Ding 46!

By Shamus Posted Thursday Aug 24, 2017

Filed under: Landmarks 90 comments

I am now suddenly a year older, because that’s how birthdays work. So far 46 is a lot like 45, only slightly moreso.

I’ve been trying to get in shape. Again. And for the first time in my life, I’m having success. I mean, I was in really good shape in 1990 when I rode my bike for miles every day, but I was 19 years old and people that age are basically invincible superheroes with no common sense. But this is the first time I’m having success with fitness as a mortal adult with physical limitations.

I dropped a bunch of weight a few years ago when I had to decommission one of my internal organs. The weight loss was a nice side-effect of the surgery, but it’s been creeping back up over the last decade.

I’m generally not very good at judging my body shape. My wife has a tall mirror in our bedroom, but it never occurs to me to look at it. Sometimes I’d look down at my body and think, “Yeah. Looks like my gut is starting to stick out a little. I should probably fix that.” Then a year ago someone took a candid picture of me. My reaction on seeing the photo was, “Wow. Is that really what I look like these days? Am I that wide around the middle now? That’s really bad.”

In the past I tried to get in shape according to conventional wisdom: Diet and exercise. I switched to eating crappy, unsatisfying food and got myself a treadmill. But crappy, unsatisfying food makes for a crappy, unsatisfying life. Anyone can eat salad today. But eating saladIn this case “salad” is shorthand for all of the various foods that are good for me but no fun to eat. basically forever? Sooner or later I’d say “screw it!” and eat an entire pizza. I’m sure dieters will be familiar with the resulting cycle of frustration, bingeing, guilt, repentance, and misery.

People who go around saying, “All you have to do is eat less and exercise more!” make me want to slug someone. Yes, obviously that’s what you need to do. The thing is, that’s really friggin’ hard to do. It’s like saying, “You want to be a doctor? Pfft. Just go to med school.”In their defense, people saying, “Just eat less and exercise more!” are often trying to advise people who are following an over-complicated diet plan. The hunger drive is incredibly powerful and it will shape your behavior. If your plan requires having unlimited willpower for the rest of your life, your plan is going to fail. I literally can’t work when I’m hungry, because my job requires concentration and hunger destroys my ability to concentrate.

I eventually discovered it’s far easier to just keep eating what I like, but doing so with smaller portions. Sure, it’s not ideal food. (I’m pretty sure the average Olympian-in-training doesn’t eat this many potato chips.) But for the most part the food is acceptable, and I find it’s way easier to eat “pretty good” than to chase after some idealized diet I can’t maintain. The big challenge now is near the end of the meal where I know I can eat more, but I also know that the hunger will go away in just a couple of minutes if I can quit now. Still, that requires five minutes of willpower rather than hours of it, and I still get to eat stuff I enjoy.

I think I’ve got the food under control now. On the other hand, the exercise problem was more complicated to solve.

The Rage Monster

I FEEL like this guy, but I LOOK like Dilbert. It's not very intimidating.
I FEEL like this guy, but I LOOK like Dilbert. It's not very intimidating.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve struggled with rage. I’ve smashed keyboards, punched desks, screamed at my monitor, and generally suffered from an explosive temper. However, this wasn’t an all-the-time thing. Some days I’d be basically normal, and other days I’d blow my top over something irritating but not apocalyptic. Confusingly, it didn’t seem related to what was going on in my life. One day things would be going fine, but I’d be a keyboard-smashing ragemonster anyway. A few weeks later I’d have family stress and money problems and yet be able to take mishaps in stride without feeling a desire to hit something. If anything, it almost seemed like I was most rage-prone when life was going well.

Way back in 1999 I discovered that oral steroids (taken to control my asthma) were causing this. I dropped them and refused to go on them ever again. But years later I began struggling with bouts of rage with no obvious cause.

I could tell when I was going to have a bad day. I felt like I had adrenaline pumping through my veins the moment I woke up. My brain would constantly be looking for stuff to be angry about, and if it couldn’t find anything then it would start predicting stuff that will piss me off.

“I bet so-and-so is going to call as soon as I sit down to eat.”

“I’m about to reach a checkpoint in this game. I’ll bet the game is going to crash just before I get there.”

“What’s that sound? It’s probably a major appliance failing and it will cost us a fortune to fix.”

I wasn’t mad about anything in particular. I was mad by default and looking for an outlet for the aggression I was feeling. This made me think the problem was probably physiological more than psychological. Something was causing this. Lack of sleep? Some other medication? Something I’m eating?

Eventually I realized these times coincided with periods of exercise. I’d work out, and the next day I’d be a beast. The day after that I’d be almost normal again. It never occurred to me to blame the exercise. I mean, if you’re dealing with excess aggression, most people suggest exercise as a treatment.

This explains why I was more prone to rage out when life was good. When life sucked and I was dealing with stress, I’d stop working out.

Even ignoring the rage problem, exercise does not go well with my lifestyle. I’d do some very light jogging / fast walking on the treadmill for twenty minutes. Nothing extreme, but when I was done I was sweaty, tired, and my heart rate was up. The thing is, I can’t write code in that condition. It might take me an hour and a half before my brain returned to the point where I could get into the “flow” of coding or writing. So a simple twenty minutes of exercise would incur two hours of lost productivity. And that’s not even a lot of exercise! And then the next day I’d be a madman!

I walked on my treadmill on and off for years, but once I realized it was contributing to my rage problems I gave it up. I’d rather be corpulent than beastly.

Strength Training

About two months ago I tried again to get in shape, but this time I went for strength training rather than cardio. This feels wrong and counter-intuitive. I associate weightlifting with buff young guys who fist-bump all the time and call each other “bruh”. That’s not really my thing. I don’t want to be all buff and muscular. I just want to avoid having a pear-on-a-stick Dilbert physique. If I could adjust my body to any shape I wanted, I’d go back to being slim and lean like I was in 1990. That was easy and comfortable.

But the strength training is getting results. I’m getting slimmer around the middle. I don’t own a scale, but I’ve moved in about four notches on my belt and I’m able to wear pants that haven’t fit since 2009. My upper body is putting on muscle and that feels strange, but I’m basically okay with it. It’s worth it if I can reduce how much belly I’ve got in front of me.

I’ve never done strength training before. It’s amazing to me how fast you can see results. My wife got me a chin-up bar as an early birthday present. On the first day I could just barely lift myself up to get my forehead near the bar, and doing so took much grunting and straining. The next day I could pull myself up so my nose was even with it. The day after that I could do a proper (but very sloppy) chin-up. This morning I did 1.5 chin-ups.

I know when I was doing cardio I never saw those kinds of steady gains. It would take several days of training just to get a small boost to my endurance or to be able to handle a slight increase in intensity.

My daughter tried to make me look like an idiot with a snapchat filter. I tried to counteract the filter by flexing to look cool. It obviously backfired, so now I look like DOUBLE IDIOT.
My daughter tried to make me look like an idiot with a snapchat filter. I tried to counteract the filter by flexing to look cool. It obviously backfired, so now I look like DOUBLE IDIOT.

Building muscle is so much easier than endurance. In the space of ten days I went from struggling with knee pushups, to doing regular pushups, to doing pushups with my feet on an elevated surface, to wondering if I could somehow add some weights to my upper body to make the pushups more challengingThis is wrong. I’ve since learned you just keep resting your feet higher and higher against a wall. Yeah, I’m not anywhere NEAR doing a vertical pushup yet. Yikes.. Again, I’m being careful to avoid anything aerobic. If I start to get out of breath, I back off and wait for my heart rate to go back to normal.

If I’m making this kind of progress at 46, then I’d love to know how much faster things would go at 19.

This works really well with my lifestyle. I can get up from the computer, knock out a set of pushups, and get right back to writing within a minute. Instead of doing one big workout that puts a giant hole in my day, I do random tiny workouts. Whenever I get up to get a drink, I lift dumbbells or do pushups for a minute. The interval is short enough that I can resume my train of thought when I sit down again.

And best of all: No rage.

So that’s what I’m doing these days. If you’ve ever tried and failed at the “salads and jogging” approach to losing weight, maybe “eat a little less and pump iron” will suit you.

Anyway. I’m going to go enjoy my birthday. The Borderlands series will resume next week.



[1] In this case “salad” is shorthand for all of the various foods that are good for me but no fun to eat.

[2] In their defense, people saying, “Just eat less and exercise more!” are often trying to advise people who are following an over-complicated diet plan.

[3] This is wrong. I’ve since learned you just keep resting your feet higher and higher against a wall. Yeah, I’m not anywhere NEAR doing a vertical pushup yet. Yikes.

From The Archives:

90 thoughts on “Ding 46!

  1. Joerg Mosthaf says:

    Happy Birthday :)
    This sounds like exactly my problem – gotta try strength training, too.

  2. Steve C says:

    Have you seen the birthday roller coaster video you made? I bet you haven’t yet… this year. Happy birthday :-)

  3. Phantom Renegade says:

    Happy birthday Shamus.

    Guess you put all those skillpoints into Guns.

    1. Mousazz says:

      And now, at Level 46, he’s finally starting to invest in Melee Weapons.

      Or was it Unarmed?…

      1. Echo Tango says:

        He took a level in Intense Training (Strength). Now to save up the money to buy the dermal implant…

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Has Shamus ever owned or shot a gun? Google doesn’t seem to show any blog posts on this site on the subject, and if I had to guess I’d say he’s not the gun type. He does live in a country with fairly relaxed laws towards gun ownership, so I could see him having shot one at a gun range or some relative’s farm land.

      1. Phill says:

        You may have missed the pun there. “Guns” can be slang for the arm biceps muscles, so “putting all your skillpoints in to guns” is a game joke sort of way of saying “you’ve been working out”, ‘cos Shamus’s arms do look pretty well muscled in that picture.

        Thought it was pretty witty myself, but probably loses something in the explanation.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Even ignoring the pun, guns are a huge, HUGE political tinderbox in the US. Shamus probably has close friends in both the avid “pro guns rights” and “pro gun control” camps, and he wouldn’t want to alienate either or start a flame war in the comments.

          1. Warclam says:

            Why are we ignoring the pun? That was the point. Ignoring the pun is what might cause the conflict you’re worried about.

        2. Echo Tango says:

          I totally missed the double entendre. ^^;

    3. BlueHorus says:

      I quite like the Fallout of this particlaur thread chain. It looks like it could go somewhere SPECIAL…

  4. Joe says:

    Happy birthday! Here’s something interesting. You’re eight years older than me and half way around the world. But much of what you say feels familiar or speaks to me better than other people my age and in my location. You haven’t actually changed my mind about anything significant, but I do enjoy reading and listening to you. Now, keep it up for another 46 years!

  5. Kathryn says:

    Happy Birthday, Shamus! Have a great day!

    Bodies are interesting. I swear no two people achieve their best health the same way. This is why I never give advice on the subject. (Good rule of thumb for giving advice: Any sentence that starts with “Why don’t you just” does not need to be completed. If it were a matter of “just”, the person would already be doing it.)

    1. Tizzy says:

      “Have you tried…?” Is a more helpful way to start.

      Shamus surprised me, because when I was doing weights, I found I needed to add cardio because my heart rate was becoming the limiting factor.

      It made sense at the end of the article, when I realized what short bursts he’s been using. That’s interesting. I had no idea you could see benefits from those. Maybe I’ll try.

      1. NoneCallMeTim says:

        Strength gain is based on time under tension, so if you do short bursts, added together it can be the same as a whole long workout.

        If you work consistently with good form, you can indeed make gains.

        I also found that strength training works for me better than pure cardio, although as I do a larger session, mixing in some cross training or rowing machine kind of gives my muscles a ‘rest’.

        Also: congrats on leveling up, Shamus. Guess you are finally putting points into strength, rather than cake eating at level up…

  6. Jack V says:

    Congrats for finding something that works! I’ve heard “weights are good for all sorts of things even if you think you’re not a weights person” before, and I’ve never tried weights alone, but I have done weights alongside running and it seemed to help.

    I’ve avoided “diets” for various reasons, but every time I’ve exercised regularly, it’s incidentally improved what I eat at the same time, somehow.

    The rage thing is really weird. Have you researched it any more? It’s probably too much to hope it’s something that could be fixed, but I sort of want to know.

    1. Jack V says:

      In retrospect, a more obvious stupid question might be, could it be exercise -> hunger -> anger?

      1. Felblood says:

        Or even

        Cardio -> Need Calories -> More Carbs and Sugars from Corn Products -> Brain Inflammation -> Psychosis

        You do not want to hang out with me when I’ve been eating foods on my ban list.

      2. Kronopath says:

        I actually wonder whether it has anything to do with testosterone, given the similarity between the symptoms when exercising and taking oral steroids.

  7. Leslee says:

    Happy Birthday, Shamus! Take solace in the fact that I’m still older than you. :-D

    Your exercise experiences further confirm what I’ve always suspected about the human body and why there’s no one-size-fits-all weight loss technique.

    Whether it’s due to your ethnicity, genetic makeup, environment, or something else entirely, it seems that everyone loses weight differently.

    I’ve been a strict vegetarian since I was a child (35+ years for those counting). I don’t advocate vegetarianism and often try to talk people out of it. I can’t digest meat and the taste/smell/texture of it is absolutely abhorrent to me. But not everyone is meant to eat the way I do, nor should they even try. What works for me probably doesn’t work for you.

    We humans sure are messy and complicated!

    1. djw says:

      My parents have a photo of me chewing on a chicken wing when I was 2, but I think that was the very last time that I voluntarily ate meat. I can’t stand the stuff. It makes me want to vomit the moment I start to chew on it.

      For this reason it is very easy for me to be a vegetarian.

      1. MichaelG says:

        Funny, I feel the same way about broccoli….

        1. djw says:

          I don’t really *like* broccoli, but I can tolerate it.

          1. Richard says:

            Odd. I love the stuff.

            Also sprouts. Brussels sprouts cooked right are wonderful.

            1. Munkki says:

              This one’s actually pretty simple, and interesting – there’s a compound in cabbages (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) that most people don’t have scent receptors to detect. Some people have a mutation that gives them one, and it just so happens the flavour it signals is something with lovely descriptors like ‘bitter’, ‘pungent’, and ‘rotten’ (I can’t taste it, so I can’t comment personally). As far as I know it’s not actually a harmful chemical, although I can’t think of a good reason to force yourself to put up with it if it’s like eating a mouthful of noxious rubbish. (Of course there are also going to be people who just don’t like the ‘standard’ flavour of cabbage, either, and prefer not to eat it because of bog-standard food preferences)

              It’s a similar story with capsaicin, except that everyone can taste that ordinarily, and what the mutation does is make its receptors about a thousand times more sensitive (effectively turning ‘sweet’ capsicum/bell-peppers into hot chilli, and everything else into BURNINATION APOCALYPSE). That one exactly half the people in my family have, meaning those of us who can handle hot chilli need to be very careful with the food we share/recommend.

      2. Warclam says:

        I’ve starting eating pescetarian this year. I’ve noticed that if I pass by a restaurant and I can smell cooking meat, I like the smell but feel no desire to eat it, even if I’m hungry. My brain has apparently re-categorized cooking meat as some sort of air freshener: smells nice, is otherwise useless.

    2. Munkki says:

      Yup; I’m about the opposite of what you’ve described – a lot of my friends at university were big into the ethical and environmental* side of vegetarianism, so I thought I’d give it a go (besides, it was uni, and I liked the sound of eating cheaply).
      (*yes, I know, there are plenty of arguments both ways on this which I am well aware of now and we don’t need to start a debate about it in the comments)

      Anyway long story short, although I have never been slimmer, after about three weeks I was perpetually hungry (even with cheese, beans, mushrooms and chickpeas a-plenty), and after another week (and with the hasty addition of fish to my diet – don’t muck around with starvation, kids) I had started looking sideways at passing dogs, pigeons etc. and unconsciously sizing up how difficult they’d be to pounce on and eat. At that point I decided vegetarianism (or even pescetarianism) probably wasn’t a good idea for me personally. But yeah, digestive systems! It’s funny how much sway ‘literally keeps you alive’ gives them over you.

  8. BlueHorus says:

    Happy birthday Shamus!

    I’ve tried someothing like that exercise regime, though probably not as dedicatedly. Recommended and worth trying if you’re lazy like me/work at a computer all day like Shamus.

    Just keep a challenging-weight dumbell next to your desk. If nothing else, it makes watching loading screens less dull…

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I’ve been doing it while I queue for multiplayer games. The queue is ~two minutes long which is just long enough for a set or two.

      Haven’t been doing it long enough to see results yet, but I’ll see how it goes!

      1. Ysen says:

        I did the same thing when I used to play a lot of Dota. 3 minute queue? Time for star jumps!

  9. Durican says:

    Happy birthday!

    You’re right, brief exercise between my regular scheduele has done wonders for my adult-type body-thing. Dieting has never seemed worth it, but just making sure those muscles I generally let relax during my day get a little action seems to improve just about everything I do.

  10. Christopher says:

    Happy birthday!

  11. Lame Duck says:

    From my (completely uneducated, totally guessing, just talking out of my ass) perspective, with regards to health it seems very easy to fall into the New Year’s Resolution trap of taking the very difficult and will-testing task of changing lifestyle habits and making it orders of magnitude harder by trying to change a dozen of them at the same time. I guess because only making a single change at a time can seem so insignificant.

    Anyways, merry birthday and a happy new age, Shamus. Please continue to live for as long as possible; I really enjoy reading this blog.

  12. Mousazz says:

    Huh. Intermittent weight-lifting. I never thought of that. When I was still in school, I’d go to sports clubs to lift weights.

    That routine of forcing yourself down into the sports club to waste an hour doing nothing else but lifting weights, only to end up being unable to do pull-ups with my 100+kg body anyways annoyed me. At most, on some days I’d feel indifferent to it. Yet, never any sort of satisfaction or pleasure from working out.

    Perhaps doing it “when the mood strikes” is something I should try myself as well.

  13. Turambar29 says:

    Happy birthday! Glad to hear you’re seeing good progress; perhaps I should try a similar system, as the cardio approach doesn’t seem to do much for me…!

  14. Zaxares says:

    Happy Birthday, Shamus! :)

    And yes, it seems counter-intuitive, but from my time in the Army, I can confirm your story that building muscle is actually the fastest way to lose weight. I’m no fitness specialist, but apparently it’s due to the fact that your body trying to build muscle uses WAY more energy than cardio-ased exercises.

    Now, because muscle weighs more than fat, at some point you will notice that you’re starting to gain weight again instead of losing it as your muscle to fat ratio shifts in the opposite direction, but this is to be expected. The important barometer to focus on is your waistline (is it getting smaller?) and of course, whether your strength gains are continuing to go up.

    This isn’t to say that cardio exercise is worthless (far from it, because it works on building your stamina rather than raw strength), but I’ve noticed that different people benefit differently from different types of exercise, especially where weight loss is concerned. So to anyone out there who’s looking to try losing some weight and getting into shape, try both methods and see which one works better for you. :)

    1. MrPyro says:

      It’s not just the effort of building the muscle; simply having more muscle mass means that your body will burn more calories, even if you’re not doing anything at the time. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than any other tissue type, as it needs more maintaining.

      It also gives your body something better to do with the protein in your food than converting it to energy; protein is the most important food type for building muscle, which is why weight-lifters and such tend to have those horrible protein shakes and bars. However, in order to persuade your body that it needs to use the protein for muscle building rather than energy, you need to be doing some kind of training.

      1. Joe W says:

        Yeah, that’s the thing: Muscles burn energy when at rest. Pity I don’t have too many – I’m more of an endurance guy (well, not that you could see it). I should work on core strength (which will make my waist line much nicer), and that might actually make me faster as well (not that this actually matters to anybody). And just like you, Shamus, I prefer to eat whatever I want and when I want, so some moderate exercising does offset that (yes, we all know the principle is simple, it is an energy balance model… implementing changes is hard!)

        So: Shamus, congrats on your workout routine! Keep it up and keep enjoying it!

        I’m in my late 30s, desk job, but I can bike to work at the moment, about 10km one way – not much, but better than nothing. I was doing weights (long sets – slow twitch fibres ;) ) for a year (f**, like 10 years ago), and it felt good. I have not gotten back into it, maybe I should… Maybe I’ll start with doing some pushups whenever I want to go to the cupboard and get some sweets? Not “instead of”, that’s too much for my willpower ;)

  15. evenest says:

    Happy birthday, Shamus.

    It looks like we are both making the same type of changes in our 46th year.

    If I may make a suggestion, read T. Colin Cambpell’s The China Study and Whole, both of these books made a profound change to my outlook of what I should be eating and why. You might also look into Morris Hicks’ Healthy Eating, Healthy Word and Joel Fuhrman’s Super Immunity.

    The short answer: never be hungry and never count calories. Between July 13 and August 24, I’ve lost 38 pounds.

  16. Zak McKracken says:

    That is quite strange, and the exact opposite of the way which worked for me, exercise-wise. Eating-wise, I’m also more a fan of changing habits slowly.

    It’s a weird world, and I’m happy you found something that works, and which makes you look a lot more badass in the meantime, too.
    Good thing the aggressiveness is also not such a problem anymore. That could have interacted with the new muscle mass in unfortunate ways …

    The actual “superpower”, though, is the ability to look at oneself, see what’s off and keep trying to make changes.

  17. Rack says:

    I found splitting the difference was best. Salads are rubbish, but if I eat less then I end up feeling hungry. However a bit of salad with my burger, or swapping beef for chicken would work pretty well. Even better was finding out what foods I liked were healthy and eating them more frequently.

  18. M says:

    52 here.

    I had to get my weight down for an operation. This took a long time (about a year for 35 pounds) and was a pain.

    After the operation, I wanted to keep the weight off. I looked at various things and decided on strength training as well.

    Works like a charm.

    As it turns out, my weight hasn’t gone down much since I started but my belt has come in three notches and everything is easier – walking, climbing stairs, moving groceries, etc.

    The other thing about strength training is that as you get older, you lose muscle if you don’t use it. The type of muscle you (mostly) lose is exactly the type that strength training helps with and cardio doesn’t.

    So in addition to it taking a whole lot less time, it is also more useful in keeping healthy as you age.

    1. NoneCallMeTim says:

      Agreed with the point about muscle loss, there is a reason D&D has that in the change of age stat mods.

      Strength and flexibility training also helps with avoiding common causes of injury, as you can thoughtlessly lift things which others would struggle with. Also, you have a much larger margin for error when lifting things the wrong way.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      I think muscle atrophy is half age, half modern/sedentary lifestyle. I’m 33 and I’ve already had muscle atrophy in years when I wasn’t going to the gym. Being a computer programmer is horrible for your health.

  19. Cuthalion says:

    Happy Birthday, Shamus! Reading this reminds me that I don’t mind strength training as much as running. Maybe I should try that again. Even if it doesn’t do as much for my lungs and heart, it’s still healthy!

    1. NoneCallMeTim says:

      Fitness training doesn’t affect your lungs: they are just complicated bags of air.

      It does increase the efficiency that you process oxygen, though.

      Try doing half the weight you would normally on a set, but doing twice as many reps, and doing them quickly, that will raise your heart rate. Also, get a set of 3 (or more) exercises, each of which work different muscle groups, then do a rotation with a set of each, with next to no breaks between. That way, each muscle group isn’t getting tired and filling with lactic acid, but you are getting consistent cardio exercise, as well as a diverse range of muscle building exercises.

      1. Cuthalion says:

        Thanks for the tip!

  20. MichaelG says:

    I don’t particularly like exercise — it’s boring. But if I don’t get any, within a few days I just start to ache all over. Getting out of the house and walking the neighborhood works for me. Sometimes you have to get some sun and fresh air.

    Happy Birthday!

  21. Bubble181 says:


    Best of luck with the work-out, whatever makes you happy. I’m fairly sure the getting-angry thing is due to your body starting to produce more of one hormone or another because of the stamina training. Testosterone is the “standard” hormone to go to for agression, but that builds up more with strength training then with cardio, normally, so it’s probably another one :P

  22. djw says:

    Rage after exercise

    My personal observation is that I am very cranky after I over work myself with exercise. These days, it takes heavy exercise several days in a row to get to this point, but it is definitely a thing that I have noticed on many occasions. I avoid biking/hockey on more than three consecutive days in a row now in order to prevent it.

    I wonder if the problem was that you were engaging in aerobic exercise at too high of an intensity or duration for your fitness level? Usually when I get that way it feels like my heart rate never really settles down to its rest level and I am agitated for 24 hours.

    In any case, strength training is very good for you, so stick with it if it works. I really need to start doing it again myself.

  23. methermeneus says:

    Huh. The little bits of exercise whenever is probably a good idea for me. My biggest problem with exercising has always been that I hate cutting off a chunk of time I could be doing something else.

    I’m not surprised about strength training helping more than aerobics; recent studies indicate that strength training is better for both burning calories and your heart. Most people just think aerobics are better for your heart because it makes you tired faster. It might be good exercise for your diaphragm, though, which actually sounds like a bad thing for someone with asthma, though I’m certainly not a doctor.

  24. RJT says:

    You are not the only one who reacts negatively to walking/jogging-type exercise. A friend and I joined a jogging club FOR WOMEN! one summer. (why?) Everyone else was always ecstatic about being there. In order to get through it, we made a pact that neither of us had to smile or be nice to each other or anyone else during the exercise. The track was always lined with people yelling, and all the other joggers joining in, “GREAT JOB!” “YOU CAN DO IT!” “YAY! HIGH FIVE!!!!” It was sheer torment. (Note that this club was not for weight loss; there were joggers of all sizes. Strangely (I thought), the best five joggers for distance and speed were all 200 lbs+.)

    I enjoy DDR on the old PS2 a lot. I still do that. My favorite was the Supernova version. I may have to look into weight training. As a female, I have been actively discouraged from doing anything that might result in the dreaded muscle-having, so I have no idea how to lift weights.

    1. Kathryn says:

      I don’t know how to literally lift a weight properly either. I work out on the Total Gym (the only Chuck Norris approved home exercise equipment), which works well for me. I do total gym 3 days a week and the elliptical the other three, with one rest day, which is working out well for me and my goals (be able to lift the kids, be able to keep up with them, maintain flexibility and general mobility, and most importantly, not have to buy new pants, because pants shopping is the worst). And I try to limit my sugar intake. But as both Leslee and I remarked above, it seems like no two people get the same results from the same regimen!

    2. Echo Tango says:

      The way to lift weights is to start small, and keep the same range of motion as normal activity. Don’t lock your elbows or knees, don’t hyperextend any joints, and stop if anything hurts. Get a spotter for bench press or any other activity where you could drop the weights on yourself. Get a spotter just for everything if you want; Unless they’re in the middle of some reps, most weight lifters need a break between sets, and will be happy to help.

    3. The Rocketeer says:

      Similar to your jogging story, and pursuant to your interest in DDR, I’ve noticed in my own experience with DDR that the best players have rarely been shaped like athletes. When I was at my own peak, I was lanky and 145 pounds, but the best two players, way, way above any other local competition, where a big pot-bellied fellow and a short little fellow with even shorter little legs.

      Years later, after I’d stopped playing regularly, I happened across an arcade and decided to play a few rounds for old times’ sake. This was when I was an active duty airman and in the best shape of my life. It wasn’t my best few rounds, since I was so out of practice, but I came away proud of my performance. As soon as I was over, a group of about five 220+ pound guys mobbed the mat and threw done some of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen.

      I’m not even envious. I always applaud talent like that.

  25. doppleganger says:


    Regarding getting in shape, I got a few suggestions, as I have begun again reading and listening extensively on the subject since a few months.

    I suggest you check on Jason Fung, a nephrologist who treats a lot of diabetics and has reversed the disease of some of them, just by getting them to change eating habits. Ill give you the short version: minimize insulin secretion in your body. Two major things: reduce carbohydrate intake (particularly sugar, but also starches like potatoes, rice, wheat flour) and adjust meal timing.

    By reducing carbohydrate intake (particularly high glycemic index ones), you will reduce the amplitude of the insulin spikes after you eat. Adding vegetables (not just salad please, vary your intake) will add much fiber and slow down digestion and thus diminish insulin spike amplitude. You will notice I did not write to stop all the bad sources of carbohydrates (this is the best solution but least pleasurable…), but try to eat less of it.

    By adjusting meal timing, I refer to 2 things: having as few meals as possible (2 to 3 per day), to diminish the number of insulin spikes in the day. And eat all your meals in approximately a 10 hour time window. You will thus be fasting for a straight 14 hours period every day and this is extremely beneficial for your health. Go read on Jason Fung (or check his youtube videos), as well as intermitent fasting, for more details.

    One last bit of advice from me, make your meals a pleasurable experience and eat until you feel full, but dont over indulge. And NO SNACKING!

    Regarding exercise, kudo for doing some again! But you might want to slow down a bit regarding the ramping up of the intensity at the begining. While the muscle tissue itself does recuperate quickly, the tendons do not heal and remodel as fast. If you just keep pushing more and more intensity so early, you are likely to end up with some tendinitis or other issue, and those take a good while to heal.

    As noted by somebody above, doing strength training will help alleviate the loss of muscle tissue that occurs with age, but know that it does also bring a bunch of immediate benefits in your health. Muscle are not just there to move you. When you exercise them (muscle contractions), they also secrete hormones that have a number of beneficial effects. Search on Myokines for more details.

    1. Da Mage says:

      One last bit of advice from me, make your meals a pleasurable experience and eat until you feel full

      I’m sorry, but “pleasurable” and “salad” or “vegetable” do not go together in my book. There are many vegetables I cannot eat due to allergies, and many of the other ones just taste awful to me. It’s hard to diet when the taste of many of the ‘healthy’ food me you want to throw up.

  26. Adeon says:

    Your experience sounds pretty similar to mine, especially the part about eating. I’ve never had a fondness for overly complicated diet plans but reducing how much I eat was practical. Actually for me the bug thing was figuring out a dinner plan that was simple enough that I was willing to cook it, tasty enough that I was willing to eat it and didn’t require a overly complicated shopping list. Without that I was to likely to just say forget it and grab fast food on my way home.

    For exercise, cardio worked well in my case. It helps that I live in an area with mild weather and enjoy walking so a 30 minute power walk in the evening is an enjoyable way to get some exercise.

  27. Chris Robertson says:

    Here’s what worked for me:

    The Hacker’s Diet

    1. Charnel Mouse says:

      Same here. I’m stick thin, so don’t bother with the dieting parts, but the equioment-less exercise ladder system has been good for getting me to exercise and build up some muscle.

      Happy birthday, Shamus!

  28. silver Harloe says:

    Wow, we at that time of year where I’m no longer older than you for a month again. It seems like this rolls around too rapidly to span a whole year.

    Well, congratulations on making it here again. Let’s try to get to the next one a little slower this time.

  29. Kerethos says:

    Happy birthday Shamus!

    This was an interesting read. As someone who is getting tired of looking like an apple with legs (bit of an exaggeration, but I’m way too round compared to my younger self) I’m going to try adding some lifting to my life and see if that eventually helps me with my goal of fitting into my old pants.

    The cardio I’ve been doing (cycling about 1.8 miles and jogging or walking about 5 miles) 3-4 times a week hasn’t really done much for my body shape. I’m not really losing the fat, I’m just able to move it faster over a longer duration. So I’m getting faster and over time I’ve been getting closer and closer to jogging for ~6 miles (10 km), but the pants are still too tight.

    Portion control is hard though. I find that I’m fine with eating less if I don’t exercise. Heck, I can go a whole workday on just coffee and a sandwich then (I stand in front of a computer all day and mostly write, since I find sitting hurts my back and bum). But when I exercise I become a food monster that devours two plates full of food and is hungry again an hour later. :(

  30. Happy B-day Shamus!

    Also HOLY SHIT! Sure you’re last name is Young and not Redfield?

  31. Paul Spooner says:

    Now I’m visualizing Shamus as mister incredible (hulk) hunched at his 80s workstation coding to bitrush.

  32. baud001 says:

    Happy birthday!

  33. ngthagg says:

    It sounds like you’ve picked up in something called “greasing the groove”. If that’s the case, the gains you’re seeing are coming from motor neuron recruitment rather than muscle hypertrophy, which means you’re better at using your muscles rather than your muscles getting bigger.

    If you want to be lean, that’s a good thing. Combined with your smaller portions at meal time, you’ll lose fat without bulking up.

    If you keep doing the same exercises, the gains will probably slow down or stop. But there’s so many variations of dumbbell and body weight exercises that you could switch each month and not repeat the whole year while still getting a full body workout.

  34. Hargrimm says:

    Happy Birthday Shamus!

    Let me quickly dispense some of my unsolicited fitness advice.

    Diet: I’m of the same opinion as you, that forcing yourself to eat things that you don’t like because it’s healthy is not a good way to go about it. You simply won’t have the willpower to keep it up. My approach is to pick a calorie counting app, like cronometer, and simply add the stuff I’ve eaten today/that I like to eat and see if I filled my micros and macro goals. If I don’t, I just google ” food” (e.g. “vitamin e food”) and pick the stuff that I actually like to eat.

    As for weight gain( and metabolic syndrome, gout, high blood pressure, etc.), the reason is a bit more complicated and simultaneously simpler than you might think: it’s the overconsumption of fructose. Here‘s a lecture by professor Lustig that explains it very thouroughly. (and here‘s an 11-minute summary, though I do recommend the full version, if you have the time)

    In general there are three ways of growing muscle. 1. progressive overload, 2. metabolic stress and 3. muscle damage. See the video for more details.
    To stimulate muscle growth, you need to do excercises in some kind regime of sets and reps. I know of three variations of sets that you can do to gain more muscle.
    Standard: a nice 4 minute summary on the science behind sets and strength, muscle gain and endurance
    Supersets: Superior for building muscle, strength and fat loss compared to standard sets if you train Agonist-Antagonist-Pairs(opposing muscle groups like triceps and biceps or chest and back).
    Drop-Sets: One big set where drop the amount of weight/switch to easier version of the excercise until you can’t lift any more.

    De-loading is something you should do to counteract fatigue. If you notice that you can’t do as many reps as last week, it’s time to de-load.
    Sleep is one of the most important factors in gaining muscle, since your muscles actually grow when you sleep, training stimulates them.
    As for protein intake, the rule of thumb I’ve heard most often is 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. That should be plenty to facilitate muscle growth.

    Cardio: Steady-State Cardio does some weird things to you apparently. Still, conditioning is very helpful for workouts and especially if you want to do Super-Sets. You could try a HIIT workout and see if it doesn’t trigger any fits of rage.

    And lastly, here’s a few videos with tips to correct common posture problems and ailments: Posture, neck pain, shoulder popping/pain, scapular winging, anterior pelvic tilt

    If anyone’s interested, I also have some pointers to examples for stretching and excercising just about any muscle group.

  35. rabs says:

    Congratulations for your new age mark.

    About strength exercise, I also noticed a quick improvement first, but I guess it’s mostly getting used to those movements. There is a kind of optimization phase, then progress slow down.

    Though I never really did plain endurance exercise like jogging, so I cannot compare.

  36. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Wow, time does fly. For some reason every time one of these posts comes up I’m all like “wait, wasn’t the previous ding 42?” No idea why that one in particular, maybe because of the meme. Either way, Happy Birtday Shamoose and grats for finding a regime that makes you feel better.

  37. neolith says:

    Happy Birthday, Shamus! :)

  38. Alex says:

    I struggled with the same problems for years. You’re 100% right about pitfalls of dieting. The key to long term success is to make long term commitments.
    I envy you the willpower to limit your portions, if I’m opening a bag of crisps or a box of chocolates – it’s going down.

    What helped me was to:
    – stop buying stuff I would feel guilty overeating – a minute of willpower while shopping reduces the temptations at home;
    – learn a few fast & easy (5-10 minutes of work) recipes for meals that would still taste good and be kinda healthy. A good sauce can make anything taste good, and you can make a good sauce from anything if you blend it with spices. My favourite sauce so far is made of tomatoes, frozen spinach and linseed oil with a little of thyme,basil,oregano,pepper and salt for taste;
    – stop eating highly processed stuff with high glycemic index (the more work your body needs to perform to process the food, the longer you stay full). Groats are perfect, especially with sauce. Rice is terribad for you, unless it’s the brown one.

    Wow, I didn’t plan to write it all, but I hope it helps someone.

    The pic is fantastic. You kids have an “I win” picture for all “my dad can beat up your dad” arguments.

  39. Jokerman says:

    “But the strength training is getting results. I'm getting slimmer around the middle. I don't own a scale, but I've moved in about four notches on my belt and I'm able to wear pants that haven't fit since 2009. ”

    You might be about the same weight (which maybe bmi calls overweight, bmi is a bad measurement) I know i dropped clothes sizes while lifting weights, but stuck at 196lb, but i’m now a ‘toned’ looking 196 instead of a ‘beer gut’ 196

    1. Droid says:

      BMI should not be used as a metric at all. It’s easy to measure and compute, yes, but so is the circumference of your waist. And while both correlate with adipositas at high values and anorexia at low ones, you cannot make some lines in the sand and declare that people in this one region of it are healthy and people outside of it are not, at least not with any amount of scientific honesty.

      1. Jokerman says:

        That was kinda of my point actually

  40. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I got my eating under control by intentionally fixing my situation so that I wasn’t reliant on willpower alone. I don’t keep much in the way of snacks in my house. I bring my lunch to work, and I learned which fruits/vegetables I found tolerable enough to make into a habitual food. Fun fact: I always loved bananas, but they started giving me horrible bowel problems. Turns out, I was just eating them when they were too ripe.

    Hunger is partially habitual. Our bodies expect food at certain times, and with enough training you can lessen how hungry you feel. You’ll always be tempted to eat more, but it does get much easier. Drinking more water also helps, as well as intentionally picking foods with high satiation/calorie ratios. Nuts, for example, are terrible. They’re little calorie bombs and you eat a whole jar of them super easily. Fruits are much better. I still hate vegetables. I can eat baby carrots as a snack when I’m hungry, but I still don’t like them. Baked beans and chili, interestingly enough, are pretty good as well. 500 calories worth of either is decently filling.

    I’m still terrible at eating when there are a lot of snacks around, but I just don’t put myself in that situation often.

  41. You don’t look like an idiot in the pic, Shamus, you look badass. Good work!

  42. MerryVulture says:

    Happy birthday. Thanks for all the great blogging, may you keep it up a while longer.

  43. Da Mage says:

    So am in a constant struggle with weight, mainly due to being on 3 times the normal dosage of migraine medication, which has a side effect of causing weight gain. I do about 10km on a exercise bike each night that takes about 20-25 mins, and while it used to be tiring, not so much anymore. I also tend to do it late at night (10pm or so) so I can take a shower and go to bed soon after. ALong with that I play golf twice a week where I walk around the course rather than sitting in a buggy.

    I’m currently 132kg, or about 290 pounds, but my fitness is decent and my weight has been stable for most of this year. I have tried to diet, but that’s just a losing battle on this medication, it’s better for me to over exercise than try and cut food.

  44. Daemian Lucifer says:

    In the past I tried to get in shape according to conventional wisdom: Diet and exercise.

    And like many conventional stuff,its not an efficient thing to try.In order to not only lose weight but keep it lost,you need to tailor both the diet and exercise to your body.You cant just take whatever works for person X and apply it to yourself.There is a reason why professional sportsmen have their own dietitians and trainers.

    Now,obviously not everyone can afford that.But what you can afford is to go to a nutritionist to do your bloodwork,and go to a gym to at least talk to a trainer there to get some recommendations.This way you can avoid eating nothing but salad(unless you are really that unlucky*),and do the exercises that are most efficient for you.You also wont need to eat less this way,youll just eat less of the foods that your body specifically turns into fat.

  45. Jeysie says:

    I wish I knew a way to strength train that didn’t involve buying and installing a bunch of equipment, as I’m 1. broke and 2. live in a fairly small apartment.

    Since I get in a lot of walking in terms of cardio just from the “don’t own a car” effect, but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help me lose weight.

  46. Duoae says:

    Congrats on making it through another year! Thinking about the weight training thing, I doubt your body works have reacted the same way at 19. It probably world have taken a lot more work to put on the muscle mass.

  47. MrBtongue says:

    I’m wishing you a happy birthday 364 days early!

    For me personally, exercise has nothing to do with losing weight. I can work out pretty hard four days a week, not eat well, and not lose a pound. But if I eat right and don’t exercise at all, the weight comes off.

  48. Shamus it seems some devs at iD Software have a indirect b-day present for ya?

    Vulkan Renderer for Doom 3 BFG Source Code Published.

  49. Dreadjaws says:

    “I'm about to reach a checkpoint in this game. I'll bet the game is going to crash just before I get there.”

    Well, you know, to be fair, if it was a Bethesda game…

    Anyway, a little late but Happy Birthday. I also should start exercising now that I think about it. I’ve actually managed to accustom myself to do it a couple times in the past and then something happened that forced me to stop for a few days, but man, losing just a few days feels like an eternity, so getting back is stupidly hard, so those days turn into weeks and then months.

    Now obviously exercising is something someone like me simply cannot do in place of something else. I have to exercise while I do something else. Otherwise I simply can’t. I remember getting good results with Wii Fit, where minigames help you exercise (but, as you’ve pointed out in the past, it’s best to ignore the damn passive-agressive board’s dialogue). The minigames on their own can be fun, but they do get repetitive, which kills the fun and makes the workout feel like what it really is: not fun.

    There’s a minigame that makes you run in place while your character runs a marathon. I started doing that but then I started switching the TV so I’d watch a show while the race was on. Later, I just ran in place while watching TV shows without even bothering to turn the Wii on. I really got good results out of it, I should start doing it again. But maaaaaaaaaaaaan, starting is precisely the hardest part.

  50. Rosseloh says:

    Very interesting, Shamus.

    I don’t have exactly your problem (but it’s damn close). Whereas I overall tend to hate all exercise, there are two things I do quite enjoy: hiking, and cycling.

    And boy have I gotten into cycling.

    That all said, I definitely have to try your method of strength training. For a while I did have weightlifting as part of my thrice-weekly routine, but spending an hour lifting after getting back from an hour of cycling was too much – I am fine with spending an hour out of my very limited free time cycling because I love it, but the extra time lifting just cuts into everything else I need to do and I gave it up.

    It doesn’t help that I have a “standard” job that takes 10-11 hours a day. It would be a lot easier to fit in exercise time if I worked at home.

  51. John says:

    Hi Shamus,
    I think the advice you have been given about making push-ups harder is wrong. A push-up works your chest and triceps, by moving your feet up the wall you are turning it into a shoulder press, which works your shoulders and triceps. It is still an ok exercise if you want to do it but it will have a different effect to push-ups.

    You can absolutely make push-ups harder by adding weight. It is the same as adding more weight to the bar when doing bench press. You can:
    – put a small dumbell or weight plate on your back. You will need to be steady and it may slide a bit but it can be done.
    – use a back pack with something in it. e.g. weights, tin cans or computing books.
    – you can buy weight vests if you are really keen.

    You can use the same idea for a lot of exercises, e.g. squats, lunges and chin-ups. You can also hold a dumbell between your crossed and bent legs while doing chin-ups.

    There are also lots of push-up variations you can move on to if you like. Like:
    – dive-bomber (or Judo) push-ups.
    – push-ups with a row.
    – with a twist.
    – on a medicine ball.
    – etc.
    Look up “push up variations” or “martial arts push ups”.

    I would encourage you to do a little warm up set before your main set using little or no weight.

    My brother told me about this site. He found it really useful while doing sports science.

    Good on you for finding something that works for you.

  52. John says:

    Here is the push-up page by the way: exrx push-up page.

    Note the links to harder exercises at the bottom.

  53. I might need to try this new way of exercising, because exercising through cardio seems ineffective for myself as well. I just don’t like it.

    Whenever I get my heart rate going though, I typically feel energetically happy for some reason. Like when I don’t feel that way, the first thing my mind does when I am processing thoughts is to think of the worst case scenario for everything. While I am conscious that I am being hasty in outcome, it usually takes great effort to avoid creating any internal or external conflict.

    I presume this is due to years of a lack of real focus, and when you go without something that must randomly be acquired after childhood, it is increasingly difficult to get. While our tendencies feel natural, the actions we take are acquired.

  54. Simon Boots says:

    A bit late, but I hope you had a wonderful birthday!

  55. Jeff says:

    Gym rat reporting in – while elevating your feet will increase the percentage of body weight you’re pushing, it will also change the muscles being worked out. If you do make it to vertical pushups that’s almost entirely shoulders (effectively a shoulder press). So keep that in mind, if you’re actually targeting specific muscle groups.

    I’d recommend doing shoulder exercises anyway, if you haven’t been working that. Just use dumbbells and crank out sets of shoulder press and/or lateral raises, like you’ve very visibly been doing with bicep curls. Shoulders are one of the muscle groups that make you look good in a t-shirt, and isn’t that the entire point? :P

    Back when I was 19, I went from size 40 pants to size 32 pants without doing a lick of cardio, so it definitely works. Plus having more muscle ups your BMR so you’ll burn more calories just sitting there.

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