|Basic Before and After Shots|
|The Ubiquitous “New Body, Old Pants” Pic|
In the Beginning…
Starting this out, I had a lot of fairly major challenges to overcome. I present all of these here in the spirit of full disclosure.
In January of 2010, I had all of the following conditions:
- Gouty Arthritis (Gout)
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
- Hypercholesterolemia (High Cholesterol)
- Hypertriglyceridemia (High Triglycerides)
- Hypogonadism (Low Testosterone)
- Severe Congestive Sleep Apnea
Furthermore, some of these conditions were as of yet undiagnosed, and most were untreated. Let me give a brief overview of the more obscure of these conditions to give you an idea of where I started, beginning with Gouty Arthritis, more commonly known as Gout.
Gout is a chronic condition that generally occurs when your body has an excess of Uric acid in the blood. This acid, over time, tends to collect in your joints and form crystals, which cause excruciating pain. When gout is left untreated, these attacks occur over and over and will eventually debilitate you.
To give you an idea of what an attack is like, when it begins, it fills like a minor sprain of the joint. As it progresses (usually over a day or so), it goes from feeling like a sprain to feeling like a break. You go from being able to gingerly limp around to being in constant pain, unable to move without extreme pain, and completely incapable of bearing weight on the joint. Imagine ground glass in your joints, and you have a rough approximation of the feeling.
I’ve had gout for a few years now, and it is currently almost completely treated with Allopurinol. I haven’t had a full-on attack in over a year now, but I do have to work through minor attacks every 3-6 months. Mostly it doesn’t bother me, and I just work through the pain when a minor attack comes on.
High Blood Pressure, Triglycerides, and Cholesterol were all present and basically untreated at the beginning. My doctor put me on medication for all of them, but my diet and exercise changes did more to affect these than the medications, and I quit taking medication for all of them between July and December of 2010.
Low Testosterone has likely been present for many years, but undiagnosed. I didn’t have my first blood test for Testosterone until the summer of 2010, did not begin treatment until August of 2010, and was not in the normal range consistently until August of 2011.
My first testosterone test put my levels at 230ng/dl, which is incredibly low. For reference, an average 35 year old male should be around 670ng/dl, and anything between 350 and 1000ng/dl is considered “normal”.
The effects of this were many, but the most pertinent to my goals were that I was constantly tired, slept poorly, lost muscle, gained fat, had difficulty concentrating and remembering, and was depressed, anxious, and irritable.
Low Testosterone is something a lot of men have trouble talking about, and I am no exception. I am bringing it up for two reasons: First, I believe in full disclosure, because I want people to be able to replicate my results. I firmly believe that omitting something I am taking is misleading. And second, I want people to realize that not only did I reshape my body without steroids, a good case can be made for saying I did it with sub-normal testosterone levels. Meaning, if you are a normal male with normal hormone levels, in my opinion you should definitely be able to replicate my results. I am not an exceptional specimen; Hormonally, anyway, I am defective.
As of this writing, I am injecting Testosterone Cypionate at 100mg per week, and the highest level I see is around 1100ng/dl, which tapers off to roughly 600ng/dl before my next injection. These levels are the best I have been able to achieve thus far, and it has taken 18 months of trial and error to reach this point.
So, keep in mind that even at my peak through treatment, I am only slightly above some normal males, and at the trough I am still below average. Furthermore, I did not even begin treatment until August of 2010, so the first 8 months of results are completely untreated.
The last obscure condition I have, which had just been diagnosed when I started this process, is Sleep Apnea. Sleep Apnea is basically when you stop breathing throughout the night. In my case (congestive sleep apnea), this is caused by a constricted airway.
This is a disease that tends to be correlated with obesity. Whether it is caused by obesity, or it actually causes obesity is not certain, but it seems to be related. However, this makes some sense when you consider what is occurring in many cases.
While awake, muscle tone keeps all of the flesh surrounding the esophagus from compressing it too severely and causing any real distress. However, when you sleep, your muscles relax. When the muscles relax, the weight of your tissue presses down on the esophagus and causes it to deform. This constricts the airway, and in order for your body to pull the air it needs, it increases the suction (negative pressure).
Now, imagine the esophagus as a straw, and air like a thick milkshake. If you suck hard on the straw, trying to force the milkshake up faster, it collapses the straw and you get nothing. This is what increasing the suction effectively does. In response to not getting air, the body tries to prevent you from dying by waking you up, which firms up the muscles and un-compresses your throat, allowing you to draw air.
This is what happens with sleep apnea. In my case, it happened roughly 30 times per hour, or once every two minutes. This caused me to never get a really good night’s sleep, always feeling tired and sleepy no matter how much ‘sleep’ I’d had. I believe it also caused a reduction in my ability to memorize and retain information, which at one time was quite exceptional.
I have no idea how long I’ve had this condition, but it is not a condition that occurs overnight. According to my wife, I’ve been a loud snorer for over 10 years, so I’ve likely had it since my 20’s. In any event, it is currently treated with some effectiveness using a Constant Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. CPAP works by pushing air in at positive pressure to ‘inflate’ the esophagus, similar to blowing into a straw.
On a good night, the CPAP gives me an adequate night’s sleep. However, good nights probably only occur 60% of the time. Since CPAP blows through my nose, if my nose is stuffy or swelling, it doesn’t work very well and I sleep poorly. Compounding this is the fact that the pressurized air itself tends to irritate my sinuses and cause swelling, and it means that I sometimes have very bad nights indeed. Overall, my recovery from workouts is probably compromised to some degree by poor sleep.
In any event, the end result of all of this is that in January of 2010, I felt very, very bad. I was constantly very tired and sleepy, I felt very depressed, nothing excited me, any exertion caused extreme discomfort, and at the ripe old age of 34, it was fairly obvious to me that if I did not get my health under control, I would very soon be to a point where getting it under control was not possible.
Thus, I began this process with a singular goal: Gain enough muscle to start offsetting the fat, making me feel better and (hopefully) making it easier to get healthy. Over the last 24 months, I have refined both my exercise and diet to varying degrees, and have chronicled all of the changes, which I will cover a little later. For now, here is a summary of my current exercise program and diet.
Custom APRE program based around heavy compound lifts. This has been used for the last 4 months of the cut.
Here is my current exercise program, broken down by day. While cutting, I have generally kept the volume down to 1 work set per exercise. The week is split into two volume days (8-10 reps), two intensity days (3-6 reps), and one ‘beach muscle’ day. Further, each volume and intensity day is split into either primary or alternate, with primary days focusing on the main exercises and alternate days using a variation of the movement. For example, with squats, on primary days I do low-bar Rippetoe-style squats, where on alternate days I do high-bar, Olympic-style squats.
- Begin each heavy session (M-Tu-Th-F) with 15 minutes of drumming (moderate to high intensity full body cardio).
- Follow warm-up guidelines from Iron Addicts forum
Monday (Alternate Volume)
- High-Bar (Olympic Style) Squat: 2×8
- Press: 2×8
- Pull-ups: 30 reps in as few sets as possible
Tuesday (Primary Intensity)
- Low-Bar (Rippetoe Style) Squat: 1×5, 1×3 (+5 lbs)
- Bench Press: 1×5, 1×3 (+5 lbs)
- Chins: 30 reps in as few sets as possible
Wednesday (Beach Muscle)
- Barbell Calf Raise off 2” block: 2×8
- Barbell Curl: 2×8
Thursday (Alternate Intensity)
- Deadlift: 1×5
- Weighted Dip: 1×5, 1×3 (+5 lbs)
- High-Bar (Olympic Style) Squat: 1×5, 1×3 (+5 lbs)
Friday (Primary Volume)
- Low-Bar (Rippetoe Style) Squat: 2×8
- Bench Press: 2×8
- Pendlay Row: 2×8
- Drumming for 1 hour each day
Main program used throughout the previous year
Dropped all Situps and Hyperextensions, added calf raises, donkey calf raises, chin-ups, pull-ups, and dips. Moved all accessory work to separate Tuesday/Thursday workouts.
Reasons for Modifications
- Situps and Hyperextensions: I deemed these exercises unnecessary when primarily doing heavy compound lifts. Heavy compounds (specifically Deadlifts and Squats, though Presses count as well) stress the abdominals by requiring them to support the spine under a heavy load. This is exactly what the abs are designed to do. They are not made to pull weight up by flexing the spine in unnatural positions. They can, but this not their purpose, and this is arguably not the best way to train them. Furthermore, in my opinion, exercises that flex the spine to work the abdominals or lower back are potentially dangerous, since they place undue stress on the spine in odd positions.I’m not going to universally proclaim them to be horrible, but if I have to choose between loading weight on my chest and doing some form of a situp or loading a barbell and doing a squat to work my abs, I’ll choose a squat every time.
- Calf Raises: Due to reconstructive foot surgery I had as a child, I spent two years in casts with my feet broken and Achilles tendons cut. Because of this, my calves are very short and strange looking. Since calves can generally handle being pummeled into oblivion, I added these in to provide them more stimuli for growth. Also, the active stretch these exercises provide may help lengthen my calves back out and improve their appearance.
- Chin-ups: These are a great way of getting some really heavy bicep work in a compound movement. I do standard barbell curls for lighter isolation work, but my biceps were still lagging behind the rest of my body, so I added these to add some intense stimulus.
- Pull-ups: Added mostly to help with grip and lat development. Another good heavy compound exercise.
- Dips: Added to help with chest development. I felt that my chest was not growing fast enough, and this was a good heavy compound exercise to hit it with lighter weight for higher reps.
- Splitting to a 5-day schedule: This just worked out better for me from a scheduling perspective. With the 3 day schedule, the accessory work ended up pushing some days closer to 80-minute workouts. In an effort to keep each workout to under one hour, I split all of the accessory work off to Tuesdays and Thursdays.
If you are unfamiliar with Madcow’s 5×5, please check out the main site here. Everything below is based on this program, and the weights vary, but are generally going up by 5-15 lbs each week.
- Begin each heavy session (M-W-F) with 15 minutes of drumming (moderate to high intensity full body cardio).
- Perform each exercise for one set with the bar or bodyweight only, concentrating on form.
- For each exercise with a starting weight above 180 lbs, perform one set with 135 lbs, concentrating on form.
- Keep in mind that I used Madcow’s Intermediate program, which ramps the weight up to a top set of 5. Because of this, the warm up is abbreviated compared to programs with straight sets of 5.
- Squat: 5×5
- Bench: 5×5
- Pendlay Row: 5×5
- Chin-up: 3×6-12
- Barbell Calf Raise off 2” block: 3×6-12
- Dip: 3×6-12
- Deadlift: 4×5
- Press: 4×5
- Squat: 4×5
- Pull-up: 3×6-12
- Donkey Calf Raise: 3×6-12
- EZ-Bar Curl: 3×6-12
- Lying Triceps Extension: 3×6-12
- Squat: 4×5,1×3,1×8
- Bench: 4×5,1×3,1×8
- Pendlay Row: 4×5,1×3,1×8
- Drumming for 1 hour each day
- Recumbent biking for 30 minutes to 1 hour per day at maximum tension and constant 12 MPH pace
My diet, for most of the cut, was basically simply caloric restriction with a ton of protein and some specific nutrient choices for health reasons. I am, however, a creature of habit, and when I find a food that I both like and fits my nutrition goals, I tend to stick with it. So, my diet does tend to be pretty stable.
However, beginning in April of 2011, I switched over to a leangains-style Intermittent Fasting (IF) diet, and have not looked back. It allows me to eat more in one sitting (which I enjoy, because I can seriously pack away food), while keeping my macros in check.
Using IF, I fast for 16 hours out of the day and eat in an 8-hour window. The leangains aspect to it is that I cycle my macros to eat more on days when I lift with a high volume (my volume days) and less on others. I’ve actually taken this one step further and set up three types of days:
- Heavy: 110% TEE calories (3300), 300+g of Protein.
- Light: 60% TEE calories (1800), 250g of Protein.
- Off: 50% TEE calories (1500), 200g of Protein.
If you want more detail into my diet, check out my nutrition log on DailyBurn, where pretty much everything I’ve eaten in the last two years is recorded. In the near future, I’ll post more on nutrition to give a little more insight into some of the epiphanies I’ve had over the last two years, but the TL;DR version is: Calories matter, if you aren’t tracking methodically you are probably failing, what you do 90% of the time is what counts, keep protein high (~1.5g per pound of lean body mass) to support muscle mass, and IIFYM, quit worrying about it and eat it.
Here, I’ve provided detailed results of my progress. Throughout the process, I generally kept meticulous track of my weight, measurements, bloodwork, lifts, and towards the end, body composition (via DXA scans). All of that data is summarized here, along with some additional pictures. Also, most of this data is available on my public profile site at DailyBurn, and you can use the site to graph it to get a more visual idea of how I progressed.
Here are my beginning measurements contrasted with my best recent measurements. Note that all measurements were taken cold (unpumped, directly after waking) using a Myotape measuring tape.
Below are my original PR’s and all-time PR’s attained during the process. All of these were attained during normal workouts.
|Bench 5 RM||205||345||140|
|Squat 5 RM||230||405||175|
|Dead 5 RM||200||435||235|
|Press 5 RM||85||185||100|
|Pendlay Row 5 RM||90||285||195|
Here is my general bloodwork to show the changes in my cholesterol levels. Keep in mind that according to my Dr., my beginning triglyceride levels were so high that the lab could not correctly check my LDL and VLDL cholesterol levels. Also, I do not have my latest bloodwork back from the lab, so the ‘current’ values used here are from November 2010.
Below are running measurements (in ng/dl), along with a graph showing my testosterone levels over the period. This should give a better idea of the progress of my TRT over the period.
Below are the results from each of my DXA scans showing total mass, lean mass, fat mass, and bone mass (all in lbs).
Finally, here are a few additional photos, along with a link to my Workout Progress Picasa web album, where I have photos taken throughout the process.
Special thanks to my lovely wife Beth for the professional shots taken at the end. She had a particularly ornery and troublesome subject.
Picasa album with running progress images
Finally, I’m providing a general summary of changes to my diet, training, and supplementation routines below to give you a full idea of how many things I did and did not change throughout the process.
- Beginning: 5×5 From Bodybuilding.com
- 6/1/10: Added recumbent biking, ~40 miles per week
- 7/1/10: Custom 3×8 (based on Bodybuilding.com 5×5)
- 8/1/10: Madcow’s 5×5 Intermediate, dropped cardio back to ~12 miles per week
9/1/10: Dropped cardio to ~10 miles per week
- 10/1/10: Stopped cardio entirely
- 12/1/10: Resumed cardio, ~20 miles per week
- 1/1/11: Began doing 15 minutes of warmup biking PWO, total up to ~26 miles per week
- 2/1/11: Dropped PWO biking and play drums PWO instead. Overall biking drops to ~22 miles per week while drumming increases to ~3 hours per week. Drumming caloric burn ~8 per minute (1440 per week)
- 4/1/11: Cut biking out entirely, still drum ~3 hours per week
- 4/1/11: Custom Reverse Pyramid Training program (based on Leangains/Madcow’s 5×5)
- 5/4/11: Back to Madcow’s, adding chins and pull-ups
- 5/12/11: Added dips on Friday
- 5/23/11: Added calf raises, split off assistance work to Tuesday/Thursday workouts
- 6/4/11: Added cardio back in, Biking 30 mins per day on Sat/Sun (10-12 miles/week)
- 6/17/11: Increased cardio (biking) to 1 hour per day on Sat/Sun (20-25 miles/week)
- 7/20/11: Vacation till 8/4. No exercise.
- 8/8/11: Restart Madcow’s 5×5, dropping dips, curls and triceps extensions. Also dropped biking
(still drumming ~3 hours per week).
- 9/19/11: Switched to APRE protocol based on big compound lifts. 2 “light” days, 2 heavy days,
and 1 “beach” day.
- 10/14/11: Switched APRE to 1 work set per exercise instead of 2, roughly halving volume during
- 10/31/11: APRE back to 2 work sets until 11/14
- 11/14/11: APRE back to 1 work set.
- 11/26/11: Out of town for 1 week, no exercise.
- 12/3/11: Back to APRE with 1 work set.
- 12/20/11: Modified warm-up for APRE to be more in line with Dave Tate’s suggested warm-up
(more sets, less reps, more weight jumps)
- 1/9/12: Back to two work sets on APRE due to feeling better (sleep issues better taken care of)
- 1/16/12: Began using Fat Gripz on warmup sets as much as possible to improve grip strength; Changed chins/pull-ups to 30 unweighted reps in as few sets as possible instead of doing weighted reps
- Beginning: Eat whatever I want, whenever I want.
- 4/1/10: Focused on eating massive amounts of food. Average net calorie intake (minus cardio estimates): 4057/day. Average protein intake: ~250g/day
- 5/1/10: Began trimming down quantities due to weight gain. Began substituting custom protein shakes instead of meals. Average calorie intake (minus cardio estimates): 3317/day. Average protein intake: ~200g/day
- 6/1/10: Focused on getting more protein. Consumed more shakes (typically breakfast and supper were both shakes), more protein in shakes. Average calorie intake (minus cardio estimates): 3108/day. Average protein intake: ~250g/day
- 7/1/10: Reduced real food quantity. Average calorie intake (minus cardio estimates): 2650/day. Average protein intake: ~250g/day
- 9/1/10: Quit eating out for lunch, more strict focus on actual quantity and less estimation.
- 10/1/10: Came off diet, ate more real food. Average calorie intake (minus cardio estimates): 3084/day. Average protein intake: ~250g/day
- 11/1/10: Began CKD. Average calorie intake (minus cardio estimates): 3400/day. Average protein intake: ~250g/day. Average carb intake: ~20/day
- 1/1/11: CKD not working, got very OCD about weighing/measuring food and ensuring minimal/no carbs in daily foods.
- 2/1/11: Came off CKD as it was completely failing without caloric restriction. Got Bodymedia FIT and began caloric restriction based on expenditure data. Average calorie intake (total): 3474/day. Average calorie deficit (Bodymedia data): 805/day. Average protein intake: ~250g/day
- 3/1/11: Increased protein intake. Average calorie intake (total): 3454/day. Average calorie deficit (Bodymedia data): 875/day. Average protein intake: ~280g/day
- 4/1/11: Began Leangains-style IF dieting.
- 4/17/11: Increased caloric intake by 750 cals/day due to extreme weight loss in the previous two weeks.
- 4/25/11: Dropped intake back down to 2700/day
- 5/1/11: Added 4 tbsp of wheat bran to evening shake
- 5/9/11: Dropped intake back down to 2500/day
- 6/21/11: Added 1 scoop of Amazing Grass Green Superfood to evening shake
- 7/20/11: Vacation till 8/4. Free eating, averaged 4900 cals/day
- 8/4/11: Back on diet, intake back to 2500/day
- 9/1/11: Stopped taking the Amazing Grass (not beneficial) and replaced with 2 tbsp of Nestle Quik powder (still not beneficial, but for 60 calories, really tastes good).
- 10/1/11: Replaced Nestle with three scoops of Cocoa (same calorie content)
- 10/19/11: Upped Omega-3 liquid in shake to 3 Tbps per shake. Replaced Cocoa with PB2 for 5 grams of protein in same calorie content.
- 10/24/11: Modified diet to be more Leangains style. 3200 cals on heavy days (M and F), 2000 cals on light days (T and Th), 1500 cals on off days. On Sat/Sun, cals are actually 2000-2500, but offset to 1500 by increased activity (NEAT and drumming).
- 10/29/11: Began 2 week diet break. Back to maintenance levels on LG protocol (4000 on heavy, 3000 on light, 2300 on off days).
- 11/12/11: Back to diet, 3200 cals on heavy days (M and F), 2000 cals on light days (T and Th), 1500 cals on off days.
- 11/26/11: Out of town for 1 week, off diet and simply trying to get adequate protein. Average Cals 5140 per day.
- 12/3/11: Back on diet, standard LG protocol.
- 1/5/12: Added iodine (150 mcg) to evening shake
- Beginning: Multi-vitamin and Calcium supplement
- 2/1/10: Whey protein
- 5/1/10: Fish Oil
- 8/1/10: Testim (Test levels increased from 230 to 400)
- 9/1/10: Increased Testim dose (Test levels increased from 400 to 550)
- 10/1/10: Creatine
- 11/1/10: Switched to Testopel, 9 pellets (Test levels drop to a high around 500 and a low of 220)
- 1/1/11: Testopel increased to 11 pellets (Test levels increased to a high of 650, low increases to 300)
- 2/1/11: EC stack
- 3/1/11: Added Casein protein, L-Tyrosine
- 4/28/11: Testopel increased to 12 pellets (Test levels increased to a high of 850, low increases to 444)
- 6/1/11: Began using Myofusion instead of Whey/Casien
- 7/1/11: Switched back to ON Whey/Casien combo
- 8/23/11: Switched to IM Testosterone Cypionate, 100 mg/week (Test level increased to a high of 1140)
- 10/25/11: Cut out morning protein shake and switched to BCAA’s