Sunday, September 07, 2008

Two Minor Steps Toward Better Fitness

LABOR DAY WEEKEND WAS, as I suspected, a foodfest. Though it lacked the sweets and chips I had over July Fourth weekend, just before I started my 30x40 program, it nonetheless included much "off-program" food I don't usually eat on a Monday. After a scary spike to 226 last Tuesday, I worked down to something closer to more recent averages. I missed my target weight for this Saturday of 221.5 by one pound, but it's drifted down a bit today. Even at 222, that leaves 24 more pounds to lose, about 2.4/month by next June 27. Insofar as I've been as low as 219.5 in mid-August, the new goal for next Saturday (221 lb.) ought not be unimaginable should my eating and exercise be sound.

I did make two changes to my life along both these lines in the past couple of weeks. I reduced the amount of Diet Coke (and with it aspartame) I drink, and I added the dreaded squat to my exercise program.

I am a hardcore Diet Coke addict. Caffeine addict, to be precise. Three cans per day keep the headaches away. Nine, twelve, and three is the dosage schedule. I kicked caffeine completely once, for several weeks, by weaning myself off using caffeine-free Diet Coke. This ended when my stress level at work surged. You can imagine how such abstinence didn't occur to me earlier this year.

I've been drinking green tea as the main liquid ingredient of my post-workout protein smoothies for months now. I brew up a big jug of the stuff every week or so and keep it in the fridge, ready to go when I come back from the gym. Two weeks ago, I brewed a travel mug of the tea separately, to drink at work later that morning while eating my cereal or oatmeal. No sweetener; I get enough early-morning simple carbs from the fruit and protein powder in my smoothie. I've been doing this since, except for last Thursday, when I forgot to bring my travel mug home.

This wasn't as much a caffeine-control move as a way to cut my aspartame intake. The amount of tea I'm drinking to replace that first Diet Coke contains nearly twice the caffeine of the omitted soda, according to Wikipedia's caffeine entry. (Though a couple of days last week, I got afternoon caffeine-withdrawal headaches. Another razor-accurate Wikipedia page for you.) For several weekends, I'd been drinking either hot green tea or coffee for my first day's caffeine, so this seemed a a good way to cut my dosage of a potentially dangerous chemical. The last thing I want to find out 40 years ago is that the tumors I'm having irradiated are due to this nasty shit that Donald Rumsfeld pimped to the food industry while working for chemical company G.D. Searle. By then he'll be too dead to receive my vengeance.

As for the exercise change, I attempted to add squats to my exercise routine in 2005. Recovering from the first couple of sessions in which I did them was tough, and I let that difficulty convince me to drop them in favor of an isolation-exercise machine for quadricep development. But I began studying the articles on squats at, and realized that I hadn't been doing them right.

I've given them another try, and thus far, I think I'm not only doing them right, but building a little more muscle with them. I have no weight on the bar, which itself weighs about 45 lb. I've been able to increase from five sets to seven (the goal is to have three light warmup sets, then five "working" sets with heavier weights). My quadriceps were burning burger last Sunday, and I could barely manage to sit while standing or get up once seated. The recovery time for each subsequent squat session has been shorter, even while adding new sets. And only my quads have hurt; last time I tried these, my back and knees hurt during recovery. Properly done, squats call upon back muscles and knees as stabilizers; only your quads should be hit. I think I'm doing a better "flight check" of the steps one takes before and during the motion. Bottom line: I haven't blown out a knee or snapped a hamstring. With any luck, greater proficiency and more weight will make those fates even more distant.

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