Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing this right.
Even though what I’m doing works: lifting heavy and often, eating right, only doing cardio in short, intense bursts. I’m extremely happy with it. I mean, it actually works when you apply it properly, & I’m pretty sure I’m applying it at least somewhat properly. I’ve dropped a good amount of body fat & added some muscle. I can tell this because I’m thinner than I used to be & I can pick up heavier things more times. So there you go. I guess some of me is muscle. Feels like muscle. This new stuff doesn’t jiggle. Anyway. Everything’s going all right. But I just wonder if I can do better. I still have a ring of body fat around my middle to lose, it’s likely I may never lose it because I’ve had it too long, & I could stand to gain more muscle everywhere. So what I’m saying is, sometimes I wonder if I should concentrate more on one of two options: (1.) Go back to a strict weight-loss mode & try to cut as much body fat as I possibly can first before I even start to think about getting bigger, like drop down to a scant 145 fucking pounds or what have you, down to stretched-out skin & bones, even though that will inevitably mean losing muscle, and only then try to put lean muscle mass back on, like do a whole let’s-start-from-scratch deal; or (2.) go hard with lifting and trying to gain muscle & learn to accept that some body fat will come along with this & do regular conditioning work & get my nutrition super-right to minimize the body fat gains & try to lose some in the process, & stop caring about the softness in my belly because my strength will increase & who gives a shit about belly-softness when you can squat twice your body weight & still feel good about yourself. Instead, what I’m doing is (3.): try to gain muscle, worry whenever I eat a big meal or drink too much water that I might be getting soft, do lots of conditioning, look & feel fine, still worry if I’m doing everything I can.
Sometimes I worry that if I do (1.) it’ll fuck up my metabolism.
Sometimes I worry that if I do (2.) I’ll get fat again.
I worry sometimes that if I continue (3.) I’ll get fat again.
Sometimes I wonder if I should ask advice from someone knowledgeable about this, because most advice in this regard that I’ve read seems to be aimed at young skinny boys looking to put on mass for football or whatever. I need a book aimed at 36-year-old formerly non-athletic ex-chubbos who are enthusiastic but still need to cut. But I’d probably get the reply “Well, it depends, is your ultimate goal to be as strong as possible regardless of looks, or as chiseled as possible regardless of strength, or be a mix of strong and fit?” and I don’t really have that clearly thought out yet beyond “Um … yes?”
I wonder if I should sprint more often. Like, every other day or whatever. I wonder also if I should be sprinting faster.
Sometimes I wonder if I should build a sled, load it up, push the fucking thing up & down my street over & over.
I wonder sometimes if I’m able to do better. Like, how possible is it for me? Often if feels like many of the people you see1 out there who are most successful at becoming fit are young, have a history from childhood of being athletic, seem relatively relaxed, eat fantastic food, & get great nights of sleep to recover at optimum levels — that is to say, I’m guessing many people you see who are so incredibly fit probably never let themselves become unfit in the first goddam place. Most of the time I’m filled with inconsolable regret that I didn’t start this sooner. I don’t mean just a few years ago — I mean why in fuck’s unholy name didn’t I start lifting when I was about 12. Why did I not discover this when I was a boy? Why did I not look for it? Why did the vicissitudes of fortune lead me to watch “Predator” 8,000 times but “Pumping Iron” not even once? How else did the badass heroes get so badass? Now I’m 36 years old. It’s not old but I’m not young either. I was never athletic until I started lifting & doing CrossFit in 2012. I don’t count those running years as being athletic because I wasn’t. I was staunchly unathletic: soft, fat, unmotivated, smug about it, confused. I now have literally 3 decades of shitty habits I have to work hard to undo, & I wasn’t even that bad. Stress makes it harder to get in shape. It increases your cortisol levels, makes it more difficult to lose belly fat. My default mode is usually worried, a bone-deep existential kind of worry about problems of all sizes, from the torn screen on the second-floor window, panic over whether my daughter will grow up to be one of those 11-year-olds who takes her clothes off on sketchy websites because I inadvertently never taught her how to express a healthy desire for positive attention2, the inspection sticker on my car, whether I can pay the bills next month, whether I’ll have a job to retire from, & why the fuck any of us, but particularly me, are here. And don’t tell me to do yoga to relax because fucking yoga annoys me. As for sleep, I don’t get much — on an average night I get maybe 5 uninterrupted hours. That’s not going to change soon.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m not eating enough.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m eating too much. Although I know that’s not true, because my usual deal is that I don’t eat nearly enough.
Sometimes — often — I worry that the exercise I do is not enough to warrant eating enough to recover. You tell me. Here’s what I did on 10.21.13: I walked for a solid hour carrying ±20 extra pounds: the baby in her sling. Then I did an hourlong CrossFit workout. I rowed 500 meters in 1:58. I did some dynamic stretching. I spent a few minutes practicing frog stands & doing passive hangs from a bar to strengthen my grip. I deadlifted an easy 7 x 135#, then 7 x 185#, then 5 x 205#, then 6 x 225#, 9 x 225#, & then finally 6 x 235#, which was tiring but didn’t kill me or whatever. In between the deadlifting, I did 30-second side-planks each side. After a few minutes of rest I did the workout: 15-12-9-6 reps of 28 kg/61 lb kettlebell swings, assisted pull-ups, & air squats. Later on this afternoon I walked the dogs another 45 minutes. But I’m still like, “Was that enough?” & “Should I eat to recover from that?” & “I’m still a lightweight though,” & “Yeah, but I had to use assistance bands on the pull-ups.”
Sometimes I wonder if that’s atonement for those times I used to run 2 miles & think I deserved two beers & half a pint of ice cream.
I wonder almost all the time if I should’ve gone heavier. Only 235 pounds? There was a time not very long ago3 when my one-rep max deadlift was 240 pounds. Today I’m at 300 pounds tested, 315 estimated. I lifted 235 pounds six times, easy, no struggle, just tap-the-floor-and-lift. That should be motivating — and it is. Sure. But then I wonder: Shit, maybe it was too easy. Maybe I should’ve done 245. I could’ve done 255. Doing 28 kg kettlebell swings used to be impossible. I had trouble lifting the thing off the floor. I’d wrench my back out of whack under the weight of the swing. This time swinging the 28 kg felt easy. I’m happy about that. Then I wonder: Well shit, maybe I should’ve gone up to the 32.
Often after a workout I wonder if I’ve really drained the tank or if I had some left & just didn’t push hard enough when things started to get difficult. I wonder this even when I’m laid out on the floor trying to make myself breathe — was that everything, or could I have done more?
I watched a video recently featuring Jon North, pro Olympic weightlifter, who said that this is a common thing with some weightlifters. They’re frequently in a state of mild disappointment because there’s always more weight to lift & they feel like they could’ve done more. This is somewhat comforting. Although if it’s like that for him, imagine what it’s like for a peon like me. I hasten to add that I’m not comparing myself to Jon North, pro Olympic weightlifter, in any way other than we’re both human beings who sometimes experience self-doubt.
I wonder sometimes if I should try different programming. I do CrossFit two times a week, & another two or three days a week I powerlift in the garage. I might throw cleans & jerks in there if it’s been a while. Mostly I run the 5/3/1 program, which is simple & effective. Sometimes I wonder if I should try another program even just for fun, like the Texas Method or Stronglifts 5×5 or Starting Strength or do the Smolov squat cycle or some other program I’ve found that has me wondering & enthusiastic. Then I’ll read that Texas Method is for intermediate to advanced lifters, or that you shouldn’t even attempt Smolov unless you’ve got a 300-pound squat, & I’ll think: Jesus, this is working & you’ve only been lifting less than two years — who do you think you are?
Sometimes I’ll read about how wearing a belt is beneficial & increases your safety for heavy attempts & wonder if I should consider using a belt when testing one-rep maxes, then immediately think: Jesus, your squat PR tops out at only 215 — who do you think you are?
Sometimes I’ll watch videos of people loading atlas stones & think about how much I’d like to try it, then think: Jesus, those things can get heavy really fast, but you can’t even properly clean 135 pounds yet — who do you think you are?
Sometimes I’ll put on wrist wraps to clean a measly 75 pounds & wonder if that’s overkill, even though my wrists get sore fast.
I’ll wonder sometimes if I could benefit from wearing elbow sleeves, because my elbows get sore, then I’ll wonder if that’s overkill & I should just correct form imbalances instead of treating the symptoms.
Almost everything I read from professional coaches, trainers, & weightlifters says, essentially, this: You do not need to go crazy to get results. Weight train like 3 or 4 times a week for half an hour to an hour at a time. Do some high-intensity conditioning a few days a week. Don’t overdo the cardio. Eat a lot. Eat enough protein and fat to recover. Eat enough carbs to fuel your activity level. Rest often. Go for walks. I do all that, except maybe for the eating part. I understand it all. I comprehend it. I grok it. It makes sense & it works like a charm. I’m seeing all my weightlifting PRs increase, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, & despite all this shit described above I’m happy. Still I’ll wonder: Should I be doing more?
Yes. I can do the following a three-step process: Lift, eat, & shut the fuck up. Everything is working fine as it should be. Don’t tinker and worry. This is a longitudinal thing. The process of continuous self-improvement has no end, by definition. It’s going to last for the rest of my life. If I can manage to eat & shut up, everything else be fine.
Step 1: Lift.
Step 2: After I lift, I need to eat. The better I eat, the better I can do step 1.
Step 3: After I lift & eat, I need to shut the fuck up. The more I shut the fuck up, the better I can do steps 1 and 2.
So that’s the plan.¶