Zen and the Art of Circuit Training

The Art of Circuit Training
At first, it seems so easy.

You join a gym, full of fire and determination. This time is going to be different, you say. You will stay the course, spend hours in the gym every week, and by Summer you will have a physique that will make the Greek Gods weep with envy.

Two months later, you are looking at the clock, comparing it to your day’s schedule, and wincing. Maybe you don’t really have time to go to the gym today…

Thus begins the slow slide into skipped gym visits, dietary shortcuts, and growing malaise. By Memorial Day, you have gained ten pounds and refuse to take your shirt off poolside.

What went wrong? You over-committed and underdelivered. The oldest story in the history of mankind.

So, how about a different approach? It is only April, after all – there is still time to rescue yourself from Summer Body Failure.

Consider, instead, circuit training.

Defining the Circle

Long looked down on by weight-lifting purists, circuit training is slowly gaining a positive reputation. The idea that you can do something positive for yourself with only half an hour invested each day seems too good to be true, yes?

Let me clue you in on a little secret: spending half an hour at the gym (or in any kind of exercise) consistently beats multi-hour workouts that you fail to work into your schedule. Every single time. The #1 key to movement is to keep moving. It is as simple as that.

So, just ignore the powerlifters and the marathon runners for now. All we are trying to do here is build a foundation. Especially us bariatric patients: we have no real idea how to go from being glued to a couch 18 hours a day to spending 18 hours a week at a gym, right? Circuit training is a great step into regular exercise that can actually produce comprehensive results.

So, what the heck is circuit training, anyway?

Performing The Circuit

So, first: there are several kinds of circuit training, including ones that involve working out in your home or office using only your own body weight as resistance. We won’t be tackling those here, but are instead focusing on in-gym, machine-based circuit training. Why? Because bariatric patients (like myself) usually need some additional assistance getting started. This requires a gym membership. Ask your current gym (Or the gyms you are evaluating) about their circuit training availability.

At its most basic level, circuit training (at a gym) involves hitting a series of weight machines in a row, one after another. Between time spent on each machine is a brief rest period, followed by a short period of cardio exercise. The circuit will involve 10 machines, 10 cardio periods, and 20 30-second “rest” periods. When you’ve arrived back at the first machine, you have completed a single “circuit”, in 30 minutes or so.

And, let’s face facts: the person who states they cant carve 60 minutes out of their day (factoring in half an hour getting to and from the gym) to exercise is either lying or needs schedule prioritization help beyond the scope of this article. Cut one hour of television viewing out of your schedule a day and you instantly have enough time to get this done. Surely you can live without viewing the latest reboot of Lost In Space in the name of your health, yes?

So, denials aside, you jump into the “circuit” at an open machine, then follow the circle around for half an hour. Then you grab your gym bag and go home. Do this 2-3 times a week and you’ll see noticeable results within a month. Guaranteed.

So, what’s the catch? (Because there is always a catch.) There are a few ways to sabotage yourself, even with something as simple as following a pre-defined progression.  Let’s look a little deeper, then, into the mechanics of circuit training…

Introduction to Circuit Training

1. Whole Body Focus:

The secret to circuit training is that the “circuit” hits every single major muscle group in your body. The one I currently use (And yes, I do circuit training when pressed for time) goes through the following progression: Seated Leg Press, Leg Extension, Leg Curl, Seated Bench Press, Lat Pulldown, Seated Row, Shoulder Press, Bicep Curl, Tricep Extension, and *Crunch. (More on Crunches later.) This group of exercises touches every major muscle group in your body.

2. Cardio:

Between each machine is a set of steps, designed to keep the heart rate up. There are roughly Umpty-bajillion different ways you could use these steps to maintain a cardio workout. I tend to do a double set of five exercises:

1. Step up then back;

2.Step up, down the other side, then back to my starting position;

3. Step sideways up, down the other side and back to starting position;

4. Step up with one leg, bring opposite knee to chest, then reverse the process starting with the alternate leg;

5. and, finally, calf raises.

There are gyms that, for whatever reason, do not have a set of steps near their circuit training machines. You could substitute cardio exercises like running in place, jumping jacks, good mornings, etc. However, even the most basic of gyms tends to have free-standing cardio steps somewhere. I would recommend grabbing one and setting it up nearby for use while you travel from machine to machine.

3. Rest periods:

Between each machine and step, I get a 30-second rest period. I use this time to drink (Hydrate or die), wipe down the equipment I have been using, and get myself set up for the next exercise.

4. Development:

As with any new exercise, it is important to take your time and get it right. Get a staff member at your gym to walk you through the whole process, on every machine – and get them to help you set your “maximum” weight levels. You’ll be starting your circuit workouts at about 50% of your max, to ensure that you are getting the maximum bang for your buck in the weight vs. reps area.

5. Intensity:

It is important to not spend your time on circuit training simply going through the motions. Instead, be focused during your time on the machines and steps. You should not be struggling with the weights you have selected. You should move each weight outward with a fluid motion, taking about a second to reach nearly full extension. (Full extension can lead to over-stressing ligaments and joints.) At the “top” of your push, squeeze the muscles you are working. Then, slowly lower the weight to the starting position, taking twice as long to lower the weight as you did lifting it. Each rep should take about 3 seconds: a one-second push, a squeeze, then a 2-second return to start. If you find you are unable to finish your minute moving your current weight, drop down to the next weight on your machine. You are wanting to reach the end of your 20-ish reps feeling like resistance is gradually building against your muscles. If you finish your minute easily, make a note, and next time start at the next higher weight – and expect to have to make an adjustment down during your workout.

So, there’s always a downside, right? Here are a few things to watch out for on the negative side of time-saving workouts.

Welcome To The Downside

1. Stabilizers:

The one major negative to working with machines is the very thing that makes them safer to exercise with. An awful lot of the benefit of free weight exercise comes not from the muscle groups being targetted, but instead from the work on the secondary or “stabilizer” muscles that also get engaged just from trying to maintain balance and equilibrium while pushing free weights. The incorporation of these stabilizer muscles is missing from machine-assisted lifting.

2. Intensity:

The fact that circuit training takes place in a closed loop means that much of the thought and planning that would go into a free weight program is missing. This can make it very easy to place your workout on cruise control and simply mail it in. While any movement is still preferable to no movement, your development will be dramatically hindered by not pursuing challenge and development during circuit training.

3. Safety:

Free weight exercise requires constant attention and focus. Circuit training can be perceived as “Easy mode”. Accordingly, it can be very easy to inadvertently injure yourself by simply being inattentive. I have watched people at my local gym use bad form on machines, slip while performing cardio steps, even fall over because they were attempting to talk on the phone or watch streaming video while working out. Circuit training is not the place for these activities.

4. Twerps:

The closest I have come to getting into a fight in a gym since 7th grade P.E. is in and around circuit training equipment. Why? Because so many people insist on using circuit training machines as their own personal playground. Rather than participating in the “circuit” portion of circuit training, many times individuals will camp out on a circuit training machine for their own personal workout routines, rather than using freely available machines elsewhere in the gym. Asking them (politely) to move along so that you can take your turn rarely produces positive results. Instead, bypass their position for now, and come back to it at the end of your routine. Multiple and/or habitual offenders need to be reported to gym management. You are not being paid to enforce the rules of the road in circuit training. Don’t engage testosterone-flooded exercisers yourself. The results can be…less than ideal. Ahem.

5. Crunch Time:

Usually, the final machine in any circuit training circuit is some form of ab-training machine, usually a contraption with straps and weights that ball you up like a device created by the Marquis de Sade. Seriously – crunch machines are a back injury waiting to happen. Skip the ab machine in a circuit entirely, and spend your 60 seconds on a hanging leg lift or (even better) working on Planks. Think you can hold a full Plank for 60 seconds? It is not as easy as it looks. It is also one of the absolute best exercises you can do for your core and abs.

Joining The Circuit

There you have it – the secrets of the Circuit Training section of your local gym. Stop wasting your gym membership money by staying home and watching Roseanne instead of hitting the gym. Get in, push yourself through the circuit, and head back home 3 times a week. Make sure you are taking at least a day off between sessions, mind you.

Once you’ve mastered the Circuit, cough up the funds for an initial appointment with a certified Personal Trainer to keep on moving down the personal fitness road. Just remember: movement is key to success. Even 30 minutes on the Circuit at your nearby gym beats spending an hour on the couch eating Cheetos.

Chasing Myself In A Circle,

Jeremy

I Am Officially Certifiable

Ace Personal Trainer Certificate

The rain was drizzling down not unlike Boston or Seattle when we pulled in the driveway last night. We had spent 12 of the last 36 hours in the car and were worn down to nearly nothing. I shuffled over to the front door, unlocked it, then listlessly flopped open the mailbox, only to discover a certificate sized-envelope from ACE Fitness.

I then spent the next ten minutes running around the house in glee, shouting “It’s here! It’s here!”, much to the consternation of the puppies and the exhausted amusement of Lor. Funny, that.

Recognition In An Envelope

I eventually calmed down enough to open the envelope, and was able to spend a few moments basking in the glow of my achievement. There, in my hands, suitable for framing, was my ACE Fitness Personal Trainer Certificate.

You might find my enthusiasm a little odd. I’ve just finished getting my first book published. I’ve spent the last 14 months losing nearly half my body weight. Why all the excitement about a professional certification?

Mainly because I wasn’t sure I could manage to earn the certification.

My novel is very exciting. Losing 130+ pounds has been life-changing. But the certification…it involved using my brain. Extensively. Including parts that don’t work so well anymore – mainly my memory. I can barely remember my own name half the time. And I was supposed to learn enough to get through a 150 question exam? On subjects that I knew almost nothing about?

Remember, I am the guy that flunked out of Biology twice in High School.

So, yeah. This is a really, really big deal for me.

Base Camp Achieved

Let’s take a look back in the rear-view mirror, shall we?

In September of 2015, I was morbidly obese. I weighed almost 300 pounds, and the majority of life was barred from me.

 

In September of last year, I was 2 months out from bariatric surgery. I was down to 224 pounds and was beginning to think that I had achieved my weight loss goals.

And as of last night, I am professionally certified to assist others with their own fitness journeys. How about that?

If the “weight-loss” journey is like climbing a mountain, I can safely say I’ve reached a major base camp before tackling the higher parts of the ascent.

I needed a publisher to get my novel written. I needed an awesome medical team to get me started losing weight. But I had to take that ACE Fitness exam all by myself. With a broken brain, no less.

This achievement was personal.

The Climb Goes Ever Upwards

So, I am a certified professional. Now I am going to start taking on clients and building a practice, right?

Well, no. Not exactly.

I began my CPT training largely due to Misdirected. I kept fielding questions. About diet. Or about exercise. Maybe pertaining to obesity and surgery and genetics and fat-shaming.

And I did my best to answer these questions, I really did. But, anytime someone would ask me what my qualifications were, I would have to say something like “Well, I used to weigh a lot more…”

I realized that I was going to have to expand my scope of knowledge, and in an organized way. Certified education seemed to make the most sense. Since I am mainly dealing with questions about day-to-day life, becoming a personal trainer just made the most sense.

When creating content for Misdirected, I now have the backing of an international organization with 65,000+ healthcare professionals to draw on. I can look through my manuals, check online training, or chat with fellow trainers. I feel much more secure now, creating content from the perspective of a trained professional.

Also, this isn’t the end of my education. My intention all along has been to specialize in working with obese patients, especially those who are looking into or who have just gone through bariatric surgery. There is additional training available for me to broaden my knowledge in those fields. And I will be pursuing it, as time goes by.

A Laser-Like Focus

Also, now that I’ve split my fiction news off to a whole new website at the Ash Falls Gazette, Misdirected can get back to what it does best. We will return to exclusively focusing on weight loss, exercise, diet, and the occasional “this is my life” post. Many of you have requested that change, and here it is.

I am very excited to have made it this far with all of you! I look forward to our continued growth as a weight-loss and lifestyle change resource for you.

We’ll see you here next week. To stay plugged in throughout the week, remember to follow us on Twitter @tjschofield or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tjeremyschofield.

Keep Putting One Foot In Front Of The Other,

Jeremy C. Schofield

ACE Certified Professional Trainer

 

The Week That Got Away

The Week That Got Away

A few of you sent tentative questions wanting to know what happened last Friday. Was I on vacation? Had Misdirected switched to a weekly publication schedule when you weren’t looking? Had some other mysterious event befallen me?

In truth, it was a series of events…strap in and I will bring you up to speed.

Puppy Gymnastics

First, meet our new exercise program:

The ghosts of Samson and Frankie watching over her little doggie bed…

Her name is Delilah. She is a 6-month old Chi-Weenie, and no I didn’t come up with that breed name. On the 9th through the 11th of June, our local Albuquerque Humane Society ran an event where they were attempting to “empty the city shelters” by adopting pets for only $5. We visited, and Delilah was the result.

At six months old, she came to us very confused about life in general, and about house rules like potty-training in particular. So she has completely destroyed our daily schedules, including gym attendance.

However, she herself is a profound exercise generator. A few weeks ago I was speculating about how to get over 10,000 steps a day consistently. We have found the answer. Socializing and playing with a new puppy has kept us above our daily step goal every day, with one marathon of a day putting us at nearly 14,000 steps. She hasn’t been great for our weight-lifting routines, but boy is she good for the heart. In more ways than one.

The Inheritance Marathon

Inheritance Book Cover

Speaking of long-term exercise, my longest-ever writing exercise is over. I finished writing Inheritance last week. It has now been handed off to my editorial review team. Who will undoubtedly find so many issues with it that I will effectively have to re-write it. I couldn’t care less.

This is a big one for me, folks. When I started writing Misdirected all those years ago, it was a daily journal of my gaming activities. I had no idea that it would begin a chain of events that would lead to me completing an entire novel. But, it has done just that, and I couldn’t be happier. Even if I never sell more than two copies (I have two parents, remember), I will be able to go through the rest of my life knowing that I actually sat down and wrote an entire novel. This is huge for someone who couldn’t put a sentence together ten years ago.

Once again, if you too are suffering from a disability, keep pushing those boundaries. You never know how far you will get until you try.

The ACE Fitness Iron-Man

I also finished my course of study for the ACE Fitness Personal Trainer course last week. I got myself revved up, sat down for the practice exam…

And flunked it.

I even got a consolation note from the ACE Fitness on-line study system: “That’s why we call it a practice exam!”

So, yeah. I now have just over 30 days to get my real exam scheduled and to take another practice exam, this time (hopefully) passing.

Needless to say, I am glad I already finished Inheritance. I won’t be doing any fiction writing of any kind in the next month. I am going to be busy.

Studying for this certification may be the hardest thing I have ever done. I have never been an athlete. I have never had any aptitude for biology. I always watched bodyworkers like Lor with a certain mixture of awe and jealousy.

Becoming professionally certified as a personal trainer could not be further out of my comfort zone.

But, if Misdirected has taught me anything, it is that there are a bunch of people out there looking for support and advice. And the ACE PT certification is my first step toward feeling comfortable providing advice from a professional background, rather than just shooting from the hip. Personal experience and internet research can only take you so far.

So, yeah. Here we are. Wish me luck as I study constantly for the next month. I have a feeling I am going to need all the luck I can get.

Hitting The Books Like I Used To Hit The Girl Scout Cookies,

Jeremy

The Weight Train Starts Rolling Again

My weigh-in this weekend presented an unexpected surprise. I have been very consistently maintaining somewhere between 182 and 184 pounds for weeks now. So imagine my surprise when I stepped on the scale yesterday and saw “180.0” blinking at me. This represents a 3-pound loss since my last weeks weigh in. I had sorta thought my extreme weight loss days were behind me now. Maybe not.

The Fitbit Badge Experience

Along with me being surprised came my Fitbit’s excitement about the whole situation. Apparently, when I began using the Fitbit back in November I was at 211 pounds. Now that I suddenly reached 180 I have earned a 30-pound weight loss “badge”. These virtual pats on the back seem to exist mainly to have something to share with friends on Twitter and Facebook, rather than having any real use in the Fitbit app.

 

Earning this badge didn’t really strike me as important initially. I had already earned my “Weight Loss Goal” badge a few weeks back when I hit 185 pounds, after all. When one has lost over 120 pounds, 30 of that total doesn’t seem like a whole lot.

 

But, on the further reflection, 30 pounds is actually quite a bit. For a “normal” person, 30 pounds might represent their entire weight loss goal! After all, 30 pounds might represent a decade and a half of creeping weight gain. Gain two pounds a year for 15 years, and suddenly you are 30 pounds overweight. 30 pounds lost, to that person, might represent returning to their previously healthy weight.

 

For a different example, another 30 pounds of weight loss would move me from “overweight” to “normal” in the eyes of the evil overlord of weight loss: the BMI chart.

The Terrible Tyranny of BMI

 

Now, let me be clear: I have no real interest in dropping another 30 pounds at this point.

 

I am already down to size Medium tops and a 36-inch waistline. For someone who started at XXLs and a 50-inch circumference, this seems like a pretty good place to be.

 

Also, in one of the more annoying side effects of bariatric surgery, the more I lose, the worse I look. I am already swimming in a sack of empty skin. Dropping another 30 pounds would only make that situation worse. Every day I look in the mirror and contemplate the possibility of another round of surgery. It would take four different surgical procedures just to remove all this flopping skin hanging off my body everywhere.

 

But, still, the temptation remains. The fact that I hate the BMI chart does not change the fact that, deep down, I want to defeat it. It has denigrated me my entire adult life. Why wouldn’t I want to strike back against it?

Watchful Weight-ing

 

So, what am I going to do about weight loss moving forward?

 

Nothing much that I am not doing already.

 

I am already exercising 6 days a week, especially since I have renewed my love/hate relationship with the Fitbit. I did fail to log activity last week on Friday and Saturday, but that is due to my involvement with our new puppy. The steps are accumulating, let me tell you.

 

I am already eating 1,000 – 1,200 calories a day on a low-carb diet. I have no intention of trying to reduce that amount any more. That way lies madness. Not to mention potential malnutrition.

 

And, the simple fact is that I am about as healthy as I have ever been at this point. I can do things today, at almost 47 years old, that I couldn’t do at 17. Run two miles, for instance. I will probably never be a power-lifter again, but I am much more interested in functional muscle development at this point anyway. I would rather be able to hike for 4 – 6 hours, rather than bench press 250 pounds.

 

So, if more weight loss comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I intend to just keep doing what I am doing and see what comes of it.

 

I am tired of constantly replacing clothing anyway.

 

Chasing Puppies Is High-Intensity Aerobic Exercise,

Jeremy

The Failure Cycle

This started out as a very different post.

Initially, I was exercising my self-flagellation skills. I had a lousy week last week and wanted everyone to know it.

Then, about 250 words in, I realized something: No one wants to read this.

So I started over.

The Life Reset Button

You must understand, starting over represents a moral victory, for me.

My usual reaction to failure is not a healthy one: I get frustrated, decide that I can’t succeed, and quit.

I am not a good forward thinker. I am forever second-guessing my past decisions instead of planning new approaches. Lor refers to this phenomenon as “getting stuck.” I mentally chase my tail, trying to figure out what I did wrong, afraid to act again for fear of a second failure. So I end up not doing anything.

Well, that isn’t really the whole story. Actually, I used to think about my failure while over-eating comfort food and drinking beer. But, that isn’t really an option anymore, is it? Due to the whole “6-ounce stomach pouch” thing.

The hardest thing I am having to learn post-surgery is to let failures go.

If I have already blown it, I am no longer in a position to retrieve my failure. I have to accept it, try to learn from it, and do better next time. Just mash down that “reset” button, and head back the way I came, trying to figure out just where I went off the rails.

C.S Lewis said it best: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.”

Moving Forward

So, what can I do in response to a week where I didn’t write, barely went to the gym, and made some pretty shaky dietary choices?

Nothing. Nada. Not a darn thing.

But, today is Monday. And today I can write my blog post, cook a healthy set of meals, and head back to the gym. And then I can set my sights on Tuesday.

It seems simplistic, but analyzing failure will only take you so far. At some point, you actually have to put yourself back in traffic and start doing again.

So, that is what I am going to do. No clever observations, no folksy words of wisdom today. Just get back on that horse and wait until the next time it throws me off. All I can hope for is that I go a little further before the next time I come crashing to the ground.

Our nutritionist, Patti, said it like this: “You are going to have good days and bad days. Just make sure that your good days outnumber the bad ones.”

Guess I need to start stringing together some good days, then. I am in a bit of a bad day deficit.

At Least I Lost A Pound Last Week,

Jeremy