I’m okay with caffeine … really ….

Caffeine is one of those drugs that sparks a lot of controversy. Is it beneficial? Harmful? What’s up with caffeine? The reviews are mixed, so I experimented with my body.

I went off caffeine for about 18 months a few years ago. I’m an active person who pushes the clock as much as possible, which is a nice way of saying I don’t tend to get enough sleep. (How much sleep is enough? Another controversial questions. For me, 6.5 to 7.5 hours seems to be optimal.)

I went off caffeine primarily because I hate to be addicted to anything, and, dammit, if I didn’t get my morning coffee, I’d get that withdrawal headache around 1:00 or so. Bump that. So I quit.

Fine, but here’s the problem. When I’d tell people I was off caffeine, they’d invariably ask, “Do you feel better?” and I would invariably answer, “No.” And it was true. I did not feel better. I felt run down. Sure, you can say, “Well, you should just have gotten more sleep.” Do ya think? Easier said than done.

About 16 months into this experiment I read The Caffeine Advantage. It’s an interesting book about the benefits of caffeine. I know, I know, don’t believe everything you read. But the fact was that I didn’t feel better without caffeine, so I was poised to jump off the wagon. (Does that phrase remind you of this Seinfeld episode?)

I went back to using caffeine a couple months later, but his time, instead of coffee, I started popping a 100mg caffeine pill in the morning. Saved time and money, plus it’s hot in New Mexico, where I lived at the time, and a pot of coffee is not necessarily a pleasant way to start the day.

I’ll stem your imagination’s wandering right now and let you know that I did not slip into a downward spiral of caffeine addiction that threatened my very soul. I was very controlled with the pills, but I soon discovered that I missed the taste of a good cup of coffee.

So I am back on caffeine, enjoying a cup of coffee (currently making Americanos with my Breville espresso maker) when I think I need it. I also dig the flavor of a sugar-free Red Bull from time to time. And you know what? Yeah, I feel better.

I didn’t feel like working out … but I did it anyway

This happens to me far too often. I really enjoy working out, I do, truly, but I often just don’t feel up to it. I believe this is due primarily to allergies. When my eyes are burning and I have a sinus headache, well, who feels like working out in those conditions.

But I’ve gotten rather used to working out anyway, because I seem to experience a lot of allergies and if I didn’t work out when I felt under 100%, I’d rarely work out at all.

My inner dialog yesterday was this:

“I need to do Ab Ripper X (part of Tony Horton’s P90X) followed by One-On-One Shoulders & Arms, but I know that if I start, I won’t finish, so why bother?”

This may have been a correct assessment of the situation. I have, indeed, quit in the middle of workouts because I just didn’t have it that day.

But then my dialog continued:

“Maybe if I start I won’t finish — maybe. But if I don’t start the workout at all, I am certain not to finish.”

Corny. Sure. But that’s what I really thought, so, corny or not, it is what it is. And, you know what else?

It worked.

That thought got me off my ass, got me started on the workout, and an hour and a half later (including a 15-minute break between abs and shoulders & arms) I was done, feeling great, and with a sense of accomplishment.

(I might add here that there was never any question in my mind that the 15-minute break would be anything but a break. I was fired up by that point!)

Whatever it takes, whether it’s a shot of caffeine from coffee or Red Bull, the desire to just do something that will get you away from work for a while, or even some corny thought that you may see on one of those silly motivational posters, use it to get yourself in gear for that workout you may not feel like doing. You’ll feel better for it.

Why are my muscles sore?

I am sore today. Really sore. I am in week 9 of a P90X run, but I decided to mix it up a bit and so some workouts from Tony Horton’s One-On-One series.

(I don’t have all these — there are two full sets of 12 DVDs each and the third set is going on now, one DVD per month. I only own some from the first two sets that looked useful, plus I have all of the third set to date, because I subscribe to it.)

Anyway, on Monday I did the 30/15 workout, which is a series of 30 pushups followed by 15 pullups. Tony does different varieties for a total of 24 sets. For me this is not 30/15, nor is it pullups. I have found that pullups are a major factor in my tendinitis problems, so I use an exercise band in place of the pullups.

So my 30/15 is actually 24/15, and the 15 are band back exercises, trying to mimic the actual motion of pullups with a isometric hold for each rep. It’s effective, lemme tell ya.

Also, btw, let me tellĀ  you, if you don’t have the DVD, Tony backs down to 25/12 about halfway through, so 30/15 is a bit of a misnomer. But let me also tell you, this is one helluva workout.

Anyway, the point is that I had not done this particular workout in about two and a half months. I’d been doing other chest and back workouts, but not this one.

And I am so sore from it.

The next day, Tuesday, I did One-On-One Plyo Legs. Again, I have been doing other lower body workouts, but not this particular workout in about two and a half months.

And I am sore from it. All the muscles in my legs hurt to move them.

I don’t know what causes muscle soreness. I’ve read several explanations, from lactic acid to minute tears in the muscles, but, according to Mark Sisson, who is a pretty informed guy, we don’t know what causes it. (You can read what he has to say about it at his website, Mark’s Daily Apple.)

So what’s to like about muscle soreness? Well, when my muscles are sore, I know I’ve exercised them in a way that I haven’t done in a while.

General fitness can only come from working all our muscles. Tony Horton attributes much of his success to what he calls “muscle confusion”. He likes to mix it up, keep the body guessing.

Use your experience as an example. Have you ever started a running program? If you have, you probably remember how sore you were the day after your first run. Eventually, as you continued your running program, you were less and less sore, until you could run quite a distance without experiencing soreness. Your muscles had become used to the strain you were putting on them. But is that a good thing? I guess so, if your primary fitness goal is to become really good at running.

But that is not my goal, to have my body be good at only pushups or pullups or bicep curls or tricep kickbacks or squats. I want to be good at them all and then some.

With that in mind, I welcome muscle soreness as a sign that I am doing something right, working my muscles in ways they are not used to. And that’s got to lead to my being more fit, right?

What’s your motivation for working out and eating right?

My brother posted on one of those social networks today something about how he needs to get into shape for a reunion this summer. I have a friend who started a diet in January, because she’s getting married in the fall.

That’s great. I mean, whatever motivates you to get into better shape is good, right?

Sort of, but let’s examine the phenomenon of getting into shape for a specific event. What happens after the event? Well, you can either find another event right away to force you to continue your good health habits, you can feel so good from your new lifestyle that you continue your healthy ways, or you can go back to your old habits once the event has passed. Guess which route most people take?

This is why your fitness motivation must come from within yourself. You need to want to be fit more than you want to eat that cake. You need to want to be fit more than you want to sit in your easy chair pounding beers. You need to want to be fit more than you want to smoke that cigarette.

How do you get to that point where you want fitness that much?

I have to admit: I dunno.

I remember when I quit smoking for the last time. I had quit previously, once even for about 18 months, but I always went back. The last time I quit, I never had any doubt that I would not go back — I knew it was over between me and cigarettes. They were not only killing me, but they also made my clothes smell really bad, and with more and more buildings going smokeless, it had become an inconvenient habit. I had the cravings, the nicotine withdrawal, but I was never tempted to smoke, because I was done with it.

General fitness is tougher, I think, because I’d tried many times to lose weight. I needed results to stay motivated.

When I weighed 235 and was on two blood pressure meds and had pains in my gut, I was motivated to lose weight, but the only thing I knew worked was calorie restriction, and that is really hard to stick to. But once I started and saw the pounds dropping off, I stayed motivated to continue. When my weight went under 200 for the first time in years, I was elated, but I didn’t quit. I ended up losing 50 pounds.

But then I plateaued. And I lost my motivation. I gained back 10 pounds.

Then I found Tony Horton’s P90X, and I realized that losing fat is not all there is to fitness. I needed to put on muscle as well.

I have since plateaued a few times, but have stayed motivated throughout, because I feel like I’ve found a good solution to my fitness problem. Plus, Tony keeps it mixed up with his One-On-One series, so that helps.

How about you? What’s your motivation? Hopefully it is a general quest for fitness, because that will last a lifetime. But if you really feel that you need to get your body looking good for some event, that’s cool. Any port in a storm and you might, you just might, get motivated enough by your results that you internalize the motivation and stick with it for the rest of your life.

Sometimes the truth is rude

I saw a friend of mine last night. Hadn’t seen him for about ten years. Long story short … he got huge.

We were walking around an open air mall, and it was a bit chilly. He had no jacket, whereas I’d brought mine. I commented that he must be cold, and he said, “Nah, I got enough body fat to keep me warm.” (Note, I did not bring up his excess fatness first. I may have, had he not mentioned it, but as it happens, I did not initiate the discussion.) He went on to tell me that his doctor had just checked his body fat percentage and it had come out to 33%.

“Wow,” I remarked, “you’ re morbidly obese.”

“What?” he asked, sounding shocked.

I admitted that I did not really know if 33% body fat made him morbidly obese, but he was definitely obese.

“I dunno,” he relaxed. “I don’t think I’m that big.”

“Dude,” I said, looking right at him, “you’re huge.”

My wife was with us. She thought my remarks were rude and said as much. Hmmmm…. I was just stating the facts, as I saw them. The guy is 5’8″ and 230. That’s dangerously huge. I should be polite? I should “support” my friend by telling him things are not so bad for him? NO!

Before I had my wake up call, I did not realize I was as huge as I was. I would remark about how huge other people were, without realizing I was that huge myself. It took some well-placed comments by people, as well as some photographs, to get me to see I needed to lose weight.

I aim to provide that same motivation for others.

Despite what many people think, supporting your friends and family is not hiding the truth from them. There is a word for that — it’s “enabling”. If you choose not to point out your friend’s self-destructive behavior, you are enabling that person to continue that behavior.

The problem is that we accept obesity in our society, and that’s probably because so many of us are obese. Of course, we all still make fun of the 400-pound guy taking up two seats at the theater, but being 230 at 5’8″ is just fine. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it.

Sometimes the truth is rude. But sometimes that rudeness can get someone you care about on the track to better health.