Process and Tools
What a boring-as-hell title for a post. Even better? This post contains screenshots of Excel spreadsheets!
You’ve been warned.
I had a conversation this morning with a guy at the gym (box? Nope … still can’t call it a box) that made me realize I’ve never talked about my thinking around how I structure the physical part of my weight loss, and the tools and processes I use for tracking that. One of the tenets of a SMART goal, and really business in general, is that your progress and results be measurable. A rule of thumb that I use in my career is that you get what you measure – if you are not measuring a particular outcome, and creating action items based on that measurement, you will not get the outcome you want. It just doesn’t happen.
Now – I’m a finance guy. Which also means I’m a process and measurement guy. That is what I do. Exercise and weight loss is a very data-rich environment. I’m a hammer, this is a nail. So – I made some plans and built some tracking and measurement goals against them.
First, and most obvious, is that I have to measure the weight loss itself. I talked about this in the Goals post that I did, but it is worth revisiting. If I am not weighing myself regularly, then it is easy to backslide. If I weigh myself too regularly, then I’m likely to be regularly disappointed by daily, water-based fluctuations in the number on the scale. I also need to see long-term benchmarks, so that I can have some perspective if I have a bad week or a very good week. So:
Measurement technique #1: Weigh myself weekly. Thursday or Friday (depends on which day I’m home after my workout). I like to do it after a workout or run, because that helps cut down on water fluctuations. Then track that weight. This is what it looks like when I input the weight, starting from when I started Crossfit:
And this is what it looks like visually (updated with last week’s weigh-in):
Next, it is time to start thinking about exercise. I need to balance a few things here. First, I want to exercise as much as I can without taking away from my family time at all. I have a 4-year old and a 1-year old, and I see them for about an hour and a half a day on a weekday, and then weekends. I don’t want to give that precious time up. So, I work out in the mornings, and I work out during the week. When I started a few weeks ago, I was working out Monday – Friday; beginning last week, I have also added a Saturday morning long run that usually finishes before the rest of the house wakes up.
I also need to balance the activities themselves. Before, when I lost all of the weight, I was only running. That’s fine to a point, but is not complete. I want my body to be more efficient and have a kind of strength that is more broadly functional. But I am not good at cross-training. Enter Crossfit. When I started a few weeks ago, the idea was to go to the gym Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, & Friday, and run on Thursdays. Then add in the long run on Saturdays. And then, as I got closer to goal races, swap out one of the gym days for running days. That schedule is flexible for business travel & vacation, and has also changed around a bit since I’m not going into the gym on testing days for the new levels system.
The key here, though, is to plan this out as far in advance as I can. There is a whole line of thought in economics about how to make the long-term planner in you commit the short-term do-er in you to do things it might not particularly want to at the time. One trick is called a commitment device, and mine is a calendar that I have planned out all the way through any upcoming goal. It looks like this:
And this is planned out this way all the way through the Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon at the end of February. I color code things – you can see when I mark something as having been completed – and generally use this to be able to mentally prepare for what is coming and also adjust for any changes in schedule. Importantly, this keeps me tied to daily exercise. As an example, my calendar shows that I have not missed a weekday workout in over 16 weeks. That has reached a point that any blank space on this thing is going to be a glaring failure for me going forward – and so, when the alarm goes off, I get up.
So now what is left is tracking the exercise itself. My spreadsheet has not yet evolved to track the numbers associated with Crossfit. Two reasons for that – one is that they can be a touch hard to track, and another is that the gym uses a service called Wodify that does a lot of that for you. As an example, this morning we did a 15 minute 3-rep Power Snatch EMOM at 70% (yeah, I don’t know what that means either, but it sure sounds hard). When I log what I did for that, I get this – which I can refer to the next time it is time to do Power Snatches:
And then there are the runs.
I use a Garmin Forerunner 410 that I’ve had for a few years now – I like it; it works. I use MapMyRun to plan out distances. And I use training schedules from people like Hal Higdon to figure out a basic approach to training for things. And then I do a couple of things. Each time I run, I log it:
This allows me to do several things. First, it is a place to keep thoughts and look for patterns in terms of things like injury, etc. Second, it allows me to track my weekly mileage and my speed improvement over time. Third, it allows me to track total mileage on my shoes and just in general. So, it allows me to do things like this:
So that I know where I am at any given time and can see patterns.
I know there are many other things that could be tracked here. One of the reasons I have not gotten a heart rate monitor is that I know that an influx of data like that could be dangerous for my tendency to over-analyze.
There are downsides to all of this, of course. Anymore I feel like I can’t go for a run if I don’t have my Garmin – it is almost like it doesn’t count. That is a silly, but very real, consequence of wanting to have all of the data to crunch. There is also a time element to this, though most of the time is spent in the initial setting-up of the spreadsheet. Now that I have it, in general this is pretty seamless.
Anyway – that’s how I do it. Would love to hear how you do it. And also any suggestions for extending this kind of analysis and measurement to food.
So, my primary goal is out there, but there are other things I want to get to. Some of these I find hard to label “goal”, in the sense that they may not be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely). But they are places I want to be and things I want to be working toward, so they also count.
Another way of looking at this is a way I have started talking with my 4-year old – we talk about things I can do when I get smaller. Right now, there are just things I can’t physically do, and there are things I could physically do but I’m just not comfortable with. And I hate that. I saw a phrase in a magazine a few weeks ago that really resonated – “adventure ready body”. I consider myself “adventure ready” mentally, but I do not have an “adventure ready body.” That must change.
- Be comfortable at a beach or a pool without my shirt on. I live in Florida – being unwilling to take my shirt off around water is a problem.
- Go kayaking. I freaking love being on the water, and I think I will freaking love kayaking. But the last time I tried I was so uncomfortable and unstable in the boat – partly because of my sheer weight, and partly because of just unstable balance and core. Especially around here, feeling unstable is no good because alligators. But I refuse to give up on the idea, and so my body must match the desire.
- Try rock climbing. Another thing I think I’d love, but that my body is just not capable of doing. I have too much weight and not enough strength. Both of those things are changing.
- Start keeping track of bag nights. I love to hike and camp, and I don’t do it enough because it can be hard. I don’t have the energy, and the physical work is just exhausting. It has been on the order of years since I’ve done even minor camping. That has to change, if for no other reason than that I’m committed to introducing my kids to the outdoors.
- Finally run that marathon. I’m signed up for a couple of halfs (halves?), and I’ve got my eye on a couple of fall 2017 full marathons in case I want to try and do that this year. But it is time to get serious about this – even if I only ever do just one, I need to check that box.
- Get a bike. A real one. One that can allow me to learn how to do it for speed and get comfortable on it. I feel like a schlub walking into a bike store right now – feels like the investment is a bit of a waste. That’ll change as I get further along. Ultimately, it would be fun to attempt a triathlon, but that is far enough out that it doesn’t get its own entry here.
There are others, I guess. Vain things about how I look, and about how other people look at me. But none of that really matters all that much in the grand scheme. The two relevant things here are – 1. be ready to go on adventures and, 2. make sure I’m ready to introduce my kids to the outdoors. Beyond that, everything is gravy.
They say that setting goals is important, and communicating them is equally important. In that spirit, lets talk about goals.
Back in February I turned 38, and on that day I weighed 314.8 pounds. Which is not as heavy as I was back in 2012 when I started this blog, but still much heavier than I was in 2013 when I ran the Ragnar. Now, I know that a healthy rate of weight loss is about one pound per week. And I also know that BMI and other models indicate that I’m at least 100 pounds overweight for my height, if not body structure. (FTR, I don’t like BMI, either.). In two years, I will turn 40. There are 52 weeks in a year. I’m 100 pounds overweight. I want to lose about 1 pound per week. These numbers seemed to work too well, and led to the following goal:
I will have lost 100 pounds by my 40th birthday, and I will do that by losing, on average, 1 pound per week beginning on my 38th birthday. I will establish benchmark weights for each week along the way, and I will weigh myself weekly and track against those benchmarks.
The goal-setting model I have learned in my business career is called the SMART model … goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. That obviously informed the articulation of the above goal, and I think I hit everything. The goal is:
Specific – I articulate numbers and timelines and even expected rates of loss
Measurable – We’re weighing ourselves here, so that’s easy – and I have a benchmark to track against.
Achievable – After having lost the weight I did in 2013, I’m convinced that this is very possible. Even after it has been achieved, BMI will consider me overweight, if not obese. Physically, if I want it I can get there, no question.
Realistic – Different animal. I do think this is realistic, but will require a big change in how I do things. I have not missed a weekday workout since mid-May, so that habit is coming along. And I’m doing well with food, though that will be my downfall if I have one. I can change how I eat, and in that sense, it is realistic. What I worry about more is how realistic it is that I will keep this weight off once I lose it. That’s a topic for another time.
Timely – Specific start and end dates, with specific check-in dates. Time isn’t an issue.
So … that’s the goal. It is a big one, and I guess I’m nervous having it out there. I started off with a bang and immediately gained weight after my birthday. From that 314.8 in February, I got as high as 322.6 in late March. That’s when I made the decision to start Crossfit, and so far, that has really turned things around. The exercise itself of course is very good, but mostly it has helped me focus on my food consumption. No formal tracking process this time – I’m just working hard to make good choices. So far, so good.
As of this week, I’m 1.2 pounds (so just over a week) behind schedule. In order to be back on schedule I need to lose 2.2 pounds this week – but I’ll take anything over 1 pound just to make progress. I’ve lost, on average, 1.9 pounds per week for the last 12 weeks, and until I get caught up anything over 1 is a successful week. Once I get caught up, I’m as happy as I can be with 1 pound a week.