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Which road?

Often our lives, especially weight loss, are compared to a journey.  Many of our choices impact the destination.
When we start out wanting to lose weight the only thing some of us care about is the scale number decreasing.  At this point it doesn't matter which road we take.  Eating 500 calories, eating 1500 calories, clean eating, balanced eating, convinence foods, cardio, strength training.  These choices are based on personal preference and will eventually make the scale move.  There is no one right way, but there are ways that make it easier.
When we decide on a destination the path we select is more important.  A person who wants to run a marathon shouldn't spend all their training time in the weight room.  A person who is trying to control their diabetes shouldn't eat a diet of Twinkies.  A person trying to look like a fitness model shouldn't eat 500 calories and spend hours on the elliptical.  Someone struggling to overcome binge eating shouldn't commit to a strict diet.
One of the most important questions we should ask ourselves when it comes to fat loss and fitness is where we want to go.  When you decide where you want to go it's easier to pick a path. 

It's official!

I was going to wait to make this blog until they updated the records online, but a certificate makes it official to me.

August 28th I competed in my second powerlifting meet.  I decided to do deadlift only since it is my strongest lift and I tied a national record at my first meet.  I gained a bunch of weight during my summer bulk, so I had to cut.  Despite dropping a bunch of water and gylcogen I still ended up half a pound over the 181 pound weight class.

Turned out that I was still very competitive for the 198 pound weight class.  I set the AWPC World deadlift only record and the AAPF American deadlift only record with 341.5 pounds.  Competing at these meets is always a great experience.  It's awesome to have the accomplishment of setting records, but the environment and people are even better than the records.


Do You Even Lift?

No, this post isn't to make fun of those with different goals than me.  This has nothing to do with the meme, making fun of Planet Fitness or talking bad about people who lift and don't look like they do.  I want to talk about moving weights versus lifting weights.

I have recently stumbled onto a workout partner.  His former lifting partner moved and he happens to lift at the same time as me every day.  This week he asked to join me doing my workouts.  I don't think he realized what he was in for.

The reason we lift weights is to work our muscles.  We contract certain muscles to move the weight in a direction then relax those while contracting others to move the weight in another direction.  

As I started lifting with this guy I realized my sets took 2-3x as long as his. He rushes through the movements to get to the number of reps that are planned and on the last set he does as much weigh as he can manage to move for whatever number of reps he can manage.  Nothing against him, he can move some serious weight on several lifts.

I hate giving workout advice when it isn't asked for, but since he asked to follow my workout I felt it was my place to give him a good workout.  I started dropping the weight for him and I told him to slow down.  He needed to feel the contraction, not rush through the exercise just to reach the end.  

Every set I had to remind him to focus on the contraction.  He whined a lot and complained that he can't finish the reps.  We lowered weight a bit more, talked about Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), used rest-pause sets and at the very end added a bit of cheating.

He came back sore the next day and asking for more.

Sometimes cheating/momentum/body English are important to moving heavy weights.  Don't forget to slow down, drop weight and really focus on the contraction.  You might be surprised that you can get a good workout in with lower weights. 



“Discipline is the instant willing obedience to all orders, respect for authority and teamwork.”

During Marine Corps recruit training our Drill Instructors had us memorize and repeat a variety of sayings and important pieces of information. The definition we repeated for discipline was often accompanied by physical incentive training like push ups, jumping jacks or simply holding our rifles parallel to the floor for several minutes. Another saying we used often:

Through pain comes discipline.

Discipline is using willpower to overcome other needs. Other words for discipline are self-control, obedience, restraint and determination. Discipline is being able to carry out a task no matter what your emotional or physical state is. The instant willing obedience to all orders.

The reason I bring up discipline is because there are two factors that keep people on track during workouts/diets/pretty much anything in life. These two factors are motivation and discipline. Motivation is the initial emotional reaction that drives us to make a change. It provides a reason to act in a specific manner and offers an incentive to initiate change. Someone might feel motivated to get their degree, so they enroll in college. Someone might feel motivated to lose weight, so they change their eating. Someone might feel motivated to run a marathon, so they start running.

Motivation doesn’t always last until completion. Even with incentives and reinforcement motivation can still come to an end. At this point we must rely on discipline to reach our goals. Often discipline is created through routine and in the absence of motivation the plan is carried out automatically. If we are consistent with training/eating well/going to class then our habit will ensure we succeed. If the habit has not been created we have to turn to discipline and exert willpower to overcome struggles, control ourselves and ultimately be successful.

What’s the TL;DR version?

Take the time now to create a plan for success and carry it out on a daily basis. This will ensure when the motivation wears off and the monotony or struggles come along the habit (discipline) will stick ensuring success. 

Meet day: Powerlifting

Thought I would change things up a bit today and talk about how a powerlifting meet goes. Each one is a bit different, but the general structure is the same. Here is sort of what to expect the day of a powerlifting meet.

First part of the process is check-in. Most of them allow 24 hours for check-in, but have restricted it to a few different time slots. Many choose the day before to give them a good evening of fuel before the meet.  Every competitor has their weight and equipment checked.  That means singlet, shoes and maybe wraps for raw and squat/deadlift suit or bench shirt for equipped.  At check-in everyone chooses their starting weight for the lifts they will be performing.  This helps them organize the competitors and makes the meet go quicker (less loading and unloading of plates). Everyone selects their starting attempt a bit different, but I selected mine off something I hit solidly for two reps during my workouts.

After check-in the competitors are divided into groups that are called flights.  The purposed behind having each group complete all three attempts before moving on to another group is to keep everyone warmed up between lifts.  This also signals the following group that it is time to start warming up for their lifts.  

The basics for each lift are that you get called to the platform, perform the lift, select a weight for the next attempt and get back to the waiting area.  There are three judges who give a white light (lift was good) or a red light (lift was bad) based on what they saw.  You have to get two white lights for the lift to count.  There are a wide variety of reasons someone might get red lights for different lifts and those vary by federation, so check the rules.

First up is squats.  You get called to the platform and get under the bar.  Depending on the judges and federation you might use a monolift or you might walk the squat out of the lift.  Once your feet are set and you are ready to squat you look at the judge who gives the command, "Squat".  There is no, "Up" command.  You go to where you think the appropriate depth is, then stand up to complete the lift.  There are spotters just in case something goes wrong.  Once the lift is completed the judge gives the command to rack the bar and you select your next weight (if you get two or three red lights you can keep the same weight, in some federations you can't choose a lower weight).

Next up is bench press.  You get called to the platform and settle into your bench press position.  Feet, butt and shoulders must stay in place for the entire lift.  A spotter or a friend can do the hand off from the rack.  You lower the bar until it touches your chest, pause, then the judge gives the, "Up" command.  At that point you press the bar until your arms reach a fully locked position.  The judge gives a command to rack the bar and you select your next weight.

Finally we reach deadlifts (my favorite).  Once you get called to the platform  you set your feet and hands to prepare for the lift.  There is no command to start the pull, so you prepare then lift when you are ready.  Once you have reached the fully locked position at the top of the lift the judge gives the, "Down" command and you carefully control the bar to the ground (you can get red lights for setting down too hard).  Once the bar is on the ground the lift is complete and you can select your next weigh.

Once every flight has finished the people who are keeping track of the weights and lifts do calculations and determine how people placed and who had the best lifts.  This is also when the natural and drug tested federations do their testing.  The reason they wait until after the lifts are completed is because a few different stimulants and steroids are taken shortly before lifting to give the best boost for the lifts.

After everything is calculated they have everyone sit down for the award ceremony.  Each of the top place finishers for each weight class and top overall lifters are called up and handed a medal or trophy.  When someone sets a national or world record they are often called up and recognized for that achievement.  After that is time to celebrate with a great dinner and some new friends!

Competition day: Bodybuilding

Thought I would change things up a bit today and talk about the actual competition. Each one is a bit different, but many of the smaller ones run the same way. Here is sort of what to expect the day of a bodybuilding/figure competition.

First part of the process is check-in. Most are the morning of. You’ll give your name and either be weighed or have your height checked. Sometimes you have to sign paperwork, but usually that process is done during the registration weeks before. They give you a swag bag (shirt, supplements, coupons, etc.) and your number. You step off to a waiting area and usually snack on your pump up meal.

After check-in is done they have a meeting for the competitors. They go over rules, poses, order of events and any other things they want you to know. After that is pre-judging.

Depending on when your group is scheduled you either go back stage to get ready or sit in the audience to watch other competitors. About 30 minutes before stage time you’ll fix tan, hair and make up. About 10 minutes out from stage time you’ll start pumping up. Usually some squats, push ups, sit ups and a variety of light exercises with bands or weights.  The goal of this is to increase blood flow to the muscles to help with muscle volume and definition.

Stage time for bodybuilders:
Walk out and stand in the front relaxed pose. They’ll call out the turns for the side and back relaxed poses. Next, they’ll call out the mandatory poses. If there are lots of people on stage they will rearrange everyone for better comparisons and call out the mandatory poses again. Hold each pose until they say relax. When they call relax go into the relaxed pose. When it’s all over they thank and dismiss you.

Stage time for figure:
The very first thing you’ll do is the model walk (also known as the T-walk). Corner, corner, center, turn and walk back to the line up at the rear of the stage. Once all girls have done their walk they call everyone forward to do the quarter turns. After that they thank you and dismiss you.

Bodybuilding is the same for men and women. Bikini and men's physique are a bit different.  They do a model walk, but they don't have quarter turns.

After you are done with pre-judging is not the time to go crazy and eat whatever you want. The evening show and awards are still several hours away. Small snacks, a bit of water and watching the other categories are a good idea.  During this time or right before the evening show are often when natural or drug tested federations will do their testing.  Sometimes it is random and sometimes it is on suspicion when comparing the competitors against each other during pre-judging.

Evening show:
Like the morning it’s important to pump up before going on stage. They call out each division to display the competitors. For bodybuilding they may ask them to show a few poses before sending them back stage again. The top competitors for each division are called out to do a posing routine. After the routine everyone is called out on stage again. There might be a pose down where each person displays their best poses. Then they hand out the awards. First place for each division competes for women’s or men’s overall.

Figure does the same as the morning with the walk and quarter turns then are handed their awards. Like bodybuilding the first place finishers for each division compete for the overall title.

After all that is over it is time to celebrate with a hard earned treat before heading into reverse dieting!  

Don't compete to get in shape

Don’t compete to get in shape, get in shape to compete.

I know that sounds confusing, but it is a very important concept that is just starting to gain recognition. Many people who are in average shape or overweight decide that they are going to compete because it will get them in shape. This is the wrong train of thought. Being stage ready is a very temporary state and is unsustainable long term. Most professionals spend 8-12 weeks getting ready to step on stage. They look good year round and maintain a decent level of leanness, but in order to compete they still have to drop body fat.

There is nothing wrong with saying you want to get in shape with the future goal of competing. Even setting a goal of a specific competition is a good way to help stay on track, as long as the goal is a realistic distance out. Eating at a reasonable deficit, training well and allowing plenty of time to make the changes is necessary to sustaining a leaner physique after the competition.

I see women decide they want to be a figure competitor and jump into the first show they can. They give themselves 15 weeks to drop 25 pounds and expect to do well. I know, I was there. I’m not sure what it is about women and competitions, but many women don’t take the time needed for a proper prep. Men decide they want to compete and finally step on stage a year or two later. They take the time to build lean mass and slowly cut the fat.

What is the problem then with competing to get in shape? Most people with that mentality want instant results. They don’t realize that stage ready is unsustainable. They crash diet and spend hours doing cardio each week. As soon as the competition is done they either immediately go back to eating like they were before because they deprived themselves so much that they lose control. Or, they start increasing calories and gaining weight, it freaks them out which leads them to lowering calories and increasing cardio because they are afraid of gaining. All of these factors lead to further damage to hormones, the body and the mind, which turns into either yo-yo dieting and further damage or eating disorder behavior.

I have seen an example of this over the last few years that I want to share. I’m sure she doesn’t read this blog, but I will not name her or give private details that give her identity away. Here’s her story:

Metabolic damage and competition prep
Growing up she was an average girl. Not skinny. Not fat. After high school she got started in the bodybuilding industry and became a figure competitor. I would see her at the gym spending an hour doing cardio. A mutual friend confessed that she ate almost nothing. She was lean and had that hard body look I wanted.

I heard stories from girls she worked with about their crazy diets and workouts. You could see they got results and won lots of awards. A part of me was jealous. Why couldn’t I stick to mine better? I wanted results like that, but I wasn’t going as crazy as them. Should I?

We could all see her gaining weight. In the industry, especially local shows, everyone notices and whispers. When people accused her of starving her clients and dangerous methods she lashed out. I stopped caring about what went on around her when I saw the negativity they displayed towards other competitors. 

I hear she was really sick. Without revealing private details it sounds like her body was rejecting her attempts at being healthy.  She confessed that her diet soon consisted of sugars and fats because it was all she could stomach.  Doctors couldn’t find anything physically wrong. It took her a long time of slow progress to regain control. She looks like a competitor again and I hope that she has found a healthy way to progress.

This life and these shows are not worth your health. Don’t destroy your body for a $50 dust collector.

How a Marine got fat

When people think of United States Marines they think of people in excellent shape.  Our annual fitness tests are fairly tough and exercise is an essential part of every day in the Marine Corps.  Strength, endurance and a hard body are a source of pride.

I would love to give you an idea of what we do for exercise, but it depends on the unit and who is doing it.  Runs could be individual, indian runs, formation runs, sprints, drills, etc.  Exercises could be standard push ups, pull ups, sit ups, jumping jacks and flutter kicks.  Sometimes we did workouts that were similar to crossfit.  Sometimes we put on full gear to do obstacle courses.  Every unit and leader had their own schedule.  

So why are there Marines on MFP trying to lose weight?  Generally there is one main reason.

We get lazy.  After 4+ years of waking up early to go running we enjoy not being forced to submit to early morning hours of exercise.  We eat the way we always have, but moving to a less physically demanding job and reducing exercise starts packing on the pounds.

My personal story is different because I got fat while I was in the Marine Corps.  Yep, you read that right.  It wasn't acceptable and my life was hell.  

Going back to the beginning of my time in will help clear things up.  When I joined the Marine Corps I hated running.  I was an idiot for joing the branch that loves running.  Three months of running daily in boot camp didn't change my mind.  Add in breaking my ankle and pelvis during training, now running is painful mentally and physically (it still is).

I checked into my first duty station still broken, but at an acceptable weight.  After spending 4 months with never enough food to make me feel full I started binge eating.  Binge eating plus lack of exercise made my weight increase dramatically.  I got yelled at, forced to exercise, written counselings, and extra physical labor. Then I got pregnant twice.

When I got out of the Marine Corps I was obese.  I did serve my five years honorably, completing my duties and receiving an honorable discharge.  The injuries I got during training were bad enough to give me a disability rating and I was told that I would walk with a cane within a few years.  Although not having to worry about making weight (or not in my case) was a relief, I still felt shame about how I looked nothing like a Marine should.

Once I finally started getting proper therapy and mobility work I was able to exercise more.  Exercise is a self rewarding behavior and soon I started learning more about nutrition.  After that discipline and habits set back in.  I still deal with pain and setbacks from my injuries.  Some days I can barely walk.  One day I will end up with a cane or wheelchair.

The Marine Corps did teach me many valuable things that help me be successful now, but I was fat while I was in. 

Bodybuilding vs Figure vs Bikini

I thought I would take a bit of time today to explain what the difference between the categories are.  Before I do that I want to point out that there are different federations you can compete with.  Each will have things they are looking for.  There is an important distinction that people need to know about.  That distinction is that some competitions are for people who have never used steroids, PEDs or other WADA banned substances.  This does make a difference in a few categories because there is a limit to how much size can be put on naturally (or without the use of those substances).


Natural competitions:

Bodybuilding (men and women)- It's the most muscular of all the categories.  Competitiors are judged on size, symmetry, leanness/definition, development, vascularity and  proportion.

Physique (usually just men in natural federations)- These are in shape men with visible muscles and great upper body development.  They wear shorts instead of trunks, so leg development isn't usually visible.  These men are lean, but not overly lean or vascular.  These guys have a sort of  "beach body" type look to them.

Figure (women)- They have well shaped muscles with a little bit of size.  Low body fat without excessive muscle size or defiiniton.

Bikini (women)- Obvious muscle tone without definition.  Low body fat with feminine curves.  These women have the "beach body" type look.


Non-drug tested competitions:

Bodybuilding (men and women)- Their size and leanness are often not attainable for natural competitors.  Natural competitors can place well at smaller/local/lower level competitions.

Physique (men and women)- Often at the physique competitors are around what the natural bodybuilders look like.  Their size and leanness can be attained naturally, although natural competitors may not place well compared to competitors who are not natural.

Figure (women)- Their muscles are usually bigger and more developed than natural competitiors.  It is easier for a natural figure competitor to do well in these competitions after many years of work.

Bikini (women)- These competitors tend to look leaner than their natural counterparts.  It can be attained naturally, but the use of certain steroids can attribute to the leaner/dryer look. 

Cellulite, stretch marks and loose skin

Approximately 90% of women and 10% of men have cellulite.  The range of people who have strech marks is from 50-90%.  In 2012 there were 106,000 tummy tucks performed in the United States.


Why are we so worried about other people seeing our stretch marks or cellulite?  If you want to wear shorts go ahead and rock them!  You shouldn't be embarassed about something you have ZERO control over.  You didn't decide how your body was going to store fat.  You didn't decide to let your body grow faster than your skin could handle.

Even people who have never been overweight have cellulite and stretch marks.  There are fashion and fitness models with cellulite and stretch marks.  Great lighting and photo editing make sure they aren't visible.

Those of us who were overweight or obese sometimes end up with loose skin.  I know I feel that was my fault and I should be ashamed of it. I do hide it because it's the one thing that gives away how much weight I've lost.  I would rather have this loose skin and feel as good as I do then go back to being obese.  I can breathe easier, clothes fit better and I have so much more confidence (in clothes at least!).

I am choosing to not stress about my cellulite, stretch marks and loose skin.  I'm healthy and I'm not going to let a few physical flaws destroy my happiness.  Hopefully seeing these pictures of my "imperfections" will help others see that they are not alone.


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