Photo by @victorfreitas / Unsplash.com

A look back: One year of working out at the gym

I usually write about tech, Microsoft, cloud services, and how I build things. This time it’s slightly different, as I wanted to reflect a bit on the previous 12 months in my life.

A year ago, I wrote that I needed to find a personal trainer. At the time, the intention was to ramp up on my running. A few people reached out to me, and I did more queries and research on this. Turns out, what I really needed was a bit more weightlifting. I signed up for a local gym, which is privately-owned (and thus, not a chain). I love that I can support a local small-business owner through my little choices in life.

I signed up with a personal trainer at the same gym, and we agreed to meet weekly. I would do one tough exercise with him each week, and then two more training sessions on my own each week. In practice, this put me nicely into the “5-6 hours of gym each week” zone. This was in late September 2019.

This is from around that time, I think I was traveling for business and did one of my gym sessions at a hotel.

My primary goal was to be able to bench press, back squat, and deadlift 100 kg (220 lbs) at some point. I felt this was a decent goal, as that’s usually how much I weigh. Working on my form with these exercises is a process of its own, and I feel I’m still taking the very first steps.

Each training starts with a warm-up session of about 15 minutes. For me, it’s usually a 1 km row with a steady pace, and then warming up the essential joints and muscles for the planned practice. I warm up easily, so this is mostly a fun way to think about the past day and get some sweat on. After warming up, it’s about an hour of lifting, with mild breaks to recover in between.

By late November, I did sets with 60 kg (132 lbs) but without much volume. After one tough set, I was exhausted, spent, and had very little energy for the next set.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, I traveled extensively – and sometimes had to resort to very shady gyms to meet my weekly goals. For most of 2020, I’ve simply used my local gym three times a week.

Sometimes I struggle to find the time. There have been weeks when I hit the gym at 5:50 in the morning so that I can exit by 7:15, make it home, and shower in time to then attend a meeting by 8. Those are tough days, and I am not built for early morning gyms. It’s easy to wake up at 5, but it’s a significant challenge to warm up and get your mental energy focused so early for something so exhaustive.

I now mostly do my gyms right after work in the late afternoon, and during the weekends when our youngest son is taking a nap.

As the months went by, and I stuck to my routine, I started seeing progress. Both in personal records, but more in volume. I now casually do more sets and more reps with more weights than when I started.

We rotate the program every 4 weeks, and it’s tough. Just when you get the hang of it, and start getting super confident, you sort of start anew. But that’s when I see progress.

I try not to be too focused on the exact weights and totals, but I like to track the amounts to make sure I’m making a progress. It gives a fair motivation, and that slight bit of gamification makes it nicer for me.

I hit my “lift 100 kg” goal partially by Christmas, 2019, and completed it around April. Since then, I’m now doing deadlifts with 160 kg, back squats with 135 kg, and bench pressing at around 120 kg. I’m very happy with the progress, and during the past year, I’ve learned it’s a gradual, iterative process – where lifting weights is just one piece of the total result.

This summer, I took a photo of myself to try and capture my progress.

My weight is still the same as when I started. I’m leaner, and now more confident in lifting larger weights. My shoulders and back are now more balanced, and clothes fit and feel great now.

Nutrition has been a more prominent challenge. Eating enough, but not excessively, while also avoiding junk food and refined sugar is a continuous mental challenge. I’m following a fairly easy approach here: I avoid red meat, eat a lot of chicken and fish, and cut down heavily on pasta, potatoes, and carbohydrates in general. Eating vegetables is a struggle, but I’m advancing – slowly. My protein intake has doubled, and I think I’ve found a good balance with this without stressing much about my diet.

I eat a lot of porridge, berries, and quark in the morning. And once every two months, I eat a juicy steak.

It’s a very rewarding, challenging, and educating journey. I plan to continue on this path and will focus more – in the next year or so – on the quality and type of food I enjoy, while also being mindful about how I exercise, as opposed to just doing something.

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