One Mile to Ripped - Part 2

Aerobics vs. intervals: A personal case study


"Back in the days of being 297 pounds, every workout was brutal; there was no other alternative. That's not the case any more. Have I become soft, like a former all-star playing out a multi-million dollar contract?"

– One Mile to Ripped, Part 1

I have to admit, I really liked that line when I wrote it a month ago. The problem was that I didn't believe it in the least, but it sounded kinda poetic so I kept it in. Now the experiment is over and done, mine eyes have seen the light (and some glory), and I've learned much more than I thought was possible in the last four weeks.

On November 1st, I stood on my Tanita bioelectrical impedance scale and noted I was 219 pounds at 10.9% body fat. Not bad, but I thought I may have backed myself into a corner. At 10.9% I only had 23.8 pounds of fat on me while my goal was to lose 8.5 pounds of it. I had to lose over a third of my total body fat in four weeks, without changing my diet or weight training!

Would the experiment I outlined in Part 1 work?

The Longest Bus Ride Ever!

I was off to the University of British Columbia to get myself dunked in the hydrostatic tank and have a second type of body fat test done.

One hour had passed since my Tanita measurement. The whole ride I struggled with the reality of setting myself up to attempt an unrealistic goal. Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

After getting my results in the tank, I found out that I'd gained 19.6 pounds of fat while on the bus! My results read me at 219.2 pounds at 19.7% body fat. You could say I had a bit of a freak-out. I was on the Internet in no time, looking for a Bod Pod, a qualified expert on skinfold measurements, and a fat person to stand next to me to prove the results were wrong. This couldn't be right! None of my photos looked it, and I sure didn't feel it! What the hell?

Here's a tip: If you're willing to have yourself dunked in a hydrostatic tank, then be terrified by your result, only to race to the original point of sale of your Tanita body fat scale and raise a complaint that your scale had been lying to you for four years, only to have people ask, "Why's the fat guy yelling at the nice sales lady, and good Lord, is he crying too?" you may indeed be a delusional FFB.

I had to concede I'd allowed myself to fall victim to using the testing method that gave me the results I wanted to hear. I knew the fat scale was the least accurate method, and that day I learned just how much I'd been fooling myself. So I took a deep breath and told myself, "If you're really willing to run all over town looking to find someone to finally tell you you're not fat, maybe put on an Xvest or two while you're doing that running around, until, golly gee, I dunno, you're not fat anymore!"

This kind of thinking isn't proof I'm a genius. But it may provide circumstantial evidence that I'm somehow related to Dan John who said, "The goal is the goal is the goal!" My goal wasn't to see how accurate my body fat was; it was to lose that 8.5 pounds of fat.

The First "Fat Run"

So back home I went and decided to do my first "fat run." I put on the Xvests and hit my stopwatch. Immediately my old memories came flooding back. The first thing I noticed was how slow I was going. The intensity was there but all spring in my step vanished.

Something else felt vaguely familiar: my old posture came back. I was staring at the ground as I ran and could barely stand up straight as I sprinted. I made it three city blocks before I had to stop. I didn't puke this time and it took 30 seconds to catch my breath instead of 30 minutes. Not bad progress for thirteen years.

I stopped seven more times that day, finishing in a little over fifteen minutes. Once I finished, I walked up the long staircase to my apartment and had a coughing fit similar to a middle-aged chain smoker. My breathing took about five minutes to come back to normal. I took the vests off once it did.

Over the course of the first week I'd already knocked two minutes off my run times, going from 15:06 to 12:59. After that first week, everything hurt. My ankles, hips, and traps took a beating. My low back took the brunt of it, though.

When you put one Xvest on top of the other, you can't get the second one on tight enough without seriously constricting your breathing. So the second vest was a little loose, which lead to a kidney punch with every step. The other side effect of the loose vest is that the top vest slides back, not so subtly choking you as you sprint. At least that little mole on my neck isn't there anymore.

Come Hell or High Water... Literally!

It's November, and I live in Canada, not the best time to be outside with a couple of Xvests on. In all honesty, I waited until autumn on purpose. I originally started running to lose my weight in the fall of 1993. I wanted to measure my will in the same conditions. Little did I know I was going to have my willpower tested by the elements in more ways than one.

On November 4th Vancouver was hit with two inches of rain. The heavy rains swelled four local rivers leading to the evacuation of hundreds of residents. Despite all this, I trimmed off another 35 seconds per run that second week. I averaged around 12:25 in the four runs that week and reduced my stopping to seven times per run. I added four more pounds to the vest and noticed that it was taking a lot of willpower to put on that vest. I was putting it off until the last minute. My hips were pretty bad and the low back was none too happy.

I started a new prep method this week. I took my free will out of the equation. The minute I walked into the house, I put the vests on and ran right out the door. This was key for me; I took the practice of "psyching myself up" out of the process. It wasn't easy.

To do these runs is really quite similar to walking into the gym and starting off with your one-rep max. You get the full intensity the second you start. I was physically hanging in there, but it was mentally tough.

Week three added a new, unforeseen problem. The three million residents of Vancouver learned a new word: turbidity. The heavy rainfall over the last fifteen days lead to sediment falling into the water reservoirs, forcing the whole city to turn to bottled water.

With my own free will tapped out, it was just one more pain in the ass I didn't need. Then another windstorm hit, knocking out power for 210,000 residents, knocking down trees, and even knocking down a condo building under construction. I still did my four runs that week, added two more pounds to the vest, and even managed to shave 25 more seconds off my run time, going down as low as 12:01.

The fourth week my run times went up by over two minutes per run! Was I burnt out? Did my injuries start to negatively affect my performance? Had my free will run out? Had I been bitten by the law of diminishing returns? Was it the three additional pounds added to the Xvests this week? What was the new confounding factor in my experiment?

It may have been the 11.4 inches of snow that fell that weekend.

Drivers were urged to stay off the road. Luckily, no such warning was put forth for sprinters on the sidewalk. The first run went well, the thick snow increased the intensity despite slowing me down. Two days later, temperatures fell to -12 C (10 degrees F) turning all that snow into ice.

This was the last run for me and the hardest to reach the intensity I required. The ice was too slick. I was lucky that was the final run, since a second snowstorm hit the following day making it almost impossible to walk, let alone run anywhere.

By the end of the month, Vancouver had experienced its wettest and coldest November in its recorded history, with a total accumulation of over 14 inches of rain and 17.3 inches of snow. Despite all that, I completed my goal of 16 one-mile sprints over four weeks.

The Tally

On November 29th, I went in for my second dip in the hydrostatic tank to see if I'd made it to my goal of 8.5 pounds of body fat lost without changing my diet or weight training regimes. Here's the final result.

Method Date Body fat % Fat Pounds Total fat lost
Hydrostatic tank 11/1/06 19.7 43.0 -
Tanita body fat scale 11/1/06 10.9 23.4 -
Precision Nutrition Skinfold - - - -
Hydrostatic tank 11/29/06 17.6 37.1 5.9 lbs
Tanita body fat scale 11/29/06 9.4 19.9 3.5 lbs
Precision Nutrition Skinfold 11/29/06 12.7 26.9 -

Clearly, the results are all over the map, but since the hydrostatic tank is widely regarded as the most reliable of the three methods, I'll use those numbers for my comparisons and as penance for believing my Tanita scale for too many years.

Mid-way through the month, Dr. John Berardi released his results tracker for Precision Nutrition members, so I've begun to use this method because, quite frankly, I have a hard time believing I have a 32 inch waist while holding 37 pounds of fat on my 212 pound frame. So at the end of the day, I'm between 17.6 and 9.4% body fat.

Lessons Learned

The first eye-opening experience was my body fat percentage. I can honestly say I have no idea what it really is. From here on in I'll be using all three methods once a month until one of those methods proves less accurate/precise than the other two. In all honesty, I knew my Tanita scale wasn't all that reliable, and I'd indeed fallen victim to listening to what I wanted to hear.

I thought I could intuitively keep myself in line as far as my body fat went. I've now come to admit that "men's intuition" comes right after leprechauns in The Book of Things that Don't Exist. I've booked monthly appointments over the next year for the hydrostatic tank and will continue to use the Precision Nutrition tracker diligently.

Second, I still had the willpower to get out there in the rain, wind, and snow to get the job done. That snowstorm was when it really hit home for me. I hadn't run in the snow since I was 297 pounds. The old saying of "doing the actions no one else will do gives you results no one else could achieve" is the truth to the core.

The psychological aspect of the run really ended after the first day. After that I had no more fat-guy flashbacks. Sure, people looked at me with curious apprehension, but it really had no effect on me anymore. The fat guy I used to be no longer exists.

Each run was brutal, but I felt good doing it. All the time I spent in the old days where I really needed to take stock of myself is no longer required. Most importantly, when the run was over, I took off my 90 pounds of "fat" as I dropped the vests on the floor. That says it all.

Over time, free will played a significant role. Once I knew how difficult and demanding this experiment was becoming, I had to eliminate the time required to psych myself up and instead put the Xvests on as soon as I came home. Essentially, I removed the time required to make the decision.

I did end up with hip problems over the course of the four weeks, restricting movements, and will require some ART over the next month or so. Cressey and Robertson's Magnificent Mobility DVD kept me in one piece over the month of November and they have my thanks. I also added Flameout to my supplement arsenal of caffeine-free Spike and Metabolic Drive to help with recovery.

In Defense of Dr. Lowery's "100 Workouts"

It must be stated that my goal was never to "call out" Dr. Lowery or his training principles. His accomplishments and education speak for themselves. From reading his 100 Workouts article it appears Dr. Lowery's goal was to instill consistency. I agree wholeheartedly that the average trainee who's not getting the desired result will have a significant lack of consistency in his training, diet, and life in general. I agree that consistency is the golden rule most commonly ignored.

Secondly, the whole idea of publishing Dr. Lowery's article in February was to evoke a sense of urgency in getting lean for the summer and give the reader an early start in the process. "100 Workouts" is more about developing these all-important daily habits than it is about rapid fat loss. Time management was addressed, although getting up at 5 AM every other day to deal with it isn't my personal favorite method. My article was instead focused on getting more bang per minute.

Dr. Lowery was clearly trying to help the reader form good habits; my experiment didn't have that intended effect. Yet the result of this experiment inspired just that. I'll be keeping high intensity exercise as a staple of fat loss and control, but I won't continue using this extreme example of it. Instead I'll be using Christian Thibaudeau's Running Man intervals as a template for further fat loss. I sprint on a treadmill three times a week with a 40 pound Xvest as my new method of fat burning.

Final Results

  Time spent Calendar time Fat loss Fat lost per workout
100 Workouts 100 hours (100%) 28 weeks 8.5 Pounds* (100%) 0.085 Lb*
One Mile 3 hrs, 2 mins (3%) 4 weeks 5.9 Pounds (69%) 0.37 Lb

* Based on the assumption 100% of calories burned during exercise come from stored fat.

So I missed my goal of 8.5 pounds lost in four weeks. I can concede that and hold my head up high. Dr. Lowery's experiment would require 100 hours of your time; mine took little more than three hours. What shouldn't be missed is getting over two-thirds of the desired result in 97% less time than the original "Ripped City" article.

The final result has shown me this is the way to go from here on in. I believe this will be more effective long-term than any kind of marathon, low intensity endurance work.

But Dr. Lowery and I both agree there's more than one way to skin a cat; together we've provided two ways (poor cat!). At the end of the day you get to choose which method would work best for you.

Additional Notes: Xvest Illuminations

  • Don't try to outrun a yellow light with 90 pounds of Xvests on.
  • Leaving 90 pounds of Xvests on your couch overnight makes the couch look like a hammock by morning.
  • Don't put on two Xvests before you realize your shoes aren't on your feet, but are instead at the bottom of the stairs.
  • Excited, small dogs are good incentive to improve your speed...or you can fall on top of them instead.
  • Snowmen don't mock you as you run past them, so don't shout manically at them. Besides, they're fatter than you anyways.