Fitness Friday – My Current Workout and Why

~700 words, ~4 min reading time

So, it’s been a little while since I described my workout routine, and I’ve made some changes to it. So, let’s get into it.

Trait #1: Full Body Split

So, there are a number of ways to do splits – though the science seems to have come around to 2-3x a week per muscle group being the most effective. So, that basically means you want to do full body 2-3 days a week, upper-lower 4-6 days a week, or push-pull-legs 6 days a week.

I have other things to do, so that means full body 2-3 days a week.

Though the reason I switched back to this from other routines was simple: I can’t guarantee getting time to workout 4+ days a week, so if I miss a day, that pushes things way off schedule if I’m in a U/L or PPL routine. However, with a full-body routine, it can just mean that I take an extra rest day. I likely won’t end up accidentally having 5 days between training a particular body part.

Trait #2: 6 x 12 as my target set/rep scheme

The science seems to suggest that you get maximum hypertrophy (that is, muscle growth) from doing 40-70 reps over 6-10 sets in a workout for a specific body part. You can do this using one or two exercises. To minimize rest time, six sets makes sense. So, that means we should do 7-12 reps in a set. So, I target 12, and if I fall short odds are good that I’ll still get at least 7.

I also use this 40-70 rep scheme to add sets (up to a max of 10) if I do fall short. Basically, if I’m failing to hit my 12 reps per set, I continue doing sets until either I hit 40 reps total OR 10 sets total.

However, the last set is special. More on that further down

EXCEPTION: I do 3×12 as my target for squats and deadlifts. Because I hate them, and find doing more to be excessively fatiguing and terribly demotivating.

Trait #3: A/B workouts

This is the most recent change. For a while, I was just doing the same full body routine 3 days a week (ideally). But, I realized that I kind of wanted to do both rows AND pullups – both back exercises. But, I didn’t really want to do more than 6 exercises in a single workout. So, I alternate between these now:

Workout A: Dumbbell Floor Presses, Dumbbell Squats, Lateral Raises, One-Arm Dumbbell Rows, Standing Tricep Extensions (though I do a dumbbell in each hand to force the two arms to work independently), Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Workout B: Dumbbell Flyes, Stiff-Legged Dumbbell Deadlifts, Dumbbell Shoulder Presses , Pull-ups, Lying Tricep Extensions, Hammer Curl

Trait #4: Autoregulatory Progression

Progression is a key element of an effective routine. I’m of the opinion that a reasonable progression scheme can cover up a number of other errors – in particular about “how much to lift” when you start out. There are lots of ways to do this, but I finally came across something I like: Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance.

I mentioned above that I target 6 x 12. Now, often, I will fall short of this. That’s fine. But, on the weeks that I manage to get 12 reps in each of the first 5 sets, I do as many reps as I can in the 6th set. This determines if I progress the weight. If I get 13 or fewer in that set, I keep the weight the same. If I get 14-17, I increase weight by ~5%, if possible (for curls, for example, I’m lifting so little that I can’t really increase by less than 10%). If I get 18 or more, I increase weight by ~10%.

In the event that I don’t hit 12 reps per set, then I just try to do better the next time, with no strict progression scheme except that I want to improve the first set that fell short of 12 reps by at least one rep next time around.

“The Science”

Based on this article which summarizes research from others, cited there.


Fitness Friday – Trying The 5/2 Diet

~700 words, ~3 min reading time

So, I’m in the midst of a “cut”, and I’m trying a new technique: the 5/2 diet. Let me compare it with what I’ve done in the past.

Previously, I followed the Kinobody cutting diet. So, five days per week, I’d eat in a calorie deficit, and two days per week, I’d eat at a slight surplus. After some experimenting, I’ve found that 1600 calories on my low-calorie days and 2500 on my high-calorie days was about right to hit my weight loss goals. This approach basically has “diet breaks” built in on those two high-calorie days per week, and diet breaks have been shown to have positive effects on things like maintaining lean body mass and metabolism. Greg O’Gallagher at Kinobody also suggests taking explicit diet breaks whenever weight-loss stalls.

The 5/2 diet, though, reverses things. Rather than five days of deficit and two days of surplus, you eat five days at maintenance and two days at a very sharp deficit. After doing the calculations, that means I’m eating 2300 calories per day five days per week, and 800 calories per day two days per week. Yes, 800 calories is VERY little – but it is fairly easy to hit simply by fasting for most of the day, and just eating a reasonable dinner. (Note: the original Fast Diet – which the 5/2 diet comes from – says to eat “normally” – that is, don’t bother tracking – for 5 days, and to eat 500-600 calories for two days of the week. I’m following the modified version that I linked above.)

In terms of weekly calorie intake, the two diets are very similar. 1600×5 + 2500×2 = 13,000 calories per week. 2300×5 + 800×2 = 13,100.

The big difference is in the eating pattern. For me, the 5/2 diet has been significantly easier, because I don’t feel like I have to track quite as closely. On maintenance days, I keep track of what I eat, try not to go overboard, and then make sure I hit fairly close to my calories by adjusting my evening snacks after the kids are in bed. In contrast, during my 5 low-calorie days per week under my previous diet scheme, I had to pay a lot more attention to what I was eating each meal to make sure that I was (1) not using up too many of my calories, but also (2) hitting protein goals along the way. That was a lot of attention having to be paid to what I was eating. The 5/2 diet reduces that significantly.

Another big benefit that I’ve found for the 5/2 diet is that I can keep doing it – or something close to it – even when I’m traveling. On my previous diet, I would simply abandon the diet if I went on a trip, simply because it’s too hard to control food intake. I figured 7 days wouldn’t do any permanent damage – and this is correct, as far as that goes. But, it does set you back a bit. But, I’m out of town this week for a seminar – and I’m mostly sticking to the 5/2 diet despite that, even though I’m not tracking calories exactly. 5 days, I’m eating “normally” more or less (so, probably near, but slightly above maintenance, I would guess), and two days, I’m just eating dinner and maybe a smaller snack. In any case, not eating until dinner time basically ensures that I won’t be eating maintenance-level calories those days. So, while I may lose some ground from not tracking calories precisely, I don’t expect I’ll lose much ground – and that’s something.

One downside, though: I am definitely hungry on my 800 calories days – where I hadn’t really experienced that as much on the 1600/2500 split. But, it’s not that big a deal. Drinking lots of water helps, and you do get used to it on some level. Plus, it’s just one day – then I know I get a couple days eating normally.

Naturally, there are some people who absolutely should not do this – it’s particularly dangerous for diabetics. Children and pregnant or nursing mothers should also do something else, most likely. But, it seems to be going okay for me so far – sadly, it’s too early to report results.

Results Update 2018

~1200 words, ~6 min reading time

Introduction

So, I’ve tracked biometric data for a while, and have started tracking strength about a year ago. So, I decided it would be good to do some yearly testing – and, though it feels weird to report this, I figured I would for those that want to know.

Because I’m an American, everything is in pounds and inches.

Strength Results:

Dumbbell squat (combined, estimated 1RM): 149lb -> 180lb (+31lb)

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts (combined, est 1RM): 144lb -> 173 lb (+29 lb)

Dumbbell Floor Press (combined, est 1RM): 116.1lb -> 140 lb (+23.9 lb)

Combined: 409.1 -> 493 (+83.9 lb)

Bodyweight Dips: 10 -> 6

Bodyweight Pullups: 6 -> 8

Bodyweight Pushups: 17 -> 21

So, lifts all went up decently – not “wow” levels, and I’m still not “strong” by any reasonable measure – but stronger than before. Dips dropping wasn’t a big shock – last year, my routine included dips, what I’ve been doing this year really doesn’t.

These also probably understate my true maxes – I didn’t really warm up, and just lifted 90% of last year’s estimated 1RM. To be more accurate, I should get an estimate, and test at 90% of that estimate to double-check. But, I don’t care that much.

Biometrics Results:

Overall:

Weight: 166.6 lb => 162.2 lb (still in goal range)
BF%: 15.3% => 16.3% by the Navy method, 14.5 => 14.6 by bf% scale (a bit on the high side of my goal 10-15% range)
Lean weight: 141.1 lb => 135.7 lb (using Navy method estimation) (surprised it fell, given other measurements)

By body part:

Maintained in Goal Range:

Neck: 16 -> 16
Hips: 36.75 -> 37
Calves: 14.75 -> 15.5

All of these were in my goal range in 2017, and stayed there in 2018 – though hips and calves showed some growth in that range.

Moved up into Goal Range:

Chest: 39.5 -> 41

My chest just hit my goal range.

Still Below Goal Range:

Biceps: 13.5 -> 14
Forearms: 11.25 -> 11.25
Thigh: 20.75 -> 21.5
Shoulders: 46.75 -> 47.5

While none of these are in my goal range yet, they’re moving the right direction. Biceps, Forearms, and Thighs are all about 1 inch from the goal range (though, honestly, I don’t care much about my legs…) – I feel like this is going to be excruciatingly slow going. Shoulders are within spitting distance, and moving there pretty quick.

Still Above Goal Range:

Waist: 33.5 -> 34

Also, moving the wrong direction. Ideally, we’d be looking at something closer to 31. But, this is very affected by diet. It’s winter, so it’s a reasonable time to focus on gaining rather than losing weight, and for being in that phase 34 isn’t worrisome, especially since I measured at the end of the day after a big day of eating.

What I did this Year

This year, I went through a few distinct phases – combinations of various routines and diets. Diets were generally fairly simple bulking or cutting diets, depending on my bodyfat %. Not very interesting.

Workouts, though – I tried 4 fairly distinct workout routines this year. First, I finished using HST (Hypertrophy-Specific Training). It’s not a bad program, but I had gotten to where some of the exercises were getting cumbersome (especially leg exercises).

Second, I moved into a self-designed full-body program using some linear progression principles I picked up from Stronger by Science. Basically, you do 3×8, progressing linearly. Once you fail to make a step, you switch to 5×5 and proceed from there. Once you fail again, you switch to 5×3 and keep going. Once you fail again, you go through the same cycle, but with one more set – so 4×8, 6×5, and 6×3. Then, add another set if you cycle through again. The problem: the workouts pretty quickly got much too long. Why? Because I do arm exercises, not just big compound lifts. That means that the “steps” in linear progression are actually very big. While I actually made some good progress under this routine, it just got terrible to keep up with.

So, I switched to RippedBody.com’s Intermediate Bodybuilding Routine. This wasn’t too bad, except that I found that I just hated leg days. A lot of this is because a lot of leg exercises require machines to do comfortably. Yes, I can lay on the floor, stick a dumbbell between my feet, and do leg curls. But it’s awful. Same with leg extensions. Since I don’t have a machine, and they would be kind of stupid for me to buy right now, these were awkward and I hated them.

So, I switched to Lvysaur’s Intermediate Aesthetic routine – it avoids the more awkward leg exercises, and doesn’t have a leg day at all. Instead, deadlifts, squats, and calf raises are integrated in with other days. The results on Lvysaur have been weird, if I’m going to be honest. I switched to it during a bulking phase. But I gained basically no weight at all in the first 7 weeks (though this may have just been a failed VERY lean buld). Then, I switched to cutting for about 6 weeks – lost 4 lb of fat, but also 3 lb of lean. Not a great ratio, but okay. Since then, I’ve been doing a very slow transition back to a bulk – which means I’ve still been losing weight – about 0.5 lb of lean, but no fat. Not great there, either.

Focusing just on the “good” bulking phases, I gained more lean mass each week under Lvysaur’s first bulk (the one that wasn’t a transition period) than I did under either of the others.

So, I think I’m going to stick with Lvysaur for now. The most important thing is finding a routine that you can stick to. For me, that means figuring out what to do when I miss days, since working out is A priority – not my #1 priority. (Done!) There should also be a reasonable plan for failure (Lvysaur is very good with that) and progression (also pretty good), and the routines shouldn’t be outrageously long (yep).

I’ve also been experimenting more this year with putting my own twists on routines. For example – even though Lvysaur’s leg stuff isn’t as bad as some others’ I found myself hating it again. So, I switched up those particular exercises to something reminiscent of 5/3/1, which isn’t as awful. I also added in more arm work, since I know that’s a lagging body part for me. Also, I hate doing “as many reps as possible” sets – and am awful at feeling out what weight will hit a certain target on any particular day, so I changed how Lvysaur’s accessories work.  Might be a good idea to add some wrist curls as well – so I might modify that, next time around.

My plan for next year:

Diet- I just switched to a higher calorie bulk – I figure I can always scale back, if needed. But, I’ve been wasting time on too much transitioning. Anyway, I’m going to continue doing this until late April. Then, I’ll switch to cut – and I’ll maintain the cut until after our beach trips OR until I get down to 10% bodyfat, according to my body fat scale (I’m predicting the beach trips will come first…). Though I have debated whether I should just devote an entire year to bulking at some point….

Routine – I’m a bit unpredictable on this. I tend to do things until I hate them, and then switch to something else. So, I’m still thinking about that. Right now, I don’t have a good reason to ditch Lvysaur, as it seems to be doing alright. I’ll probably just make some more tweaks (adding wrist curls, maybe) and proceed.

Fitness Friday – New Routine (Again…)

~300 words, ~2 min read time

It wasn’t that long ago that I mentioned switching to a new routine. This led to lunges killing me.

Well, I’ve been away from home for the past couple weeks, and took a break from my routine for that time. So, the past 3 days have been… a challenge, I’ll say. And it made me realize something.

I hate leg day.

So, today (I’m writing this on Wednesday – which is Leg Day #2 of the week under the routine I’ve been using), I made a decision. I’m not doing it. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do any more leg exercises – that would be a bit unbalanced. Rather, it means that I’m not doing leg day.

See, I found this routine. It is slanted toward upper-body exercises – which I prefer anyway. Its goal is more aesthetic – which I prefer, too. The split is a bit strange, and it brings back some exercises I’ve not done in basically FOREVER (Rear delt flyes? Been almost a year since I’ve done one of those, I think.).

An important lesson here – which is a continuing theme for me in many ways – if you hate a program, there’s nothing making you do it. You can always choose to do something else.

As I get older (and busier…)- and feel more pressed for time – the more I find myself willing to just stop doing things that I don’t like. In short – I have no moral obligation to have a “leg day”. It doesn’t serve any particular purpose in allowing me to reach my goals. It’s not something that the world needs from me. So, I may as well stop.

Fitness Friday – Get Paid to Exercise!

~300 words, ~2 min read time

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fitness Friday – honestly, I’ve not had much to say about it, so I decided not to.

Anyway, this week, I’ve had the pleasure at being at Mises University. This is always a fantastic time to connect with other Austrian economists and students of Austrian economics. I was chatting with another of the faculty members, and he was asking if I knew some of the other Austrian or Austrian-influenced economists that graduated from Ohio State. There’s one that works about an hour from me, it turns out, who I had met once before, about 7 or 8 years ago. Anyway, I decided to look him up to see what his current research is. Most of it is empirical stuff (probably why I haven’t seen him in Austrian circles) now, and this paper jumped out at me.

The Effect of Exercise on Earnings (abstract)

It turns out that exercise does pay. In fact, regular exercise provides something like a 6-10% boost in your wage. Now, we might be tempted to try to explain this away as a result of effects on things like obesity. We know that obesity has negative effects on earnings. So, maybe exercise pays off because people that exercise are somewhat less likely to be obese.

Turns out that’s not the explanation. The study controlled for the effects of body composition.

In other words, regular exercise itself – even if you don’t see “results” in terms of weight,  body composition, etc. – seems to have a significant impact on your wages.

Put another way: exercise pays.

Fitness Friday – Lunges are Slaughtering Me

~200 words, ~1 min reading time

So, I started a new routine about 3 weeks ago. I think it’s going pretty well. . 5 days per week, usually 20-45 min per day. Very workable. But, the new routine is putting more emphasis on legs than my previous did, and it’s introduced an exercise that I’ve not really done before: lunges.

To work myself into it, I started with very light dumbbells (5lb a side). Weirdly, the lunges are far more exhausting than exercises where I am lifting FAR heavier weight.

It turns out a lot of what it comes down to is what you’re used to. Lunges use a different set of stabilizing muscles than the other exercises I do. So, it’s the stabilizing muscles that make the exercise feel so demanding.

This routine also brings back a few exercises that I had set aside for a couple months. What I found: I have regressed significantly. I mean, I’m not back to where I started – but I’m also nowhere close to where I left off.

This is an amazing thing about humans. We are amazingly adaptable. But, to adapt, we have to be put into circumstances that require it.

Fitness Friday – New Program!

~450 words, approx. 2 min read time

Last week over on Facebook I discussed dealing with failing (to hit my reps, that is). One thing that I’m doing now – switching up programs!

Personally, I try to train in 8 week blocks. This keeps me from program hopping too badly, while at the same time giving me the opportunity to make significant course corrections when needed. I think it’s a nice balance.

So, for the past 8 weeks, I’ve been trying to do a novice-type of progression, but with changing things as I described in the previous posts – failure led to a change in the number of sets and reps. The specific rules created a really bad outcome in terms of how long it took to complete a workout, so to limit the time I’m spending on this, I’m switching things up.

I found this program which has some nice features. 5 workouts per week – better than the 6 I had resorted to. A reasonable number of sets so I can complete every day within about 45 minutes. And a good mix of exercises. I confess: I still like the idea of full body workouts 3 times per week, but I had effectively given that up anyway. I’m still hitting each muscle group 2 times per week, so I’m okay.

One of the new ideas that is being implemented here – though I saw something like it when I did HST – is using an “intermediate” wave progression for some exercises. The idea is pretty simple: as the weight goes up, the reps go down, and occasionally you intentionally lift relatively light for low reps and sets (a “deload”). To some degree the “higher weight, lower reps” is just unavoidable when you get to a certain point. So, the intermediate progression plans for it.

As I reflect on this, I realize there is a larger life lesson just from considering novice v intermediate progressions.

As a novice, the key is to keep moving forward. Always try to do better than you did before. When you fail try again. If you fail again, step back (deload!), make sure you actually have mastered the previous step, and then try again.

Eventually, though, you find yourself having to revisit what you did before again and again and again. That is: we hit a plateau. Plateaus require that we make more subtle adjustments (the equivalent of increasing weight but decreasing reps) – a little more here, a little less there. We also need to take breaks to recharge – and that happens more regularly at this level.

Now I wonder what would happen if I applied this to things like playing Civilization…