Monday, July 28, 2008

Post #100, Training to Run

Trust me, I am as surprised as you are. Other than my marriage with Mrs P, I have never been this faithful to anything. Six months of exercise. 100 posts. Amazing what the fear of death can make a man do, huh?

New Chapter. Pennsy's second race. In two weeks I am running in the 5K Midsummer Night's Run benefiting Lexington's Central Baptist Hospital. The race is run at 8:30 at night on August 9th, hence the catchy name.

Since my last race, my regimen has focused on strength and building muscles. I have been very successful in moving toward that goal. Now I am shifting gears. My goal for the next 12 weeks is to drop 5 points of my Body Fat Percentage. My lifting will be targeted toward maintaining cardio intensity and muscle mass. And I intend to run and run and run.

I have done well with two-week plans. Now, I'm building an ambitious five-week plan with two milestones. A 5K in two weeks and a 10K on August 31. I will make a decision about that second race after the one on the 9th.

My intention is to work at maximum intensity in three day cycles - two on, one off. Lift Heavy, Run Hard, Rest Well, and Repeat. I'll be lifting to set a new PR every time. I'll be running to build and maintain endurance toward running those 6.2 miles by Labor Day. And everything I do will be done with fat burning in mind.

One reason for a simple exercise plan is that I want to spend a lot of time learning and practicing better nutrition, not fidgeting with workout plans. I have done a fairly good job at getting rid of the things I shouldn't eat. Now I intend to learn more about the things I should.

August around the corner makes me feel a little melancholy. It always has. As a child, I knew that there was still plenty of summer left, but school was coming just the same. The other side of that coin was that while I loved baseball on the brick streets and camping in the Pennsylvania woods, I also really liked school. So along with the sadness there was anticipation. My yearly calender has always been tied to that academic year. Ninteen Septembers of shiny shoes and new pencils can do that to a man. It feels right to make this a time for new beginning. More precisely, a time to continue the good work God has begun.

And a moment for a prayer tonight. An artist I love and admire is giving birth to twins tomorrow. They are going to have a great life, but first their Mom is going to have quite a day. God bless you Gennet. You're going to be a great American mom. Go down that road.

Ok everybody. On your mark...get set...


Groovy Century-mark road sign is from

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sometimes Working Out isn't the Most Important Thing

Woke up Wednesday morning with that most absurd of ailments, the summer cold. Consequently, I have backed off my program this week to let my body do its thing. I even missed two days of work. I was a little depressed this week, but nothing dramatic. I think it was probably an organic thing - wacked out body chemistry caused by fatigue and being sick.

Wednesday afternoon, Mother P arrived from PA for a week long visit in KY. We spent some pleasant time together while I lounged around trying to stay awake. At one point eating a sandwich left me so exhausted I had to nap. And the whole time I'm telling Mom how much better I feel because I'm exercising.

God's sense of humor, at work again.

Today I feel a lot better. I'm going out for a run/walk, then hitting the gym for some fun lifting, just some play time to get the blood flowing again. Won't be setting any records today.

I don't take time off lightly, but sometimes there are important things (like getting well or a visit from Mommy) that deserve some space in my life. It's kind of reassuring that I can take time off without going insane, being racked with guilt, or putting on 5 lb.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Weak and STUPID

Yea, this lolcat picture pretty much says it all. Except the hapless kitteh is smarter than Pennsy was. Yesterday was not a good workout for me. OK, I'm reminded of the old "A bad day fishing is better than a good day working" bumper sticker, and yes it applies here as well, but I did have a bad day in the gym.

My first warning sign was when I could not execute pullups. I don't ever do these very well, but yesterday I could barely do four in a row. Dips were fine. I set up to do my pushups, but realized that it was Bench Press day and decided to save it for the bar. Maybe if I had done my pushups I could have seen the day coming and switched off to resistance bands. Instead I made my way to the bench.

So that's when I first noticed I was weak. Here's where I got STUPID.

I started out with the empty 45lb Olympic bar and did 5 or 7 reps just to get the muscles moving. Then I would add 20lb and do another mini set. This is the way I make my way up to working weight and it has been successful with all the other power lifts. Trouble is, yesteday I lost track of how much I had on the bar. I would do 3 or 4 reps and if it felt good, I would add weight. So yesterday I managed to go 10 lb heavier than I intended, and 30 lb heavier than the most I had ever done for 5 reps. STUPID.

Good news: completed 4-1/2 reps at 185. Bad news: 1/2 a bench press rep is a very bad thing, especially when you're too STUPID to ask someone to spot for you. My muscles gave out. I lowered the bar carefully onto my chest. Tried one last time to push the bar, and was transformed into a post turtle.

It was too much weight to try to sit up with. I had clips on the bar to keep the weight from sliding off, so I couldn't just tip over. And with a 180 lb steel bar laying across my chest, calling for help was problematic at best. I thought I would try rolling the thing down onto my lap, which I managed to do. Of course now I was sitting with a weight on my lap that I could either dump on the floor, or try to stand up under. I could not execute either.

About this time, two of the guys saw me flailing my legs while my shell remained balanced atop the fencepost and they came and helped me. "Dude, ask for a spot if you need some help."

Yeah. That's what anybody who wasn't STUPID would do.

So I stripped 50 lb off the bar and did 5 sets of 10, then 3x10 close grip presses at 95. The rest of my bench press day is done with dumbells (appropriately enough) so I had no more life threatening episodes, though I did feel particularly un-manly - expecially if you define a man as a thing with muscles and a brain.

The end of the story is that I woke up this morning with a cold. Yes a cold in Kentucky in July. What a treat. so I was feeling weak last night because I was getting weak. Not because I was turning into a little girl, but because my immune system had better things to do at the moment.

I got the message and ignored it. STUPID.

So now it's 1500 degrees outside, I'm in my living room, missing work with bleary eyes and a sore chest, and I think I'll take a day off at the gym.

I don't think there's anything wrong with my routine. I mean I think I can go four days straight by working different muscle groups. The fatigue was probably my system gearing up to do battle with whatever today's microbe is -- but I'm going to pay attention during the next cycle through. I may be better off doing two days then a rest day.

I'll definitely be better off being less STUPID.



Monday, July 21, 2008

The Pennsy Workout

This is the training program I'm working right now. I've fine tuned it a little based on what I learned in the first go-round. The goal here is general fitness, endurance, and muscle mass.


Each day focuses on one power lift. I start the lift of the day with an empty bar and slowly build up to the day's weight for working sets, usually with three or four reps at each weight. Then I do 5 sets of 5 reps at the heaviest weight I can lift. There are long breaks, two or three minutes between each of these sets.

The exercises that accompany the power lifts are meant to support muscle groups critical to the day's lift. So Clean & Press is followed by arm and shoulder work. Squats go with legs and lower back. Bench Press day is chest and lats. Deadlift day hits upper back, glutes and wrist grip.

These "assist" exercises are done at max weight with very short breaks, just long enough to catch my breath. 3 sets of 10 reps each.
DB Curls & Arnold Press Combo
DB Lat Raise, Ben Lat Raise Supersets

Hip Abduction/Adduction Supersets
Straight Leg Deadlift
Front Squat

DB Incline Press
DB Decline Press
Close Grip Bench Press

DB Incline Bench Pull
Good Morning
Barbell Shrug
Low Pulley Cable Row
DB Wrist Curls
DAILY WARMUP (on lifting days)

These daily exercises are all bodyweight movements. I vary the sets and reps depending on what hurts, what feels great, and what I don't want to wear out. For example, I don't do the lunges on Squat day or if my ankles are hurting.
Assisted Dips
Calf Raise
Assisted Pullups

Ideally, I would like to do four days with two days rest. That rhythm gets broken up by soreness, schedules, and the calender. The reason for the long rest is to make room for a long running day. I also work in a sabbath day when I don't run or lift at all. Since my running program is a seven day cycle and my lifting is a four day one, variety is sort of built in.


This is pretty straight forward.
Monday - training run
Tuesday - cross train, bike or elliptical
Wednesday - training run
Thursday - Yoga, no running or weights
Friday - day off
Saturday - long run
Sunday - day off
The long run is designed to stretch my endurance. Everything else is about maintaining conditioning and fat burning.


I work stretching in between reps so I have something to do besides pant and pose. I always stretch after a workout or run. I never stretch without warming up the muscles involved. I take a good, indulgent long time to stretch as gently and thoroughly as I can. Then I sauna, shower, and go home to eat protein and complex carbs. (meat and plants)

The whole deal takes about two hours. By spreading the work over several days, I'm getting more recovery time, increasing strength growth, and spending less time in the gym each night. Things are working well right now as I prepare for a 5K on August 9th. If nothing breaks, I'll be ready.

That's actually a good goal. I want to finish my next 5K without breaking anything. Unlike my first one where I knocked myself off the road for two months.

Maybe I'll take a skateboard along, just in case.



Good advice from Brad at Promatx - Your body is telling you something. Listen to your body, and you won't go wrong.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Slow and Steady

Six Month Progress Report.

I'm not sure how to interpret these numbers except to say I am determined to keep going.

My weight loss slowed a lot in the second quarter. Part of that is just the natural tempo of weight loss. Part of it is because my cardio training stopped almost completely after I hurt my calf. I'm back on the road now, and running slow and steady. The third quarter should see a lot more fat burning that the second.

The biggest changes are in my biggest problem areas. Waist, Hips, and Thighs all have slimmed and tightened considerably - though an objective observer would hardly describe any of them as "tight" just yet. My chest measurement hasn't changed much, but trust me, the shrinking man-boobs tell a whole different story.

I think it's weird that my right arm is so much bigger that the left. I would prefer to be symmetrical, but I'm not far enough along to worry too much about fine tuning my physique. Maybe next year.

The two big numbers for me are Body Fat Percentage, and Lean Body Mass. I am shocked and delighted at the amount of lean weight I have added. Not so happy with the way way the body fat percentage hovers between 31 and 32. Again, I expect my return to cardio training will make a big difference there. In my opinion, if I take care of these two metrics, weight will take care of itself.

I am grateful for the second chance God is giving me. When I left the gym today, a lady smiled and said "You're doing a great job. Y0u should be proud. Have a good day."

I smiled and thanked her, "Oh thanks, Ma'am. I'm having a great day!"




Body Fat %

Lean Mass

Resting HR


L Biceps15.516182.5
R Biceps1616.5193.0
L Forearm12.512.25130.5
R Forearm131313.750.75
L Thigh29.53026(3.5)
R Thigh303026(4.0)
L Calf20.252020(0.25)
R Calf20.52020(0.5)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Yoga... Is it for Me?

Thursday night I kept a promise and went to my first Yoga class at Promatx. I popped out to Walmart and got one of those long rubber mats, - not a fancy schmancy one like this handsome young man from has. I put on something stretchy that wouldn't let my personals pop out of the bottom of my shorts when I was upside down, and trundled off to class like a kid on - well, the first day of class.

I was about five minutes late (faux pas) and the only spot was in the middle, right in front of the teacher. This turned out to be an ok spot because it gave me multiple views of what the poses I was approximating were supposed to look like.

So what was my first yoga class like? The teacher spoke softly while an eclectic mix of new age, and smooth jazz music played. I was one of three men in a class of maybe 20 people. The lights were off, so the only light was the ambient glow that came in throught the open doors. The students were a mixed group. Some seemed to be pretty experienced, others were struggling. Some heavy, some lithe. Some were very focused and others were carrying on a pretty constant conversation under cover of the music. I definitely didn't feel like the odd one out, but I got a sense that people were checking out to see if I was there to learn or to check out the bendy women.

I got my mat situated and joined in with the warm ups that had already started. These were familiar to me. Poses like the Cobra and Downward Facing Dog had been part of my acting classes in school. There was one called Cat that the lady in turquoise is doing below. This is actually something a physical therapist taught me when I hurt my back. There was a gentle relentlesness to the poses. They appear to be still, but each is actually a movement a little closer toward perfection. I had a sense of big stretches - like when the teacher invited us to try Pigeon where you reach back over your heads and grab your upraised foot! Then there are the thousand tiny muscle adjustments when trying to hold my balance on one leg like a heron. It was sometimes strenuous. There is a lot of upper body strength required. But it is also forgiving. When a pose is too hard, you can back off without accusation from the teacher or the group. Since each pose is a journey, you just go as far as you can go today.

Yoga doesn't require a lot of gear which may be one reason guys don't get into it as much. I was glad I had a mat, though I wish it were about 10 inches wider. My shoulders are a little broader than the material and I had to go off onto the floor for some of the movements. I didn't get a strap, which it turned out I needed, but the teacher let me borrow one. I didn't get one of those foam blocks either, but I don't know what I would do with one at this point anyway.

I did not have any sense of spiritual consciousness or mumbo jumbo, but when the class was over and I was out walking in the sunlight, I really did feel refreshed and a little more - I guess the word would be present. I felt a little more awake and alive than I did before. Yoga is a legitimate physical workout, but the afterglow is very different from the spent exhaustion I feel after a run or a good session in the weight room. I could have done either of those things after my class, but I didn't want to interfere with the strange new feeling I was experiencing. I think Thursdays are going to continue to be Just Yoga nights for me. I like it, and I want to know more.


These images are from

Rawganique - an online source for hemp products
The Yoga Learning Center - an online resource for learning about yoga with lots of images and video
DK Images, an online encyclopedia of images

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Running and Weightlifting - Torn Between Two Loves

I love running. I love the feeling of freedom and the lightness of it. Every step feels like a victory to me.

I also love weightlifting. I like powerlifting because the goal is so present and clean. Chose the weight. Move it from here to there. Simple and beautiful, in spite of all the screaming and swearing and puking. I like bodybuilding too. I don't imagine I'll ever be fit enough to compete, but I really like seeing my body develop shapes and forms where once hung arms and legs that resembled boiled bratwurst.

But here's the thing. Powerlifting and bodybuilding are about adding muscle - adding weight. Getting bulkier and heavier. Running, or at least endurance running is about getting lean and light. Efficiency and balance, just enough muscle to keep the bones moving forward. Marathoners are often very strong people, but they don't have the kind of physique you get from bench pressing twice your body weight.

I love to run, but I'm never going to have that runner's body. On the other hand, I am big and getting stronger. I could have a fairly decent set of muscles in a couple of years.

So to whom should I give my heart. How to choose? What to do? Nothing different, I think. I love them both. The gym and the road both treat me well. I try not to neglect one for the sake of the other, and I almost never cheat on either of them. What the heck. How many times does a fat 48 year old get to have a wife he loves and two sweethearts on the side? I think I'll just enjoy them all while my heart can still take it.


The photo of Pennsyltuckian wrestling dude Kurt Angle is from

I found the exultant track meet dude on a Google image search, but was unable to find him on the page referenced. The link led me to an intriguing site called Fitness Black Book whose author has an affinity for photos of lady's bottoms and some strong opinions about weight lifters and their macho shenanigans. I don't know how much I agree with him, but I like his writing. I don't really have the energy for the bottoms, though.

Course Correction - Working Running Back In

“He who loves, flies, runs, and rejoices;
he is free and nothing holds him back.”
- Henri Matisse

Yeah, that's how it feels to be Pennsy today. Running on Saturday gave me such a rush that I decided to try it again, on the streets this time. I did a mile and a half around the neighborhood at sunrise yesterday morning. Started with a long slow warmup walk, about 12 minutes, then an easy jog for the rest of the way. The ankles were a little tender, but not painful. Molly and I shared a quarter-mile cool down after my run. I am really encouraged.

I plan to run every other morning, gradually building up to four miles over the next four weeks. There is a 5K here in Lexington on August 9th and I registered for it on Sunday.

The weight work will take a backseat to running for a while. I'll stick to the plan, but I may put more recovery days in rather than going four days straight with two days off.

I'm really excited and grateful to be running again. As much as I would like to look like a bodybuilder, I really think my heart is in running right now.

It's funny. A year ago, I could not have imagined getting to a place where I actually missed exercise. God's sense of humor knows no limits.


Thanks to photographer Kelly Angard for the Matisse quote and for this great photo on Flickr.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Evaluating My Workout Design - Oh, and RUNNING!

Four days straight, now time for a day off.

Yesterday's workout was kind of mixed.

LIFTING - this workout needs some tweaking

I increased my number of assisted chinups - came within one of finishing 3 x 5. I also was able to do Calf Raises for the second day in a row. I'm not using any plates at all yet, so there's only the 20 lb weight of the machine on my shoulders, but it still feels good to be able to do them again. Assisted dips went fine. I will decrease the counterweight once I can finish three sets of chins. It's just easier than jumping down and moving the pin six times.

Deadlifts. Here's 'Becka Swanson schooling the boys at the gym.

World Strongest Woman - "becca Swanson" Deadlift - More amazing videos are a click away

My own efforts went ok but I need to warm up more gradually. I only did two warmup sets at 95 and 135 before starting my 5 x 5 @ 185 and the increase in weight was too fast. I need to get the blood flowing into that lower back before pulling the heavy weight. I'll put at least two more sets of two or three at maybe 145 and 165 before starting the working sets.

I don't think I wrote this workout very well. It just didn't make kinetic sense to me - it didn't feel right. Doing Deadlifts and Bent Over Rows and Good Morning's together set off warning bells in my lower back. No harm, but too close to the red line for my taste.

Three of the exercises in my plan were just odd. I tried doing Forearm Curls with a barbell, but just could not find a way to stabilize my arms to isolate the forearms, so I switched to Dumbell Wrist Curls with my elbows on the bench instead.

Doing Pullovers with two dumbells was hard work, but strangely, I could not feel which muscles were working. I concentrate on keeping my elbows at a fixed 90º angle so my triceps do not get involved in the movement, but couldn't really feel which muscles were actually rotating my shoulders. I need to do some research on this one.

Friday I forgot to do pullovers. Yesterday I forgot to do barbell curls. It was an oversight, not a deliberate cut. The only reason I can think of is that they don't make any sense to me in a workout designed to increase my performance in the Deadlift. I do not remember what the rationale was in putting them in in the first place, but I think I'll move them or lose them.

I'm going to make some minor changes to this day's plan. The order is very important here because the lower back is so involved and I have a history of bulging disks and Sciatica down there. I also want to take a good look at the actually exercises I'm using. I would like to be more focused on muscle groups that 1) are critical to performing the Deadlift and 2) are not hit very hard on any of the other three days. Since today is a rest day, I'll take some time to work on this and try putting the changes into next week's routine.

RUNNING!!! -Listening to my heart.

I planned to ride the recumbent bike yesterday. I just couldn't do it. I didn't want to sit down. I went for a walk on the treadmill instead. To my left, an athletic young woman was running intervals. To my right, a handsome young dude was running at a pretty impressive pace for someone as muscular as he. I reached out my hand and touched the speed button on the console. 3.2. 3.5. 4.0. 4.8. I was running again.

At first I ran carefully, taking inventory of all the parts that had ached and torn and screamed over the past two months. No alarms. No twinges. I glanced up at the television where someone was talking about something. I don't remember what. I looked out at the mirrors, all the way across the gym, but I don't remember looking at anything in particular. Mostly I was just hearing the footsteps of the people around me.

I forgot I was hurt.

I forgot I was running.

It was the greatest feeling! I don't know how else to describe it. I just sort of went somewhere else. From time to time I would start to feel winded, and I slowed down to an easy walk for a while. When I felt better, I would speed back up. I ran intervals like that for half an hour, setting an easy 15 minute pace. Just about what I ran in the 5K when I got hurt. Only this time I was run/walking without looking at the time or the distance. When my body said slow down I slowed down. When my heart said go, I went. Thank you Jeff Gallaway. I have been waiting for this run since I tore my calf on May 17th.

Oh happy day. Pennsy's running again.


The weekly check in was encouraging. My weight has been up and down this week, but yesterday was resting nicely at 352, as low as it's been since I started working out. My body fat percentage is also at its lowest, 31.1%. My lean mass is up slightly to 243. Next week I'll get out the tape measure and update all the my body composition numbers. I expect that I'll see some big changes there. Base on the fit of my clothes and the comments of folks at work and the gym, I look a lot different than I did a few months ago.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lifting the Weight

I am learning to manage the work/recovery cycle.

I intended to take yesterday off, but when I looked at the workout I had planned, I could see that none of my sore muscles were the ones I would be focusing on, so I went on to the gym after work.

Yesterday was all about the Bench Press. This is and arm curls are most teenage boy's favorite lifts because they turn your chest and arms into babe magnets. They are great exercises when integrated into a more comprehensive workout plan. On their own, they pretty much just make the parts you see in the mirror look good when you're shaving.

Here's 8 time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman ("Light Weight!", "Yeah, Buddy!") showing you how the big boys do it.

Ronnie is a great champion and a real character. He hoots and hollers when he works out and seems to have a lot of fun training. His story is inspiring. He competed for many years, always a top finisher, but almost never a winner in big time bodybuilding before finally winning Olympia for the first time in 1998. One of the most famous parts of his schtick in the gym is this quote:
Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but don't nobody wanna lift no heavy-ass weight!
I was talking with Mrs. P about that yesterday. It struck me as a really profound observation. In a world where you buy a pill to make you thin or a car to make you sexy - where you can borrow money you haven't earned yet to by things you'll never really need - where the mantra often seems to be "if it's too hard, don't do it". You want to be rich? Buy a lottery ticket. Want something you can't afford? Use the Visa card. Want to be happy? Pay a shrink. It's refreshing to be reminded by someone who knows that you can't make your dreams happen if you aren't willing to do the work.

To me, "lifting the heavy-ass weight" isn't just hoisting hundreds of pounds of iron up and down. It's the actor who spends hours perfecting an accent or a cook who works for years to get a sauce just right. It's the student who starts cramming the first week of class, not the week before finals. It's the husband who stays and learns how to love his family. Lifting the heavy-ass weight is doing what it takes to be good at what you love.

I don't expect I'll ever look like Ronnie Coleman. I am way to vain about my hair to wear that look, But I take him to the gym with me when I go. He reminds me to laugh between sets, to refuse to give up, and to keep on lifting the heavy-ass weight.

Yeah, Buddy!


Thursday, July 10, 2008


If you are truly interested in size and strength, you need to train your legs. -- and one of the best leg exercises is the barbell squat. In fact, heavy squats have built the foundation of some of the greatest strength athletes in history.

Here's a look at the great John Davis squatting at Ed Yarick's Gym in Oakland, California in the 50s -- and that's how you should be squatting: full and deep.

No monkey business there, just pure power development.

I don't recommend squatting with a board under the heels but it seems to work for John Davis, who was Twice Olympic Weightlifting Champion (1948 and 1952) and Six Time Senior World Weightlifting Champion (1938, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951).

From Old Time Strongmen.

The second of the four powerlifts I'm working on is the Squat. If the Clean and Press is complicated, the Squat is as simple as it gets. Take it off the rack, take it down, take it back up. There is really nothing else that works your foundation the way a heavy squat does. Your upper body is always working to hold form and to keep balance. That's a lot of iron laying across your shoulders. Your lower body is driving force down into the earth, pressing the planet against the barbell. I feel it the most in my glutes. This lift will literaly work your butt off. The quads support the weight on the way down and keep you from sinking too far into "the hole", but the glutes and hams do the work of moving the weight back up. It is a massive exercise, and one of my favorites.

I did the lifting part of my workout as planned, but my upper body was still pretty sore from yesterday, so I decided to skip the warmup. I did push out some dips and chins though. There is this marvelous machine that allows weaklings like me to do these exercises with the assistance of a counter-weighted platform. That way, you don't have to actually move your whole body weight. Here's a video from ExpoTV explaining how it works.

I have worked my back and arms enough now that I can execute these movements using the maximum available counterweight. From here on, the task will be to strengthen those muscle groups and lower the counterweight until I can lift my own bodyweight. That's going to be a while.

I'm taking tomorrow off to give my muscles some time to recover.

Great news! I ran/walked a mile on the treadmill. The calves complained a little, but I treated them with respect and together we all made it to the one mile mark. I also did a few minutes on the stair climber. That one really showed me that my conditioning has suffered a little during my recovery.Like the dips and chins, I'll build up my time gradually.

When I was stretching, the lady who leads the Yoga class came up to me and suggested that I try that to increase my flexibility. I think that's a great idea. The class meets on Thursdays and I think I'll try to work it in. I'll have to find a mat somewhere, I guess.

Halfway through the four day split and I have to say it feels like this is a pretty complete workout. I have that healthy afterburn soreness in my legs, shoulders, butt, and arms. Not the pain that says something's hurt, but the soreness that says you did some good hard work and need to slow down a minute to recover.

It's encouraging to be back up running - even if it is only two minutes at a time. The desire to run is what keeps me in the gym I think. I have this fantasy about running down a quiet country road on a Saturday morning. I pass horse farms and cross bridges over trout streams, whispering prayers of thanksgiving to the God who gave me the chance to run. I'm looking forward to making that dream come true. If a twenty-minute mile is the first step toward that sweet Kentucky morning, then I thank God for that too.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Great beginning

I started a new routine focused on bodyweight warmups and four powerlifting movements. The workout went very well.

Pushups 10
Crunches 35
Superman 10
Repeat three supersets

Plank, Front, Right, Left
One of each for time

Lunge 3 x 10

And then two resistance exercises designed to get me strong enough for Dips and Chinups...
Lat Pulldowns 3 x 10
Wide, Mid, Close Grips One set of each
Triceps Rope Pulldowns 3 x 10
I'm within a couple of plates of lifting the full stack on both these machines. When I can do that, I should be ready to move up to the real thing.
This went very fast, not much more than half an hour, and is a pretty good full-body workout in its own right. I've been wanting to add bodyweight work to my skill set, but my bodyweight is a lot more than any other weight I'm lifting at the moment and the prospect has been pretty daunting. This workout left me feeling ready to go, but not worn out. I'll try to use the assisted dip/chins machine tomorrow and test how close I am to actually completing one of those exercises.

Today's powerlift is the Clean and Press. Here's Vasily Alexeev executing it with a mere 507 lb.

I want to learn this movement very well before I start messing around with very heavy weight. I did 5 x 5 with 65 lb. When you watch Alexeev, you will notice that the first part of this lift is explosive. You pull the weight with your legs, then your shoulders with enough velocity that you can dip under it and catch it on your chest. Alexeev's deep dip shows the kind of force and strength required to actually throw 500 lb up in the air, then catch it and stand up straight. The big man has a little stutter start to the press. I can't tell if he aborted a bad lift, or if he was just showing off by adjusting his grip. In either case, he finally shows you the last part of the lift which is to press the weight over your head.

We mortals don't get to bounce the weight off the platform when we're done. We have to reverse the whole dance, lower the weight to the floor, and then do it again.

So you can see that it's a complex lift with about 30 different ways to get hurt built right in. I'm starting slow.

The rest of the workout supports some of the muscle groups that are required to execute the lift. I did 3 x 10's of a Dumbell Curl to Arnold Press combination movement I thought I had invented this, but check out my new hero on the Gray Iron Fitness Blog.

I also did 3 x 10 supersets of Lateral Raises and Bent Over Lateral Raises (lifting dumbells up to the side like a very strong, sweaty bird)

The first brutalized my arms, especially the forearms and shoulders. The lat raises had them nearly paralyzed. I felt the famous "Pump" for the first time. It was very cool. ( I was horrified when I returned the dumbells to the rack when I realized that I had been doing my lat raises with 10 lb weights. My arms were on fire! I felt like Hercules! But like the treadmill, the iron never lies. I'm not so macho as I thought I was. I'll take it up just a little next time.

Again, this part of the workout didn't take very long either -about 45 minutes. A much more realistic length than what I had been doing.


Ah, my old friend the elliptical. We meet again. I came for a low impact butt kicking, and was pleasantly surprised at how well it went. The 30 minute interval workout was not really intense, but it got me soaked clean through and finally got my heart-rate up into the pounding zone. The whole time, I was fantacizing that I was running. It felt nice.

Some stretching, hot sauna, a check of the scale and a steaming shower and I was out the door in a little over 2 hours, (not three like my last routine.) If I got up the gumption, this is a workout I actually could do in the morning before work. But to be honest, that's a lot of gumption.

Time will test and proove its value, but I think this is a very effective workout. Tomorrow? Squats...


More Power!

Paul Anderson was one bad dude. That's him over there, lifting enough iron to build a DeSoto. In the 'fifties, he was the strongest man in the world, and it made him a star.

I've become fascinated by the sport of powerlifting. I am no more likely to compete in that world than in the world of bodybuilding, but the idea of testing the physical limits intrigues me. I want to learn more about it.

I did some research and put together the following plan for my next two week period. It's a four day split

DAY ONE - Clean & Press (Mrs.P says it sounds like I'm doing laundry on this day)

Clean & Press, 5 sets of 5
Dumbell Curls & Press, 3 x 10
Lat Raise (Standing & Bent over), 3 x 10

DAY TWO - Squat

Squats, 5 x 5
Hip Abductors 3 x 10
Hip Adductors 3 x 10
Straight Leg Deadlift 3 x 10
Front Squat 3 x 10


Bench 5 x 5
Decline Bench,, Dumbells 3 x 10
Incline Bench, Dumbells 3 x 10
Pullovers 3 x 10
Close Grip Press 3 x 10

DAY FOUR - Deadlift

Deadlift 5 x 5
Bent over Rows 3 x 10
Forearm Curls, Barbell 3 x 10
Good Mornings 3 x 10
Barbell Curls 3 x 10

The idea is to do these lifts as heavy as possible (once I've learned the new ones.) Each power lift is supported by the others - theoretically, they should increase my performance in the big lifts.

I have also put a warmup together based on bodyweight exercises. I'll talk more about that tomorrow, once I've tried it out.

Finally, I'm adding 30 min of cardio back into my daily routine. I've missed it, and it is time to get back up on those nasty machines at the other end of the room.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

What to Choose, What to Let Go

Therefore the sage is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees.
He lets go of that and chooses this. (Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu)

Pennsy's great experiment has concluded. First I confess to the failures. I didn't do nearly as much cardio as I planned. I rode the bike to work a couple of times, and spent some time walking on the treadmill, but the running, climbing, spinning stuff was pretty much not part of my routine. And I hit the wall like my feathered friend here at the two hour mark of today's work out. Every part of me was either shaking, screaming, or wanting to puke. It was time to stop, so I stopped without doing any of the arm isolation lifts I had planned.

What to Choose

Now for the successes. (Comparing June 21 to July 6)
Weight decreased from 357 - 354
Body Fat % decreased from 32.1 - 31.9
Lean Body mass stayed at 241 lb - three pounds of fat up in smoke
And the personal best lifts.
Bench Press 155 - 175
Lat Pulldowns 160 - 180
Deadlift 145 - 195
Squat 105 - 225
Pushups 0 - 28 (4 x 7 in between 4 x 30 Crunches)
I also found, by checking my heart rate during these workouts, that because I tried to keep up a good pace, my heart was beating between 120 and 140 BPM - not exactly running, but not exactly watching summer re-runs either.

I gained a lot of strength in the big exercises where I wanted to see growth. More strength = more weight = more muscle mass to gobble up fat. I have been getting on the treadmill without pain for several days now, and those bigger muscles will start paying dividends when I can get my heart rate up to a training level and keep it there for a while.

The long two day rest periods worked well. I did get tired by the end of these long sessions, but I never started out that way. And I found myself anticipating getting back to the gym all day when the recovery days were finally over. When I lift heavy weight, my long-neglected muscles are going to require greater rest periods - more time to run!

What to Let Go

There are some things I would change if I were to undertake this kind of intense muscle building course again. First, I would make the work-outs shorter. Too many exercises, especially arms and shoulders. I wanted to work Biceps and Triceps and all three Deltoid directions, but wound up burning too much fuel (and time) on these toning exercises. I would probably include leg curls in that bunch too. My focus needs to be on whole body conditioning, not isolated muscle sculpting. If I keep doing push ups and pulling heavy deadlifts and squats then my legs and arms are going to look just fine. I'll do body building later. Right now, I'm still in the demolition phase - making muscle to burn fat.

And too many reps, I think. My 20, 12, & 8 plan was not a random choice. I wanted to start with light weight and high reps to be sure my form was solid before testing my limits. That was wise, I think, and something I'll probably continue as I add new movements into a routine. But after a while, I found I used up a lot of gas grinding out those 45 lb bench presses. I would like to have been able to test that 200 lb barrier, but not yet.

Bench pressing without a spotter is holding me back. Now that I have had the experience of straining to lift a 175 lb barbell back into the hooks, it's time for me to bury my pride or shyness or insecurity or whatever it is and ask someone for help. I think I don't want to ask because I'm still lifting so much less than most of the guys back on the wieght floor. If I want to get over the hump, I'm going to have to get over my reluctance to ask for a spotter's assistance.

Pride, pride, pride: the single greatest cause of injury in the gym. I need to remember that I am a beginner, and will be for many years. I will work hard and grow and learn, but it will take time before other lifters are watching me the way I watch the guys with ths skinny legs squatting 285 in the power cage. I may be much stronger than that one day, but for now I need to remember where I am - at the beginning of a journey.

What I Take With Me on the Journey

Making a plan like this, and sticking to it was a very good thing. It created a goal and a time-table - a finish line to press toward. It turned my routine into an event with a beginning, middle, and an end. At times I was tempted to improvise - to change up the plan - and while I did substitute lifts a couple of times (ex. standing barbell curls for preacher curls) I did not yield to that temptation. I stuck with the discipline of the program. I hope I'll learn to design better plans, but working from a plan based on weeks and not days felt really good to me.

I have been thinking about Personal Trainers. I think I might like to be one some day. This is very early to contemplate such a thing - like wanting to be a doctor because you liked you first two months of high-school biology, but it is something that's on my mind. I need a lot more experience, and I need to build a body that elicits confidence, and I need to know a lot of stuff, but still I keep thinking that I might end up being a 55 year old personal trainer somehow. I guess I'll mention these dreams to Brad at my quarterly review in two weeks and get his thoughts. Soon as I feel comfortable about paying for it, I should probably start working with a personal trainer myself. And of course, I'll do what I always do when I start a new obsession - I'll read books and blogs about it. I will test it out and see if this is just a late-midlife thing, or a real vocation I want to pursue.

For now, that will do. And for now, it's pretty good being Pennsy.

Peace, y'all.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Father's Gift

Like so many young people today, she is heavier than she should be. I was a fat child, and I was the exception. I didn't have any fat friends at all. Now, we don't seem so hard to find. She may be 13 or 14. While I was doing an easy walk on the treadmill, rehabilitating my injured ankles, she came out of the group exercise room carrying a medicine ball, bouncing it on the floor every few steps. She smiled shyly at me as she passed, then proceeded to turn two recumbant bikes so they faced one another.

Her sister was younger, but bigger than she. The younger, dark haired sister was "fixing her jams" - getting the music in her MP3 player just right before she climbed up on the bike facing her brown haired workout partner.

Dad followed last. He is a mountain of a man, built like a power lifter and at least an inch or two taller than my 6-feet 4-inches. We have shared a workout station from time to time, and he is very strong. Also very kind and patient. I have counted him lifting 20 reps of the entire 200 lb stack on the cable pulldown, then trotting across the gym to help his wife with her dumbells. Every thing about him, from his powerful legs to his solid, broad face says strength and gentleness.

He gave the girls a quick, "OK, let's go." and they started cycling. Dad checked their leg extension to make sure that they didn't have their seats too far back. Then the girls started chucking the ball back and forth, pedaling and playing catch at the same time while Dad circled like a lion protecting cubs on a sunny afternoon. If one of the sisters slowed down, he would encourage them. If they got too rambunctious with the ball, he would settle them down with a quiet word. And once he chased down a toss that slipped through the older girls hands and rolled to the reception counter.

While the girls pedaled and laughed, his eyes moved from their faces to the consoles of their machines - using both to monitor their progress and condition. The younger daughter reached 1 mile first, and her workout was done. The game of catch was over, but she and her father waited patiently while her fading but determined sister completed her own ride, her dad softly coaching her to the end.

Those girls got a gift today. The gym is full of men and women who come to make themselves better or to get away from the stress of work and family for a while. This father had something much more important to do. He was helping his girls with love and patience, allowing them to be kids and to play while pressing them to do their best. When that girl was pedaling alone, after the game of catch was over, I could see in her face that she was not going to quit. And I could also see that her Dad was not going to walk away, no matter how long it took her to finish. Her father is teaching her to stick to her guns and keep her eyes on her goal. She was tired, but she was not distracted. Her face told me she was strong and quietly determined to do her best .

Just like her Dad.


Friday, July 4, 2008

Rebranding the Fat Man: If It Ain't Broke, Break It

I got tired of my old blog layout. I chose it when I started blogging because it looked classy and sophisticated like leather elbow patches. More and more though, I found it restricting and a little pretentious for my current state of mind. I'll leave Pennsyltuckian in the old template for nostalgia's sake, but I want to try this cleaner look for a while.

I've also added some features that Blogger made available. Blog rolls after my own musings will point you toward some of my favorite writers and sites. And I've eliminated some of the toys like the Digg link that only served to clutter up the screen.

I've stuck an Amazon thingee at the bottom. I'll dump it if it bugs me too much.

The biggest change I've made is to the name of the blog. "Fat Man Running" is not nearly as original as I thought when I chose it. Guess I should have done a Google search first. My body is changing, and I'm going to speak a little more respectfully about it.

I think that's all the rearranging of cyber furniture for today. Turning the corner on the first half of a good year feels like an appropriate time for a change. Especially one that's so positive in spirit. We'll see how it works out.

Happy Independence Day, y'all.


Beating Back Boredom

I love the gym and working out, but there are just a few things about my current program that bore me. This isn't intended to be a negative post, just an interlude to consider some stumbling blocks and what I intend to do about them

Doing the same routine for too long
My experiment has been a good one. I think there's value to building a routine and committing to it for an extended period. It has been a great success in terms of body composition and strength gains, but man am I ready for a change. Sunday will be the last day and I already have my next routine planned. I don't think I'll ever get stuck in a rut with my workouts. My attention span is too short!

Crunches and Pushups
I hate these exercises. I don't much like rolling around on the floor and... Oh whatever. I don't have any excuses. I just hate them. And they are critical to my success. I need to improve my overall core strength and these are two of the best ways to do that. Did I mention that I hate them? They bore me. If I don't do them the very first thing out of the locker room, I never do them.

I want to find a way to make them interesting. Maybe I can invent some sort of a game to entertain myself. I just know I have to keep doing them. And by the way, I really hate crunches and pushups.

The workout software I bought really sucks
This bums me out. I had been using a FileMaker database that I developed. I didn't want to get bogged down creating a bunch of reports for it, so I thought I'd just buy one. The one I chose is called Open Fitness and it really sucks. The list of disappointing things about it is long and a little boring in its own right. I find it to be sloooow, badly organized, difficult to customize, and really limited in the way it generates reports. Simple functions require half a dozen mouse clicks and window switches. It won't export data. It doesn't support basic functions like - oh, I don't know...Cut and freaking Paste! I went back to the site to look for an upgrade, and there is an online version that looks like it may be better-built. Great. I could bite the bullet and subscribe. Then I'll just export all those time gobbling entries into their slick online system.But dig this answer to my simple question about how to do that. (At least the email response from the folks at was prompt and courteous. I wonder how the guy wrote it with a straight face.)
It is not possible to export your entire workout history in one step, but it is possible to export individual workouts, routines, and other records. To do that, just get an account if you don't already have one...a free one will work if you just want to try it out.

Then, in the Open Fitness desktop, select the workout you want to export and click the 'Share' button. Choose to send it through to an individual and enter your user ID. Once you finish, you should find the workout in your private messages on next time you log in. You'll be able to click on the workout and import it into your account from there.
So if I wanted to move all the data I have painfully entered from their wonky desktop version into their pay as you go online version I could do it, but only one day at a time. And only by negotiating about a dozen different steps for each workout. Bogus.

One last rant, 'cause the conversation itself bores me more than pushups. Here's a quote from the site.
Open Fitness tracks all your fitness activity and monitors your progress, just like a personal trainer would. In fact, it was designed by a certified personal trainer! Open Fitness takes all of the guesswork out of fitness, so you can make the most of your time in the gym!
I'm thinking that maybe this certified personal trainer should have hired a certified software engineer. And while the program doesn't slow me down in the gym, it sure does take a lot of my time at home. Open Fitness is a lame, half-assed piece of junk and stumbling through it bores me. I've been using it for a month, and I think I'm going back to my old faithful home-made jalopy instead. I'm not spending any more time or money on it.

On the Other Hand

Did I mention strength gains? Yesterday I set new personal bests at the power cage in squats and deadlifts, the granddaddies of compound full body strength exercises. They have really been the focus of my efforts over the last few weeks, and the work is paying off. If I can get my bench and clean & press rolling too, I will have established the core of my strength training routine. Assuming I don't die of boredom during a set of crunches first.


For a time waster that I don't find boring at all, subscribe to dmotivation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pennsy's Gym

This is not an advertisement. It is an act of thanksgiving. These folks are helping me to change my life, one rep at a time. I'm adding their video to my layout - you'll be able to find it at the bottom of the page whenever you need it.

PROMATX Health Club

How Strength Training Improved My Property Value

Last night was a recovery night, so I did not go to the gym. Instead I went out to the yard to tackle a project I've been putting off -- clearing some out of control shrubs that I can't see but my neighbor can. So the whole adventure started with this altruistic tone that just made me feel so contented and full of myself.

I donned my big blue anti-poison-ivy zip-up mechanic's overalls, pulled out my leather work gloves, and started digging in. From a three foot wide strip along the side of my house I removed several trees that had sprouted accidentally. These included an oak, two maples, and numerous red-buds. I chopped out about a quarter of a mile of grape vine that some genius must have thought would look great tearing the downspouts off the corner of the house. I also pulled out some old leaves, dead ivy, and several light beer cans upon whose origins I chose not to speculate.

The project involved bending, lifting, squeezing stretching, sawing, chopping, sweating, kneeling, and lots of other real world movements that I have been avoiding because they always made my back ache, my arms weak, and my head spin after an hour or so.

But I didn't hurt at all. I wasn't out of breath. I broke a good sweat, but after all I was wearing overalls on July 1 in Kentucky.

I even helped my neighbor push his dead Isuzu out of the driveway.

Squats, curls, deadlifts, rows, oblique twists... I've been lifting weights because I want to be stronger and healthier. Somehow I never made the connection that those things would follow me when I left the gym.

This shouldn't have been such a surprise, but it was. It isn't pretty - not yet - but my body is becoming more useful to me and to the people I care about. AND one side of my house now looks like the building is actually occupied. I have a feeling that the folks next door just got a lot more enthusiastic about my gym membership.

Tonight I'll take on the front hedges, a mere warm up bout for this weekend's epic Independence Day Battle of the Backyard.

Anybody want to buy an old easy chair?

Peace, y'all.

Edward Scissorhands photo from

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