Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mid-Thanksgiving Weekend Update (not with Dennis Miller)

SO FAR, I'M HALFWAY THROUGH the four days of 0ur American binge-weekend of commerce and calories — and occasional thankfulness — and I've only indulged in half of that equation. The vast bulk of Thursday was spent over at my parents' house: helping Mom with food prep, burrowing with my Dad through dips and a cheese ball while watching two subpar football games, and tapping out an abortive blog post that ended up in the scraps pile with the other pieces of half-baked TextEdit compost. Also, I did laundry. The most effective multitasking I've done all week. The weather was cool, but not painfully so, and the skies clear and favorable to both travelers and Macy's parade-goers alike. Weather's not usually a hitch for a Thanksgiving journey to my parents'; they live one town away, a distance I could walk if pressed. And ought to have, considering the amount of full-fat dairy products alone that my Dad and I packed away.

I drifted home happy to have shared another Turkey Day with my parents, and crashed early under the sedative influence of a lovingly prepared meal. I didn't even get the chance to read. Just out like a light. I'd like to say that not having to go into work the next day accelerated my drop into the lotus-perfumed arms of Morpheus, but that's a whole other post or series of same.

I made a weak try at rising early to hit the gym on Friday morning. Wasn't gonna happen. I was still paying a sleep debt from a very late Wednesday night at the poker game, and I knew if I didn't pay it off then, I'd drag my sleep–wake cycle far off kilter over the rest of the weekend, and firmly screw myself Monday morning. Why fight nature? I set the clock a couple of hours forward, wound up awakening about 15 minutes before it anyway, and got my ass in gear.

After a couple of hours' cleaning in preparation for the Christmas party I'll host a week from today, I mixed up a protein-berry smoothie and rolled over to the gym shortly before noon. I'd come to the conclusion that hitting the gym first thing in the morning, without any sort of meal beforehand, was the reason why I'd been losing steam short of a session's end. I'd also noticed that the smoothie, when consumed after a workout, tended to make me sleepy. I blame this on the blizzard of simple carbs in the smoothie: nearly a cup of frozen berries, a banana, and a quarter-cup of 100% cranberry juice, to say nothing of what might be in the two scoops of protein powder (actually, I have this number: 6 g carbs).

This was particularly the case after a gym visit in which I'd just been on a treadmill or elliptical trainer for a half-hour, with no major muscle-tissue teardown. I'd be getting dressed for work after downing this and feel like getting back into bed. And I'd read a study recently that declared immediate post-workout nutrition to be counterproductive for all except competitive athletes, powerlifters, and other such folks who routinely burn 2,000 calories per gym trip. Not me by a longshot.

So I decided to compromise and bring the smoothie with me to drink during a workout. This has been working much better, and I don't get to work thinking I need a Costanza drawer in my desk for a nap. This is what I did yesterday, and I teetered into the gym, bag and keys (with membership tag) in one hand, big plastic cup brimming with purple sludge in the other, hoping the path to the squat rack was clear.

Usually I lift weights first thing in the morning, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, as close to the opening of the facility as I can get.

Now, this is more or less the type of squat rack we have at the gym:
Rather than use this for movements like squats, overhead shoulder presses, deadlifts, and other compound exercises during which you might want a nice, sturdy piece of steel onto which to drop the weight on a final, exhausting set, some speciments will use the heavy-duty bar (the Olympic bar that you find on these things alone weighs 45 lb.) to do curls. Without any other weight. While folks itching to squat grit their teeth and wait for this jerkass to be done. Simplest solution, as with many sources of stress in life, is avoidance. Getting into the gym at the open accomplishes this.

Not so yesterday. I feared that, at noontime on a weekday with most folks home from work, I'd run upstairs to the weight floor to find the joint jammed with bleary-eyed Thanksgiving binge victims expiating their guilt one curl at a time (of course, in the squat rack). I'd brought my iPod just in case I had to call an audible and burn 30 minutes on a piece of aerobic equipment while the scrum upstairs emptied out, though my schedule had Friday as a weight-training day, and I prefer to hold to the schedule if at all possible.

But I was lucky; the many cars in the parking lot belonged to the folks populating the treadmills and trainers, not the Cybex or Hammer Strength machines upstairs . . . and what few folks were busying themselves with their muscles were nowhere near the squat rack. Perfect.

November was a spotty month for me. I hit a low in job satisfaction, and also caught a cold, both of which screwed up my gym attendance, nutrition, and weight loss. But I found my footing again this last weekend, and thus far I'd been putting up good numbers. Even when your ass is dragging, I've found, if you can just keep going back to the gym for a couple of down days, it'll be a lot easier to get fully back into a program when your health returns or a dark mood passes. (And exercise is itself a fine antidepressant.) The squat is the foundation of the routine I do (the 5x5 beginner's routine), and after stalling out at 45 lb. of plates on the bar (for a total of 90 lb.), I'd been feeling strong enough to continue the advancement.

This week was fantastic. I broke through the 45-lb. weight to do five sets of five with 50 lb. on Monday. I ate more carefully and got more and better sleep. Wednesday morning, I entered the century club by adding 55 lb. to the 45-lb. bar, with which I was again able to hit the specified five sets of five reps. The kicker was yesterday, when, despite the Thursday binge, I racked up 60 lb., and still managed to complete final set with good form, albeit quite slowly. Even though I hit a temporary wall on the bench press later that day, I was still happy to have inched forward with the foundation exercise of the Stronglifts routine. Not sure if I can exceed that on Monday, but I'll have had two rest days to heal and prepare. So cross your fingers.

I returned to my parents' house for dinner that night, but I didn't go anywhere near a mall. I used to go out on Black Fridays. Not anymore. I don't need anything like that level of stress. People go feral that day and are best handled at the length of a cattle prod. Nothing I might need isn't already available elsewhere, either within walking distance of my apartment, or via the Web. Aside from the short trips to the gym and my parents' place, I put few miles on the car, or on my mental odometer.

Today, I've got a list of items I can find at local strip malls or grocery stores, rather than the mega-palaces of commerce straining at their rivets in Paramus. These are mostly things I need for the party next weekend: a nice scented soap, a few extra Pottery Barn mugs f0r my caffeine-craving guests, a couple of the giftcards I'll need for the grab bag I always have at the affair, and the envelopes in which I'll place 'em. I can even dodge the parking problem, because one of these places is within walking distance of my workplace, so I can stash the car and tromp down to the stores without jockeying with folks over spots. Insane.

That's how things stand as we cruise toward noon on Saturday, as a clear blue sky filters through the evergreens outside my window, and retailers gnaw the nails from their fingers hoping for sales salvation this weekend. I may venture over to the gym for a bit of treadmill and college football, before ticking off some more to-do's from the party prep list. A haircut would also be a good idea, which would take me no further than crossing the street outside that selfsame window. Other than that, and a bundle of leftovers awaiting me in the fridge, I plan to take the second half of this weekend at a delightfully slow pace.

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