During the pandemic, my activity level dropped pretty severely. I knew I’d gained weight; I felt slow and heavy, even sluggish. Just tired and physically weak. I’m a doctor, so I usually wear medical scrubs to work, which are pretty forgiving when one gains some weight, which means I wasn’t seeing my weight gain every day. I’d also broken my left foot, which limited my mobility—and made it tougher to stay fit.
As businesses started to reopen, I was going out more. I remember one evening dressing to meet friends for dinner. I put on my jeans, buttoned the top button, and looked in the mirror. I saw myself with a distinct and robust muffin top.
Seeing that really made the connection for me: There was a reason I felt sluggish and tired. And I knew that if I’d gotten to this point, I could turn things around, too. I wanted help, though, so I started working with a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance in Washington, D.C. We changed more than my workout routine.
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• I focused on sleep. My first big lesson was about the importance of sleep. Waking up early and being well-rested is really the best performance enhancer, whether at work or in the gym. Another big motivator was bimonthly body fat measurements using calipers. That was part of my program, and there are few things more humbling than another man grabbing a handful of your back fat every two weeks.
• I changed my approach to eating. Prior to this, I’d usually start the morning with coffee and oatmeal or an egg-and-bacon sandwich. For lunch I’d have kebab or gyros with carb-heavy sides, then meet someone for dinner or order a take-home meal. I’d be eating as late as 10:30 PM.
That all changed. I started having a glass of water or herbal tea instead of morning coffee, with two hard-boiled eggs. I’d prep my lunch and bring it to work; often it’d be chicken or steak I’d put on a bed of veggies. I eat my dinners earlier now, before 9 PM, and it’s something I’ve already prepped ahead of time. I have a spoon of maple syrup or jam after dinner, which keeps me from evening snacking. (Going heavy on protein also helps with that.) Logging my meals and checking my weight several times a week helped keep me on track.
• I did three workouts a week in the gym. I’d tried some other workout regimens before, including SoulCycle and CrossFit for a year or two. I had a personal trainer for another year. And I did yoga occasionally, alone and in classes. I even jumped into a few “body sculpting” classes.
With UP, I did three sessions per week for the duration, starting with full-body workouts for the first few weeks. That got me used to primary movements and got me back in shape pretty quickly. Then we moved to an upper-lower split for strength development. The bulk of my training sessions focused on large, compound, multi-joint lifts. Lots of upper-body strength building, and squats, split squats, and posterior chain work for my lower body.
In about six and a half months my body fat percentage dropped from 27 percent to less than 11 percent. I definitely feel stronger and more confident, even outside of the gym. I also realized that I’d been interacting with so many friends and colleagues via video chat during the pandemic, that the first thing they noticed was my face gains! Feeling good and moving better have always been my goals, but I also don’t mind having big shoulders and arms, and thick legs.
That said, there’s no real magic bullet to getting there. Start small and make a plan that’s manageable. Put aside your pride and get started! No one at the gym is looking at you. And if you can, work with someone who knows more than you, whether that’s a friend or a trainer.
Ultimately, as cliche as it sounds, the fitness journey is a marathon, not a sprint. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, no matter how fast, give yourself credit for a win.
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