Friday, January 20, 2012

A Break in the Routine

Just before Thanksgiving I had cataract surgery.  The procedure turned out fine but the ophthalmologist who did the follow-up exams was extra cautious and told me not to do any strenuous workouts for three weeks.  When you’re serious about staying in shape, you try not to skip workouts because you know you will end up paying for it afterwards.  A week away from the gym is no big deal; two weeks means you have to backtrack a bit; after three weeks you have to really push to get back to where you were.

I do three “big workouts” per week.  These take a bit less than two hours and consist of 35 minutes of cardio (intervals on the elliptical averaging about 88% of maximum heart rate) plus some combination of weights, strength ball training, and plyometrics.  (I do this because I like to have rest days in between when my body can fully recover.)  I also do Ab Ripper X three times a week, usually on different days.  During the winter, if this is all the exercise I’m getting for the week, I add a DVD workout from P90X.  When it’s warm out, I work outside which gives me all the additional exercise I need. 

Since all of my normal workouts had been ruled out by the doctor, I decided to do slower, longer, more frequent cardio sessions.  I went to the Y four or five times a week and did a half hour walking on the track, following by 45 minutes on the elliptical at 80% of maximum heart rate.  I figured this would burn off most of the calories that my regular workouts did so at least I wouldn’t put on much weight. 

After three weeks I went back to my regular workouts but it was almost Christmas, when the gym is sometimes closed and delicious, high calorie foods are everywhere you go.  Around New Year’s I weighed myself and was thrilled find that I had gained only a pound or two.  Getting rid of that would be no problem, I thought.  Three weeks later I’m sitting here with that same pound or two of weight, in spite of regular workouts and sensible eating. 

This situation illustrates why it is important to look at both weight and percentage of body fat.  Here’s what I think happened.  Even though I was doing cardio and burning calories, I wasn’t lifting weights.  This meant that I was losing muscle mass.  Because fat weighs less than muscle, I lost muscle mass but didn’t put on much weight.  Now that I’m doing my usual routine I’m gaining muscle mass, which may initially cause me to put on a couple of pounds.  Eventually, though, the extra muscle will burn more calories and my weight will go back to where it was. 

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