I was bored to death at work yesterday, which unfortunately is a daily occurrence, when I came across a short clip on Mr Porter about Michael Chernow– the owner of The MeatBall Shop in New York City. I instantly had an epic epiphany, and a sea of bittersweet memories began flooding back. Honestly, I had no faintest idea who he is and only vaguely remember The MeatBall Shop as I probably walked by the restaurant a couple of times. But then, I realized he and I share more than a few trivial things in common. Like, he currently resides in Williamsburg, where I used to live. He likes to run across the beautiful Williamsburg Bridge, which was one of my all-time favorite things to do in the city. His fitness stories resonate so much with mine while his hard-earned success and life mottos inspire me to the extent that I feel really propelled to share my own journey. Hopefully, it’d be of help to someone out there. My forewarning, though, is this will be a long-ass post. But first thing first, here is the clip:
If you have followed my blog for some time, you are likely to know THIS story about my long-gone pathetic past. Up until I was 22, I had always been this chubby, inactive and borderline passive-aggressive couch potato. I wasn’t fat, but was pretty overweight and unfit. Also courtesy of my parents’ good genes, I always had this fair and pinkish white skin, which was quite uncharacteristic for Asians and so only added fuel to the bullying fire when I went to school. Back then, running scared me. Pushup killed me. Lifting, oh well, didn’t exist in my dictionary. Heck, I even got a B (or B+) in jogging class, which was like the easiest one to bag an A in college and made me legitimately the only one in the history of mankind to earn a grade lower than A. Fuck, I’m overly shame-ridden just telling you this story because if it had been running, I might have been able to save face. You know, running is tough. But god dammit, it was just fucking JOGGING. Anyway after college, I relocated to New York City for work. During the first six months, if strolling in Saks Fifth, Barneys and Bergdorf or sauntering down Fifth Avenue for window shopping didn’t count, then my level of physical activities would be practically nil. I know you’re thinking to yourself: “what the fuck was wrong with me? I was living in one of the fittest cities in the country!”. The truth is I don’t even know. Old habits die hard, I guess.
My first introduction to the sweating your ass off concept came through Bikram yoga, though I can’t recall with certainty why it happened. (New York is that mind-bogglingly awesome. You don’t forget anything, but you don’t really remember why it happened in the first place.) Bikram yoga is obviously not adrenaline-rushing cardio or muscles-tearing lifting, but is quite intense even for yours truly who hail from a third world country where the summer temperature can get as noxious as 110°F. It was an excellent training ground for my mental and physical endurance. However, if a sculpted body is what you’re after, let me tell you that yoga of any kind is never ever the answer.
After New York came a short stint in Ho Chi Minh City, which has always been touted by most third-world-ers here as the New York-version of Vietnam. (I had beef with this ridiculously stupid statement for a long enough time that I won’t bother raging here once again). Here, I started joining classes such as spinning, kickboxing, body pump, and oh boy, got alarmingly hooked. Initially, I only managed to squeeze in some time during the weekend because of work. But my uncompromising streak for things that I heart started to catch up, and soon enough exercising became an over-consuming daily affair. The weird thing was even though I worked out a lot, there was no remarkable physical change. Oh wait, there was. I actually got fatter. After 4 months of frequent and intense exercising, I was still mired in fat. 18% body fat, to be exact. Belly fat and man boobs on full display below:
(Boracay, Philippines. September 2012)
That was quite unacceptable, so I started spending an inordinate amount of time reading about losing fat and getting abs. Man, it was quite a hard pill to swallow when I realized I had been doing it wrong for the longest time. So, here are the simple recipe that I have applied to myself successfully:
1. Diet: hands-down the most important thing. You could work out like a motherfucker day in and day out, but if you eat the wrong food, which I definitely did, your body never sees light at the end of the tunnel. Even now, I still cringe so bad thinking about what I put in my mouth back then. Lots of rice? Checked. Sweet pastry? Checked. Coffee with more sugar than coffee? Checked. The list goes on and on. I researched quite a bit about what diet to follow, and ended up doing Paleo. For 4 months straight, I didn’t touch rice, bread, sugar, milk, carbonated drinks or any type of processed food. There were only eggs, lean meat, fish and veggies. That diet shocked my family and everyone who probed to the core because rice is a staple food in my culture. Believe it or not, I still get a lot of grief for not eating rice. Whatever. Abs are made in the kitchen.
2. Work-out: After I pulled my acts together in the food department, I hit the gym hard. I mainly did spinning for cardio like 3-4 times per week, and the rest of the week was about weight-lifting. At that point, I was a lifting noob so I wasn’t able to lift heavy weights. I don’t think it really matters that much because as long as you lift consistently and increase the weight gradually, all should be good. The fat will gradually burn. What I really want to emphasize is I think it’s really important to combine both cardio and lifting in your workout regime, because in my case I didn’t see any noticeable changes until I started lifting despite all the explosive cardio sessions. Plus, how can you get the covetable muscle definitions if you don’t lift, right?
3. Abs exercises: This should be self-explanatory. If you want abs, you get to put in some abs work. The nice thing is there is no need to go overboard. I only worked my abs about 2 times per week, each time for 15-20 minutes. Good exercises, in my experience, are: bicycle crunch, plank, sit-up, leg raises and maybe some crunches. It’s especially all the more helpful if you add some weight to these exercises. When I added weight, I definitely felt way more pain. But the abs really show after.
The picture you saw at the beginning was me 2 months ago at 11.5% body fat. I know it was far from the ideal wash-board abs of those Abercrombie models, but overall I’m happy with the progress I made. I didn’t want to get down to a single digit body fat because it’d look too unhealthy for my body and my current weight. Now, I have shifted all my focus on clean-bulking and lifting hard to get more sculpted.
In retrospect of the past year, I credit everything to the gym. During the span of one year, I uprooted my life three times and switched more jobs than a lot of people do in 3 years. Oh and several relationships with people were flushed down the drain as well. I was worried, frustrated, restless and stuck quite often. Thanks to the gym, my sanity still remains intact. Admittedly, I have a higher vanity metrics than a lot of people when it comes to those appearance-related stuff. (Fashion is the backbone of my existence, remember?.) However, my take-away from the whole process is that with discipline, hard work and patience we can achieve a lot more things that we think we can. More than a hot body or fleeting six-packs, exercising on a daily basis is now the lifestyle choice that I make. Luckily, it’s the healthy one and the one that I know for sure will never fail me no matter what.