As some of you may know, I have lost quite a lot of weight over the last few months – I went from 275lbs at the start of October to 232lbs in April, a loss of 43 lbs (or 19.5Kgs). Yes, this was actually on purpose, but it did not start out that way.
I came down with some food poisoning at DerbyCon in September 2014 (from the 4th Street live sports bar, OK?), and I lost 11lbs in 3 days. That was rough! I really do not recommend the food poisoning crash diet option…
When I got back to the UK, I caught a glance of my face in the mirror, and the weight loss was quite noticeable, even after I had rehydrated and put a few pounds back on again. Being able to see what that weight loss could do to how my face looked got me energised to continue with the weight loss through some exercise and diet. And so I started doing sessions on an exercise bike, and eating a little less than normal. And the weight just came off…
When I got to April somewhere, my body hit a plateau, and refused to lose any more weight. This is quite normal, apparently, and can happen to anyone at any stage of their weight loss. I have kind of taken a step back from the cardio side of the exercise for a while, and moved onto concentrating on my free weights and sit ups, but plan to return to cardio after the summer.
Anyway, it appears that quite a few people were so amazed that a nerd who had been so unfit and overweight for so long managed to do this that they have asked me how I did it all. I am kind of taken by surprise by this… mostly because asking me for exercise tips still feels weird so I thought it was time to put all my random thoughts about it into a blog post. And they will be very random!
First up, it was always about the weight loss for me, with the side effect of getting fitter and healthier at the same time. Its not about growing muscle mass or bulking up or anything else… just weight loss.
Given my quite long list of injuries that I have to work around, the worst being my knees and ankles, really the only sensible option was to use an exercise bike. This would allow me to exercise the largest set of muscles in the body (legs) to burn the most calories for a set amount of work. It also reduce the impact of the exercise on my knees and ankles, unlike running, which would punish them horribly, especially at the weight I started at. So exercise bike it was…. but what to choose?
I looked around online for some options, checking prices and reviews, and found one I seemed to like. Still not trusting online reviews 100%, and wanting to get it right first time, I went to a “fitness warehouse” store that had a whole bunch of exercise equipment that you could look at and try out. So glad I did that, because the saddle on the bike I looked at was horribly uncomfortable! Soon found one that I liked the look of, was affordable, and had a far better saddle. If you already have a decent real bike, you may want to look at one of those roller road trainers instead.
Now the hard work started here are some items that may/will help you when you start
I`d like to point out that all of the items below are my own experiences, and should not be taken as in any way official medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any of the below if you feel that you have a medical condition that may be aggravated by exercise.
- Dont eat for at least 2 hours before you exercise – you and your carpet can thank me later
- Hydrate – really… lots… before, during and after
- Protein – if you find you are shaking a lot after your exercise session, you may need to get some protein in you quickly. I use a protein shake powder which I mix with water, which seems to eliminate the shakes within a few minutes. You may want to investigate the various option yourself.
- Post-Exercise Selfies – don’t… just don’t, OK?
- Get a large fan to blow air at you – you will sweat like you have never sweated before, so make it slightly less uncomfortable with a fan. I use a large 20″ floor fan blowing air at the front of the bike and me. You don’t want to stop because you are overheating, you want to stop because your legs stop working!
- Get a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) – Don’t work towards a speed or a distance, work towards a specified constant heart rate zone that maximises fat burning. I`ll add some links further down to show how to determine the best heart rate zone for you. Monitor your heart rate during your sessions so you are not over doing it. Its not about being the best or the fastest or doing it for the longest. You are only competing with yourself, and your long term goal is weight loss, nothing else. Find a HRM that works with your phone or tablet, and install one of the free apps that are available. I personally use Endomondo, which allows you to create a free account, and will upload and display the results each time you complete a session.
- Don’t expect to get to the above heart rate zone in the first few weeks – or if you do, don’t expect to be able to stay there for very long. If you are like me, not only are you carrying a few extra pounds, you haven’t done much/any proper exercise for a long time. You whole body is going have one hell of a shock when you start pushing it to perform and improve. It will scream, it will yell, it will fail, but it will improve each and every time you push it. When you first start, you will feel like you are dying, your lungs want to burn and/or implode, and you will wonder just how the hell your body can produce so much sweat through the pores in your skin. You will shake, your legs will stop working properly (I have lost count of the number of time I had to come down the stairs one step at a time on my butt because I was unable to lock my knees properly). And you know what? That pain, that discomfort… that is your body surviving what you threw at it, and it is undergoing small incremental changes to be able to cope better the next time you do something like that. The cliche of “no pain, no gain” is actually true… well, within limits anyway.
- Only weigh yourself once a week – pick a day of the week, and weigh yourself at the same time on that day every week. For example, if it was a Monday morning, then wake up, go do whatever your body needs to do when you wake, then weigh yourself… before you have eaten or drank anything. If you can find some scales that measure body fat as well, that’s great, record that at the same time as you weigh yourself. The measurement of the body fat with a set of scales is done by passing a small electrical current through your feet, so it is also best to measure your body fat before you have taken a shower or bath, as the water in your skin will affect the results. Although my own data showed my weight and body fat followed an almost identical downwards trend, I know that some people’s may not. Some may gain water (weight) but lose body fat… it can vary.
- Really, only weigh yourself once a week!
- As I know you are going to ignore the two items above – if you have completed a session that you know you worked really hard on, you dug deep and kept your heart rate up further or for longer, and you know you must have lost weight, the temptation is to quickly sneak a look the next morning. I did this too The thing is to realise that you may not lose that weight overnight after the session. You could be hoarding water, or you weigh more on this day of the week anyway, or any number of other reasons. Do not be disheartened!! If you do weigh less, YAY! Record that weight if you must, but only record it if you have lost weight. That way, all your data should look like wins
- Warm up and cool down – Give yourself a few minutes at the start of a session to slowly get your heart rate up to the rate you want. For me, if I tried to get there too quickly (2-3 minutes), I wore myself out and I suffered for the rest of the session. I tended to get to my intended heart rate zone at about 5-6 minutes. You will know after a few sessions what is the best approach for you. And the same at the end of a session, try to slowly come down from your intended heart rate over a minute or two.
- Exercise is boring, doubly so indoors – If you are like me, you will hate the thought of exercise. Its so boring. And the thought of pushing your body to its limits for 30-45 minutes each time with nothing else to do makes it oh so much worse. The solution? Media!! Once I get my session started, I Velcro my 10″ Android tablet to the screen of my exercise bike and watch a TV show. A 1 hour US TV show is usually about 43 minutes once all the ads/commercials have been removed. Suddenly I could do two things at the same time, I could catch up on some TV series I have missed over the years while I plod along with my exercise. Find something that works for you…maybe its music, maybe its an audiobook, maybe its watching some more training videos. Just find something to keep your mind from concentrating on your exercise, and the will power required to achieve the session length you have set yourself is easily 30% less. Find a way to use your tablet or laptop or whatever while you are exercising, and make it part of your setup routine.
- Headphones (optional) – depending on how loud or how close the large fan is, you may want to look at using headphones for the media above. Bluetooth are OK, no wires to get tangled up and try to kill you, but if you can route the headphone cables safely, then cable headphones are good too.
- Take rest days – you need to let your body rest, you cannot work it that hard every single day. It will give up, and then you will give up because you think you cant do it anymore. Start slow, 2 times a week, maybe 3 times a week. I found this one out the hard way. One week, I didn’t have my son mid-week like I normally do, so I had a 5 day stretch… I didn’t make it! Day #4 and my legs had absolutely zero energy, they felt like they were made of lead, and I had to stop after 15 minutes (and that was a LONG 15 minutes!). I eventually settled on 45 minutes, 4 to 5 times a week, taking a break on Wednesday and Sunday. Some week it was slightly less, but never more than 5 a week. And it will take you time to get to that point. Just like being able to get to your target heart rate zone, or being able to last at that rate for 30 or 45 minutes, being able to do that 4 or 5 times a week will take a while.
- Food – Sure, losing weight is all about eating less and moving around a little more, but we are not looking at crash diet levels of weight loss. If you wanted to do that, you could do the Atkins diet and smell horrible, or maybe juice yourself thinner and “Be prepared for changes in bowel function and frequent bathroom visits”, which sounds delightful I am not advocating anything here, I`m just telling you what worked for me, your mileage may vary, please feel free to ignore and/or later as required for your own situation. The bad news is that you will need to cut down your calorie intake a little, the good news is that its probably not as much as you expect. If your weight is fairly constant, that means you calorie intake and calorie usage is about equal. Once you add your exercise into the routine, suddenly that’s all changed. Even if you stayed with you existing calorie intake, the fact you are exercising will mean that you are burning more than you are eating. How much that difference is depends on how much you want to cut your calorie intake down. For me, I cut out cheese almost entirely, stopped having cooked meals every evening, drank a LOT of water during the day to keep the hunger pangs at bay, and tried to go for the lighter or less fat options for lunch. This doesn’t have to be hell on earth! Find something that you like that is less calories, and have that instead. No big deal. Now, on previous diet attempts (without exercise), my body started hoarding and shutting down my metabolism when it calorie starved. And really despised what I was doing, and so stopped any ability for it to lose weight. Not helpful! So this time, I “cheated”, and allowed myself two big meals a week. And by big, I mean “Five Guys Burgers and Fries” big, or a McDonalds if I was on the road at the weekend. For me, at least, it kept my body from shutting down, it was fooled into thinking it was still getting normal levels of food, and kept my metabolism up at a decent rate. Plus, its nice to reward yourself for the exercise and punishment you have had to endure, so enjoy it, you earned it…. just don’t go mad with this every day!
- You may hit a weight loss plateau – this can happen to anyone, and it just your body’s way of taking stock of the massive changes that have happened to you over the previous weeks/months. Its not the end of the world. It may last for a few week, it may last for 6+ months, but it will end. Don’t get disheartened by it, find some other exercise to do, or back off a little until your body start showing signs or weight loss or gain by itself, then get back to your original routine.
- You will find it harder to hit your target heart rate – what the..?? Well, yes, this can and will happen. Your body is not only burning calories and losing weight, it is also improving your heart and lungs every time you exercise. Eventually it will get to a point where it is able to deal with the punishment you are giving them, and so they will not have to work so hard, which in turn means your heart rate will be slightly slower. The way to raise your heart rate again is to increase the workload. So more resistance on an exercise bike, steeper gradient on a treadmill, etc. Again, aim for the same heart rate zone, just with more workload.
- Injuries – There may/will be times when you feel a slight twinge in a joint or a muscle, and you think you need to stop. If its really painful, obviously stop immediately. If its only a momentary twinge, slowly work your way up to your original heart rate, but keep a close eye on it. If in any doubt, just stop! Better to stop now and let it heal in a few days than push on through and be unable to do any exercise for weeks because you ripped a muscle. Do not try to rush back again to exercise just because you haven’t done it for a few days. Only go back when you know you are felling better. If you are unsure, start slow, work your way up slowly, but stop if there is any sign that it really isn’t quite ready.
- Dizziness / Short of breath / Vision problems / Headaches – whoah! Back off! And I mean now! These are all “bad things” ™, and should be seen as a red flag for a number of different reasons. You could be trying to push too hard, and your body is really struggling. When you first start, you WILL be out of breath, and that will be one of the limitations you will face. Its limiting you for a reason… your body just cannot take in enough oxygen and/or remove enough carbon dioxide from your body at your current fitness levels. You will huff and puff, and your lungs will hurt and feel like they are going to explode… but it will get better over time. Accept this, don’t fight it, use it as a self limiter. Its fine, don’t worry!
- Clothing – I was quite a big guy (still am, kind of), and anyone who is of a certain size and build will know all about chafing… now, imagine what will happen when you are on a exercise bike or treadmill, and pushing hard. I wont go into any more detail on that, but do yourself a huge favour and get some clothing that will reduce that issue. You can thank me next time you see me The other thing is that if you are exercising indoors, you can pretty much strip off down to as little as you like to keep cool. Do it… really… doing that plus that big fan I mentioned above will keep you much cooler for longer, and there is far less smelly sweaty laundry to deal with afterwards. I am nothing if not at least practical
- “Before” photos – I really wish I had done this when I started, it would have helped so much. Having a set of photos of me before I started to use as a reference, to compare along the way, to help me out when my mind is wondering “why the hell am I doing this?”, the ability to see what you looked like when you started and what you look like now will spur you on when all you want to do is give up. I don’t have any of these photos, and I avoided the camera a lot when I was really big, so even random pictures don’t really show how big I was. Try a set of photos in the privacy of your own house, don’t wear big baggy clothes than hide the real you underneath them. Maybe even down to just your underwear. A photo from the front, the side and the back, and then save them away somewhere safe. They are only for you to use…. no, really, please don’t send them to me 😉
- “Along the way” photos – think you look good in some thing you didn’t used to? Take a picture. You fit into that T-Shirt again that you have had at the back of the wardrobe for years because it was too small before? Take a picture. Document it all along the way…. its your fight, and you deserve something to look back at to bask in your own glory and hard work.
- Social Media – celebrate your wins, you deserve them! Its a brave and bold decision to start an exercise routine to lose weight, and you deserve support from your friends and family whenever you can! I`m not saying you post your pictures every day, or discuss what you had for lunch last Thursday, but mention the things that catch you unaware along the way. Mention things like your favourite T-Shirts being too big for you, or shorts falling down if you don’t wear a belt anymore. Talk about things that you notice accidentally, like walking up the stairs at work rather than take the lift/elevator, or finding that your ankles/knees/back seem better when you do a certain thing that used to cause them problems. Celebrate when you achieve a nice obvious stage in your weight loss, like “another 10lbs”. You don’t have to post to everyone if you don’t want to, especially on Facebook. If you only want a certain group of people to know, then make a group of those people you know will support and appreciate the continued work you are doing. Sure, this exercise and weight loss journey is probably only for you, and maybe those you love, but getting support from others can really help encourage you.
A quick bit about heart rate zones. There are a couple of ways to determine your maximum safe heart rate. One is:
220 – your age in years
the other is
217 – (0.85 x your age in years)
To be honest there isn’t much difference between the two methods.
Resting heart rate should be measured first thing in the morning, before caffeine or having a smoke. For most people, that is between 60bpm and 80bpm.
That gives you the lower and upper rates. You need to be looking at somewhere around 60-80% of the way up that range. On the following link:
Enter your resting and maximum heart rate, and it will show you the various ranges. If you can get into the 60-70%, you will be burning fat and improving your cardio. You should eventually be able to get to the 70-80% zone, but that will take time to acclimatise your body to the work level required to get there. Don’t try to rush it, it will happen when your body is ready.
I am sure I will have missed a few things from this list, but will update this post as I remember them.
Again, I`d like to point out that all of the above are my own experiences, and should not be taken as in any way official medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any of the above if you feel that you have a medical condition that may be aggravated by exercise.