A year in weightlifting

At the end of 2020 I had to take very serious action to lose weight, for medical reasons. The COVID pandemic and being home I guess made my body mass to go over some threshold and the doctor got a pretty scary chat with me.

So I started talking with a nutritionist and start a plan.

The spoilers of that is that it worked. I have lost so far almost 40Kg since I started a year and a half ago. I’m close to what I considered when I started “the ideal situation”, so I’m still working on it.

For the first 6 months, more or less, the main focus was the food. I anyway started walking round 5 km every day, something that I missed since the start of lockdown. I used to walk to work, and I always liked it. Progress was quite noticeable during that time.

After that, the nutritionist told me to start doing strength exercises to increase my muscular mass.

I had never been doing anything like that. I’ve never really been a sports person, and it all has been a novelty. Now that I’ve been pretty actively working out for a year, I’m going to share some of my ideas of the process.

First of all, I’ve been working out mainly at home. I went for a month to a gym, but I quickly preferred to exercise at home instead. It’s faster and more convenient, instead of moving to a different place, and I can integrate it better in my day. It’s true that you have more resources in a gym, but for most of the time you are not using them fully.

Probably because I’m not use to attend, there are a lot of “gym etiquette” stuff that I don’t know. Nothing that cannot be learnt, but I never got to the point of being comfortable. I guess that also at home I’m less worried of the interaction, having to wait to use something, blocking someone for using it or even being judged by others.

In any case, I found out that I like working out with the Apple Fitness + videos. The system itself is well constructed, can be started on different screens, from the phone to a TV using Apple TV. It connects to your watch and gets heartbeat and calories info. I’m already invested into the Apple ecosystem, so it’s natural to use. In regard to the exercises, they just require using some dumbbells and are easy to do at home, not even demanding too much space. The instructors are nice and “human”, meaning that they don’t look like robots, performing mechanically impossible feats.

Sometimes they can be a bit too smiley and enthusiastic, but, hey, they are instructors

All exercises are properly explained, including some modifications to make them more accessible.

I had to buy some dumbbells, but it’s a relatively small investment. I got some that can be expanded with extra weight, so I was able to increase the load over time. They are also as small as possible, to save space storing them.

Routine

Simply motivation is not a great way of maintaining the effort long term. In my case, the key element is to create a habit that I can sustain.

This need to not rely too much on motivation, and instead work on repeating things over and over, even if you don’t feel like you should do it.

This includes generating some space and time where you can exercise. For example, I go out for a run after finishing work. Reserve time in your calendar, if necessary.

I never want to do the exercise, and I never end up feeling energised by it, as other people do, but I sort of do it out of duty. I feel good when I finish from the point of view that it is something that I have to do, no matter what. Over time, this becomes more and more natural to do, even if not a single day you are truly wanting it to do. It similar to brush your teeth. It’s not something that you think too much about doing or not, you just do it.

Another key element for me at least is that I’ll do it, but not everyday I have the same energy and that is fine. Somedays I’ll take it a bit easier if that’s the case, but the counterpart is that when I’m feeling like I can do it, I will go fully. And the interesting part is that there are more good days than bad days. The idea is to constantly challenge yourself, to the point that sometimes it gets a bit scary about whether you’ll be capable of doing it.

Part of my habits is weighting myself every day. I don’t recommend it, as it can go up and down for not clear reasons, and sometimes can be demotivating. That said, I like the daily data and to me is easier to do that instead of doing a weekly weight, which is probably best for most people. It is important to do it at the same time and in the same conditions. After a while, it provides valuable trends.

Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com
Ah, the wonders of getting feedback…

I think that after all this time, I have the habit quite solidified, but it doesn’t mean that each individual day is easy. It is not. But I do it because I am used to it.

After a year

I’ve been quite consistent with exercising and diet over the last year. Well, over the last year and a half in most regards. Anyway, this has been my first experience with doing exercise regularly and, in particular, trying to build up muscle. This has been a process with a number of surprises, or comments.

  • Honestly, I haven’t perceive a massive amount of change in how do I feel in general. Previously I wasn’t feeling bad in any obvious aspect, and I was active walking a lot, which I think allowed me to not feel tired all the time. A few areas have improved, though. I can definitively perceive an improvement is carrying groceries and other bags, which is quite noticeable. It also helped with RSI problems on my hands. Some times I had before some soreness in my knees that seemed to go away, but it was rare to start with.
  • Measurements, on the other hand, have improved quite noticeable. Things like blood pressure, blood sugar, and other objective things are much much better. These things are difficult to perceive subjectively, but are big improvements in overall health.
  • Physically there’s obviously a big change. Not only in less weight, but this is the first time in my life that I can see some muscle in the upper body. I’ve always been naturally muscular in my legs, probably combined with the fact that I’ve always liked to walk, but my arms and shoulders feel strange having some sort of definition.
  • On that regard, I’ve been surprised on location and function of some muscles. It’s weird that you don’t really know how your body actually IS. For example, the location of the biceps is a bit different that I thought, as it is sightly inclined in your arm, towards your chest, instead of being perfectly pointing forward. That surprised me, for some reason.
  • The one muscle that surprised me the most is the triceps. This is the muscle on the back part of your upper arm, which works to extend it. It works in opposition to the biceps. This muscle sort of moves around the arm, when the arm is extended, it is more prominent on the upper part of the arm, closer to the shoulder. This is actually when it’s performing its function. But when the arm is contracted, it is more prominent closer to the elbow. It works in a very different way than the biceps, which is more in a contracted/relaxed way, as you’ll expect.
Notice how the muscle in the back part of the arm sort of moves up and down
  • Even feeling different muscles that you are used to. Certain exercises will force you to use muscles that you have but are not aware. Also exercising in certain way will make you way more aware on where specifically the muscle is and when you are using it, sometimes referred as mind-muscle connection. And yes, sometimes the next day there are parts of body you didn’t even know that hurt.
  • Another weird thing of your body is that it’s not entirely symmetric. When you develop muscle, it won’t appear in both sides of your body at the same time. It’s small, assuming a symmetric training, but you can notice it, which is quite strange.
  • Working out regularly and hard makes you appreciate the insane amount of effort involved on it. And pure invested time. You try to reach your limit constantly and it never becomes easier. Perhaps the habit makes it more manageable, as you know what to expect, and after a while, the recovery is faster. But each and every minute costs. I could use some good-old 80s montage to speed up the process.
  • My least favourite exercise are push ups. They are awful. I was really really bad doing them, so I started doing them more often. Adding extra push ups here and there to actively improve the execution. I still hate them, but I notice a great improvement in doing them. There’s a lesson there, but I still don’t like doing push ups.
  • Resting is a very important part of the process that should not be overlooked. Given that I take daily measurements, I can see that a day where you don’t rest as you should (this happened for example for some work-related problems where I needed to stay up at night) it reflects quite clearly on your weight. It really helped me to try to get my 8 hours of sleep every day, as well as respect rest days.
  • The moment you search some information online you start seeing an insane amount the videos recommended. It’s clear that the world of fitness is really big, and full of all kind of things, from tips to products. One can get in a rabbit hole of YouTubers talking about supplements, proper form or all kinds of tips. It’s also easy to see that there’s a lot of shady advice out there.
  • This happens in combination to another interesting thing. Clearly you can start feeling body dysmorphia, meaning that you are way more aware of your body and the parts that you don’t like about it. As you start being bombarded by videos and images of people with much better looking bodies than yours, it’s unavoidable to make comparisons. I’ve never been much for being worry about how my body is, but I can feel now to be more aware of that. You can clearly see how this can get out of control.
  • This happens even if my objective is not really to be “jacked” or “muscular” or anything like that. But it’s somehow unavoidable to notice things that I wasn’t noticing before.

It’s still a process. I am still a newbie in all of this, and I still feel like I have a lot to learn and a lot to go. I’m still surprised that I am following this, and we’ll see how it goes after year two…

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