That fool on the elliptical, might be you

Compass OK seriously! This getting old crap is bringing me down! What now? What now you ask? Well, I’ll tell you “What now…”

For a 35 year old father of two, I think I do pretty good.

I exercise. Often hard!

I do handy things around the house.

I take vitamins.

I eat healthy.

My hair is still dark. From a distance.

And yet I still have this…this thing around my mid-section that won’t let go.

My weight has been a battle since I was a kid. I briefly beat it back in ’94 for about five years. That is, until I got married and we started having children. Somewhere along the way, cereal and stir fry for dinner was supplanted by Stouffer’s Lasagna, salmon with cheddar mashed potatoes, and thick steaks with grilled asparagus and corn fritters. Oh…no…those are three different dinners…not one big Shakespearean buffet!

Now granted, as I’ve admitted before, I suffer from a small case of body dysmorphic disorder, in which I think that I think that I look worse than I probably do. Or perhaps I’m fooling myself and I really DO look like I think I look and I’m using the “BDD” thing as an excuse to tell myself that I don’t really look as bad as I fear I do.

Truly, it boggles the mind.

After looking at those pictures of me in the river this weekend, I’m beginning to think the latter is true.

I also blame my work. Sitting on one’s hiney for eight a lot of hours a day doesn’t do much for the metabolism either, no matter how good you try to eat.

But here’s the rub: I AM getting older. At some point, I’m going to have to face the facts that no matter how hard I work, there’s a fine line between being healthy, and doing more than a body, at a given age, is capable of doing without breaking down. But when exactly is that? I mean, 35 is NOT old.

If 60 is the new 50, does that mean that 35 is the new 25? If so, I should look a helluva lot better than I do now!! And then if you sleep with a 25 year old, is it really like sleeping with a…nevermind.

Anyway, I’m just curious about others’ thoughts on this whole staying in shape as you get older thing. How do you measure your success (or failures) against your peers? Or do you?

Just keeping my big mouth shut

I work out in the gym about 4-5 times per week, going on nearly 15 years now. Since I’ve been in the gym for so many years, I’ve created an “as-of-yet” unpublished list of Gym Etiquette rules and whenever someone violates those rules, I get really annoyed.

Topping the Etiquette list are:

  • not using a towel (there’s few things worse than getting on a machine or bench and finding a wet, sponge-like spot of sweat on the bench where the previous person didn’t use a towel…ugh!)
  • standing right in front of the weight racks when you are exercising (hey, others are working out here too ya know!)
  • sitting around on a machine doing little more than people watching or reading the newspaper  (really folks, just stay home…)
  • talking on the cell phone (OMG! Get a life. Can’t you go 45 minutes without talking on the cell phone?)

My workout routine typically consists of 2-3 days of nothing but weight training, and then usually 1-2 days of half cardio/half weights. When my knees and back aren’t bothering me, I’ll jog for my cardio; otherwise I’ll use the elliptical. Regardless of what I’m doing, I always have my headphones on blasting my favorite tunes, but sometimes when you’re right next to someone being loud, you can still hear them.

The other day my knees were bothering me and I opted to use the elliptical machine rather than do my usual 2 mile jog before hitting the weights. I had been on it for about 10 minutes and I was in the zone. I mean, the music was pumping and I was tranced out staring at a spot on the wall across the gym. Peripherally, I could see people coming and going and part of me noted that someone got on the machine beside me, but I didn’t wanna ruin my buzz by looking, so I just ignored them.

About five minutes later, I noticed that I could hear this person talking on the cell phone. Trying to ignore them, I turned my music up and worked even harder. But like all annoying things, such as the theme song from The Wiggles, once you’ve noticed it, it’s in your head and you can’t ignore it. So, I turned my head to give the person next to me my most menacing stare, only to see that the person beside me was…drumroll please…CareerMom, my wife. Of course I didn’t say anything to her, opting rather to keep the peace and say, “Oh hi, didn’t realize you were there.”

I have since noted that she has a habit of talking on the cell phone while on the elliptical machine and while this still annoys the crap out of me, I just make it a point to avoid working out next to her. Needless to say, she has also NOT seen my Gym Etiquette guide, although I am tempted to print it out and just leave it lying about the house somewhere. But that would probably be mean…

There’s a fine line between obsession and crazy…

WeightliftingAt 34 years of age, I’m not old by any stretch of the imagination; however, I’m no spring chicken either. After nearly 15 years of fairly heavy weight training, my joints and skeletal system (especially my back) are probably more in line with a 44 year old. A study back in ’01 revealed that despite any bone density gains weight lifters earn from throwing around heavy weights, once they stop, those gains rapidly diminish. Add to that all of the joint and spinal damage nearly all weight lifters garner, and you gotta wonder why a person does it.

As I was working out this weekend, I noticed a young guy who is frequently there at the gym when I am. He’s probably in his mid-to-late 20s and it’s always been obvious that he has a great body, mostly because when he’s doing legs, he rolls his pants up so everyone can see his quads, etc.  And despite being obviously muscled, I never realized how much until I saw him in one of those tight Under-Armour® shirts (white) this weekend, where you could see every muscle, including one of the best sets of abs I’ve ever seen. Now, despite being 100% heterosexual, I can tell you that, from one weight-lifter to another, the dude looked incredible!

I can also tell you however, that he didn’t get that way naturally. I’m not saying he’s using steroids (I’m not “not” saying this either), but naturally, muscles simply don’t get and stay that full (read: pumped) without some help. It just doesn’t happen.

Of course, I started reflecting back to the time when I was “that” committed to my body. I was never in my wildest dreams as chiseled as this guy, but I was worlds better than I am now and it occurred to me what a young-man’s game this exercise thing really is. Some people might say I’m just being petty and jealous, but the truth is that it takes a phenomenal narcissist to create and maintain that kind of physique.

When I was 25, I once had a date critically tell me, “No woman wants a man who has a better body than she has.”

Truer words were never spoken. The kind of commitment it takes to maintain the thin-skinned six-pack look that models make look so easy requires an approach to eating that is fanatically limiting. It requires that every waking moment that isn’t taken up with work or other essential activity, be spent either at the gym, or hitting the pavement burning off the calories you just ate that your body didn’t automatically siphon off to feed your muscles. It takes the ability to turn the guilt you feel over eating a slice of pizza, into something positive like a few extra reps on the bench press. Basically, it requires sacrificing nearly every facet of your life that doesn’t revolve around your body, and that, my friends, is why you see so few married couples with children who are in such great shape.

Sometimes it takes this kind of mental meandering to convince yourself that you don’t suck. I’ve been really down on myself about my weight gain lately, and although it’s nothing major, it’s a stark departure from my 20s. Plus there’s that whole drive to look good for your mate. I suppose in the end, all you can do is your best and hope that it’s enough.

I mean, with two kids, who has time to be a narcissist?

Staying Fit As You Age

Ever since I hit the big “p” (as in puberty), and all the way through high school, I was a tad on the chubby side. Even after I joined the Air Force, I was heavier until one day I’d just had enough of it. I don’t remember the epiphenous (is that a word?) moment, but I’d bet the bag of Keebler Soft Batch I was eating at the time that it had something to do with self-loathing. The next day I walked the 75 yards over to the Army health club on the base I had to live on and made friends with the civilian guy who worked there. Over the next year and a half, I went from 170 lbs of mostly water, bone and fat, to 155 lbs of water, bone and lean muscle mass.

I would like to take moment here and personally thank Cindy Crawford for putting out “Shape Your Body,” without which, my winter workouts (and my fantasies) would have suffered.

Over time though, my overexuberant quest for physical perfection left me with multiple ruptured discs in my back, leading to two back surgeries after I’d left the military (you never let military surgeons open you up unless you have a bullet lodged in you and you’re bleeding out on the table).

It’s been twelve years since I got out of the military and since then I’ve gotten married and now have two kids, which, if you’re married, then you know…if there’s one thing that will derail your health regiment, it’s marriage and kids. I also unfortunately have a metabolism that quickly adjusts to any attempt to kick-start it by going into “starvation mode” and storing everything I eat on the off chance I’ll fall off a boat in the Adriatic Sea and need the added warmth that only a spare tire will afford.

But even with all these excuses, I’ve been pretty consistent, only missing the gym due to surgeries, sinus infections and vacation. But lately, the toll is starting to get to me. There’s not much that doesn’t hurt, my back most of all. Sitting is especially joyful, and working in a cubicle farm is a particular kind of hell from which there is little reprieve.

So my question is, when is enough…enough? At only 34, there’s no way I can give up working out, but at the same time—in my mind—why bother working out at all if you’re not trying to make gains? Sure, I could go in there day after day and go through the motions like all the other zombies, but my heart wouldn’t be in it, and would I really be doing any good anyway?

If my wife knew how much pain I was in, she would berate me to no end with something to effect of, “I don’t want to be married to a 45 year old man who can hardly walk! You need to stop.” At the same time, she also knows I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I had to stop.

So what do you do? I guess it comes down to what’s most important to me. Do I live life with a zealous “carpe diem” attitude and all the pain it entails, or do I listen to my body and take up namaste yoga and accept the inevitable weight gain and mirror avoidance that’s sure to follow?

Is there a happy medium? If so, it’s going to require more than just a change of exercise routine; it’s going to require a mindset change and that’s perhaps the hardest exercise of all.