The SixPack Project

After I successfully cut my waist from around 42.5 inches to 35 inches, I wondered if it would make sense to take this a bit further and push it all the way to having a well-defined torso – commonly known as a six-pack.

In the past year, I’ve dropped a fair bit of weight and a pretty serious amount of body fat, and I think that with a little more self-control, I’ll be able to drop the rest too. So here are the mission parameters:

Objective: Six Pack Abs

Deadline: 4 Calendar Months, July 25, 2012

Key Performance Indicators: Visual Data (obviously), body fat percentage <10%.

Metrics: Daily body fat readings and 5-day moving average.

How am I going to accomplish this?

1) Diet:

I have realised that diet is going to be 90% of this. I will be cutting all empty calories like fast food, desserts, alcohol, etc, until I come down to the body-fat levels required for this to happen. I will be sticking to mainly natural and unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables for calories and nutrients. My protein requirements will come from eggs, fish, and cheese. I have found plain yoghurt to be a very healthy way to feel full without consuming too many calories. I’ll be sticking with my favourite – Nestle A+ available here in India.

2) Exercise:

Not being a fan of the health-club culture, I am going to be using a combination of Kettlebells and bodyweight exercises to get a workout. This gives me the ability to mix and match components of workouts. The only equipment I have is a canvas punching bag, 8Kg and 16Kg kettlebells, and a pull-up rack.

My most important tool here is my Gymboss interval timer. I use it to time intervals on my kettlebell workouts and also the ’rounds’ for my boxing workout.

I’ll soon be sharing my data logs in another post on here.

My diet is loosely based on ‘Turbocharged’ by Dian and Tom Greisel http://turbocharged.us.com/

Gymboss interval timers are an awesome workout tool, and can be bought online from http://www.gymboss.com/. Shipping is very fast, even to a country like India. I have bought several of these without any issues. Because of the loud alarm, they’re great help in the kitchen, and often remind me of something that I’ve left on the fire!

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Getting Some ‘Me’ Time

Despite being single and having limited social commitments during the week, I have often found it dififcult to find time to exercise, write, or do my daily mindfulness meditations.  I work precise hours, and am usually home at exactly the same time, except if I have taken a detour to the supermarket  or the nearby fresh food market.

A few days ago, I did something different. As soon as I got home, I switched off my cellphone and deactivated the WiFi on my laptop.

Bliss.

I did a 40 minute kettlebell workout, and a 15 minute heavy bag workout, the chocolate meditation from mindfulness and then another 20 minute mindfulness session. I also read a few chapters of ‘The Hiram Key’, and tucked in to bed on schedule.

The next day, I did something similar. Only, instead of switching off my phone, I put it on silent mode. After I accomplished what I wanted to, I spent 15 minutes returning the calls and messages that I had missed, and another 10 minutes on the net, responding to email and Facebook messages. The urgency of getting to bed cut short any impulses to linger online for a while.

Here’s my theory:

Progress or achievement are driven by action, but lots of the activities that we occupy our time with are passive.

TV, Facebook, aimless web surfing, video games, etc, are actually time vampires that add little value to our lives for the time that they consume.

Now Don’t get me wrong – I think Facebook is an amazing way to stay in touch, and I really enjoy watching a nice movie – I also check www.cracked.com everytime I need a laugh. However, don’t most people feel that they spend far more time online than they should?

I can imagine that if you have greater responsibilites like multiple jobs and kids, you might find it harder to make time, but you can start with finding your time vampires. Dealing with them will help you find the ‘me’ time.

The Eat-Exercise Cycle

In my 7-year struggle with my weight, I have used all kinds of methods to try to drop the flab – running, weight training, interval training, HIIT, and kettlebells. The only method that gave me sustainable results was a combination of diet and exercise.

For example, a 30 minute interval running session burns about 300 calories. One snickers bar though, has about 270 calories. So do a number of fitness enthusiasts live in a diet/exercise cycle where they consume, and then have to exercise to get rid of the excess calories? And if their activity ceases, would they gain weight rapidly? I think so – in fact, that’s my story! Plagued with a chronic spinal ailment, I’d find my weight shoot up every time I had to stop exercising because my back was acting up.

So really, a low-calorie diet like Turbocharged may be the best way to maintain optimal weight when one has a sedentary lifestyle, n’est-ce pas?

I think so. Vigourous exercise has other costs to the body – mainly in wear and tear. Now exercise is important for optimal health and function, I would never dispute that, but how much is too much? Lots of people who I know have been training for many years have a number of injuries. Body builders generally have mucked up shoulders and backs, marathon runners have their knee and heel problems, and sportsmen usually have a list of complaints typical to their sport.

For people stuck in this diet/exercise cycle, it might make sense to actually break out of it by cutting back on calorie intake. Remember, fitness is not just about weight or medical indicators, it is also about ability and being injury free.

So break out of that Eat-Exercise cycle. It’ll do you good!

Exercise And Depression

Modern medicine seems to have moved away from a ‘cure’ approach to a ‘disease management’ approach. What else would explain the increasing number of people on perpetual medication for hypertension, heart disease, depression, pain, and a host of other problems.

Especially with emotional and psychological issues, what in the yesteryear was simply called melancholia has now been branched into several forms of ‘depression’, each treated with drugs that have frightening side effects. As tolerance to these drugs builds, more are added on, as are other meds to control the side-effects of the main ones. More worrying now, is the trend in certain countries where drug companies are allowed to market potent prescription medication directly to consumers!

At least for depression, we now have a number of studies that show how moderate exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle can deal with most of its effects. The Duke University study on exercise and depression is one that I love to quote.

http://today.duke.edu/2000/09/exercise922.html

“After demonstrating that 30 minutes of brisk exercise three times a week is just as effective as drug therapy in relieving the symptoms of major depression in the short-term, medical center researchers have now shown that continued exercise greatly reduces the chances of the depression returning.

Last year, the Duke researchers reported on their study of 156 older patients diagnosed with major depression which, to their surprise, found that after 16 weeks, patients who exercised showed statistically significant and comparable improvement relative to those who took anti-depression medication, or those who took the medication and exercised.”

This article dates to 2000. What really concerns me is that in the years since, the number of antidepressants available in the market has exploded, and what’s more, they’re now being prescribed to children!

Could it be, that with increasingly sedentary lifestyles and diminishing face to face contact, our minds are not receiving the kind of social and (natural) chemical stimuli needed for happiness?

Could it be that the guy who spends his time playing video games instead of field/court sports and interacting on Facebook instead of inviting friends for dinner or hosting a cocktail party is actually setting himself up for depression or aggravating his existing loneliness and melancholia?

Coming back to exercise and depression – is it that hard to fit an hour and a half of exercise into a week? Lets see if there are options that can help fitness AND improve social contact.

1) Aerobics Classes: Old School, but works, you get a decent workout and have the opportunity to interact with other people in a class – a good opportunity to make new friends. Also consider the new avatar, Zumba.

2) Dance Classes: Find something vigourous with the potential for social dancing, like  Salsa, Bachata, or the Tango. Many other vigourous dance forms like Jive, and Lindy Hop are enjoying a resurgence too and are a fun way to be active and social. With the emphasis on posture and form in most dances, you will look better and more graceful.

3) Join the neighbourhood soccer game (India): All over the country, young men congregate in open spaces to play soccer or volleyball every now and then. Apart from an intense workout, you’ll also enjoy the camaraderie and will forge new friendships.

4) Martial Arts Classes: Most martial arts are very intense, and apart from strength and stamina, also build balance, reflexes, and co-ordination. They’re also a tremendous way to build self-confidence. Choose something like Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or Krav Maga. Make sure though, that your instructor is not mean, and lessons don’t involve humiliation and/or brutality. (disclosure: the author is associated with the International Krav Maga Association in India)

5) Join a running/cycling club: These two forms of fitness are really exploding in popularity. Again, this provides a good opportunity for fitness and mingling. Often, the veterans go out of their way to ensure that you’re comfortable and help a lot with equipment and training choices. Running has to be the cheapest fitness activity out there. If you join the barefoot movement, you don’t even need a pair of shoes!

These are just a handful of options that any city-dweller can use to improve their mental health and aim for a healthier lifestyle.

Data Data Data!

I fumbled with my belt for a few seconds before noticing that the buckle had slid about an inch and a half beyond the last hole. WTF? This didn’t seem right. My weight hadn’t changed in several weeks. I turned to the mirror and realised that slim fit jeans that I had bought just a few months ago had become loose at the waist and thighs.

Wow.

With my weight static at 86 Kg for several weeks, I had begun to lose hope in my exercise regimen Waking up at 3.45 AM to work out with kettlebells before going to work at 6 AM didn’t seem to be paying off. This, however, was a surprise. I tried on several pairs of jeans and trousers, and they all told the same tale. I had lost atleast two inches off my waist.

I stripped down to my boxers and stood in front of the mirror – my shoulders looked bigger and arms firmer; my torso definitely looked more defined.

That was it, my workout was working! While I was getting results, the weight scale was misleading. I needed more data!

After that, I started tracking my progress in waist reduction. I got a tape measure and tracked my waist from 42.5 inches in March 2011 to 35.0 in Feb 2012. Over this period, my weight dropped a meagre 6 Kg. When my waist got stuck at 37 inches, I started tracking body-fat percentage, and saw a drop from 27% to 24%, and is now 22% at 35 inches.

I think lots of people who diet and exercise are easily disillusioned because they fail to see progress. To this, I just say data, data data!

If you are embarking on a fitness regimen, take ‘before’ pictures. get a tape measure and take waist and hip measurements to track inch loss. Here are some pointers on measuring.

1) Take all measurements at the same time of the day/week.

I take all my measurements on Friday morning, because it is farthest from any excesses that I may have committed over the weekend.

2) Use the same scale:

Use the same weight scale/tape measure always. Weight scales may have a significant error, and ones in public places may be even more so. Using the same scale will ensure that you can track your progress relative to it.

3) Body Fat Monitors:

If you’re using an electronic Body Fat Monitor, make sure you’re well hydrated before taking your reading. Tim Ferriss, in his book ‘The Four Hour Body’ (http://fourhourbody.com/) lays out a protocol that has worked very well for me so far – I drink a large amount of water, and take my reading soon after I urinate.

4) Review Your Data:

Review your data frequently, and make notes. Keep track of vacations, binges, diet changes, illness, or anything that changes over time. Sometimes, in reviewing this data, you will find patterns that you least expect!

High Intensity Workout For Busy People

Everybody has an excuse for not working out and being busy is one of the most popular.

Let me shoot that down today with a quick and demanding workout that will help you build stamina and power at the same time.

Warm-up: 100 Jumping Jacks (~2 min)

10 pushups, 10 prisoner squats, 10 crunches (note: no rest between sets)

9 pushups, 9 prisoner squats, 9 crunches

8…

7…

and so on till you do one of each. (~8 minutes)

Cool down: 50 jumping jacks and various stretches (~5 minutes)

You end up doing a total of 55 reps of each exercise and will get a hell of a cardio workout too. The best part is, you need no equipment!

Make this workout more challenging by adding plyo push-ups and squats or increasing the starting point to 12 or even 15.

Sticking To A Diet

A major part of the weight loss that I have accomplished comes from streamlining my diet. As a rather social person with a passion for food, this poses problems. Here are a few ideas that worked for me.

1) Switch from Glutton to Foodie

Most people who call themselves ‘foodies’ are barely so. In my opinion, (and yes, I have been guilty of this) they’re just trying to cloak their gluttony in a veil of respectability. As a ‘foodie’, instead of stuffing your face, try to enjoy food for its presentation, aroma, taste and texture. Take your time over a small serving and truly enjoy it.

2) Social Calories vs Diet Calories

Having to stick to a serious diet while dining out a few times a week is difficult. A drastic change in diet can make even long time companions uncomfortable and could ultimately alienate them. So while my diet generally was quite austere, consisting mostly of fruits and minimally processed stuff (diet calories) inspired in part by Dian and Tom Greisel’s ‘Turbocharged’, on evenings out, I wouldn’t sweat the odd bite of dessert or pint of beer (social calories).

3) Watch your alcohol

I love my weekend tipple. There is nothing better I like to do on a Friday night than settle down with a beer and a nice movie. Unfortunately, with my tendency to occasionally go overboard, this Friday activity has often set the scene for overeating all weekend. On weekends that I have abstained, my hunger levels, and indeed calorie intake, has been much lesser than ones where I have been drinking. This has led me to believe that perhaps the no.1 enemy of your healthy diet is alcohol.

I have moved all my alcohol intake to social calories now, and am trying very hard to stick by it. Indeed, the results are obvious almost immediately.

4) Get back on the wagon

It is very likely that in the first few weeks you will slip up a number of times. The important thing here is not to feel guilty and ‘get back on the diet from tomorrow’ – you’re just extending the damage. Once you’ve realised it, stop immediately and get back on the diet from the very next meal. Indeed you’re not defeated by the number of times you fall, but by failing to get up!

Resources:

These are some of the books that I found very useful in managing my diet:

1) Turbocharged by Dian and Tom Greisel http://turbocharged.us.com/

2) French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano http://mireilleguiliano.com/section/sub/14