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Weight of the World

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Lest anyone feel concerned (or giggling maniacally at the implications), the title of this post is not meant to imply I’m stressed out or feeling burdened. Oh sure, 2012’s been a bit of a bear for me thus far, but with fresh challenges come fresh opportunities. This post is actually about fitness and health – though I’m not that guy who says you have to do this in order to achieve your six pack abs in X many days.

We (wife, kids, and yours truly) are planning a trip to Florida this summer. My wife wants to shave off a few pounds by then since we’ll be staying on the beach. I’ll admit, the winter has added a little insulation to me as well in my quest to get stronger. For those who aren’t long time readers of this blog, I’m a former competitive power-lifter who’s still struggling to return to the glory days, though I admit I will probably never compete again.

Anyhow, this post starts with my wife who recently had some redecorating and / or rearrangement done under the skilled hands of a surgeon. That was 4 weeks ago as of today. At the 3 week mark her doctor told her she was clear to do whatever she liked within reason, including exercise. So my wife decided she wanted to try out this P90X program, but she was worried I might not do it with her since I’m all about heavy weights and intensity whereas P90X is more of fat loss / cardio / volume based routine. Being the eternally supportive husband that I am (oh yeah, I went there), I pledged my full support and we tried it out starting last Sunday night.

The first workout was chest and back, then the 25 minute ab ripper routine. The chest and back consists of a lot of push ups and pull ups, as well as some bentover rows with either dumbbells or bands. We had neither at home (sold my home gym years ago when we moved out of Michigan and have been using public gym memberships ever since), so the back workout didn’t happen. Push ups though, well anybody can do those, so we did. Out of respect for the intellectual property of the creators of P90X I won’t go into detail, but I will say I was impressed with the routine. It really does kick your ass. As an example once a week I work on bench pressing and work my way up to 315lbs or more (I used to do more but there was an incident involving surgery and several months of downtime we I put myself through a custom physical therapy program that worked awesome, but I’ll probably never get back into the 400+ range again). So with that benching background, and the knowledge that I’m one of those crazy SOBs that pushes themselves to the limit and occasionally beyond (see mention of surgery above), I was sore and aching for a couple of days afterwards. My wife was in a similar condition, except for her it seemed she’d done some damage to the recent landscaping she’d had done.

She ended up talking to her surgeon and having to go back in the next day to get checked out. Sure enough, where tissue had been healing she’d strained it. Nothing too bad or damaging, but she was told to give her chest 3 more weeks of downtime to be certain. My wife was disappointed but this is another example of a lesson I’ve learned many times in life – it’s better to take a little extra time off to recover from whatever event (strains, pulls, breaks, illness, surgery, etc.) than it is to go back before your ready and end up needing a much longer time off due to an injury.

Now flash back to me – P90X is tough and all but I mentioned I’m a hardcore meat head, right? My original plan was on my usual gym days to do two workouts – my workout and then the P90X one later that night. My wife supported this and intended to join me. Well I was still aching from the horizontal pushing we did on Sunday night but I hit the gym Monday anyhow. And yes, it was my bench night. Since I didn’t get the back workout in I pushed myself through the P90X workout with proper gym equipment and also mixed in the regular bench press. I only made it to 295 that day – I think I could have hit 315 but without a spotter I didn’t want to have to roll that much weight down my chest. I learned from my prior mistakes – it only took a major injury to make it happen. :)

And since my wife now has 3 weeks until she can try it again that gives me the time needed to prepare myself for the part of P90X that really sucked. Oh sure, it sucks in a good way (not THAT good of a way, mind you), but it still hurt like hell. The ab ripper routine is 25 minutes of abuse. Imagine yourself nailed to a wall in a spread eagle fashion before somebody reminiscent of Lou Ferrigno picks up a 16lb sledgehammer and hits you in the stomach with it repeatedly. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad but at the time I might have argued the point. The point is it’s 25 minutes of abdominal and other “core” muscle exercising. Not just a bunch of crunches either, though a few are tossed in here and there. I’d considered myself to have strong abs – you kind of have to when you’re deadlifting and squatting in the 400 – 600 range. Well here’s the difference between strength and muscle endurance. As a matter of fact I ended up straining either my sartorius or abductor longus on my left leg. Those are muscles in the front of your thigh. It resulted in my spending a day walking like I was 100 years old and suffering from a crippling illness. Oddly enough, after Monday’s upper body workout and a good night’s sleep I could walk fine the next day (still felt a twinge of pain though).

So then came Wednesday, lower body day at the gym. My wife, prescribed 3 weeks of taking it easy, decided she was going to spend 20 minutes on the treadmill then do some lower body stuff herself. Aside from demanding she go easy and not aggravate her injury, how could I feel anything but proud at her determination / motivation? Yeah, my wife rocks. You read it here first. So she did her treadmill then hit the leg press and did some bentover rows of her own.

P90X was behind me (for a little while, at least), so I was ready to get serious about squatting. Historically squatting and I have had some disagreements on and off over the years. One thing that’s going well for me in 2012 is squatting though – no problems with form or anything. I’ve been focusing on more volume up until last week and this one though, but transitioning back into intensity training was easy. My left leg still had that twinge in it but it was barely noticeable so I pushed myself. I worked up to 455 and knew that was my top end. Felt some strain with every set in my right quadriceps this time – the left leg was doing fine though. Later, after another exercise, I hit the leg press to get some good blood flow pumping and worked up to 7 plates per side (the leg press is at an angle and it makes judging weight accurately difficult, not to mention no two leg presses function the same – and a “plate” is 45lbs for those curious). After the squats I was sucking wind hard but I got ‘er done.

Last night I had a hard time sleeping because of the strain in my right quad. This morning I’m limping a little because of it. I want to blame it all on P90X, but the truth is that program is a good program for people motivated and dedicated to making it work. I was very skeptical of it – damn near every exercise plan that promises results in X many days out there is some sort of scam or gimmick. With the P90X you’re given 90 days, and that’s realistic. Give me 3 months and I can turn just about anybody into something noticeably and functionally different if they’re willing to do the work. I’ve helped friends and family do some amazing things in the past, including a 6 month weight loss totaling 100 pounds. I’m not bragging – heck, I’m not even a trainer for hire (I’d love to do that, I just don’t have enough time). I mention that to give credence to my believe that P90X will help a person willing to do the work, but the important part is to know your limits and not push yourself too hard, especially with exercises you’re unfamiliar with. This is stressed in the video but when it came to me I know my body’s limits – I’ve crossed those lines enough times over the years. Or so I thought. Turns out I found another line with the new (and torturous) ab ripper routine. I joked on Monday that I can deadlift over 500 pounds but I can’t pick my leg off the ground right now!

And for the record, back in 2009 I set state records in Michigan for bench pressing 405 pounds and deadlifting 550 pounds. I was in the 242lb weight class (I weighed 229 and 232 at the times) and lifted in an unsanctioned drug-free federation (Son-Light Power). Both records were beaten in 2011. :(  It is my goal to one day squat 500 (current PR is 475), deadlift 600, and I’m still struggling to bench 405 again even though it may never happen (I have worked up to 350 last year though).

Why do I do it? Why put my body through that strain and hard work? Clearly it’s beyond simply being healthy (especially if it’s caused me disabling injuries). It’s because I don’t want to be that guy who looks like he can pick up a car when it falls off the jack on a buddy, I want to be the guy who can do that. I want a mugger to look at me and my wife when we’re out on a date night and think to himself, “I’m not going to screw with that guy!” I was a skinny fat kid and I idolized superheroes and the king of 80’s action, Arnold Schwarzenegger (and I’ve always been a huge Conan fan, both the books and the original movies. The new movie…blah). I like being strong and I never settle for anything less than what I consider to be the best in life. I want my kids to look up at me and realize all the things that are possible to them if they work hard in life.

I may not be the most interesting man in the world but I do I offer this advice to anyone and everyone, “Stay hungry, my friends.”

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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