up as I walk in the door (I can’t bear the relentless coverage of the presidential campaign, but ten minutes/week seems about right, especially at this time.)
Well, the reduced gym time, compounded with the increased access to delicious food and the burden of advancing age, has added a few pounds, and, now that my term with the court is finished, I’ve been going every day except Sunday. My routine focuses on a blend of weights and cardio, and is based on the following principles, almost all of which I got from Marty Gallagher, who, sadly, doesn’t seem to be blogging anymore. He put training, especially with weights, in context for me, first with his Washington Post articles, and then with his blog; and he was always quick to respond to my email questions about whether something was a good idea or not, or how I might shake up my routine. A summary of his Purposeful Primitive approach is here. I used it to come up with the following basic workout principles:
- The 3 essential elements of fitness are diet, cardio and weights;
- Free weights are better than machines
- Push yourself during cardio
- The two most important exercises are the bench press and the squat
- Exercises done standing up are better than those done sitting down
I try to do only one weight training exercise per workout, followed by twenty minutes of cardio, except on Saturdays, when I’ll do both squats and bench. I’ll do two sets of bench exercises per week (moving every 6 weeks or so from 3 sets of 3 repetitions to 3 sets of 5 to 3 sets of 8, to 1 set of 1, trying to either increase the weight, or the number of reps from the previous time (doing only 1 exercise means I don’t really need a journal and can keep prior stats in my head). Right now, after about 4 weeks, I am finally able to complete 3 full sets of 8 repetitions with 165 pounds (2 minutes rest between sets), so I’ll bump it up to 170 next week, and see how that goes. When I feel like I've plateaued, I'll move to 3x3.
I do 50 deep squats with 105 pounds. Given the shape of my body, I’m not as concerned with the size of my core as I am with my scrawny chest and noodle arms. This is also why I don’t do deadlifts, which would appall Marty, but my focus is more on body tone than brute strength.
On the other days, I’ll do one set from a list of exercises I like, trying to emphasize variety, choosing a weight that makes the final rep a struggle:
- 1 set of pull-ups to failure
- 1x20 power cleans (pick two dumbbells off the floor and lift them over your head)
- 1x30 Modified Marvins (10 tricep extensions, followed immediately by 10 curls and 10 military presses with the same weight)
- 1x50 crunches
That’s about it. For cardio, I like the stair machines at the Y, since they are always available. I love the built-in calorie counter, because, although I know it bears little relationship to the actual number of calories burned, it is a consistent measure, and it gives you a target to aim for. I’ll start with a programmed twenty minute workout set to a middle level of difficulty, and try to raise it, each time, until I can manage it on maximum intensity. When I hit that, I’ll set a manual level of maximum intensity, and try to maintain it as long as I can. If it gets too easy, I’ll add minutes or a weighted backpack, but situational changes, holidays, vacations, injuries, etc. always seem to keep me from maxing out. Today I did 15 minutes at Level 21, and the last 5 at Level 18, producing a “score” of 661 calories burned. On Monday, I’ll try to do 16 minutes, and to beat 661. “Win, Rocky, win!”
This routine has me in an out in 30 minutes, which makes it a workable part of the day, and it’s allowed me to smooth out my body shape a little over the last decade, and to more or less maintain the same waistline, which, for me, is the best measure of fitness. My waist was 32” in college, 33” in law school and 34.5” when I first started working out in 1992. I got it down to 32.5” in 2009, and I just fit comfortably into the 33” shorts that Worldwide had delivered from LL Bean in time for Father’s Day. Not bad as I approach my 47th birthday. Plus, being home alone for a couple of weeks has allowed me to go on a modified Warrior Diet, without interference to the family dynamic. I’ve been eating a serving of fruit and a smoothie for breakfast, a handful of nuts for lunch and an unrestricted dinner all week. I’ll share the results next week when Worldwide returns. But I suspect they will be minimal, since this isn’t all that different from how I eat every day. Let’s hope that the new lunch routine, while making leftover management significantly more challenging, will tip the scales.