It is possible to be a skinny lardass?
August 10, 2012 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I have literally (yes, literally) never stepped foot in a paid gym in my life. I'm a 27-year-old male, who (despite being almost rail-thin) is only "in shape" enough to bike-sprint the 1.7 miles to work, then back in the evening. It's time to change that, so I signed up for the small, limited (cheap!) gym on campus. Other than "get the professional help of a personal trainer", what should I do there?

I used to do long bike rides on the weekends (35-70 miles), but some sort of injury to my knee (previously) sidelined me and I never got back on the horse, despite commuting every day. (I also never got around to getting the bike fitting...)

My goal isn't to bulk up. I tried that one summer in college with this book, but a guy can only eat so many 1-pound pesto/egg/cheese meatloaf-burgers and accompanying entire bags of spinach. Time-consuming and expensive. (Plus, my HDL cholesterol is low, and the wife doesn't eat mammals. Excuses everywhere.)

Instead, I just want to get generally "in shape". I don't want to wake up 30% heavier in ten years. I want to improve my posture (I slouch), lower my resting heart rate (73 right now, sitting at my desk; never lower than ~64), maybe lose a inch of belly-softness (or replace it with muscle), and generally get all those positive energy and mood benefits of exercise that I hear people talk about. "Runner's body" would be ideal, I guess? (Though I don't really like/have much experience with running.)

My inclination would just be to ride the stationary bike for a one-hour high-intensity workout on weekday mornings (though not so high to aggravate my knee again), then longer on the weekends. I'm intrigued by free weights, but I really would be starting from zero, and I'm not sure if that helps with my current fitness goals.

(Side question: do people riding stationary bikes at the gym wear cycling shorts? Is that a ridiculous question to ask?)

My dream is to get in shape enough to do some solo bike light touring (on the order of 60-100 mi/day, not heavily loaded) without totally bottoming out and dying.

Any thoughts, MeFi? I'm really a fitness neophyte, and I don't want to hurt myself or waste my time. If the answer is, "Pay the damn $75 to get an assessment and a couple PT sessions!" that's totally valid. So is, "You're beanplating! Just get off your ass and do ANYTHING!"

(Previously, which is pretty close. My wife's sort-of-similar previous Q, which didn't turn out to be a good long-term fit.)

posted by supercres to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
There's a fairly good website, targeted at women but with good advice also applicable to men here:

posted by Comrade_robot at 1:38 PM on August 10, 2012

Yes it's possible to be skinny fat. Almost everyone you know who isn't fat is skinny fat.

I don't really get what your after. I'm not sure you know either.

If your "dream" is to do solo bike touring then train for that. So what if you hurt your knee before? Just start biking again. Just go out and ride rain or shine.

Have less time and want to get more training in? Load up a backpack with some weights. Want to get the psychological part down of riding for a long time? Then go out and ride for a long time.

I don't know what your diet is like but if you're eating clean, not in excess, and biking a ton, you'll probably get pretty nice looking legs, bring your overall bf% down and get into good "shape."
posted by zephyr_words at 1:55 PM on August 10, 2012

Response by poster: Slight clarification: What I'm after is all-around fitness for an extreme gym newbie, with an eye towards endurance events like "credit card" bike touring. Actual biking is great, but I really don't want to have to schedule around the weather (disgustingly humid) and unpredictable group rides. Outside of group rides, I have to deal with the stress of navigation... Let's just say that for the purposes of general fitness, I want to stay in the gym and not be on the road for now.
posted by supercres at 2:04 PM on August 10, 2012

If you want to do bike touring, you should train for it. I don't know what this means exactly as I only do casual biking, but yeah, I would guess that it probably means a combination of the occasional long ride in concert with lower duration higher intensity kinda like you would for running or other endurance cardio. Where you do something like pace rides, pyramid/interval training, and long rides. I would try the recumbent bikes if you can and see if it helps with your knee issues while riding. Also, maybe lots of lunges/squats for strengthening supporting muscles.

Wear whatever you want to the gym, if it makes your chosen excercise comfortable and safe. No one will care. I have seen people in bike shorts for spinning classes/upright bikes, not so much on the recumbent type. If you want to wear them, do it. If the tightness is embarrassing and you still want the padding, throw a pare of loose basketball type mesh shorts over 'em.

Re: Freeweights. For posture and belly firming you will probably want do do some weightlifting to strengthen your core. You will probably get a lot of (good) suggestions for following something like a stronglifts 5x5 or starting strength workout for an overall workout. If you havent ever lifted before it's a good idea to either pay a PT to help teach you correct form, or, just make friends at the gym (or bring your own). Watch people who are doing exercises that you want to do, and ask them to help spot you/correct your form. People are usually very friendly! Watch youtube videos of good form, and practice by a mirror in the gym for a while until things feel and look good, then up the weight.
posted by McSwaggers at 2:22 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Grab a copy of "Body For Life" and follow the program for three months or whatever it is he says to do. This is easy as pie, can be done in any gym no matter how crappy or ill equipped and will get you fit/ strong enough to move on to free weights and more intense kinds of exercise this winter. For the cardiovascular portions rude your bike or do Couch to 5 k outdoors for variety.

I recommend this to all my friends in your position, I used it myself after spending half a year on crutches. It is easy and pretty safe for beginners and people with no experience lifting. Take the 3-4 months to do an intro program and you'll be far less likely to get hurt or quit.
posted by fshgrl at 2:32 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does your gym have a pool? Swimming might be good for your upper body if you've already developed your legs from cycling.
posted by cazoo at 3:00 PM on August 10, 2012

I was in a similar boat about 2 years ago. 6-foot and 138lbs although in fine shape. I began lifting and within 4 months gained 17lbs of muscle, without changing my diet at all (like you, I don't like to eat large amounts of food).

My advice is to get The Men's Health Big Book of Exercises. It's effectively a comprehensive guide to all sorts of individual exercises, complete with high quality photos that display proper form. I cannot emphasize proper form enough. If you do any exercise incorrectly not only will you not gain the benefit of that exercise, but you will hurt yourself.

In addition to individual exercises, there are a number of full 6-, 8- and 12-week workouts that will give you proper guidance on what a well-balanced multi-day routine will look like.

Even if you don't buy the book you should lift. Lifting is not only for those trying to bulk up; it has many tremendous benefits you cannot receive with just cardio.
posted by brony at 5:08 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are lots of ways to get started on this fitness thing. I'd recommend you start with some bodyweight training rather than a gym. Convict Conditioning is a popular book and, setting aside its "you will be an alpha male in prison" schtick, the program it lays out will gradually increase your usable strength. It will also help you avoid injury if/when you start with weights.

In any case, if you go to the gym, spend the money for either a class or a trainer who is actually qualified so you can learn the basics properly. Books are ok, but they won't give you feedback on your form.

Last, consider swimming as an alternative to biking. It's easy on the joints, works a lot of muscles and is generally fun.
posted by Hylas at 5:53 PM on August 10, 2012

I greatly benefited from when I started working out about five years ago. They have a very comprehensive excercise and muscle directory complete with animations that's also accessible through clickable body maps (male, female) as well as workout templates and analysis. Some people find the site too dry/old-school, but I enjoy that presentation. Start here.

The other advice is to include weight/strength training as part of your workout plan. The body is incredibly efficient and after an initial adjustment period, where it really doesn't matter what you do, cardiovascular workouts alone will have limited effect improving your strength, agility and balance. Do sit-ups, squats and low-intensity (2-4 kg) shoulder workouts 2-3 times a week and you will see major improvements in your posture and muscle tone. I like free weights and cables better than other types of equipment because it helps improve your coordination. Vary your excercises regularly to mitigate adaptation effects.

posted by deo rei at 6:03 PM on August 10, 2012

Yes, wear cycling shorts on the stationary bikes. Chafing sucks, as you already know. A great exercise for working the upper body is rowing. If your gym has any Concept2 ergs around, have a look at one. Your arms, chest and back will get a workout and you'll keep a lot of the tone in your legs.

If you're into goals, concept2 has an online logbook where you can track your times and distances. There are occasional challenges, and you can order a t-shirt when you pass the 1M meter mark.
posted by jquinby at 6:56 PM on August 10, 2012

Adding another voice to the starting strength or stronglifts 5x5 programs. They're nice in that they are very bare-bones workouts that cover everything. For lifts that are scary to you, you can watch videos on YouTube to see the proper form, and check out ExRx for all your animated gif needs.

Also, maybe weight-lifting will seem scary and technical at first. That's fine. One thing you can do is start off by doing whatever it is with just the bar, or even a broom in your bedroom to see what it feels like. Hiring a trainer (who knows about weight-lifting--a lot of them just tell you to use the machines) is also a good idea, and probably best of all is to make friends with all the muscle-bound weirdos (who are actually often nice guys) at the gym, and ask them to check your form. Not only do they check your form, but if you stop going to the gym, they'll give you shit about it, which is great.

I *think* basically every kind of athletic person probably does some weight lifting in addition to specific training for their particular sport. I guess weight lifting makes the muscles stronger (including the hold-you-up muscles), and then the training teaches them how to do specific things like crank a bike pedal.

Beyond that, do whatever is fun. I used to like to do different running programs. For example, I'd run as fast as I possibly could for like 2 minutes and then take a break for a minute. When you break the time up in 3 minute cycles like this, it goes quick. Lots of other things you can do, too, like just seeing how long you can possibly keep running at a given speed, and then seeing how much rest it takes you to do it again. Of course you can do this with other things like cycling, too.
posted by !Jim at 8:22 PM on August 10, 2012

It sounds liked you're really interested in being able to ride as your goal. I suggest, like others, that you should train for that. Ride as much as you can doing a bunch of different things. Tempo rides, sprints, etc. I'm a runner, was in a similar position to you 6 years ago. I started by running and then slowly implemented bodyweight routines as supplements. Lots of boxers have routines that involve only 5/6 workouts that are VERY tough: burpees, squat thrusts, pushups (bunch of variations), pullups, intervals, bear crawls.

Check those out as a place to start, and you'll find what you like and want to try new things from there. I did bodyweight to things like P90X and found that I really just enjoyed bodyweight routines, but my focus has always been running. One thing that I do that may work for you is to sign up for a race so you have to train. Nothing beats forced motivation.
posted by neveroddoreven at 4:32 AM on August 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. The distance biking is a side goal, perhaps a marker of fitness. (Like I said, using distance biking as my main/only method of exercise didn't work out well in the past.) The main goal is the fitness itself.

Sounds like the plan is for a pretty standard mix of cardio and free weights (totally new for me), maybe supplemented with long rides. The gym has an inexpensive "Lifting 101" class that will hopefully keep me from hurting myself with bad form.

I'd love to hear any other thoughts, though. Thanks again!
posted by supercres at 7:31 AM on August 11, 2012

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