Big goal for the year had been to get into better shape.

Grew up as more the video game / nerd type (kids these days and their damn video games). Was a regular tub-o-lard through most of my youth, lost about 100 pounds in my early 20s (mostly through diet), got married. Gained 40 pounds of "sympathy" weight during my wife's first pregnancy, and have been pretty stable at that weight for the past six years--5'11 and 225, plus or minus five pounds depending on the season, despite more than a few failed attempts to drop some weight.

One of the reasons: I've not been particularly serious / focused on adding any kind of PT, weights, etc. to the mix. Inconsistent focus on body weight stuff--push ups, burpees, squats, etc. I work an office job, so that's not doing me any favors, either.

I agree 1000% with the importance of being in shape for survival/self defense or anything of the variety...can't help anyone else if you're gassed out, collapsed on the ground trying to catch your breath. Or you're too weak to haul your fat ass over a wall, blow out your knee trying to drop into a prone position or wreck your back lifting a box. Or you die of a heart attack in your 50s because you didn't take care of your damn self.

Yep, I get it. We want to be strong, fit, and hey, look a lot better, too.

But honestly I have never gone down the rabbit hole of how the hell to get myself in shape. Never learned growing up, and hadn't put in the work to educate myself.

I've had a general goal to drop weight and get stronger for a long while now, but decided to really get serious about it a couple months back.

Said--screw this, screw the excuses, let's block some time out and figure out something that will work for you. I sat down and figured out how I could fit 30 min to an hour of working out into my life, 3x a week. And I wanted to set myself up for success, too, because anything else would be stupid.

Example: dragging myself out of bed an hour early to go workout. Not setting myself up for success. So evenings it was. Had to be after the kiddos went to bed, but not so late that I was ready for my own sleepy time. Thus, it needed to fall during the magical hour or two of "free" time that I usually use for blogging activities and surfing the interwebs. So be it.

Figured out the days of the week I needed to hit. Typical M/W/F wasn't going to fly for my schedule. Tues/Thurs/Saturday would. Cool.

So, I had it set--the times and days that I was setting aside to work out. This was actually the biggest deal. Made a commitment to myself that I was going to hit these days. Wrote it down. Serious business.

I looked at hitting the nearest gym, but it would have added something like 45 minutes to the amount of time to work out. And give me plenty o' excuses to not go. So, setting myself up for success--it needed to be at home.

All right then. I had a pair of 20 pound dumbbells (DBs) lying around, and not much else. Did a bit of reading, came up with a basic routine, which is probably totally crap but at least something to do consistently.

Started lifting those DBs about a six weeks ago now. About a week in, realized I needed some heavier DBs, so I bought some 30s, which were better.

Realized pretty quickly that...hey, I actually kind of like this. Enjoy doing it and enjoy the way that I feel afterwards. That's a big deal for someone like me, with a general history of disdain for the average exercise.

Have been consistent, and have actually started to see some results. Down a few pounds, feeling better, muscles feeling a little bit bigger or tighter. I desperately need some heavier DBs, especially for back stuff, which is kind of a joke with the weights that I have.

Kept reading, too. Damn, there's a lot of info out there on this kind of stuff. Who knew?

Figured out pretty quickly that pretty much nobody recommend training only with DBs. Not really surprising, but hey, it's actually been a decent easy start for me. Proved to myself that I enjoy it, can do it consistently and that I will see some results. Success where many other efforts have failed.

Barbells are what are recommended as the backbone of all of the strength and body building programs I've come across--main focus on squats, bench press, deadlift, and some variety of press, plus ancillary/supporting stuff (where DBs come in).

Have picked up and am in the process of finishing two of the more popular strength training books out there:
I like 5/3/1 more as a book -- shorter, to the point and easier to read. Starting Strength is long and gets into a lot of detail on the individual exercises, which gets mildly confusing/tiresome at points. But, Starting Strength focuses a lot more on proper technique for the exercises, which is important for both success and long term health. As a total newbie, the intricate details and mechanics of the exercises are good.

Barbell training from home means a decent initial investment in equipment (rack, bar, weights) and finding adequate space to do so. I've got a portion of the garage that I can dedicate to the spot, and am shopping around for some of the equipment. I figure it's a long term investment in both equipment and my general health, strength and self esteem...worth spending the money on, right?

Current plan is to run Starting Strength up front, then transition over to 5/3/1--this seems to be pretty common, as SS is intended to teach you the lifts, transition you from novice to intermediate lifter fairly quickly/efficiently, and then hand off to another program. I appreciate the programmatic nature of both...workouts are simple and laid out clearly...you stick to them, you'll make progress. Simple and good.

So--that's where I'm at these days. It's also why posting frequency has dropped off a bit. It's for a good cause, my friends.

Interested to hear from the tribe. Got PT? What are you working on? What has your strength/fitness journey been like? I know there are some probably some seasoned lifters out there, and certainly a few of you who are in the same boat as I am.


  1. Great point so often overlooked or outright intentionally ignored. Your story is similar to lots of people here I suspect, in that the dedication to working out in the long run is the challenge. I struggle with it all the time. The key is figuring out what motivates you and what program works for you. At the end of the day though I will take a healthier me over a a pile of survival stuff. Not that I'm going to give up my cool survival stuff but, I always have my level of health with me no matter how bad things become. Great post...I'm going to go run now.


  2. My new workouts are pretty simple. When I was in my 20's and in college, I had time to work out for an hour six days a week, alternating upper body and lower body. A single barbell was all I had, plus regular pushups / situps six days a week - I was in shape!

    Mid 30s - At the beginning before kids, both of us would bike ride for at least an hour every day (university is about 4 blocks away, with lighted parking lots / sidewalks and security nearby - sweet for bikes!). That stopped with my wife's dissertation, a year of very late nights. Kids came right after that, in fact she was pregnant as hell when climbing the steps for her diploma, looked like a parade float in fact, lol.

    Fast forward 15 years, I'm still married to same girl, working an office job and two kids with daily homework / activities. Time for myself is snatched up here and there - I'm lucky if I have 15 minutes to myself EVERY DAY.

    Now - I'm in my low 50's, had heart surgery (born with a bad valve, now replaced) and I need to lose at least 40 pounds for my target weight (210 lbs). I walk 2 miles a day around that university, and lift light weights (15 pound dumbbells / 50 lb barbell), along with push ups / crunches / and other natural body stretching exercises. My diet is my weakness. I gave up soda, drinking one maybe once every two weeks. I can give up sweets, no problem. Bread is my killer - love that stuff. I need to cut down to a slice a day, maybe two at most. Giving it up would be better.

    Good luck with your routine.

  3. riverriderApril 21, 2015

    i was in my best shape at 40 when i got home from bosnia. nothing to do but work and work out, maxed the apft for the first time ever. 13 years later i get winded going up the steps from the three levels below ground that i work. got a decent bar and weights from wallyworld, set of db bars, curl bar. promptly tore muscle in my arm, so no w/o for couple more weeks. i know what i need to do, just can't get motivated. by the time i get home i'm beat, 45 minute mountain drive. i'm sick of looking like a sack of shit and feeling like one. been trying to get back into backpacking but no love from the wife on that idea. unsolved murders on the trail keep me from going solo for now. birthday coming up so maybe i can use that to focus. good luck brother.

    1. I hear you. Between an hour commute home, time with the kids, helping the wife and putting kiddos to bed, I am pretty toast, too. Getting pretty serious about allocating time - and then sticking to it - has been a huge help.

  4. Weights are fantastic for strength, body composition, & even fat loss. However, if you want to limit your investment & don't have a tremendous amount of room, consider a TRX trainer. All you need is either a ceiling attachment or a door jamb. The name-brand ones are expensive, but there are Youtube videos that show you how to make one yourself. Yes, it's just bodyweight conditioning--but it provides a lot of additional options when regular pushups, squats, and lunges get boring.

  5. I'm going on 30, and have been working an office job for 11 years, went from 170 to 255 pounds since I began here. Kept telling myself I want to work out more at home and cut this weight down, but never had the willpower to keep it up on my own. I got lucky this year, my work was offering a free to employee's fitness and nutrition program, which helped me immensely, 12 weeks and they helped me lose 36 pounds so far, and more than that gave me motivation to join a gym. I've been wanting to go out and do more backpacking and hiking myself, and now I feel that I can finally do it, and just like you I now am starting to feel better after working out, not worse.

  6. Keep in mind that there's a difference between being strong and being athletic.

    In my early 20s, I was into the whole "bro" workouts and bodybuilding scene. Won 3rd place in an NPC bodybuilding comp in Sacramento. Strong, according to the numbers on the plates and dumbbells.

    Then I went back to BJJ, Judo, and MMA. I did it all before my "bro" phase, and figured my new strength would be a boon, but I still gassed out as much as a regular joe, or more quickly because I resorted to brute strength. There are a lot of practical movements that aren't really done using the bro lifts. I had strength in 90% of the movements we did, but my regular joe strength 10% was keeping me back. I needed to train that.

    Did lifts less often, and did more plyometrics (jumping around, calisthenics, body weight stuff), and started doing kettlebells. I've incorporated sandbags and other dynamics workouts as well. I still bro lift, maybe 2x a month, for maintenance. I typically feel that it's my "rest" workout, as calisthenics and kettlebell HIIT (high interval intensity training) workouts push your endurance and ability to do high bursts of all out work (which is pretty much what you need in a fight). Increased practical strength and endurance immensely.

    So, 10 years after my bro phase, and I'm doing primarily BJJ, MMA, and Judo for my technical workouts and calisthenics, kettlebells, and sandbags for my strength and conditioning (either as a warmup to the technical, or as a tougher, standalone workout).

    Best part of HIIT workouts using kettlebells, bodyweight, and sandbags is that they can be 15-30 minutes long. My typical format is: 5 minute work sets, 1 minute rest, 4 times through (24 minutes). Sometimes I do 5 sets of Tabata timing (20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest, repeat 8 times for a total of 4 minutes) and rest 1 minute between Tabata sets. Again, less than 30 minutes. Occasionally I like to test myself and do 13 or 14 2-minute sets with 1 minute rests.

    If you want to see some of the workouts, I occasionally post workouts and short videos on Instagram: https://instagram.com/grumpus_maximus

    1. "Keep in mind that there's a difference between being strong and being athletic."

      Well I would suppose we'd have to define what criteria for athleticism we are using. Obviously a marathoner is going to focus less on weights than a power lifter or a crossfit guy.

      For the vast majority of general pursuits strength matters. For combat related ones be it personal hand to hand or other stuff strength matters a whole lot. You need the strength to move in, around and over obstacles with a fighting load, carry people, etc. You also need the strength to put someones head through a wall before they do the same to you.

      I agree you've got to have cardio sufficient to maintain the fight. The two really have to be balanced. 300 pounds is awful hard to move around for any length of time, even if it is muscle. On the other hand the 140 pound string bean runner who can't move a couch is not going to be able to get over a wall wearing full kit or defend himself up close and personal.

      lift heavy weights in big compound movements
      do body weight stuff like pull ups, situps, dips, etc

    2. When I said strong, I meant strength properly applied; not super strong, yet impractical and inapplicable.

      "Strength misplaced is no strength at all."

      I agree with the balance. Endurance, strength, speed, technique; improve on all until one has to give to improve another, and then it's time to figure out what your end game is.

  7. I 've pretty much always lifted, ever since I was a kid. In junior high and high school, I was a burnout. Smokin, drinkin, and partyin, and very sporadic lifting. For kicks I tried out for the football team, but after the first day of torture, I quit. About a year after graduation, my best friend (who is an amazing athlete) asked me to be his road crew/driver for a 500 mile triathlon. During the race, I would give him and his partner a hard time for beating themselves up. When the race was over, my buddie's partner said that I gave them a hard time because I couldn't do what they did. I took that as a challenge and said, "okay, this is my last pack of cigarettes, I will run the race next year." I quit smokin and drinkin, and my buddy started training me. A year goes by, and I can't find a partner for the race...so I ran a marathon instead. For the next 13 years or so, my running was sporadic, but my lifting was more constant. My brother asked if I wanted to start running with him every day...so I did, for about a year until he moved away. I kept running by myself for about 6 more months, but was getting bored, so I started sprinting instead. Now, a funny thing happened when I started sprinting. My growth hormone kicked in an my strength went off the charts. The guy that I had been lifting with for years, all of a sudden, couldn't keep up with me. So anyway, feeling invincible, one day I decided to put on a little too much weight when benching alone in my basement. POP! I blew out my shoulder. For the last 15 years, I've tried to get back in to it...to no avail. Been goin to the chiropractor for 25 years because of a back injury from lifting when I was 16. I hit rock bottom 4 months ago when I herniated a couple of discs in my back. Couldn't work, couldn't walk, couldn't sit, couldn't stand. Flat on my back for 3 months, then finally got in for surgery. I'm now a month and a half post surgery, and have worked my way up to almost 4 blocks (walking). My physical therapist has me doing core strengthening exercises to reduce my risk of reherniating. Hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel. Sorry for the long post, (it was a long journey).

  8. A good traditional Karate program 2-3x per week gets all the right things working within a few months plus the added benefits. Do it.

  9. Zombieland Rule # 1 - Cardio.
    I would recommend a rowing machine to add in some cardio. It works legs, back, arms, core. It is a great overall workout, and awesome cardio without the heavy impact of running. They tend to be a little pricey, but well worth the investment. What is great is it is like running, your can "jog" or you can "spring"... the pace of the rowing is your pace so you can make 10 minutes seam like utter torture, just keep going faster until you are gasping for air. Since I got this and put it in the garage I ran out of the excuses I could make about traffic going to the gym, the weather, the 20 minutes there and 20 back plus the 45 at the gym spending more time than I had. All those excuses are now gone, If I don't put in at least 5-10 minutes, it's on me.

  10. If you want inexpensive cardio work - yard work is good. Cut the lawn with a reel mower vs. gas power for example. Pull up weeds manually instead of cutting them with a line trimmer. Grow a garden. If you have a family, that is good quality family time. That accomplishes multiple things at once.

  11. A few words of advice from someone who spent over 6 years working in the marketing/creative department for two major bodybuilding supplement corporations (and also competed):
    1) Everything in a fitness magazine is utter BS. Most claims are completely false, and ones based on real studies are usually just manipulated numbers.
    2) Every single photo in a magazine has been hilariously retouched. Waists trimmed, arms enlarged, heads shrunken, steroid acne removed, etc. Don't strive to look like them. The only photos that can't be altered for legal reasons are those "Before and After" shots, and the less reputable companies still alter those.
    3) Don't buy into the fad workouts. And isolation exercises are for the bros who stare at themselves in the mirror while doing curls with horrible form.
    4) 70% nutrition, 25% workout, 5% supplementation
    5) The only supplement you should need is protein. Concentrate is crap, stick with a basic isolate.
    6) Don't use the scale to judge your progress. Your performance and what you see in the mirror is all you need to track.
    7) You CAN lose fat and build muscle at the same time. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn't know what they're talking about.
    8) Being jacked won't do you any good if you can't get up a few flights of stairs or chop firewood without getting winded.

  12. PineslayerApril 22, 2015

    Rome was not not built in a day. Don't think you can be Mad Max in a year and you will do fine.

    Fitness is a lifelong endeavor. Stay consistent, monitor the results and adjust. Seems simple, but a busy life can make it impossible. Get your family involved, a family that plays together stays fit together. Quote alert.

    I understand your situation, because I have seen it in my family. I am the only one on my Dad's side to stay fit, stay motivated. Most of my cousins have fallen into the sedentary life, either by chose or work. You must break the cycle now.

    No pain, no gain is a popular line, and to a point it is true. Don't push too hard, until acclimated, but learn to love the pain. If you need motivation at any time, look at your family and imagine some thugs trying to do them harm, a father needs no more motivation.

    My workouts are 50/50 dumbbells/barbells. Dumbbells give you balance, no cheating. Work on the negatives as much as positives when lifting and you will retain quickness and double your workout. That means slowing down your sets and returning the weight to the start position slowly. It will hurt so good.

    Good luck and don't forget to stretch in between sets.

    1. riverriderApril 23, 2015

      yes pineslayer, that's what got me. i did a lift, felt so good i had to try my old workout. everything was fine, 2 hours later the burn turned into a pounding pain. big dummy, last time you lifted that was 15 years ago. note to self, start slow dumma$$. i think i'll write it on the wall in my shop where the w'out will resume friday.

    2. Yep - easy to do. Both Starting Strength and 5/3/1 make an emphasis on taking it slowly, not getting too ballsy and throwing up weight or volume that you're not ready for.

  13. I use an iPhone/iPad app called BodyFate. Select fitness level, equipment (wide range of possibilities) and time, and it throws an ever changing set of exercises at you, with video gif examples of form. Some are for reps, some timed, including sprints, burpees, stairs. A good mix of strength and cardio training. I use bodyweight, db's, kettlebells, jump rope, sprint to get a great workout in thirty minutes. Throws some motivational and nutritional info at you between exercises. You can do the routine in a small space, I use an area in my barn on two 4'x8' horse stall mats from Tractor Supply.

  14. Go slow. First cut the bullshit out of your diet. You cant out train a bad diet. Eat oatmeal and fruit for breakfast every day. Drink lots of water and just start walking or doing cardio. That will speed up your system and help you out bigtime. DON'T over do it - you will get hurt and bog down. I'm 50yrs and 178lbs this morning. Cut the BS from your diet, drink water, and walk. Consistency is king. Good luck to you.

  15. I hear ya! After three pregnancies and being home 24/7 with the kiddos for twelve years, I could lose about 50 pounds. I have started walking with running one block every five minutes into my walk. I feel better than I have in years. Next comes some pilates and yoga for strength and balance. Keep up the good work!

  16. Good for you! I feel compelled to offer a simple alternative for weight loss. Eat less – be more active.

    I turn 63 in less than a week and have always been a "little" on the heavy side. Throughout 20 years in the US Army, including 5 years on active parachute jump status, I have had to watch my weight. But it was relatively easy to stay within Army height/weight standards since I had such an active life.

    After leaving the Army I took a job that had me mostly behind a desk. I gained a few pounds each year and before I knew it I weighed 228 pounds. At 6 foot even, my doctor told me I was actually in the obese category.

    Time to lose weight. No special diet (Remember that DIET is DIE with a T). My wife helped me avoid snacks and junk foods yet still allowing me to eat other things that I enjoyed. Everything in moderation.

    And we started walking together. Six days a week. Three miles a day. 15 minutes a mile. Before work. Rain or shine. Hot or cold. Sunshine or winter dark. I combine this “workout” with everyday activities; I walk up four flights of stairs to my desk at work (and walk down at the end of the day). On weekends my wife and I ride “comfort bikes” on some of the nearby rail trails, averaging 45 miles or so at a time. We aren’t supermen – we have just adjusted our life styles to be a little more active than before.

    And it worked. In one year I am now under 200 pounds. I lost a pant size. Had to drill extra holes in my belts. Feel better physically and also emotionally (a little self-centered smugness).

    Walking might not be for everyone but it worked for me. You can do it anywhere, it doesn’t cost anything and it is easy on your joints compared to running.