Stepping Up My Game

Exercise is great. The more I do, the more I’m able to do. The downside is the more I do, the more I must do to get the same result. The time comes to either step up my game, switch up the activity, or quit and wait long enough for the same effort to work again.

I ain’t gonna lie. When bicycling was my primary exercise, I’d quit every few months to keep from having to go for longer and longer rides. I’m guessing this is a normal part of the process of becoming more active — a process I’ve been working on for seven or eight years now.

Two years ago, attempting to exercise as much as I do now would have killed me. The buildup to an hour or more of exercise just about every day has been so slow as to hardly be noticeable. Quitting isn’t part of my plan anymore, though I do take breaks now and then — out of necessity more often than by choice. Persistence is the key to success.

With running, I’ve shaved two minutes off my mile in the last two years. Getting faster isn’t really a goal, but happens — especially for novices like me. My time will likely continue to improve for a while. I’d like to run longer distances, but almost never run more than three miles. Cooler temperatures and lower humidity now that fall has arrived will hopefully give me a chance to push my speed and distance limits.

UPDATE: Saturday morning I ran six miles in an hour and six minutes (11.06/mile)!  My previous distance record was just under five miles. That last mile was rough, but I made it. Woo hoo!

Lifting, of course, is about constantly adding more weight. I’ve recorded every workout I’ve done since joining the gym — the exercise, the amount of weight, and the number of reps. I don’t need to look back to know I’m a hell of a lot stronger than I was two years ago. I may not win the gun show, but at least now I can enter.

After more than a year following weight-lifting programs provided by my trainer, I put together my own routines with exercises from the workout plans various trainers had given me. I focused on the vanity muscles — arms, chest, shoulders — with something for my abs at the end of every workout. I threw in a leg day now and then to avoid looking like the beefy guys who don’t.

For several months, I hit the gym three days a week for ninety minutes or so to workout. I upped the weights, but didn’t vary my routines. Eventually, I started worrying about muscles I might be neglecting, and of course, having done the same thing for months, the time had come to change things up.

My ex suggested a program he’d followed with great results. The 12-week program consists of four different routines per week, each focusing on two or three specific muscles while increasing the weight and decreasing the number of reps in a prescribed manner in four-week cycles. An easy to follow script and a web site with videos of all the exercises convinced me to give it a try.

After reading about safety issues, I cut two of the forty or so required exercises — better safe than sorry. Since I workout without a spotter, I don’t lift until failure either — a key component of the program. I do the routines in order and try to do all four workouts in seven days, but figured I’d need an extra week or two to finish the entire 12-week program.

I finished Phase One in the prescribed four weeks. Contrary to my expectations, I had no problem adding weight every week. If anything, I didn’t increase the weight enough. More often than not, rather than failing, I was able to keep lifting beyond the prescribed number of reps. By the fourth week, I was shocked by how much more weight I could handle.

For Phase Two the exercises changed some, with many shifting from free weights to tension cable machines. I reduced the weight for some exercises to focus more on form. Calves are included in two of the four weekly workouts, so I replaced half of those sets with abs or arms which, for me, needed more attention.

Halfway through Phase Two, a bad cold and lingering congestion kept me from exercising for more than three weeks. Rather than picking up where I left off, I decided to abort. The program I’d been doing is one of many on the website — all free. Most include nutrition and supplement information plus individual videos for all the exercises.

The videos are super helpful, and I watched many of them several times  — and not just to look at the hunky guys. I’d watch the video for a new exercise before the workout, then watch again when I got home to see if I’d followed the proper technique. I like the program I’d been doing and will likely go back to it later, but decided to go with a workout the “find a plan” wizard on the site recommended for me.

Having access to a variety of routines is a plus, especially when I want to target a particular part of my body — such as the resilient spare tire around my waist. The new workout I’m doing is a 9-week program to burn fat.

Aborting the original program isn’t a failure. I workout for the benefits to my health from regular exercise. Becoming more muscular is a bonus.