Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Bonfire of My Vanity

I've hesitated to post a profile pic for my CrossFit blog, because I still don't have anything in the way of action shots. All I've got is this vanity shot. Sure, it reflects the results of a decent work ethic and a clean diet, but I've got an issue with ab shots. Despite being the glory shots of the fitness industry, abs aren't remotely indicative of fitness. It might be worth leaning out for a competition to perform at your best in an event where being lighter is an advantage, but walking around with a six-pack every day is only somewhat more advantageous than drinking one.

Face it. No matter how focused we are on performance, we all want to look good naked. I've spent more than my share of time telling folks on the CrossFit message boards to stop worrying about their appearance and focus on something that is quantifiable and that makes a real difference in their lives, like how much you can pick up off the ground while keeping your back stable or how long you can move heavy stuff around before you need a rest. Still, when I get a little soft around the middle (and I mean a little), I instictively wonder whether I'm doing something wrong. Maybe it's all those years of a nightly beer or three, when softness did correlate to being out of shape. Maybe I've seen one too many hollywood hunks with their shirt off.

Or maybe it's sheer vanity. At 40 years old, I finally gave up my three-sandwiches-a-day routine and adopted a low carb diet. The result was that I leaned out like crazy. At 5'10", I dropped from 182 to 172 in no time without losing much in the way of strength. I felt good, and I looked better than I ever had. I've always been thin, skinny even. In 6th grade, my nickname was "The Cambodian." The difference now is that I was lean and strong, and I liked it. I kept training a hybrid CF style to gain strength, but I wasn't making much progress on my lifts. I felt like I was eating plenty, averaging over 3,000 calories a day with plenty of protein, but I was slowly losing weight - not much, maybe a pound a month. It was clear that looking fit did not equat to being fit, or at least not to getting fit.

When I broke under 170# a couple of weeks ago, I realized that, if I really wanted to get stronger, I quite simply needed to put on weight - period - abs be damned. I needed to eat more and accept a little belly fat in the bargain, because when you're lifting heavy as part of your workout routine, that little bit of softness across the middle is Future Muscle. Have you ever noticed how kids grow? They do it in spurts. They get a little pot belly going, then before you know it, they're an inch or two taller and the pot belly is gone. In essence their bodies are stroring energy for future growth and then a hormonal signal stimulates that growth in a relatively short period of time.

The same process happens to those of us who strength train. Our bodies adapt to exercise in two ways, by rewiring the nervous system to more efficiently use the muscle we have and by building new muscle. That new muscle needs to come from somewhere. The body isn't going to invest energy creating more muscle mass to sustain, if it doesn't sense that we have an energy surplus with which to build that muscle. Under most circumstances, it takes approximately two weeks of caloric excess for the body to respond by raising the levels of insulin-like growth factor (ILGF). When we're lifting heavy, that ILGF signals the body that it's time to use the energy excess for building muscle. There are ways of manipulating diet that are supposed to increase ILGF levels, but the most surefire way to be ready to build muscle in response to our workouts is simple: Eat More.

I've temporarily given up the intermittent-fasting (IF) routine that was working so well for me. (I took up IF because it is supposed to offer similar longevity gains to caloric restriction, while still allowing me to feast enough to put on weight. However, when 3,000 calories a day isn't enough, blocking out 15-16 hours to Not Eat didn't seem like the best way to put on weight. I've put on four pounds since embarking on my more-food-is-better program. Perhaps, when I've dialed in my new and expanded diet and my body has adapted to getting more calories, I'll reintegrate IF. Until then, I will eat whenever possible.

OHS 18 x 10
Agility drills:
    Dot drill
    Triangle drill
    W drill

Hip mobility drills

Remedial skill work
Push press 45x15, 65x10, 95x5

Heavy stuff
Back squat 45x5, 95x5, 135x3
Box squat 135x1, 165x2x5, 170x2x5
Back squat 210x20

First ever set of 20. Good stuff. Definitely took some focus and considerable effort, but more weight is definitely possible. Box squats were starting to feel like a workout at this weight. Both of these will get bumped in weight next week.

Not a metcon
30 medicine ball clean and throw, 8-10 feet, 25#


The idea was that if either person dropped the ball, the rep didn't count. However, the work rate simply wasn't fast enough to be a metcon. We did this outside in the snow, so the only thing that really got a workout was our fingers' ability to withstand the cold.

Core work
Ab wheel 2x5
L-sit 2:00 in 7 sets (took 8.5 minutes, including rest)


Evelyn said...

Holy shit, Patrick. You're 40??? You are in fantastic shape and you know what, fuck the vanity thing. I get where you're coming from but suspend that for a second and just hear this: you're really hot!!! Way to go, man! Well done and keep working hard.

Patrick Haskell said...

Thanks Evelyn. My issue isn't with vanity per se. It's with letting vanity get in the way of the next step in terms of fitness and training that got me this far. It's just a question of priorities.

Jenn said...

I'm with Evelyn - you look great, Patrick! And it's always nice to be able to put a face/body with a name. ;)

Like you, I haven't quite gotten to the point where I want to post a vanity pic on the boards. It's not that I'm not pleased with my appearance (although no one would describe me as hot), it's just not the reason I do CF. So I tend to stick with action shots of my kids.