Starting with why

Why am I writing a blog? There are two primary reasons. The first is that I find that when I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), it helps to crystallize my thoughts and allow me to make sense of complex ideas. And secondly, because when I find success in a difficult endeavor, it makes me feel good to show other people the path.

I do not know if I am going to be successful. I hope I will be. I certainly am stacking the deck in my favor. What I am attempting? I am pursuing a level of physical fitness that is beyond anything I have experienced in my life. That may sound impressive, but considering that I have never been a very good athlete, it is not quite as much of a challenge as it sounds at first.

So who is this written for? It is written for me, and it is written for anyone else out there who is frustrated by trying to get fitness advice from people who look like they were born with tremendous athletic ability, who have never had to battle their way out of a chronic weight problem, and who want to understand the why of all of the hows.

The big problem is that there is so much out there. There are literally thousands of self-proclaimed experts that make finding the truth difficult. The signal to noise ratio, as it were, is extremely low. My intent is to use myself as a laboratory, start with where I am, and using the advice of people I have been fortunate enough to run across, see what I can learn that will help both me and others like me find the path to fitness.

First of all, a little about myself. I am 44 years old. I have never been a natural athlete. I was overweight, although not grossly so, from childhood on. It is in the family. I have never had a six-pack, never had any kind of definition. I have always been pretty solidly built, but that muscle mass has never really given me a large degree of strength. I saw the writing on the wall many years ago and realized that if I did not force myself to pursue a career that demanded fitness, I would be obese for my entire life. So I joined the military. I got my commission in 2004 during the intern year of my surgical residency and started active duty in 2010 as a general surgeon on an aircraft carrier. I then attended a vascular surgery fellowship and now practice in the Navy as a vascular surgeon. I also work with special operations doing development and research for the management of far forward trauma, with a particular interest in vascular injuries. The reason that this is relevant is that I have had the opportunity to meet many people with very impressive backgrounds when it comes to fitness and training. In fact, one of them is now my personal coach. I have learned a great deal from him already, and he is going to be my primary guide on this journey.

So let’s start with the first issue. How do you get in shape? It seems simple. You eat less, and workout more. At least that was what I thought. That idea is wrong, completely. Lets examine it.

First of all, eating less. The point of working out is to improve your body, to increase muscular strength and mass. By doing so, not only will you be more functionally fit (a vital consideration for me and people in my line of work) but you will have more metabolically active tissue (muscle) which will burn fat better, and so on. So how do you build muscle? By eating more, not less. But it is vital that you eat the right things. More on that later. I am just identifying the problem at this stage.

Secondly, working out more. The problem, as coach Chris has told me many times, is that volume is secondary to intensity when it comes to working out. You get much more value in short, infrequent, intense training sessions than you do in long, easy or moderate intensity sessions. And you decrease the risk of overuse injury and overtraining.

So eat more good quality food and keep your workouts short and intense. Says easy, does hard. I discovered that yesterday when I woke up and felt like I wanted to go back to sleep for ten hours. I was completely unprepared for feeling like a zombie. I had not stayed up too late the night before, I had not consumed alcohol, I had eaten reasonably well the day before, and I had taken a rest day. Why was I so wiped out? Chris felt that it could be a variety of different things. I had been out of town training the week before, and that could have been part of it. The bottom line is that it is not really important why I felt that way, but it was important first that I recognized it and didn’t try to work out through it. That would set me up for either a less than intense training session, or worse, a possible injury. Better to get more rest, eat well, and then hit it hard the next day. The second issue, however, and the question that led to a long conversation with Chris last night is how do I keep this from happening? How do I train my body to be ready for intense workouts more often? I want to be working out 4 – 5 days a week with the appropriate intensity.

His answer is sleep and nutrition. I will get more into nutrition later, but sleep is what I am focusing on right now. He referred me to a TED talk by Dr. Kirk Parsley, the former director of sleep medicine for Naval Special Warfare and a former SEAL himself. Here is the link.

I agree with everything he says. In addition, I drank the Kool-Aid enough to try his sleep supplement. I ordered it this morning (a month’s worth) and will give it a try. I will post a review of it in a few weeks.

One other concern is that my wife has told me that I will not infrequently stop breathing when I sleep. Apnea. Not what I wanted to hear. I don’t want to be that guy who wears CPAP at night. But if that is what is standing between me and the fitness level I desire, I would be foolish to ignore it. So I guess I need to contact a colleague who specializes in sleep medicine to address the issue. I will commit to doing that today. More to come on that front also.



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