Working Out and Feeling Great

My posts seem to have a negative tint lately, so I thought I'd try to counter that with a post on the somewhat of a success story that are my recent workouts at the gym.

Fitness History

In the very old days I was quite skinny (more gangly, really, considering that I'm a geek), and weighed in at about 180 pounds [82kg]. I'm 6'4" [192cm], so 180 pounds is pretty lean. Then I started working out and I built up a fairly nice build; at my peak, I had Popeye arms (okay, not really, but at least I had some muscle on my bones) and was about 200 pounds [91kg]. I was very pleased.

But then I spent two highly stressful, highly sedentary years writing a book followed pretty much immediately by the lack of time and some years of chronic back pain associated with a kid, and the end result was a fairly tubby 216 pound [98kg] me.

Mind you, that 16-pound [6.5kg] gain masks the related muscle loss and subsequent replacement by fat. For my new non-manly build I was closer to 30 pounds [14kg] over what I should have been.

Hitting the Gym

I finally started to do something about it in October, when I started going to a small gym with my friend Katsunori Shimada. My goal was to go thrice weekly, and having the pressure not to cancel on someone has been helpful in mostly keeping that goal, with the exceptions of when I've been sick (which has been way, way too many times).

At first, we went to some of the aerobics classes, and I was surprised to find that I really liked them. Very high energy, and not boring at all. The one problem was that I had a hard time memorizing whatever moves were being used that day, and so often found that I couldn't keep up properly. After a while, I realized that while I really liked the physical workout, I really disliked the mental workout. For whatever reason, that gym likes to keep the aerobic workouts quite complex, so I decided to abandon them.


We tried the exercise bikes, but found them mind-numbingly boring and butt-numbingly painful. Then we gave the elliptical cross trainers a try and found a real hit.

Life Fitness elliptical cross
trainer model 91x

They're very easy on the joints (and the rear), and for some reason much less boring than the bikes. I created a “30-minute workout” playlist on my iPod, which starts out at a slow 55 beats-per-minute pace, works up to 85 bpm, then back down to 75, then up to 98 for a few minutes, then down to 60 for a while, then up again until a 5+ minute run of 99 bpm at the end. A 99 bpm song translates to a 99 revolutions per minute cycle pace, which is just short of flying.

All along the way I try to actually keep up with the pace, but at first this was only the most wishful of thinking, as I couldn't get through 15 minutes much less 30. My water bottle would be drained in the first five minutes.

Eventually I could get through 30 minutes, but certainly not keeping the pace set by the playlist. My water bottle was lasting a good 20 minutes, too.

As time went, I could finally get through the whole thing at the prescribed pace, and have a bit left in the water bottle at the end. I'd half kill myself doing it, of course, peaking at a heart rate of about 165 bpm and ending up drenched in sweat. (Despite the fact that I actually drank a lot during this, and that much of what I sweated away stayed on me in the form of a wet shirt, overall I would still lose almost two pounds [800g] in those 30 minutes!)

Lately, though, I go through the whole workout easily, and my heart rate doesn't get much above 145 at the fastest. Even when I doubled the 99 beats-per-minute pace at the end to 10 minutes, I find that I'm just in cruise control and feel like I could go on indefinitely. And I don't even bring a water bottle anymore.

Weight Training

We also do simple weight training on the machines for about an hour -- we go through a list of an even dozen exercises, just one set each (15 reps for upper-body, 20 reps for lower-body). We use a workout sheet that I'd made to use when I worked out in the Yahoo! employee gym, and keep track of our progress. I've now regained the big barrel chest and Popeye arms (okay, again, you know what I mean) and feel great. Shimada-san, who had never done any meaningful exercise, has progressed rapidly himself.

The Best Part

This is Japan, after all, so the best part is that after you get a shower and are all cleaned up, you can enjoy a hot bath right there at the gym. After that, I sit in front of some fans to dry and cool down, and that's the best part for me.

Last week, though, I discovered something even better than the hot bath: a cold one. They have what I would suppose in English would be called a “plunge bath”, a bath of cold water. It's not freezing or anything; it's a warm-sounding 68F [20C], but believe me, after a hot shower it feels like ice. The first couple of times were very difficult (it's COLD!), but I'm used to it now so it's not difficult to get in up to my neck. I stay for only a few seconds, and then I'm done.

What I find so nice about it is that I feel so refreshed afterwards. I still enjoy sitting in front of the fan, but find that I don't really need to do so as I did after the hot bath (the hot bath having left me a bit dizzy). In any case, after a good workout and the plunge bath, I feel alive and genki.

The Bottom Line

Beside the financial costs, it really takes time. The gym is a one-hour round trip drive away, and most days that I go it ends up eating a painful four hours. But Fumie's been supportive, and the results so far are that my chronic back ache is virtually gone, I feel wonderful, I've put on a fairly good build and lost a lot of blubber to the tune of now being about 207 pounds [94kg]. I've been going for just four and a half months (half of the time, it seems, being out of commission with a cold), so I'm pleased with the progress.

All 2 comments so far, oldest first...

Thank you for going with gym with me that take long time to commute. I appreciate your kindness very much. I don’t lose weight yet but I get mentally healthier. 🙂

— comment by Katsunori on February 14th, 2006 at 7:39pm JST (18 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Great job in keeping with a fun regimen. Your story is quite enjoyable and well documented.
Now, we’ve got to talk about getting you on board for a marathon before the big four-oh….. 😉
I understand the joy of cooling fans after a hot shower/jacuzzi. Wish it were available around here (Ohio, USA). After a tough workout, there’s nothing better than a nice hot shower….but then you spend 20 minutes continuing to sweat unless there’s cooling fans around. No such luck!! ARG!

— comment by Alinsky on February 16th, 2006 at 3:38pm JST (18 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink
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