Sunday, November 25, 2007

Two Weeks of Exercise Boot Camp

I JUST COMPLETED TWO solid weeks of gym attendance. Seven days per week. Four days of weights, three of cardiovascular-machine work. A fortnight of fitness.

In October, I had been hitting a rut — progress had slowed, and my home nutrition was shaky. By early November, after missing 5 days to dodge a cold, and ending up feeling like shit due to nonattendance, I took a solid look at my gym routine to see if it was part of the problem.

I concluded that it was. My three-day split was not making things any easier. By split I mean the division of exercises for different body regions over a training period. I had been doing back and biceps on the first day, legs and shoulders the second, and chest and triceps the third. Abs got in there every two days . . . usually.

Not a bad arrangement, but I was wasting a lot of time with more exercise movements per body part than I really needed. I was doing two movements for my chest (dumbbell press and pectoral-fly machine) but three for my shoulders, and six for my legs. The legs/shoulders day felt like a deathmarch as a result, and the chest/triceps day left me wondering if I'd actually done any work at all. Plus I was doing very little cardio work aside from 10 minutes of warmup before hitting the iron.

In mid-November, with about 6 weeks of potentially unhealthful food pouring into the office, and Thanksgiving, my party, and Christmas looming, I decided I needed to simplify that weight-training schedule while stepping up the cardio. I dropped back to only a few motions per region (my legs were most appreciative), made my abdominal exercises part of two specific days on the calendar, and simplified the whole affair by deciding to make every day a gym day:

SAT: Abdominals and cardio (30 minutes elliptical)
SUN: Cardio (20 min each of treadmill, elliptical, and ski machine, in whatever order)
MON: 10 min cardio warmup; back (3 exercises, 3 sets each) and chest (2 exercises, 3 sets each)
TUES: 10 min cardio warmup; legs (3 exercises, 3 sets each) and shoulders (2 exercises, 3 sets each)
WED: Abdominals and cardio (30 minutes elliptical)
THURS: 10 min cardio warmup; back (3 exercises, 3 sets each) and chest (2 exercises, 3 sets each)
FRI: 10 min cardio warmup; legs (3 exercises, 3 sets each) and shoulders (2 exercises, 3 sets each)

This schedule also offers me the flexibility to switch the two consecutive cardio days with the single one in the middle of the week, or to skip one of them, in case I feel like I'm verging on overtraining (which stems from not giving muscles sufficient time to recover between workouts).

Combining this with proper nutrition at home is critical, as I've found that to be the real barrier to progress. Avoiding spare Halloween candy at work is enough of a pain. Sidetracking myself with a crappy dinner is terrible, though. If I can hold to this discipline, I will shake off the negative effects of the holidays, build stamina for putting the party together (last year I was in awful shape heading into the party, and nearly fell asleep halfway through the actual event from exhaustion), and keep my immune system vibrant as cold season flares in full.

A bonus: The workplace has a positive attitude toward employee health. They're hosting a health assessment 2 weeks from now, with tests for bodyfat percentage (I hope they bring the big calipers), blood sugar, and nonfasting cholesterol. Participants get gift cards and can win iPods. Better still, they might be considering some reimbursement for gym fees, and they claim that any net savings in employee healthcare costs as a factor of our combined efforts will come back to us in some fashion. This is on top of offering free flu shots in early November, something the management at my last job unwisely neglected to do.

My target arrival time has been first thing in the morning on weekdays and Saturdays. During my joblessness, I had made 3 p.m. my target time, which worked great. The gym was sparsely populated, teens were still in school and not dawdling on the equipment (which happens at night), and plenty of parking. When the weather was nice, I could even walk it. The only thing to slow me down now has been the need to defrost my car. On Saturdays, the place is jammed at all times except at the open and the last couple of hours, at which point I'm usually doing chores on the road someplace. As for Sundays, with only cardio scheduled, I can get there in time for the 1:00 football game and find whichever machine I want.

One side effect of my efforts has been skipping poker night. This is possibly worth a full post, but lately the host down in Maywood has been having trouble assembling a full table. Successive losses have sidelined some of our regulars, and some folks can only arrive after 11:00 or so. I can't stay that late any more. During the last four months of my previous job and the next three on the bricks, it was easier to attend and play through 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Now, with a job I care about, and a morning training routine I feel is more important, I have cut way back on both my attendance and how late I stay when I go. I've learned to leave after my attention flags — a key skill when in Vegas, land of a million distractions — or when certain players leave for the night, taking their easier money with them, and are replaced by stronger poker talents. So between the occasional no-show night when the host cancels, and my more selective attendance, I've freed up time for the all-important sleep that I need to let muscles heal.

I'm proud to have completed two full weeks on this new schedule, but I have a very long way to go. It can't just be through the end of the year; it's got to be for life. Creating a more flexible, yet more easily followed, schedule of activity is one step. Minding all of the other factors contributing to fitness is the biggie. I'm tracking my progress in a notebook, along with commentary on how much weight I might be able to add next time, quality of reps, etc., so these individual workouts don't exist in a void. I may never fit into size 34 pants again, but I can keep my heart healthy, my bones and joints strong and young, and my mind clear. And maybe when I do get back out to Vegas next year, I'll fill less of the plane seat. At least on the trip out. The buffets out there play havoc with the acreage of my ass.

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