Saturday, July 07, 2012


If you want to get fit and you are starting from way-out-of-shape, it's going to take you a while to get there. Just like packing on that extra thirty pounds might have taken you ten years, getting rid of it isn't going to be easy. If you crash-diet on coconut water and roach legs, yeah, you can drop weight in a hurry, but most of the evidence out there shows it will just creep back as soon as you go on round to Mickey D's and what you were eating before. 

Stop and think about it: If that's that got you there in the first place, why wouldn't it get you there again?

To make a permanent change, you have to alter your lifestyle and keep it that way. Doesn't mean you can't scarf down a double-cheese whopper with bacon and fries now and then. It does mean you'll have to balance the ledger when you do, else you will pack it back on.

Here's the secret to weight control, pay attention, save yourself a lot of money on diet how-to-books: If you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight, and it will mostly be fat. If you burn more than you eat, you will lose weight. If you want to maintain your weight? Think about it ...

That's the physics of it, folks. You can't get around those. Hormones and metabolic rates and neuroses not withstanding, there's no such thing as a fat man who never ate anything, nor a skinny woman who inhales thirty thousand calories a day and doesn't work out. 

There just aren't. If you can find one case in the scientific literature, that will will disprove my statement. Go ahead. I'll be here. 


Let it be said: You can eat roots, fruits, and nuts, drink naught but purified water, and exercise to Olympic-class levels of fitness and guess what? You are still gonna die. If you have bad genetics, you might do all those things and get outlived by your obese, cigarette-smoking, beer-soaked, dope-toking, couch-potato brother-in-law who picked better parents than you.

Keith Richards, anybody?

Take "Gonna live forever" off the table. What we are talking about is the quality of life. Being fit and healthy can improve that dramatically. You have to decide if that's worth something.

If it is any consolation, it is easier to stay in shape than it is to get there. 

I know serious iron jocks who spend an hour or more in the gym every day. To avoid overtraining, they break it up into body parts–today, legs; tomorrow, back; Monday, upper body push; Tuesday, upper body pull; Wednesday, back; Thursday, abs, and so on. Some of these folks also work aerobics, three or four times a week, walking the treadmill, riding the bike, or actually going outside to run or cycle. 

These are serious people, and way beyond me in fitness and dedication. I'm a desk-jockey, and as those go, fitter than most. I can get the garbage cans out, I can open jars if my wife isn't home, I can bench-press my iPad ... 

Me, I do full body workouts at the gym, twice a week. That's because more than that, I will be overtraining, and less, not training enough.

My typical routine lasts only 20-30 minutes, depending on how crowded the gym is, and if I am in a hurry. The amount of weight for any given set, is sufficient to allow me to just manage eight reps. If I want to get stronger, I'll add weight. How I know it is time is, when I can do ten reps with a given weight without flagging, it's time to bump it up. 

Another formula here: The same amount of weight, the same numbers of sets and reps, your strength pretty much stays the same. To get stronger, you have to add something:  new exercises, weight, sets, reps, go faster or slower to increase intensity, or some combination thereof.

In a twenty minute session, I can keep my heart-rate in the aerobic zone most of the time and do. Since it takes fifteen minutes for the aerobic effect to really kick in, this doesn't mean much to me, but it does mean I don't sit for five minutes between sets to catch my breath.

Here's a typical workout:

Chins, L-sit
Seated incline leg press & calf presses
Bent over rows 
Seated Military Press
Seated Bench Press
Pec Deck
Alternate dumbbell curls
Dumbbell shrugs
Triceps press downs
Concentration curls
Lat pulldowns
Low back hyperextensions

Sometimes I'll do one set of these, sometimes I'll add in a couple more sets. I like to alternate arms in push and pull. Now and then, I mix everything up, though I don't get bored, it's not a bad idea to mess with your own expectations now and then.

Save for the incline press and calf work, I don't use more than bodyweight on anything.

This is sufficient to keep my muscle tone where I want it, and it takes only two twenty minutes session a week. Not what you'd call a major commitment of time, is it?


Anonymous said...

I find that advice too simplistic. It's like the foolproof method to never go broke: spend less than you earn. True? Sure. Wise, even. But surely the starting point, not the last word on the subject.

Gary Taubes book "Why we get fat" has an interesting discussion on this issue, well worth reading:

Steve Perry said...

Why make it more complicated than it is? Sure, you can get into what constitutes a healthy diet, which foods are better or worse, exercise versus diet versus both together, but those are different subjects.

We get fat because we eat too much. Everything thing else about that it is qualification.

If you don't understand or believe the basic thermodynamics, and believe me, I have talked to a bunch of folks who don't get it, then you have a built-in excuse. Oh, yeah, sure, but I'm special, my metabolic rate won't let me lose/gain weight.

You have to get past that first.

Shady_Grady said...

Rock on with your bad self...

Anonymous said...

I first heard this notion of weight management from either you or Barnes. Being so simple it took a while to sink in. But it's true and it works. When I count calories, and burn more than I eat, I lose weight every time.

Of course when I explain to friends what I did they say, offering myriad excuses, that it could never work for them.

Steve, try not to kill a whole industry of BS artists (Diet authors/schemes). I don't think our economy can take it.


Steve Perry said...

I don't begrudge the folks who write diet books their shots at offering how-to. There is a lot of good information out there, and some of the books lay it out.

Winnowing it can be a chore -- the blood type diet? The astrological diet? The all-fat-no-carbs or all-carbs-no-fat or Wait-wait-it's-the-white-fats-fault-not-the-brown! diets?

You don't sell a lot of books if you can lay out the whole diet in a graph or two, and I think you can: Eat more fresh fruit and veggies, less saturated fat and fewer processed foods, stay away from junk foods, and you know what those are. Exercise regularly.

$24.95, please, pay the clerk at the register ...

No, wait. It's free.

Somebody selling something has a different attitude.

Great exchange in The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum as a magazine writer on the phone with his editor, trying to pitch a story about the weekend and meeting his old friends. It's about ... lost hope, he says.

There's a pause as the unseen and unheard editor says something. Goldblum says, "Yeah, well, you wouldn't say that if it was The Lost Hope Diet!"

People want miracles. They want short cuts. They want to eat everything they want, when they want, as much as they want, have it be healthy, and not gain any weight. Any diet book that offers a nod in that direction will sell like gangbusters. You want a big ole steak wrapped in bacon, drenched in butter and sour cream? Cheese fries with it? Go ahead! It's good for you! You won't gain weight! It's good for you, really! You don't need no steenkin' vegetables!

There are people who believe that. I'm not one of them.

Anonymous said...

Taubes says that the "eat less calories than you expend to lose weight" is a tautology -- it's necessarily true, because of the way the body works. It is therefore not so much a prescription as a touchstone.

Again, you can make the same analogy with money: you are broke because you spent more than you earned. True, but not the thing to say in an argument with one's spouse. ("Honey, there's no money in the account because we started with $200, $500 went out and only $300 went in").

I find using the principle alone too simplistic, because it suggests higher-level strategies that are difficult to make work. Again, Taubes book has some interesting ideas as to why.

Steve Perry said...

You want to make rabbit stew?

First, you catch a rabbit ...

I have, more than once, talked to people who simply don't believe that the physics applies to them. That they have some kind of hormone problem, and that no matter what they eat, they can't lose weight.

They don't seem to understand the different between science and magic, or psychology and physics.

Yes, there is more to it than that simple equation, other factors that are the nuts-and-bolts of what-where-when-why-how to eat to effect changes, but without accepting the bottom line, you don't get there from here.

A lot of what people offer as the how-to is grounded in science. Some of it is pure bullshit. Figuring out which is which is the problem, but you start with the stuff you know is true, and that's the thermodynamics. If that was all you knew, you could apply that and make it work to lose or gain weight by calorie counting alone.

Would that be enough for health? Nope. But that's not what I said ...

Anonymous said...

The reason I keep referencing Taubes book is that he describes, in great detail, this line of reasoning.

What you may come out with, for diet, is something like this: I wanted to lose weight. I knew that to do that, I'd have to take in less calories. So I decided to do lots and lots of exercise. The exercise made me ravenously hungry, and then I couldn't control my hunger and I broke my diet. So, yes, I didn't follow the principle, but every time I try, this is what happens. Then come the excuses: maybe I need more "willpower". Maybe it's my genes. And so on.

No laws of physics broken here, just one enormously frustrated dieter. This is a common, real-life scenario. The principle, while it's still true, isn't helping. It's not enough to say it. That's my point.

I get your point too: that succumbing to magical thinking instead isn't helping either. But like the medieval peasant who sacrificed to God, and then, if the crops still failed, to the Devil, I think I understand why.

Justin said...

I applaud you keeping it simple, Steve. I imagine most obese people know your advice already, yet refuse to make the lifestyle changes necessary to drop weight. It's amazing how easy it is for people who are never active and eat like crap to shed pounds. Walk the treadmill 2x a week and cut out soda, and I estimate most would lose a good 4 pounds/week.

I'm a 4-5 time/week gym goer for the last 9 months or so. My workouts are around 90 minutes. I've put on about 20 pounds, ~75% of it muscle. Now I'm trying to cut belly fat, and it's not that easy. It's these kinds of fine-tuning things that are difficult, and require specific strategies. Right now, I'm really cutting down on bread and cheese. I'm also experimenting with different ab exercises.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, you build abs in the kitchen, don't really have to do a lot of work on those; once you get the bodyfat percentage down, they pop out.