| BEYOND THE NUMBERS|
Perhaps inevitably, other setbacks materialized during the sixth and final month, mostly in the form of an avalanche of work and late-night partying. But I kept my cool and simply dialed back my workouts, essentially dropping into a holding pattern. I knew I wasn't making huge strides anymore—I was only trying to avoid falling off the wagon completely.
By the time I find myself driving the Bee Line Expressway in Orlando to LGE's headquarters, I've had several weeks like this. But despite the intense pressure of deadlines compounded by sleep deprivation, my training has stood me in good stead, and I don't feel stressed out at all, which is one of the objectives of Loehr's program. Still, have I let my goals slip too much? I'll soon find out if the way I feel is backed up by quantitative measurements, or if I'm merely in the happy haze of some kind of placebo effect.
The results roll in soon enough. In the gym, I've become significantly stronger. On lat pull-downs, I've gone from being able to do 17 repetitions to 27; on leg extensions, from 14 to 31; on arm curls, from 11 to 20. My VO2 max—a measure of aerobic fitness—has jumped from 33 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute to 37.5, slightly over the goal LGE had set. Last, but hardly least, my body fat has dropped from 23 percent to 20.5, about half of my goal of 6 percentage points. True, I've lost only three pounds of fat, but I'm startled to find I've gained six pounds of muscle. All in all, far better than I expected.
As for the psychological tests, Loehr leaves Striegel and me to hash out some new rituals to counter my low marks. We come up with some visualization exercises and pre-performance mantras that may not change who I am fundamentally, but that can help me manage my weaknesses so that they don't impede my performance.
"The key thing is to have some kind of accountability," Loehr says, and that's exactly what the tests gave me. What often works with his clients, he adds, is a quarterly or semiannual self-testing system (see "Home Schooling," at left) overseen by a friend or family member. Keeping a meticulous record of your test results gives you a solid indication of how well your regimen is working.
The tests helped me finally recognize the connections between goals, rituals, discipline, and accountability. Goals provide the motivation to create rituals, which eventually lead to discipline. But progress is gradual, and you need to be tested periodically to measure whether you're on the right track. Even if the results aren't spectacular, having proof that you're moving forward can provide the necessary shot of motivation to help you gear up for the next challenge. You begin to realize that the process itself—not the result—is what is so invigorating.
When I return to New York, a friend wonders if I'll continue with Loehr's program now that this story is finished. It seems like an odd question, because I don't feel like I'm on a program anymore. What was daunting and, quite frankly, a little weird at first—all that business of controlling your eating and sleeping cycles—has become simply part of my life, something I do without thinking. More to the point, it seems like a normal way to live. It's the rest of the world that now appears strange, with hidden rituals of its own that impose habits on us that are not just unhealthy, but perhaps contrary to our essential nature.
Listen to me. Maybe it's the placebo effect, or all that positive thinking Loehr's staff has been drilling into me. Whatever, the damn thing works. My life's infinitely better now—and I feel like I'm just getting started.
| Home Schooling|
Stay on track with these DIY tests
USE THE FOLLOWING EXERCISES to assess your cardiovascular fitness and strength every three months. Expect your second and third evaluations to show an improvement of 10 percent over the first. By the fourth test, you will likely find that your fitness level has reached a plateau, at which point you should direct your efforts toward maintaining your performance state and not allowing your results to slip backward. &150;P.K.
A stationary bike equipped with a standard tachometer and a heart-rate monitor can measure the three variables of your aerobic fitness: peak pedal revolutions per minute (which indicates how efficiently your brain stimulates your muscles), peak heart rate (an overall indicator of cardio performance), and recovery time (a gauge of how well your body can weather an episode of sudden stress). First, you'll need to establish your maximum heart rate. If you're in fair shape, you'll reach it after the third of three 20-second, all-out sprints on the bike. Oh, and unless your memory is perfect, you'll want to have a friend close by to record the three different values needed to determine your score.
(6 mos. later)
|Peak heart rate||170||174|
After warming up for five minutes on an inclined treadmill, program the bike for moderate to high resistance and pedal until your heart rate is about 60 percent of your maximum—probably between 105 and 125 beats per minute. Sprint as hard as you can for 20 seconds, having your friend note your peak rpm. Next, dial the intensity down a notch, and have your companion record how high your heart rate climbs, in bpm, before your recovery begins. Once your pulse begins to slow, have him mark down how long it takes, in seconds, for your heart rate to return to within ten beats of 60 percent of your maximum. Repeat the test two more times in the same session, spinning at 80 rpm between the sprints. Your score will be based on the highest numbers for your rpm and heart rate across the three tests, and the three recovery times from each of the sprints. See chart of my results above.
To calculate your test weight for each exercise, take your body weight and multiply by the percentages listed in the box below.
For each lift, do two warm-up sets of four reps, the first at 50 percent of your test weight, the second at 70 percent. Rest for one minute between sets. Now you're ready for the test: Do as many repetitions as possible, at a steady, controlled pace, until muscle failure prevents you from completing another repetition. Be sure to have a spotter so you can lift to failure. In addition to the weights, see how many crunches you can do in one minute (no cheating!). Expect a 20 to 30 percent increase in your reps over six months. You'll hit your peak—your ideal fitness level—after about one year; after that, the increases will level out at three to four percent.
Paul Keegan is a highly motivated correspondent for Outside.