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Evidence of a Shred

I’m five weeks into my lean-out, or shredding phase, and I’ve lost about 75pc of what I put on over a period of about 10 months.

I’m now 140.2lbs (63.6kg)… and my peak was 154.5lbs (70.1kg).

But I’m also a very lean 140lbs and I bet that my body fat is very near the 10pc mark (last time I checked, 4 weeks ago, it was around 13.5pc). We’ll know for sure in a little over a week when I get it tested for the last time under S2B.

I’ve also retained most of my muscle mass because I’ve been training hard and I’m still eating 1lb of protein with lunch and dinner.

As I said before, most of the weight loss has been water, fat and glycogen.

The most dramatic change, however, has been in my waistline. The contestants on the Irish TV programme ‘Operation Transformation’ would hate me — I’ve lost 3 inches in 5 weeks, going from a 35-inch waist to 32 inches.

I’m beginning to see what a six-pack looks like for probably the first time in my life. It’s a nice, tight feeling in your core and highly recommended.

To get this, I’ve had to drop carbs in my diet. The only noticeable amounts of carbs I have now are a diced apple with my 2-chicken-breast salad.

My S2B coach Paul also got me to do a treadmill session four (or more) times a week. It’s 30 minutes at 3mph and a 15pc incline. That may sound easy but the first time I did it I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the 10 minute mark. It’s tough and you’ll be dripping with sweat afterwards.

But it actually seems to get easier each time I do it… almost like my body knows there’s less fat that has to be worked off.

After the program ends in mid-May I plan to work on a lean bulk with John Connor of the Irish Strength Institute. I figure it’s the best way to go for me and it also allows me add carbs into the mix on training days.

While I’m not yet ready to share photos of my mid-section, we have our final photoshoot about a week from now and it’s the one from which the judges decide who will be among this cohort’s prizewinners.

After the shoot, I might post some shots.

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Waist Management

I once weighed just 116lbs (… I’m 5’8″ for context). That was 15 years ago and it’s a weight I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

Even trainer John Connor said to me: “I can’t imagine a man weighing that.” (Thanks, John… lol!)

It gives me perspective, especially now that I’m halfway through my lean-out phase of S2B in preparation for the final photoshoot… the one which we’ll all be judged on.

Of the 19.5lbs I had put on (going from 135lbs to 154.5), I’ve lost 9.7lbs in the lean-out phase, and my waist has gone down from 35 inches to 33.5 inches in just three weeks. A lot of the weight loss  is water, gylcogen and fibre, according to my coach Paul Valiulis, and not muscle…. especially when you consider that even though I’m on a paleo/caveman diet of few, if any, carbs, I’m still consuming a pound of protein for lunch and the same for dinner. (Tip of the Hat to Paul for inadvertently suggesting the title of this post, btw).

The only carbs I do have is an apple with my two-large-chicken-breast salad.

And the paleo diet is actually easier than I thought it would be. For one thing, it’s a lot less complicated to make all my meals than the protein and carbs diet I had before.

So even though I’ve dropped half of what I gained, I’m gradually becoming more comfortable with the possibility of losing a few more pounds.

I don’t WANT to lose them, but if shedding a few more pounds is necessary for some abs to show for the final photoshoot, then so be it. The more vascular you look, the more muscular you can appear.

Last week, after I had dropped 8lbs, Coach Paul put me on an avocado a day and extra olive oil, which seems to have slowed down the weight loss.

But I know that even if I do fall to nearer my starting weight, my body’s composition has changed for the better because of all the work I’ve been doing in the gym since last May and my radically changed diet. I’ve never eaten as much veggies in my life, for one thing. And I didn’t really eat avocados at all before.

So whatever weight I end up at when my lean-out is over in three weeks, I’m still gonna have a fantastic foundation on which to build an awesome ‘house’ over time.

As I said before, this isn’t a 12-month project — it’s a lifetime commitment if you want to reap serious health benefits for your body and mind. So I already have a strategy and goal in mind for after S2B ends in May.

Even those fitness models you see on the magazine covers and guys who enter bodybuilding contests are NEVER satisfied. They’re always striving for more.

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Chewing the Fat

About a month ago our S2B coaches asked us to get out skinfolds done… the first time we’ve taken them since last August.

So my friend Mark McGauran whose a staffer in the Trinity College Sports Centre, did them for me, just like he had done them the previous August. And, at first glance, the results weren’t pretty.

I had gone from 12% body fat to 18%, but more worryingly for me was the fact that Mark believed that of the 18lbs I had gained since August, maybe only 3lbs to 4lbs was muscle. Mark said that he had skinfolded an athlete once and the same athlete did a water displacement test for fat and Mark’s skinfold was within half a percent of that. So he stood by his results.

So alarm bells started going off in my head. I contacted my coach Paul Valiulis, who in turn contacted John Berardi. Berardi, or JB as he’s known, said that there was no need to fret because skinfolds don’t matter. He said the “mirror test” was what counted. ie. if I felt I looked good in the mirror. He explained that he’d prefer not take skinfolds at all but guys on the program had protested in the past when the idea of dropping them came up.

JB said that if I felt a part of my body had gotten too fat, then we could address that. My belly was in fact distended so I felt it was time to do something about it.

But I had a big decision to make. The end-of-year photoshoot (which actually takes place 6 weeks before the progam ends) was fast approaching at the end of March and I had to choose whether to continue climbing in body weight or lean out.

A few days later I hit 19.5lbs, which is just over 10lbs off my 30lbs target, and chose to use the remaining 6 weeks to work on a lean-muscle look for the phottoshoot. (After that I will start to bulk up again… albeit a lean bulk, hopefully).

I began the lean-out phase on February 11 and lost 4.5lbs in the first week. I’ve just weighed myself today and I’ve lost almost another 4lbs. So I’ve emailed Paul to see how we should tailor my food again, which had been a paleo diet the past two weeks.

However, here’s where the story gets really interesting. Two days ago I had a scheduled workout with John Connor who goes over each monthly phase of workouts with me to see if there’s any adjustments that need to be made in terms of my muscle imbalances. I told him about the skinfolds and he said he wanted to test me (as he had done last July).

According to his figures, my body fat percentage was 13.5pc (vs 11.8pc last July) and he reckoned that of the 8kgs I added since then, at least 5kgs were all muscle. He said he doesn’t believe in percentages when it comes to skinfolds, only the millimetres of the folds themselves.

So I guess the moral of all this is that if you feel bigger and more muscular when you look in the mirror, then you probably are.

As another staffer at Trinity gym said to me, the only way to accurately measure body fat is to literally skin someone alive…. which sounds a little extreme.

Speaking of fat, here’s a joke about a healthy fat which made me laugh on the train journey into the gym the other day.

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The Neverending Story/My Salt Lake Tribune Update

Sorry for interruption in service, I’ve had a down and up few weeks.

Like I said before, I get butterflies in my stomach right before I weigh myself. Three weeks ago, I had lost a pound on the previous week.

The week before last, we had an active recovery week, meaning I had to skip the gym but still eat for Ireland. I managed to keep up my appetite, but I still lost 2lbs that week.

So a week ago, I was down to 15lbs net gain, after having hit a high of 18lbs weeks earlier.

This week I was back in the saddle again, and today I found out I put those 3lbs back to bring me to 153lbs. So what made the difference? For one, I’ve had much better sleeps and some trippy dreams this past week. In one, I was related to Prince Harry, believe it or not. He’s appeared a lot in the news lately, and my job is to keep up with same.

I digress. Another reason, I believe, is that for the first time in around 5 years I’m doing Back Squats again. We had them earlier in the program, but my pointman here, John Connor of the Irish Strength Institute, wouldn’t let me do them because I wasn’t flexible enough.

But he watched me do them last week and gave me the all-clear. They’re the surest way to develop ways, which is the body part I want to “bring up” most cos I have chicken legs.

And I ended up putting 0.25 inches on my thighs, week on week. Not a lot, of course, but still progress.

This week also saw my  latest update for my former colleagues at The Salt Lake Tribune. .

In it I explain that Scrawny to Brawny has taught me that body transformations only work if you accept that you’re on this path for life. It’s a neverending commitment.

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Luke, the Force Is Strong With You

Early on in the S2B process we were told to make a scrapbook of clippings from Men’s Fitness and similar magazines of the kind of physiques we were aiming towards. That’s because visualisation plays a hugely  important part in becoming the brawnier version of yourself that you want to be. Seeing is believing in yourself and your capacity to change.

While it may sound a bit weird, it’s a tried and trusted method used by fitness models and bodybuilders since Arnold Schwarzenegger first made a name for himself.

So I decided to take this a little further and add posts from fitness competitors etc to my Facebook feed. Some are better than others in terms of the usefulness of their updates. A lot of them, understandably, use FB as a way to drum up business and it’s hard to judge their credentials.

Having said that, I just use their feeds as a reminder of the path I’m on. It helps me keep the focus on my goal. I don’t buy fitness pr0grams off of any of these guys because I’m already in what I consider to be one of the best programs on the planet and something that is tailored specifically for skinny guys like me.

Besides, one of the top reasons people fail in their fitness goals, whether that’s packing on muscle or dropping pounds of fat, is that they don’t stick with one program. They find that the results don’t come as quickly as they want them to and end up hopscotching all over the shop.

Plus, there would be no point in taking on any other program when I’ve already paid for this one as well as spending a lot of time and a huge amount of effort on it. You either believe in your coaches or you don’t, and mine have all taken the same Scrawny to Brawny journey that I’m on.

However, I have found that some feeds are helpful because they reinforce what my S2B coaches are already saying. So they’re a reminder that helps me keep my eyes on the prize of a transformed body and life.

I’ve come across three useful feeds in that regard. First off is Luke Thornton, whose FB page I found through Natural Bodybuilding Recognition (a FB page that promotes natural…. i.e. steroid-free…. athleltes). Thornton always gives good advice on his posts which echo what my own coaches on S2B are saying, sometimes at the same time as they’re saying it too.

For instance, he posted the following: “There is no royal road to anything, one thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast, withers as rapidly. That which grows slowly, endures” (Source: J G Holland)

“This is why quick fixes never last….do what you are doing now and look to improve one thing at a time for success in changing your physique and fitness levels.”

That’s exactly the same philosophy behind S2B with its building-block approach when it c0mes to adopting habits meant to transform your body. Here’s Luke’s Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/LukeThorntonFit. Just like my coach Paul Valiulis, Thornton put on 70lbs of muscle going from 140lbs to 210lbs and he’s 6’2″ to give you context. The more fellow ectomorphs (skinny guys) I hear about succeeding in this way, the more it seems doable to me and the more it emboldens me to push myself even further.

The two others I’d like to mention are Scott Baptie of http://www.foodforfitness.co.uk. I came across his Facebook feed through an interview he did with the motivational site cutandjacked.com. He gives lots of useful advice on diet and exercise as well as motivational quotes. He offers a no nonsense, no BS approach. And he’s a fellow Celt, so he’s gotta be a good guy!

Finally, Brandan Fokken posts daily inspirational quotes on his Facebook feed and they’re always a great reminder of what I’m trying to do here. He seems to be a great fitness role model. Here’s his link. https://www.facebook.com/bb.combrandan

I came across all three of these guys independently and they don’t know I’m name-checking them… so no protein powder or free supplements has exchanged hands here. Lol.

WEIGHT UPDATE: Weighed myself yesterday and I’m no 153.2lbs (69.5kg) which is a gain of 18lbs (8.3kg). Still aiming for that 30lbs in time for the S2B photoshoot in a few months for the AFTER pictures.

Here’s an example of something from Luke’s site.

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My Christmas ‘Miracle’

I weighed myself today and I’ve lost a half-pound on last week. Not a huge amount and probably not unexpected given the Trinity gym was closed 4 days this week, meaning I had to do a bodyweight workout this week one of those days. It just felt wrong doing it at home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so I passed on a second home workout.

I told one of my friends in the gym today about my latest weigh-in and he said: “You must be the only person who LOST weight over Christmas.” I thought that was quite amusing especially give how Chrismas/New Year’s is practically a weeklong festivity in Ireland, making my situation unheard of.

So I’m still up 16lbs overall and aiming for that 30lbs to bring me to 165lbs (75kg).

We have to get our pictures taken by a professional photographer by the end of March (the “after” pictures, even though my S2B yearlong tranche officially ends in mid-May) so I’m really hoping I can reach that goal by then. My gym friend asked me if I thought I could do it. I’m well aware of the mantra “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t.” So yes, I think I can do it. But there’s so many variables that I wouldn’t be the house on it. But I’m aiming to give it all I’ve got in these last few months.

It’s all down to randomness. Some weeks you feel like you’ve lost weight and you’ve actually put on 2lbs (happened a few weeks ago to me) while this week I felt more of a boss than ever before, but the scales didn’t register that feeling.

The good news is that I will eventually get to 165lbs and possibly beyond. I know this because my cousin Deirdre MacIntyre, who’s a psychologist, told me that any habit that is practised for 40 days tends to stick. I’ve been doing S2B, where we learn different habits every two weeks, since May, so my body (and more importantly my mind) is primed to life a bigger, brawnier life that will allow me reach my potential in whatever I set my sights towards… once I put in the work, of course, just like in S2B.

As I said before, this is a total mind meld but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… physically AND mentally.

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What I Learned From Argo

Apologies for the long delay in posting any updates. I’ve had an up and down month including a family bereavement. But things are back on track now.

A few weeks ago I had a minor setback when I was running to catch the train and my FLIP camera fell out of a pocket in my backpack. I only realised when I got on the train and later discovered that the zip was broken.

The FLIP had all the “how to” exercise videos with my trainer here John Connor of the Irish Strength Institute. I’m following the Scrawny to Brawny exercise phases but because I have a separated shoulder I get John to go through them as an insurance policy to ensure I do proper form and I look at them on the way into Trinity gym.

I even had a video of Irish rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll signing a Leinster set of kids pyjamas for a friend of mine in Salt Lake. But that’s all gone now. I still kinda feel like my privacy has been violated but there’s little I can do about it despite searching the area where I think I lost it and even putting flyers in a few mailboxes.

I needed to get a new phone anyway so I bought an iPhone5 and am using it to record the exercises with John. But I had an umbelievable amount of hassle trying to sign that contract. It would have been easier to get into the Vatican.

So I was a little out of sorts for a week or two and my weight just stalled during that time.

But the good news is that last week I got to catch up on a movie I really wanted to see. Ben Aflleck’s Argo is about one CIA operative’s attempt to “exfltrate” six US embassy staff in Iran who were hiding out in the Canadian ambassador’s residence, at great personal risk to the latter.

This is NOT a spoiler, but there’s one scene where the ambassador is talking to Affleck’s lead character Tony Mendez and says “But you came closer than any0ne else (to getting the hostages out).”

I immediately thought, I don’t want to come closer than anyone else. I want to meet my goal of 30 extra pounds.

So I actually found the movie inspiring for that line alone. And it’s undoubtedly gonna be nominated for best film at the Oscars.

But back at the gym, when I weighed myself last Saturday, after two weeks of hovering around the 148lbs mark, I hit 150.8lbs. So I’m officially a buck fifty which means I’m halfway towards my goal given I started at 135lbs.

The food is still the hardest part. Preparing and cooking it is quite time consuming and it still takes me an hour or two to finish lunch and dinner.

But at least I’m still going upwards.

And one other thing about Argo. There was a fantastic array of moustaches in the movie given it was set at the end of the Seventies. Which leads me to an update on my Movember quest. Our team in work (Movember Rain) ended up raising over E1,500, which is around $2,000.

First off, here’s a fun interview with Ben Affleck during the press junket for Argo.

And here’s what I ended up with after 30 days of growth during Movember. It’s all gone now.

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Back in Black

In a break from regular programming I’ve just completed a week of strength tests.

Three times a year, at the beginning, middle and end, the S2B coaches like us to measure our strength and check how it’s changing.  Instead of regular workouts, we pick one “push” exercise (e.g. Dumbbell bench press) for upper body on Monday, one “push” for lower on Tuesday (e.g. leg press) , one “pull” exercise for upper body on Thursday (e.g. Lat Pulldown with V Bar) and one “pull” for lower body (e.g. Leg Curl) on Friday.

You do one set a minute for 30 mins but you must keep it the same weight/load the whole time. And you can do as many or as few reps each minute as you want. You can even skip a set if you want.

For the record, and just to give you an idea cos these figures are far from stellar, but I did 125 reps of 15kg dumbbells on chest press, 125 reps of 50kg on free weight leg press, 178 reps on lat pulldown at 35kg  and 173 reps on leg curl at 27kg.

It’s very hard to judge the right weight… and you have to pace yourself at the beginning… but I went with roughly 70pc to 80pc of my max.

Even though the whole workout is only 30 mins, you’re very fatigued after it cos you’ve been working the same muscles almost non-stop and they’re in shock afterwards… which helps them grow.

In fact, I actually “found” the 3lbs I had lost while on holiday the previous week. And 1.5lbs to boot. So I put on roughly 4.5lbs in a week (although I’m not sure how accurate my 3lbs loss was in previous week as I mentioned in the last post).

That brings me to an overall 148.5lbs (13.5lbs weight gain since I started)… so I”m a half pound shy of an extra stone and almost halfway towards my goal of an extra 30lbs.

On the downside I found it hard to finish all my meals this week cos of not being able to eat properly the week before in Prague. But my shipment of Peanut Butter finally arrived so I’ve been slamming PB protein shakes this week (one a day) which I think may have helped with the big gain.

So to celebrate, here’s a pretty cool rendition of that AC/DC classic that I just found on YouTube.

What Would Jason Do?

Sorry for the lag time between updates. I was away in Prague last week for a few days holiday which threw my plans out a bit.

I hadn’t been away since January when I went on my annual pilgrimage to see my friends in Salt Lake City and catch a few movies at the Sundance Film Festival. One of my dreams is to someday write a movie that is lucky enough to get chosen for Sundance and invite all my Salt Lake peeps to the screening. Good times!

Anyhoo, I needed to get out of Austerityville for a few days cos when you work in newspapers you can’t avoid the daily diet of economic gloom in Ireland these days. It’s affected our pay packets in a big way too cos we’re A students among the basket case EU countries when it comes to trying to fix our finances. It’s been really hard.

Enough of that. So I booked a B&B in Prague at the suggestion of a school friend who’s a professor there now. It’s called the House at the Big Boot and is a great, ultra safe, ultra central location to base yourself on a visit there. How safe? Well, to get to the B&B you had to go by the US embassy. And there was a 24-hour checkpoint on that street where they searched cars with mirrors (for under the chassis) and checked under the hood. Oh yeah, and the German embassy was right opposite my accommodation.

On the first night, after a few libations amid catching up with my school friend, I noticed that the area I was in looked like the set of The Bourne Identity, which was partly set in Zurich. The next day I found out that the movie was actually filmed partly in Prague as were a shedload of other films. In fact, top of my list was a tour that would take in movie locations.

I had two full days in Prague and the first was spent getting my bearings. On the second, I went to Prague Castle and that evening I took the only movie location tour going… on a Segway. A guide shows you around for 2 to 3 hours and has a portable DVD player to show you the clips as you’re at the exact location where they were filmed.

So there was Mission Impossible, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (total turkey), Triple X (XXX), and Bourne Identity, among others. You feel like an idiot on the Segway, but apparently it’s in the Top 5 things to do in Prague. And you can get around the place pretty quickly… besides I didn’t want to unnecessarily burn any calories by walking for hours when I’m trying to bulk up.

I was hoping to see the outside of the US consulate where Jason Bourne jumps to safety in the snow after being pursued by the authorities.

But I saw something else instead. In fact, it’s a far more iconic scene. I saw the park bench where he was woken up by two policemen who tried to evict him from the park. He instinctively beats the shit out of them in a fight or flight scenario. It”s the first moment in the movie when he realises he’s not who he thinks he is.

I should say that I didn’t see the actual bench cos it was damaged in a huge flood about ten years ago. But I could see the markers in the grass and a statue in the background (that also appears on screen).

I lived in Utah at the time that film came out and I remember there were a lot of film critics wondering aloud would Matt Damon be accepted as an action hero. All three films have since grossed $946m. So, how d’ya like them apples?!!

The only problem with my time off was that it was hard to eat the quality and quantity of my regular diet for S2B. And I was probably going to lose weight while travelling anyway, my coach warned me.

I have to admit I was eager to get back to my routine cos I didn’t want to lose too many pounds after working so hard to put them on in the first place. In the end. I couldn’t use my regular scales (in Trinity College gym) for logistical reasons, so I had to use a “needle indicator” scales. I estimate that I ended up losing 3lbs but I had a feeling I could get them back just as quickly.

Interestingly, the trip made one thing absolutely clear to me:  I’m so glad I’m on this brawny path and I want it to be for life.

The Turf ‘n’ Turf

I was watching Parks and Recreation the other day and came across this gem. It’s quite appropriate in the week of the US election. And it works for S2B considering a ‘clean’ diet (i.e. meals made from scratch) is a huge part of the programme. The plotline for this episode was about how a fictional candy maker wanted to sell their products at park concessions.

Initially it was seen as a great budget boost for Pawnee, Indiana’s parks. But then the story pivoted to how letting Sweetums into the park system would be an official endorsement of junk food.

Anyway, enough preamble. The scene in the clip below involves the Parks and Rec boss eating out as a guest of Sweetums (think Thank You for Smoking…. which is a must-see film, btw).

Given I’m eating a pound of protein in each of two meals per day, I laughed my ass off when I saw it. (For some reason the embedded coding wouldn’t “take” so it’s an old-fashioned link.) In fact, it reminds me of a documentary I saw on Steve Martin when I lived in the States. Apparently he turned to comedy after studying philosophy… the reason being that it partly dealt with the nature of the absurd, which of course is what a lot of comedy is based on and which this clip clearly illustrates.

In weekly weigh-in news, I stepped on the scales yesterday and have put on 0.7lb since last week. That brings me to 12.3lbs gain overall and 147.3lbs. Remember folks, for hardgainers it”s a marathon, NOT a sprint.

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