Training Update

This will be the final update in the Four Day Fitness section. It was a lofty goal: get in shape by working out twice a week and eating right twice a week. It’s a really appealing idea; a limited time commitment, limited self-control, slow-but-steady results. And there were even studies to back the concept up.

But all of the appeal and all of the case studies in the world don’t mean anything compared to real-world results, and my real-world results were … uninspiring, to say the least.

The strength training was actually fairly successful. By the end of my experiment I was benching 250 pounds for reps, cold, and was overhead pressing 180 pounds in a fatigued state. My arms and legs, the leanest parts of my body, were noticeable more muscular. And my joints, which have given me problems for years, are feeling a lot better. So that I count as a win.

My cardio capacity didn’t fare as well. One session of kettle bells per week did a lot to increase my work capacity, but I still didn’t feel like I was actually improving, like I was actually getting back into my former shape. I was just not being such a slack ass. It’s nice to be able to walk up the stairs without getting winded, but it’s not enough. Call this one a wash.

But when it comes to weight loss, I count the four day fitness experiment a failure. I’d lose a couple of pounds here and there, then go off-plan for a day or two and gain most of it back, struggle back to baseline, loose another pound or two, and repeat the process over again.

Also, I have no idea what this did to my blood chemistry, because I can’t afford to have work done every week. So my numbers might have improved, but I can’t prove it.

This program might have merit in once case: for a beginner (or a new beginner) that’s looking for a gentle introduction to eating right and working out. This plan doesn’t demand a lot from you, and that might be perfect for someone who’s afraid of committing to a health program.

But for me, who’s very much all-or-nothing and very used to seeing fast results, it’s just annoying.

So I switched things up. Last week I decided to go whole-hog with the low-carb diet and hit the gym three times: two sessions of kettle bells and one session of strength training. Here’s what the program looked like:

Weight Training

Monday and Friday

  • Kettle Bells, 10 sets of 20 reps
  • Pikes, 10 sets of 10 reps

Wednesday

  • Deadlift, 225 pounds x 5 reps, 315 pounds x 5 reps
  • Bench Press, 200 pounds x 90 seconds
  • Seated Row, 200 pounds x 90 seconds
  • Leg Press, 400 pounds x 120 seconds
  • Calf Raise, 400 pounds x 120 seconds
  • Overhead Press, 150 pounds x 90 seconds
  • Pulldown, 150 pounds x 90 seconds
  • Wrist Curl, 30 pounds x 90 seconds (each arm)

I don’t count reps for the 90/120 second exercises; I just keep moving the weight (very) slowly until my stopwatch tells me I’m done.

Diet

Monday – Saturday

  • Wake-up: 1 32g protein shot
  • Breakfast: 6 eggs scrambled, with peppers and mushrooms
  • Lunch: 2 South Beach Diet meal bars
  • Snack: 1 South Beach Diet meal bar
  • Dinner: various low-carb meals The Lady was kind enough to prepare. Mostly chicken-based

I didn’t count calories, or even count carbs. I just avoided anything starchy (bread, pasta, potatoes, etc) and cut down on dairy (the hardest part of this, actually) and stopped eating when I was starting to feel full.

Sunday is a cheat day. I don’t recommend the “go crazy and gorge yourself” method of cheating, or eating until you make yourself feel sick. I had pancakes for breakfast, pita chips and a couple of handfuls of candy here and there, and pizza for dinner. And honestly, all that sugar kind of made me ill.

The result? I dropped 8 pounds in one week.

This is where a bunch of people chime in with cries of “it was all water weight.” Which is mostly true. But here’s the thing: when you start dieting, the first few pounds are always water weight. That’s because you lose water when you burn glycogen, and your body prefers burning glycogen to burning fat. If you don’t deplete your glycogen you’ll never actually get into that fat burning state.

So the fact that I had eight pounds of water weight to lose meant my four day fitness experiment never depleted my glycogen stores, and probably never would have resulted in significant weight loss.

This is a program that I think will be effective, but I’m still going to tweak it some more.

First, I’m going to split the weight training up into two days. I’ll be doing the same exercises and the same volume, but I’ll be doing the first half of the above workout on Tuesday and the second half on Thursday. This is because splitting training into multiple events elicits a greater adaptive effect, and it gives me one less day to be lazy.

Second, I’ll be adding in a third day of kettle bells and pikes, doing 10 sets of 20 reps on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This is because two days a week is still too easy for me. I’m pretty good at kettle bell swings, and I’d rather add another day than spend an extra half hour waiting for myself to gas out.

I’ll report back with the results later.

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Four Day Fitness – Update

Time for a quick update on what I’ve been doing in the gym and in the kitchen lately. But first, here’s a recap of what I was trying to accomplish:

Diet

Based on this study, I’ve been playing around with a two-day-per-week diet. The idea was to eat very strictly – very low carbs, low calories – twice a week, and basically do whatever I wanted the rest of the week.

The results were mixed. I found that this diet was enough to keep me where I was – e.g. I wasn’t getting any heavier – but it wasn’t enough to lose weight, either.

Training

Since my body was falling apart – mainly due to joint injuries – this article appealed to me. Minimal time in the gym, minimal impact on your joints, and maximum results? Yes please.

I found that this style of HIT training to be pretty effective for maintaining muscle, and even building a little. If I had been eating more, instead of for maintenance, I think I would have put on some good, hard size (that’s what she said).

But, my cardio capacity went right to hell. Like, “I can’t walk up the stairs without losing my breath” hell. And I’m still not convinced that the program outlined in Body by Science does enough for the posterior chain.

So, with those data points in mind, I made the following modifications:

Diet

Monday and Friday

Moderate days. I don’t go out of my way to restrict carbs or calories, but I don’t really indulge, either. I eat enough to feel sated, but never full. This generally means a light breakfast and lunch, then a larger dinner.

That’s actually been kind of hard for me. I’m very much an all-or-nothing guy, and being able to say “that’s enough, thanks” is kind of a new thing.

Tuesday and Thursday

Strict days. Fewer than 50 grams of carbs, and around 2,000 total calories. This usually means a light breakfast and lunch, no dinner.

Wednesday

High carb days. This is my heavy training day, so I try to get a lot of carbs in right around my gym session. This generally means a light breakfast and lunch, then a snack prior to the gym, then a big dinner. The Lady typically makes grilled cheese and tomato soup, and it is delicious.

Saturday and Sunday

Moderate days. Slightly more relaxed than Monday and Friday. I generally skip breakfast, have a light lunch, and a relaxed dinner (relaxed meaning I’m not particularly careful about what I eat).

Training

The big change I made was to add a session of kettle bell swings on Monday, and consolidating all of the weight training into the Wednesday session.

Monday

Kettle Bell Swings: 55 pounds, 200 reps, about 20 minutes.

Wednesday

Bench Press: 230 pounds
Seated Row: 230 pounds
Overhead press: 170 pounds
Pull-down: 180 pounds
Leg Press: 400 pounds
Calf Raise: 400 pounds, 100 reps, smooth lift, smooth lower
Chest Fly: 150 pounds
Lateral Raise: 130 pounds

Unless otherwise indicated, all exercises are done for 5 reps, with a smooth lift and a 5-count lower.

This is all I do, all week. My muscles are still nicely full (and I’m sure they would be growing, if I was eating more). The kettle bells have vastly improve my cardio, and they hit my posterior chain. And just as importantly, my joints still feel great. Finally, this combination of diet and training is letting me drop that magic two pounds per week.

All in all, I think this is close to an ideal program for me, given my training history and limitations. I’m still playing with it, trying to optimize, but this is a very good base.

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Scientists Study How Little Exercise You Need

Some more research on High Intensity Training:

Researchers have developed a version of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that involves one minute of strenuous effort, at about 90 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate (which most of us can estimate, very roughly, by subtracting our age from 220), followed by one minute of easy recovery. The effort and recovery are repeated 10 times, for a total of 20 minutes and the interval training is performed twice a week.

Despite the small time commitment of this modified HIIT program, after several weeks of practicing it, both the unfit volunteers and the cardiac patients showed significant improvements in their health and fitness. ‘A growing body of evidence demonstrates that high-intensity interval training can serve as an effective alternate to traditional endurance-based training, inducing similar or even superior physiological adaptations in healthy individuals and diseased populations, at least when compared on a matched-work basis.

This is interesting to me, because I’m all about getting into the gym, getting my work done, and getting out, which is why I’ve been trying the whole “four day fitness” thing. One problem I’ve been seeing, however, is that my capacity for cardio has plummeted since I’ve stopped doing Crossfit-style workouts.

This just supports my theory that I need to add some heart-specific exercises back into my routine – probably kettle bells. I might try doing kettle bells one day and weight lifting the second day, and recovering the rest of the week. If that doesn’t work, I might have to do two days of kettle bells along with one day of weight lifting. I’m not sure yet; this is something I’ll have to think about for a while.

(via Slashdot)

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Four Day Fitness – The Workouts

The workouts I’m doing are very simple. At their most basic, they take as little as twelve minutes, and at most about a half hour. And that’s only twice a week, so total gym time per month is somewhere between one and a half and four hours.

That’s a drastic change. My previous routines would have me in the gym for three or four hours every week, so I’m doing roughly one quarter the volume. Of course, that raises the question: is it enough?

I’m not ready to make a call on way or another – I want to give this at least a month – but it at least seems plausible. The style of workout is also very different from what I’m used to, and honestly? It’s a lot harder.

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Four Day Fitness

Last week, I read two articles that kind of completely changed the way I think about health and fitness.

The first article says that two low-carb days per week are enough to drop weight and improve health. The second says that twelve minutes of strength training per week is sufficient to increase strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular function.

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