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Hard To Kill
Staying in shape after age 50.
OK. Have you ever seen a marine? Do they look buff to you? They don’t to me. But I know they can hump a 40 pound ruck for 20 clicks any day of the week. That is my model. I’m going to tell you where I’m coming from and I think it’s important to understand my mindset. But you can skip down to the ‘Formula’ if you like.
Here’s what I did wrong. I looked good in a suit, and I spend 20 years as a consultant traveling on the road and a fat expense account. And one day I got into a weight loss contest with some of my associates. I realized at the age of 48 that all I thought to do was eat salad and maybe swim some laps. I could remember being 30 years old playing 4 hours of beach volleyball at a stretch and cycling 50 miles a week. Every week. I can remember buying size 31 slacks and weighing 170 forever. Then I woke up one day and realized I had become a heavyweight. It freaked me out that I weighed more than Mohammad Ali.
There were a string of lies that I kept telling myself like “Oh it’s just my wife’s cooking.” Or “If I just have lemonade instead of a Coke.” or “All I need is to play a little more volleyball and I’ll get my breath back.” Soon I found that the old man volleyball league we used to have started falling apart. Somebody’s elbow. Somebody’s shoulders. My knee. I had to face reality. I wasn’t pushing myself. But I didn’t have a reason.
I looked up and I was 53 and somewhere around 220 at 5′10″. I took my son to the Long Beach Grand Prix and I was pointing him to the USMC display. They would give you a free football if you could do 5 chinups. The bar was sitting right there. They dared you. I watched a bunch of kids fail. I had this gut feeling I could do at least 3 no problem. I did 1 and a half. I tried a reverse grip. One. Shit! I came to a stunning realization.
I am a success in life in just about every way. You can’t motivate me. I don’t need your motivation. But if I stay at this low level of fitness, it’s going to take more and more motivation to get me to do anything. I need to get to my retirement weight before I’m too old to care.
So I straight out looked at what it would take to get me to pass the Armed Forces fitness test for my age. That was my goal. It was about putting my health central in my life - something I had always taken for granted.
So I did circuit training. I did it without really changing my diet. I did 3 tough 1 hour sessions a week. Got up at 5:00 AM and worked out with people in their 30s, men and women. Kicked my ass. I was in pain every day. I could not run 300 yards without gassing. Every session was a different torture. Here’s a sample.
It took me about 9 months to get to 200. I lost two bowling balls of lard I had been carrying around on my body and in my mind. But now I could stretch, I could run (with my knee brace), I could do 10 burpees any time. I could box jump 30 inches. I could do 40 different exercises and go go go. I was motivated not to lose and to contribute to the esprit de corps of all of the people in the gym, with its awful dance music. I was a beast on the battle ropes. I was horrible at V-ups. But when I first started I couldn’t do 30 seconds of mountain climbers.
I have had my ups and downs. That gym was very expensive. But I got to the point where I had the discipline. But still, I didn’t seriously count calories. My schedule changed and I couldn’t go any longer. Within 3 months I was sloppy again. I then joined Taekwondo, learned some dances, some Korean, some Hapkido. I was the oldest student by far. I have had the experience of sitting for my yellow belt with 12 year old kids.
It’s all about being absolutely committed to your health as a priority.
You can’t do that if you think you’re going to be some kind of P90 sex machine or reincarnation of Daniel Craig. Not if you work full time. If you could do 20 hours of workouts per week and have a chef prepare all your meals, yeah you could do that in 6 months. But you have to do it all yourself. You can’t depend on the gym, you can’t depend on your wife to cook your meals. You can’t depend on other people at all. You need to do it for your own vanity. You need to be hard to kill.
I quit TKD when my schedule changed again. I went back to my old gym and fell back into the good pattern. I figured I had the discipline down. So I quit the expensive old gym and joined UFC Gym, saving myself a lot of money. I did a 30 to 45 minute routine of my favorite exercises. It worked, but I was solo. I could quit whenever I felt like it. I pushed myself to the pain, but rarely deeply beyond it. I was getting the feeling I could do it all on my own. A big part of my routine was running in the early morning around a park that had pull up bars and a 300 yard dirt track. I did one good 100 yard sprint and three pullups for 4–6 laps. That worked.
Still all this time I had not yet made the acceptable level for the Navy fitness requirements, somewhere around a 17 minute pace for a mile and a half. Where I am now, I struggle to do anything under 11 minutes for a mile. (But I haven’t really pushed myself since the quarantine). Still I raised my VOmax to the high 30s.
I moved and so I had quit UFC. And then some other difficulties got me out of the zone. And then things went really downhill financially for me, as well as other trouble. So I soon discovered how I would eat and drink my way to coping. When I could afford it again, I joined another gym with a HIIT program. So I did the exercise, I started counting every goddamed calorie. I got an app called LoseIt! Highly recommended. I had used it maybe a little bit 5 years ago but not much.
So this time it was seriously all about BOTH DIET AND EXERCISE. I found that I could get away losing weight with one or the other. Psychological you know. But now my doctor told me at the beginning of the year that I was diabetic. Holy creampuffs Batman! I became doubly serious and humble. Starting at a wobbly 217. I got with the program.
The Success Formula
30 minute HIIT every other day.
8 hour intermittent fasting. (no breakfast).
In four months, I lost 22 pounds. I used to be a 36 waist. Now all of those pants sag and I’m comfortable at 195 wearing 34s. Since quarantine, I’ve wobbled around 194 but had gotten down to 192. My aim is still to get down to 185. So I’ve got a long way to go. I’m doing at least 200 calories of walking / jogging every day. So I can do easy 17 minute miles and wrap that up in 30 minutes, but it’s a very lightweight workout.
As soon as I got under 200, magic started happening. It was diet that made the difference. I knocked 2 points off my A1C. I dropped my average blood sugar from about 130 to about 110. I got my average resting heart rate down under 75, and I can workout at 135 for a good 10 minutes straight rest for 2 and get back at it again.
My blood pressure is down. My flexibility is up. My endurance is good, but could be better.
A couple years ago I did a GoRuck Light Challenge. I really had no idea what I was getting into. I honestly expected to just be hiking along the beach with a 20 pound backpack. Nope. Dude I was in the water. It’s not the hardest thing I ever did, but it took me to my absolute limit faster than anything I ever did. 3 hours into this 4 1/2 hour ordeal I was done. If I had known, I wouldn’t have done it. But life throws not only curveballs but spitballs and shitballs. My aim is to be hard to kill. The good news is that the GoRuck video is much more honest now than it was in 2017.
All this can be done without injury. I stay away from exercise machines. It’s all about doing full movement of my body, building endurance. Not looking buff. But yeah I tuck in my shirts now.
I still can’t pass the Navy standard, but I’m getting closer. I want to really ramp up my flexibility. Strength is not an issue. Endurance is an issue.
Fit and healthy is not enough. It’s about doing what it takes to beat heart disease if it comes to that. To beat diabetes. To beat stroke if it comes to that. To beat cancer if it comes to that. I refuse to be frail, and I’m doing something about it every day. I’m 59 this year. I hope to master the longboard, and pass that fitness test.
Get after it.