Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chasing Fitness Part 1 - Overview

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, or any other kind of expert so this is not professional advice - it is merely a record of what I did to lose some weight and gain a modicum of fitness. It worked for me, it might or might not work for you. Be safe, and check with a qualified professional before starting any diet or fitness program.

Back in January my friend Jay started suggesting that I join him on a climbing trip this spring. I was hesitant because Jay is an exceptionally strong climber, and even twelve years ago when I was at my fittest I could not keep up with him. In the time between, Jay has become stronger while I have lost some ground.

In February, Jay finally convinced me to pull the trigger on tickets to Palm Springs, California - Joshua Tree National Park would be the destination for our trip. I suddenly found myself with two months to prepare. A winter of cross-country skiing and coaching peewee hockey had left me with a reasonable cardiovascular base, but standing 6'3" and tipping the scale at 206# my body mass index (BMI) was still on the wrong side of twenty-five. BMI is not perfect, but it was pretty clear I was overweight. I needed to drop weight and get stronger and I needed to do both of them fast.

I had maintained a fairly high activity level throughout the winter, but, if anything, I had gained weight. I decided that if I wanted to lose significant weight, exercise alone was not going to get the job done - I needed to reduce my caloric intake. I used an online calculator to determine a daily caloric limit. I gave it all of my information as well as my goal weight and date - it told me I was too aggressive, but suggested that with moderate activity, roughly 2,000 calories a day would put me close to losing my desired twenty pounds in sixty days. Since my goal was fitness, not just weight loss, I paid heed to the warnings and decided to see how the 2,000 calorie limit worked, adjusting as necessary.

In conjunction with the diet, I knew I would have to do a lot of cardiovascular training, strength training and muscular endurance training. Because it was February 10th, and another month remained in the hockey season; I decided to use my three weekly coaching sessions as the core of my cardiovascular fitness program until the season was over. I supplemented this with a fair amount of low-intensity, long-duration outdoor workouts on cross-country skis or hiking with a pack. On the general strength training side I decided to focus largely on body-weight exercises - push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, etc. - here again, fitness was the goal, not bulk. When hockey ended I turned to running to fill in the gap.

Since I was doing all of this in order to go climbing, I also needed to improve my mental and physical strength specific to climbing. To do this I started a finger-board regimen, and went climbing - a lot. During the hockey season I snuck off as often as possible to Governor Dodge State Park to run solo laps on the shorter, easier ice climbs there. After hockey season, I logged a fair amount of time on the rock, mainly pushing for mileage leading easier routes, but also pushing my difficulty limit on occasion.

A summary of the results:
  • Between February 10th, and April 10th I lost 27.4 pounds (206 to 178.4)
  • I went from scarcely able to do a three pull-ups to doing pull-ups with 40 pounds of added resistance.
  • On March 23, I ran more than ten miles for the first time since college.
  • On April 5th (before my trip), I led (onsight) the hardest sport-climbing route I have led in over a decade.
  • On April 17th (during my trip), I climbed the hardest boulder problem I have climbed in seven years.
In the weeks to come I plan on detailing my diet, cardiovascular, strength and climbing regimens as well as the resources I used for them. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to find something or someone to motivate you, and get started today. The perfect plan does not exist, it will always be a work in progress, but I am willing to bet the couch is not a part of it!
All smiles on a training run at Devil's Lake

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