Slow Progress is Still Progress

“I have let myself go,” I said out loud to an empty apartment. My wife was out, the dog was asleep and I was staring in a full length mirror at someone I no longer recognized. I used to be fit, really fit. I would run marathons, go rock climbing twice a week, paddle for miles and hike for days on end with no issue. I spent hours a day training for races or just for the sake of making progress. I used to be an athlete, now here I was with a gut hanging over my waist, getting winded going up a flight of stairs.

I can’t point to a single reason for it but after a lifetime of training I had just stopped. Not only stopped, but taken up a junk food habit. That was another development that led to my obesity. Maybe addiction is a strong word but I went from eating healthy to fuel my body to downing a pint of ice cream a day and drinking way too much pop and beer. To eating two full portions with dinner and massive breakfasts. The fat replaced the muscle and the scale numbers climbed upward.

Mix that with a desk job and it really was the perfect storm. In 4 years I went from being able to run a half marathon to the gym where I would spend and hour and a half lifting double my body weight before running back home to barely being able to walk uphill for 2 minutes.

I can sit and blame burnout or depression or anxiety or my addictive personality. Or I can blame society for having to work a stressful job just to pay rent. For telling me that I should be happy in my body. For pushing garbage food and alcohol on me. I can blame a lot of things but I don’t, because at the end of the day it was all me. I fell and I fell hard.

But I am not beating myself up. I tried that and it only kept me down. Over those years of weight gain and junk food guzzling I had a few false starts. Months where I would start a new training plan, pushing myself and getting discouraged that I was not making progress. That I was not able to do what I once found easy. I would inevitably hurt myself or fall into a depression at my lack of progress and spiral further down into laziness and junk food.

If I am being fair to myself, there was a legitimate health reason that only compounded the issue. Two actually. I make no secret of my struggles with mental health, and I really was in a deep depression. Totally going through a major depressive episode that I couldn’t get out of. Burning myself out failing at being a writer and then failing again at starting an art film YouTube channel. Then getting myself fired and falling into addiction a little bit. That was a legitimate health set back that I now see as a health set back, not a personal failing.

I also had a physical health problem as well that I finally got treatment for. This one only served to compound the depression and it turns out was one I had been fighting against my whole life. For years and years I would get multiple sinus infections a year. Some years I would basically be on antibiotics every two months. Struggling to breath and stuffed up in pain more often than not. Even when I could breathe it was always tight in my nose. I knew no different and not having a family doctor to keep track of things just let it get worse and worse. I would go to walk-in doctors offices every few months when my sinuses eventually got infected and the pressure felt like it was about to burst out of my skull.

I fantasized about taking a drill to my sinuses. But I also didn’t think it was too far out of the normal. I was just a guy who got sinus infections. It was not until I got a family doctor, combined with my wife constantly telling me it was not normal to be sick so often that I started to think more about it. But my depression actually stopped me from seeking more treatment. I felt like I was worthless and I didn’t want to bother anyone for a stupid stuffy nose. That was why I had ignored my wife all those years about it. That was also why I didn’t have a family doctor, I didn’t deserve to be healthy. Funny how depression can impact things that seem to have nothing to do with it. Getting proper treatment for that is what then led to me advocating for myself with my doctor who thankfully took me seriously.

A good doctor, therapist and amazing wife finally had me seeing a specialist who took one look and knew right away what was wrong. A deviated septum. That was the root cause. Over years and years of it causing infections my actual sinus cavities had damage in them as well and I had a resistant latent infection going on. It was a mess up there.

This is a total side rant to my main topic for this post, which is my progress in recovering my health and getting back in shape. So to wrap up, I got a really intense surgery and after almost a year of recovery I was able to breathe again and stopped getting sinus infections every few months. I actually stopped getting sick as much and really now only get the normal ailments. Like a winter cold that lasts a few days and of course Covid every now and then. I also got my brain sorted with depression (mostly) and could really dig into getting healthy again.

When I started working out again I wanted to make it something sustainable. That was my biggest goal. Gone are my days of training for Spartan races and marathons. Gone are my days of striving to squat half a ton and dead lift some near world record weight. I want something I can do for the rest of my life that doesn’t take over my life. A routine where I spend an hour a night working out and one where I can make progress. It is nice to be able to see lifts improve over time.

So after a bit of experimenting I came up with a nice four day a week training plan and have stuck with it. I don’t beat myself up for failing lifts, rather I just reduce the weight and focus on form until I can move past whatever plateau I reach. I have goals but they are reasonable. I want to be able to dead lift 405 pounds, squat 315 and bench 225 for reps. When I hit those I will mix it up a bit and reconfigure things. But the overall goal is something sustainable.

I also stopped running. It was leaving me in too much pain. Over the years I have put a lot of miles on my knees and now, even with proper shoes and training I find that runs leave me in agony. I might go for the occasional 5k now that the weather is nice but I have my main cardio source as rowing. It is low impact and I have a nice rowing machine in my small home gym.

With all these changes I have finally been able to lose weight and gain muscle. I can fit into clothes again. I can walk my dog without getting drenched in sweat and feeling like I ran an ultra. I can play sports and do activities again. I feel like myself again. I feel healthy. I can even do this (pistol squats)

It was not all just working out, when you see my routine you will see how that would be impossible. I think the more important part to my weight loss was fixing my diet. I reduced the junk and have stuck to an intermittent fasting routine. Nothing super crazy, I don’t meal prep I don’t count calories. I still order takeout and go out to restaurants. I will have something sweet after dinner some days and some days will even have that pint of ice cream. But those days are much, much fewer and treats are now treats, not an every day thing. Basically I skip breakfast, have a small lunch and normal home cooked dinner. That’s it. But actually focusing on that and making my diet a part of my lifestyle has probably been the main factor in my weight loss.

For the muscle gains I have to look at my routine. Like my diet it is nothing extreme, rather it is sustainable. It incorporates my lifestyle and is enjoyable. Being consistent with it but also not beating myself up if I miss a workout due to being sick, injured or busy with work or life. For anyone interested here it is:

Day 1Day 2
Wearing 25lb weight vest
Day 3Day 4
5s x 8r

Barbell squat

100 push ups
5s x 8r

Barbell squats
30 Minute Row
5s x 8r

Bench Press

50 chin ups
5s x 8r

Barbell standing overhead press (strict)
5s x 8r

Barbell Row

90 leg raises
3s x 8r

Dead lift
3s x 8r

Dumbbell reverse flys
3s x 8r

standing shoulder flys
3s x 8r

barbell shrugs
3s x 8r

Barbell shrugs
3s x 8r

standing front raises
3s x 8r

ezcurl bicep curl
3s x 8r

Barbell curls
3s x 8r

dumbbell bicep curl
3s x 8r

skull crushers
3s x 8r

narrow grip bench
3s x 8r

dumbbell triceps extension
100 Crunches*

100 crunches*
3s x 8r

barbell calf raise
3s x 8r

forearm curls
*Crunches can be any ab exercise, I mix it up

And that’s it. I try to add 5 pounds to each lift every week and when I start to fail I drop down by about 10% and then go back to adding weight. Some weekends I am active and will rock climb or hike but some weekends I do nothing. I just keep the weekends as fun days, it helps that a lot of my fun activities involve physical activity.

The main thing, and the biggest change for me though is not the workout, or the diet, or even fixing my health. The main thing was changing my mindset around progress. Progress is not instant and will not always be fast. I needed to accept that I wouldn’t always make progress. I needed to learn that slow progress is still progress. That has kept me consistent and kept me from getting depressed when I fail a lift or have a hard week or don’t see the scale go down. Just remember that this is a lifetime goal. That this is a marathon not a sprint and every step forward counts. Even if it’s small.

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