I’m writing this post from a hotel room at 5 AM in Shanghai. It’s been a particularly crazy travel week starting with Singapore, now in Shanghai and moving to Sydney this weekend. My flight schedule will have started with a flight to Singapore, connecting through Frankfurt followed by a flight to Shanghai followed by an overnight flight to Sydney followed by a flight from Sydney to NY via Seoul, Korea. A colleague worked out that it’s a little north of 29,000 miles travelled over 20 days with a total of 60 hours spent on airplanes (excluding layovers, airport time and getting to and from the airports).
It goes without saying that on trips like this, a whole lot of rules go out the window. When I’m strapped to a seat for this long, the whole hedonic hunger eating thing pretty much beats down my frontal lobe and restraint goes out the sealed airplane windows. I’m thinking of the 60 hours as a three day cruise. How bad could that be? On terra firma, I’ve been pretty good, sticking with smart choices for my meals in hotels, offices and restaurants for dinner.
As always, my saving grace in trips like this has been sticking with my workout routines. I hit the gym the second I got into my Singapore hotel on Tuesday morning for about 45 minutes of disgusting sweat-infused cardio. Cardio is always pretty easy for me to squeeze in, but my exercise planning efforts center around making time for four days of heavy weight lifting each week – no matter what. Therein lays the topic for this post.
I’ve spent the last 4.5 years at goal weight, and I attribute much of my success there to making pretty consistently healthy food choices. However, if you put a gun to my head (please don’t, btw), I would have to say that exercise has been my salvation. I’ve preached for many years that you can’t lose weight without changing your diet, but you can’t keep the weight off without exercising pretty consistently. I think most of us find this pretty intuitive. The trick is in finding an exercise regimen with which we can be happy (or at least not very sad).
Those who have followed this post for a while or have read my book know that weight lifting is a pretty big part of my life. I lift free weights four times per week using what bodybuilders call a four day split –focusing on one or two body parts once per week (e.g., back/biceps one day, chest/triceps the next, etc.). I also try to follow the rules that bodybuilders use which is to focus on getting 8-10 reps with increasing weight as heavy as I can manage for that rep range. I do not try to get a cardio workout in from my weight routines, and rather I use the bicycle for that. Each body part is good for about 6-8 exercises with three sets of 8-10 reps each. I do superset (quickly alternate between exercises) when I can, but not always.
Why do I do this? Because Arnold did. In the days of fancy workout systems like Crossfit, Insanity, PX90, kettlebells, etc, I am a dyed-in-the-wool 1970’s knuckle-dragging meathead. The only thing missing for me is tube socks and parting my hair in the middle. I’m not against any of those high-tech and fancy pants new workout systems, I’m just not interested in them. My logic is that Lou Ferrigno looked pretty impressive (particularly in green), so why fight it? I realize that I am missing out on a whole wonderful world of muscle confusion, but I’m pretty confused about most things in life so why confuse myself more?
So there you have it. I’m aligning myself with bodybuilders (sans steroids). I’m with the dudes from the Jersey Shore. I am a proud member of a subculture that is oft-mocked. I certainly expect to be required to give up my metrosexual New York City credentials. I am a meathead.
Honestly, I’m not sure why more people don’t do the same. For any guy reading this post, I hate to break it but there is no way that lifting hard for an hour four days per week will make you balloon up into a cartoon figure. However, if you lift as heavy as you can and keep lifting as heavy as you can, you will build up muscle mass. That will hugely help you keep the weight off, and you will look better. What’s wrong with that? It’s also worth mentioning that I didn’t really start lifting in earnest until I was in my mid-30’s, ramping it up in my 40’s. My point is that it is NEVER too late to start. Show me a really fit 60 year guy, and I will show you someone who worships at the altar of iron.
For any woman reading this post (of ANY age), building up muscle and raw strength is one of the smartest things you can do. It boosts your metabolism, it reduces risk of osteoporosis, and it will give you great tone. What it won’t do is bulk you up. Given your relatively lower levels of testosterone, it’s almost impossible for women to bulk up no matter how hard and how heavy you lift. Four hours a week will put you at little to no risk. That this fear of bulking up exists after so many years is a source of endless surprise for me.
I write all of this knowing that most of these words will fall on deaf ears as many find weight lifting “boring”, “too time consuming”, “icky”, “intimidating” etc. However, I feel obligated to make the case for my meathead big iron ways because of everything it has given me and the effect it’s had on my health and looks – though I haven’t rocked a spray on tan (yet!). If you do decide to give it a go, start slow. Learn proper technique. Most importantly, begin building a weekly routine that you can develop and build over time. There is no reason to start with four days of heavy lifting per week, but two days might be pretty manageable. My only advice is that once you get going, keep trying to gradually increase the amount of weight you are using so that you are doing the 8-10 reps, struggling a bit on the last one. Most-most-most importantly, don’t quit. Build it into your schedule, simply stick with it, and the results will follow.
Finally, the next time you see Mike “the Situation” Sorrentino, give him a hug and commit to solidarity.