Achilles and the tortoise

Among my standard New Year resolutions for quite a few years has been to work on my weight training to the point where I can bench-press my own weight. When I moved to Brisbane, I decided to tackle this seriously by getting a home gym setup (it only costs the same as year’s membership in a commercial gym), and I’ve been working pretty steadily all year.

At the end of 2003, I’d reached my original goal – 72kg. Sad to say, however, a visit to the scales revealed that, in the years since I first made this resolution, the goalposts had shifted, and I am still quite a few kilos short of my objective. I suspect continuation of my original strategy will keep me in the position of Achilles chasing the tortoise, so this years resolution will have to include “get on your bike”.

However, although lycra-clad cyclists whizz past my door every morning, I find summer in Brisbane a bit hot for daytime cycling, so I may have to substitute swimming for the moment.

Alert readers will notice that I haven’t mentioned the D-word. I don’t plan to, either.

14 thoughts on “Achilles and the tortoise

  1. nah stick to the weights…like achilles…you will pass the tortoise…

    dont they teach you economists the idea of limits?

    anyhoo, burning calories by doing weights is a better way to burn off the useless (unless famine strikes brisbane) fat than by doing cardio, because your body will have more muscle at the end, which means your resting metabolism is higher (with more active tissue)

    also, getting on the bike may just atrophy your pecs if you are already a fairly low body fat percentage…

    anyhoo…keep having fun…im not sure whether i can bench press my own weight…but i can certainly hold it off a couple of fingers:

    (have to show off my friends photography)

  2. The first thing you have to do is get that big brain working! The dilemma you face is a simple matter of inputs and outputs. Denying the input factor will almost certainly ensure failure!

    On the input side, you can keep your diet, but reduce the high energy inputs like fats. Avoid cheese like it’s poison. Then slightly decrease the the size of meat on your plate and increase the pile of rabbit and bird food. Forget about carbohydrates, they’re OK, just do what your doing now.

    On the output side, it’s a matter of getting the most work done in a reasonable space of time. You need to lift your weight against gravity, using your most powerful muscles – ie. upright using those big quads!

    Your arms are too weak to get much net output. Most people in gyms are into body-sculpting, not weight control.

    Swimming is a problem. It depends too much on your arms, while partial flotation saves you from gravity. I’m also told it increases your appetite. Water-dwelling mammals can get quite fat, whereas you don’t see many fat birds flying around.

    Running can produce aches and strains, so walking is a good compromise. In St Lucia you have the choice of flat or hills, so I reckon that is the way to go, with a plunge into the water just to get the sweat off at the end!

  3. I am an avid cyclist. You CAN ride at night, and you will find there are benefits. Planet Bike has an inexpensive light for ~ US$90.00 that will light your way with 10w of power for 2 hours.

    Do it, John. I have commuted to work (minimum 12.5 miles one way) since 1994 and love it.

    Oh, and your extra weight will fall right off.


  4. personally, i dont think the input side is that important…

    weve been built to eat whatever is available to keep us alive…but doing so we were constantly exercising to get whatever that food was…we were constantly walking up until about 100 years ago…

    overconsumption was probably very rare…but otherwise just eat what you can get…

    this is just a wild theory at the moment…

  5. Cardio takes weight off, muscle building doesn’t even though it’s really satisfying. Cycling is the best. Cycle touring with a fully loaded bike is great, you feel so good at the end of each day. I rode across the Nullarbor once and from Amstrdam to Amsterdam via the North of France once. Think about cycle touring one holiday. It’s hard but so enjoyable and it sure takes weight off.

  6. thats totally rubbish…

    pushing weights is a much better way to lose weight than cardio…

    all you have to do to lose weight is burn more calories than you put in…it doest matter how you burn them…

    BUT…if you build muscle, which is active tissue, while burning the calories, your new more muscular body will burn more calories resting than did your old fatty body (or a skinny less muscle body if you just did cardio)

  7. Hmm do both. Building muscle is good for loosing the fat, while biking is good for raising the your heart rate for long periods without causing all the joint damage that most other forms of exercise tend to do.

  8. It really depends on what your aim is. If power is a priority, then weights would seem mandatory. If you just want to stabilise your weight and maybe peg it back a bit, then altering the long-term balance of inputs and outputs through smallish but consistent changes in diet and exercise may be the way to go.

    I say “may be” because everyone is different and what works for some definitely does not work for others.

    One problem is boredom. Most experts reckon a new regime often breaks down around the 3-6 week mark. So it’s better to do something that you can do consistently and that is intrinsically enjoyable, at a time that is not going to be interrupted or dislodged.

    Variety can help, so maybe Pr Q could just take the long way home (or to work) via a half hour walk (or 15 mins – anything is better than nothing)then add 1 or 2 aerobic sessions of swimming per week, plus 1 or 2 cycle sessions at times that are convenient. The walking provides a base and 2 aerobic sessions pw can give a slight cardio training effect.

    Some find that without the endorphin release from a good aerobic session they don’t get enough appetite suppression to make a difference. But if you get into serious cardio, you need to pay attention to heart rates during exercise and stretching exercises after exercise.

    I’ve been working on this stuff personally for 25 years, with good results. I’m actually lighter now than I was when I stopped growing at age 13. I hear a lot about it on the radio from time to time and once spent 3 months in sessions with exercise physiologists. If you are disposed to seek advice, my advice is to seek out qualified exercise physiologists. Most of the advisers running around gyms only have a quickie course.

  9. “One problem is boredom. Most experts reckon a new regime often breaks down around the 3-6 week mark. So it’s better to do something that you can do consistently and that is intrinsically enjoyable, at a time that is not going to be interrupted or dislodged.”

    This advice should be taken in context and applied judiciously. After all, it pretty much describes what Rock Hudson used to do. His only significant form of exercise was participating in activities in San Francisco bathhouses. It didn’t pay off in the long run.

  10. all you have to do to lose weight is burn more calories than you put in…it doest matter how you burn them…


    running a little late here, but while the first part of the statement is true, but the second is probably only true if time were not limited.

    You can exercise at low-moderate levels (heart rate around 60-75% of maximum) for LONG periods and have calories out > calories in eventually.

    You can exercise at high intensity levels for short periods (such as weight lifting). The difficulty here is that muscle fatigue will likely kick in long before you spend enough time to get calories out > calories in. Of course, you moderate the effect by doing sub-maximal lifts for longer periods. Heart rates are not necessarily a good measure of effort here because muscle fatigue may prevent long enough at a sufficient work level.

    The alternative is to spend consistent time in the moderate to high work level (75-85% HR) or higher (up to around 90% for extremely short durations).

    In terms of efficient use of time, that’s the quickest way to play with weight.

    That’s where cycling, swimming, skiing, rollerblading etc come in.

    Of course, if doing gym work is makes you happy, you can do it all there.

    Like my cycling buddies say – I don’t eat to ride, I ride to eat.


    Christopher (who was very happy when the evidence came out that the opportunity cost of doing gym work (as against time on the bike) provided no additional benefits…haven’t been to a gym in years!)

  11. That all makes sense, Christopher, but I want to say that when I was exercising under supervision, as an older guy, they weren’t too happy about me going beyond 80% heart rate. Worried about being sued, no doubt.

    The notion of “roving” is not a bad one. You work at a base rate of 60 to 70% or a bit more and then surge to about 80% for a minute or so at a time.

    For those who don’t know, maximum heart rate is roughly 220 minus your age.

    The standard advice is to consult your doc before undertaking a significant exercise program. If you’re unduly short of breath, tired, or have a pain the source of which is not readily identified (not necessarily in the chest) then get thee to a doctor post haste!

  12. The low carb diet doesn’t work with cycling or running. Neither does any other diet that tries to exclude something the body needs (like no-fat diets, etc). Weight Watchers is OK, but I generally just increase my fiber intake and exercise when the scale starts to climb.

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