One Year Older
About a year ago, around the time I was turning 28, this video was featured on YouTube.
I smiled and laughed a little but inside I was thinking, "Dude, that's exactly how I feel." I have spent my whole life thinking of myself as a "young person," but as 30 approaches I am forced more and more to the realization that yes, age is happening to me too.
I'm not saying, oh gosh, I'm 29, I'm so old, poor me. It just hits me in the gut sometimes that I too will lose my youth, get aged, and die, and that's a new feeling that I'm still working with.
So, that video in the back of my mind, I decided that before I turned 29 I would do something about the slow slide my body was on towards being overweight and out of shape. I can't reverse the aging process, but I sure as hell can make sure this still-young body lives up to its fullest potential. So, I'm not going to make a song about it, but I made this photo composition. One picture is from July 22, 2008, the other from July 23, 2008.
This photo kind of sums up my philosophy on aging. A birthday is a chance to look into a brighter future, not a bleaker one. As we get older we only gain more knowledge to help us live as well as we can. For example, if I happen to have a free afternoon now, I really use it to do something that makes me happy, whereas the 25 year old me would have wasted it lounging around. And when I'm 35 I'll probably do something even cooler with that time. So although our remaining years decrease, the quality of those years can increase, if we are paying attention to how we are living, rather than how long we've got left.
The Origins of the PCP
I've always been a bit of a contrarian, so I decided last year that upon turning 29 I would be going the opposite direction of most of my peers, whose jobs and responsibilities are gradually leading them to neglect their health. Not only would I be in good shape, I would be in killer shape. As the thought process evolved I realized I needed some kind of target to keep my eye on as I went through this. I had always liked Bruce Lee but had assumed his level of fitness was far beyond a normal person. But one day I was watching some old clips and I noticed that Bruce didn't have a ton of muscle mass, he was just lean as a whippet and strong where it counted. And the thought just occurred to me, "I can do that." Bruce Lee wasn't superhuman. He just stuck to some kind of plan and worked hard. If I could only find that plan!
Just as all of these ideas were simmering in my mind, I met Chen Zhongtao, who lives here in Yokohama and works at an international school above my studio. He's done it all, he studied kung fu since he was a child, and after a tour in the Chinese military he became a policeman and then a police trainer, before meeting his wife and moving to Japan. Chen mostly teaches kickboxing, but I kept pressing him about how to get a Kung Fu style look. What did I have to eat? What exercises did I need to do? I pestered him for about 2 months, until he finally said, "You really want to do this? I can make you a plan. But it's going to be a little hard." That was fine with me. Nothing worth doing is easy. So, on the back of a bank envelope, he wrote my first week's diet. He was right. It wasn't going to be easy.
I knew that if I just haphazardly tried to follow this plan, it would collapse in on itself. I needed some kind of structure. I was going to Kyoto in a week or two, and I noticed that just after my trip was the first day of spring. So I would be well rested, and the first day of spring seemed like a great starting point for a project that was all about growth and living up to your potential. I also noticed that exactly 4 months later would be my birthday. 4 months seemed like enough time to change my body. So there was my scheduling structure. A 4 month, 125 day plan.
Now I needed some kind of social structure to support my project. If I tried to do it all alone there's no way it would work. I could keep a little online diary of my efforts, and maybe a few people in my family would read it. And, I could take a daily photo, and post it online, to keep myself honest and to shame myself into sticking with it!
Now all the plan needed was a name. "In shape", "fit", "lean and mean"... all of these usual phrases didn't encompass the kind of dramatic change I was after. I didn't just want to lose a few pounds, I wanted be as fit as possible. I wanted to be in peak condition. That had a ring to it.
The rest is history. And that history has been painstakingly blogged right here.
I never meant the PCP to involve other people, or to become a book. I never thought something could work so well. I got to a point where I was getting in such good shape that I felt almost a moral obligation to share this plan with others. It's like, if you see a really good movie, you go tell all your friends, "hey, go see such and such, it really moved me." That same kind of impulse was in me, because the Peak Condition Project was having such a huge positive impact on my physique, energy levels, and that all important quality-of-life. To not share it would have been miserly.
At the same time I was getting dozens of emails asking if I could tell people how the PCP worked and if I could "PCP them." But I knew just giving someone the diets and exercises would result in failure. The PCP is a whole package. You have to have the social aspects in place. You have to have a hero to aim for, a community supporting you and holding you accountable. So I decided to take on 3 people, but to try and replicate my experience as much as possible.
You see, a few times a week I was meeting with Chen. He was checking my gains and making small adjustments to my diet and exercises. I wanted the three other PCP participants to get that same "personal trainer" feeling. So we use the blogosphere and Flickr to keep in touch, along with a daily email. And David, Corry, and Sean have been doing great, each of them having a very different but successful experience with this plan. As my project ends I hope everyone will click over to their blogs and follow their progress with as much enthusiasm as you followed mine. And starting soon 6 new people will begin their path towards Peak Condition. 3 international and 3 Japanese participants.
Chen and I have also completed a book version of the PCP which anyone can use at home. It contains everything we've learned about how to have a successful project. We're in the process of looking for a publisher now, so if you have any connections in that area please please (please) get in touch with me.
Ok, so, you've all been waiting for the jumpsuit pictures. Here they are, along with some of the lessons I learned from the Peak Condition Project.
What the PCP taught me.
- Anything can be done. You just need 3 things. A plan. The discipline to stick with the plan. And the flexibility to change the plan when need arises.
- I learned that I love fruit.
- Having a strong, fit body makes a huge difference in daily life. It's like you've grown a set of wings.
- Drinking your calories is a dumb way to live. Sodas, mochas, frappachinos, even juices, they all aren't worth the caloric intake. It's much nicer to chew your calories.
- Flexibility is not lost with strength gain. If anything, it increases.
- Your body wants to be fit and healthy. It's desperate to be like that. Even the smallest encouragements of a healthy diet and some exercise will get it moving towards wellness. It's not an uphill battle.
- Keeping a daily blog for 125 days straight is not impossible. There are so many interesting and unusual things happening all around a person that there's always something to talk about.
- Bodybuilding really is a sport. I gained a lot of respect for those guys, especially the all-natural ones.
- For every fitness plan you find there's another one that will tell you to do the exact opposite. It doesn't really matter, just choose one and stick with it. Changing back and forth will only end in ruin.
- Box splits are really, really hard.
- The vast majority of the food we eat is spectacular in its unfitness for human consumption. If you stop eating crap you stop feeling like crap. Who would've thunk it!?
- Doing something like this brings the best out in people. They get a gleam in their eyes that says, "I can do this!" It's a beautiful thing, that gleam.
- 4 months is unnecessary to reach Peak Condition. 90 days is plenty.
- The kids section has pretty cool clothes.
- When you eat right, the people around you eat right. Assuming you care about the people around you, eating right is a supremely loving thing to do for them. You don't have to sign them up or force vegetables down their throat. Just eat right yourself. You'll see what happens.
- The entire fitness industry is a scam. You don't need to spend more than 20 dollars to get in the best shape of your life.
- What you do need is time. Everyday. This is much harder to come by than money. Which is why the fitness industry is so big, as they promise to deliver results without the investment of time.
- Jumpsuits are really easy to move in. I can see why Bruce Lee chose one.
- The key to losing fat is not eating less, it's eating more of the right things.
- The human body is capable of incredible energy levels, you just have to unlock them.
- Even skinny people have a lot of fat inside them. It's just inside the muscle tissue.
- 95% of the people at a gym have no idea what they're doing. If you're spending a few hours a week working out but you don't look like me, something is wrong. Probably your diet.
- The clothing industry mislabels everything so that people don't feel so fat. If you're wearing something that says 32 inch waist your waist is really 34 inches. And that "medium" shirt is really a large. When you get down to a body size that actually mimics what people are supposed to look like, nothing fits anymore.
- Peak Condition is a state of mind, not body. The moment I decided I was truly fed up with eating poorly and not looking my best, I was in Peak Condition.
- Anyone can do this. Anyone. You can do this.
Finally, I want to end on a kind of serious note here. As you know Bruce Lee was my ideal and my inspiration throughout this project. No one else combined technique, discipline, and philosophy so completely. Bruce Lee was a self-made man. Through his own hard work he transformed himself from a skinny kid in the back alleys of Hong Kong to one of the most recognizable people in the world.
Throughout my project I kept a little Bruce Lee pin in my pocket or bag, and when times were tough, when I wanted to push through a grueling set or was really craving some cheesecake, I'd look at the pin and think, "Every good choice I make is a step towards Bruce, every bad choice I make is a step away." So in a very real sense the spirit of Bruce Lee infused this whole project, and infuses the others' PCPs, and I'd like to thank him, for whatever it's worth to thank a deceased person.
Which leads me to my second point. Bruce Lee should be 68 now. He should be around inspiring us, leading Jeet Kun Do trainings, writing books on philosophy, and kicking ass. But he's not. He's dead. He died when he was 32 years old.
There's a lot of controversy regarding cause of the brain swelling that killed Bruce, but one thing's for certain, his training and rigorous schedule were contributing factors. He had been working hard on two movies, on top of a training regimen that I couldn't even begin to do. His body fat was so low that he was hypersensitive to the drugs they gave him after a collapse the previous week. On top of that cannabis was found in his system as he sought relief from the pressures of fame and the pain of a back injury he suffered while weightlifting years before. And all of that stuff combined to end his life much, much too early.
It's clear to me that Bruce Lee, despite being "the fittest man in the world," was not in Peak Condition. Peak Condition is a matter of balance. Being at your absolute maximum without teetering over the edge into unhealthy overtraining. It's also keeping your schedule free for things you enjoy, keeping your stress levels in check, and choosing a lifestyle that makes you happy, not simply successful. It's having that piece of cake at a friend's birthday party, skipping a training session because you want to continue a good conversation, and realizing when you've achieved enough and dialing back your program.
It's easy to get carried away with this kind of thing. It's easy to suck the fun out of it and mercilessly hold yourself up to impossible standards. I was on the edge a few times, but with good friends who grounded me I kept my perspective and have learned how to live a normal balanced life while maintaining excellent physical condition.
Above the place where I do sit-ups, I put up this picture of Bruce Lee to inspire me. I took it down tonight, because I'm finished with that part of the project. Although I'll never say a bad word about him, I don't want to have the body of Bruce Lee anymore.
I want to have the body of Patrick Reynolds.
(Patrick's Peak Condition Project is finished. But he'll be back with more news and new participants very soon! Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!)