Tag Archives: body fat

ON BEING (BIG) ENOUGH

The idea of getting “too big” is probably pretty hilarious to most male gym rats. Growth is the goal, always the goal, sometimes defined in inches or pounds but always striving toward bigger. Strength is an accessory to the fact. Cutting fat, an addendum, often remembered last minute before spring break after months of eating in excess. Most men, at least, recognize that putting on mass takes a tremendous amount of effort and focus. Very rarely does it happen by accident. Imagine: the skinniest dude you know goes to the gym a few times and wakes up one morning to find himself suddenly, inexplicably massive. “I didn’t want to get huge,” he’d lament, reaching a veined, bulging forearm into the microwave to retrieve his taquitos. “But my buddy made me do leg day once and now none of my pants fit my thighs.” A tragedy.

The opposite is true for women. It took two decades of myth deconstruction, especially after the heroin-chic look of the 90s, to get a casual female gym-goer to approach the weight room. Why did it take us so long to figure out that showing muscle tone requires muscle mass? (Probably because of folks like Tracy Anderson espousing that women should lift no more than 3-pound weights.*) Now, in 2015, a lean, athletic appearance is in vogue. Women throwing around some serious weight at the gym – once an oddity, later a “cool girl, one-of-the-guys” quality – is, wonderfully, from my experience, a regularity. Lady lifters tend to enjoy better health and self-esteem. Guys be like, dat squat booty. Everyone’s happy.

So what happens when you do get big enough?

When I started exercising, I didn’t have a particular aesthetic goal in mind. I figured I might like myself better if I cut back on mac and cheese and World of Warcraft and made myself sweat a few times per week, I guess? So discovering and actually enjoying weight lifting was a happy accident. I was extremely uncomfortable at first, especially sharing the weight room with, you know, the real athletes at my school, but time and research made things feel more and more natural. Soon I was strutting in there with my head held high. I wasn’t strong or fast but I was committed, and if gym rats respect anything, it’s persistence. Hitting a new PR made me feel invincible, unstoppable. “I never thought I could lift that,” I’d think, “but I did it. So what else have I been telling myself that I can’t do?” And, in time, I also bought in to the indefinite-growth, gains-for-gains’-sake mentality; with hard work, I would keep getting stronger, to infinity and beyond. Appearance and body weight were irrelevant, as long as my lifts were going up.

Ship life changed that. Maintaining a serious gym schedule underway can be a challenge. Slowly, over the course of a year, lifting sank lower and lower on my list of priorities. Gym time itself often felt like a luxury; I was happy just to jump on whatever equipment was immediately available and get out in less than an hour. I gained a few pounds – nothing too noticeable, nothing to feel bad about – and also a bit of complacency, which was worse than the extra body fat.

And then I started running.

Running, for the record, is the worst. Every step is pain, each mile an exploration into new and exciting dimensions of torture. Thighs slapping together, chafing. Gasping, lungs aching – am I voluntarily trying to suffocate myself? My glasses slide down my face and sweat rolls into my eyes, my mouth, and my shirt lands with a wet plop on the floor before I hobble into the shower. So I’m not a fan. Or, at least, I wasn’t. I ran underway more or less out of necessity, since, with limited resources, it’s the simplest and most accessible form of exercise. At some point this year, though, something changed. I was running more often than I was lifting. I stopped dreading cardio. Sometimes, I even looked forward to a run, particularly those on the main deck in view of the setting sun. For a once-devout disciple of the iron, this was a terrifying development. So much of my identity, I thought, had centered around my strength and my gainz. Lifting, at one time, had made me different, made people respect me, admire me, my PRs, my ass, and – wait, who was I doing this for again?

Maybe scaling back on the weights wouldn’t be the end of the world. Maybe running – becoming one of “those people” – wouldn’t prompt an identity crisis. Maybe athleticism falls across a broad spectrum and isn’t limited to brute strength – shocking, I know. These were new perspectives, ones I had only considered theoretically, detached from myself and my goals. I remember trying on new swimsuits recently – strapless bandeau tops, perfect for correcting those crew-neck tan-lines – and observing my body as though for the first time. My lats and chest and shoulders exploded out of the top of the suit. I looked ridiculous, somehow big and small at the same time. But I was also bursting with pride. This mass is me, all me, all mine. I made this. This is physical, visual evidence of years of hard work and commitment, of trying and failing, of stepping outside of my comfort zone and pushing myself past my limits. I am, in fact, “big enough” – strong enough, fast enough, good enough.

You’ll see me by the pool in those swimsuits. You’ll still see me in the gym, too, and running around base. It’s okay to let your priorities change. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one goal for the sake of another. “Good enough” is not an appeal for mediocrity or complacence. It’s not a rallying cry to abandon your goals. But it’s not quitting or failure, either. It’s a realistic assessment of your accomplishments and recognition of  your achievements. It’s about self-acceptance and pride in self-creation. Most of all, it’s about allowing yourself to experience the peace that comes from completion. And it’s nice to move on.

* In a spectacular demonstration of thoughtlessness, Gwenyth says in this very same video that the arm she uses to carry her 30-pound son is less flabby than the other.

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20-WEEK NOTICE

Briefly, for the uninitiated: the Navy has semi-annual fitness assessments (PRT). Every six months, we weigh in and do a fitness test consisting of sit-ups, push-ups, and cardio. Those who fail either the body composition (BCA) or physical aptitude (PFA) assessments are assigned to a remedial fitness program (FEP) until the next PRT. If a member fails the PRT three times within four years, he or she gets separated from the Navy. Command fitness leaders (CFL) oversee PRTs twice a year and FEP in between. When the start of the next PRT cycle is ten weeks away, the command issues a 10-week notice which is essentially a schedule of events. 10 weeks is usually when people start caring about the PRT again (trying to cut weight, practicing push-ups, etc).

Guess what? If we start the next cycle in April, we’re as close as 20 weeks away from the next PRT. If you’re in FEP, or if you barely squeezed by this year and want to stay out of FEP next year, the time to start caring about the PRT is now! Right now!

Make a few small changes, stay consistent, and you won’t have to worry about stomach wraps, hours in the sauna, and starvation in 10 weeks. You won’t injure yourself trying to do too much physical activity in too little time in preparation for the PFA.

So let’s get started today! Here are some lifestyle changes that, if you begin now, will make your life much easier in the spring. It’s time to get our minds right and commit to the challenge ahead of us.

KNOW YOUR WEAKNESS

Food is my weakness. Each and every time I sit down to eat, or walk past the desserts, or get invited to go out, I have to recommit to my goals. Left to my own devices, I will gain weight in the blink of an eye from sugar, alcohol, and carbs.

If you’re a BCA failure, you have to dial in your diet. It’s not fun or glamorous but there is absolutely no way around it. No amount of exercise will redeem you if you’re not eating right.

If you’re a PFA failure, start small and slowly build up your physical capabilities. Here is a program for running. Here is a program for push-ups. Here is a program for sit-ups. Not a single one of them says, “Week 1: wake up and run five miles without breaking a sweat.” It takes time, and right now, you have time. Make the best of it.

STOP DRINKING CALORIES

Do you know how many calories are in a Starbucks coffee? The store here on base has a calorie chart right next to the cashier. When I saw that the small-sized coffee I ordered was almost 500 calories, I nearly threw it away. I could eat four apples for that many calories, and I’d probably have more energy from them, too.

The elimination of sugary drinks – energy drinks, dessert-coffees, sodas – from your diet could easily help you drop weight. In fact, if you’re trying to cut weight, there is no reason at all to be drinking your calories, especially not on a daily basis. Make that Starbucks coffee a special treat and drink regular coffee during the week instead. If you hit the chu-hi stand more than once a week, scale it back to a few times a month instead. Try getting a full night’s sleep instead of relying on energy drinks.

PLAN MEALS IN ADVANCE

Yeah, it sucks to eat a meal you brought from home when everyone else in your shop is eating stuffed-crust pizza, but it sucks to get kicked out of the Navy, too. McDonald’s and Subway are convenient and plausibly even delicious but planning meals out in advance removes the need for a quick, easy solution to hunger, one which brings you farther away from your body composition or fitness goals.

Have a plan beforehand and stick to it, so when the temptation arises to do what everyone else is doing, you’ll have something else to fall back on. Eat at the galley, which is both healthy and cheap. Bring a lunchbox of leftovers to work. Fill your fridge with leans meats, fruits, and veggies. Be uncool; own it. Get out of FEP. Have a killer body and zero regrets.

EXERCISE DAILY

Find something you enjoy, or at least can tolerate, and do it as often as possible. This doesn’t mean super high intensity for hours and hours. 20 or 30 minutes of exercise – sweating, heavy breathing, accelerated heart rate – is all it takes. You might not realize it right away, but a little bit of effort every day pays off in the long run. Push yourself and be patient.

If you failed the run, you gotta run more. If you failed sit-ups or push-ups, you gotta practice those. If those are things you hate, you don’t have to do them every day – we’ll do a lot of that in FEP. But try to get away from the mindset that exercise is an unpleasant chore. Navy exercise is not all exercise. In your own time, do what works for you.

Sweat it out. Hydrate. Eat good food. Rest. In 20 weeks, FEP will be in your rearview. And, if you stick to good habits during the whole year, you won’t have to worry about the BCA or PFA ever again.

If you need more specific advice or someone to keep you accountable, I’m here for you. Message me, talk to me at work or at FEP, leave a comment. Whatever it is that you need to do, I want you to succeed!

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NAVY BCA

Image courtesy of Military Times

Today, I weighed in at 147lbs, more than ten pounds under the maximum for my height. Out of curiosity (and to make a point), I asked to get taped as well. Here are my measurements:

Neck: 12 inches
Waist: 30 inches
Hips: 39 inches

Throw those numbers into the BCA Formula of Mysteries and I’m over 30% body fat.

I am, of course, not 30% body fat. I know what I look like at 30%+ body fat. Because of the female circumference measurement formula, however, if I don’t stay under my weight max – if I gain more than a single inch on my waist or hips – I will fail the BCA and go from a Command Fitness Leader to the Navy’s fitness remediation program.

(To note: if I use my neck measurement and the average between my waist and hips with the male formula, the result is much closer to what I actually am – around 25%.)

As an ACFL, it might be hypocritical of me to say so, but I think most of the Navy’s policies on health and fitness are heavy-handed and inconsistent. Body composition does not determine fitness and vice-versa. If the Navy was truly concerned for the health of its members, it would ban smoking on ships, provide healthier meal choices, and drastically alter regulation command fitness. Taping is one of many unreasonable Navy “solutions,” particularly the female BCA formula. I can’t depend on it to redeem me; even someone like me has to stay under her weight limit or she will be too fat for the Navy.

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