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Beating Failure: How I Brought my Fitness Level to A-

Untitled drawing (2)Confession: My personal training career almost never started. Not because I didn’t have the know-how. Not because I didn’t have the drive to wake up and push people to achieve amazing results. It was not from a lack of passion for health and fitness. The problem was this: I didn’t measure up to my own standards. I took a good hard look in the mirror and this is what I saw: body fat. Not a lot, just a little bit. Just enough to question myself and think, “This is not the body of a TRUE fitness professional.”

I remember sharing my (looking back, irrational) thoughts with my wife Jaki. In a voice that rang with self-doubt and unconfidence, I pinched my six-pack-less abs and said, “Look at this.”

“Look at what?” she said.

“This! This flab! I don’t know about this whole personal training thing.” My sarcastic sense of humor began to erupt in series of self-ridiculing questions and statements. “What am I going to do? Tell people, ‘You can almost achieve your goals with Glen?’ Maybe I should start an ad campaign: ‘Are you ready for 4-pack abs? Then get started with Glen Gosch today!’ Or ‘Get Glen Gosch’s ‘Not Quite Ripped’ fitness plan, and you too can be better than average.’”

After laughing a little at my Not Quite Ripped ad campaign rant, Jaki responded, “You look good Glen. There are a lot of people that would love to look as good as you.”

That was the problem. I didn’t want to look “good,” I wanted to look GREAT! I wanted to look ripped!

Once upon a time… I was ripped.

The thing is, I have been there before. In high school and shortly after, I boasted the six pack. I remember one time I went to the mall with some girlfriends and one of the vendors was doing free body fat tests – I think it was a supplement shop or something. Anyway, I measured in at 5% if I remember right. My girlfriend and her friend took their measurements and subsequently each gave me a visual “#$%! YOU!”

Back then, it was easy. My pre-workout meal was Taco Bell, and my post-workout meal often composed of a Colossal Burger (pastrami, beef patty, cheese, 1000 Island dressing, a leaf of lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a bun) and fries washed down with a Coke from a local burger joint called Yellow Basket in my hometown of Temecula.

Unfortunately, that diet doesn’t work too well past age 20 for most people.

Fast forward to more recent times…

I gained a bunch of weight in my twenties. I tipped the scale at about 213 pounds – and I know weight is relative, but believe me, 213 pounds is way too big for my frame. Eventually I had a breaking point where I said, “Enough!”

Long story, short: I lost about 50 pounds. I felt great and looked good.

But now I wanted more. I wanted to look like I did in high school.

I got close, but unlike the diet I followed back in my hay day of ripped-hood, I had to really dial things in. I tracked my macronutrients intensely. I worked out hard. I prepared every meal from scratch. A “cheat” meal was a Lean Cuisine meal. I got down to around 10 or 11 percent body fat with this. Then I got stuck. I could not break the double digit fat percentage barrier that was blocking me and all of my hard work from the Holy Grail of fitness: The six pack abs.

For a while I maintained that weight and body fat percentage and didn’t go as strict on the diet. I would have some beer here and there and the occasional dessert, but overall stayed pretty clean with my eating.

Then I heard about this diet “cleanse” from Tony Horton (the P90X guy) in his book “Bring It!” I figured if I wanted to look like the guy in P90X, I should eat like the guy in P90X. This is nothing like a faddish lemon juice cleanse or anything either. This involved no calorie fasting and no calorie restrictions. Here is how it went:

Week 1: Eliminate coffee and caffeine-containing products and alcohol. Also eliminate foods with added sugar and other processed foods.
Week 2: Eliminate gluten-containing products.
Week 3: Eliminate dairy products.
Week 4: Eliminate all other animal products.

Only I decided to do it all in one week.

I maintained this for about 5 months. Seriously. I was a bartender, with my old friends Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and that old Canadian fellow who simply went by “Crown” around me at all times, and I did not touch any of them (well, I touched them – they just went into a patron’s shot glass and not my own). I brought vegan meals to work with me. I was “that guy” – special-ordering vegan meals at restaurants. At Thanksgiving I splurged with about 6 ounces of turkey and I think I might have had some fish and chicken a time or two in that 5-month period, but that was it.

The result: I got down to 145 pounds and about 8 or 9 percent body fat. I could see the lines in my abs. Victory. Er – sort of. I was not yet satisfied. Something was pissing me off. I didn’t look like I did at age 19 with the 5% body fat. The truth is, even though I was incredibly lean; even though it was uncomfortable to sit for long periods of time due to a lack of fat on my butt; even though I had veins showing on my neck; even though… it was not good enough. I wouldn’t even take a picture of my body at 145 pounds because I didn’t think I looked ripped enough. I did not yet look like I was supposed to look. When I looked in the mirror, all I could see was this thin layer of fat around my stomach that stuck out like a turd in a punch bowl (at least in my eyes). I did not look like a fitness model or even like my teenage self, and it frustrated the hell out of me!

At this point I started getting the comments: “You’ve lost too much weight” and “You look too skinny.” Too skinny? I wasn’t done yet! I still had to drop at least another 2% of my body fat to look like I wanted to.

After months (which was really a culmination of a year) of really trying to cut down to that 5 or 6 percent body fat, I had still not reached my ultimate goal.

At the end of one of my graveyard bartending shifts – I worked 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. in a small 24-hour casino – my friend Tanya came in to relieve me and take over for the day shift. She told me, “Today is the first day of Lent. But… with the lifestyle you’re living, I guess you really don’t have anything to give up, huh? You don’t eat meat, don’t drink, don’t eat sweets, don’t even eat bread – what could you give up?”

I had one of those moments, you know, where about a thousand thoughts run through your head in 3.5 seconds. A whole bunch of “why’s.” Why do I need to get so ripped? Why do I need to eat so restricted? Why this, and why that. What am I really accomplishing here? On a scale of 1 to 10, my diet was a 10.7 (an A+), yet I still felt like a failure. I sighed. “Maybe I’ll give up being vegan.”

“That’s not fair!”

“Maybe not. Will you order me some bacon and eggs? And I’ll have a Sierra Nevada.”

“Okay, then.” A smile came my way which was reciprocated back.

Life after Vegan

So, I came to realize the whole six pack quest is sort of a pain in the ass and I went on with a not-so-strict diet. With this I returned to my godforsaken state of the double-digit fat realm.

Oh, see Glen, that’s the problem. You have to try the Paleo diet. Tried it.

No, no, no. Intermittent Fasting, that’s the way to go. Tried that too.

Maybe you’re not eating enough calories. Not an issue.

Maybe you need to eat more fat, more protein, less fat, or less protein.

No, no – double no! Don’t you know anything about leptin?

I’ve been down all of these roads, none of which had brought me complete rippedness. Because, at the time, I still wanted to hit that freaking six pack goal. I was willing to do whatever it took to get there. I wanted my abs up on Mount Ripped-more with Tony Horton, Bob Harper, Shaun T, and Jack LaLanne.

Then, I just said, “Screw it!”

Enter the A- Approach

Back to modern-day. Right now I am at about 12 to 14 percent body fat. I might dip down to 10 or 11 percent if I eat clean for a month or two. Here’s the thing though: I eat pizza, ice cream, bacon, eggs, and cheese. I pretty much eat what I want. BUT, there’s a catch. I also WANT to eat healthy things. I have no intention of finding that 50 pounds of fat that I lost over 4 years ago, and eating healthy was a big part of that weight loss. I truthfully enjoy salad, raw vegetables, a bowl of cold fresh fruit, a healthy smoothie – and those are the things I eat most of the time.

My workouts are similar. I train how I want, when I want to. Sometimes I only work out 3 days per week. Sometimes I really feel like training hard for several weeks or months in a row. Most times, I train 4 or 5 days per week. What am I training for if there is no race, no competition, and no award to be won? My 100th birthday party.

Some of the time I give my workout and diet routine an “A” grade, sometimes I am running a low “B” and exercising the 80/20 rule (80 percent clean, 20 percent not-so-clean – i.e. cookies, ice cream, white pasta, etc).

Over the course of year, that averages out to about 90% – an “A-” on the grading scale.

I can do over 20 pull ups, but you won’t find me breaking any deadlift records. I can run a 10K without puking, but the thought of running 26.2 miles makes me a little queasy. I am not ripped, I am fit. I can keep up with my kids playing at the park, I can do push ups of varying degrees, I can lift heavy things without throwing out my back, I have stamina (in the gym and elsewhere). I don’t get a medal or prize for any of these things, but I feel pretty damn good about myself.
When it comes to diet I eat fairly “clean.” I eat salad, organic fruits and veggies, lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds – mostly whole, nutritious foods. I also eat a hot dog, a slice (okay, several slices) of pizza, donuts, ice cream, bacon, and an occasional glass of wine when I feel like it.
Here’s what I DO NOT do: I do not take an “all or nothing” approach. Other than taking some time off for an injury, I can’t think of any time in the last 4 or 5 years that I have not worked out at least 3 days in a week. I can’t think of any time when my diet on a scale of 1 to 10 was below an 8 – 80%, B-. Okay, maybe between the week of Christmas and New Years it’s 75%, but you get the point.

I could be wrong, but I think a lot of people would fare pretty well with this A- approach. I think a lot of people go for that 110% with their diet and workouts, but then burn out on it. It goes a little something like this:

January: Time to get ripped! 6 days of working out, never missing a workout. Score: 100/100, A.
February: I’m not quite ripped yet. Hmmm… Maybe I’ll work out a little more – twice a day on some days. Score: 110/100, A+.
March: Why don’t I look like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (or Scarlett Johansson) yet??? This sucks! And things are getting busy with work, kids, home, etc. Working out when I feel like it: Score: 60/100, D.
April: Crap. I think gained some weight back. Better hit it hard again. Score: 90/100, A-.
2nd half of April: I don’t have time to work out 5 or 6 days per week right now – A.K.A too busy to work out at all. Score: 0/100, F.
May: Spotty workouts. Score 6/10, D.
June through December: More sporadic workouts for an average score of 40/100, F.

Score for the year: F

I followed a routine like that from about age 24 to 29. But now, here is how I work out over the course of a year:

January: Everyone else is working out hard, so I’ll join in too. Work out 6 days per week. Score: 100/100, A.
February: As much as I like a 6-day schedule, I’m going down a little. Work out 5 days per week. Score: 95/100, A.
March: Have a bunch of things going on. Work out 3 days per week on average with some active rest activities in between – helping with kids’ sports, etc. Score: 80/100.
April: Back to the 4 or 5 day per week plan. Score: 90/100, A-.
May: I’m just not feeling it. Maintaining with 3 days per week. Score: 80/100, B-.
So far, a 89% grade. Not bad.
June through December: 100, 100, 80, 90, 90, 85, 90.
Score for the year: 90%, A-

I know some people teach differently. It needs to be all-in, all-the-time. It’s probably more of a personality thing. There is certainly nothing wrong in my eyes with getting ripped for a bodybuilding physique challenge/competition. Some of my friends are triathletes, and I think there is something to be said for challenging the body in that way – if that’s your thing. All of these things bring forth a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, which is great.

Right now though, for me, this 90% grade seems to work. It keeps me in good shape, and now that I have come to terms that I might not get to Mount Ripped-more, I can focus a little more clearly on other things in life – this blog being one of them.

A- in other areas of life

This A- thing – never allowing to get below 80% – got me thinking… this does not only apply to diet and fitness. Recently I’ve had to ask myself, “Where am I at with the following things in life?”

Fitness
Diet
Showing appreciation toward my wife
Spending time with my kids
Career
Spiritual life
Personal development
Missional contribution

Am I operating at less than a “B” grade with any of these?

What if my whole life ran at this A-, or at least a B+ average in all of these areas. How balanced and happy would I be?

What did you think of this article? Let me know in the comments! And if you got something valuable out of this, feel free to share!

 
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© Glen Gosch Fitness | Fitness at A-