What I Have Learned So Far

Today is my 31st birthday and I thought that I would reflect on what I have done and learned over the past year. This is also a good time to look back because it has been about a 12 months since I started working out. Also, I have been lurking around T-Nation for months and even though I have posted a few times, this can serve as my introduction.

I initially joined a gym to simply get some exercise. I had been living in a new city and did not know anyone, and being a Computer Programmer, sat on my ass all day. In the past I would get some exercise playing some Basketball or Hockey with friends, but that has not really been an option lately.

At first I simply decided that I would go at least once a week, regardless of how I felt. And I stuck to that. I would do random exercises at random times and simply tried to work up a sweat. I hated going and simply told myself that if I went, I would reward myself with a swim in the pool.

My Education
After a while I decided to invest in a book and try to get a plan together. I bought The Body Sculpting Bible for Men by James Villepigue, Hugo A. Rivera. This was a pretty good book. For someone who did not know anything about weights or nutrition, it was a great intro. The book focuses on sets with relatively high reps (i.e. 3 x 15, 4 x 12, 5 x 10) and supersets and giant sets with high reps.

I was going to the gym, religiously, 4, 5 and 6 days a week. I really liked that I had a plan.

But, I felt like I needed to know more. I continued to search out articles by Hugo Rivera, and they were helpful. However, I came across Tom Venuto and downloaded his e-book Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle. Again, a pretty good read. Although his book is very light on the actual workout information. He really focuses on the diet.

So, from his advice, I started on a diet that was fairly high in carbohydrates. The diet is basically 50% Carbs, 30-35% Protein and 15-20% Fat. You are also supposed to Cycle Carbs from time to time.

I did OK on that diet. Stuck to it for a few months and, at worst, maintained the amount of body fat I was carrying. Granted, I did not notice any loss in body fat.

While reading Tom’s blog, he talked about a great book called Gourmet Nutrition, by John Berardi. I started reading some of his stuff on his site, and I was floored by the more scientific approach to nutrition. The timing of carbohydrates and things like that. That was completely new to me.

I ordered Precision Nutrition from JB and soon switched from the Tom Venuto approach to the Precision Nutrition approach. For those that are not familiar, PN is High Protein, High Fat and Low Carb. Well, the Carbs are timed. The best time to have carbs is after your workout. Or, in John’s words, you only get carbs when you “earn them”.

I did well on this diet. Dropped some body fat and started taking Surge and other carbs PWO. This was not bad for me. I continued to read JB’s stuff and soon found that he posted regularly on a site called T-Nation.

T-Nation introduced me to a number of writers, like Charles Poliquin and Ian King. But most importantly, I was introduced to Christian Thibaudeau. I was really impressed with his detailed analysis of different exercises and workouts. And then I ran across The Beast Evolves article. http://www.T-Nation.com/findArticle.do?article=256beast2

This was a real inspiration. Obviously Thib was hiding a lot of muscle under his flab, but his dedication to no-carb/low-carb to shed the fat was an eye opener. I realized that I needed to find out how carb sensitive I was.

I should tell you that I was holding steady at 22% body fat at this point. Not bragging or complaining, just informing. I was hoping to be farther along and was disappointed, but this article lit a fire under my arse.

Over the past 7 weeks or so I have been fairly good at maintaining low-carbs. And over the past 3 weeks, I have tried to get less than 50 carbs per day with a carb up about once per week. I have really noticed the difference. I have dropped about 0.5-1.0% body fat per week and I am currently at 17% body fat. Monday - Friday my diet is usually Rock Solid. I track every gram of Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate that goes in my body. I have been using a program called CalorieKing (the desktop version) and it is pretty good. However, on weekends, when visiting family and friends, my diet is not perfect. Never bad, still low-carb. But sometimes I blow it on calories. I try to get around 2400 kcals on days I workout and about 2000-2100 on days that I don’t.

Some Random Notes
Here are some things that have been helpful or educating:

  • 5-12 reps per set: Charles Poliquin once said that reps in the range of 1-4 were for Strength and Power, 5-12 for bodybuilding and greater than 12 for endurance. These are obviously rough numbers, but it was very helpful. At the time I was still following the Hugo Rivera, high reps plan, and I was suffering through my workouts. I still did them, but I rarely enjoyed them. After I read that statement from Coach Poliquin, I decided that I would go heavy and just make sure that I did at least 5 reps. I wouldn’t care about anything else. I have since moved on from that, but it really got me past a sticking point.

  • Intensity Is More Important: In an interview, Ian King was asked: If you had to choose between volume and intensity which would you choose and why? And his answer was, No competition - intensity is more important. With this knowledge, combined with the idea of 5-12 reps per set, I simply picked up heavy weights and went all out. And it felt great.

  • Lower Body Workouts: I hate doing lower body workouts. Well, I used to hate them. I realized that if I kept suffering through my Leg workouts, that I might give up on them. Also, following the The Body Sculpting Bible plan (at the time), I wasn’t really seeing much progress. I saw that I could squat more than I could previously, but I still wasn’t seeing it. Also, I hated, just HATED, doing dumbbell lunges. Well, 5-12 and intensity, right? I sat down at the Leg Press machine, put the pin at a very high weight, high for me at least, and went as hard as I could.

Within 2 weeks, I shit you not, I started to see results. And I have not looked back since. I now realize that I need to go heavy. Especially with my legs. I carry more fat on my Hams and Glutes than anywhere else. I know, Squats are better than Leg Presses. But I am dealing with Psychology. I wanted to be able to find a Lower Body workout that I could look forward too. And I have. Now that I have started to see results. I want to start doing different kinds of Squats.

  • I Don’t Do Abs: Again, not bragging. My thought at the time was that I did not want to add muscle to an area that was already too large. I now understand that I can do crunches, and some other exercises, and not worry about that.

  • I Had Not Done Shoulders: At the time I had read the Coach Poliquin does not train Shoulders directly. That they get recruited and worked with so many other exercises. But as my Chest has gotten stronger, my Shoulders simply do not look wide enough. So I have just started working my Shoulders recently. With the help of Coach Thibaudeau, of course.

  • Don’t Be Religious About What You Do At The Gym, Just Be Religious About Going To The Gym: This was important for me. Like I said. I followed the The Body Sculpting Bible plan very closely and was not seeing the results that I wanted. Then I changed to a more schizophrenic approach with the aforementioned Intense-Low-Rep focus, and soon started to see results. As long as I got the gym and went Balls Out, I would be doing OK. (Balls Out is just a phrase, I was not acting like I was at the Original Olympics in Ancient Greece.)

  • Going To Failure: I trained to failure a lot. I am now learning that is not such a good thing. Still, at the time, going very hard to failure did a good thing for my attitude. Now that I am learning more about mechanics and physiology, I will need to update my “base” approach.

  • Short Workouts vs Long Workouts: I have done both and I like both. Sometimes I am not sure if I really want to go the gym. So I decide that I will simply focus on once muscle-group, say the back muscles, and go very hard for 20 minutes ala, Gironda, or Staley, or even Thibaudeau. Coach Thib has said on more than one occasion that he has two short training session each day. To keep him excited about trying new things. That is good advice.

  • Newer Gyms vs Older Dungeons: I know that some are dismayed by the new Shiny gyms. And that they pine for the days where all you had was some Iron, some Chalk and bad lighting. Well, I must admit that I like the newer gyms. Well, at least my Gym. It is definitely Shiny and new. An LA Fitness in Bensalem, PA. I do have a few complaints, but I definitely like being there. It is like when I enter a Best Buy electronics store. I just like being there. I don’t know why. Those industrial psychologists must have figured out how to light those places and get the right feng shui, because it works on me. Before I joined this LA Fitness, I visited a Bally’s and it was, well, like a Dungeon. I immediately wanted to leave.

  • Powerblocks: Warning, product placement. I bought a set of Powerblocks. Great investment. They ain’t cheap. But I am happy I bought them. Sometimes I can’t make it to the gym, or sometimes I just don’t feel like leaving home. Well, no excuse. I have the Powerblocks and they are great. For those who are not familiar, they are a set of adjustable dumbbells. You may have seen adds for similar item on TV. SelecTech and Nautilus make a set as well.

Also, sometimes when I am at the gym, I am looking to do some sort of Drop Set, and I can not get all of the DBs that I need at once. Well, no problem when I am at home.

  • Supplements: Protein Powder (Banana Cream Metabolic Drive, Surge, and a few competing brands), Creatine and BCAA. I am sure that I could benefit from some other supplements, but I want to focus on my diet for the time being. And the Protein Powders have been a God-Send. For a guy like me who really needs to count every calorie, measuring out exactly how much protein and fat I get (from either Fish Oil or Flax Oil) is great. Speaking of Protein and Fat…

  • The Incredible, Edible Egg!: Vince Gironda once said that the Egg is the perfect food. He even went so far as to say that it was his answer to steroids. Well, if it is good enough for Vince, it is good enough for me. It is an absolute staple of my diet. And I have seen the results. And I don’t mean Egg Whites. I mean Eggs. Fat and all. Vince talked about the fat in the yolk being an emulsifier that helps to burn body fat. I don’t know the science behind it, but they have been great. It is rare for me to get less than a dozen eggs a day. In fact, I believe that watching the overall kcals I get and making sure that I get a boat-load if eggs are the 2 most important things that I have done to successfully lower my body fat. And, speaking of Vince…

  • Vince Gironda: I had first heard of him through the articles of Tom Venuto. But Tom mostly focused on the 10 x 10, 8 x 8, 6 x 6 stuff. Not his diet and nutrition focus. And then Thib posted the great article on Vince, called The Gironda System. http://www.T-Nation.com/readTopic.do?id=1100725 Since then, I have hunted down everything I could on the internet about Vince. I am sure that you all have met people that subscribe to only one line of thinking, not matter how unreasonable that line may be at times. Well, I sometimes feel that way about Vince’s theories. If he said it, it must be true. Well, at least for now, it is a phase that I am in. And one thing he said that I have certainly found to be true is that…

  • 85 Percent Of Bodybuilding Is Nutrition: Tru Dat! I feel like I can make many mistakes in the gym and they will not really come back to haunt me. They just won’t help, that’s all. However, small mistakes outside the gym can really hurt. Simply eat too much of a good thing? Don’t expect to lose that unwanted body fat. Eat too much of a bad thing? Well, we all know what happens. Find a good diet and stick to it.

  • Real Food and Raw Food: Vince talked about the horrors of Pasteurized dairy products, processed foods, grain-fed beef, partially hydrogenated oils and refined sugars, amongst other things. And all of this back in the 1950’s! Well, I can understand people still having an aversion to Raw Milk. But since reading about Vince Gironda, I have really been turned onto the writings of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Sally Fallon and Nina Planck. They basically focus on traditional diets versus newer diets. The idea that most of our allergies stem from our newer diets and that few people in North America were allergic to Milk before it was Pasteurized. I don’t know how true these statements are, but I am fascinated by the idea that our bodies evolved to handle certain foods a certain way. Also, Vince, Weston, Sally and Nina all talk about the benefits of Saturated Fat.

That is, Saturated Fat from Eggs, Beef, Poultry and Fish. This is in line with the thinking of Mauro Di Pasquale, Rob Faigin and others. But, this Saturated Fat should be coming from Free Range Chicken Eggs, and Free Range Chickens, Grass-Fed Pastured Beef, Raw Whole Milk, and Raw Dairy products, Wild Caught Fish and other natural sources.

  • Old School Bodybuilders: I love reading about the diets of the Old School Bodybuilders: Arnold, Draper, Frank Zane and those guys. Steak and Eggs. Milk. The supplements they had back then sucked. Well, except for Dianabol. Apparently, it was common for them to work out, go across the street to the buffet, get some Steak and Salad, and then come back for another session at the Gym. Sounds good to me. Protein , Fat and Fiber. Awesome. But it is not so easy to find articles on their diets, they usually focus on their workouts, for obvious reasons.

  • It Is Not How Much Protein You Ingest, It Is How Much Protein You Digest: Vince said something like that, I am paraphrasing. This is something that I have been thinking about more. I know very little about digestion and need to learn more. Even Arnold mentioned it. In Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder he said that you can only digest 35 - 50 grams of protein per meal. Again, I don’t know how true that is. But it is in line with what Vince said. Although, at one point, Vince had the amount a little lower.

  • You Can Not Digest Protein With Out Fat: Vince used to say that you needed the fat to digest the protein. He said that is why you can not find a protein source in nature that does not come with an abundant amount of fat. Think about it, Eggs, Beef, Milk (and Mother’s Milk), Fish, etc, they all come with lots of fat. This was one of the reasons that he recommended taking protein powder with Heavy Cream. Now, I understand that current Protein Powders can be digested without fat. But that original statement from Vince floored me. And it is what lead me to learn more about traditional diets and getting lots of fat. He also mentioned that Protein should not be eaten with Carbohydrates, because one is an acid and the other is an alkaline. Again, I am not sure about the science, but it is in line with what John Berardi says. Granted, I think that Vince has no problem with having Carbohydrates and Fat at the same time which is a No No to JB.

What I Need To Learn
Besides the previously mentioned subjects of digestion, traditional diets and saturated fat. I have some other things that I need to learn.

  • Lower Body: I am currently working on my psychological approach to lower body workouts. Like I said before, it has improved, but I have a long way to go. I want to look forward to my Lower Body workouts. Get excited about them. As it is, they are the most physically draining for me. I mean, I sweat buckets. There are times where I feel like I can barely stand afterwards. No matter how hard I train, say, my Chest or Biceps, I rarely feel that way.

  • Back Squats, Front Squats, Bulgarian Squats, Hack Squats and Sissy Squats: I am confident that my current form sucks. Which is one of the reasons that I focus on Leg Presses, Leg Curls, and Leg Extensions. I get at least one free training session at LA Fitness, and I am going to use it for that purpose. But I am still “spying” on the different trainers to see which one I should have train me on my form.

  • Dead Lifts, Romanian Dead Lifts: Same as above.

  • Good Mornings: Ditto. Actually, I could never figure out the difference between these three exercises. I have seen photos and even mpegs of the three different exercises and they all look the same to me. I must be dense.

Some Final Thoughts
Growing up I was always fat. I was the fattest kid in my elementary school, the fattest kid in Middle School and the fattest kid in my High School class of 450 kids. High School was Hell! I lost over 50 pounds my senior year in High School and with a little yo-yoing I kept the weight off throughout college and after. At 31, I can honestly say that I am in the best shape of my life. Granted, I am still carrying quite a bit of body fat. But when I go from 19% to 18%, then 18% to 17%…Man, it feels great.

And having a plan, and understand the role that carbohydrates and heavy lifting play in my life, it gets me excited about it. And that is very important. I have, what is sometimes referred to, as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I know that others at T-Nation have spoken about Panic Attacks, but that is not my main problem. It is more like being Nervous all the time. IT SUCKS! It means constantly having cold hands, even in the summer. And that can make it hard to go the gym. I am not making excuses, I go. And I am not looking for sympathy. God knows that we all have our problems and many have it far worse than I do.

Actual Progress and Stats
Previous Weight and Body Fat: 196 lbs @ 22% body fat. (LBM: 152.9 lbs)
Current Weight and Body Fat: 186 lbs @ 17% body fat. (LBM: 154.4 lbs)

For anyone starting out who may have run across this posting, I hope it was helpful. And for all of you T-Nation members, consider this my introduction.

Ian Lewis

p.s. What?! No Fucking Pictures?!?!

Give me a break. I still have a fairly high amount of body fat. Let me get down to, say, 11% or 12% before I post anything. My fat ass still needs to get to the gym.

You’ve written a nice article about your journey. I hope you continue to enjoy the process.

My own journey mirrors yours in many fundamental ways. Though the specifics differ, I think the common threads of getting off your ass and doing something as well as learning more and more and more are staples that need to be followed.

It’s strange, looking back at the past year, just how poorly I trained at first. I’m still not training ideally, but I’m much better at it now. I am doing so many things differently now than I did then. But you know what? If I hadn’t done those wrong-heading things in the first place I would have never gotten started lifting and would not be where I am today.

You can’t be afraid to fail, because it’s inevitable. No, check that. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are when you fall. Failure is when you refuse to pick yourself up. I think too many people are afraid of having to pick themselves up so they never risk failure in the first place.

I see a lot of newbies here who want the magic formula right off the bat. But it simply doesn’t work that way. You need to experiment and screw up before you get it right.

I’ve accepted that my first few years are going to be rocky and my progress sub-optimal. I won’t be able to understand my body and how it works until I experiment with it.

I think too many people want to skip the learning curve and go straight to a winning program. But you can’t ignore the learning curve. It’s a vital part to achieving those results we all crave.

[quote]dougrisk wrote:
Today is my 31st birthday and I thought that I would reflect on what I have done and learned over the past year.

You forgot typing. You REALLY learned how to type ;-] Jist ribbin ya. I read your whole post and seriously, the enthusiasm to post something like this is the thing that will get you the farthest.


Tonight I am going to pray to the gods that all the fucking newbs read this… Especially the part about NOT posting a picture.

Thanks for the story. Congratulations and good luck in the future. My only advice would be to remember mobility and flexibility training to ward off those evil injury spirits.

[quote]swordthrower wrote:
Tonight I am going to pray to the gods that all the fucking newbs read this…[/quote]

Yeah, I was thinking of posting this in the Beginners Forum, but, by now, I am obviously an expert.

Damn, I was hoping to show all you Homo’s by big, fat ass.

I haven’t gotten around to that stuff yet. But I should probably learn about the benefits of mobility/flexibility, especially for lower back.

[quote]Tiribulus wrote:
…I read your whole post and seriously, the enthusiasm to post something like this is the thing that will get you the farthest.[/quote]

I was thinking that if I posted it, it would act as a self-motivational tool. Something that I could revisit.

You know, you made a joke about how much I wrote, but you might be amazed about how much I left out.

  • My mood and 'tude while on a High Protein, High Fat diet.

  • What I try to do to get proper digestion.

And, well, since I mentioned it…Everyone should feel free to use this post as a starting-off-point for tips and suggestions and knowledge-sharing on digestion. And I would appreciate any bit you guys got.

Like I said before, Protein Ingested vs. Protein Digested is something that I am really interested in.

Anyway, thanks Trib.

[quote]Defender wrote:
…I think the common threads of getting off your ass and doing something as well as learning more and more and more are staples that need to be followed.[/quote]

Yeah, those were definitely the 2 biggest things for me. Learning about nutrition was HUGE.

Thanks Defender.

[quote]on edge wrote:
You’ve written a nice article about your journey. I hope you continue to enjoy the process.[/quote]

Thanks Edge.