Squatting Towards #Normality, Life’s Speed Bumps Can’t Stop Me

Today was the first day I hit a full on, hardcore workout in what seems like weeks. Finally, I am seeing the return to normality. Today was ninety.... what? You thought I was returning to normality a week ago?

Well, I was. Then something happened. Something big. Well, actually something small, black, and hard. Not that, and you have a filthy mind for even thinking that.

On Saturday, December 3 I hit a decent return lift then went to a mid-afternoon hockey game. About 19 minutes into the first period, that small, black, and hard thing happened. Specifically, I was struck in my right temple by a hockey puck.


The result of the impact was a mild concussion, some disorientation, nausea, and some pain in the impact area along with swelling. I did not lose consciousness, but I did go to the emergency room to have x-rays done and additional testing. The good news everything came back fine, but I had some pain, discomfort, and discoloration ahead of me for a bit.

After a gluteus pull, the death of my mother, my first Thanksgiving without my mother, and work travel this was just another speed bump for me to get over. For anyone who knows me, they know I'm not going to let something like a concussion slow me down for long.

I took the next few days off from any major activity and worked mildly during the beginning of the week. Next up, a workout with my trainer on Wednesday. We went light and wanted to let my body acclimate back. With the concussion plus everything else that happened, my body definitely wasn't as responsive as it normally is; we did a mild squat day.

I originally planned to only lift once more this week, but decided to try another lift on Friday. As I said, I may trip but I will not fall. Went a little heavier, but still pulled it back for safety sake. Had a good deadlift workout.

Then there was today. As I walked into the gym wearing my "MAXIMUM EFFORT" t-shirt, I felt something I haven't felt in a long time. It was this overwhelming sense of normal. Normal. I closed my eyes, breathed in and out, and absorbed this for a moment. I am approaching normality. Let's lift.

Normal warm-up. First up, trap bar carries. An exercise I've been working hard on to improve my overall grip power. Load up two 45s on each side, not wanting to push 'too hard'. As I hauled that trap bar at 225 pounds around the gym's cage I realized I was ready and back. Loaded it up to 255 and did two more goes around the cage.

Now some toss-to-target long jumps using a dyno ball. I could feel the energy and power coursing through me as I passed the ball against the target. I was in the zone.

Now for the fun stuff. Squats time! Started at 225, then moved to 245 and did a set. That went well, so pushed it up to 255x10 for two more sets. Super-setted with 35 pound dumbbell walking lunges, that burned my legs. Next up, dumbbell chest presses with 60 pounders, super-setted with dumbbell flyes. Finally some assisted pull-ups with TRX bicep curls; the pull-ups are the area I've slid the most in the last few weeks when life descended into chaos. I did 8 reps on each set.

Finally, some battle rope slams with burpees. This was probably the worst part, as the up-and-down made me a little sick to my stomach, but nothing horrible. I finished them, and felt energized after doing it. I really do feel like it's the hardest, best workout I've had in weeks and I loved it.

Today, it was all about normality. Getting back to that state of being where I can have consistency, drive, and commitment towards my goals.

So what happens next week? Well come Monday, all new fun as we pass the #normality line and work to get #BeyondNormal. That's when life will get interesting. The picture here says it all of what Monday will bring.

The truth is, this is the new normal, as my life will never be the same again after the last month. Just as 2016 as been a year of my life changing, my life truly has changed in ways that will impact me for the rest of my days. In many ways, every month has brought some degree of change that's made me a different person than the one who was standing here a year ago. But that's another story all together...

The One With the Shirt

The shirt you see pictured here as a storied past. Well, not so much storied as idle past.


This shirt was purchased over a decade ago. It's a Daniel Cremieux shirt I bought simply because I loved how it looked, a French designed shirt with just the right colors and feel. I didn't try it on, as I figured it was in my size so it shouldn't be an issue.

As I quickly learned, a French XL is definitely not an American XL and it was relegated to the back of the closet. Every time I moved (and this shirt was bought when I lived in Cincinnati) I moved the shirt along, washed it, and hung it back in the back of the closet. I suppose it was a "one day" shirt and just could never bring myself to get rid of it.

This morning I am going through my closet trying to figure out what to wear to a workshop. Since I work from home, my typical daily wear is a t-shirt and jeans or khakis and of course gym clothes, so I haven't worn many dress shirts lately. The ones I have I basically got my last use out of them during my last trip to NJ a few weeks ago when they were hanging off me.

Then I saw this shirt in the back. There was no way this would fit; I bought it over a decade ago and I probably weighed 210 pounds when I bought it and it didn't fit then. I slipped it on, and excitedly buttoned it up. It fit perfectly. I couldn't believe it; the shirt from the back of the closet that was never worn, the shirt whose name should not be mentioned was now buttoned on me and following the lines of my body actually fairly well. I sat down, it was even comfortable when sitting.

It goes to show that body composition is way more of an impact than just weight. A 210 pound Ben from a decade ago couldn't wear this shirt, but a 243 pound Ben from today with more muscle, less fat, and losing weight the right way can.

I finished dressing and went on my way, excited at this new shirt in my wardrobe. For now, I suppose. Who knows how long this one will fit?

In Just Three Months...

Three months ago, on April 15, I attended a gala event hosted by the local Anytime Fitness clubs, including the club I go to in Ellington, Connecticut.  Part of the event was, as you entered, they were recording people talking about how Anytime Fitness impacted them. It was off-the-cuff and very quick, so I had to think quickly.

When I saw they posted a bunch of videos to their YouTube page, I went through looking to see if they posted one of me. I scrolled through the videos, and couldn't find one. I then started watching some videos and went bottom to top. When I got back to the top, the very last video to watch seemed familiar, the person in the thumbnail looked familiar. Wait, that's ME! They did post one of me. I simply didn't recognize myself.

I was still extremely uncomfortable in front of any cameras at this time, but they did post a video of me from this event.

After seeing this video, I was amazed to see myself looking like this. After all, it has only been three months. I decided to put the suit back on, and look at how it fit today in comparison with then. Honestly, the difference was remarkable to me. The belt is no longer usable, even though it was on the first hole when I bought it. The pants no longer fit at the waist. The jacket is loose but still wearable. The shirt now feels more like a poncho than a dress shirt. 

I decided to put together a video of me wearing the suit again to show the changes over the last three months.

Patience is a virtue, and we must be patient when it comes to changing out bodies and our lives. We don't gain weight overnight, and we can't lose it overnight. If we work hard, if we have on point nutrition, and we commit ourselves, then change can happen. There is still a ways to go, and I'm looking forward to the next round.


Each time we fail it is simply another brief moment in our lives before great success.

Each time we fail it is simply another brief moment in our lives before great success.


Browse through Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, or any other social media site. What do you see? Success. Lot's of success. You see ripped people, fit people, wealthy people, lucky people. What you don't see are the failures those people have had. It could be failures in the gym, failures in career, failures in anything.

Social media and the Internet in general skew towards success because people don't advertise their failures.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
— Albert Einstein

The key to failures is to not repeat them over and over again. You see those successes so much on the Internet from those who failed before and learned from their failures. When we fail, we much assess why we failed, what we could have done differently, and then implement those changes. Don't do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

For the prior three Sundays, I have failed miserably in the gym. The prior two Sundays were deadlift days, and I barely moved the bar at weights I should be able to do. The most current Sunday I barely worked out at all from feeling sick to my stomach.

I failed every Sunday. There is a common thread here. It's not that I am unable to do the lifts, it is that on this one day every week I simply can't do the lifts on that day. So I must determine how I came to this, and how to fix it. To do this, we'll turn to an old friend of mine known as DMAIC (pron. D' MA' IK). This is a business process for finding answers, but we really all do it by nature. We'll simply step through the steps to find out what's going on.

Every Sunday I am unable to complete my workout properly and I am unable to lift the weights I expect to lift.

For the prior three Sundays I have failed to complete my proper workout.

So we've completed the first two steps. Next up, we begin to look at why this is occurring. The way we do this is to look at data so our analysis isn't subjective. Like any good nerd, even a gym addicted one, I have lots of data between Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, Waterlogged, Strava, and other apps. 

The following things are different on Sundays than in other days of the week:

  • Saturdays I never drink my required water allotment.
  • Saturdays I frequently forget to take my multi-vitamins and supplements.
  • Saturdays my cardio is at 8 AM instead of 6 AM as normal.
  • Saturday mornings I sleep in later than normal.
  • Sunday mornings I sleep in later than normal.
  • Meals on weekend are unplanned and irregular.
  • Breakfast is eaten at least 3 hours later than normal on weekends.
  • I don't hit my calorie requirements on weekends.
  • My bedtime is not consistent on Friday & Saturday nights.

We've now identified many of the 'whys' of my performance issue. They seem to come from a common thread, which is consistency. Specifically, that I am not as consistent on the weekends as I am during the week. A later bedtime results in later waking time, which affects the normal rhythms of my body. A regular bedtime is shown to be extremely healthy, and should probably be maintained even during the weekends.

Proper nutrition planning is critical to a healthy body. Eating 'on the fly' results in erratic behavior and may cause over or under eating or poor macronutrient consumption. Consistent supplementation will aid the body in knowing when to expect certain multi-vitamins and supplements to help improve performance.

So we've identified where I am screwing up, so let's put together the plan to change it.

The following should be implemented next weekend as an effort to improve performance of Sunday lifts.

  • Meal plans will be completed by Friday to include complete planning of weekend meals.
  • Bedtimes will be observed as normal; if I am "in bed" (usually reading) by 9:15 PM, then I should be in the bed Friday & Saturday nights at the same time to optimize performance.
  • Weekend hydration and supplementation will be observed the same as during the week.

So what we find from this plan is that while there were many "whys" of my performance gap, I only need to really implement three changes. By doing weekend meal planning, this will eliminate over and under eating, as well as poor macronutrients. By observing bedtime, I will get to sleep on time and wake up at normal hours and realign by body to their nature circadian rhythm. By observing my hydration and supplementation plan, I will ensure I am not dehydrated during my Sunday workout session, and will ensure that all my supplements are taken on time to be handled by my body. 

There are things we can't control. We must accept those things we can not control, and only work to improve those things with which we can impact. For example, cardio is done at 8 AM on Saturdays instead of 6 AM as normal; this is simply what time cardio class occurs, and I can not control that. As a result, I will remove that as a candidate of the improvement plan.

The final stage of DMAIC is Control. This will come into play once the Improve plan has been successfully implemented. If the Improve plan fails, I will restart the process. Once I am successful, I will move to Control and determine the best way to stay consistent on the changes I am implementing.

Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.
— Henry Ford

This exercise may seem very mechanical to move through. However, as individuals we are really doing this every time we assess our failures. Once we've failed, we correct and we succeed. Correction can be as simple as changing a motion during your second set, or as complex as making changes to your life as a whole.

To put it another way, about 8 months ago I made the decision I was failing at life. Physically & emotionally, I was a wreck. I determined changes I could begin implementing, and began to cease failing. I've improved my physical state, and continue to control that by further improving my body composition, and in turn my emotional state by changing my physical state.

Failure is one of the biggest drivers in our lives, as it dictates to us what we've done wrong so we can make it right again. People will always notice your failures more than your successes. This is why people post more success than failure. Maybe if we share failure a little more, those around us would feel a little less vulnerable and know we all fail at some level, it's just how we improve that determines how we are as individuals. 

When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all .
— God


One of the key steps in my journey has been setting goals. Without goals, you're just randomly moving around the gym with no intention in mind. It sets up the possibility of failure if you don't have a set objective in mind.

When I started working with a trainer, as with any trainer, he asked me what my goals were. I couldn't really articulate at the time what my goals really were, as I didn't know what I really wanted. I knew I needed to get into shape. (Well, I was in a shape. A pear shape. Just call me Mr. Bartlett.) I understood body fat, but I didn't accept change, dramatic change, was in the cards for me. So I set a goal that was fairly reasonable to achieve, but didn't really 'stretch' me. I said "I'd like my body fat to be under 30." or something similar. That became my goal.

As I moved forward with my workouts, I worked towards this goal. I viewed it as a long term goal because, after all, things take time. This was a mistake. I should have seen it as something to be conquered, not something to lumber towards. I know this now.

As I began to lose weight, and as I began to lift heavier and heavier I began to think about my goals more frequently. I wondered if the goals I set really made sense, and I wondered if the goals I set were in line with my objectives. What I realized during this time of retrospection is that my perspective began to change. With a trainer pushing me to do things outside my comfort zone, like deadlifting and barbell squatting, I kept thinking back to the initial goal I set and how it really stopped making sense to me and that I needed a new goal.

This took me back to my younger days when I worked out and lost weight the first time. I set a goal of getting under 200 pounds, and I achieved it. Unfortunately, I did it at the cost of lean body tissue, of not doing it in a very healthy way, and at the cost of my overall happiness; I was happy I lost the weight, but never truly happy with my results. I always thought "I'm not what I want to be" when I looked in the mirror. I saw a thinner version of myself, and I thought I looked great, but I had little muscle tone and very much still low self esteem.

Back to current times a decade and a half later, and I'm back to setting goals again. This time I am wiser, have better knowledge, and someone in my corner pushing me. I began to think what I really wanted, and where I wanted to go.

Scholars and business people will tell you your goals should be "SMART". That is, they should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Based. While this might work in business, I began to think of a different approach to my workout goals. I began thinking about my "Wanna Be" goals. That is, what do I "wanna be" when I'm at a certain point. These are my overall goals which should be achievable, but perhaps a little bit of a stretch in the goal. 

I thought hard about it, staring at charts hanging at the gym regarding body fat many times. Often when I was alone on a Sunday in the gym I'd study the chart for 5 or 10 minutes, looking at different age groups and accompanying pictures of what those different body fat percentages looked like on different people. 

I made the decision that I wanted a new goal. So I set my goal.

"I want to be 15% body fat," I told the trainer one day. I think I may have hit this one out of left field, because he seemed a little taken aback at my assertiveness at such a specific goal where one did not exist. We began to discuss the "how" of getting to this goal, and the achievability factor both in shortest time and longest time of expectations.

It was at this time I began to make bigger changes in my dietary intake. I began to log my food regularly and I began to "clean up" the food.

At the beginning of April, I weighed 273 pounds with about 8 points higher body fat than I am today at 250 pounds. I attribute this loss of weight and body fat to my workouts, my dietary intake changes, and my goal setting. 

Last week, another goal setting point came up. At the gym there is a wall where you can write your goals and aspirations, the "big whys" of why you are at the gym. The manager asked me if I was going to replace my old goal I wrote up there, and I responded to her that I never wrote a goal up there prior. I thought it over for a couple of days, and then decided to put something up on the wall. 

I kept my 15% body fat goal in place, but then decided to add in some lifting goals. This got me back again to my younger days, when my real goal, the one I never articulated to my trainer back then out of embarrassment, was to be a really strong dude. I wanted to a big, strong dude, but I never said that out loud. 

The difference between then and now is that I have a trainer who has helped me to understand that I am a strong dude, I just had it bottled away where no one could find it. Once I realized this, and saw my lifts continually going up, I realized I had greater potential than I gave myself credit for. This is why I set the goals here, because I want to achieve that potential.

Will I achieve these goals next week, within a month, or even with a few months? Probably not. These goals represent my "wanna be", because this is the person I want to be. I've discovered I'm a strong dude, and I can get stronger, I just have to work towards it. I've discovered I can drop fat, retain muscle, and improve by body composition, I just have to put the effort in to getting it. These are not goals that require loads of performance enhancing drugs or other fads, these are reasonable goals that a normal human being can achieve. I just have to put in the work and perseverance, the sweat and sacrifice, and I can achieve these goals. 

After all, if we don't have goals, we're just roaming around the gym mindlessly not achieving. 


"I'm fine."

It's a running gag between myself and my trainer at this point. No matter how exhausted I am, no matter how burnt I am into a workout, I always respond "I'm fine" and smile. I firmly believe I could be literally near death, and I'd be going, "oh, I'm fine, everything is fine." 

While this gag has become a staple of training sessions more as a joke than anything at this point, there definitely was a time when I wasn't so fine after an intense workout. Specifically, anything requiring endurance. This includes High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and anything of an extended duration for cardio. 

While I have built up some great strength over the past eight months, I definitely have needed improvement in the area of endurance. Even with my weight loss, I still struggle through many endurance based workouts.

Recently, however, I've discovered I am truly improving on this front. To improve my endurance, a couple of months ago I started doing a "conditioning day" once a week. This included some dynamic exercises like kettle-bell work, ball throws & slams, lunges, jump squats, battle ropes, etc. in sequence. The idea was to get my heart rate up and running. Coupled this with my elliptical sessions, and I was able to make some improvements to my overall endurance, but I still felt lagging.

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to start attending Group Coaching sessions at my local gym. These classes are split into cardio and strength; I have my own strength regimen, so I decided to start with the cardio classes.

Is it over yet?
— Hoppe 1.0

Prior to this, I tried taking some HIIT/Cardio classes in September/October 2015; that was a disaster. I was so far out of condition, that even a basic thirty minute class knocked me out. This was part of what drove me to getting a trainer in the first place, and what drove me to wanting to improve myself. If I couldn't get through these classes, what chance did I have long term for my health?

So after some time of lifting, some core work, and cardio for about a half-year, here I am ready to begin the conditioning of my body from this mid-grade obese state to an athletic state. I began attending the cardio group classes, and I've already seen huge differences in my abilities and conditioning after a few classes. The first couple of times were, honestly, pretty brutal. While I made it through the classes, they were extremely tough. Though to the point that I thought somebody might have to scrape me off the floor. 

It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
— Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own

After a business trip and getting back into it again, something changed. Each time it didn't seem as hard as the last. It's hard, don't underestimate that. A wise man constantly reminds me, "It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it."

You can see the intensity from my Fitbit alone; the number of minutes spent in "peak" heart zone for surpass any workouts I've done from the past. During these peak moments, I am filled with breathlessness, desperation, and anxiety. You can see here the intensity of these workouts:

I have also discovered I am filled with something else... euphoria. I realize at these moments the change I am undertaking is real, I am doing it, and nothing will stand in my way. As I embrace these moments, these are when I kick up the hardest and push myself beyond what I've done in the past. 

Is that it?
— Hoppe 2.0

During a session this morning, I realized something. I was struggling with parts, but they weren't as much of a struggle as they used to be. I realized I wanted to do this, that I wanted to be pushed, that I wanted to move beyond where I am to something better. At the end, I said "is that it?" to the trainer, which resulted in a look of pure assumption of insanity from one of my fellow gym mates. I was ready to do more, but I also knew I was approaching my limit. So we went into stretching and moved on.

I'm not going to claim I am now the cardio expert by any stretch of the imagination. There are still many moves I struggle with, whether for endurance or flexibility or constraints of my own body shape. However, I know all these things will be changing over time and I will be able to do those things I can not do well now very soon. 

Later this afternoon, I decided to do something I have been wanting to do for some time... run outside. I've taken walks outside many times, but never a "run". Or maybe it was a jog. Either way, I decided it was time. I was feeling energized. The work day was over. It was drizzling a little earlier, but stopped before I headed out the door.

I kept a fairly steady pace for a while, and then walked for portions. I watched my heart rate jump up and down as I sped up and slowed down. I was running on a trail around my community which has varied elevations, a mixture of dirt/gravel and pavements, and generally is a clear shot. It is 1.5 miles around the trail. After the first loop was completed in about 20 minutes, I almost gave up. Then I looked at my Fitbit and realized that if I didn't keep going, I'd never make those 10,000 steps for today. So I did another lap around and ended up at 3 miles total. 

The thing I think is most notable to me about this is that I was able to keep pace even though I was outside running. Even walking in the past has been a struggle and suddenly I'm able to do a run. I kept a pace of 13:48 per mile during the 3 miles, which is far and away better than I have ever done in my life. Even when I was 185 pounds the first time I lost weight, I could never run three miles at that pace.

This run proved something to me. While we work hard and want fast, immediate results, we have to understand we can't always achieve things in a day or a week. However, it also shows how much change you can make in just a couple of weeks alone with some hard work and perseverance. I don't think I could have made this run this time last month, and I probably would have walked the route most of the time. Instead, with my additional cardio class workouts I'm now able to do an outdoor run of three miles.

I can only see my endurance rising from here, as I continue to work on conditioning and improving my overall body. As body fat drops, muscle increases, and conditioning improves I only have greater endurance to look forward to. 

"How Much Weight Have You Lost?" and Why It's a Long Answer

I began my journey to a healthy life about a year ago, and really kicked it up in November. Recently, I've been hearing that statement/question everyone who goes through this loves to hear.

Have you lost weight? You’ve lost weight.

It's a wonderful feeling when people notice. Let's be honest, it's the purest form of validation of the goal you set out to reach. It means that others are noticing your hard work and commitment. When you watch your scale, you see the number going down. You see changes in the mirror. Others, however, don't always notice right away because the changes are subtle and over time.

Especially if they see you every day, they don't tend to notice the gradual decline in your overall girth, or the fact that your rump no longer extends beyond and over the edge of your chair. 

The very first person I think who really said something to me was the manager at the gym; probably one of the most energetic, nice, and cheerful people I have ever met in life. One day I'm warming up for my work out as she's walking by and she stops for a second, looks at me, and remarks how much thinner I am looking. Needless to say, I nailed my workout that day. 

Lately, I've been hearing it a lot more frequently. People who see me only periodically stop and remark about how I've lost weight. What's interesting is that it is always the 'face' they say they notice first. When people think about their desire to lose weight, they always focus on things like their waist, their hips, their chest, etc. but rarely do they think, "I need to lose weight in my face."

It is definitely something I've noticed myself. I was asked earlier in June to post to Facebook a comparison picture, and I tried to find some of "old" Ben and didn't have much luck; I was extremely camera shy back then due to shame and embarrassment of my weight. I shouldn't have been, I was as awesome then as I am now and just less healthy. So I posted a picture comparison of my face, which was what I found to be so striking of a difference.

Body fat based on caliper measurement; other methods provide slightly different results.
June 4, 2016

Gone was this guy with a very round face, no discernible chin, and puffiness everywhere. Instead I was beginning to have the face of a much slimmer person than I have had in the past.

Inevitably, the next question arises is "how much weight have you lost?" This is always the biggest question people have, because regardless of whether they realize it consciously or not, this is how everyone judges your weight loss. It isn't how well you look, how trim you appear, or how much more energetic you are; instead it is how they can apply a number and judge it against other numbers they have heard in the past.

"I have lost over 50 pounds of bodyweight." This is my standard response now. It is one that serves me well. It's an impressive number, no doubt, but also one that is simple.

What you will notice from this charts a small decline from May 2015 when I first decided changes had to be made to November 2015 when I started working with my trainer to April 2016 when I started tuning my dietary intake. 

Then I take a deep breath, and say "however, that's not counting any muscle mass gains I have put on." For most people, this creates a look of confusion. Some will drop it there, and invariably some feel compelled to ask follow-up questions. 

Here is the basic explanation I provide to them:

My goal is to improve overall body composition, not just to lose weight. I am lifting heavy weights, doing dynamic exercises, and changing my eating habits. I have gained quite a bit of muscle in addition to losing fat. Even though I’ve lost 50 plus pounds in bodyweight, I’ve really lost 60-65 plus pounds in body fat.

I tell them this not to be annoying, not solely for precision, and not to try to make my 'gains' seems more than they are. I tell them this because I believe it is important to share in my new found belief that body composition is so much more critical to a healthy life than simply weight loss. What I have learned over the last eight months has shaped my view on my body, my health, and my overall weight and body composition more than any time in my life.

What I've learned from my trainer, my research, and my own tracking has probably been more instrumental to shaping how I view my own body, and why I believe what I've learned will ensure I never fall back into the trap of morbid obesity again. 

A Hard Workout Day, First Photos

Today I was literally in the gym three times.

First I did a 30 minute steady state cardio session on the elliptical early in the morning. Then in the afternoon, I did a strength training session. Finally, I did the "Fit Club" being run by my local gym. Here are the results of my assessment today:

  • Body Fat - 29.8% (Using Handheld Impedance Device)
  • Waist Circumference - 47
  • Hip Circumference - 51.5
  • Push Ups in 1 Minute - 33
  • Pull Ups in 1 Minute - 0
  • Plank Hold - 2:15
  • Rope Waves - 115

Needless to say, I am simply exhausted at this point, and I have to do it again in the morning for an hour cardio class.

Beginning today, I'm going to start posting photos on a regular basis of my progress as I move forward.  

Beginnings of Sweat + Sacrifice

In every person's life, there comes a time when they must channel the inner strength of their own self and bring forth an overwhelming power to improve. That time is today.

Early on...

For what is the entirety of my life, I have struggled with my weight. It's an ongoing battle of mind over matter, fat over life. Even when I was younger, I was "the fat kid".

When you're the fat guy in high school, certainly nothing is easy. You're already sweating a lot from hormones raging, and then cap that off with fat sweats, and then top that off with being gay in the Midwest, and you have a recipe for depression. That depression drove me to eat, which just increased the problem.

When I was 25 years old, I hit the peak of my weight. I was in the mid-300s, barely able to breath, borderline diabetic, and probably looking at an early death. I committed myself, changed by habits, worked out constantly, and dropped by weight down to 185 pounds. I still wasn't 'thin' but I certainly was in a  hell of a lot better place than I ever had been before. I could breath, I could run, I could jump, and I could enjoy life. It was a fantastic feeling.

No Clean Happy Endings Here

Of course, this isn't one of those stories where it ends right there and we all lived happily ever after. Let's be honest, it would be less interesting if it had.

Over the course of the next couple of years, life changes quite a bit. I moved from a production line job to a more operational position which would have me traveling constantly. I fell in love and moved in with a wonderful person. I was enjoying life. Unfortunately, I also began slipping into old habits as one often does. Instead of bicycling everywhere, I bought a car. Instead of eating healthy food at home, I started eating out more again. Instead of working out constantly, I was tired from being on the road all the time.

I started putting on weight again, slowly at first. It has a habit of sneaking up on you, after all. My weight gradually climbed higher and higher until it reached a peak where I decided to do something in 2012. At that time, I hired a trainer again, started "spinning", and lost 30 pounds within a couple of months. Then I slipped, and of course the weight came back with a vengeance, higher than before but still thankfully not as high as the 'peak' of my weight.

Changes were coming, however...

Boy bands, the cast of Jersey Shore, and myself on an elliptical machine; what do these things have in common? Aside from a large swath of people finding them annoying, fist pumping is a common thread of all three. 

Now you're asking yourself, "what the f**k is he talking about" and to you I respond, "shame on you and your profane use of asterisks!" What I am talking about is my renewed joy that is going to the gym. Joy? The gym? You're nuts!

Let’s first walk back a a year and a half. It’s November 2014, and I sign up for the gym near our new apartment. It’s a small gym, perfect location, and the staff is nice. Seems like a perfect fit. I do three sessions with a trainer, but I never really click with him. I decide I can do this on my own, I don’t need a trainer. I’ve done this before, I can do it again.

In January of 2015 I sign up for a weight loss competition. I’m feeling revved up, thinking I’m going to slam this out, put all my effort into it, and blow it away. Less than a month in, I fall off my efforts for a couple of months. 

Spring is here, the cold of an epic winter of snow and ice has passed, and it is time once again to get into the gym. Here we go again. I trudge through some elliptical workouts and realize just out of shape I really am; I am barely able to breath through the workouts and I’m really not pushing that hard. I am getting into the weights area, but I’m not really pushing myself and just going through the motions. Once again, after a few weeks I sputter out like a car with a gallon of gas left and drop off.

Respect the Ding!
— Supernintendo Chalmers

Summer is here! Let’s hit this. Time to go hard, go heavy… for about a week and a half. Yeah, that wasn’t my best effort. Mid-summer I commit to a change that will bring me to a new job (but not a new employer). Here I am, working with a new manager, a new team, and feeling very self conscious about my body and appearance. I’m feeling fatter than ever, balding, and now having to face a huge change in life.

I meander into the gym a few times but nothing ever really ‘committed’. 

Then September came. I was going off-and-on to the gym, but more off than on. I consider September ‘the beginning’ at this point. I feel like the change began with a single phone call.

I’m driving down the interstate coming back from Boston when the phone rings; it’s a local number but I don’t recognize it. I answer it as I am driving. It’s some dude at the gym. He tells me he wants to schedule my ‘monthly assessment’; now, I knew the gym had these but I honestly never used one. Quite honestly, I was a little distracted and agreed and scheduled on the fly hoping the time slot would work he set up.

I went into the appointment not knowing what to expect. I met with him for a little over a half-hour when he took some measurements, body fat, etc. and he ran me through a mobility test. I failed. Miserably. Ok, not miserably, but it wasn’t exactly a stellar performance. We talked a bit about training, classes, and events the gym offered. I walked away with a class schedule and a plan… I was going to do some classes. 

I went to a few classes over the next month or so. They were tough, but I muddled through. I just didn’t feel committed to it, though. 

In mid-October I met with this trainer again for my next ‘monthly assessment’. My body fat went up! I was even worse condition than I was a month ago because I wasn’t consistent, I wasn’t pushing. It felt like a real wake up call… I wasn’t improving, nothing was changing, and nothing was going to change until I changed my strategy. I was about to leave for a week long trip, so I left the trainer know I would want to talk about training sessions when I got back. 

We met in late October and set everything up. We discussed goals, which I kept vague because I really have never been comfortable discussing my long term body goals with people in general. 

As I’ve been working with the trainer, what I have realized is how much I used to love the gym when I lost 150 pounds when I was 25. It was tougher this time, because I’m a bit older and ironically more out of shape even though I’m about 50 pounds lighter than my peak weight in my 20s. I’m muddling through the workouts he gives me, always complaining just enough but for some reason I just trusted this guy. I don’t know why… when you have a trainer that just clicks, you know it. 

I am starting to drop body fat, and my strength begins to improve greatly. The only deadlifting I had done prior in life prior was using some 50 pound dumbbells, and now I’ve gone from deadlifting under 100 pounds in October to 335 pounds on a barbell.

My monthly average resting heart rate has gone from the mid-high 70s to the low 60s. I've had to replace my belt, and dug out old clothes to wear since most things I wore six months ago no longer fit.

The biggest change came when I completely changed my diet. While I was working out, I didn't really do a lot to change my diet other than some minor things. I was still in a lot of my old bad habit dietary activities. In April, I decided enough was enough and I wasn't seeing changes happen fast enough. I began breaking my diet down, and logging everything on my phone. Soon, it became second nature to log everything I was eating and now I don't even give it  second thought. 

What’s really amazing to me is how much better I am feeling these days. Even when I am feeling completely exhausted, I am still feeling better than I did at this time last year or even a few months ago. I’m doing dynamic bodyweight exercises and not giving it a second thought where I used to joke about how I had a hard time moving this much weight. I joke about "the old me" with people with a chuckle, realizing I am quickly leaving that part of my life behind. 

It's Not Over Yet...

So now begins the next phase. If I was "Ben 1.0" prior, and "Ben 1.5" 8 months ago, today I'm introducing "Ben 2.0". He's new & improved. He's less cynical. He's more energetic. Most of all, for the first time in a very long time, he's happy. Not fake happy, like when you smile and grudgingly go about your day, but really, truly happy at all the changes in life and the changes to come.

For the first time in my life I see fitness as more than just weight loss. I see it truly as changing my life for the better, to perform better, and to be "athletic". This is a word that has never been attributed to me, but now I feel more athletic than any other time in my life and I certainly feel more attuned to myself than ever before. 

Beginning today, June 22 and for the next 90 days I am committing myself to a diligent effort to not just work hard at the gym, and not just to maintain my diet, but to update this site and anyone who follows it on my efforts. It is my hope to not just drive myself to additional accountability, but also to hopefully inspire others to join the journey with me. I am also simultaneously participating in a contest at my gym for the next eight weeks, which will provide additional incentive.

At the end of the next 90 days, I will head off to Camp Nerd Fitness for 5 days of fun, relaxation, and fitness related courses. This will represent the culmination of my new life I am building, a life of fitness and health. Beyond that, I will continue to update here on my progress as I continue to improve and evolve myself to a better than before state. 

If you see the guy in the gym in Connecticut with a pair of wireless headphones on dancing between sets, that might just be me. I’m enjoying my workout, enjoying my changing body, and enjoying my new lease on life. Life is meant to be enjoyed, so let’s get pumped! Feel free to fist pump with me and share my joy.