I sometimes describe myself as a “sports atheist”1 – just as the children of pastors sometimes end up as unbelievers, so I, the son of a sportswriter, have ended up deliberately distancing myself from New Zealand’s national religion: sport. I used to have a colleague who was a keen runner, and whenever he would injure himself in training I would make fun of him: “Oh, Nick, sport is so healthy.”
Well, now I’m getting the karmic payback, or poetic justice, or whatever it is. I’ve been using exercise as part of my weight gain journey, and have twice injured myself (mildly) by being too keen. I find that when I don’t do the exercise because of injury, I don’t gain the weight, just as when I let any aspect of the eating plan slip, I don’t gain the weight. When I do the exercise, I see and feel the results, hence the keenness; my bony girl arms2 have a shape now, and when I squeeze them they’re not soft. With my body type, I’m never going to have a body like Charles Atlas’s, despite his famous advertising slogan3, but I’m improving what I do have.
You have probably already picked up that I am not any kind of exercise expert. You should consider what follows simply as me reporting what I’m doing, and check it out with a more knowledgeable source before imitating me.
I may not be into sport like most of my countrymen (and countrywomen, for that matter) but I do have the Kiwi DIY approach. Rather than go to the gym and get a personal trainer – which would probably be the more sensible thing to do – I decided to put together my own programme. I’d bought a set of dumbbells for my wife for Christmas, as she’s been trying to get fit too, and so I had them in the house to use. We also have a massage table that I can use as a bench for the exercises that require it (I’ve used a stiff board over a couple of beer crates before, too). So I went looking on the net for dumbbell exercises for strength and muscle mass.
The most useful site I found shows dumbbell exercises complete with animated diagrams. The diagrams make the descriptions a lot clearer (some of them aren’t all that lucid, and occasionally the text and the picture contradict each other). I use the following exercises from this page:
- Chest Exercises: flat presses and flat files
- Shoulder Exercises: seated shoulder presses. I was also doing front raises, but one of my muscles clicks disturbingly when I do, so I have stopped for now.
- Back Exercises: single arm row and lying bent over row.
- Trapezius Exercises: upright rows and shrugs.
- Biceps Exercises: hammer curls and concentration curls.
- Triceps Exercises: overhead triceps extensions and French presses.
- Leg Exercises: half squats and calf presses.
Now, although I’m certainly not carrying any extra weight, and I drink beer only very occasionally, I do have a slightly protruding stomach, so I wanted some abdominal exercise to complete the programme. I found one which I refer to as the “dumbbell ski” at amazingabdominals.com (they call it the “double dumbbell swing”, which I think is less catchy). For a while I was doing one on a Swiss ball, but it was the one I was doing during my latest injury, I have never felt very safe doing it, and it didn’t feel like it was working the abs very well, so I am going to switch over to side bends instead.
That gives me 15 exercises – I used to have 16 before I dropped the second shoulder exercise. (Perhaps I’ll try twisting shoulder presses instead.) I split them into four groups and do two groups in the morning and two in the afternoon, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. At the moment I’m doing two sets of each exercise and either six or eight repetitions, at as high a weight as I feel safe with – I backed off slightly on the amount of weight and/or reps after my first injury.
I have a spreadsheet that I print out and use to mark off the exercises as I do them, recording what weight I am using with them and how many repetitions I did. This has the added benefit of giving me pauses between exercises.
Besides its many other benefits, exercise is definitely a key part of my weight gain journey. Exercising ensures that the extra calories I’m consuming end up as lean muscle mass and don’t just get converted into a layer of fat around my internal organs. Muscle is denser than the same weight of fat, so I won’t end up as large in appearance as someone who weighs the same as me but carries the weight as fat. Muscle also burns more calories, which has implications for how much total weight I will end up putting on and what I will need to do to maintain it. Because I’m reaching the stage of life where I’m likely, without intervention, to lose muscle mass and gain fat mass, deliberately gaining muscle mass is a pre-emptive strike against unhealthy middle-aged weight gain.
Footnotes make me feel like Terry Pratchett4, but I won’t make a habit of them.
1 I’m not a literal atheist, it’s just an expression.
2No offense intended to any grrls among my readers, it’s a Simpsons quote.
3Well, strictly speaking, since Charles Atlas is now dead I will eventually have a body like his. But you know what I mean.
4 Only less funny, with fewer novels published and no Alzheimer’s, poor guy.