Challenge 2012: Shedding Excess Weight
I’m willing to bet real money that either you, or someone you love, is searching for the perfect diet. During the sixties, fitness gurus raved about something called the low carbohydrate diet; pundits nowadays preach low fats and high carbs. And some of you, no doubt, still fervently believe that grapefruit juice mystically consumes calories. Sorry to burst your bubble, driver. When it comes to “miracle” diets, there ain’t no such animal.
The horrible truth: all diets are counter-productive. Your body consists of billions of individual cells, and not one of them cares how you look in a bathing suit. Written into human DNA is the memory of countless famines. So when you curtail your caloric intake, even a little bit, your body responds by slowing your metabolic rate. In other words, when you eat less, your body simply makes do with less. The result, of course, is that you’ll have less energy, which in turn will lead you to “fudge” on the diet.
Here’s another unpleasant fact: a severe diet will transform your body into a cannibal. Your brain is active even when the rest of you is sleeping, and it can’t burn fat. It can, however, consume protein. When your blood-sugar level dips into hypoglycemia, and you don't sit down at the dinner table, your brain demands the ultimate sacrifice: here and there all over your body, muscle cells break loose and embark on a one-way journey to your liver, there to be converted to glucose. And an ounce of muscle tissue is worth more than all the diets ever invented.
Right about now you may be thinking I have a screw loose. All right, I’ll admit it. Strict dieting does work — but only for the short haul. Ask my wife, ask any one of about sixty million Americans. Eventually, you’ll tire of kumquats and high-fiber milkshakes, however. Eventually, you’ll return to a normal life-style, and when you do, within a few short weeks you’ll regain every pound you lost, and up to 30 percent more. Please, for your sake, take what I’ve said to heart. Dieting just makes you fatter.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that dieting is a no-no. Now I’ll outline the only thing that does work, short of surgery. (At this point, some of you long-haul drivers may think this article will be a waste of your time, because you’re never home. Just keep reading, please, and don’t ignore the side-bars. I’m an OTR trucker too; I haven’t forgotten your special needs.)
The Human Organism
Forget those height/weight charts. Think bodyfat percentages. There is no “ideal” weight for your body. Depending on the ratio of lean tissue to fat, a six-footer may be obese at 150 pounds, or fit as a fiddle at 300. If you’re an average adult male between the ages of 25 and 45, weighing, say, 200 pounds, you’re carting around roughly 50 pounds of blubber. If you’re thin, you may be lugging as little as ten pounds of adipose tissue, but no one is fat free. Some of it (roughly 3%) is essential to life as we know it: it protects your nerve cells, spinal cord, brain and liver. The excess, however, is a serious drain on your body’s resources.
Under a microscope skeletal muscle is seen as striped, or striated. Striated muscle fiber comes in two forms: fast-twitch and slow twitch. Fast twitch muscle fibers contract rapidly and powerfully, but exhaust quickly. In a highly trained individual, slow-twitch fibers will contract and relax, contract and relax, for hours before succumbing to fatigue. The proportion of fast twitch fiber to slow twitch fiber in an individual is determined by genetics. Normally, the ratio is roughly 50/50, but a gifted few are born with more of one and less of the other. The quadriceps of record-breaking sprinters consist of 80 or even 90% fast twitch fibers. Sprinters would drop dead a quarter-mile into the Boston Marathon. Conversely, a long distance runner’s time in the 40 yard dash would be pathetic.
A Word Of Caution: On-the-job injuries cost American firms billions of dollars a year in compensation, increases in health care costs, and lost productivity. Is it any wonder, then, that many fleets require their drivers and dock workers to wear some sort of back support? If your employer has joined the crowd, I urge you to tighten the lifting belt only while you are actually lifting with your back. Skeletal muscles are lazy; if they don’t have to work, they won’t. If a muscle thinks it is no longer needed, it will simply disappear.
How Muscles Work
According to my physiology textbooks, to train aerobically is to perform work in the presence of oxygen. Jogging eighty times around a truckstop is an aerobic exercise; unloading a thousand 100-pound crates in half an hour is anaerobic. Think of aerobic exercise as a mound of glowing charcoal — a slow burn that leaves nothing but powdered ash behind, and associate anaerobic exercise with a sudden whoosh of flame that singes the hair on your arm without blistering your skin.
AEROBIC EXERCISE...HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
No doubt about it, prolonged aerobic exercise is good for both your heart and your lungs. And it is also pretty good at burning fat. At low to moderate efforts, your body will begin to burn equal proportions of fats and carbohydrates after about twenty minutes. Obviously, then, the longer you continue an exercise, the more fat you’ll burn off.
What it Takes
A Quarter-Pounder with cheese contains approximately 525 calories. Here’s how long an average-sized man will have to exercise to burn it off.
Running (7-minute miles)
Playing gin rummy
4 hours 36 minutes
Lifting weights (very high intensity)
Hiking in San Francisco
Shopping with a wife
1 hour 56 minutes
2 hours 22 minutes
Playing a trombone
2 hours 33 minutes
Cross-country skiing (in deep snow)
Driving a truck
3 hours 36 minutes
Writing this article
3 hours 58 minutes
Lying in the bunk (watching tv)
5 hours 4 minutes
And that is all I’m going to say about aerobics. Though good for what ails you, every form of aerobic training will bore you to tears. Besides, being a truck driver, I doubt you have the time, the energy, or the inclination to jog five miles before breakfast.
Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, resistance training also burns fat and improves cardio-pulmonary fitness. Unlike aerobic exercise, anaerobic conditioning also thickens your bones and increases your strength, both of which help protect you from debilitating illnesses and injuries.
You’ve all seen those big, ugly bodies on the covers of physical fitness magazines. Relax, ladies. Weightlifting alone cannot transform a woman into a female Schwarzenegger. To grow 18” arms, you’d have to make the acquaintance of a steroid pusher. If you do gain a few pounds of muscle, however, you have my personal guarantee that you will look far sexier in and out of clothes. Now here comes the crux of this entire article: Muscle tissue burns calories, even when it’s resting.
I repeat: Muscle tissue burns calories. Muscle cells are a body’s natural flab fighters. Any increase in muscle size or thickness increases your basal metabolism. Simply stated, when you increase your muscle mass, you can increase your daily caloric intake. Now ain't that good news?
A Few Pointers
Muscles never push, they can only pull. The chest and deltoids, for instance, pull your arms, and whatever they’re supporting, forward; the latissimus dorsi of the back pulls your arms down and to the rear. Always work to failure. The repetition that accomplishes the most is the one you had to strain to complete. After completing a rep, never allow the weight to drop like a rock. A repetition consists of two distinct phases: concentric and eccentric. The eccentric, or negative portion of a repetition provides the greatest benefit. So don’t waste it; resist the fall of that weight every inch of the way. Don’t be afraid to try new things. If a different angle, or wider, or closer grip seems to work the intended muscle better, don’t allow anyone to tell you you’re “doing it wrong.” Listen to your body. It’ll tell you in a hurry what portion of what muscle is receiving the bulk of the work in a given exercise. If your arms are tiring quicker when you’re supposed to be working your back, you’re concentrating on the weight, not the movement. Though it’s okay to “cheat” on some exercises, it’s very bad on others. Here again, listen to your body. “Cheating” should be used to add resistance to an exercise, never to lessen it. You can, for example, “swing” a dumbbell a tiny bit to get past the sticking point of a bicep curl, but never, ever, squirm or contort your body while bench pressing (it may harm your lower back). Concentrate fully on the muscle being worked; keep the rest of your body as relaxed as possible. When you’re exercising chest, back or shoulders, think of your arms as lifeless hooks, and vice-versa.
Where To Train
Should you invest in a “home gym,” or join a fitness center? You may be shy around more knowledgeable, better built people, but lifting weights by yourself, like jogging or mowing the lawn, can be really, really boring. Do yourself a favor and join a gym, preferably a facility frequented by competitive bodybuilders and powerlifters. Physical fitness buffs are friendly folk. Surrounding yourself with handsome, powerful bodies will inspire you to your own best efforts-- will actually increase your energy level. And, whenever you need a word of advice, it’ll be as close as the next barbell.
A Waste Of Time
Electric muscle stimulators
But... but you deliver freight-- you are away from home for weeks at a time. While you're gone, spiders will move into that pretty exercise machine. And, heck, who wants to pay for a gym membership they seldom use? Keep reading, driver: I've got the answer to your dilemma.
IF YOU’RE AWAY FROM HOME FOR WEEKS AT A TIME
The air-seat and steering wheel makes a dandy gym. You can, for instance, pump your seat up, grasp the steering wheel with one hand and work the hell out of that bicep; if you turn your palm downward and lower the seat a bit, you can perform tricep push-downs. Those fancy pneumatic home gyms work on the same principle, except in this case the air valve of the driver’s seat, coupled with your bodyweight, provides the variable resistance. But don’t just take my word for it. Try it. Using nothing more elaborate than your imagination, a steering wheel and an air seat, you can invent dozens of exercises, one or more for practically every muscle in your body.
Your truck doesn't have an air seat? There are other things you can do. Got a few bungee cords lying around? Drill some holes in two short poles, string a cord or two between them, and you’ve got yourself a set of exercise cables, which can be used to effectively work your back, your shoulders, your triceps, and to a lesser extent, your thighs. The key word is IMPROVISATION. Be an inventor, invent yourself an entirely new life-style.
Here’s something I almost forgot to mention. Though they are a precious few, you may occasionally come across a truckstop that has an Exercise Room. Frequent these lovely establishments every chance you get, utilize their facilities to the fullest, and to thank Management, spend a little money. If you can’t find a truckstop “gym” on your route, fill out a comment card wherever you do stop, plead with its manager to invest in the health of his patrons. Point out that a multi-station gym can be purchased for under $700.
As we age, we humans have a tendency to become ever more sedentary, and we truck drivers are already more sedentary than most. Make no mistake about it, if you aren’t growing, you’re slowly dying. There is no middle ground. If for some reason you don’t want to try resistance training, for God’s sake try something. The quality, and longevity, of your life may depend on it.
Just because you’re a truck driver is no excuse for letting yourself go.