Last year I took on the challenge of becoming fluent in Japanese in 12 months, which was a game-changer. I did it because it had been a long term goal that I had neglected and procrastinated on, and I didn’t want to fast forward 8 years and “regret” that I was still not fluent in the language.
I’m now ready to address another aspect of my life that I’ve been less than happy about recently.
Firstly, I’m usually one of the healthiest people you’ll find. I used to be the chubby fat kid all through school, before eventually cutting the weight through a plant-based lifestyle, making me look a decade younger all of a sudden. But I cut too much weight, and became one of the skinniest people around instead.
I started feeling weak and small instead. Which was way better than being weak and fat and slow, but doesn’t meet the standards I have in this life.
The reason why I want to go on this journey is to experience the full beauty and capability of my body. I want to be more loving and intimate with the physical shell that was gifted to me, which is worth more than any Ferrari or Lamborghini or private jet.
I’m 30. I’m going to die. This body is declining. I want to give it, and take from it, everything I can so that I have no regrets at 32 or 33, or 43 or 53 or 63.
So, here’s my plan. It started this week on Monday, November 13th 2023.
I would describe myself as “skinny fat.”
I weigh around 63kg (138.6 lbs), at 5ft 10 (177 cm), but have a belly of around 86cm when I somewhat exaggerate my posture and letting my shoulders drop.
My ultimate goal is to trim down my belly to 79cm, while increasing my weight a little bit — 65 kg would be a wonderful accomplishment for the first year. I’ll probably overshoot this goal.
Now, progress on the above goals is really hard to track, so a subsection here is strength goals.
A great goal for the first year would be:
>350 lbs on the deadlift (1RM)
>220 lbs on the bench press (1RM)
>300 lbs on the squat (1RM)
In bodyweight, this would be:
20+ full, slow pushups (elbows tucked in, nose gently touches floor)
10 slow chin ups, from a dead hang (chin above bar)
10+ deep squats with feet close (+ heels firmly on the floor)
15 slow pike push ups (leaning forward, butt over hands)
I’m still open to feedback regarding these goals — whether these are realistic, too optimistic or too pessimistic, etc.
I’m following a predominantly bodyweight-based protocol based on Convict Conditioning, training one movement pattern per day. This method is called Veterano in the book, which is a great read.
The idea is to get progressively stronger over time, while keeping the movements “basic.”
Monday: Push up
Wednesday: Pull up
Thursday: Handstand push up
Saturday: Deadlifts/Bodyweight bridges
Sunday: Rest (Mandatory)
I will do a warm up, then 2-3 work sets with a 3-5 minute rest in between. I’ll do exercises that I can do at least 5-10 reps of, and build myself up to ~25 perfect reps, before switching to the next exercise and start all over again. Usually it will be 2 sets, with the occasional third “drop set” with an easier exercise to exhaust my muscles.
I’ll always uphold excellent standards in quality of movement (stop and rest whenever technique falters), and go as hard as possible.
I will track my reps and sets in a mobile app, and the aim will be to keep increasing the difficulty over time as I get stronger.
The only exception here is deadlifts. Will keep reps within 5-10, with a reasonable weight. I’m really scared of snapping my back with this lift, so I’ll prefer to err on the side of caution.
Based on most calculators, I would need to eat somewhere around ~2350 calories of whole, nutrient-rich foods per day to attain the goals I’ve set. As little oil and sugar and junk shit as possible. I can do that.
I’ve started going to bed by 10pm and waking up at 5am. I don’t always succeed, but I’m working on it.
All the science seems to agree that high-quality sleep has tremendous benefits.
Not a big believer in these in general, but herbal supplements that have been used safely for millennia? Sure. I’m still a complete beginner, and I’m exploring, but will start with Gotu Kola (a herb that even wild animals use to help them recover from injuries etc).
WHY THIS APPROACH
I’m open to switching gears a bit after at least 3 months if I don’t see much progress, but these are the principles that guided the above program selection:
First, I NEED to work out every single day, or else I risk falling off the wagon.
Second, I NEED the workout to be as short and simple as possible, or else I risk skipping it.
Third, I NEED to see clear measurable progress over time, and this ensures I keep getting stronger.
Fourth, I do NOT NEED an “optimal” way to train. Going from 80-85% results to 95% requires a level of obsession and “brain budget” that I don’t have for this.
Fifth, I’ll have 6 days of Judo practice per week in the evenings, which will also beat me up enough that this amount of volume is anyway the most I can handle.
This program fits with all these constraints. Also, the exercises are simple and straightforward, which is great because the basics always work.
Why bodyweight focused?
First, it means I have no excuses and can do these on any day, even in my room.
Second, bodyweight mastery by default keeps your physique healthy well-balanced, and reduces the risk of becoming a fat powerlifter looking for a heart surgery down the road.
Take the humble push up, which is actually a difficult exercise but considered an “easy” one. I calculated this at home with a real scale, and it turns out that in a push up, I effectively “bench” 70-75% of my bodyweight (increases as I lower down, decreases as I go back up), which is around 45-49 kilos, or ~100 lbs. Taking half of that, it’s like pressing ~45 pound dumbells in each hand (this is a conservative estimate). How strong is a beginner who can press 45 lbs with each hand for 20-30 slow, high-quality reps? Okay, pretty decent. Now, slowly progress this to one-arm push ups. Now this person is pressing 100 lb dumbells with each hand — for reps. Is this person strong? You bet.
“Hitting a body part once per week” is also a fairly standard practice that physical culturists have used for thousands of years with excellent results. This workout split is also called the “Bro Split” because it’s even used by top bodybuilders, but works well for novices and experts alike. It just works, and it keeps you feeling fresh after a hard workout. And it gives you 7 days of recovery time, so you’ll not only keep getting stronger in that movement without needing to deload, but also (allegedly) never get “bored,” since you’ll do each exercise only once a week.