skinnyfats

A blog about life after weight loss.


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We Are Spartacus, and You Can Be, Too!

The above clip is an iconic moment in cinema, a stirring scene of loyalty and courage. This captivating demonstration of brotherhood speaks to a selflessness we all wished we possessed.

But what does it have to do with fitness?

Spend enough time in a gym, and you will find yourself bored with your cardio routine. Knocking out thirty minutes on a treadmill or an elliptical machine is a convenient way to burn calories, but these exercises turn monotonous in short order. To vary your cardiovascular work and to tone up while your heart races master than a horse-drawn chariot in a Roman Coliseum, we recommend the Spartacus Workout.

Adam Campbell and Rachel Cosgrove of Men’s Health developed this intense circuit routine for the actors in the 2010 remake of Spartacus. They were charged with turning actors into Adonises, and if you have seen the film, you’d have to agree they succeeded. There have been a few different incantations of the Spartacus Workout since the original, but this is the one we do. We are discussing trying the newer versions; check this blog for our experiences with those routines.

Here are some tips and expectations for people who have never done the Spartacus Workout.

If you have never tried the Spartacus Workout, we recommend easing into it. Go through the circuit once and see how you feel. Truth be told, this workout requires that you be in pretty good shape already. If you are heading to the gym for the first time in several months, performing this circuit three times will be asking a lot of your body.

Use light weights. You are doing each exercise for a minute, with the goal of doing as many reps as you can. You are shooting for volume, not weight. I made this mistake the first time I did the Spartacus Workout, and I quickly found myself switching to lighter dumbbells.

Don’t be afraid to modify the workout. This is sound advice for any routine, especially one as physically demanding as the Spartacus Workout. For example, instead of doing T-pushups, Liz does knee pushups. Neither of us felt we were getting much from the dumbbell side lunge and touch, so we replaced it with a minute of single leg straight leg deadlift, alternating legs each rep.

Give yourself plenty of time to rest between circuits. We take 2-3 minutes between circuits to drink water and let our heart rates drop back down to Earth. If you do not allow  your body to recuperate, you may find yourself unable to finish the next circuit.

Expect your last circuit to be sloppy. We do the Spartacus Workout about once a week, and we still struggle during the third circuit. Your mountain climbers will be slower, you won’t catch as much air on your split jump, and your arms will shake like a frightened rabbit during your last round of dumbbell push press. Don’t quit. Exercise a warrior’s will and push through to the finish.

The Spartacus Workout is a superb switch-up to standard cardio training. After you finish all three circuits, you will feel strong and satisfied, super-human enough to stand and declare “I am Spartacus!”


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A Skinnyfat Summer Treat

Barbecues in the summer are as common as football games in the fall. Whether it is an Independence Day celebration, a family reunion, or a summer soiree with friends, you are likely to be invited to a barbecue or picnic in the next couple months. While these parties are fun, they are a mine field if you are trying to stay fit. You have to avoid calorie-packed adult drinks, mayonnaise-laden potato salad, and stacks upon stacks of potato chips.Your food options at a typical barbecue fall into one of two categories: unhealthy and “Oh my goodness, I have to buy some bigger pants.”

We know this because we went to a retirement barbecue yesterday.

To help you stay fit while maintaining your social credibility, today we have a simple, healthy dessert recipe to share. The next time you are invited to a barbecue or picnic, volunteer to bring angel food strawberry kabobs.

You may opt to bake your angel food cake, but you can buy one already prepared at most grocery stores. Whichever you choose, break your angel food cake into bite sized chunks. Next, slice your strawberries in half. Place these on a skewer, alternating cake and strawberries. Liz drizzled chocolate sauce on her kabobs, but that is optional. Should you choose to add the chocolate sauce, don’t go crazy; you are adding a little flavor, not coating an ice cream sundae.

Once you have your cake and strawberries on the kabob, they are ready to serve and you have a healthy, delicious treat for any summer party.

Angel food and strawberry kabobs.

The kabobs Liz made for yesterday’s party.


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What LeBron James’ 2012 NBA Playoffs Performance Can Teach Us About Fitness

Last night, LeBron James and the Miami Heat won the 2011-2012 NBA Championship by routing the Oklahoma City Thunder, 121-106. James was named the Finals MVP, and capped off his campaign with a triple-double against OKC. James played masterfully throughout the Heat’s postseason run, averaging 30 points, a shade under ten rebounds and just over five assists in the playoffs. LBJ is a polarizing public figure, but anyone, love him or hate, can apply principles from his playoff performance to their own fitness goals.

1. The Importance of Strength Training

During the playoffs, James was a monster in the paint; there was no stopping him when he attacked the rim. Part of the reason he could power to the rim is he a superior physical specimen to everyone else on the court. You can tell just by looking at the guy that he hits the weights hard.

Chances are that you never have to drive the lane and rise up for a dunk while seven-footers stand in your path, but that does not mean you will not benefit from weight training. In The Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises, MH fitness director Adam Campbell lists 20 benefits of lifting weights, including increased fat loss, an elevated metabolism, and decreased blood pressure. Even lifting light weights just three days a week is excellent for your body.

LeBron James dunks in the first quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

2. Go Cardio Crazy

James averaged just under 43 minutes per game in the 2012 NBA playoffs. There is no way he could endure sprinting up and down the floor for all but five minutes of every game without a rigid cardiovascular regimen. You might not be asked to chase down Kevin Durant, but you too can benefit from cardio training.

According to an article on the Livestrong website, 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five days a week can increase your stamina, reduce your risk of heart disease, and help build bone strength. Don’t think cardio training just means logging miles on the treadmill or elliptical machine. You can spice up your cardio routine with sprints, stair climbing, swimming, and kickboxing. Don’t think you are limited to just these options. Find some creative ways to get your heart pumping.

3. Everyone Needs a Strong Supporting Cast

LeBron James is a three time NBA MVP, but even he cannot go it alone. Without Mike Miller draining threes in the deciding game of the Finals, the Heat would be heading to Oklahoma City for a pressure-packed Game 6. Dwyane Wade, himself a Finals MVP in 2006, made significant contributions, adding just under 23 points per game in the playoffs. Chris Bosh’s presence on the boards was invaluable. Point guard Mario Chalmers carried Miami late in Game 4, scoring 25 points. Shane Battier was lights out from three.

The point is, everyone needs support. Find a workout buddy. Many people will cut themselves a break when it comes to exercise; it is easy to give yourself a night off. But when you are accountable to someone else, when you have someone to meet at the gym for weights or at a park for a run, skipping a workout means letting a friend down, something no one wants to do.

LBJ shows immense focus against the Celtics.

4. Focus, Focus, Focus

LeBron James showed scary focus in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. He took over the game with 45 points and 15 rebounds, and didn’t even look like the same man. His laser focus was undeniable. Even last night, when everyone knew the game was out of reach for the Thunder, James stopped Chalmers from celebrating too early. The Heat had not reached their goal yet, and James did not want his team celebrating until they had.

You can use a similar focus when striving for your fitness goals. You will face distractions, mostly from your friends and loved ones. They will say things like, “You can work out tomorrow,” “You are already too skinny,” and “It’s just one night.” Granted, you need to stay sane, and sometimes ordering a pizza or eating chips and salsa will help maintain  your sanity. However, you must keep your eyes on the prize. Be reasonable, you can’t lock yourself away like some fitness crazed J.D. Salinger, but you should always have your fitness goals in mind.

5. Stay Hydrated

You could put together an All-Star team of players who failed to stop LeBron James in the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire couldn’t do it for the New York Knicks. Indiana Pacers Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert couldn’t do it. Neither could Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and their Boston Celtics teammates. For the Thunder, Kevin Durant did not have the defensive acumen to slow him down. The only thing that stopped LeBron James was dehydration. James watched his Heat running mates close out Game 4 of the Finals as he was sidelined with leg cramps.

Anyone who exercises needs to stay hydrated. When we work out, we sweat out fluids, and we must be mindful to replace them. Water is also important for muscle-building and digestion. Keep hydrated, and you can keep going.

LeBron James is a once in a generation talent. You might not win an NBA Title, but if you apply these principles, you are well on your way to feeling like a champion.


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A Skinnyfat Confession: Our Post-Engagement Celebration/Calorie Marathon

Last week, I wrote about the biggest event in our lives, our engagement. Today’s post is not a celebration; it is a confession. In the interest of honesty, and integrity, I must tell you about the calorie marathon we ran after Liz said yes.

For those of you who have never been engaged, in the days that follow you will float through life. Nothing can touch you because you are on a natural, euphoric high. You drift through your days awash in happiness, and cartoon birds land on your outstretched finger tips to whistle you lovely songs. True story. Well, all except the cartoon birds thing.

As much as people wanted to see the engagement ring or hear how I popped the question, they wanted to join in our shared happiness, to bathe in our euphoric beams. The problem was this: they wanted to do it over meals and cocktails, and we were so excited that we did not turn them down.

Here is a rundown of our indulgences.

The Sunday morning after we became engaged, I was hungry. Blissful, but hungry. Instead of waiting to go to Bob Evans for breakfast (a tradition we have on return trips from Indy) I took down a tin of cashews. These were not all natural, from the Earth cashews, they were salt and preservative fortified cashews. To add poverty to my pot belly, I didn’t go to a vending machine and slide four quarters in for my treat; I ate the $12 hotel room cashews. We were engaged. Calories and cost be damned!

We made our usual stop at Bob Evans, where we split a stack of pancakes. We could have opted for the wheat pancakes, but we went with the cinnamon variety instead and gleefully accepted the helping of whipped cream on top. To wash that sweetness down, we each ordered a large chocolate milk. This was a time for celebration, not sensibility.

Two of Liz’s friends happened to be downtown that afternoon, so she met up with them and surprised them with the news as I went on my first run as an engaged man. This was my only health conscious decision of the day. When I returned, I received a text message from Liz asking me to meet the three of them at Mynt Martini, a restaurant/club in downtown Cincinnati. The ladies greeted me with a pair of hugs and a margarita. I ordered a second as I told our engagement story for the first time.

We ordered a large pepperoni pizza from Donatos for dinner that evening. Pizza is our favorite food. If there were no consequences to our waistlines or our wallets, we would eat it every night. As far as we were concerned, there was no better food to polish off our first full day of fiancé-hood.

The following week was punctuated by two celebration dinners with two sets of parents. By happy coincidence, both of these meals were at Italian restaurants. Between us, we ate several loaves of bread and slurped fettuccine thick enough to wax a handlebar mustache. These dinners were delicious, but heavy.

The last leg of our post-engagement calorie marathon was our engagement party. I have to hand it to Liz’s mother and bridesmaids; they put together one hell of a good time. Part of that good time was food. Everything was chocolate covered—pretzels, Oreos, marshmallows, strawberries, and even some of the furniture. Larosa’s, a local pizza parlor, catered the event with pizza, hoagies, and boneless Buffalo wings. To put a sugary bow on this wonderful present, Liz’s mom baked a cake. In fairness to us, 30 to 40 people helped us eat these treats, but the leftovers ended up in our apartment, then in our bellies.

Engagement party treats.

A table of chocolate covered goodies.

Engagement party treats.

Chocolate covered pretzels and marshmallows.

The morning after the engagement party, we looked at each other and said enough was enough. We celebrated for a month; it was time to get back on track. After all, we have a wedding to plan, and we want to look our best for it.


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Cake Scraps: A Skinnyfat Problem

I was lucky enough to grow up with the kind of mom every kid wants.  Right around the time she found out she was pregnant with me, she started baking cakes as a hobby. Maybe my love affair with cake started in the womb. I remember growing up being told to “step lightly so the cakes don’t fall,” and “don’t touch that spoon.”  As I grew, my mom’s expertise grew, and her cake hobby turned into a small business.

One of the things most people don’t know about their cakes is that there is a considerable amount of cake that is baked but not used in the final presentation. We like to call these “cake scraps.”  Instead of throwing away the cake scraps, they were set out for anyone in the family to munch on.  Imagine the delight of a child being handed a plate with mounds of varying cake scrap flavors. At one point I started wishing my mom had to make a wedding cake every weekend, just so I could eat the leftovers.

Mom continued baking for weddings, birthdays, and holidays. Not only was I helping eat those cake scraps, I was now helping her decorate the cakes when I could. When I finally had a kitchen of my own, I continued my mom’s tradition and surprised my friends with unique cakes for their birthdays and parties. Word of my knack for baking spread and, like my mom, my kitchen was now filled with cakes.

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On down the road, cakes weren’t the only thing in my kitchen. Tom was now there too. Tom was fascinated with the idea of having left over cake that he could eat. I remember the first time I made a wedding cake with Tom at my place. He took the cake scraps to the living room with a big glass of milk and dug in. He ate cake scraps until his stomach hurt. Who could blame him? I had done the same thing so many times before. 

Sometimes clients will order cupcakes. This reduces cake scraps, but, there are always a few cupcakes that don’t make the cut for the customer delivery. Maybe the icing doesn’t look right, maybe the cupcake didn’t bake up enough. Whatever the reason, I put these reject cupcakes to the side. Before long, Tom knew that if there were cupcakes on the upper left counter in the kitchen, they were all his.

I once baked a cake for Tom’s dad’s birthday. Unfortunately, due to a flat tire, the night and our plans to celebrate were dashed. The celebration was rescheduled but we still had that cake sitting on the counter. Yes friends, Tom and I ate an entire cake alone in one night. This was our turning point. The next morning, feeling full, guilty, and uncomfortable, we both knew that if we wanted to maintain our healthy lives we had to cut out the cake.

But how do you not eat the delicious cake that is sitting on a plate staring at you? At first, I would throw it away immediately. My conscious would get the better of me feeling guilty about wasting that food, so I tried other ways. I would call my friends and ask them if they wanted some free cake. The overwhelming response tended to be, “YES! I AM ON MY WAY RIGHT NOW!” But if they weren’t there right away, Tom and I would sneak several bites for ourselves. This plan wasn’t working.

My next step was to stop baking. I took an entire year off baking. It was a sort of detox for us. I missed the art, I missed the baking, and I missed seeing delighted faces eat the creations from my kitchen. However, it needed to be done as our health is more important.

This year I’ve cautiously dipped my toe back into the cake waters, but have limited the number of cakes I will do. Right now the solution for the extra cake is to take it to the neighbor’s house as soon as possible. Not only do I have very happy neighbors, but I can still get just a bite or two in to make sure everything tastes ok. As long as it’s not sitting on the counter, we can’t eat it, right?

The cake orders constantly flow in and the struggle to stay away from the left overs never leave. Just because we are healthier now, doesn’t mean every time we smell the cake rising in the oven our mouths don’t water. The struggle to have my cake and eat it too will be one I have forever! It’s just another day in the life of a skinny fat.