As much as I rant on Facebook, and in personal chats and conversations, about how much I hate it here on this deployment to Africa, and cannot wait to return to the bosom of the United States, I am actually beginning to savor, yes savor, my time here. Besides the opportunity to save some money and pay down my ridiculous debts, and the chance to have little distraction preventing me from pursuing better physical fitness, I am also growing, mentally and emotionally, perhaps even spiritually, whatever that means. Yes, the very thing that makes this deployment so deceptively straining and intolerable, the cerebral isolation and boredom, has turned out to be possibly be the very thing that I have desperately needed for some time: to actually listen to the clutter inside my brain, and get to know myself.
It all began a few days ago when it became apparent to me that my battle with depression was getting more difficult. Yes, for those of you who do not know, I was diagnosed by a VA psychiatrist with major depression after returning home from a combat tour in Iraq, 2006. I refused treatment and went about dealing with the sweeping variances in mood due to my diseased thought patterns. I had become somewhat adept at staying ahead of my changing mental states, and did my best to control my behavior so as to not be controlled by my sickness. I did not always succeed at this, and my life was a pathetic mess, but I was functional, I guess. Anyhow, amidst the isolation and boredom I felt my struggle becoming harder and harder, until one night I became very concerned about myself. I have never been suicidal, and never ever think of causing harm to another (unless they deserve it), but I was beginning to wonder if things could eventually get to that point. It was at this time that I decided that my way of "handling" things was not working, and I needed help.
When I spoke to the doctor about my condition, I began to break down. I strained to maintain my composure, apologized for my emotion, and declared that I didn't know why it was so hard for me to come to terms with it. The doctor, who was very kind and understanding, simply asked "a blow to the ego, perhaps?" to which I responded, instinctively, "maybe". I was surprised by this. It was a very honest moment. I didn't try to defend myself and claim that I, Harold McBride, couldn't possibly have an ego! What a revelation that was. I have an ego...and he's a fucking asshole.
Yep, that was a real eye-opener. I faced my ego for the first time in, well, probably my whole life. The defensive spirit I created for myself to ensure that I never have to deal with pain, rejection, loss, emasculation, whatever, was finally exposed, and like the coward he is, he retreated. I won that battle with practically no effort at all. He did not fight, for fighting meant the possibility of losing, much less pain. He just left. And good fucking riddance! That bastard is responsible for me losing friends, lovers, jobs, opportunities and chances at happiness, he has caused great strain in the relationships I have with people who truly love me, and worst of all, he tricked me into believing that he wasn't even there at all, and that I could justify myself because I am a "good guy". What a load of shit!
So here I am. A 42 year-old man with a load of regrets, who seeks redemption and, like anyone else with a vulnerable heart, just wants to love and be loved. Maybe now I'll be able to do these things.
Does this relate to working out as well? I'm glad you asked that, self. No problem, Harold....okay, that was weird. So, anyway, I was at the gym the other night struggling with my squat, which was feeling rather flat, and had been bothering me, when a guy, who I'd seen come in at my regular time before, who is in good muscular shape, solid legs, big traps, and actually does heavy barbell work, came in to workout. He needed to use the power rack, and I was in the middle of my workout, so he asked if he could jump in to do some heavy shrugs, which I, of course, said "sure", and I gave him a hand setting up the bar, and we started talking about lifting. He told me that he used to compete in powerlifting, and I asked him a bunch of questions about lifting, my lackluster squat in particular, and told him that I could not decide if I was over-reaching and needed to take some weight off the bar to get my speed back. He said that I should probably do that, because unless I am going for a 1RM, or an advanced lifter building massive strength gains - like my good friends, Ty Phillips and Jay Ashman, are doing at the Gorilla Pit in Mentor, Ohio - I should be focused on training my skeleton, nervous system, and connective tissues to adapt to the lifts, and perfect my form and technique. Being a novice, older, with not much of a history of sports participation, add years of using drugs, drinking unbelieveable amounts of alcohol (yes, kids, being able to "handle" your alcohol doesn't mean being able to drink an entire liter of whiskey and still walk, it means knowing when to stop, which I didn't), a lazy mental and physical attitude, and other general suckiness, I am not in a position to start adding pounds to the bar as if I were a teenager during a growth spurt.
On the way back to my living area, I ruminated about my goals, and how to approach my workouts in a way that would really move me forward. I realized that my focus was off. My desire, eventually, is simply to get strong, and I do not have any self-imposed limits on that, I just want to get strong! But, for right now, I am at the very beginning, and this rusty, sludge-filled engine needs a good overhaul. I am at around 29-30% bodyfat, by army tape test, which is whatever. I got man-boobs, a gut, and hips, I'm fat...don't need no tape to tell me that. I want to get rid of this fucking fat once and for all god dammit! I know that running helps me do that. I know, I know, I'm not talking about a bunch of long, slow running, that stuff causes me to lose strength and muscle, and I absolutely do not want that, believe me, I figured that one out the hard way. But, speed runs, sprints, and timed runs, help me just as much, and don't cut my strength, and they don't take a fucking week to recover from like a goddamned 5-mile jog does. However, doing this immediately following lifts impairs my recovery, and is counter-productive. I also learned that one through trial and error. So, given my situation, and my goals, I decided to re-vamp my program.
First, I am taking this week to get a good rest. Since I am completely resetting, I want to start fresh, so Monday is when I will commence. I know I stated before that I was doing Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength program, and I sort of was. But what I failed to appreciate was that I am just beginning, and I did not follow his prescription for getting my intial working poundages, which is to start with an empty bar (135 lbs. for deadlift) and add 20 lbs. doing sets of 5 until you begin to lose form and/or technique. I must do this to truly know at what weight I should be working with. Like my friend at the gym told me, "when I walk into the gym, I check my ego at the door". Ha! mine totally split the scene.
Being older it takes longer for my body to recover from heavy physical stress, and a high-volume workout of 5x5 on work sets - advice taken from Nikki Ashman, a woman of amazing strength and fortitude, and she's as sweet as they come. Hi Nikki! - is a decent amount of stress for a novice like myself. Therefore, lifting two times a week, instead of three, seems like it may allow me more time to adequately recover and maintain my form and technique as I progress.
As far as the cardio goes, I do not want to overdo it. I also have learned, again through pain and failure, that running the day before squats or deadlifts is a bad, bad idea. Doing this the day after, though, seems to work well, so long as I have at least a full day of rest following, and I get enough protein in my diet.
These changes are really simple. Monday and Thursday are lifting days, Monday being squat, bench press and supersetting sumo deadlift high pulls and chinups; Thursdays are squat, press, deadlift. Tuesday and Friday are cardio days, which, for now, will just be running. I am keeping an open mind, however, about adding endurance work like barbell complexes and HIIT on these days, if it feels prudent. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday are rest days.
Lastly, the most important component to progress: recovery. My very dear friend, Miss Heidi Hill, an absolutely lovely woman, both inside and out, impressed upon me the importance of getting enough protein. At least 1 gram per pound of lean bodyweight every day, which, for me, puts me at 180 to 200 grams a day! That's a lot of food! Good thing I have protein supplements. Nothing fancy, just basic whey and casein. A whey shake in the morning, one following a workout w/oats to replenish carbs without going overboard, and casein before bed to keep repair going through the night, has been sufficient. And, as long as I use water and not milk as a base, I lean out just fine. Sleep has been a little difficult lately, but I will continue to take steps to improve that. My workouts being more streamlined will shorten their duration alot, which will allow me to try and get to bed earlier.
This is where I'm at now. I feel like I'm starting my life anew. Like I've been given a second chance. I'm not sure that I deserve it. In my humble opinion, I don't. But, I will take it, and I am not going to waste it. I sincerely hope that I am able to show my family and friends, who are the most deserving and incredible people I could ever imagine, as much love as I can.