Stretching Myself on the Rack

While my title might imply torturous methods, I’ve found a way to expand my work out regimen that’s helping me make progress and I’d like to share it with you.

I’ve been going to the gym 3-5 times a week for the last 6 months. When I started at the gym, I got an introductory session to acquaint myself with the equipment, including the weight lifting machines because I was determined to do weight lifting along with cardio.

Using weight lifting machines has been a great way for me to reshape my body. Slowly, over these past 6 months, some of my body fat has been transformed into muscle. (I know that’s not what actually happens, but you know what I mean.)

And weight machines are an excellent way to get started because the machines are easy to use, and have more controlled movements than free weights. I also liked how I could see my progress on the weight machines as I was able to increase the amount of weight over time.

I had a lengthy discussion with the primary trainer at the gym about how I seem to have hit a plateau on the weight machines. Even though I’m doing my regular workouts, I don’t see the kinds of results I got in the first six months. My body has adapted to my workout, and I haven’t changed things up enough.

The trainer suggested it was time for me to head over to the weight rack, and begin using free weights. He was nice enough to show me several exercises, and explained how I could do all of the exercises I was doing on the machine with free weights.

One thing that immediately surprised me was the extreme difference in the amount of weight I could lift. With the free weights, I felt like a wimp! The trainer said that’s normal. He said that I might be able to lift 30% of the amount of weight I was doing on the machine because free weights require more muscle groups to be engaged since there is no machine there to limit and control the movement of the weight.

But guess what? After only a few sessions with lighter weights at the free weight rack, I’m already seeing a difference in my workouts at the machines! (Yes, I’m still working out on all the machines I’d been using, plus adding new exercises with the free weights.)

I’m very excited about this new breakthrough I seem to be having with the free weights. I’ve got to be patient for the results, but I’d like to see where I am in another 3 weeks of doing free weights plus the weight machines, plus my cardio.

So, if you’re exclusively using weight machines to do your lifting, consider going to the rack!

Work Out Tip – The Easy 400 Calorie Workout

Ah, the new year. A time when everyone resolves to “get back to the gym” and to lose the weight they gained during the holidays.

Many people who get started at the gym push themselves too hard, and feel sore and tired and then give up before they see real results, which take time.

In today’s post, I have ONE simple suggestion to help you burn calories but not kill yourself at the gym.

Many people who do cardio to lose weight believe they have to kill themselves by running fast on the treadmill to rack up a lot of calories burned. And while running will burn a lot of calories, there are many reasons why you may not want to run. It puts a lot of stress on your joints, particularly your ankles and knees. Also, unless you are already in great shape, you are not going to be able to sustain a run at a fast pace for any length of time. For some people, this might be a discouragement from exercising at all.

So, instead of getting on the treadmill and running, use the incline setting on the treadmill to increase the amount of calories burned, while walking at a brisk pace. Many treadmills have settings that go from 1 to 15, and at the upper range it’s like walking up a steep hill. You’ll have to hang onto the treadmill handles, but you can still walk, not run and burn loads of calories.

In the title to my post, I’ve used 400 calories as a target goal for the workout. I regularly exceed 400 calorie workouts on the treadmill, and I don’t run.

The key to achieving the calorie goal is extending the amount of time you spend on the treadmill as well. So, to burn 400 calories, you should plan to spend one hour on the treadmill so you can walk at a brisk pace but not feel exhausted when you’re done.

Use the incline setting and make sure you don’t go below 6, and alternate between 6, 8 and 10 on the treadmill as you are walking. Alternate speeds between 3.5 through 4.0, and as the incline is higher (let’s say 10) use the lower speed to get through that lap.

If you are just getting back to the gym, give yourself a more modest goal… perhaps a 200 calorie workout to start. Then, when you’ve easily achieved that goal, after a week or so of 200 calorie workouts, increase to 300 and then 400 calories.

Since I’m a “seasoned pro” at the gym – at this point I go to the gym at least five times a week, for a minimum of an hour each session – I’m able to achieve high calorie burns. Today I spent one hour on the treadmill and burned 600 calories. After I was done, I felt so good I hopped on the stair master and did another 100 calories in 15 minutes. I’m not going at blazing fast speeds, but that’s fine, I’m willing to put in the time.

When you consider that one pound is about 35o0 calories, losing one pound through effort at the gym comes into a whole new perspective.

I hope this treadmill tip is helpful for anyone getting back into a new workout routine. You CAN do it. Remember, it takes time to build up your endurance, but with a bit of effort you can burn off hundreds of calories.

A Year of Being Mostly Vegan

I’ve been keeping a personal journal for many decades, and periodically I re-read entries. Today I re-read an entry from November 16th, 2013 which noted that I’d moved from eating vegetarian to eating vegan.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this (crazy) eating regimen for over a year now! BUT, right now I’m in the best shape I’ve been in, probably in my life.

In June this year I began going to the gym regularly. I started out going every day, now I have two rest days within the week, but I’m still lifting and doing cardio 5 days a week.

And while I haven’t lost much weight (today I am 7 pounds lighter than I was this time last year) I have lost inches and dress sizes. I’m down to about a size 6 – I’m really proud of that!

On the eating front, I am mostly vegan. I’ve continued allowing egg whites into my diet so I can ensure I’m getting enough protein, which is a constant battle. I use my brown rice protein shake to supplement, but I must be mindful of the foods I choose to get the daily requirement of protein.

This year has been a great learning experience. I’ve experimented more with my diet and now find myself in a place where I eat lots of veggies and fruits, along with legumes, nuts and seeds.

Have I been a perfect vegan? Heck no. I estimate I ate chicken about a half a dozen times this year (no, I won’t be eating turkey on Thanksgiving!) and I do allow myself some buttered toast or buttered bagel every now and again as a treat.

These changes ARE CHALLENGING, but I still believe they are worth it.

As the holidays approach, I already know my eating habits are not fun at parties. Many times there is absolutely nothing I can eat when I’m at a party, or I wind up defaulting into eating junky processed food like potato chips. I think I’m going to start bringing food to parties… maybe a bag of carrots and a container of hummus dip, so that I’ll be sure to at least have one thing I can eat that is healthy. But when it comes to sour cream and onion dip, cheese and cracker plates, pigs in a blanket, cream filled whatever, and meat, meat and more meat… I’ll be skipping all that, thanks. (Hmm, maybe I need more vegan friends, ha!)

So here I am, beginning year two of being vegan. No one is more amazed than me, I’m sure.

My immediate goals are to continue eating healthy, continue going to the gym, and yes, I’d still like to lose 10 pounds. Who knows, maybe I’ll wind up being a Size 4 someday. I’ve never been a size 4 in my life, but as I achieve new health milestones it’s possible my body will continue to be transformed.

The biggest obstacle to becoming vegan in the first place was psychological. Most people believe they cannot give up X, Y or Z foods. Or perhaps even when they try to eat healthier, they still are in a deprivation mindset, instead of embracing the opportunity for better health.

So, let me warn you now, if you eat healthier and do it consistently, the foods you love now will taste BAD to you in the future. Do you know why? Because the foods that are not healthy for you are usually fake, processed foods. Ersatz food. And once you give that up, if you go back and taste processed foods, you’ll know they’re disgusting.

I have my own example of this. I used to like banana chips. I eat fresh bananas regularly, but I also used to enjoy banana chips as a snack. But after a while, I noticed that when I ate the banana chips, I could taste the oil the chip was fried in rather than the chip itself, and it tasted gross to me. Eventually, I could taste that the chip was very slightly rancid from the oil.

If my palette wasn’t as finely tuned, I doubt my sense of smell and taste would have registered this a year ago. I would have eaten the food then and enjoyed it. But when you convert your body and taste buds into eating fresh food 99% of the time, these things become obvious.

Good luck to everyone out there working on changing your diet and improving your health. I’ve achieved some decent milestones in the past year, and I’m looking forward to another year of improved health.


Vegan Weight Lifting – Creatine Update

At the end of August I began experimenting with taking Creatine to enhance my weight lifting regimen at the gym. I decided not to follow the “typical” recommendations which suggest that a person do “loading” where you take larger doses of creatine to jack up the blood levels of this naturally occurring substance. Instead I opted for a slow daily half dose of the recommended 5 mg a day… which meant I took 2.5 mg a day for a few weeks.

Within 3 days of taking this level dosage, I felt a huge improvement in my weight lifting at the gym. Suddenly, I was able to increase the amount of weight I was lifting at all of my machines, and overall I felt more energized during my workouts. Everything seemed to be working as expected.

Unfortunately, one known side effect of taking creatine is water retention. As I monitored myself on the scale, I did notice a 1-2 pound increase and I figured it was water retention, but I was okay with that because of the tremendous improvement to the work out.

And then, I began retaining water in my ankles. It wasn’t anything severe, but I realized it was clearly a side effect from the creatine, so as a way of testing if my hypothesis was right, I stopped taking it.

Sure enough, my ankles returned to normal size and the water gains I saw on the scale disappeared.

But… I also saw the negative effect on my workout too. Where I’d previously felt stronger and more able to take on higher amounts of weight, I now felt weaker and had to take a step back on the amount of weight I was lifting.

What’s incredible to me, is that it really was that direct an effect AND that dramatic in terms of the increase and decrease to performance. It was quite surprising.

Because I do have some aspect of the scientist in me, I decided to do another “experiment” on myself. This time, I would take creatine again, but in an even smaller dosage. I figured I would try a 1/4 dose, instead of a half dose. That meant taking 1.25 mg / day, instead of the previous 2.5 mg dose I’d been using.

After maybe 4 days I did not see a dramatic improvement at the gym, but I did begin slight retaining of water and slight swelling of the ankles returned too.

So, these two tests lead me to stop taking creatine, because of the side effects I experienced.

However, it does work. Creatine does greatly enhance weight lifting, especially when – as a vegan or vegetarian – your body is not getting the natural source of creatine that meat eaters get.

Each athlete has to make their own decisions about what’s best for them. For me, I’d like to be able to use creatine, but my body does not react well to the water retention … even at lower doses.

As a vegan athlete (who does eat eggs), I have to work harder than my meat-eating, weight lifting counterparts to achieve results. My power gains at the gym will likely be slower as a result.

Also as a vegan athlete, I have to be mindful of getting enough protein too. I continue to use brown rice powder protein shakes (I use the Growing Naturals brand, which provides 24 g of protein per scoop.) The shakes are part of my recovery process, which has been beneficial.

In the more than 3 months I have gone to the gym and I’ve continued to see progress. I’ve dropped two clothing sizes (inches) and I can see much better muscle definition than I had before I started. The progress seems frustratingly slow sometimes, especially because it takes so much effort to achieve results. Also, this routine requires a freakishly zealous adherence to eating about 1400 calories a day so that I don’t back-slide.

But, I feel the results have been worth it.

Me 10-3-14 LBD cropped

Why It’s Easy to Gain, but Hard to Lose Weight

This week marks eight weeks since I began my daily exercise routine, including intensive weight lifting and more intensive cardio than I’d been doing prior to joining my local gym. Yay for me!

I am pleased with the level of progress I have made thusfar, but I admit that I’m impatient sometimes, particularly with my weight. However, I am LESS focused on my weight these days than I am on the overall gains I am making, which include a smaller waist, much better muscle tone, and a higher level of personal health.

Yes, it’s a journey to achieve the goals I have set for myself, but it’s a journey of health well worth the investment that can include a massive payoff … such as a longer life, with a higher quality of life.

These days, my weekly routine is Mon/Tues I do upper body weight lifting, Wed is a cardio day, Thurs/Fri I do lower body lifting, Saturday is a cardio day and Sunday I determine how I feel. If I feel I need a full day of rest for my recovery, I take a rest day. If I have a lot of energy, I do lighter cardio on that day.

Today, being Wednesday, I had a cardio day. I started by doing exercise on the elliptical machine, then I moved on to the stair master. Of all the machines in the gym, I have personally found the stair master to be the most challenging. On the positive side, the stair master burns a LOT of calories, on the challenging side, after doing 30 minutes of the stair master I have to be very careful to ensure I am eating properly that day to replenish my energy.

Speaking of energy, calorie intake represents energy I take in from food. Burning calories at the gym represents the energy I expend in exercise.

It’s extremely simplistic, but if I burn 300 calories … as I did today in my cardio workout … and I eat the 1400 calories I’ve set for myself each day, then I’m contributing to my goal of losing weight since my net calories that day would be 1100 calories. Alternatively, if I ate 1700 calories (which I didn’t) I would still net out to 1400 calories today since I expended 300 calories at the gym by doing rigorous hard exercise for an hour.

But for anyone reading this blog who is sitting on their couch and thinking, oh, if you’re exercising it’s easy to lose weight… think again.

I’ll say this again… I spent an hour doing rigorous, heart pounding exercise at the gym today and I burned 300 calories. I was dripping with sweat when I was done.

300 calories is NOT MUCH.

A single, medium sized banana has 105 calories. It is very easy to eat a banana, and consume those 105 calories. Conversely, burning off those same 105 calories takes a LOT of effort.

While I was exercising, I was thinking about people who eat all kinds of stuff everyday. Oh, they might think, I want a slice of apple pie, and I’m eating salad otherwise. Oh yeah? That ONE SLICE of apple pie is 300 calories. Is that same person prepared to do an hour of heart pounding exercise to work off that slice of pie?

Every day that goes by, I do my best to tally my calorie intake in my head. This is something I’ve taught myself over time, that a whole egg is about 70 calories, but one egg white is about 25. A banana is about 100 calories, and I can eat as many raw cucumbers as I want. 🙂

I tally up the amount of protein I am taking in each day too, so that I’m doing my best to achieve my 46 grams of protein required and hopefully exceeding that.

My new trick, now that I’m back to eating eggs, is to consume 3 egg whites (18 grams of protein) plus my regular brown rice protein shake (24 grams of protein for the brown rice powder, 2 grams of protein for the almond milk = 26 grams). These two protein power houses, together give me 44 grams of protein a day and they contribute only about 325 calories to my daily intake, which still leaves me with over 1000 calories for veggies, fruits, grains and nuts. Thank goodness, 1000 calories of fresh food is very filling! I don’t worry about protein now the way I used to, because getting the 2 grams of protein I need to hit my minimum daily requirement is fine through whatever protein is in the remainder of the food I eat. I know I will easily exceed my daily requirement.

But my real point here is back to the idea of thinking about the food you are eating, and how it contributes to your health. If you are eating more calories each day than you are working off, you will gain weight. Your weight gain might be very slow, you may not notice it much until one day your pants feel tight and the scale (if you use one) says you are now 10 pounds heavier than you were a few months ago. Unfortunately, it is much easier to see that happen than to see the reverse.

However, if you are mindful of what you are putting in your body, and if you are exercising regularly, you have a great chance of either maintaining your weight and health, or improving it over time.

I wish everyone the best of health. Remember: it’s the smallest choices we make everyday that add up to the big picture.

The Wellness Dilemma

I’m frustrated to date by my level of progress in my wellness routine.

I’ve been on my new weight lifting routine at the gym for three and a half weeks now, and I continue to watch what I eat and to maintain my vegan regime. However, the scale has been persistently stubborn. I have barely lost two pounds.

Most everyone I’ve spoken to about this: the trainers at the gym, and others, have said don’t look at the scale because you will likely lose inches with a weight lifting program, rather than pounds.

Okay, but what if I want to lose inches AND pounds? (Hint: I do want to lose inches and pounds!)

I decided that it might be a good idea to see a nutritionist to assist me with my eating plan. I went online and searched for holistic nutritionists, figuring that a holistic nutritionist would know about supplements, vegan dietary requirements and the like.

Today I had a free consultation with the holistic nutritionist I found online. I was so discouraged when I left the consultation, I am unsure what I’m going to do next.

I filled out an extensive health questionnaire, which asked me about my eating habits, the supplements I was taking, what kind of exercise I do, what my goals were, etc. I filled all that out before the appointment.

In the conversation today, I found out that this person, who bills themselves as a holistic nutritionist, tells me that they do not know about supplements nor do they have any way to comment on supplements as part of my diet. Moreover, this person said, and I quote, “I couldn’t be vegan because I couldn’t eat beans everyday.” I replied, “I don’t eat beans everyday.” Then the person said, “well, there aren’t many sources of protein left…” and then they went on to try and convince me that maybe I should try eating chicken because that’s “more pleasurable”! (Seriously, wtf?)

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, and that’s pretty bad, this person said “I’m not a fitness coach, so I won’t have any suggestions about your exercise routine.” Fair enough, but when I asked about how my exercise routine would factor into my eating plan, I was told that as long as I was doing exercise, that was good enough for them to know.

HUH? How the heck is a nutritionist going to come up with a viable eating plan for me if they don’t know HOW MUCH EXERCISE I AM DOING??


That experience was TOTALLY disheartening. If you have a disease, the doctors know what to do and health insurance covers it. If you have a cavity, the dentist knows what to do and dental insurance covers it. BUT, if you are WELL … if you are healthy, and want to maintain your health, or maybe improve it … then you are completely on your own. Good luck with all of the contradictory information too.

Based on this person’s comments today, I’d need to assemble a health team to deal with my wellness program. I should hire a nutritionist, a supplement expert, a personal trainer, and probably a damn secretary for keeping all these appointments straight.

Yes, I am frustrated; frustrated by my desire to be healthier than I am today, without a clear path on how I can achieve that.

More research will follow, no doubt. There’s still hope I can achieve the goals I’ve set for myself … even if I have to carve my own path through this wellness wilderness.

My Vegan Journey – A Whole New Level

I recently wrote about my bad cholesterol results after the first six months of my (mostly) vegan eating regimen. I vowed in that post to up the ante on myself, and that’s exactly what I am doing.

This is a whole new level of commitment.

To recap, I’m totally off meat, chicken, fish, all dairy, eggs, caffeine, or alcohol. I have eliminated white bread and white pasta from my diet as well. (I’m still struggling to eliminate white potatoes from my plate…)

But that’s just the starting point these days. That’s just the price of entry.

Begin at the beginning - this is how I look today

Begin at the beginning – this is how I look today

I joined a gym near my house and have begun a daily weight lifting regimen. Based on input from the in-house trainers, I do a circuit of six different machines, and do three sets on these machines.

After I’m done lifting, I hit the stair master.

When I’m done with the stair master, I get on the elliptical machine.

Then I walk home, and drink a brown rice protein shake.

And THEN, I go out and do either a 4 or 6 mile walk outside.

I am doing this every day, although after three straight days of doing weight lifting I take one day off from lifting and just do the cardio part of the routine.

This level of commitment is extremely difficult and time consuming. I spend a lot of time preparing my food and exercising. I’m not sure how long I can keep it up, but I’m determined to DO MY BEST.

I’ve really only just begun, so I have not seen anything in the way of results yet. Within the next few weeks, I would expect to see movement on my scale in the downward direction…

More to come on my progress when it’s available………

A fallow moment

Fallow, adj: Plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility

As you may (or may not) have noticed, my writing productivity has slowed this month on the blog. It’s not just the blog actually, it is also in my writing, and submitting activities too.

I’ve been rejuvenating myself physically, and psychologically.

The last several months have been challenging on a few levels. I haven’t talked about it on the blog, and I likely won’t, but I feel like I’m waiting to get through this tunnel…I can see the shafts of light streaming through the opening at the end, but I haven’t emerged into full sunlight yet.

Some positives help keep me going. I’ve been working hard on my physical being. This means, for me, walking 5-6 miles a day, eating mostly vegetables, taking vitamins and combatting my insomnia.

It’s strange, but I seem to have a nearly inhuman amount of energy from this new regimen. I’m so amped up with energy from the exercise and possibly the vitamins (?) it has dampened my appetite. I’m eating only once a day.

It’s bizarre to say this, but the less I eat, the higher my energy levels get. It’s completely counter-intuitive. And yet…I’ve lost 11 pounds thusfar. I feel good, with more to go.

Also gratifying to see is my blog traffic has miraculously maintained itself pretty well even though I’ve cut back on postings. Many thanks to all of you who continue to participate in and ponder the posts here. I love the idea that a global community of writers comes to my blog, and I love hearing from all of you.

As for the rest of my life…I’m putting my energies where they need to be: being around friends, drawing on the advice of work colleagues, experts and gurus, continuing to draw on an amazing support network of people I know and care about, and pushing forward.

Thanks for listening, and reading. 🙂