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The Ownership Principle at Work
The ownership principle is the subject of the final chapter in my book Lean for Life. It says, in brief, that the health and fitness program you design for yourself -- after careful study and probably a lot of trial and error -- works best. It’s a program developed for your own situation, which may be a lot like many others or perhaps quite unique. The important thing is that you invest the time and effort to devise the plan. You make the rules, and you are responsible for the results. You own it.
We’ve heard many success stories over the years, but few are as insightful and compelling as that of Bill Peper, a lawyer fast approaching his 40th birthday. Rarely have we seen a better illustrations of the ownership principle at work. We usually do not accept unsolicited articles, but we couldn’t resist Bill Peper’s detailed and thoughtful account of his ongoing transformation from "desperately out of shape" to a state of improvement he would not have dreamed possible only a short time ago. "The best is yet to come," says Bill. And we believe it. Success breeds success, and he’s made a wonderful start. Importantly, he knows how he did it and has a plan for further improvement. Bill Peper has taking charge of his own destiny. He’s well on his way to a lifetime of fitness and health.
Whether you’re just getting started or have been training for a long time, we believe you’ll enjoy and benefit from his "interim report."
Toward Fitness at 40
by Bill Peper
Last July I finally decided to do something about my health and physical appearance. I saw a picture of myself without a shirt, and I could not believe my eyes. Years of very gradual weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle left me with a 40 inch waist and nearly 250 pounds. My one-year-old son was not going to have a father who died a premature death because I neglected my health. I finally reached the point where the issue became not whether, but, rather, how I would make a major lifestyle change.
This is the photo that motivated Bill to action,
along with another that he describes
as his "worst ever." They both show him with his one-year old son,
Nicholas, weighing almost 250 with a 40 inch waist. (Photos courtesy of Bill Peper)
Always goal-oriented, I decided that I would strive to be in the best shape of my life at 40. This gave me 20 months. I knew that I needed to eat better and exercise. My plan called for two phases. The first phase would involve getting back in good cardiovascular shape, eating better, and losing 25 pounds. I figured that this phase would take a year. Phase II would include strength training and whatever other training necessary to meet my goal.
Being an analytic, I searched the net for how to go about constructing an effective exercise program that would fit my schedule and budget. My search quickly lead me to the website of Clarence Bass (www.cbass.com) The first article I read on his site described a fitness phenomenon of the 1980s, Heavyhands. The premise of the Heavyhands program - intensifying aerobic movements with light hand weights - seemed logical. I found a used copy of the book on the Internet, and within a week I began the program.
That same website also played a major role in altering my diet for the better. While I knew that I should avoid ultra-fattening foods, I had very little knowledge about basic nutrition. Clarence Bass' site had several informative articles and recommended a number books that I found very helpful, including Bass' several books, How to Lower Your Fat Thermostat (Remington, et. al) and Biomarkers (Evans and Rosenberg). I also found Thin for Life (Anne Fletcher) extremely useful.
I started reducing my caloric intake largely by avoiding the stupid calories that had become a staple of my diet. I replaced the Super-Sized Double Whopper combo (with a cheeseburger chaser) -- featuring over 85 grams of fat and about 2000 total calories -- with yogurt, non-cream soups, oatmeal and fruit. Eliminating alcohol, fattening snacks and desserts almost entirely was easy, as I was working hard exercising and did not want to have to burn off any new fat. While I still have a long way to go in this area, my diet has improved dramatically.
Despite my busy schedule, I found that the 45 minutes before I would have awoken was always open. I made exercise a scheduling priority, and it happened. Determined to make this project a success, I was not in a hurry to start. I read Heavyhands and bought a metronome and a heart rate monitor to keep me honest, as recommended. I eased into the program, and did some supplemental work on my stationary bike (previously known as "the basement dust collector") when I was sore from the Heavyhands routine.
I exercised nearly every day for the first few months. While the first few sessions were a bear, I was motivated to continue to exercise as I saw nearly immediate results. Combined with my much-improved eating habits, I dropped weight very quickly. I lost 30 pounds in 8 weeks, and to this point I have lost 42 pounds - and 5 inches off my waist! I weigh 15 pounds less than I had previously thought was my lowest possible weight.
Bill at the end of phase 1, weighing about 204. The
shows clearly in his face. He promises another photo at the end
of phase 2, when he turns 40. (Photo courtesy of Bill Peper)
After a few months of progress, I decided to investigate a different exercise protocol. While I knew Heavyhands was effective, I wanted to see if I could maintain my good results with a more infrequent, more intense regimen. Once fit, I found that I could do interval sprints on my stationary bike - which has a push/pull arm action - a couple of times a week and improve my fitness level with only a minimal time investment. This was an exciting development, and I still look forward to these high intensity aerobic workouts. My current aerobic routine takes about 14 minutes. I increase my intensity for several minutes until my heart rate reaches 160 beats per minutes. I stay at or above 160 for 3 minutes, and then do a cool-down for approximately 5 minutes. That is it. Although it is a brief program, I have continued to lose weight and become more fit exercising less than an hour a week.
I am excited about Phase II, which should start officially this week. I bought a bench, some weights, and a chin/dip station. I am waiting on Stuart McRobert's Insider's Tell_All Handbook on Weight Training Technique to make sure that I lift with proper form and avoid injury. I plan to lift twice a week in a HIT fashion. These sessions will also include my aerobic work and a stretching protocol. Barring injury, I am confident that I will far exceed my original goal - and that I will be in better shape at 45 than 40!
In reviewing my Phase I experience, I learned several important lessons:
1. The key decision was to retake control over my own health. Ultimately, I am responsible for maintaining my health. I thank God that I turned my health around before I had a stroke or a heart attack. I cringe when I think of my previous lifestyle habits.
2. Getting back in shape was easier than I thought. Despite my poor starting condition, I was able to achieve better results than I dreamed possible in a relatively short time. Only during the first few sessions did I have difficulty in motivating myself.
3. My deconditioned, middle-aged body responded to diet and exercise. It is amazing to me that my body responded so quickly to the changes I made in my diet and exercise routine. Becoming unfit as one ages is not automatic, but rather is the result of an undisciplined lifestyle.
4. There is no one "perfect" training program. My path to fitness needed to adapt to my schedule and budget - and to my constantly evolving goals. No single program would have achieved the results I attained by combining elements of several approaches. Experimenting to find a routine that is effective and enjoyable is critical.
5. Intensity is a major key to success. Half-hearted, unfocused effort leads to poor results in every area of life, especially exercise. There is little benefit in exercising for long periods of time at a relatively low intensity level. Workout intensely for a few brief sessions a week, and use the extra time to better yourself in areas of your life that matter even more than exercise.
6. Heavyhands works! This was a great protocol for starting a program, especially for me as I had not exercised regularly in a long time. It was flexible and offered a variety of exercises. I never left my basement. I particularly enjoyed the shadowboxing movements. It required very little equipment (although I recommend a heart rate monitor and a metronome) and even non-athletes can pick it up quickly. Give the book as a gift to a friend or relative who does not exercise.
7. I rediscovered the joy of pushing myself physically. There is a great satisfaction that comes from accomplishing a difficult physical challenge. I had forgotten how rewarding this could be.
8. Exercise does not need to take a lot of time to be effective. By working intensely, I can achieve terrific results in much less time per week than I had realized. I could not exercise every day at my present level of intensity. I plan on limiting my total exercise regimen to less than two hours a week, even during Phase II.
9. Figuring out what to do was not rocket science. I needed to eat better and exercise. When asked my "secret" for losing weight, I respond "Exercise and not eating like a pig."
10. I needed a permanent change in lifestyle, not a quick fix. I am not on a diet, nor am I on a temporary exercise program. The changes I have made to my lifestyle are permanent. My focus now is how to make evenfurther improvements to achieve even better results.
11. Eating better was not hard. It has been amazing how easy it has been to change my eating habits. Healthier foods can be every bit as satisfying. I also find that I can still eat a lot of food without piling up the calories. I also no longer feel compelled to eat until I am stuffed to the gills.
12. Eating better does not mean eating perfectly. There is no food that is completely off limits. If I want to splurge and have an occasional treat, I merely ratchet up my exercise slightly or slightly reduce my caloric intake.
13. Momentary setbacks are not fatal. If for whatever reason I gain back a few pounds or miss some workouts, there is always tomorrow. At least I won't be digging myself out of the hole that I was in when I first decided to reform my lifestyle.
14. Cardiovascular fitness is very important, especially in becoming and staying lean. Aerobics provided a "great bang" for my "exercise buck" and should be a part of every exercise routine. The health benefits are enormous. My resting pulse is now around 54, down from 68 at the beginning of Phase I.
15. It is possible to get back in shape without lifting weights. The heaviest weight I lifted during Phase I was an 8 pound dumbbell. While I am convinced that weight lifting will help me achieve my goals in Phase II effectively, weight lifting per se is certainly not necessary to obtain great results.
16. The best exercise program is one that is challenging, but not too challenging. I am glad that I did not jump directly into a weight lifting program. I needed the time to adjust to a new lifestyle and to get back in shape. I fear that if I had tried to do too much too soon, I may have quit. Set reasonable goals and work toward them with all deliberate speed.
17. The best is yet to come! I have a number of areas that need improvement, especially in terms of my diet. I will never reach perfection in terms of my health and physical appearance, but I will do my best to live as long and to remain as healthy as possible. Anything less is unacceptable.
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