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This Dec. 31 I’ll be marking my second full year as a CrossFit & weightlifting enthusiast. Long story short: Still digging it.

If that’s all you wanted to know, thanks for stopping by. People who want numbers, keep reading.

I spent 2012 dieting down to lose weight. I spent 2013 eating more to gain muscle.  It worked. I weigh more than I did at my lowest, but that’s fine because I’m stronger. Much of it is muscle, some is fat. I largely stopped counting calories & weighing myself this year, mostly because I don’t want to drive myself nuts. Also, it’s not that necessary for me anymore.

When I did log my food, I mostly paid attention to my macronutrients, not the calorie count. I tried to stop the habit of eating at a deficit, because long-term that’s bad for you. I increased my protein intake, from about 130 grams on average to (on a good day when I’m tracking properly) 1 gram per pound of body weight + another 50 grams, which takes me well over 200g. I increased my egg consumption from 2 or 3 eggs a day to 4 to 8 eggs a day. One time I ate 10 eggs.  What a day that was!  Another time I ate about 9 ounces of turkey with 2 or 3 ounces of ground turkey sprinkled on top as garnish.

For my good behavior I have been rewarded with many PRs, stronger quads, & broader shoulders.

This was the year when shit got serious & I bought weightlifting shoes & a weightlifting belt. The shoes have been life-changing. The belt is a Christmas gift I started using before Christmas for max attempts or any working set at 90% or more of my max. Don’t tell Santa. Got it on an incredible sale for about 12 bucks. It’s a cheapie velcro belt, but I’m not pulling 500 pounds here. When I do, I’ll get a badass leather one hand-rubbed by some bearded craftsman with seven fingers made from Great White Buffalo hide or whatever. I don’t use it for CrossFit1, but it’s amazing for lifting in the garage. I can’t adequately describe here how fucking good it is.

This was also the year when I stopped logging & sharing my workouts online & switched to pen & a paper notebook. I don’t regret it — I like it better. Yet even though I haven’t used DailyMile in almost a year, every so often I still get invitations from people share my training or (LOL, see below) join some running challenge. Thanks anyway — it’s the thought that counts.

Stuff that went right

  • Rope climbs: I made it a 2013 goal to learn how to climb a rope to the top. I finally did it in November or something, climbed about 15 feet up. Touched the rafter & everything. I probably would’ve done it sooner, but rope climbs don’t come up a lot in the programming.
  • Double-unders: Last year at this time I could string together maybe 2 or 3 jump rope double-unders. It comes & goes depending on how often I practice, but I can usually get more of them now, like between 4 and 7. My all-time record is 11 in a row. This is pretty good for me. It’s frightening how uncoordinated I am.
  • Rowing: Last year I averaged a 2:05/500m rowing pace.  I couldn’t keep it up for very long. Thanks to a single miraculous & instantaneous technique fix (thanks TJ) I’m now rowing around a 1:50 to 1:55/500m, & I’m a lot fresher & can last longer.  Tempted to keep this secret to myself, in case I ever have to chase you in a rowboat. Because I like you, I’ll share what TJ told me: Pull fewer strokes per minute, but “pull like a motherfucker.” It works.
  • Kettlebells: This year, I graduated from swinging the 16kg or 20kg kettlebell to the 28kg on the reg.
  • Kipping pull-ups: This is an achievement I unlocked in 2013. I can do like 1 at a time. I’d like to practice this more. It’s not an important part of my life. Deadhang pull-ups are more important. It’s just a skill I’d like to acquire.
  • 400m sprint: Last year, I ran 400m in 1:45. In 2013, I ran it in 1:32.
  • Mile run: My fastest mile in December 2012 was 8:32. In 2013 I tested a mile at 8:06.
  • Turkish get-ups: I got a 35-pound TGU in 2012. In 2013, I did a 55-pound TGU right arm, 50-pound TGU left arm.

Max lifts

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I have a long-standing tradition of maxing out every lift every December, or Badassmotherfuckember. The tradition is now in it’s second year & still going strong. It’s time to see if all this weight training has been worth it or if I should hang it all up & take up Prancercise instead:

  • Press: In 2012, 85 measly pounds. In December, 105 pounds. Still measly but better. Result: +20 pounds
  • Deadlift: When I first started CrossFit two years ago, the most I could deadlift was 220. Last year at this time, I maxed out at 265.  Mid-year I  joined the 300 Club. This December, I pulled 330 pounds. That’s very close to a 2x bodyweight deadlift. I feel like I could probably pull another 10 pounds more or so, but I don’t own any more plates. Remind me to buy some.  Result: +65 pounds
  • Push press: In 2012, 110 pounds. This year, 135. Result: +25 pounds
  • Front squat: Last year, an ugly 160-pound crapfest, just about my bodyweight at the time. This year’s front squat max is a much prettier 195 pounds, comfortably above my bodyweight. This is also higher than last year’s back squat. Result: +35 pounds
  • Power snatch: Last year, a crappy 85 pounds. This year, a crappy 95 pounds. It might be higher if I practiced the snatch more than 3 or 4 times a year (also if I were good at it). Result: +10 pounds
  • Power clean: In 2012, 120 pounds. Not very much. This year, 140 pounds. Still not much. It was about 20 degrees in my garage at the time I tested. I can’t help but feel I could power clean more if it my hands had been warmer. I might test again in the spring. Result: +20 pounds
  • Bench press: In 2012, 140 pounds. Not very impressive. In 2013, 160 pounds. Still not impressive, but better. This pisses me off, because I’m pretty sure I can bench 165 or even 170.  Result: +20 pounds.
  • Back squat: Last year, 190 pounds. I tested midyear at 215. In December, I tested again & surprised myself. I kept piling on more & more weight, kept pushing it up. Going in, I thought maybe I might squat 235. I ended up squatting 265. I’m thrilled. Result: +75 pounds.
  • Jerk: Last year 115 pounds was my max. I wasn’t confident I’d make big gains here, but ended up maxing out at 150. Result: +35 pounds.

In a nutshell, I gained 65-75 pounds of strength in my lower body & 20-25 pounds of strength in my upper body. The front squat splits the difference. I’m happy. Although I wish it were more. It tends to be like that. There’s always more weight. I guess I can’t hope for too much, because I’m 36 years old, I only started doing this 2 years ago, I used to be chronically chubby, & I sleep an average of 5 hours a night. It’s the best I can do under the circumstances. So I think I’m doing all right, considering.

Here’s a video compilation I made of all my max lifts — except the power snatch or power clean, which I’ll be honest were fucking ugly. I was too embarrassed to include them here. Not that the rest of this isn’t embarrassing. But whatever. Also, sorry about all the grunting. I set off the Lunk Alarm many, many times here. Turn the sound off if you’d rather not hear what sounds like a wildebeest with an inflamed anus passing some corn.

 

Stuff that didn’t go right

  • photoBurpees: I still suck the worst kind of donkey balls at these. I don’t know what I can do to get better, except do more burpees.
  • Pull-ups: I was up to 7 pull-ups in a row, then went backward to 3 or 4 as I gained mass (I guess mostly in my legs, from the look of my numbers).
  • Most gymnastic stuff: Every time I’m required to stand on my head or flip around on rings, I realize I’m built for lunkhead shit, not this. I guess I’d like to get better at it.
  • Wall balls: Believe it or not, I actually got marginally better at these — which is saying something since I am still quite terrible.
  • My hands: I don’t know why, but even though I’m touching a barbell about 4 times a week & doing pull-ups & chin-ups on the reg, I still have the baby-soft palms of a college boy. I’m actively trying to cultivate thick man-calluses here, but they won’t toughen up. What do I have to do, juggle bricks? Take up stone-loading? Crawl across a field of red-hot porcupines? Jesus.

What’s up for 2014

A half-marathon is on the agenda for the first part of the year. I’m mixing lifting with weekly long runs to build up my endurance. I hope to drop some body fat in the process due to some nutrition & exercise tweaks (more eggs). I’m hoping my daughter sleeps better so we can all sleep more than a handful of hours every night. After May, after a week or so of recovery after the half, it’s back to lifting heavy & trying to put on some more muscle & drop more fat. Squat more, deadlift twice my bodyweight, bench my own bodyweight, figure out how to press more than 105, that sort of thing. I have a particular goal numbers in mind, & a bodyfat percentage that I’d be thrilled with. I’m training to get there. But really I’d be happy with lifting something more & carrying something less than I have now. Which leads me to:

A brief rant about goals; or, I am a party-pooper

I’d like to deadlift 500 pounds someday. That’s a long-term goal. It might never happen. I don’t think about it much.

I’d also like to deadlift 340 pounds someday, 10 pounds more than my current max. I’d be happy with that. That’s a short-term goal. I think about that a lot.

I focus my training on getting to 340. When I get to 340, I’ll focus on 350. Then 360. And so on. Do this often enough & 500 will seem less outrageous.

I believe only in making small, specific, reasonable short-term goals — continuously, all the time. Every lift, my new goal for 2014 is to move 5 or 10 pounds more. When I get that, I’ll make another goal of lifting another 5 or 10 pounds. When I test my running, I’m only aiming for tiny little increases in speed or distance or comfort level. When I get it, I think, Great, I’m doing well — now let’s get a little more. Nothing major. I think it’s probably the most important lesson I’ve learned — maintain a constant flow of small, measurable, attainable successes & use them as fuel so they accumulate eventually into larger successes. As opposed to making one monumental, imposing, life-altering goal that’s well out of my reach & striving day after day even to approach it. I’ve tried both. The latter seems more noble & impressive, but it’s more difficult, doesn’t work well all the time, & it’s frustrating.

This is a longwinded way of saying “one step at a time,” basically. Or “learn to crawl before you walk,” or any other bit of trite advice you hear2 that has nevertheless acquired its triteness & familiarity because it’s also true. This is the time of year when people make resolutions, a process I’ve come to loathe. I hate it partly because people don’t do things immediately, when they’re most inspired, & partly because sometimes people tend to make resolutions so gargantuan & ambitious that they can’t wrap their arms around them, can’t change that drastically that fast, get overwhelmed by the goal’s scope or its frequency — so then by Jan. 17 or so the goddam thing they wanted to do to improve themselves is stuck in the mud instead of constantly moving forward, making progress, which, if I haven’t said this a million times before, feels very fucking good.

That doesn’t happen when you do only one thing at at time, looking only one step ahead, focusing like hell on making small, specific, measurable, easily attainable changes, feeding off those small successes as you achieve them, using them as the twigs to feed the fire of awesomeness that will burn steadily in your belly for the rest of your life.  Look only one step ahead. That’s the whole thing. If someone’s on the couch & wants to take up running, I don’t think it works very well to go right off the bat, “That’s it, I’m doing a fucking marathon,” or “I’m losing 100 pounds this year,” because not to be a downer but those things are kind of hard. What a fucking party-pooper I am. And I know it sounds really bitchen & heroic to do make yourself vulnerable that way, laying all your cards out on the table, but it’s basically playing the Willpower Lottery, & you probably have little-to-no willpower seeing as how you need to make resolutions like this in the first place. Poop all over the party here. Just saying, I think it works better to have the big goals somewhere in mind, maybe tucked away in a dusty corner of your brain someplace by the ukulele lessons & the Kevin Bacon movie trivia, but focus on the subgoals. Run 5 minutes. Lose 5 pounds. Nail that shit & do it right. Once that’s down, take the great feeling of success earned from achieving that goal & fuel the new goal, which is to run 10 minutes, or lose 10 pounds.  Nail that shit. Then take the success-high from that & use it to make a goal of running 15 minutes or lose 15 pounds. And so on. Never once thinking, “I have to go from couch-to-marathon by such-and-such-a-date or I’ve failed,” or “I have to lose 100 pounds by Christmas or else,” or “If I don’t have a 350-pound squat by September my training is messed up,” because fuck that — it’s too much pressure. You don’t need it. This isn’t a job3. You’re trying to acquire a habit. The best way is, put yourself in a position where failure is unlikely to happen as long as you work hard.  And if you make those small goals, one by one, & work hard, failure is a lot less likely. If by some freak chance it does, you don’t fall from so great a height that you can’t just get right back up again tomorrow. I’m not the first person to think of this, & I’m hardly a model of ultimate success, because look at me, but I have been doing pretty decently using this method for two years straight with no setbacks in sight. I’m only thinking about this shit lately because it’s that time of year again. February is going to be a depressing enough month without having it littered with the corpses of good intentions.

I might be grabbing a fistful of panties & giving them a nasty twist here, but I’m also not a fan of the daily challenges that start every year — or worse, the daily challenges that get progressively harder every day. I know people love them. They seem awesome, especially when you feel like ass after the holidays’ shitty-food hangover. Daily challenges are, I’m sorry, the fucking worst. People can do what they like, but I have 3 good reasons why I’m never doing one again:

  1. I don’t think they’re an effective way to create long-term habits
  2. I don’t think they make people fitter short-term
  3. They give people a negative view of rest

I’ve done daily challenges in the past — burpees, push-ups, run streaks, kettlebell swings, others — & they didn’t succeed at doing anything except making me injured or wasting my fucking time. I was playing the game when I should’ve been working out in a smart, beneficial way to make lasting progress beyond some challenge.

More poop in the party. Sorry. Some people seem to handle these things better than others4. Go for it. Generally I think committing to a game where you force yourself to exercise 7 days a week despite how your body feels or any injuries you have encourages an unhealthy mindset that you can’t take a rest day, that taking a rest day = I broke the streak, or rest = failure, or rest = weakness, or rest = I’m gonna get fat, when in fact regular rest is nourishing & beneficial & necessary, a gift you earn for working hard, the period in which muscles repair, you recover from the stress, & you make all your gains.

I’m not an expert — only some schmuck who reads books & likes to exercise. But I’d say  the better thing to do every single day, which will be far, far better in helping me reaching any health & fitness goal, is making sure my nutrition is spot-on every day, or doing some mobility/stretching every day, rather than waste time & energy doing an ascending number of burpees for a month or fucking planking constantly.

This is a longwinded way of saying I believe in avoiding burnout at all costs. I’d rather stay healthy & positive 100% of the time.

Unless you want to play the game for fun, & don’t care whether it gets you fit or builds a habit — in which case do whatever you like, what do I know.

I’m just saying, I believe it’s easier to make progress by maximizing your chances of success, by minimizing your chances of failure, & by not putting yourself in long-term stressful situations — only short-term ones, like lift this heavy thing over here a bunch of times, or finish this run right, so you can conquer it & feel awesome about shit. That’s all.

 

  1. It’s not appropriate, for reasons which even I admit are somewhat vague.
  2. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is another obvious one, although probably my favorite is “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
  3. (unless this is your job)
  4. I notice run-streakers tend to use 1-milers a lot to keep a streak going, which seems OK because it seems usually light & generally over with in 7 to 10 minutes, so I guess it’s like active recovery, not very strenuous.