First of all, let me make this very clear: We have a scale at home and I have used it. Twice. Currently the batteries are deader than a doornail and it sits in the closet. Any normal weighing-in was done at the running club on Saturday, if at all. At 6′, once I got down to 170 pounds with running and I learned how to maintain it (with the exception of the springtime ten that always had to come off), the daily fluctuations ceased to matter.
All of that changed when I started cycling though. I was dropping weight so fast, my wife finally said something about it. I checked on the scale and had dropped from 170 to 150, in a matter of weeks once the miles started cranking up. I became so thin that three-quarters of the washboard started showing underneath the laundry. I thought I was completely awesome, scale be damned! Against my better judgment and because I love my wife more than being lean and mean, I doubled my daily food intake and put 20 pounds back on. Going into this winter, I talked myself into feeling a little burned out. It made sense, I thought, as I’ve been rolling steady for three years with no more than a day or two’s rest in a week (no full weeks off) – heck, I haven’t even had an injury to wait out in more than two years. My weight bumped up a little bit through this time (enough for me to dislike it), though I have no idea by how much (about ten pounds if I had to guess). It’s not enough that I feel self-conscious at the pool or that I’ve developed man-boobs over my pecs, but it’s enough that climbing will be a little rough if I don’t do something about it before springtime. That said, I’m not shooting for the 150 pound mark, I want to be at 170. I’m looking for a good balance between aesthetics, performance and the ability to eat something a little more exciting than bark, grass and tofu. As well, I want to look healthy – at 150, my belly is bitchin’ but I look gaunt everywhere else. This is because I’ve only ever relied on cycling and push ups to be fit. I’ve done a crunch or two thousand but it’s been a while. Besides that, if I want to be a pro cyclist’s weight, 150 pounds is about right, but let’s face it folks, those dudes are skinny. My goal, instead, is somewhere between a hockey player and a cyclist. A normal weight for a pro hockey player, at 6′ tall, would be about 185 pounds. Not only do they have the leg strength, they’re big in the upper body as well but that’s a little bigger than I need (too much weight up top is just as bad as too little for a cyclist – it raises the center of gravity and that’s not good either). In any event, I’ve got some work to do…
Last week I started cutting back the calories a little bit, simply pushing away from the table when I’m full, skipping a lunch here or there if I’m not hungry, and I started ramping up the workouts on the trainer, big time – not more time, more effort. I’ll be good to go before the snow melts but I am under no illusion: This will not be easy or painless.
There are a few factors at work here. First, my body is ultra-efficient at cycling. As I’ve grown in the sport, the body adapts, it’s just that simple. We all know this happens, there are countless studies and reports confirming this simple truth: As our bodies become accustomed to an activity, they become more efficient, thereby burning fewer calories. My first two years of cycling were a blessing. I put in some ridiculous mileage so my body was shocked into burning most of my fat off. Today, I’m used to it and my body is much more efficient so if I want to burn weight I have to do one of the following or better yet, combine two or more:
Throw in some other form of exercise to keep my body guessing
First, if I’m stuck at a number on the scale and I want to drop and get faster, the answer is frequency and intensity. I’m already riding six days a week, so intensity is it. If I’m riding at sixteen mph on a regular basis, for me, that’s no better than going for a walk around the block. I can ride that fast on an 85 degree day without breaking a sweat – I’m that efficient. On the other side of that, I can’t go all-out all of the time or I’ll wind up hurt, so I have to balance hard efforts, medium efforts and easy effort days for recovery. That said, 1 hour at a rigorous pace (21-23 mph for me) is as good as 50 hours of walking when it comes to dropping weight and getting fit. The point is this: To Thine Own Self Be True. I know when I’m phoning it in and when I’m giving it the proper effort. I know when I can do better and when I’m doing my best. I do not, ever, kid myself into hoping that “not even close” is “good enough”. To thine own self be true.
Second is cutting calories. Well, I’ve already given up everything I’m going to. I could go all next level and cut burgers but that’s just not going to happen. If I can’t eat fun, all of this exercise isn’t even worth it. I can, however, cut how much I’m eating and even skip a meal on my days off.
Finally we come to cross-training. I started swimming a few weeks ago to shake things up a little bit and have taken to it quite well. Generally, I haven’t been one to swim for exercise, only for fun or because they make you if you’re going to do a triathlon. Don’t get the wrong impression either, I love swimming, I simply never had a reason to use it as a form of exercise. It’s been neat to figure out that I’d been missing.
When it comes right down to it, I really don’t trust the scale as far as I can throw it (wait, maybe that’s a bad cliché…I can actually throw a scale pretty far). It’s too deceptive. Better to trust the mirror and allow my wife to temper what I see in it… Unfortunately I see myself a lot fatter than I really am. Which brings me to my last point: Progress, not perfection. I’ll leave perfection to the underwear models who make their money on their looks. Life is happier lived enjoying it rather than counting calories or worrying about a number on a scale. On the other hand, if you must, absolutely must, obsess over the number on the scale, remember this one little tidbit: It’s a scale, not a straight jacket.