Healthy Bastard’s Road to Fitness Part 2: Exercise

I’ve been having a discussion with a friend of mine  who is a new father and was an avid runner until he became a father. However, life being what it is, he has found he has little time for running anymore, and is slowly getting out of shape. So he’s planning on getting back into shape, but doesn’t have a lot of time to do it.

We’ve been talking a lot about it over e-mail, and he’s been recently interested on what I have been doing with myself lately. So what -have- I been doing with myself lately? In a nutshell, I’ve been exercising since about Nov. 14th. But what does that look like, given that i was totally sedentary at the time?

Well, I started off really light, with some body-weight exercises to wake my system up. I found these exercises on my iPhone. No joke, I was using a set of body-weight exercises delivered via the free Men’s Health Workouts App . These are a set of bodyweight exercises you can do at home, without need weights or any gym equipment. And to be honest, they were pretty hard! This is what a workout session would look like, 3 days a week at he start:

  • 3 sets of Bodyweight bulgarian split squats
  • 3 sets of 12 pushups
  • 3 sets of 12 hip-raises
  • 3 sets of 30s side planks
  • 3 sets of 10 Y-T-I raises.

For full details on what those are and how to do it, I’d recommend checking out the app. That being said, this workout regimen lasted two weeks, before I decided to tackle running. I was facing the beginning of december and christmas, and despite those exercises being a bit of a burn (especially the split squats, ugh), I felt they weren’t getting me enough cardio, which I felt like I desperately needed. It was around this time that i started planning out a weights routine, but given that my access to the gym would be spotty in December, I decided to focus on running throughout the remainder of November and December.

So I went for my first run on Nov. 22nd. You can see what it looked like here.

Those numbers may not mean much to you, but I can tell you what I need to know: I did a lot of walking. In fact, I huffed and puffed and started walking after less than 5 mins. I felt pretty discouraged that first day. I alternated between this slow jogging and walking, and my heart was pumping after the shortest jog. I really felt out of shape at that point; even a year before, I had been able to run for close to 40 mins without too much trouble, though my legs would go out before my cardio did.

But that’s okay, because all that walking in the middle of the run was planned. I was doing something called interval training, where you break a workout into high intensity and low intensity sections. This is really handy when you’re out of shape, because your stamina will be minimal. But I didn’t just go out and do any interval training randomly. I was using a series of interval training podcasts, specifically designed for running from DJ Steveboy.  These are simply electronic music mixes that feature varying beats with slow and fast sections. The 9-week program I was doing was called the “First Day to 5k,” and the basic premise is that you run three times a week via these intervals, and build yourself up to a non-stop 5k in under 30 minutes. Each week there’s at least one new mix, and sometimes there are as many as three mixes per week. In each mix, you start off walking, and when the music tells you to run, you run. When it tells you to walk, you walk.

I started this interval series on Nov. 22nd, and on January 13th, after just 8 weeks (1 week faster than the program suggests), I was able to run 5k, non-stop.

Achieving that goal felt so fantastic that I actually threw my hands up in the air as if I’d won something. Sadly, there was no medal.

But the point is that from then on, I was able to do non-stop 5ks whenever I ran. In fact, it’s early February and I’m working on achieving 7k. My run, two days ago, was just shy. I’m still working on intervals training, though I’m using DJ Steveboy’s Gateway to 8k series now.

Running is doable, in an extremely short period. As long as break you up your runs into just 3 days of week to give your body time to adjust, it’s actually not particularly painful, either. The first week was hard, but I consider running my “off” day — or easy day — in terms of fitness these days.

The reason for that is that I’ve been hitting the gym. 3 days a week I do weight lifting at my local gym. I’m using an exercise program from the Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises called the “Ultimate Fat-Loss Workout.” It’s a pretty straightforward 12-week exercise program that focuses on weight lifting. I just started week 5 of the program, after finishing the first of three four-week cycles.

Throughout the course of the first four weeks, I did 3 sets of weights per week, usually on mondays, wednesdays, and fridays, and supplemented those with a run on tuesdays, thursdays, and saturdays.

While the sets and repetitions for each exercise varied according to the book, the exercises stayed the same:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Barbell Stepup Barbell Split Squat Barbell Stepup
Dumbbell bench press Pushup Dumbbell Bench Press
Dumbbell row Inverted Row Dumbbell Row
Scaptions Combo Shoulder Raise Scaption
Seated Dumbbell External Rotation Lying external rotation Seated Dumbbell External Rotation
Plank Side Plank Plank

My reps varied, but my weights consistently went up. For example, when I first started the dumbbell row, I was playing it safe with just 15lb dumbbells in each hand. By the time I finished, I was up to 30lbs. Similarly, when I started the planks, I would manage about 15s before I’d have to rest. Now I can do about 40s non-stop before I need to rest, and usually finish a set at around 70s of sustained plank. I’d also finish weight days with some cooldown cardio, just to keep my blood up; either 30 mins on the stationary bike, or just some walking on an incline on the treadmill.

I consider finishing that first four weeks of the program to be a success; I have already noticed some small muscle gains here and there, but mostly it’s a program focused on improving stabilizer muscles, so I’m not expecting a tremendous improvement quite yet. However, that will change soon. Weeks 5-8 are much more strenuous. This cycle involves deadlifts, bench presses, barbell squats, and decline pushups — all sorts of delightful activities that will make me sweat and make my muscles groan.

But every one of these gains is good. Whenever I complete a workout, I feel great. When I see those weight numbers go up, I feel awesome. Running has gone from something that I dreaded to something I look forward to. And the gym is the same way; it’s gone from a chore that I needed to plan around, every day, to just a part of my day. It’s no stranger than going to the grocery store, or having a shower. It’s just what I do, it feels great, and it has a lot of payoff.

In my next post, I’ll explain the most important part of exercise — how I have set goals and tracked progress. But I’ll save that for later.

Thanks for reading, and stay healthy.

-HB/Steven

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One thought on “Healthy Bastard’s Road to Fitness Part 2: Exercise

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