Losing My Obesity: A Grocery List + Guide

I hurt my back sometime near the middle of Spring 2015. I’m not sure how I did it. Neither my doctor nor physical therapist could figure it out as well. What we did know was this: I had a bulging disk, which meant no working out for a good six-to-nine months while it healed.

I was mad, and a little scared. I couldn’t do anything physical. Everything hurt. And what didn’t hurt fatigued me. I couldn’t walk for extended periods of time. I never knew when a spasm would send me to the floor in pain. For months I wondered if I’d ever lift, or run, or do anything again.

I fell into a deep, dark funk. I’ve been athletic for much of my life. I’m not a great athlete. But I’m constantly on the go. I like physical activity. I like feeling my body.

Then without warning: I couldn’t anymore. My weight ballooned. I went from 77.1 kgs (170 lbs) in early February to 92.5 kgs (204 lbs) in November. I was scientifically categorized as obese. Beyond that, I was miserable and out of shape.

When I was finally able to lift again in November, nearly ten months after the injury first flared up, I was determined to shed that weight. I wasn’t trying to get skinny. I just wanted to feel my body again, to move in my body. I’d had enough of this new, unwanted mass bringing me down. I knew to get my body back I needed two things: a goal and accountability.

  • Goal: Compete in the national masters weightlifting competitions in 2017 at 77 kgs at a weight of no more than 75 kgs.
  • Accountability: I would make take my journey public, and use tracking mechanisms like MyFitnessPal, Garmin Connect, and my WeightGurus bluetooth connected scale to put everything out there.

That meant I needed to lose 17.5 kgs, which is about where my doctor wanted me to be anyway. (Someone of my height, 5’9″, should be between 60-77 kgs.)

Since I began this journey, I’ve dropped 13.6 kilograms (29.9 lbs) between November 2015 and March 2016 using some very simple dietary work. There’s nothing that’s very radical. No diet. No pills. Just a strict accounting of the calories and types of food I’ve been eating, and my regular Olympic lifting routine.

To Start: Daily Accountability

Before I started this weight loss program, I knew I needed to focus on setting hard and fast goals, to build accountability into my system. The reason: We know that the only way people enact real, long-term gains and turn those into lifestyle choices is through a daily recording and accountability system. (Here’s a story in The Atlantic about the science behind this.)

There’s no way around this particular aspect of the work. You either measure and count every day, or you’ll face a series of steps forward and steps backwards. It’s how we’re hardwired. As a recovery alcoholic, my people call this looking for an easier, softer way. The sooner you realize there is no easier, softer way, the quicker you’ll start seeing movement towards your goal

For me, the accountability and goal tracking began with using MyFitnessPal to track all my food. (A quick scan of my tracking can show you exactly when I was losing weight, and exactly when I was not. I’ve been very diligent about tracking since November 2015.)

To Start: Setting Macro-nutrient Levels

Once I settled on MyFitnessPal for my tracking, I needed to adjust my caloric intake and my macro-nutrients in order to achieve my goal of 75 kgs.

Step one was setting the caloric intake. I just used MyFitnessPal to determine how many calories I needed to eat each day in order to lose 0.75 kgs (1.6 lbs) each week. That was aggressive, but I was obese. I figured I could stand to lose weight rapidly.

Step two focused on my macro-nutrients, which meant focusing on how much of what types of foods I should be eating. You can go deep into this, but I wanted to keep everything simple. I stayed at the very top level, focusing on how many grams of Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, and Sugars I should take each day.

I decided to use the World Health Organization’s nutritional intake levels since the U.S. recently upped its Sugar and Carbohydrate levels to accommodate our country’s continued and steady rise towards obesity. (More than 2 out of 3 adults are considered overweight or obese in the United States.)

What That Means

Practically speaking, here’s what my nutrition tracking looks like

Calories per day: 1950

  • Carbohydrates: 30 percent of my daily intake
  • Fat: 35 percent of my intake
  • Protein: 35 percent of my intake
  • Sugar: less than 10 grams a day

In truth, I actually eat more Protein and Fats in my diet. When I start playing with the macros, I try to reduce my Sugar and Carbohydrate intake whenever possible.

All of these numbers adjust automatically in MyFitnessPal based upon my workouts. On long workout days, for instance, I might have an addiction 5-7 grams of sugar available in my nutrition.

What those numbers look like in MyFitnessPal

I’m not always directly on those numbers. In fact, these are the top levels for my macros.

  • Protein: 185 grams
  • Carbs: 140 grams
  • Sugars: 10 grams
  • Fats: 75 grams

Generally speaking, I try to keep my Carbohydrates between 85-125 grams each day and take in more Protein and more Fat.

Tracking my Exercise

One easy way to screw yourself up when you’re counting is to over-estimate how much energy you’re burning each day.

I spent a good deal of time researching how much energy I burned during my fitness routines. A good rule of thumb is this: You burn way less than you think.

  • Running 1 mile: 120 calories
  • 30-minutes of vigorous Olympic lifting: 66 calories
  • 30-minutes of power Olympic lifting: 50 calories
  • CrossFit 1 hour class: 300 calories

I manually enter my exercise and numbers in MyFitnessPal because the average numbers used by the system over-estimate exactly how much work you’re actually doing.

Also: DO NOT COUNT your steps towards your caloric intake each day. You are supposed to walk, people. If you give yourself credit for that, you won’t lose weight. I learned this the hard way. Track your steps so you’re getting your 10,000 each day. But realize that is what you’re supposed to do. That’s not extra work.

The Food Philosophy

Once my wife and I set out goals, we spent a good deal of time in the grocery story looking at food labels.

MyFitnessPal helps with this because you can sit at home and search items and see its nutrients, but going to the grocery was easier although time consuming. You can also scan through my food diary and see what I eat each day, find the foods you like, and see when I cheat.

Here are some basic guidelines that we follow when buying and eating foods

  • No fruit
  • No juices
  • No soda
  • Sugar-free bread
  • Low-sugar peanut butter
  • Low-sugar jelly
  • Veggies, but check for hidden sugar
  • No cake, pie, or other desserts (substitute protein bars or toast with peanut butter)
  • Protein bars that have no sugar
  • Protein drinks made with water or veggies
  • Use vitamins to supplement
  • No alcohol

We also measure all of our food. We have a kitchen scale and measuring cups that we use to ensure that we’re controlling our portions. And before we plow into a second helping of food, we take 15 minutes (and a glass of water) to make sure that we’re actually hungry for more. (Pro tip: You aren’t.)

The Grocery List

We’ve recently started using Instacart, a grocery delivery service. This helps us track our food, and keep lists of what we’re eating. Of course we will mix up our foods, but my goal has been to create a food routine that involves consistent food intake.

I know what I’m eating, and so I can substitute and move foods around during the day. I can mix-and-match because I have a good sense of what’s going into my stomach.

Below I’ve listed foods from our last three Instacart grocery lists. I’m sure there are more coming. We swap out, and add as we find new things. But this is a good start for those who are looking for low carb, low sugar, healthy foods.

Breakfast/Snacks

  • Think Thin Protein Bars (No Sugar)
  • Bob Evans Original Pork Sausage Patties
  • Johnsonville Sausage
  • Organic Eggs
  • Quaker Instant Oatmeal Weight Control Variety
  • Nature’s Own 1005 Whole Wheat English Muffins
  • Jif’s Creamy Peanut Butter (1 tbspoon, 1.5 g of sugar)
  • Smucker’s Natural Creamy Peanut Butter

Lunch/Snacks

  • Nature’s Own Sugar free 100% Whole Wheat 100% Whole Grain Break
  • Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
  • Smucker’s Low Sugar Strawberry Preserves
  • Smucker’s Preserves Strawberry Sugar Free
  • Daisy 2% or 4% Low Fat Cottage Cheese
  • StarKist Solid White Albacore Tuna in Wate
  • Garden Fresh Gourmet Salsa Special Med
  • Garden of Eatin’ Yellow Chips

Dinner

  • Chicken Breasts
  • Ground Sirloin
  • Food Club Peas Petite (watch sugar)
  • Food Club Corn Cut (watch sugar)
  • Food Club Brussel Sprouts (watch sugar)
  • Food Club Spinach Chopped (watch sugar)
  • Food Club Chopped Broccoli (watch sugar)
  • Swanson’s Organic Free Range Chicken Broth
  • Spinach Salad
  • Avocado
  • Mushrooms
  • Yellow Onion

Eating Out

We’ve also managed to eat out without breaking our basic food philosophy. Mostly, we order meat without bread, cottage cheese or plain veggies instead of fries, and we avoid desserts. It’s amazing what you can find on menus just by thinking about your food in that way.

We’ve had amazing steak, chicken, and vegetables while dining out with our friends. Nobody bats an eye, and we don’t leave the restaurant feeling deprived.

The Game of Trust and Fails

So…

Bombing Out

Block Work

Complex Work

Clean & Jerk Work

158 kg: Work To Do

I didn't have a great meet, but my singled definitely won the day.

My singled definitely won the day.

Last weekend, I had the chance to compete in my first Olympic lifting competition, the Broad Ripple Fit Club Barbell Lift Off on Saturday, February 13.

My goal is to qualify for the National and American Masters events in 2017 when I’ll compete in the 45-49 age class in the 77 kg weight class, so I’m looking at 2016 as a year of training and preparation.

This has been a big transition for me. I stopped doing CrossFit about 18 months ago, and focused strictly on Olympic lifting. Unfortunately, I hurt my back and missed nine months.

The pain was so bad that I wondered if I would actually lift again. Fortunately, I healed up just fine and begin lifting in August. But I didn’t start picking up heavy weight until November.

All that is to say that even though I’d been doing it for awhile, Olympic lifting still feels new to me.

But I wanted to compete even though I have a year before it counts. I want to get used to lifting in competitions.

I went into this meet hoping to hit a total between 161-165 kilograms depending upon how well I was feeling. That would put me within just a few kilos of qualifying next year, and put me on good footing moving forward.

The Start of the Day

I wasn’t feeling great the day of the competition. I was out of town on Sunday and Monday, and our coach moved up the training schedule to prepare us for the event.

Our normal Tuesday-Wednesday-Friday routine turned into a Monday-Tuesday-Thursday one. Since I was traveling, mine turned into a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday.

I don’t know if the three days drained me, but I awoke on Saturday feeling a bit on the woozy side. My legs just felt…heavy.

But there’s never a perfect day. So I got up, ate breakfast (since I was in the middle of my weight class), and spent the day getting mentally prepared for the event.

The Snatch

I arrived early so that I could watch my wife lift. (She qualified for the National and American Masters with 5 kgs to spare.) With three hours before my flight, I had ample time to roll out, stretch, warm up, and get ready for the day.

My goal on the snatch: 75 kgs, which was 1 kg less than my max. To get there, I went conservative: 70, 73, and 75. 

I felt confident in that progression as I hit 70 and 73 kgs relatively consistently in the training. I thought that would calm my nerves, and give me one good pull at 75. 

And things started off well. 

Then my plan derailed.

I short armed my second lift. I didn’t complete the pull, and dropped 73. Instead of going for my 75 kg snatch, I stayed at 73, which was a problem since my one-rep clean & jerk was only 90 kg. That miss meant I wasn’t likely to hit 165 for the day.

I couldn’t worry about that. I had to get back on the podium in just a few minutes to try 73 for the second time.

The Clean & Jerk

My miss at 73 on the snatch put me behind schedule. I tried to put that out of my mind. Instead, I turned my thoughts to the Clean & Jerk. This is where most lifters make up serious kilograms. Unfortunately, I’m horrible at the lift (at the moment).

I’d put together an aggressive set of lifts for me: 85, 88, and 90. I toyed with the idea of pushing to 91 or 92 if I felt good, but both of those would be my one-rep Clean & Jerk max. Instead, I hoped to hit 88 kg, which would have gotten me to 161.

I knew in the warm-up room that the day was going to be a struggle. My legs just weren’t there even though I hit all my lifts, including my opening weight.

I walked off the stage laughing because that lift took more than 30 seconds from initial pull to final jerk, a lifetime on the podium.

That was the last lift I’d successfully complete.

I bombed out on the Clean on my next two lifts, dropping the bar after I short-armed the pull and leaned forward on my toes. I was spent. Worse, I’m not smooth enough on the movement to compensate for my lack of energy.

The Aftermath

My day wasn’t great, but I learned a few valuable lessons:

  1. I need to get to the gym, and work on my Clean & Jerk form, which is killing me. I’m embarrassingly bad at the pull and weak on the jerk. Lots of shoulder and panda pull work coming.
  2. I’ve avoided the hook grip for too long. My coach has now demanded that I deal with the pain, and use the proper grip.
  3. I’m strong, but not strong enough. I’ve got to focus on building more muscle mass if I plan on competing in the National and American Masters events.

The Pictures

But Always There Has Been Pearl Jam

I’m sitting at the table in my garden apartment in the airbnb in Chicago. Snow has fallen on the ground. Freezing air has settled into the city. My two-day writing journey is underway.

It’s early in the morning. I’m sipping coffee, making notes, and preparing to fix Part One of The Summer of Run. I’ve been fixing it for some time. That’s just my process. I have to dump a great deal of shit on the page to figure out where to plant the seeds.

When it’s time for me to write, I need silence. No music. No talking. No…anything. I need my mind clear, and my thoughts focused.

But that’s not where I am today. Today, I’m creating. I’m painting in my head. I’m building the stories around the spine of the narrative, the thing that makes the story…a story. To do that, I need sound. I need music.

I need Pearl Jam.

My first writing job in 1994 was with the alt-weekly Cincinnati CityBeat. I wrote straight news. I reported on City Hall. I wrote a column called “The Burning Question” where the news team would come up with one question for a local politician or public figure, and then ask them. I loved the column. I loved when I got cussed out. Or when somebody would get so enranged they’d hang up.

But that was journalism as sport. What I loved was features. I had the chance to write short and long features. I wrote about a biker who ran a small church for prostitutes and homeless people. A group of graffiti artists who tagged the city’s sewers (and had a police task for set up to stop them). A bike club that raised money for children and hospitals.

I’d spend weeks running around the city, interviewing people, spending time with them, getting to know them. But I’d never write a thing. Instead, I’d just collect bits and scraps and pieces of notes.

Then when it was time: I would start my ritual.

I’d sit at the bar assembling my notes on bar napkins, numbering them as got drunk, and then dropping them in a manila envelope. I’d construct the bones of the narrative while I got drunk and in between games of pool.

The next night, I’d go home, open a bottle of Jameson, turn off the lights in my room, pull out the napkins, crank up Merkinball, and write until the story was done.

On more than one occasion, I would get up in the morning without recollection of whether I’d submitted the story. I’d slide on my torn jeans, tie my flannel overshirt around my waist, slip on my black dockers, my black leather jacket, and wander into the office to ask the editor if he’d received my email.

I continued that routine — more of less — for the next two decades of my life. The booze came and went. The drugs came and went. My relationships came and went.

But always there’s been Pearl Jam, the soundtrack for my writing. The mood behind my creativity.

This is How We Train

Olympic lifting training is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

And it’s not the physical part that’s hard. It’s the mental part. I’m in a cycle where I’m strong enough for heavier lifts, but I haven’t quite wrapped my head around the mental aspects. My mind and body aren’t working together.

That can be frustrating. Dropping weights, missing lifts, and generally struggling for two hours isn’t fun.

That’s why it’s good to have great training partners. This is my best: Juice.

The Mock Meet, My First Competition

The Mock Meet

The thing about Olympic lifting. You have both a ton of time to wait, and no time. You have to stay in the zone.

The thing about Olympic lifting. You have both a ton of time to wait, and no time. You have to stay in the zone.

When I first started Olympic lifting, I was adamant that I wouldn’t ever compete. I wasn’t interested in pushing myself. I wanted to get in shape, learn the movements, and have a good time.

What I really wanted to avoid was anything competitive.

I put that part of my life behind me, the competitive, win-at-all-cost attitude that turned me into a less-than-pleasant guy when I was younger. I figure somebody in his forties should probably work on chilling out.

But the truth is I missed seeing how far I could go. I love working out, but I really love working towards a goal. It’s the difference between running on a treadmill, and running on trails in the woods. They both get you to the same place, but you see so much more out in the forest.

So I decided to give the competitive master’s weightlifting circuit a try. However, I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about my placement in any competition. Instead, I was going to compete against myself.

That means less concern about strategy and tactics, and more focus on my own personal goals.

In February, I’ll compete in my first USA Weightlifting sanctioned event, one put on at Broad Ripple Fit Club, which is my home gym. Last week, our coach decided to host a Mock Meet so that we could get a sense of how everything worked.

Since this was my first meet, I wanted to push myself. I wasn’t concerned about hitting my weights. Instead, I wanted to get see what it was like to lift heavy weights in a quiet room in front of an audience and three judges. I also wanted to work on my qualifying weight

The Snatch

I decided I’d go 71, 74, and 75 on my three lifts regardless of what happened. I hit 71 with no problem. Then I botched the pull on 74. And I finally nailed 75…until I failed to lock out my arms.

I wasn’t upset with my performance. But I learned that I really need to channel my aggression better. I was so amped for my first lift that I worried I was too excited. I tried to calm myself, and did that too well. My last two lifts lacked urgency.

Still, here’s my 71 kg opening lift.

The Clean & Jerk

I decided to go 85, 90, 94 on the Clean & Jerk. That was 5 kgs more than my previous one-rep max, which I’d just hit two weeks before.The truth is that I have more in me. I’m still working on my form for each movement.

However, I felt solid going into the meet. We had the day off on Thursday, and a thirty minute session on Friday. I was ready to go.

I nailed 85 kg without any problem. Then came my meltdown. I hit 90 kgs, but two of the judges said no. (Since this was a mock meet, they were judges-in-training. And my friends. I was mad, but not at them. It’s hard to tell that from my look.)

Needless to say, I was annoyed. (You’ll notice my face at the end.) With no time to think, I declared my third lift at 90 kg again. I abandoned my plan, and instead let my emotions take over. I was going to smash that 90 kg, and show the judges. (Of course, I bombed out on the jerk because I was too pissed to concentrate.)

It was a stupid mistake, but one I’ll use to learn. For now, he’s the “No Lift” 90 kg lift.

The Takeaway

I’m still working out my warm-up and lifting routine. It’s a bit odd to have everyone swirling around in the back trying to get loose.

What I enjoyed the most: the atmosphere.I loved that when it was time to lift everyone at the meet went silent. I’m told some people find it unnerving to have a room full of people watching you. Me: I went into a trance and didn’t even notice them.

My Long, Slow Love Affair with Olympic Lifting

When I walked in Broad Ripple Fit Club three-and-a-half years ago, I knew next-to-nothing about Olympic lifting. Like many American men, I grew up playing baseball and football and soccer. I ran a little track and cross-country.

What I didn’t do is lift. Well that’s not entirely true. I’d done the curls and leg presses and bench presses that you see in most gyms. But I hadn’t done much in the way of training.

Still, I thought: How hard can lifting weights really be?

The answer: Really hard.

Which doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Quite the opposite. The moves are so technical and beautiful that no matter your strength or body weight, you can get good at these movements. It doesn’t take long to begin moving more weight than you ever thought possible.

The true beauty of the art: When you do it right, the weight floats like a feather in the air. (Of course, it then crashes down on you because…gravity. So don’t get too enamored with the grace of it all.)

The secret: Set aside your ego, strip off all that weight on the bar, start at square one, and do the work.

Three years into this, and I’m still very early in the journey. I’ve still got so much to learn about how my body moves and how to get my mind in the right space. When you can master those two things — your body and your mind — you see amazing things happen.

As part of the “get your mind in the right space,” I thought now would be a good time to revisit just how far I’ve come. The reason: We just ended max week (the time in training where you re-check how much you’ve improved on the six major lifts we track) and  my body is feeling not so fresh right now.

August 2013: 34-kg Snatch (Setting Ego Aside)

This was from one of my first snatch training days, after I realized that I had no idea how this movement worked. And I realized that when my coach Jeff Edwards walked up to me on my first day, watched me snatch, and said (while waving his hand in a circle): “Everything you just did is wrong.”

I immediately liked that guy. I set aside my ego, dropped most of the weight off the bar, and started from Square One. I was here for several months trying to figure out exactly how all of these moving parts were supposed to work together.

November 2013: 63.5-kg Snatch (Dipping My Toes in the Water)

I was still terrible at the movements, but I was intrigued. Olympic lifting, I found, wasn’t about brute strength. It’s not the bench press. It’s not the deadlift. I’ve watched guys with giant biceps get handily out-lifted by women half their size.

This interested me. I wanted to understand how these movements worked.

Until then, I’d done CrossFit almost exclusively, attending the Saturday Olympic lifting class from time-to-time and when it didn’t interfere with my running schedule. But I’d grown a bit weary of CrossFit. The programming was amazing, but there were too many movements for me to master. I couldn’t learn the snatch, the clean, double unders, rope climbs, muscle ups, kipping pull-ups, and the rest.

Or more accurately, I could learn them but I wasn’t great at them. And I wanted to be great. Or at least really good. Hell, I’d settle for good.

So I began training almost exclusively on the snatch, a movement I wanted to perfect. (The clean & jerk is more forgiving, which is why I started with the more technical movement.)

The problem: I was also still bad at this movement. I didn’t really understand how the initial pull worked, where my butt was supposed to go, how to swing my hips forward into the bar (instead of pulling the bar back to me), how to explode up, and how to snap the bar into place.

But I’d made the decision: This is what I wanted to learn.

September 2014: 70.3-kg Snatch (Decision Point & The Injury)

I spent the next year doing three things: working by myself in the morning on ancillary movements, attending Olympic lifting classes, and training with my coach in one-on-one sessions to help me set the movements.

I needed to strengthen my body. I did overhead squats, drop snatch balances, heaving snatch balances, press-in-snatch, and a host of movements that I’d never heard of before. This was amazingly humbling for someone who’d done athletics. Hell, I’d run an ultra marathon (50K) the year before.

Surely I could lift some weights.

But I couldn’t.

Running didn’t prepare me for Olympic lifting in any way. In fact, long-distance running was working against my lifting. My running required me to sustain movement for hours at a time. My lifting required maximum effort exerted in less than a second.

So I spent a year in the gym, working, working, and working. I wasn’t getting much better, but I was getting stronger. I had a lot of retraining to do. To motivate myself, I set a goal: 80-kg by December 2014.

This was the first day I hit 70.3. I’d grown strong enough to lift much more, but my body and my form weren’t yet working together. The moves still felt disjointed. But I’d reached the point where I was about to start getting better if I could just put everything together.

Then disaster.

I got hurt just a few weeks after this. I had a bulging disk, an injury that required me to stop everything. For nearly nine months, I feared every step, every sneeze, and every movement. A weird selection of movements would send me tumbling to the floor with back spasms.

My training stopped. In fact, I feared that my Olympic lifting days were over. I was convinced that I’d hurt myself with all the lifting.

Not the case, my doctor and physical therapist said. The injury happened because I continued to run twenty-to-thirty miles a week, to lift four-to-five times a week, and to commute eight hours each way every other week between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

The constant sitting, the pounding from running, and the exertion of lifting worked together to confuse my body, which at this point was now forty years old and not happy about being tricked.

January 2016: 76-kg Snatch (Finally Starting to Lift)

Then magically the pain stopped.

I started back to CrossFit in July 2015, nine months after my injury. I spent two months slowly getting back into shape, testing my back, building up my endurance. I didn’t worry much about the Olympic lifts until mid-September. And I didn’t come back to Olympic lifting full-time until late November.

Since I returned, I’ve felt stronger, smarter, and better at the movements. There are three reasons that happened:

  • I’ve started tracking my food again. (You can find me on MyFitnessPal.)
  • I’ve stopped running, and focused only on Olympic lifting.
  • And I’ve started working more closely with other lifters and following my coaches programming (mostly) to the letter.

The result of focusing on those three things: After struggling at 70-kgs for months — and I mean months — before my injury, I’ve zoomed past that weight in just the six weeks that I’ve been

In less than a month, I’ll compete in my first local event. I don’t have any concrete goals set for this competition yet, although I’d like to total in the neighborhood of 160 kgs, a modest goal if I hit my 95 percent lifts on the platform. Regardless of February’s outcome, I’ve given myself a full calendar year to train before the 2017 Masters events.

Now that I’m all in on Olympic lifting, I want to see how far I can push my body and mind.

Olympic Lifting: A Master’s Tale

Snatch training at Broad Ripple Fit Club in January. That's a 68 kg snatch (me: 85 kg).

Snatch training at Broad Ripple Fit Club in January 2016. That’s a 68 kg snatch (me: 85 kg; age: 43). At this point, I need to lose another 8 kg.

On April 3, 2017, I’ll turn 45 years old. That’s the easy part.

If all goes well, I’ll also weigh 77 kg (169.7 lbs). That’s a bit harder.

I begin with those two numbers because they are two of the four most important numbers I’ll be thinking about over the next eighteen months.

I decided to train for and compete in one of the two USA Weightlifting Masters’ events here in the U.S. In order to do that, I’ll be competing in the 45-49 age division and the 77 kg weight class.

The 45 years old is pretty easy to hit. That’s coming whether I like it or not. The 77 kilograms is a little tricker, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Let’s start with what the hell this thing is that I’m doing.

Olympic lifting weightlifting events consist of two movements: snatch and clean & jerk. Each weight class has a winner, which is determined by adding up the totals from each lift (and making adjustments for the competitor’s body weight). There’s some more complex formulas used for best lifter, but that’s not important right now.

If these movements sound only vaguely familiar to you (or not familiar at all), you’re not alone. Unless you’re a CrossFitter, Powerlifter, or an Olympic lifting junkie, the only time you’d see these lifts is during the Summer Olympics. Even then, it’s not likely that you’ve spent much time thinking about them.

You can click on those links above and check out what it looks like when a real pro does it.

Okay, good. Now you know what it’s supposed to look like.

What I’ve got to do in order to qualify for either the National or the American Masters is hit a specific, cumulative weight total in a sanctioned meet. In other words: Add my best snatch lift to my best clean & jerk lift. Boom: cumulative total.

While my coach and I don’t know what the 2017 totals will be in order for me to qualify, we do know the 2015 totals were 165 kilograms (363.7 lbs). As of today, my total is 161 (Snatch: 74; C&J: 89), which is only an unofficial total. I haven’t actually lifted in any sanctioned events yet. And I’ll need to add at least 4 kg (8.8 lbs) to my total just to qualify.

And I need to do that after I shed another 8 kilograms (16.7 lbs), which involves not eating lots of chocolate and carbs, two of my very favorite things. So far, I’m down 8.3 kilograms (18.2 lbs) from where I began but the journey is far, far from over.

The real takeaway is this: I’m not that far off from qualifying and I have more than a year to train to do it.

But The Real Question Is Why, Why Are You Doing This Old Man

Five hours of max lifting in two days, plus an hour-long clean training session meant doing work from bed. (Jan 2016)

Five hours of max lifting in two days, plus an hour-long clean training session means I have to find time to let my body recover. (Jan 2016; age: 43)

Why am I doing this? Isn’t it dangerous? Isn’t that bad on your knees?

I get it. Running makes sense to people. Swimming makes sense. Training at a gym using elliptical machines makes sense.

Heaving up and then diving and squatting under heavy weights doesn’t make sense. It certainly doesn’t seem like an old man’s gam.

So those questions come up. A lot. Particularly from the over-forty crowd (which includes my parents). And the conversation almost always ends up with a discussion about the dangers of the sport.

To the untrained eye, I get that Olympic lifting looks dangerous. You’re using your entire body (not your arms, mind you) to throw big, heavy weights just a bit above your hips and then you’re swinging under the bar to catch them.

That’s…intimidating. And a little fucking stupid. And more than a little scary. It’s still scary for me, and I’ve been doing it for three years. Every time you step up to that bar, you have to remind yourself that you can — and will — catch that bar.

Which doesn’t mean people are too scared to try. Quite the opposite. Like anything else, Olympic lifting may not be for everyone.

I’ve just found that their concerns about Olympic lifting are not mine. In part that’s because I’ve got a badass USA Weightlifting coach, Jeff Edwards, who makes sure that you never take on more than you should, and who emphasizes moving properly over moving heavy weight.

Yet even with all that, you can still get hurt. Accidents happen. Age happens. You can be as careful as you can, and you can still get hurt.

So yeah, I get why Olympic lifting isn’t for everybody.

But it sure is for me.

Very, Very, Very Humble Beginnings

In November 2013, I could barely hold the 115 lbs on the bar.

In November 2013, I could barely hold the 115 lbs on the bar. There’s almost nothing good about this picture. But this is where I started. (Age: 41)

Since this first post is about questions, I’ll end this entry with the next-most-common question: How in the great holy shit did I get started doing this?

The truth: I didn’t mean to.

In April 2012, I joined Broad Ripple Fit Club (then CrossFit Broad Ripple). I wasn’t sure exactly what the CrossFit phenomenon was all about, but I was interested in joining a community of people who placed fitness and a healthy lifestyle at the center of their lives.

I was a runner at the time. I’d spent a summer running big trails throughout the South and Southwest. I’d trained and run my first (and only) ultra marathon. What I wasn’t was a weightlifter. I could run for days, but if you put a bar with weights in my hand I could barely move.

For months — actually probably for a good year — I wasn’t seeing many tangible gains with my lifts. I went to the gym five days a week. I felt like I was getting stronger. But I just couldn’t move the weight.

There were so many days I just wanted to throw in the towel, go back to running, and not worry about the technical nature of these damned lifts. Check out one of my first sessions learning how to Power Clean (Age: 41).

The more I completed CrossFit workouts, the more I found myself gravitating towards the technical side of lifting. In many ways, CrossFit workouts are about volume, speed, and endurance. You’re pushing through Workouts of the Day (WODs). You’re doing big sets of lifting, sprinting, gymnastics.

Class was fun. But I wasn’t mentally stimulated.

Before long, I found myself coming to the gym on my off days to work on the technical aspect of the snatch and the clean & jerk. I spent hours doing the ancillary movements necessary to build up the strength in your legs, you back, your shoulders, and all the little places in between that allow you to seamlessly move that bar from the floor to above your head.

By November 2013 (age: 41) — twenty months after I’d joined CrossFit — something magical happened (even though my form was just utterly terrible). I hit a 63.5 kgs (140 lbs) snatch.

This probably doesn’t seem very magical to you. That’s understandable. It’s the worst magic trick ever. It’s one that was only meaningful to me, and one that required lots of work done alone in the gym.

But I’d been trying to break through the 61 kg (135 lbs) mark for months, and couldn’t. I have video upon video of missed lifts and shitty form.

So even though I nearly ran this lift out of the gym, I was stoked (as you’ll see by grin). At that moment — that day in the gym after I hit that lift — I decided that I wanted to learn how to perfect the Olympic lifting technique, and see what my body could do.

Even if my body can’t do today what it could do ten years ago.

Coming Soon…

What I didn’t realize was this: The body of a Masters athlete is quite different from the body of a Senior- or University-level athlete. And all those concerns that people expressed to me — the ones about injuries and pain — are real. Very real.

The Long View, or How I Try to Live Happy (a Tigger Talk update because sometimes life just sucks)

I am broken and heartbroken today. This is sometimes my answer when people ask me how I am, which as you can imagine gives them pause. I find myself explaining what I mean quite often.
 
And so I thought I’d do it here as well.
 
I’m sitting on my couch, sore and beaten up from my Olympic lifting training at Broad Ripple Fit Club. This week has been a great + mighty struggle physically. It’s also been tough emotionally. I’ve reached the age when phone calls bring terribly sad news as often as they bring good.
 
This would have been a week to shut down, to crawl back into the whole, and cuddle up with the dark places where I lived for a very long time. When your body and your brain just. don’t. work., getting up is hard. Moving is hard. Everything is just hard. (You’ll see what I mean, younglings.)
 
But I’m lucky enough that I lived through enough shit to have some perspective. 
 
So I don’t think about what my body can’t do anymore, or the aches that follow me around on a daily basis. I don’t dwell on coming in last at everything I do in my gym. I don’t obsess what I can no longer do. Instead, I choose to think back to 7 1/2 years ago when my body couldn’t do anything. Alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes (in that order) wrecked me. Walking briskly was hard.
 
Then I remember: Today I’m training for a national (MASTERS) weightlifting competition because I have great coaches + a community of people that come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. We laugh in the face of failure. We support in the face of obstacles. I’m not going to win. But I don’t actually give a shit about that. The pain and the aches and soreness I have today is from a life well lived, and not from giving up and destroying myself.
 
And so I am broken.
 
And when the phone rang, bringing me news about someone very important in a life I once lived, I was devastated and heartbroken.
 
But I couldn’t muster tears, or sadness. I couldn’t dwell on the pain that grew in my heart as I listened to the inevitable news that it brings to and for everyone. I can’t do that. I don’t see life — and its ending — as sad. The limitation brings with it a reminder that everything matters.
 
Instead, I told inappropriate stories about times gone by. I reveled in the trouble we stirred up, and the trouble I caused. I cursed, I laughed, and I tried to pass along the essence of what mattered without care of social graces. The stories, the life, the people are what matters. The end makes everything else meaningless in all of its flavors.
 
Certainly life is melancholy. But it’s the sadness that makes the colors so much brighter, the sun so much warmer, and the happiness so much happier. So I think back to the ways my life is better, and changed, and different because of the time I had with this person. The end is sad, but it is also the time we curse the loudest, drink the most, and celebrate the stupid shit that never mattered and always mattered the most. I think about the lessons I have taken and passed along the students I now I teach, and I think about the jokes I played just to annoy. I don’t dwell on the regrets, or the missed chances. I am thankful just for the things I had in the time that I had them.
 
And so I am heartbroken. (And maybe have mustered a few tears.)
 
And these are the good things in life.
* * *
If you’ve made it this far, you might be interested in my other #tigger blog posts, or the post that began this, The Tigger Talk. If you’ve made it this far and you’re not interested in either of those, you should avoid clicking on those links at all cost. Trust me.

 

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (April 24 – May 1)

It’s summertime, which means my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby is heading out for greener pastures. The weekly links will continue, but well have fewer summarized roundups. Don’t fret, though. The quality isn’t changing.

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share your story with us in the comments.


From the world of game culture

Things almost, but not quite, from games

Inclusion in gaming

On games

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (April 17 -23)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share your story with us in the comments.


Culture

VR

  • A VR Gaming Chair To Make You Barf: The MMOne is a virtual-reality gaming chair that is described as 3-axis, and just watching the gif and clip of the chair is enough to make some nauseous. The chair isn’t available for purchase

Storytelling

Trolling

Because

Page 3 of 4812345...102030...Last »