Fitness Info

I’ve been asked a few times what applications and plans I’ve used for fitness, so might as well make a page for it.  I’ve made a few changes over the years, but the essence stays the same.

First though, here’s a good starting reference from Reddit on general fitness.

Rule #1 – Food

Nothing is more important that your diet.  It’s simple arithmetic, if you want to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you eat.  It’s not about eating less, it’s about making smarter choices.  If you avoid pretty much anything that comes in a cardboard box, or a glass/plastic container and you’re miles ahead of the game.  About 90% of what you eat should come from the outside perimeter of the grocery store (fruits/veggies, meat, cheese, frozen veggies).

If you want to gain/maintain weight while doing exercises, then macros become important.  Macros are carbs,  protein, and fat.  Everything is made up of those 3.

Here’s an example.  A container of plain Greek yogurt with fresh strawberries is about 65 calories (5g carbs, 10g protein, 0.5g fat).  Regular strawberry yogurt is 90 calories (15g carbs, 9g protein, 1.5g fat).  Pretty much the same material that you’re eating, just a different breakdown – in particular processed sugar.

It makes no sense to start counting calories and macros to start.  You first need to learn to eat better and make better choices.  After that, keep a food log.  You’re not trying to manage what you’re eating, just keeping a note of it.  After that, you can start mucking around with what you are eating during the day.

If weight loss is your goal, then 90% of that effort will be around food.

Strongly suggest you use MyFitnessPal

I try to keep a 50/30/20 protein/carb/fat breakdown of macros, with a TDEE of 2200.  I eat the same thing every weekday.  Shake to start, greek yogurt and berries for snack, chicken + rice + veggies at lunch, protein energy ball (homemade, tons of recipes), piece of fruit.  Supper depends on the family but it’s usually meat + rice/potatoes/quinoa/tortilla + veggies.  I tend to snack on carrots and celery when at home.  Weekends are social and I tend to eat a lot less during the day and have a larger supper.

Rule #2  – Diet makes you look good, exercise makes you look good naked

You need to realize that the majority of your change is diet related.  If all you ever did was eat well, you’d probably end up looking solid.  To make this work, you need to measure your today daily energy expenditure (or TDEE).  This is less complicated than it may seem, as there are plenty of online calculators.  If you want to put on weight, add ~500 calories to the TDEE.  If you want to lose, then remove ~500.  A better rule of thumb is to not swing more than 20% of your TDEE.  Your body does some weird things when you make such a large change.

If you want definition, abs, visible muscles, then you need to workout.  I don’t mean a 30 minute walk 3 times a week.  I mean 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, of work that makes you break a sweat and a need to catch your breath.  If it’s easy for more than 2 weeks, you’re doing it wrong.  Don’t expect to have the perfect gym body without a truckload of work.  It’s a solid year’s effort, 5 times a week, 2 hours a day to get some crazy results.  Instead, focus on creating a healthy and fit lifestyle.  I mean, how often are you really going to take off your shirt in a year?

I lift weights 4 days a week and play hockey (cardio) 2-3 times a week.  But I drink beer.

Rule #3 – Find the right program to meet your goals (strength)

Start here.

If you haven’t lifted weights before,  or you’re a few years rusty, then you’re a starter.  There is no shame in being a starter.  Most starter programs (like a 5×5) focus on quality rather than volume.  It is really important to build good habits, and all starter programs get you on that.  A well done squat at 50% weight will keep you healthy compared to a poor form squat at 85%.  Run a starter program for  at least 3 months.

Once you’re past that, find the right program.  You’ll find out in the starter program what works for you… and this is where you get to focus.  I like to use a variation of a split called Westside for Skinny Bastards as it’s 2 days on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off.  That works out to Sun/Mon, Wed/Thur and my weekends are free.  Well… not so much free but I don’t need to set aside time on the prime nights for social activities.

You’ll also want to track your workouts.  This allows you to see what you did last time, and continually improve.  A solid app is Jefit.  You can enter a custom program, or find one built in.  As a general rule, you want the first to always add extra weight on the large exercise of the day (squat, bench, deadlift, row).  You don’t want to start at max weight – do at least 3 incremental sets before hand to warm up.  None one does a 300 lbs deadlift cold. All the other exercises, you want to keep to 12-15 reps.  If you find yourself going over that, increase the weight and drop the set back to 8 reps.

I use a split routine, with a focus on arms, legs, off, arms, legs, off, off.  Compound exercises to start (bench, squat, incline bench, deadlift) and a set of accessories after.  Core work with leg days.  Takes 45 minutes per session.  

For those curious, the current sessions are as follows:

  1. Bench (3×5), DB Bench (2×15), One Arm Row (3×8), Facepull (3×8), Shrug (3×8), Curl (3×8)
  2. Squat (3×5), Step Up (2×8), Romanian Lift (3×8), Side Bend (4×10), Plank (3x)
  3. Incline Bench (4×12), Chin Up (3×8), Facepull (3×8), Lat Raise (4×8), Shrug (3×8), Tri Kickback (3×8), Curl (3×8)
  4. Deadlift (3×8), Split Squat (3×6), Romanian Lift (3×8), Russian Twist + V Up + Hip Thrust + Deadbug (2x)

Rule #4 – Cardio is king

Doesn’t matter what weight lifting program you take, everyone needs some level of cardio.  I play hockey 2-3 times a week and that’s plenty.  Other folks like to bike, swim, run, or row.  Depending on your physique, one of these is bound to work.  I am a big guy, so running isn’t very good on my knees.  I like indoor cycling in the off-season.  I’ve done rowing machines before, and I can’t think of a better cardio exercise.

If you are trying to get the most bang for your buck, you want to try a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) routine.  After a 2 minute warmup, you spend a set period of time at 90% effort, then a set period of time at 50% effort.  Keep the cycle going for up to 20 minutes, then allow a cooldown.  I usually run 30s periods.  If you’ve never done HIIT, there are high odd you’re going to want to puke after 5 minutes.  Start at a small number, than add 1 minute more, every other session.  You’ll be surprised at the progress.

I play hockey 2-3 times a week, which is great cardio.

Rule #5 – Get more sleep

8 hours minimum.  Skipping here means your body does not have time to heal.  It has very little to do with being a walking zombie in need of coffee but everything to do with muscles being able to repair themselves.  Get more sleep!

I wish I could follow my own advice.  This is my largest struggle. Hockey at 10pm means I get home at 11:30pm at the earliest, 1am the latest.  And I get up near 6:30am.

Rule #6 – You get out what you put in

This sounds obvious but for a lot of people it’s really hard to grasp.  When you’re exhausted and just don’t want to follow the plan – that’s exactly when you should follow the plan.  You’re absolutely allowed to “cheat” on the plan, but that has to be earned, not used as an excuse.  If you eat perfect for 4 meals, every weekday, then have 2 cheat meals on the weekend, then that can work.  You’ll have less progress than someone who eats perfect every day… but then again, you’ll have your sanity.

I try to make good life choices, but sometimes things just don’t work out.  Unplanned travel or emergencies, vacations, exhaustion… it all adds up.  But I don’t make excuses, I simply get back onto the plan.

Rule #7 – Pain is temporary

When starting, your muscles are going to be screaming 2 days after a big session.  You may have trouble walking.  This is normal and will eventually pass.  Anytime you take more than a week off, you’re going to feel the same thing again, just at a lower pain rate.

It’s ok to work out when sore.  The majority of the time, the muscles just need a solid stretch and some good blood flow to get going again.  The exception to this is the lower back, as it’s a key piece to overall health.  If you have a painful lower back, I strongly suggest to lay off the weights and focus on cardio (cycle or swim) instead.

Stretching, rolling, and massages can be very helpful for aches and pains.  Yoga is also a nice diversion that improves overall mobility and balance.

I am more tolerant of soreness now than I was a few years ago.  I understand when my body says to take a break and when I can push forward.  I’ve had days where I could not walk with sore legs.  All of that is 100% worth it for the results achieved.

Rule #8 – Routine is good

There’s a reason they call it an exercise routine.  It’s done the same way for 8-12 weeks and then you modify.  More importantly, is setting up a life routine around that.

If you have a very busy life, then use a calendar and book time to work out.  Some people are good in the morning, others lunch, after work, or late at night.  Everyone is different.  I personally cannot work out in the morning, but my wife is great at it.  I much prefer 8-9pm, since that’s been a regular hockey slot for a long time.

Find what works for you, and do it regularly (at least 3 times a week).

I work out at night, after the kids are asleep.  I dislike workouts on weekends as they are usually fully booked with family activities.  Sunday nights are power workouts because of it.

Rule # 9 – To gym or not to gym

Gym memberships are good for beginners.  They provide all the equipment, lots of classes, a trainer to help get started, and a social environment.  Some have pools, hot tubs, or saunas.  Great.  The downside is that they cost a whole lot, and depending on your routine, may be overly busy.

Home gyms cost ~$1000 for the basic necessities – squat rack, olympic bar & weights, a bench, lifting belts, and some dumbbells.  You can buy everything used.  As you progress, you can add more items to the gym.  It takes up space, maybe a 10×10 area, which not everyone has.  This way, you can workout how and when you want, for less than the cost of a year’s gym membership.  Accessories to pay attention to: a weight lifting belt (thick) for heavy squats and deadlifts, flat sole shoes (airwalks are good), chalk (for deadlifts mostly), and a weight belt if you’re doing dips/pullups.

I like listening to my own music, working on my own time, and not having to travel (and lose 15-20 minutes doing so), so it’s a home gym for me.

I use the following equipment: