Health and fitness update

by Russ Roberts on October 4, 2013

in Health, Uncategorized

For readers interested in my (Russ’s) fitness/exercise/diet progress, keep reading below the fold.

You may remember that two years ago, inspired by the book Younger Next Year and a growing midsection, I altered my diet (drastically reducing my carb intake inspired by De Vany) and began exercising six days a week, four days of stationary bike (with some high intensity intervals) and two days of weight lifting. I had been out of shape and had never lifted weights before.

The first year of that regime was very successful. I chronicled my six month progress here. I had lost about 18 pounds, felt better, and fitter. Then I went to California for the summer and instead of working out, I walked a lot. No weightlifting.

When I came back to DC I struggled to back into my 6 workouts per week routine.  I was dispirited to discover that I had made little progress in my fitness level (measured by VO2 max) and that I didn’t seem particularly stronger. My fall was especially busy and I found myself going to the gym two or so days a week. I gave up the weightlifting and starting doing push-ups. To try to improve my fitness when I did go to the gym, I did interval training on the elliptical which seemed much harder than the bike. I also found myself slipping on the diet eating a few more carbs on the Jewish Sabbath, the only time I allowed myself sugar and starch. Instead of just a taste, I found myself eating a regular portion and sometimes more than that. I was also eating too many almonds and mixed nuts, my allowed snack food.

By June of 2013 I had gained back 14 of the 18 pounds I had lost. My workouts were once or twice a week at most.

Then I read Body by Science. The authors argue that there are two problems with most workout regimens, particular as we get older. People struggle to find the time to work out (I could relate to that) and they get hurt, whether it’s from tennis or CrossFit. They argue that high intensity weight lifting produces the cardio benefits of aerobic exercise, makes you stronger, and improves your metabolism. The standard workout they recommend is a set of five different weightlifting exercises each using multiple muscles–pull down, seated row, leg press, chest press, and overhead press. But instead of doing the standard 30 or so reps in sets of three, they argue for the benefits of slow reps, lifting to failure for roughly two minutes. Each rep takes about 20 seconds. The idea is to choose a weight that you can only lift for two minutes. If you can do it for three minutes or more, your weights too light. If you can only lift for 30 seconds, the weights too heavy.

Do not try this by yourself. I did at first, and I’ll explain why it’s a mistake in a minute.

You lift once a week for a total of about 10 minutes. It sounds ridiculous. But after that intense workout, you need a week to recover. The next week you increase the weight. Because you lift to failure, your body works hard over the next week to be able to lift a little more.

I decided to try it. For four weeks I did five different machines at my gym timing myself. Big mistake. I got headaches because I held my breath. You gotta breathe which is why you should do this routine with a trainer or at least a friend who knows something about the techniques and the breathing. It’s weird but you forget to breathe. I think I was lucky that I only got headaches. Do not do this by yourself.

Despite the headaches, at the end of four weeks I had increased the weights I was lifting quite a bit. I stopped going to my regular gym and starting working out at places that specialize in high-intensity slow-lifting. (Go here for suggested gyms near you if you’re interested.)

So now I’ve been doing the routine for 17 weeks. I’ve also been motivated to do a better job on the carb reduction. I’m cheating less and I stopped buying lots of nuts to keep around the house for snacking. It has helped.

Since June 1 I’ve lost 15 pounds. My weight amounts have increased steadily, some more than others. For example, my leg press has gone from 240 to 380 over the last 13 weeks. This blows me away given how hard it was to move 240 for two minutes back at the beginning. (These slow-lift gyms by the way all use Med-X and Nautilus equipment that are low-friction machines. The weight amounts are not comparable to the machines at LifeTime where I lifted before. The main point I’m making is the progress.)

I feel very good most of the time. I love that the workouts are only once a week. I find my posture has improved dramatically. I don’t know if I’m any stronger but I’m much better at using those Med-X machines. I can see the difference in my body. Very satisfying. It’s not cheap, though–it’s a little over double what a gym membership costs at LifeTime.

Will I keep it up? We’ll see. What’s great is that it’s once a week for a very short period of time. I see the progress every week. Very satisfying. What’s hard about it is that because the weight amounts go up every week, it never gets easier. It’s a very demanding experience. You work very very hard in those two minutes on each machine. You breathe very hard. Your heart rate goes crazy and by the end of each set you’re exhausted. What’s easy about it is that your body adapts over the week and you can always do the work for two minutes even though the weight is greater. You just have to work. But it’s only for about two minutes each time.

I’m due for a physical soon. It will be interesting to see how I’m doing. I’ll keep you posted and if you got this far, thanks for listening.

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