Staring down the barrel of complacency and the big 40, MR SIPHIWE MPYE has rebooted his health and fitness regime, and in doing so, hopes to change his life forever.
As we headed into December 2015, I had an inkling that my festive season diet would not be one that the ‘eat clean, train dirty’ crowd would approve of. I was to spend a significant part of it with my in-laws and my mother-in-law’s kitchen is the province of piles of braised red meat, amagwinya (fat cakes), umleqwa (real free range chicken) deep-fried fish, steamed bread and a token vegetable. Try as I might, I could not avoid the glut. So, I overindulged and rolled into January 2016 on the back foot, as if I had no idea that I had long committed to renewing my commitment to health and fitness in the new year, with this challenge.
As I stared at 40, the sense of relief, excitement even, at reaching a milestone that a few years ago would have frightened me to no end, was palpable. I might have had residual angst from my 30s at the varied things I hadn’t achieved but generally I was content, with a level of self acceptance I had rarely experienced in my younger days. There were so many things that hijacked my thoughts in my twenties and early thirties that were now immaterial. There were so many whose opinions my very existence had seemed to hinge on, who were no longer in my life, let alone a factor in my decision-making.
But as I felt myself easing into the lead role in the ‘older man who doesn’t give a fuck’ script; steadily giving less credence to bullshit, something was amiss. I didn’t feel great, I lacked energy and had long since abandoned my thrice weekly exercise habit. I was no longer the ‘HF’ (health freak) my wife would indignantly call me when I objected to her whipping out a family sized Kit-Kat after dinner. Concluding yet another decade was the perfect opportunity to recalibrate; a shot at renewal.
The Challenge Jan 4 – March 7 | Weight Loss
#Fit40ZA is a challenge to develop and maintain the healthiest, fittest body possible, capable of taking on whichever physical challenges I may choose to take forthwith. There are various stages in this journey, the first being dropping the vestiges of the festive season (and in truth, the last few years). The Rolls Royce objective is an improbable six-pack, on my 40th birthday (on March 7), which I will maintain well into my fifties. At the very least – and what I could perhaps realistically look forward to – I hope to have dropped enough weight to begin the next phase, going into my forties physically fit and mentally energised.
The challenge entails a symbiosis between nutrition and exercise, and as the year progresses and my goals change, the eating plan and training routines will adapt. After the weight loss period, for example, I will be gunning for some muscle mass, because I actually like my size, I just have to replace that soft, stubborn stuff, with lean muscle. In time I will look at slimming down again as I pursue a life goal of multiple endurance sport participation. But that comes (much) later, we have along road ahead.
I trust some of you will join me in this quest for a healthy decade (and you need not be in your forties to do that, we are not ageists here) and share your own stories with us on our Instagram (@notedmanza) or twitter feed (@siphiwempye) using #Fit40ZA so we can track all the contributions. You will notice – and this is the disclaimer – that this is pretty much the pragmatist’s fitness and nutrition regime, based on a layman’s understanding of the subjects, emboldened by hours of YouTube fitness videos; piles upon piles of health & fitness magazines and a celebrity training app or five.
In the past few years, the 90s model of the super gym with a machine designed to tone every inch of the body has evolved, spawning private gyms that are smaller and targeted, as well as a movement towards a minimal approach to training.
Contemporary routines emphasise the importance of the body, its flexibility and functionality. As someone who has had an on off relationship with the gym since high school, this trend is infinitely more appealing. So, I have ditched the weights and cumbersome machines. All I need is me. Well, almost.
Week on week I have been doing, at home, a routine anchored in Calisthenics, Yoga and Pilates, using only a yoga mat, an iron gym and skipping rope. The basic routine I have been doing is 30 minutes long and designed for all over body strength, burning fat, while working the heart rate. Do all exercises till failure and move on to the next one without rest. Take a minute’s rest between each circuit and repeat as many times as possible in 20 minutes (I am getting through about three circuits at the moment). Occasionally, I have also been going on 3 – 5km interval runs/walks (varying pace, not steady state) or going a few rounds on the heavy bag in my garden. With my endurance picking up, I will also return to my weekly 5-a-side soccer game:
- Skip (warm up, 5 mins).
- Underhand grip pull up: works the biceps, back and core (I use the iron gym propped up at the top of a door frame).
- Plank: works the core (hold position for as long as you can. I started at 15 seconds, am close to 45 now).
- Standing squat with calf raise: works the glutes, hamstrings and calves.
- Bridge: works the core (hold as long as you can on both sides).
- Push-up: works the chest (hands positioned slightly beyond shoulder width apart, chest touching the ground with each rep).
- Dip: works the triceps.
- Burpee: cardio.
As the year progresses and my goals change, the routines will change, but the philosophy will remain. I trust some of you will join me in this quest for a healthy decade (and you need not be in your forties to do that, we are not ageists here)
I do not find a strict Banting, Paleo or any other en vogue eating plan useful, but there are a few rules I have committed to following – as much as possible – based on wide reading and the weaknesses that have, over the years, thwarted my path to a healthier, fitter vessel.
- No carbs (in this weight loss stage, will introduce them later as the goals change. Carbs are not always the enemy).
- No chips (fries and crisps, cheat days notwithstanding).
- No alcohol (tough ask, I have already fallen once or thrice, but this is the ideal).
- No dairy.
- No sauces (whose idea was barbecue sauce anyway?).
- No salt (beyond the necessary function of ‘un-blanding’ food).
- No sugar (unless unavoidable, like in fruit).
- 1 cup of coffee a day, no milk (this one is tough for one with a 4-a day habit).
- 1 serving of bacon a week (this is even tougher).
- High protein (oily fish, grilled chicken, eggs, nuts etc.).
- Between 5 or 6 small meals throughout the day (this takes dedication and carrying a bulging skhaftin (lunch box).
- 5 pieces of fruit a day (not at once, space out).
- Lots of greens (which means cucumber, spinach, lettuce and rocket in my house).
- A glass of water with every meal and an additional glass in the morning, afternoon and early evening.
Good luck to those who choose to follow suit, I will check back here on Monday 7 March with the results and to outline the next challenge.
*The internet is a vast resource for instructional images and videos that show the proper form required for executing all these exercises. If you are a beginner and are unsure how to do a particular exercise, look it up.
**One cheat day, one category of cheating. No wholesale cheating. Reserved for bread, burgers, beer, extra bacon, double espressos, chips and similar evils)