Vacation! Sort Of!

I’m back in Houston for a week. More specifically, I am back in Katy today, then in Galveston tomorrow through Sunday, then back in Katy until next Wednesday. You can see that it is much easier to just say I’m back in Houston for a week, so we’ll stick with that.

I do not have much time for writing blog entries, because I am both lazy and on vacation. So I’ll keep this short:

Work-related things: I am writing a ton of words these days. Most are for Bleacher Report, but I also have a few profiles in the works for other outlets. I will share information on these profiles when I can, but I am very excited about the opportunities I’m getting these days. I am eager to spread my big feathered ginger wings and fly into other non-sports areas. And on the sporting front, I am working with a few writers who will be contributing to The Clasico (my nearly-defunct soccer site) this upcoming season.

Personal: Amy spent the summer with me, which was amazing. She is now back in Florida, which is not so amazing. But this is her final semester of school, which is amazing. In short, things are more amazing than they are not amazing.

I told you this would be short.

StrongLifts Update: Week 3

I wanted to post a quick update with my progress after three weeks of steady StrongLift workouts.

If you recall, these were my beginning numbers. Keep in mind that these numbers are for 5 sets of 5 reps in all but deadlift, which is 1 set of 5 reps:

Squat: 135
Bench: 100
Row: 65
Press: 50
Deadlift: 135

Here are my current numbers after 3 weeks:

Squat: 195
Bench: 135
Row: 90
Press: 85
Deadlift: 215

As you can see, I’ve made remarkable strength gains already. I’m packing on muscle, and it is readily apparent when I look in the mirror. My shoulders are getting bigger, and my pecs…well, I have pecs for the first time in my life. My upper back is starting to develop a bit of a V-shape, too.

So far, I’m loving the workout. I’m also eating super clean and doing a post-workout protein and creatine smoothie. I may need to up my caloric intake once I start getting into heavier weights, but for now, I’m managing just fine.

I Switched to the HTC One M8

After many years of loyal iPhone ownership, I have switched to the HTC One M8 and Android.

There are plenty of reasons why I made the switch. For starters, my girlfriend and I live nearly a continent apart. She is on Android, and I was on the iPhone. And for some reason, roughly 50% of the photos I sent her just wouldn’t show up. She’d get a picture message, but it would simply display a gray box.

As you can imagine, this was frustrating. Maintaining a long-distance relationship is not easy, and it is made more difficult when we can’t properly stay in touch. And yes, this includes photos of my dog and my food. I wanted to be able to share my day, and the iPhone/Android connection was faulty.

So that’s the main reason. The other reason is that I have the Jump plan from T-Mobile. It allows me to upgrade my phone twice a year. I had the original G1 from Google; it was the original Android phone. I wasn’t happy with it back then, but Android has come a long way, and I wanted to see if I would enjoy using Android now.

I’m a big fan of customization, and Android obviously allows that to a greater degree than iOS. All of the apps I used on my iPhone were available for Android, so switching wasn’t that difficult.

I’ve only had the phone for a few hours, but my quick thoughts: I love this thing. A lot. It is much faster than my iPhone. The screen is incredible, and it’s much larger than the iPhone screen. It is a joy to use.

I’m also a bit of a design freak. That was the main thing that kept me using iPhones; I loved Jonny Ives’ design work. I’d originally looked at getting a Galaxy S5. But then I saw the HTC One M8 reveal, and I loved the way it looked. The design is sublime. It is easily the best-looking phone on the market outside of the iPhone. It might even be better.

I also loved the fact that it wasn’t buoyed by tons of software I’ll never use. I don’t need to take my pulse. I don’t need the fingerprint scanner. I wanted a phone that was fast, beautiful and easy to use. The One provides that in spades.

I love the camera. It is fast and responsive, and has features I will actually use. The Duo Camera experience is neat, and I enjoy being able to add bokeh to my photos after I take them. And with 32 gigs of store space (expandable to 128), I’ll never have to worry about running out of space the way I did with my 8 gigabyte iPhone.

So far, so good. I’m really enjoying the Android experience this phone provides. We’ll see if it holds up over time, but for now? I’m sold.

It might be time to buy some new clothes

I’ve lost a substantial amount of weight. The numbers I see on the scale are encouraging, of course, as are my body fat percentages. 

But even more encouraging are the moments like today, when I went to put on a pair of shorts. This particular pair of shorts was a size too small for me just 8 weeks ago. Today? They fell right off. I’d need to secure them tightly with a belt to even wear them.

It’s a small thing. But it is a cool moment for me. And I guess it’s time for me to go out and buy some new clothes that actually fit. 

StrongLifts, Day 1

I’ve been back in the gym on a regular basis for a few months now. I’m feeling great, and I’m making decent strength gains. My body already looks quite a bit different than it did in January, but that is also because I am less fat than I used to be.

But I want more. I love lifting weights, and I want to add as much strength as I possibly can. On the advisement of a friend (who has all of the muscles), I am starting the StrongLifts 5×5 program today. You can go read more about the program if you’d like, but essentially, it boils down to this: five exercises, rotated through three workouts per week.

It’s actually quite simple, and I cannot imagine it being anything other than effective. This is for adding brute strength as quickly as possible. After I do this for two months, I’ll work on more traditional things like bicep curls and muscle definition and what have you.

For now, I want pure muscle and functional strength.

The workouts include squats, bench press, overhead press, rows, and deadlifts. They’re structured as such:

Workout A: Squat, Bench, Row
Workout B: Squat, Press, Deadlift

You take one day of rest between each. The idea is that you’re doing 5 sets of 5 reps at a weight you can handle. Then, the next time you do the movement, you add 5 pounds and repeat. Oh, and deadlifts are just one set of five reps.

Here are my beginning numbers:

Squat: 135
Bench: 100
Row: 65
Press: 50
Deadlift: 135

And here are my projected numbers for the final workout week in late June. Remember that these are still 5 sets of 5 reps each, except for deadlifts. Those are 1 set of 5 reps, because deadlifts suck a butt:

Squat: 310
Bench: 185
Press: 130
Row: 150
Deadlift: 305

So, yeah. This looks good. And starting today, we’ll see what all the ranting and raving is about.

Update: I started with workout B today, since I did bench presses yesterday. So today was squat, overhead press and deadlifts. And hoo boy, let me tell you…that was exhausting. It’s been seven hours now since I finished the workout, and I am absolutely wiped. My glutes and shoulders hurt the most, but I feel it all over.

I am optimistic about this plan, and I’m excited to see if I’m anywhere near those projected weights come the middle of June.

I Am Becoming Less Fat

Back in November, I weighed 226 pounds. I left Houston and drove to Vegas with my dog and my personal belongings and my fat in tow.

It was not as fat as I’ve ever been. That honor goes to 2009, when I was nearly 250 pounds and resembled something like a ginger, hairy bowling ball. It was not a pretty sight, and I’m sure my description has you feeling the urge to vomit. I don’t blame you.

Anyway, I started cooking all my meals instead of driving through various places to pick them up. I stuck to a paleo diet, mostly eliminating grains and dairy from my daily diet. Except for beer, because beer. It is one of my favorite things in this world, and it is also a hobby. Yes, I’m one of “those people” who love craft beer a lot. But I’m also not one of the types who will make fun of you for drinking something terrible like Miller Light. After all, I’ve been known to crack open a $1 Coors Banquet from time to time.

But over the past six weeks, I’ve even eliminated beer and liquor, mostly. There have probably been four occasions during that time, total, that I’ve had something to drink. And it turns out that eliminating the beer and liquor and the grains and sugar that go along with it were a fantastic idea, because it’s much easier to lose weight.

I also started doing heavy lifting routines in early February. I was not very strong. I couldn’t even bench 135 pounds, you guys. But since then, I’ve upped my bench press to 165, which isn’t shabby. I’m doing the gym at least four days a week, and I’m seeing large strength increases.

But here’s the coolest thing. I weighed in today at 196 pounds. 196! Which means I’ve lost 30 pounds since moving to Vegas and changing my diet and becoming more active and less fat and gross.

When I started, my goal was 200 pounds. I’ve blown right past that now, and my new goal is 185. Once I get there, maybe my goal will be 170, though I’d like to think I’ll be putting on enough muscle to keep that from happening. 180 pounds with plenty of muscle sounds good to me. And more importantly, it sounds healthy, and that’s all I care about.

Half Dome

Sunlit-Half-Dome-From-Glacier-Point-Yosemite-National-Park-CaliforniaLater this year, on September 24, I will be hiking to the summit of Half Dome at Yosemite.

My love for hiking began a few years ago when I first moved to Las Vegas. It is, in fact, one of the major reasons I moved back to Vegas for a second time. I love the outdoors and the mountains. I go walk them as much as time allows.

I am a big fan of creating to do lists. Of creating goals and then accomplishing them, then moving on to the next thing. Yosemite has been on my bucket list of things to do for quite some time, and I’ll be heading up there (about 7 hours by car from Vegas, so it’s easily doable) several times before September. I plan on taking in a few shorter hikes, checking out the various waterfalls and sights that I’ve read about for so long.

In the meantime, I’ll be preparing my body and mind for what will assuredly be the most grueling hike of my life. The Half Dome hike is 16 miles with 5,000 feet of elevation change. At the end, there is a granite wall so steep, you are required to hold onto cables in order to ascend. Oh, and you have to win a lottery in order to get a permit to climb it.

IMG_0141

I have been lucky enough to get my permit this year. And so throughout the summer, I’ll be hiking out here 2-3 times per week. My goal is to build up to the Mt. Charleston North Loop in early September; that is a 22 mile hike, though it is not nearly as excruciating as Half Dome will be. But I know that if I can handle the North Loop, I can handle the physical aspects of Half Dome.

Now, the heights issue…that’s going to be a different story altogether. I am a fan of spectacular vistas and views, but standing on the edge of things does make me a tad bit squeamish.

Half Dome is my mountain to conquer in 2014. It represents a lot of things to me, and there is something romantic and majestic and just plain inspiring about the idea of climbing it. This is going to be a difficult thing, but it is absolutely something I am going to do. I can’t wait.

My 2014 Oscar Picks

This is one of the first times in a very long time that I’ve seen every film up for a major award at the Academy Awards.

I usually miss a few, but I made a special effort to see everything I could this year. And this does not make me an expert by any means, but at least I’m better informed than I usually am.

These are my picks for the major awards. I don’t really pay attention to the awards leading up to the Oscars, so they don’t influence my picks at all. Mostly, I pick with my gut. It is a gut that has been wrong many times, of course, so I’ll just tell you these are my favorites and we’ll move on. If you want real predictions from a very smart man, go check out my buddy Matt Erickson. He’s way better at this stuff.

BEST PICTURE: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

This is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. So powerful, in fact, that I cannot imagine ever watching it again. It is extremely difficult to watch, and one time was enough. But it was easily the best film I saw this year, by a wide margin. My favorite movie of the year was Wolf of Wall Street, and while that was a fantastic flick, it comes nowhere close to the importance of 12 Years.

BEST DIRECTOR: ALFONSO CUARON, GRAVITY

I’d give this award to Cuaron simply for what he was able to accomplish with Gravity. Such a stunning and unique film.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Her

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: 12 Years a Slave

Running, For Fun and Hate

I am no fan of running.

This is perhaps being too kind. I hate running. Abhor it. Detest it. When I was in the Army, I grew to hate running even more because I was forced to wake at 4:30 each morning and go for what seemed like endless runs around Fort Sam Houston and then Fort Hood and then Iraq.

Have you ever tried running in Iraq? It is likely you have not. Let me tell you, friend, that running in Iraq, with the sand and the constant fear of mortar shells landing somewhere in your vicinity, well, that is no fun at all.

Mostly, I hate it because I am by nature not very good at things that require endurance. And before you make those kinds of jokes, let’s just agree to move on and pretend I never wrote that first sentence. What I am saying is that I am not great at things that require effort in the cardiovascular sense. Running. Biking. Rowing. I can do all of these things, but you know that point where you reach the wall and you get tired? Athletes push right through that wall. Me? I turn around and go home and eat a snack.

But here’s the thing: for over three months now, I have eaten cleaner than I ever have, in the history of my life. I make 95% of my meals at home, and these meals consist of meat and vegetables and sometimes fruit. I do not eat fast food and I do not drink sodas. I actually tried my old favorite flavor of Gatorade (lime cucumber, ftw) a few weeks ago and it tasted like sugar poison.

I go to the gym a couple of days a week, and I do Crossfit 2-3 times per week. I am healthier than I’ve ever been, save for those few months right after Basic Training when I was 156 pounds and could do 105 pushups in two minutes.  When I moved to Las Vegas in November, I weighed 227 pounds. As of this morning, I am 203 pounds. I have dropped anywhere from 5-7% bodyfat, depending on how much of an asshole my scale decides to be when I step on it.

That is all well and good, and I am proud of myself. But I’m nowhere close to my goal, and I’ve realized that I’ll need an extra helping of cardiovascular exercise in order to reach that goal. And I’ve decided that the cardio exercise I’ll be adding to my daily routine is running.

I’m adding it because I hate it. I’m adding it because I see it as a mountain to conquer, and I’m feeling pretty frisky lately when it comes to conquering personal mountains. I’m adding it because if I can force myself to push through a sprint when all I want is a couple of those delicious Loco Tacos from Taco Bell, well, I figure I can push myself to do just about anything.

20140217-085352.jpgThis was day one.

I am using the Running for Weight Loss Pro iOS app, which is thoroughly awesome. It is a High Intensity Interval Training program, which means it’s a mixture of walking and sprinting. Walk for two minutes. Sprint for 60 seconds. Walk for two minutes. Sprint for 90 seconds. Etc.

Day one sucked. I’m sitting in bed this morning and my leg hurts. I realized I need new running shoes because my Crossfit shoes aren’t really designed for running. They work as running shoes, but they are not specifically great for running. They’re great for squats, though.

But the point of all this: I made it through day one, and I’m excited to get back out there and do day two. The app tells me that, by the time it is done with me, I’ll be able to comfortably run a 10k. I don’t know if I believe the app, because it is an app and apps do not yet have actual intelligence. But, okay. I’ll give it a shot.

Update: I bought a pair of Merrell Road Glove 3’s with Vibram soles. They’re minimalist, barefoot-style shoes, but without the dumb toes that look dumb. I’ll give them their first official test later tonight, but from wearing them around the house this afternoon I can say they are very comfortable. I look forward to seeing how they handle the rigors of my awful running style.