Category Archives: My Fitness

How Soon Does Fitness Deteriorate After You Stop Working Out?

The answer varies from person to person and may be different for aerobic versus  strength measures.

I’m reminded of a quote from a famous violinist: “If I don’t practice for one day, I can tell.  If I don’t practice for two days, my conductor can tell.  If I don’t practice for three days, the audience can tell.”

I laid off all exercise for the last three weeks, partly due to a long vacation, partly to see how much my fitness would deteriorate.

Here’s what I found:

  • My time for the one-mile run increased from 8 mins and 54 seconds to 9 mins and 30 seconds
  • My maximum number of push-ups increased from 32 to 36
  • My maximum number of sit-ups increased from 32 to 34
  • My maximum number of pull-ups increased from 8 to 9

Closing Thoughts

Strength measures increased, surprisingly.  Was it just a good day, or did my muscles need the time off to rest and re-build?  Over-training is a real problem for some folks.  At 20 minutes of weight-training twice a week, I doubt I was anywhere near what most consider over-training.  I don’t fiddle-fart around during my exercise sessions, but I’m not puking either.

So I won’t feel too bad in the future if I take a couple or three weeks off from strength training periodically.

My endurance for running deteriorated significantly.  Is it related to the lack of strength training, the lack of treadmill interval work, or both?

Your mileage will vary.

Steve Parker, M.D.

 

I’m as Fit as a U.S. Army Soldier!

“Drop and gimme 50, maggot!”

U.S. soldiers, at least those in the Army, have to take a physical fitness test twice a year.  I wondered how I, at 57-years-old, stacked up so I self-administered the three fitness components.  I did not run in army boots, nor carry a rifle or backpack!  Soldiers need to score a minimum of 60 points on each exercise.

The Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) performance requirements are adjusted for age and sex.

  1. Push-ups: 32 (76 points)
  2. Army sit-ups: 32 (65 points)
  3. Timed two-mile run: 17 minutes, 38 seconds (80 points)

I gotta say I feel pretty good about this, especially since I’ve only been working out for 60-70 minutes a week over the last three months.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Notes:

My first mile of the run was done in 8 minutes and 30 seconds.

My Fitness Experiment #3: Results

One……more……rep!

After finishing six weeks ofChris Highcock’s Hillfit earlier this year, I designed another fitness program using dumbbells and high intensity interval running on a treadmill.

I’ve preached about the benefits of baseline and periodic fitness measurements.  Here are mine, before and after roughly six weeks of my fitness experiment #3:

  • weight: no change (170 lb or 77.3 kg)
  • maximum consecutive push-ups: 34 before, 32 after
  • maximum consecutive pull-ups: no change (8)
  • maximum consecutive sit-ups: 37 before, 35 after
  • time for one-mile walk/run: 8 minutes and 35 seconds before, up to 8 minutes and 54 seconds after (*)
  • vertical jump (highest point above ground I can jump and touch): 279.5 cm before, to 276 cm after
  • toe touch (wearing shoes, stand and lock knees, bend over at waist to touch toes: no change (22 cm)

I worked out twice weekly for a total of 70 minutes.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week; or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity plus muscle-strengthening activity at least twice a week.

Bottom Line

I was a bit fitter after completing Hillfit a couple months ago.

Or I just had a bad day when I tested this time.  Nevertheless, I prefer my current program to Hillfit.  (Click for report on my six-week Hillfit experience.)

What Next?

For strength and endurance gains, perhaps I should incorporate some Hillfit features into my current plan.

I don’t feel like I’m getting much out of Romanian deadlifts.  Drop ’em?  Do they add anything to squats?  Try Hillfit-style wall squats while hold dumbbells?

How does my fitness compare to other 57-year-old men?  I’m not sure.  One of these days I’ll see how I stack up against U.S. Army fitness standards, which involve a timed two-mile run.

Is my current level of fitness good enough?  Again, not sure.

My highest dumbbell weights are 40 lb (18 kg).  I’m already using those for squats, deadlifts, and one-arm rows.  For future strength gains, I’d have to do those exercise for longer, or more days per week, or buy some 50-lb weights.  A pair of 50-lb dumbbells will cost $50 (used) or $100 (new).

I’ll put together yet another fitness program within the next few months.

I don’t like to exercise, but I want the health benefits.  My general goal is to maximize health benefits while minimizing exercise time.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Notes:

Next time I do the mile run on the treadmill, start at 7.5 mph and increase to 8 mph as much as tolerated.

(*) About 10 days after this I ran a mile in 8 minutes and 30 seconds on a high school track.

My Fitness Experiment No. 3

OK, here’s the new plan.

For aerobic and cardiovascular endurance:

  • twice weekly 15-minute treadmill high intensity interval training

For strength:

Twice weekly…

Why dumbbell weights?  ‘Cuz that’s what I’ve got.

I chose push-ups over bench presses because the former probably uses more muscles.

My hesitation about the pull-ups/chin-ups is that they may be redundant, i.e., working muscles already used in the other exercises.

Rather than counting sets and repetitions (e.g., three sets of 10 pushups), I’m going to continue using the exhaustion technique Chris Highcock taught me in Hillfit:

  • 90 seconds on each exercise
  • use enough weight that I’m exhausted after the 9o seconds
  • 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down for each repetition

If I skip the pull-ups, I could probably get the resistance training done in 20 minutes.  (I think I’m talking myself out of the pull-ups!)

My current fitness measurements are recorded elsewhere.  I’ll recheck after about six weeks.

None of this is etched in stone.

My goals are here.  Comments?

Steve Parker, M.D.

Notes

My fitness experiment No.1 was Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance.  No. 2 was Chris Highcock’s Hillfit.

Update May 22, 2012

The first workout went well.  I need to review the various types of dumbbell presses and decide which one I want to stick with.   Not doing the pull-ups/chin-ups.  I hope I’m a little sore tomorrow.  These are the dumbbell weights I used today:

Dumbbell squats: 25 lb (11.4 kg)

Push-ups: 25 lb (11.4 kg) in backpack

Dumbell presses: 15 lb (6.8 kg)

Romanian deadlift with dumbbells: 30 lb (13.6 kg)

Bent-over one-arm rows: 25 lb (11.4 kg)

Update May 25, 2012

I was sore in the back, quads (anterior thighs), and arms the next day.  I even postponed my second workout of the week for one day to allow lingering right arm soreness to resolve.  For my workout today, I reduced the overhead press weight from 15 to 10 lb.

Update May 27, 2012

Right arm/shoulder soreness is gone.  Now I’ve got soreness in my left hamstring, likely a strain related to the deadlifts.  Started 24 hours after my second workout in this experiment, and persisting 36 hours at this point.

Update May 28, 2012

Right hamstring soreness almost gone.  Instead of 30 lb dumbbells with the Romanian deadlift, I cut to 25 lb to avoid aggravating that hamstring.  Probably back to 30 lb next time.  With bent-over rows, I’m ready to progress to 30 lb.

Update June 9, 2012

It’s going well.  No injuries; no unusual aches.  Here are the dumbbell weights I carry in each hand: for squats – 30 lb; for push-ups – 25 lb in backpack; for dumbbell presses – 25 lb; for Romanian deadlifts – 40 lb; for bent-over row – 30 lb.  The set of dumbbells my wife got for me (used) in CraigsList was from 5 to 30 lb.  So I had to go buy a 40-lb pair, which set me back about $80 (USD).

Update June 26, 2012

Going well.  No injuries.  Haven’t missed any sessions.  Had to decrease backpack push-up weight from 25 to 20 lb  about 10 days ago—I just couldn’t keep up the exercise for 90 seconds at the higher weight.  A couple weeks ago I increased the bent-over row and squat weights to 40 lb.  I’m noticing much use of back and shoulder muscles when I’m doing exercises that superficially seem to target other muscles. E.g., the Romanian deadlifts and squats target the buttocks and thighs, but having to carry 40 lb in each hand works out my arms, shoulders, and back.

Update July 9, 2012

Having started my current fitness experiment six weeks ago, it’s time for a retest of my fitness to assess results.  But I’m not going to do it now.  I was at my son’s Boy Scout camp all last week and unable to do my regular routine.  (By the way,  jogging at 6,700 feet above sea level is definitely harder than at 2,000 feet.)  I’m going to do another two weeks of the program, then test.  Fair enough?  I’m a little concerned about some mysterious pain in my left forefoot that started roughly two months ago.  That may prevent my work on the treadmill.

Update July 21, 2012

I finished Fitness Experiment No.3 today and will retest my fitness after a couple days.  Originally planned as a six-week trial, I missed week six due to Boy Scout camp.  I made up for that by doing another two weeks.  I’m happy with my push-ups, dumbbell presses, and dumbbell squats.  By happy, I mean I get a good, exhausting workout in the allotted 90 seconds.  With push-ups, I wear a backpack holding 20 lb (9 kg).  Presses are with 30 lb (14 kg) in each hand.  Squats are with a pair of 40 lb (18 kg) dumbbells.  The bent-over one-arm rows have just now become too easy at 40 lb.  I’m not pleased with the Romanian deadlifts while holding 40 lb in each hand—they’re too easy.  I don’t have any heavier weights, so I’m looking at buying a pair of 50s for about $100 (USD) new, or $50 used.  Or I could 1) make the deadlifts more stressful in some way, 2) do them for longer than 90 seconds, or 3) find a substitute for the deadlifts.

Fitness Plan Bugaboos: Idiosyncrasy, Variables, and The Big Five

Assembling a fitness program for yourself is like figuring out your weight loss and management plan.  Lots of variables and idiosyncrasies to consider.  You have to determine what works for you, sometimes through trial and error.  Your plan may not work for your neighbor.

You could always go to a personal trainer who’ll devise a plan for you and supervise implementation.  That’s not a bad idea at all, and probably the best choice for someone not familiar with exercise yet serious about long-term health and weight management.

Yesterday I wrote about my self-imposed quandary: In which direction do I take my fitness program now.

I remember reading somewhere on the ‘net over the last year about “the big five” exercises for strength training (aka resistance training).    Turns out there are lots of Big Five lists.  Here’s one:

  • squats
  • deadlifts
  • bench press
  • overhead press
  • chin-ups
And another, similar list (a blog commenter said these were the five free-weight exercises at the top of Dr. Doug McGuff’s list):
  • squats
  • deadlifts
  • bench press
  • standing overhead press (same as military press?)
  • bent-over barbell row
  • compound row or bent-over row
  • chest press or bench press (esp. with 15 degree incline)
  • pull-down or chin-up
  • overhead or military press
  • leg press or squat
If you’re not familiar with these, go to YouTube and browse.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not interested, at my age, in growing large muscles. My goal is to be injury resistant and as strong as I can be without spending too much time at it, regardless of muscle size.  Size doesn’t necessarily translate directly into strength.  My wife, on the other hand, appreciates large arms—think  Thor in The Avengers movie.

I’m tempted to put together a program composed of man-makers, Turkish get-ups, High Knee Walk to Spiderman With Hip Lift and Overhead Reach (HKWTSWHLOR?), and treadmill HIIT.  I’m saving that for another day, however.

I’ll share my new program tomorrow.

Steve Parker, M.D. 

Whither My Fitness?

I spent six hours yesterday considering a new fitness program for myself.  I’ve been happy with my Hillfit experience but want to try something new.

I surfed the ‘net, read some chapters in Jonathan Bailor’s The Smarter Science of Slim, and thought more about the Hillfit program.  I spent a lot of time at the Whole9 website reviewing their recent three-part series on “The Five Best Exercises for Overall Fitness, Health, and Longevity,” or some such.

Bailor’s exercise program focuses on eccentric exercise, a place I’m not ready to explore.  “Eccentric” probably doesn’t mean what you think.  Take pull-ups or chin-ups, for example.  You pull yourself up, which is concentric; letting yourself down is eccentric.  I’ll get to Bailor’s program some other day.

I was planning to put something together based on the Whole9 series, like Clifton Harski did.

My ideas started to crystallize after I remembered an old architectural aphorism: Form follows function.

So I asked myself, “Self, what are you’re goals?”:

  • improve my current fitness level
  • effective
  • efficient (e.g., not time-consuming, so under two hours a week)
  • scalable
  • teachable
  • relatively safe
  • simple
  • no machines or commercial gym needed (i.e., home-based)

A couple items from Whole9 caught my fancy: man-makers, Turkish get-ups, the primacy of squats, the High Knee Walk to Spiderman with Hip Lift and Overhead Reach.  Except for squats, these ideas were new to me.  The Spiderman thing brought some of Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance exercises to mind; particularly good for flexibility.

Do you know of a good existing pre-packaged program that meet’s my criteria, either in book or DVD form?  I’m sure there are hundreds available.

I’ll share more ideas with you in the next few days.

Steve Parker, M.D.

My Experience With Hillfit Strength Training

Last January I wrote a favorable review of Chris Highcock’s Hillfit strength training program for hikers.  I just finished actually following the the program for six weeks, and I still like it.  It’s an eye-opener.

See my prior review for details of the program.  Briefly, you do four exercises (requiring no special equipment) for fifteen minutes twice a week.  Who doesn’t have time for that?

I did modify the program a bit.  I included high-intensity intervals on a treadmill twice weekly, right after my Hillfit exercises.  Here’s the 15-minute treadmill workout: 3 minute warm-up at 5.3 mph, then one minute fast jogging at 7–8 mph, then one minute of easy jog at 5.3 mpg. Alternate fast and slow running like that for 6 cycles.  So my total workout time was 30 minutes twice weekly.

Why the treadmill HIIT (high intensity interval training)?  For endurance.  I’m still not convinced that strength training alone is adequate for the degree of muscular and cardiopulmonary endurance I want.  I’m not saying it isn’t adequate.  That’s a self-experiment for another day.  In 2013, I’m planning to hike Arizona’a Grand Canyon rim to rim with my son’s Boy Scout troop.  That’s six or eight miles down, sleep-over, then six or eight  miles back up the other side of the canyon.  That takes strength and endurance.

One part of the program I wasn’t good at: Chris recommends taking about 10 seconds to complete each exercise motion.  For example, if you’re doing a push-up, take 10 seconds to go down to the horizontal position, and 10 seconds to return up to starting position with arms fully extended.  I forgot to do it that slowly, taking five or six seconds each way instead.

I’ve preached about the benefits of baseline and periodic fitness measurements.  Here are mine, before and after six weeks of Hillfit and treadmill HIIT:

  • weight: no real change (168 lb or 76.2 kg rose to 170 lb or 77.3 kg)
  • body mass index: no change (23.3)
  • resting heart rate and blood pressure: not done
  • maximum consecutive push-ups: 30 before, 34 after
  • maximum consecutive pull-ups: 7 before, 8 after
  • maximum consecutive sit-ups: 30 before, 37 after
  • time for one-mile walk/run: 8 minutes and 45 seconds before, down to 8 minutes and 35 seconds after
  • vertical jump (highest point above ground I can jump and touch): 108.75 inches or 276 cm before, to 279.5 cm after
  • waist circumference: no real change (92 cm standing/87 cm supine before, 92.5 cm standing/87.5 cm supine after)
  • biceps circumference: no real change (33 cm left and 33.5 cm right before; 33 cm left and 33 cm right after)
  • calf circumference: 39.5 cm left and 39 cm right, before; 38.5 cm left and 37 cm right, after (not the same child measuring me both times)
  • toe touch (stand and lock knees, bend over at waist to touch toes: 7.5 inches (19 cm) above ground before, 8.5 inches (22 cm) after

If these performance numbers seem puny to you, please note that I’m 57-years-old.  I’m not sure exactly where I stand among others my age, but I suspect I’m in the top half.  I’m sure I could do much better if I put in the time and effort.  My goal right now is to achieve or maintain a reasonable level of fitness without the five hours a week of exercise recommended by so may public health authorities.

Take-Home Points

Overall, this program improved my level of fitness over six weeks, with a minimal time commitment.  I credit Hillfit for the gains in push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and perhaps vertical jump.

My time on the one-mile run didn’t improve much, if at all.  This fits with my preconceived notion that strength training might not help me with leg muscle  and cardiopulmonary endurance.

The Hillfit exercise progressions involve adding weights to a backpack (aka rucksack or knapsack) before you start the exercise.  I’m already up to 80 lb (36 kg) extra weight on the modified row, and 85 lb (39 kg) on the hip extensions.  That’s getting unwieldy and straining the seams of my backpack.  I can’t see going much higher with those weights.

I expect I could easily maintain my current level of fitness by continuing Hillfit and HIIT treadmill work at my current levels of intensity.  In only one hour per week.  Not bad at all.

It’s possible I could get even stronger if I stuck to the program longer, or slowed down my movements to the recommended 10 seconds each way.

The key to muscle strength gain with Hillfit seems to be working the muscles steadily, to near-exhaustion over 90 seconds, gradually adding a higher work load as the days or weeks pass.

I’m setting Hillfit aside for now, only because I want to start a new self-experiment.

Hillfit is an excellent time-efficient strength training program for those with little resistance-training background, or for those at low to moderate levels of current fitness.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Notes to self:

When doing a mile run on the treadmill, I tend to start out too fast, then burn out and have to slow down.  That may be impairing my performance.  Next time, start at 7 mph for a couple minutes then try to increase speed.  Running a mile at 7 mph takes nine minutes.  A mile at 7.5 mph takes 8 minutes.  A mile at 8 mph takes 7 minutes and 30 seconds.