Thursday, April 24, 2008

Remembering Warren ... Remembering My Dad

So, my wife and I were watching re-runs of one of our favorite shows, HBO's The Wire, last night when the phone rang. After checking the caller ID and seeing that it was my mom calling, I had a feeling that she wasn't calling at close to midnight her time with good news. And, when she told me she had gotten word that the only man I'd ever called Dad had died, my feeling was unfortunately confirmed.

As she sat there and told me all the particulars of how Warren had passed, all I could think about was the last conversation I had with him well over a year ago. Even though Warren was not my biological father, he was the only man that raised and cared for me from the time I was 7 weeks old until I was ready to graduate from High School. And, just like most father-son relationships, we had our ups and downs as the post-High school years progressed. For various reasons, we didn't stay in touch as often as we should have; nevertheless, the last time we spoke was, fortunately, when we were on good terms.

It had been at least five years since we had last spoken, so I didn't know what to expect from him or his wife. After an awkward initial few minutes, his wife, Shelia, and I started to catch up on the last years; it was a refreshing and pleasant conversation. Before giving the phone to Warren, she told me that he had had a stroke and was paralyzed on his left side, which caused his speech to be slurred. "He has also lost a lot of weight and is confined to a wheelchair now," she went on to inform me right before handing him the phone.

After hearing Warren's slurred speech and barely audible words, I was glad that she had warned me. I couldn't help but to have the image of a frail man, sitting in a wheelchair with a blanket across his lap to keep his legs warm, and it bothered me. While Warren was always an average sized man in height and weight, he was strong as an ox! My brother and I use to joke that he had that "ole' country" strength. Or maybe it was all the times he said he spent wrestling bears and fending off 6 foot fighting cocks in rural Virginia.

No, seriously guys, Warren was pretty strong. He would often lift my mom, who outweighed him by at least 30 lbs, to his shoulders and basically do a sandbag-style squat with her. I loved to hang from his flexed bicep as a kid because it was like swinging from a tree's branch. It was no wonder that he had strong arms because of all the arm wrestling he would do with my uncles, brother, and me. Working in the basement of the Washington Post for 25 years, moving barrels of ink and huge reams of paper, forged an iron like grip too. And, I 'm sure that being a stocker in the back room of a liquor store for just as many years, as a second full-time job, was the reason he was strong without ever touching a weight until he was in his 40s.

I should know because I was the reason he actually tried doing a bench press. Being the proverbial "chubby" kid in the neighborhood gets old really fast. So, I bugged my mom enough to buy a Sears plastic covered, sand-filled, barbell and bench set one Christmas. It was such a poorly constructed bench that I'm surprised I didn't kill myself trying to look like Lou Ferrigno (Sorry Arnold, I loved the Incredible Hulk). One day, I was trying to bench way more than I could, but I thought that I needed to challenge myself. So, there I was with 110lbs pinned on my chest, and all I could do was barely squeak out a "help" when Warren was there to pull the bar off of me, laughing the whole time.

"It's not funny Dad! I bet you can't press it!" was the first thing that I said to him while he puffed on his Kool with a big grin on his face. So, he lies down on the bench, and I show him where he should position his hands, etc. Well, I thought I would need to spot him, but he told me to back up. He pressed it like it was nothing and told me to put more weight on the bar. Well, this went on until I had all the damn weights on the bar (around 200 lbs). Hell, this was more weight than my older brother could do at the time, so when Warren pressed it as if it was only a bit heavy--since he actually took the cigarette out of his mouth for this rep--I really thought that maybe he did wrestle a bear or two in his youth.

Although I wasn't sure if he could understand, I tried to bring him up to date on all that has been going on with me in California over the years we hadn't been in touch. He sounded happy to hear from me even though I could not make out everything he was saying. I was able to tell him that I loved him and to let him know that I would be out there soon to visit him. I never made it out there to see him and never spoke to him again. And, in an interesting way, I'm OK with that.

I'd like to remember Warren . . . to remember my Dad as the strong, peaceful, and simple man that he was.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mr. Low Body Fat to start CPT classes!

OK fellas, I've finally made up my mind to embark on another journey: becoming a certified personal trainer! Hell, after all the reading and studying I've done over the past five years, I figured that I could at least put this newly acquired knowledge to some other use than my usual rants here.

So, I've decided that I'm going to start taking classes at my college that will prepare me to take and pass whichever CPT certification I decide to pursue. I know that my students are going to love seeing their "English" professor in sweats, working out along with them. Hey, it's a good thing that I decided to take these classes after I lost all the extra chub I was carrying around.

OK, here's my plan. My school offers a Fitness Specialist Certificate that will, as I've said, prepare me to take the NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) exam. Now, there are many other CPT certifications out there on the market. Hell,with some of them you can simply take a weekend class and boom you're certified. And there are others that will charge you $50 for a certification via the internet. However, after finding out that the NSCA-CPT exam only has a 54.9% pass rate, you know it was a done deal--oh, the smell of a challenge.

I will definitely keep you posted as to how my classes are going, and I plan on taking my first one this summer. Speaking of taking classes, I have some great news. My wife decided to give me an early b-day gift-- a trip back to Sin City! But, this time I'm not going to tie the knot; I'm heading to Las Vegas to take Steve Maxwell's Joint Mobility And Bodyweight Training Workshop.

I can't begin to tell you how happy I am to take this 6 hour workshop with a true physical culturist whose philosophy you can read about here. If you're not familiar with Steve Maxwell and are wondering why I'm so excited about going to his workshop, well I think I can show you better than tell you:

As I said, I'm really excited . . .

Friday, April 4, 2008

Happy Belated B-day to Mr. Sandow

I really wanted to post this on April 2nd, which was Eugene Sandow's 141st birthday, but that obviously didn't happen. So, it's better late than never. I also thought this would be a good time for me to report on what I learned during my In Search of Sandow Body Transformation, which extended a little longer than anticipated. Nevertheless, here's a list of things that I learned on trying to reduce my body fat % and my continued search for a six pack:

  • Life happens - Even the best intentioned plans don't always come off exactly as planned. Getting married, moving, and trying to keep with my planned diet and workout routine didn't always work well together. So, I feel as though I did not keep sufficient records for this cycle as far as my nutrition is concerned; however, I kept a pretty good log of my workouts. Even so, my next 6-8 week cycle, which I'll start in two weeks, I plan on being a bit more disciplined with keeping a written account of my intake.

  • Calories must be counted - It is really unfortunate that we are in 2008 and folks are still debating this issue. I'm sorry to keep beating a dead horse here, but I achieved my lowest level of body fat on this journey (7% as my electronic calipers indicate), and there is no way in hell I could have achieved this loss in body fat without counting my calories and eating below what my body needed to maintain my current bodyweight. I still don't understand why people are still so resistant to this idea, and it's not like you'll be doing it for the rest of your life.

  • Insulin is not an evil hormone - I'll be the first to admit that I am a re-covering Carb-phobe. You see, my body responds extremely well to a low-carb, paleolithic style diet since I suspect that I'm an endomorph that is insulin sensitive, which is a recipe for a fat ass; however, I played around with cycling my carbs or carbing up which allowed me to actually eat a large number of carbs which went to replenishing my depeleted muscle glycogen and not fat storage. I'm going to play around more with this and blog about it in the future. But, I will say that from reading Jim Hale's new book and a couple of Lyle McDonald's that there are many more hormones involved in the fat loss and fat storage process that are seldom discussed. I'll be the first to admit that I'm still trying to digest what they are saying because I don't think most guys really understand how complex our body really is, or at least I didn't. So, I'm getting a crash course education now.

  • Zero or very low carbs is not necessary - Unless you know that you are very sensitive to insulin, I really don't see the need for most fellas to go so low with their carbs. Honestly, I've done very low carbs for more than a year and worked out like a mad man with kettlebells only to get a very unimpressive (in my opinion) and emaciated looking physique. I had no idea how a muscle that's been depleted of its glycogen looked versus one that isn't. So, I could not figure out why I could not build muscle while I was going really low carb. Well, I wasn't eating enough carbs to keep my muscles' glycogen replenished, which gives the muscle a full look that most guys want. I suggest as Anthony Colpo does in his Fat Loss Bible that you eat between 60-100 grams of carbs a day and to take in post-workout carbs with the amount depending on how hard you worked out and for how long. Again, manipulating your macronutrients is not as simple as reduce your carbs to near zero and you'll have the body of Adonis before the summer.

  • One can gain strength and definition using bodyweight exercises solely - You know I really can't believe that people are still saying this is not true, and they really should be ashamed of themselves. Yes, I understand that folks want to sell fitness equipment, but when they make outlandish claims like this, it's really criminal. As I've noted before on my blog, some of the strongest athletes are gymnasts who use virtually no weight training yet are able to do muscle-ups, iron crosses, and push ups on rings. Hey, I'm not anti-weights or anything like that because I'm going to go back to my kettlebells in a couple of weeks; however, I still strongly believe that one should master his/her own bodyweight first before thinking about picking up a weight. Also, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than buying some type of Bowflex contraption.

  • Doing endless crunches is not necessary to get rock hard abs - Did I finally get my six-pack? Well, not quite, but I've reduced my sag in my belly enough to know that it is definitely within sight. Oh, and I did nothing special either to develop my abs. I hate doing crunches and preferred to do mainly isometric style holds such as ab vacuums, side bridges, oh and this one that my buddy Steve told me about which has you staying in the half-crunch position while raising your hands above your head. I called this one stick 'em up. LOL! The main thing about getting abs is removing that layer of body fat that's covering them up because WE ALL have them! They may not all look the same, as all of our muscles' shapes and sizes differ, but we all have a six-pack, and I don't care how fat you are right now.

  • Fat is not bad for you but shouldn't be eaten ad lib either - I think what happens when someone goes low-carb is that it is unbelievable that they can eat what seems like an unlimited amount of dietary fat and still lose weight. I know because I was one that couldn't believe that I could eat three double-cheeseburgers, without the buns of course, and still drop weight. Not only did I not count calories, but I embraced fat like a long lost friend whom I had shunned during my years of low-fat dieting. Well, it was too much of a good thing because of the calories per gram of fat. I know that there are a lot of guys out there low-carbing, eating damn near zero carbs and can't figure out why they are still experiencing a plateau. Well, if you stop eating so much fat, you would automatically lower your daily caloric intake. If you're going very low-carb, you could also increase your carb intake to no more than 100 grams a day, and as long as you are in an energy deficit, you will lose weight. Also, I've switched to using 2% shredded cheese as I did with full-fat shredded cheese and mixing real eggs with a little bit of egg beaters. Also, I'm taking more fish oil pills that have also replaced some of the dietary fat I use to eat. No, fat isn't bad, but when you are trying to get your body to use the stored fat it has, you need to chill on eating so much dietary fat.

  • Be flexible in your beliefs and open minded to challenge your previous views - When I reached my first goal of losing 100 lbs, I did so buy basically reading one book, Dr. Ellis's Ultimate Diet Secrets. I've blogged enough about this book, but I had to come to realize that there is no such thing as a guru or someone who has all the answers. If someone claims to, then they are just full of themselves because not one person can be an expert on every aspect of weight loss because the process is just too complex. Now I realize that much of the debating that goes on in the dieting community as a whole is really counterproductive in many ways because it keeps people from reading and trying to understand the complex processes involved in weight loss, especially if you are trying to achieve low levels of body fat. While I think that I'm getting a better grasp of the things I read, the more I read the more I realize how much I have to learn.

  • Saggy skin is mainly stubborn body fat - As my picture shows, my hanging belly has gone down a bit, but I know that I still have fat in my lower abdomen and lower back because I can feel it. I'm not kidding myself by thinking that my skin is going to come back and be smooth as it was when I was a teenager; however, I do believe that it will tighten up and come back much more than I initially thought. Also, I've noticed that my stretch marks become less noticeable the smaller my belly gets, which is really encouraging and motivating because I really want to see how far I can take this. Oh, and talking about the complexity of the problem of what I'm trying to do is that I'm actually fighting against my own body's defense system of stoping the body fat levels from getting too low. And, to add to this, different types of body fat respond to different stimulii from the body. Listen, if you are dieting down to try and get a six pack, and you've never done it before like me, then let me be the first to tell you that it is DAMN HARD, and anyone who tells you it's not is full of shit or trying to sell you something!

  • Bodybuilders have weight loss down to a science - I don't know if it's the image of over muscled guys or women with pecs harder than most men, but the average person becomes really intimidated when it comes to the bodybuilding community. This is really unfortunate because they have this weight loss thing literally down to a science, but let me be clear about which aspect of the bodybuilding community I'm talking about. Now, 99% of the BB magazines you see on the market are garbage that are basically full of ads of companies that want to promise you the world and basically hustle you. So, you can cancel your subscription to Muscle and Fitness. You want information on how to really lose weight? Well, go on bodybuilding forums and read, read, and read some more. Not only will you find some extremely smart individuals on there, but they are not the 'roid rage, WWF-type personalities they are stereotyped to be. BB is a competitive sport, so you don't have to do everything they do, but when you have a group of individuals who's chance of winning is how little amount of body fat they have is someone that I will definitely want to hear what they have to say. I've found that and are two of the best forums around. However, I will warn you. If you are lazy and looking for an "easy" way to lose weight or get ripped, these forums aren't for you. Although they have it down to a science, they don't have a patent on a magic potion to make you shredded overnight. I'm sorry but it's going to take a major effort on your part.
OK guys, there you have it. My report from this roller-coaster ride that I've been on over the past three months. While I did not get my six-pack as I had hoped, I more convinced now that it's in my cross-hairs!