My workout routine

[This post is one in a series about my fitness journey. Consider starting at the beginning.]

I’ve always thought that muscular guys must have a very strict, well designed, and methodical workout routine. And for all I know many of them do. I, however, don’t and have found success in less structured workouts.

I workout one hour a day, 6 days a week. Two upper-body days, two lower-body days, and two cardio days. My schedule looks like:

  • Monday – upper body
  • Tuesday – lower body / core
  • Wednesday – cardio (running)
  • Thursday – upper body
  • Friday – lower body / core
  • Saturday or Sunday – cardio (running)

Upper body

On upper-body days I generally decide what I’m doing when I get to the gym and see what equipment is available and how my shoulder is feeling. I tore something in my right shoulder a few years ago and had a PRP procedure to fix it. It’s been much better but I always adjust my workouts based on how it’s feeling in the moment.

My upper-body days usually involve dumbbells, the pull-up bar, and a cable machine. I like to do superset of opposing muscle groups. So if I do a seated shoulder press I will superset that with a wide pull-up. I aim for enough weight that I can do 4 sets of 12 reps each. A decade ago that looked more like 4 sets of 6 reps each using heavier weights. But as I said prior, my workouts have evolved and morphed over time.

Some common superset exercises that I do on upper-body days.

Other non-superset exercises that get thrown in the mix:

I don’t do all of these every upper-body day, but they are all part of my standard repertoire that I pull from based on equipment availability and how my shoulders are feeling.

Lower body and core

IMG_20180720_065841

When I first started out I only did upper-body workouts. That’s a common newbie mistake as it turns out. Eventually I decided that I needed to incorporate lower-body and core workouts into my routine. At one point about 7 years ago I was really good about doing really solid leg and ab workouts – weighted traveling lunges, squats, you name it.

Then I hurt my back on a squat machine and lower-body days went to hell. For years after that my lower-body and core days turned into core-only days. It’s only been in the last 6 months that I’ve started, again, incorporating focused leg exercises into my routine.

Here are some of my current leg/core exercises:

Again, I don’t do all of these every lower-body / core workout, but some mix of them based on how I’m feeling and what equipment and machines are available.

Functional Fitness

Over the past three months I’ve recently shifted to doing more functional-focused exercises. Before this I was exercising not to improve a given activity, but to build muscle and improve how I looked. Now I’m starting to focus on exercises that help other athletic activities that I do, in this case partner acrobatics.

Basing in partner acrobatics requires really good grip strength so I’ve started focusing on exercises to strengthen my grip, like hammer curlsbarbell suitcase iso-hold, and loaded hang iso-hold. Overhead moves like elevators focus on shoulder strength and stabilization, so I introduced the push press into my upper-body days. And many of the moves, like pitching, really engage your quads and gluts so squats have gotten a renewed focus.

Cardio

IMG_20180815_063931

When I started out, cardio at the gym was mostly elliptical or the rowing machine. In 2004 my friends convinced me to do the Austin Distance Challenge (ADC) with them. The ADC is a collection of progressively longer races leading up to a marathon at the end. I’d never run before so this was a whole new experience for me. I did complete the ADC that year, including the Motorola Marathon in Austin! Since then my cardio has all focused around running.

On Wednesdays at the gym I do a quick 30-minute run and on the weekends I go out running for an hour or more with friends.

For a while I was doing a fair amount of half-marathon distance running. That much cardio isn’t necessarily great for building muscle so I’ve eased back on that and doing more high-intensity, shorter-distance runs.

Areas for improvement

As attention-detailed as I am, it’s almost embarrassing to admit that I don’t keep track of how much weight I’ve lifted and what exercise I do when. I go to the gym and I lift weights that I remember being as heavy or heavier than what I lifted before. I lift to exhaustion and then focus on a different muscle group.

I am certain that I could get a better, more focused workout if I kept better tabs on my exercise progress and weights. But I’ll be honest: I’m lazy. I hate carrying around a phone or paper to track my progress throughout the gym. Not having a phone also means that I don’t get distracted and stay focused on working out, not texting or checking Facebook.

I also suck at flexibility exercises, which are going to be critical to keep making progress in partner acrobatics. I hate stretching but I need to start solidly incorporating that into my workout.

Next post: Food and supplements

Machines, dumbbells, and barbells oh my!

[This post is one in a series about my fitness journey. Consider starting at the beginning.]

When I started working out at a gym in 2000 I knew literally nothing about lifting weights. I remember spending most mornings at the gym on the elliptical or treadmills because at least I knew how those worked. The gym’s cardio equipment was in the same large open area as the free weights and the machines so while on the treadmill I could see other people using the machines. Eventually I got up the courage to go check out some of the machines and even later the free weights.

Weight machines

Turns out that starting strength training using the machines was a pretty decent idea for me. In general machines have diagrams that outline what muscles they exercise and how to make the movements. Most of them are isolation exercises – they focus on a specific set of muscles by restricting the range of motion. It doesn’t mean you can’t hurt yourself on a machine (the worst I’ve ever hurt myself at the gym was over a decade later using a squat machine) but there are fewer things that can go wrong compared to using free weights.

At that time in my life I was obsessed with improving my chest. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent on the bench press and butterfly press machines. Eventually I probably tried every machine in the gym that exercised the upper-body. That was long enough ago that I don’t remember my actual exercise routine, but I distinctly remember starting with machines because I felt they were easier.

At some point I also incorporated cable machines into my workouts. These seemed like a nice middle-ground between machines and free weights because they had a greater range of motion than machines but less than free weights.

Free weights

20170612_064639
Dumbbell incline butterfly press – June 2017

Eventually I eased my way into free weights thanks to diagrams in Men’s Fitness. I was a regular subscriber to Men’s Fitness (for the articles, not the super hot men, I swear) desperately searching for the secret to putting some muscle mass on my skinny frame. I found it useful to watch people (usually men) do some exercise with free weights and then find that exercise in a magazine to explain it. That way I had a real-life example of someone doing the exercise and a reference for what muscles it was exercising.

Early on when using free weights I tried using the barbell bench for bench presses. Without a spotter. After almost hurting myself and yet being embarrassed to ask anyone to spot me I’ve very seldom used the barbell bench since. Almost all of my upper-body workouts involve some combination of dumbbells and cable machines, not barbells. I’ve slowly started to introduce barbells on the squat rack into my lower-body workouts, but that’s the extent of it.

Gym etiquette

Moving from machines to free weights is more than just knowing what exercises to do, it also involves learning some unwritten gym etiquette and picking up on social clues. With machines, if no one is on it you can go use it until you are done. The machine is in one place and doesn’t move, so you don’t have to worry about being in someone else’s way.

With free weights you are now mobile. You could pick up a pair of dumbbells from the rack and use them right there to do dumbbell curls. And you would be an asshole because you are now likely blocking access to the other dumbbells on the rack. Instead, you want to move out of people’s way and use an available bench or other floor space.

It’s also more common for people using free weights to do supersets. That’s where you do two different exercises back to back, usually on opposing muscle groups. This often involves needing two different sets of free weights or possibly two different pieces of equipment. But the hitch is that you don’t have the gym to yourself, you have to share it with other people. So hogging 4 different pairs of dumbbells so you can do 4 supersets just makes you rude, not efficient.

No one tells you this stuff like this, it’s something you either pick up from watching others or you are That Person that everyone hates and secretly wishes would stop showing up.

Personal trainers

Most of what I’ve learned about working out I learned from watching other people at the gym or reading about it. However, I’ve had two personal trainers over the years that were really useful. The first personal trainer I ever used was my brother Kelly. He has a kinesiology degree and was doing personal training full-time and he helped me get more comfortable with various free weights.

Last year after reaching a plateau and getting bored with my workouts I began using a personal training at my gym. I spent three months with Steve as he showed me some different exercises that freshened up my workout and focused on weak points of my routine.

Getting started with a buddy

Looking back now I recall how scary it was for me getting started at the gym. Something that I think would have made it easier for me was to go with a knowledgeable friend at the beginning. I’m not someone who enjoys working out with other people — the gym time is some rare alone time in my day — but having someone who could introduce me to various exercises and proper form when using free weights would have given me a leg up on my journey.

Next post: My workout routine

Finding a gym and making time

[This post is one in a series about my fitness journey. Consider starting at the beginning.]

For the past 18 years I’ve worked out at the gym closest to my house 5 days a week at around 5:30a in the morning. Why? Because if the gym isn’t convenient I won’t go and consistency is vital for results.

Finding a gym

The first gym I ever joined was chosen solely because it was convenient. I was working at IBM in Austin and living in an apartment just 1.5 miles away. There was a 24 Hour Fitness between the two so that’s the one I choose. Having never used a gym before and having no clue how one should judge them, that was the only criteria I had to go by.

Indeed that’s been almost my sole criteria when looking for a gym wherever I’ve moved: it has to be convenient. I don’t care if this is close to my work or close to home, but I know me and if it isn’t convenient I won’t make it there. This isn’t surprising because we humans are lazy and it doesn’t take much friction to find excuses to not go workout.

Another important thing about me is that I hate crowds of people. I doubly hate showing my ignorance in front of people. So fitness-n00b me with zero experience with any of the machines or how to use any of the free weights wanted to be there at the least crowded time. I even remember asking the person who signed me up at the 24 Hour Fitness what was their slowest time of the day. He said it was at when they opened at some ungodly hour of the morning.

Making time

I don’t remember being a morning person growing up, but it’s interesting what motivates people. Wanting to look better but not look like an idiot in front of others while doing it was enough for me as I began working out every morning around 6a before getting to work at 7:30a. That has continued pretty consistently for the past 18 years.

IMG_20180813_065550
Back from the gym – August 2018

Every morning I get up around 5a to go work out at the gym, come home, get cleaned up, spend time with Daniel, and go into work. I’ve tried working out after work but I’ve discovered that it’s never convenient — I’m either too brain-dead from the office or I have evening plans that I’d rather do instead.

Waking up at 5a isn’t for everyone, my friends would say that it isn’t for anyone, but finding some time that consistently works for your schedule is paramount to making sure you actually get there day in and day out. At first whatever routine you start is going to be hard. It doesn’t become easy until it becomes a habit integrated into your life. Even then there will be days that it slips by, either because you’re exhausted or you’re sick or you’re depressed or whatever, but it’s important that those are momentary, transient misses.

Note that while I get up at 5a I also go to bed early, around 10p. You can’t make something from nothing — the hour of my day that I spend at the gym has to come at the expense of something else. When I started going to the gym I essentially gave up TV and video games. Carving out an hour of a day every day to get to the gym is going to be the hardest part of an exercise routine for most people.

The biggest advice I have for people wanting to get started working out is to look at how you spend your time every day and figure out where that hour is going to come from. Maybe that’s cutting out an hour of TV, maybe that’s spending an hour less with friends, maybe that’s getting an hour less of sleep per night. Wherever that time comes from in your life, you won’t be successful until you find it and consciously exchange it for workout time.

Next post: Machines, dumbbells, and barbells oh my!

Always a nerd, never a jock

[This post is one in a series about my fitness journey. Consider starting at the beginning.]

I’ve always been a nerd and I will always be a nerd. And growing up a nerd up did not in any way prepare me for my fitness journey. Turns out that you can have muscles even if you don’t start in grade school with the jocks.

Imagine the most quintessential high school nerd stereotype: non-athletic, a loner, avoids all sports, and reads all the time. The only thing I was missing was the taped glasses. In my high school and junior high you had to either be in athletics and play some sport (football, basketball, baseball) or take physical education (PE). Not being a sports person at all, I took PE, taught by coaches who saw those of us in PE as degenerates who couldn’t handle real sports. To cap it all off I grew up in Texas in a very small town where everything revolved around the all-powerful football.

Because of that I’d never stepped foot into any sort of weight room until I went to college. Texas A&M had a brand new and really fantastic student rec center which had volleyball courts, basketball courts, racquetball courts, indoor track, a strength and conditioning room (weight room + cardio equipment), and probably tons more that I never knew about. I remember going into the strength and conditioning room and being overwhelmed with everything in there and not knowing where to start. It didn’t help that I was suffering from some major body-image issues, something that continued until 2016 and still does to some degree. I felt scrawny and ugly compared to all the buff college guys who were working out.

IMG_0747
May 2005

Really it wasn’t until I graduated in 2000 and moved to Austin to work for IBM that I ever entered a gym and didn’t turn around and run. I honestly can’t tell you what motivated me to get a gym membership and start going regularly, but that’s when my fitness journey really started.

Your fitness journey begins where you are, wherever that is. And frankly it’s a journey that lasts a lifetime even as your effort into it over the years ebbs and flows.

Next post: Finding a gym and making time

My fitness journey

Almost two decades ago I started working out at a gym, thus began my fitness journey. In all that time I’ve made a whole lot of progress and have finally landed in a place where I’m ecstatic with how I look.

A friend suggested that I blog about my experience, not because I’m a personal trainer or some fitness guru, but because I’m not — I’m just a nerd who started fumbling his way around a gym.

IMG_20180315_084305
June 2011 to March 2018

Initially I resisted this idea because I have zero professional experience in the subject — my Computer Science degree gives me cred to suggest the best sorting algorithm for your dataset, not the optimal superset for the best shoulder workout.

But then Daniel wisely reminded me that I’m the world’s leading expert on my journey, a story that others might find useful. So after giving it some thought, here we are.

I’m blogging about it not because my path was the best or only one, but to show that it might not look like what you would expect. My hope is that in these posts you find something that resonates and helps you on your own individual journey.

To prevent this blog post from being insanely large, I’ve broken it into smaller posts:

tl;dr, here are my fitness “secrets”:

  • Persistence & habit – making working out an integral part of my daily life & schedule
  • Gym familiarity – being comfortable going to the gym and working out without feeling out-of-place
  • Workout repertoire – having a large selection of workouts that I can do based on how my body is feeling on any given day
  • Avoiding vice calories – not drinking alcohol has made it easier for me to consume fewer hollow calories

If you have questions about my journey drop a comment and let me know!

Tumblr: fracturing communities

One of the biggest problems about Tumblr’s demise is that it will permanently and irreparably fracture the communities that have been built there.

Artists whose content is no longer acceptable on Tumblr (or whose content Tumblr’s bots keep incorrectly identifying as not acceptable, and there are many of them) find themselves with a wide range of other platforms to choose from. And that wide range is a negative, not a positive. Because it doesn’t matter how awesome and welcoming a platform is to a content creator if there isn’t an audience on that platform to consume it.

Sadly, I don’t see that there are any good outcomes. Two weeks isn’t enough time for a critical mass of content creators to rally around a couple of platforms and have their followers follow them there. Instead, content creators will fracture across multiple different platforms, take root, and hope that they aren’t just screaming into the void. Content followers will be forced to create accounts and follow creators across multiple different platforms. And that’s going to be too much work for many people.

It’s generally accepted that the death of Tumblr is inevitable and nigh. It’s sad that they will likely take a large portion of their content creators with them, ironically because there are too many places for the creators to go.

Why I live a semi-public life

I intentionally live a semi-public life. I blog about work and personal things here, post on Facebook (generally locked to friends-of-friends, which is still a pretty wide audience), post shameless selfies on my Instagram, use LinkedIn, and am highly googleable. I do this because I believe living an open life breaks down stereotypes and misconceptions.

Growing up I felt implicit pressure from my family to present the “right” image to the public. It could be summed up by: don’t do or reveal anything that might prevent you from running for office on an evangelical conservative Republican ticket. And yes, that’s fucked up. This contributed to my shame about being gay and other people knowing that I’m gay. It also boxed me into not wanting to publicly admit that I might do or enjoy activities that might not be seen as “traditionally masculine”.

Over time I’ve realized that while we all present some front to the world, presenting one that demonstrates the breadth and depth of our person and character helps break down stereotypes and misconceptions and allows us to find commonalities in our shared humanity. In short, it helps us to relate to each other.

Growing up I mentally divided up the world into nerds and jocks — you were either smart or attractive, but not both. This certainly contributed to some of my body-image issues. Turns out that’s not true! I’ve always identified as a nerd and over time have both made peace with my body and made great strides on my fitness journey (more on that in upcoming blog posts). It’s also one reason why I post shirtless photos on Instagram — to break the stereotype of what a nerd looks like.1

I likely present a “traditionally masculine” appearance. But let’s delve a little deeper. I often blog about my work in the tech industry – ok, that reinforces the stereotype. I think most people would agree that weightlifting and running are masculine activities and I love both of those. What about reading, throwing pottery, and partner acrobatics? I love those too, but we might be stretching classic masculinity for some folks. Ballroom dancing, baking, and sharing recipes? All things I enjoy and might make some dude-bro’s head start to hurt.

I’m not done: advocating for women & social justice, bellydancing, and knitting? All things I actively do or have done, and I suspect at least bellydancing does not rate on anyone’s “traditional masculinity” scale. Oh, and of course I’m gay and an ardent feminist. So am I masculine or not? Does it matter? Maybe the definition of masculine is so horribly broken and constraining that it actively hurts men and we need to break free of it.

My point is that once you start seeing more of a person you start to break down preconceptions about what boxes they fit into. But until we start showing more of ourselves than the label on the boxes, we only serve to perpetuate the problem.

My openness didn’t happen in a day. I slowly started revealing more about who I am and what makes me happy over time. The more I do it the easier it becomes. I still hide some of who I am for fear of being rejected or judged but that becomes less with every passing year. Eventually I will become the embodiment of Betty White, who just doesn’t give a damn about what people think. #lifegoals


1 Also, frankly, it’s because I enjoy the affirmation since I finally like how I look after hating my body for so long.