My Fitness Journey
Use it or lose it! My 11-year fitness journey in a nutshell.
- 2011 – Got a GPS watch and an old mountain bike and began riding on the road.
- 2012 – Continued riding the bike longer distances, started doing Couch to 5k (running) and did a complicated weightlifting workout program in my basement and P90X.
- 2013 – Wondered how people lifted weights (always sore so I stopped), rode bike less.
- 2014 – Basically nothing.
- 2015 – Got more serious on my road bike (commuted to/from work on it). My goal was to get my massive waist (42 inches?!?) under control.
- 2016 – Rode a ton (crossed 2,000 miles and did a century ride on my birthday). When winter set in I did P90X.
- 2017 – Finished winter doing complicated weightlifting workout program then back on the bike. Rode a little less and walked a little more.
- 2018 – Rode bike much less, walked more, did machine weightlifting workouts at the YMCA.
- 2019 – Pretty much the same as 2018 except I walked much, much more. In late 2019 the machines I used at the YMCA disappeared and I switched to regular weight training (the Starting Strength program).
- 2020 – Focused on weight training (using heavy weights and compound lifts in the Starting Strength program). Walked a good deal and biked very little.
- 2021 – Same as 2020 except even more focused on weight training (continued the Starting Strength program).
Two years ago, I decided to start lifting weights. I followed the Starting Strength program which focuses on compound lifts and only 4-5 exercises. The program is designed to get you as strong as possible as efficiently as possible. I wrote about my thoughts at the end of my first year doing the program. https://deanorolls.com/2020/12/13/1-year-lifting-weights-my-progress-and-what-ive-learned/ My thoughts have not changed on the program. It is fantastic.
In retrospect deciding to follow this program is the best decision I have ever made in my life. I’ve not turned into a gym bro. Anyone looking at me might not even be able to tell I lift weights. Regardless, I feel better than I’ve felt in years. Strength improves your quality of life in just about everything you set out to do.
This is where I’m at now (my current PR at reps):
|Start 12/6/19||EOY #1 12/29/20||EOY #2 12/22/21|
|Squat||45 (3×5)||215 (3×5)||220 (3×5)|
|Deadlift||95 (1×5)||230 (1×5)||270 (1×5)|
|Bench Press||45 (3×5)||150 (3×5)||165 (3×5)|
|Press||45 (3×5)||95 (3×5)||105 (3×5)|
I don’t do 1 rep max tries or anything like that. Most exercises are 3 sets of 5 reps (after warm-up sets). What is listed are the maximum amounts I’ve done in my final work set for each of these exercises. I’m working out with a higher weight right now on all these lifts (but I don’t count a PR until I complete a full set/rep combination at that weight).
Judging by these numbers it doesn’t look like I made very much progress in 2021. Most of my lifts barely moved up. My goal going into the year was to add 20%-35% to all of my lifts. I didn’t accomplish this.
Regardless, I lifted much more weight this year than last year and I am much stronger this year than last year. My average weight used in each workout was much higher (so my tonnage was much higher this year). I had more weight on the bar more often this year than last year.
|Year 1 Average||77||183||168||103||81||202|
|Year 2 Average||89||185||197||144||97||233|
2021 Epic Fail?!?
Regardless, I didn’t meet my goals for 2021. Why?
- Consistency – Consistency has hurt my progress. Every time I got rolling good something came up in regular life that would sidetrack me and I’d have to work my way back up to where I’d already been. This happened several times throughout the year. There were 11 times during 2021 that I went 7+ days between workouts. It is hard to make consistent progress in a weight training program with that kind of consistency. One particularly bad time was when I got COVID in February and was stuck at home with an on/off fever for 2 weeks. When I returned to the gym after 3 weeks I had lost 10 pounds and could barely lift 30% of what I was lifting before (I’d been PR’ing right before that). It took me 2 months to get back to where I was. Other times were much less dramatic (vacations, being busy at work) but just as impactful on my progress. It seemed like I’d hit a PR on a lift and the next day was scheduled to be off for a week or more. I wasn’t handling the restart correctly after these times and it limited my progress (since I spent a good deal of time rehashing the same road repeatedly). Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing too much. I have a pretty demanding job and when I have to work I have to work. I also hit the road often to travel and will continue to do that. This will continue to impact my progress, but I can do a much better job with my programming to get back on track faster when I return than I have been to date.
- Keep Learning / Follow The Program – I do not have a coach. I am self-learning as I go. I continued to study Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training” (aka the “Blue Bible” aka the “Book of Rippetoe”) once. I’ve read many parts more than once. I’ve watched tons of their videos. I’ve listened to tons of their podcasts. I also read “The Barbell Prescription: Starting Strength For Life After 40” and “Practical Programming For Strength Training” (aka the “Gray Book”). There were times I’d be struggling with something (and pain/ache, recovery, form, getting stuck) and something I’d already read many times would get re-read and finally click. This happened many times over the year. I’ve invested 100s of hours in learning how to do the program better. I tweaked my programming many times over the year to make improvements in areas that were holding me back. This process has taken longer than if I’d hired a coach but I have learned things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. So I’ve progressed more slowly at times but I’m wiser for it. There were several times as the year went on where I was grasping at straws with what I needed to do with my programming. This tends to happen when the weights get heavy and you start ‘figuring out ways to make it easier’. NOTE: There is no way to make it easier. Regardless, I wasted time doing dumb things at times. Ultimately this will not go down as a waste of time because I learned what to do and got on the right track. I wound up the year (the last month) using the 4 Day Split method and have been very happy with the results/progress. I was going twice a week and the workouts were long and grueling. With the 4 Day Split the workouts are shorter (but more often). This is beneficial for recovery and progress as well. I am much less wiped out when I return home from the gym using this program. I look forward to using it in 2022 to continue to progress.
- Fear – Putting a bunch of weight on the bar and getting under it is 1) hard (physically) and 2) hard (mentally). Your mind starts talking your body out of doing it pretty quickly. I fall prey to this regularly and have to constantly stop myself from letting it happen. Regardless, the fear of failure, injury, or that I’m doing something incorrectly has stopped me from progressing more than once. I honestly believe that one of the more difficult parts of weight training is the mental side of it.
- Overwork/Recovery/Old – I’m old (49 this year). I won’t be able to make the same progress as I could have when I was younger. My body takes longer to recover (and it will take longer and longer as I age). There were several times during the year where my programming was not working. I was doing too much and wasn’t able to recover properly. It took me some time to realize this. I focused on listening to my body and adjusted accordingly. I learned that I ‘wasn’t following the program’ and adjusted.
This is what my weight lifting “career” has looked like since I began.
The Starting Strength program is 4 exercises. It is not terribly complicated but it is hard (physically and mentally).
- Workouts – I lifted 77 times in my initial year. This year I lifted 89 times. Now that I’ve converted my programming to a 4 day split I should be in the gym more often this year.
- Body Weight – I’ve been around 185 all year. At 5’ 9” to get stronger I probably need to gain more and get to 210+. I don’t eat enough to do this however. I’m not worried about my weight at all, however. I wouldn’t be upset to gain weight (and definitely don’t want to lose weight). I plan to keep doing what I’m doing and whatever the scale says it will say it.
- Squat – Every single workout begins with the squat. These are low bar/parallel leg squats (no cheating). Not ‘ass to grass’ (close) but also not high squats either. These have a huge range of motion and involve the entire body. They are tough both mentally and physically. I am very happy to be able to squat (for reps) over my bodyweight. At the end of 2020 my squat was my strongest lift. I didn’t make as much progress on it as other things caught up. I recently, finally, put 225 on the bar and lifted it for reps. This has been a huge milestone for me. I’ve been there many times but never quite made it. I’m working out there now (until it falls)! Onward!
- Deadlift – This was the lift that was lagging behind last year and it is the one I made the most progress on this year. I’d been stuck at 235 for most of the end of 2020. I was struggling with my grip limiting me. In early February I finally moved past it and hit 240. Then, right on cue, I got COVID and I had to restart and it took me until April to hit a new PR. During the Summer I was inconsistent (with work and vacations) and I made stupid programming decisions. By September I’d researched programming enough to stop doing dumb things. I incorporated a light day on my deadlift (I would PR attempt once per week). I hit multiple PRs in September. When my grip started limiting me again I incorporated a switch grip and that allowed me to move on. Then work and a vacation forced me to restart again. I worked my way back up to the 270@1×5 weight and am now working on 275 (up to 3 reps). My deadlift is now my strongest lift. That ain’t a bad thing!
- Bench Press – As expected I was near a missed rep on my bench at the end of 2020. My bench is currently my weakest lift (165@3*5). I’m working my way through 170 right now. I’ve learned that I need to change my programming on this lift as well. I’ll be lifting heavy on this lift twice a week going forward (no light day). This should allow me to make better progress (and not sacrifice on recovery).
- Press – I added 10 pounds to my press this year which is decent progress in my opinion. It is my second weakest lift. I’m working my way through 110 right now. I’m making the same programming change on this lift as on my bench press.
I don’t do ‘cardio’. I used to (lots of biking). I’ve walked/hiked a ton. There is nothing wrong with any of that. I just believe focusing on strength is way more important. Also, if you put heavy weights on you (like I do now) and lift them a few times you’ll quickly realize that there is plenty of ‘cardio’ involved. Regardless, I hike a ton and bike if I want to.
- Walking/Hiking – My goal is to walk on days that I don’t lift. I often don’t do this but I feel better when I do. Emily and I usually hike around the loop at Edwin Warner park down the street. We also hike when we are out exploring new places in our RV.
- Biking – I’ve not been biking nearly as much as I have in the past. I still enjoy it when I do it but I don’t head out for long grueling rides anymore (don’t need to). I will likely do more biking in 2022 as I want to go on more bikepacking trips (and I’ll need to be in good enough condition to do those).
If picking a strength training program is complicated and confusing…enter nutrition. Just as complicated and confusing. So many experts with so many opinions. There is a ton of debate about meat, dairy, vegan, keto, carnivore, vegetarian, etc. Over time I’ve worked things out of my diet (or at least limited) that I have seen as commonly hated across many different plans. These things never make it into anyone’s list of things to eat. They are sugar, seed oils, and refined grains.
- Intermittent Fasting – I think this is fantastic. Many people do it to lose weight/restrict calories. That is not at all the reason I do it (anymore at least). I do 16/8 (hours not eating/hours eating). I stop eating after dinner (which used to be an issue for me as I was a late-night snacker). I don’t eat again until lunchtime. I start the morning with black coffee and drink hot tea at night (if needed). I started off doing this to limit calories but as my knowledge grew (mainly from P. D. Mangan) I learned that there are tons of benefits from doing this. I learned our bodies are designed to do this and that it helps with insulin resistance and in turn has, potentially, all kinds of other benefits. One area I am not following the Starting Strength recommendation on is nutrition. They recommend eating a ton. I found eating the amounts of calories they prescribed to be miserable. I feel so much better when I do a 16/8 intermittent fast that I refuse to do anything else. The only exception I usually make is if I will be doing an activity that will consume a lot of calories (like a long bike ride or hike).
- High Protein – I eat a ton of steak, salmon, eggs, and milk. I’ve noticed that these foods make me feel so full (satiated) that I rarely want to snack (like I used to) on the foods I don’t need to eat. Since there is no room for these foods and they are the ones I don’t need to be eating anyway (see next bullet) that is a win-win!
- Devil Foods – I’ve read about all kinds of nutrition/diet plans. There are similarities and differences. Some have been debunked and some continue to remain fairly unchallenged. Along the way I have not seen a single one of them highlight how 1) sugar, 2) seed oils and 3) refined grains are good for you. Over the years, I’ve pieced together nutritional advice from many sources and have settled on trying to eliminate (or at least severely curtail) these items in my diet. The person who best outlines this is P. D. Mangan and I believe he is dead on with his nutritional advice. It is not conventional (and not mainstream) but it makes the most sense of anything I’ve read and is back up by meta-analysis. I read everything he puts out and try to eliminate these ‘devil foods’ from every meal I eat. This is not easy in today’s day and age, however.
- Sun – Most of the time as I am having lunch I am also soaking in some sun. I try to get a good deal of sun over the year. I think there are all kinds of benefits to this for someone like me who sits at a desk (indoors) most days. The biggest reason I do it is to up my Vitamin D levels.
- Dumping Iron – The biggest change I’ve introduced in the past year is to ‘dump iron’. I’ve had this on my list for some time and finally started giving blood. https://deanorolls.com/2021/12/10/dumping-iron-p-d-mangan/ After reading P. D. Mangan’s book Dumping Iron I finally pulled the trigger. I think this might be one of the most important changes I’ve made in my health to date. I’ll continue to give blood every 60 days for as long as I can. High iron is associated with all kinds of bad things. Us boys don’t really have a way to get rid of it and it adds up over time. I’m hoping giving blood keeps chronic illness far away from my old body for as long as possible (and also helps someone in the process). You lucky person…you now have the blood of a champion coursing through your viens! HA!
All this fitness, working out, eating right is supposed to do a couple of things 1) make my remaining years on this planet higher quality and 2) maybe extend the number of years I make it.
I found a pretty decent life expectancy calculator online several years ago (www.livingto100.com). When I worked through all the questions on my birthday in 2018 it said I’d live to be 86. Not bad.
Since that time I’ve incorporated many changes into my life. I’ve not looked at it again until this year. When I reworked it this year it said 93! That’s 7 more years of these updates I get to write! HA, lucky you!?!
Regardless, I’ll take it!
Other important health indicators:
- My resting pulse is around 60 (excellent)
- Blood pressure is good
- Cholesterol is good
- Blood sugar is good
- Ferritin (iron) is high
I’ll continue to keep an eye on all of these indicators (and I’m researching a few others that I want to monitor).
My original goal in 2011 was to ‘get in better shape’. In 2015 I got serious about ‘losing my gut’. Everything I read said I was on a dark path to all kind of problems if I didn’t get that under control. In late 2019 I got serious about getting strong for the first time in my life. I’ve made decent progress over the years and I’m in the best shape of my life right now. Not too shabby for a 49 year old geezer!
My goal this year is to stick with weight training and continue getting stronger. I want to make my old body stronger and fight off the effects of Father Time. I’ll follow my nutrition plan because I feel much better when I do than when I don’t. I’ll walk, ride my bike, and do other activity at times as well. But my focus will be on strength training. I think if I do that all the numbers I track will take care of themselves.
If you use Strava, join me there. If you don’t see me workout for a few too many days…let me have it! https://www.strava.com/athletes/19668663 1/9/2021