What I learned in the last three months

It’s been 75 days since the last time I posted, and frankly, a lots happened.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that what I put up here is somewhat of a mixed bag; part journal, part training log and probably two-parts waffle … and no, not the good kind. Still, I’m not making you read, that’s on you.

So, given I could cover a lot here, we’ll keep it focused on training, diet and what I’ve learned in the last three months. And for those of you that want to bail early, here’s the summary:

  • Numbers are useful, but they are just numbers. No form of measurement will ever be more relevant or useful than what you see in the mirror.
  • Even if you counted calories extensively in the past, your ability to consistently gauge intake degrades over time.
  • No matter what the circumstance, progress can always be made.
  • The details can be important, but it’s adherence to the basics that really takes you places.
  • Consistency is king, but that shouldn’t mean you stop listening to your body.

Lies, damned lies and statistics.

On July 29th, about two months into the cut from my pre-summer bulk, I got another dunk with Aeron over at FitnessWave NorCal. I was real pleased with the results, especially when you consider I spent two weeks of that time eating and drinking my way across England and Spain. The lipids took the brunt of that vacation, but the stats were fine. Here’s how the numbers broke down:

Exactly 9 weeks of cutting, to the day.

  • 9.01% body fat @ 179.25 lbs
  • Dropped
    • 8.50 lbs total
    • 7.54 lbs of body fat
    • 0.96 lbs of lean
  • Totals
    • 179.25 lbs body weight
    • 16.14 lbs fat
    • 163.11 lbs lean

So I should be ecstatic, right? Basically, 180lbs and 9% body fat, at a height of 5’9½”… and yes, your wife says the half inch matters. But truth be told, I was pretty disappointed with how I looked.

Before the bulk, back when I was in the 160s and 170s at 8-9%, I had my eye on a set of stats that should have me looking exactly the way I wanted. However, when I got there, the results fell far short of both how I thought I’d look, and how I wanted my physique to present. In particular, the abs weren’t close to being visible in anything but laboratory conditions.

The point here? The stats don’t matter all that much. Scale weight, measurements, body fat … all useful for tracking progress, but they absolutely don’t define you. How you look, to both yourself and others, is only real measurement that matters. Well, unless you’re inclined to regularly throw down with your mates, Top Tumps style, and compare stats.

Counting calories is for chumps, until its not.

About a month or so into the cut, progress was good, but a long way short of stellar. Then I went on vacation back to Blighty with the wife and literally ate myself silly. Still, the damage from travel wasn’t too bad, and I resolved to tighten the belt and make some serious progress. However, despite feeling like I was eating right, coupled with a ton of volume in the gym, progress had kind of stalled around a buck eighty.

If you know me, you’ll know that I hate counting calories. Why? Because food and eating should be a joyous experience. Eating food after counting the calories is like running through loading force calculations before sex; it’s still good, but not as fun as when you just dive in arms and legs flailing.

None the less, given the lack of substantial progress, I decided it was time to unleash my inner actuary and start tracking some of my intake.

To my surprise, on the first day of tracking, a day that I estimated to be in the region of 2700kcal, turned out to be over 3200kcal. That’s 500kcal adrift of accurate, plus, 2700kcal was likely still north of where I needed to be to get things moving again.

Once I dialed in a calorie target and measured against it for two weeks, progress was borderline instant. Within a month I’d lost a about four more pounds, and from the mirror, it was was all mostly fat.

So whether you enjoy counting or not, be sure to recalibrate yourself regularly. Lest your estimates become guestimates…

Walking is highly underrated

Counting back eight weeks from today, I’ve been on a two-week summer vacation, suffered a grade two tear in my left hamstring and opted for an elective surgery on my long-standing epigastric hernia. And you know what, I look great.

How is that possible, you say? Haven’t you at least been distracted in that time, if not completely side-lined? Well yes, yes I have. But that doesn’t mean progress can’t be made.

During vacation, while I ate like a pig, I literally walked miles… and I mean, miles. We are talking a good two to four hours walking a day. And while the walking did very little towards minimizing atrophy of my gains, it did offset the huge increase in calories.

After the hamstring tear, I was unable to go to the gym for about four days while I rested, strapped and iced the leg. But as soon as I could so much as limp, I was back in the gym working through a decent upper body program on a front-side/back-side split.

Two weeks after the hamstring tear, I had the surgery, and was again laid-up for about three days. However, from day four onwards, I was again walking three plus miles a day until I could return to the gym. And once back in the gym, training light, I was still walking on my off days.

Walking allowed me some leeway on my vacation. It provided the perfect balance of exercise and recovery for both my damaged hamstring and abdominal repair. It also got me outside in the fresh air, cleared my head and helped me to feel healthy and whole.

Details are important, but the basics are importanter

I know you hear this one a lot and it’s become somewhat of a cliche. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff. Focus on the basics. Yada yada yada.

However, the reason it’s worth saying is that it’s true; the basics are what matter most. I mean, take a look at this post. It’s littered with the basics… and yes, a lot of waffle.

  • Body fat, LBM, BMI, scale weight, the tape are all good measures. Know what’s better? How you look in the mirror, or how a friend or loved one says you look.
  • Cutting protocols, macros, nutrition density etc., it all matters. What matters most? Being in modest calorie deficit (or surplus).
  • Vacations, over-eating, injuries, surgery; there’s lots of things that can slow your progress. Yet something as simple as walking, combined with a modest calorie deficit, can literally work wonders.

Recognize when things need to change

I am a huge advocate for consistency; consistency in the gym, consistency at the dinner table. And no matter what your goal, it’s being consistent over time that paves the way to results. That said, I’ve learned that I can take consistency to the extreme, even when my body is telling me enough already.

In the last two years, I’ve barely missed a workout. Every vacation and work related travel event was planned around access to local gyms and continued progress toward my goals. And by and large it’s worked out well for me. However, combined with a high volume training program, hitting the gym hard six days a week for almost a year, I’ve been hurting too.

Not only am I physically tired most of the time, my body is also a mess. All show and no go, is how I often joke about it. Unfortunately, it’s increasingly not a joke. I was shuffling out of bed like a man twice my age to sit on a stool to pull socks onto feet that I couldn’t otherwise reach while standing. Shoulders and elbows hurt all the time and injuries were increasingly slow to heal.

What really hammered it home was the enforced rest from the hamstring tear and surgery.

With some quality time out of the gym, combined with some highly restorative exercise like walking, I was beginning to feel a whole lot better. I could move more freely, had more energy and generally felt better than I had in a long while.

So why was I pushing so hard? Why the constant battering in the gym?

In part, it’s because I had conditioned myself to become this person that never missed a workout. Someone who doesn’t quit. Mr. Consistency. I mean, it’s my damned strap-line for heaven’s sake:

“Harder than you thought you could, for longer than you think you should.”

But I’m beginning to see that I’ve misinterpreted, or at least misapplied, this strength. Consistency IS good, but only when it leads to good outcomes. Otherwise, it’s like any other bad habit.

As a result, I’m making some changes, moving to a lower volume, higher frequency all-body program, training just three days a week. On the off days, I walk.

It doesn’t get simpler than that.

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