Promethean Fire

I get asked, “Tom, how do you stay motivated?” at least once a month. Somehow, I give the impression that I am a nuclear reactor of full of motivation, sunshine and unicorns. I give the impression that it is easy.

It’s not, really.

So, how do I stay motivated? In a word: Darkness.

Like Bruce Banner says in the first Avengers movie about becoming The Hulk, “That’s my secret, I’m always angry.” Despite my positive outlook (or stubbornness to eschew being pessimistic or negative) and despite my trying to find out what I can do versus what I can’t do, I’m “always” in Darkness.

Let me make an attempt to “wax poetically” for you, maybe it’ll make better sense that way.

Over the years, I’ve heard this little voice from the darkness say, “Give up.” It happens at least weekly, sometimes daily. Give up on the vision I am creating, give up on everything I am working for, stop believing, stop struggling, stop fighting, stop dreaming, just give up on your hopes and dreams.

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In Greek mythology we are told the tale of Zeus snuffing out all the fires in the world, and Prometheus bringing it back (yes it’s a gross oversimplification of the myth, get over it). I have recognized that through the years there has also been this light, a Promethean-like fire, within me. Defiant of the assault that is hell-bent to snuff out the light of my world. By its presence alone, the fire says, “keep going. Keep moving forward.” The quest to snuff out this light has been a harrowing trial over the last little bit, for sure. All I know is, if this fire goes out, then my world will grow cold and a plague of death will spread throughout it.

So, guarding and clinging to this light, I don’t turn to run away from the darkness, despite everything in me screaming to run away. No, I run towards it. I might be fearful and the darkness is certainly the holder of things unknown, but I move towards it.

I do the only thing I know how to do right now.

I struggle and fight. Like the fire, I burn and I defy.

I get to the gym, I train, I challenge myself. Hitting the gym, lifting weights, doing my boxing/conditioning, and now training BJJ helps me put the darkness in perspective. It has helped keep the light going. The training is used as a transcendent tool. Yes, my body gets stronger, but my mind, my will, my spirit are strengthened even more. I read, challenging myself on a different mental level than how my mind is challenged on the physical level. I read, I learn, I reflect, I plan and execute.

From this place of self-inflicted hardship, discipline, sweat and toil, and learning, the light brightens and things don’t seem as bad, they feel more manageable.

To me, it is of the utmost importance to protect this “light”. It is mission critical.

Mission Critical. I can not fail. I must not. That is how I stay motivated. Guard your light. Stay vigilant. Make it mission critical.

Pursue Mastery.

Keep Moving Forward

Or… “How I got to Squat and Deadlift 225lbs…and you can too!”

I had been doing bodyweight exercises for about three years before I finally took the plunge near the middle of 2014 and began to learn how to lift. Near the end of my calisthenics period, I had been incrementally adding a small amount of weight to my workouts via dumbbells and a weighted vest. If memory serves, I added upwards of 65lbs during those years, it was a great way to trim down and lean out. I went from 199lbs when I began to 176lbs. So, I am definitely not going to despise the “small beginnings”.

After reading a metric shit-ton of articles online about proper form and then reading Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength”, I decided to give lifting a go. I focused on the Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press and Squats; the “Big Four”. To compliment the work I was learning with the iron, I incorporated a few bodyweight exercises such as planks, pull ups, and lunges. As time progressed, I slowly let go of the lunges and planks as I was getting a good workout head to toe using the lifts plus pull ups.

Having never seriously lifted before, I started small with the “Big Four”. Add in an early A.M. workout time and zero partners, small weight increases over time were the order of progression. Looking back, even though I probably could’ve progressed faster, I don’t regret a single day of the work I put in learning form and proper technique.

What I want to bring to attention in this piece is the process; those small, incremental gains one must continue to make in order to meet the goals you have set for yourself. Now, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail as I am already violating my self-imposed 500 word limit on posts for this. But I want you to get the gist of what I am saying and how I am progressed.

First, let’s create a base line so we can compare two separate years of work.

November 2014

Squats (11/29/2014) 1×10 @Bar(45lbs), 1×5 @115lbs, 2×5 @135lbs, 2×5 @140lbs, 1×8 @105lbs

Deadlifts (11/29/2014) 1×10 @Bar, 1×5 @155lbs, 3×5 @195lbs, 1×10 @135lbs

Bench Press (11/27/2014) 1×10 @Bar, 1×5 @115lbs, 1×5 @135lbs, 3×5 @155lbs, 3×11 @115lbs

 

When I hurt my back in January 2015, it set me back a few paces. I went back to cardio and light calisthenics as I visiting a chiropractor weekly and stretched and stretched and stretched. I didn’t start lifting again until around late September or early October 2015. For all intents and purposes, I was starting at square one again.

 

November 2016

Squats 11/28/2016 3×10 @Bar, 1×5 @135lbs, 5×5 @205lbs, 1×10 @185lbs

On 11/24/2016 I hit my 2016 Squat Goal, the work I did that day was as follows: 4×10 @ Bar, 1×5 @135lbs, 1×5 @205lbs, 5×5 @225lbs

Deadlifts 11/12/2016 2×10 @Bar, 2×5 @135lbs, 2×5 @205lbs, 5×5 @ 225lbs (2016 Deadlift Goal)

Bench Press 11/26/2016 3×10 @Bar, 3×5 @135lbs, 1×2 @180lbs, 1×1 @180lbs, 5×3 @175lbs

 

Overall, taking this journey has been a rewarding experience. Through physical, mental and emotional challenges that I’ve encountered I have used the iron as an anchor and I learned a lot about myself. What I can go through and endure, what I can overcome. I feel like I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of my potential.

It took dedication and commitment, patience, discipline, mental toughness, humility and most of all small, incremental gains.

For me, I focused on finding balance between solid form and increasing the weight over time. For example, I follow the 5×5 routine. When I increase the weight, I would back it down to 5×3, focus on form and build back up to 5×5, rinse and repeat. This way, I was always making some form of incremental gains, either in weight, reps or both.

This isn’t anything groundbreaking or new. And that’s really the point of this post. You are going to have to put the work in. Don’t be fooled by the infomercials selling you the newest MMA based workout routine, or Yoga-Brazilian-Booty craze. You might see some movement in the short-term, which is good, but use that momentum to propel you forward. And keep moving forward!

However…

It’s going to take hard fucking work to continue. None of this jumping around from workout to workout bullshit.

The only “magic” in it is dedication and commitment to your goals.

Day in and day out.

Keep. Moving. Forward.

 

09/13/15 – 09/13/2016: A Year in Review

I turned 37 yesterday.

 

It has been an interesting 365 days.

 

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Am I totally ripped, shredded, yoked and stacked? Absolutely not.

 

As I mentioned in the recent post, “Fight through the pain”, I had entered into a pretty challenging part of my life last year, with those four weeks leading up to my birthday arguably being the worst I had experienced in quite a long time. My birthday itself was, at best, bittersweet. I had a lot of time that day to reflect, to think about what I wanted with the situation at hand and with my life in general. It came as a small spark of determination which built into a well stoked fire. A promise to myself; a solemn oath for what I wanted to have happen in the next 365 days.

 

A single, simple thought.

 

By my 37th birthday, I will be the best possible version of myself that I can be – physically, mentally/emotionally, spiritually, vocationally.

 

The next three and a half months would help me form my goals and mission for 2017, goals that fell in line with that original thought. Come January, we’ll take a look at how I did executing on thought out, measurable and written goals.

 

As far as the fitness side goes. I began to workout even more than I had been. Those training sessions now became a source of comfort and solace; an amazing channel to vent all my anger, pain, depression and frustration. At this point I was training six days a week. I wanted to be stronger and get shredded.

What I have learned is:

  • Most people (with only a few small caveats like genetics, length of training, etc.) cannot lose fat and build muscle at the same time. It’s just a marketing ploy.
  • You can focus on leaning out or you can focus on getting stronger.
  • When cutting you can retain most of your strength gains, but you will lose some as you drop weight that is coming from fat and some muscle.

So, coming to that understanding, I was OK with the fact that I am going to gain fat and muscle when trying to get stronger and put on some mass, that’s just how it is. Am I totally ripped, shredded, yoked and stacked? Absolutely not. In all honesty, I should probably weigh more and I haven’t focused on any sort of leaning out or cutting yet. I am still learning, so I am focusing on gaining strength.

 

I’ve hit multiple PRs (personal records) in the gym this year, including Squatting 225lbs multiple times and Deadlifting 235lbs multiple times. Not bad considering I had injured myself earlier in 2015 on a deadlift and rendered my weight training null and void for the first half of 2015 while I recovered. I’m up to 175lbs on the Bench Press and chin up numbers aren’t too bad either. So, I’m making progress.

 

“I’m nowhere near close to my goals, as they are continually evolving and getting better. But I am a hell of a lot closer than I was a year ago.”

 

Has my body composition changed? Definitely, nothing drastic and I don’t look like Gerard Butler from 300…yet. Noticeably different are my legs, glutes and back. My dress slacks don’t have as much room as they used to and I fill out my shirts a little better. And it helps that people are noticing a difference when I visit with them. Catching Mrs. Kenobi notice “the gains” when wearing one of my t-shirts is always a bonus.

 

I weighed in a 179.2lbs last year. I am at 192lbs now; 12.8lbs heavier.

 

Up until now, I have only been taking upper body pics. Which, now that I think about it, is funny since I was focusing on large compound movements, two of which heavily involved my legs and back… so why was I taking pics of just my upper body? Going forward, I will be tracking the lower body too. I haven’t been taking measurements of different areas of my body, so that is also something I am going to be doing from now on. This will give me a few solid metrics to track: pics, performance, measurements and weight. This should also give me a more informed decision on how to best accomplish and tweak my goals for 2017.

 

So…what’s the point of this post, did I accomplish what I set out to do?

 

Yes. I am a better version of myself, for sure. I’ve learned and I’ve grown. I’ve become stronger mentally, emotionally, physically and even a little spiritually. Trolls and couch commandos might talk shit about my “progress pics”. That’s fine. It doesn’t mean a damn thing to me if they do. They aren’t in the ring with me, and until you are in the ring, it’s all theory. I’ve also realized that there is always room to improve, grow and become better. It’s just about how bad you want it and how much you are willing to sacrifice.

 

Do I want to look like Mr. Butler or Jason Statham? Yeah, I do. But, I’m proud of what I’ve done and how I look. I understand the goals and I understand the lengthy process it will take to get there. There is no magic pill, there is no magic formula.

 

I’m nowhere near close to my goals, as they are continually evolving and getting better. But I am a hell of a lot closer than I was a year ago.

 

Remember why you are doing this. Commit to the process and time it will take.

 

Be strong for you.

 

Be Strong 4 Family.

A nice slice of humble pie and new beginnings

It has been two months and eleven days since I injured my lower back at the end of a great deadlifting session. It has been an interesting journey, I tell ya! I’ve been seeing a chiropractor and have had a few massage therapy sessions and am feeling better.

I made an attempt to get back on the wagon last month, but it was short-lived. Mostly due to a bout of laziness and pissed-off-ed-ness due to the injury with a little bit of hectic work schedule, like 12+hr days hectic, thrown into the mix.

I did finish reading both books from Al Kavadlo, “, Pushing the Limits” and “Raising the Bar”, I highly recommend them. If you are looking to mix things up in your workouts or want to see just what kind of gains in strength and aesthetics you can make, get these books!

As I’ve said before, I started this journey with bodyweight exercises and made the departure last year from them to the iron because I wanted to learn how to do the “big four”, Bench, Squat, Deadlift and Overhead Press. I still have goals I want to hit with the iron and will revisit them again. I am still a little tight in my left leg, from my glute through my hamstring and into my calf, but I have noticed a lot of improvement. But I have goals to reach and I need to keep moving forward, so no more “resting”!

Speaking of goals, in just under three months I will be doing the Dirty Dash again! They changed locations and made the event happen earlier this year than the last two, so I’ve got to get steppin!

Through the time of the Dirty Dash, I will be pursuing bodyweight only routines, coupled with walking, jogging, occasional sprinting, and mountain biking.

Yesterday, I woke up at 0630 and walked the route that I have mentioned here before many times. I jogged up the two bridges. I definitely noticed that my “wind” has suffered greatly from not getting out and walking or working out hard at the gym. About one hundred yards from the bottom of the last bridge I had a really bad gag reflex and threw up an ounce or two of the pre-workout drink I had been nursing before and during the first mile of the walk. Before I go further, the pre-workout I am taking isn’t any of those stacked/jacked/powdered meth blends. I know one of the owners of a local supplement company and they have turned down deals from large distributors because they refuse to put in ingredients that are questionable. It has about the same amount of caffeine in it as about 3 strong cups of coffee or one cup of my father’s “rocket fuel” coffee he makes.

Anywho, I kept walking and got through it. I stopped at a local elementary school’s playground that is on my route and did.

1 x 10 Australian Pull Ups + 1 x 10 Pushups, rested about 30sec and did that again.

I finished my walk and later in the day I did about 6 good form dead hangs for 10sec each.

I completed my serving of humble pie this morning when I woke up and found myself sore all over.

This is good.

I’ve been here before: Square 1. I am stronger and in better shape than my previous visits to Square 1, but I am here.

The only way to go, is forward.

So keep moving forward, friends, set backs happen, get back up and keep moving forward!

Now, enjoy this motivational video and get going!

Update: Back Injury

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I hurt my back doing deadlifts on Saturday. My work sets were 3 x 5 @ 195lbs. I did all three work sets just fine and with good form. At the end of the final set, I decided to do one more rep. Form on the way up and in lockout was good, I lost tension in my abs/core on the way down and felt a sharp pain on the lower left side of my back.

I carefully stretched before going home and then stretched some more, very carefully throughout the day. The discomfort got worse , up to and including a pain that shot from my back through my left glute and hamstring. Literally, I had a pain in my ass!

The next day I went to a quick care/doc in the box. Had an exam and X-rays done. The doctor confirmed no injuries to my spine or joints. No fractures, etc. All in all, it appears that I strained some muscles near my spine and it caused a pinch to my sciatic nerve.

The doctor is 85%+ sure that I did not skip a disc or have a herniated disc. So that’s good!

Basically for the next week, I am grounded from lifting. I’ll be doing a lot of walking!

Listen to your body and always, always, always: keep good form!

Keep moving forward, everyone!

Workout 01/17/15: Deadlifts

Deadlifts: Bar x10 x1, 155lbs x10 x1, 175lbs x10 x5, 195lbs x5 x3.

So, I’m a bit worried. Final set completed, decided to do a 6th rep in that set. Up was fine, and on the down motion I lost form and felt a tight pinch on my left side, lower back.

I think I strained or pulled that muscle. And I am pissed! I’ve been very careful with form and this happens. I’m going to take it easy and see how I feel over the next few days.

Keep moving forward, everyone.

Workout 01/10/15: OHPs and Heavy Bag Work

Overhead Press:

Bar(45lbs) x10 x1, 75lbs x10 x1, 95lbs x5 x2, 105lbs x 2 x1, 105lbs x4 x1

Heavy Bag & Combatives work: 30min

Footwork drills, Left Jab x10 x1, Right Cross x10 x1, Left Hook x10 x1, Right Hook x10 x1, Left Uppercut x10 x1, Right Uppercut x10 x1, Jab/Cross x10 x1, Jab/Cross/Hook x10 x1, Left Snap Kick x10 x1, Right Front Kick x10 x1, Left Thai Kick x10 x1, Right Thai Kick x10 x1, Left Knee x10 x1, Right Knee x10 x1, Straight Blast – 10sec blasts x 4, Left Elbow x10 x1, Right Elbow x 10 x1, Straight Blast – 10sec blasts x 4

It was a good session, I am sore on this Sunday morning!

Workout 01/04/14: Squats and Bench Press

First workout of the new year! But first, let’s get to a few changes.

Last week I decided to give “My Fitness Pal” another go at tracking my food, using a PC it was a tedious process, even with certain foods saved. However, since I upgraded my phone, I decided to give the App a try instead and it has been much, much easier. I especially love the ability to scan the bar code on the food I eat, and thankfully, since almost everything has a bar code now, it’s not limited to processed and boxed foods!

I also purchased my first pair of Converse All Stars for doing my lifting. I’ve read about the preference people have towards them due to the flat sole and there is little to no elevation on the heel. I’ve personally never owned any “kicks” and I resisted the Whovian urge in me to get a pair of white or red ones and just got a pair of “classic” looking low top black ones. Maybe it’s just all in my head, but compared to my New Balance runners, I felt a difference and better grounding as I was doing the Squats.

I’m still balancing the demands of the new position, but I am getting a better grip on things. I’m going to play around with my workouts a little bit more. I was thinking about dropping things down to focusing on one compound movement a day, making it a short and intense session.

So, for example, Deadlifts on Monday, Overhead Press on Tuesday, Squats on Wednesday, Bench Press on Thursday. Something like that.

Well enough of this! Let’s get to the work done today!

Bench Press: 45lbs(bar) x10 x1, 95lbs x5 x1, 115lbs x5 x1, 135lbs x5 x2, 145lbs x5 x1

Squats: 45lbs(bar) x10 x1, 95lbs x5 x1, 115lbs x5 x1, 135lbs x5 x2

Done and done!

Whatever you do, ladies and gentlemen, keep moving forward!