My First 5 Years On The Fitness Journey

by Sep 28, 2020

Fall of 2015 

I was at a camping event with my 9-year-old son. Part of the weekend activities was a 1.5 half-mile walk through the woods, with a few short inclines. A half-mile into the hike going up a slope, I just could no catch my breath; my body had given up. I realized I couldn’t do the walk.

My son went on with some friends, and I turned back to camp. On the way back to camp, I started thinking that I ran a seven-minute mile when I was in the military, and this was just walking. I never was a beast, but I could hold my own with physical fitness. 

The rest of the weekend, I contemplated how out shape I had become since leaving the service. I needed to make fitness part of my life again. On the drive home, I was determined to lose weight and get fit once again. I wanted to keep up with my son and enjoy life.

My Fitness Journey Begins

Once at home, I did not care about being healthy, yet I just wanted to drop the pounds. I did what I had always done when trying to make weight for sports or the military. Cut everything out of my diet, ate just meat, and drank water. Next went on craigslist, found myself a treadmill, and started running again, adding pushups and sit-ups to a weekly routine. 

My body reacted just as it always had; I was losing weight. The problem now, I am in my 40s, my body was not recovering well. I was still hungry, my joints hurt while running. To make up for this, I started downing ibuprofen to make it through my runs and exercises. 

I had turned into a total mess, I was losing weight, but my body could not take what I was doing to it. As 2016 rolled around, finally bought a scale to start tracking progress. I weighed in at 270lbs(122.5kg), and that was after 6 weeks of dieting.

Diets and Tracking

The all-meat diet was just not cutting it; I was cheating too much from being hungry all the time. I started researching diets, keto, IIFYM, bodybuilder, weightlifter, balanced, carnivore; at some point, I have tried all these. The good out of this is I have learned to listen to my body’s needs. 

I found MyFitnessPal to track my calories and macros, I bought a food scale to weigh my food. When it came to my diet, I started tracking everything to see what worked and what didn’t. This became an obsession for a time. On the physical side, I kept trying to run when I wasn’t hurting too bad; a few days here, a couple there, with no consistency.

I have gone back and forth on tracking food over the years. For myself, I do best when I am tracking my food. It keeps me mindful of what I am eating. I have found Cronometer to be more to my liking for keeping track.

No More Running

In July of 2016, I had worked my way down to 240lb (108.8kg) right at about a pound a week, which is healthy weight loss. The problem was I had stalled; my weight was not moving at all. I decided that I was going to do a full-on keto diet. 

Next, the running was just too much. I had quit. I no longer could work through the pain, and some days I barely could walk without taking a handful of pain killers. I had been researching other cardio exercises that would be non-impact on my knees. 

The kettlebell was my next answer. I started swinging with a 35lb (15.9kg) bell; this was an excellent next exercise for me and did not hurt my knees.

Between diet, kettlebell swings, and pushups, my weight started to drop again. As fall approached, the kettlebell, while still good, was getting boring to me, and I bought a rowing machine. This was some much-needed variety to my exercise.

As 2016 ended, my weight was down to 210lb (95.3kg). I felt great, the pain in my knees had lessened, I had energy again, and I could see improvement in my fitness.


Not a new year resolution, it was just time to start lifting weights. I had in mind a body transformation. I knew this would be no 90 days and total change or any other hyped-up programs out there. I had messed around with weight lifting through the years but never enough to say I did a program. 

I was just one of those dumb kids doing curls in the corner, trying to build my arms. Didn’t mess up and do them in the squat rack because the gyms I was in didn’t even have them, or I probably could have checked that box off. With finances tight, a gym membership was not going to happen. I needed a program that I could do at home on my own.

In my research for a beginner’s program, I came across Stronglifts 5×5. Seamed simple and easy to follow. It started with the barbell and work up with weight from there. Now the only problem I had no barbell or weights. This took me a little time. 

Keeping it simple

I did not want to pay full price for these items, off to craigslist I went. Like usual, all the weight sets I had been seeing where either bought up or overpriced by a longshot. Soon in talking with a friend, I attained some plates and a barbell for free, even better. My journey with iron had begun.

Stronglifts is a 3 day a week program going up by 5 or 10 lbs. a week on your core lifts, bench, squat, deadlift, overhead press. I progressed quite well at this program and in 12 weeks, went from starting with the barbell and learning the movements to:

Bench 130 lb.

Squat 220 lb.

Deadlift 245 lb.

OH Press 130 lb.

Now during this time, I was still in a calorie deficit, trying to lose more weight. I now know getting stronger and losing weight are not the best combo to go after at the same time. 

Beginners luck though, I think I did well with my lifts, and by the end of March, I was down to 198 pounds. I had not been this light since basic training in 2004. The only problem, I was tearing my body up by not feeding it what needed to get stronger. All I wanted to do was sit around and sleep or rest, with little energy except for my workouts. 

I had stuck to a program for 12 weeks, which in itself was an accomplishment for me.

Early Fitness Education

The whole 12 weeks, I had been devouring any and all information on fitness. Lifting and eating right. I thought it was time to switch things up. I went with the 5/3/1 program, changed my diet around, are started putting weight back on but kept the fat off for the most part. My lifts started to go up, and by the end of August, I hit some new PRs.

Bench 215 lb.

Squat 280 lb.

Deadlift 370 lb.

OH Press 170 lb.

Even though I had hit some good PRs with my bench and OH press. I had re-hurt my left shoulder, and bursitis had set in with a passion, after making sure with a doctor that I had not torn a rotator cuff. I continued to lift but took out all my bench and OH work. As long I kept my hands below my shoulders most of the time, I was ok with my lifts. 

I started concentrating on my squat and deadlift, letting the shoulder heal. Injury is part of the iron game, especially when you start pushing yourself hard or doing things incorrectly. In looking back, I checked both these things off.


The rest of 2017, I basically went on autopilot, trying different programing systems out and seeing what exercise I could perform without severe pain. For squats and deadlifts, I had come across a method of doing 5/4/3, going up 10 lbs. each time for a total of 33 reps. The last 3 being your max. This worked well, didn’t bother my shoulder much, and I continue to improve. In the first week of 2018, I tested my squat and deadlift. I finally had hit my first two goals I wanted

Squat 325 lbs.

Deadlift 405 lbs.

A good year of lifting, learning what my body can do, and feeding it, increasing my knowledge working to have a healthy body. 


Fitness had become an essential theme through a year of a roller coaster of activity. First 6 months on par with basic lifting and getting stronger with some light cardio every other day jump roping. Diet and nutrition were keeping steady, maintained my weight. No real fat loss or bulking, being in healthy mode.

Then summer happened lots of travel, California, Michigan, South Africa.

Consistent workouts went out the window, food intake was harder to stay on track. Saving grace here lots of hiking and exploring to counteract the not so best eating and drinking. Somehow managing to keep weight maintained. I put that my body is getting better optimized for changes in diet and exercise.

As the summer came to a close, my mother gave me a treadmill, life turned to the normalcy. Time to get back to concentrating on health and fitness, tried several different times for running, finally settle on running the morning, working out in the evenings.

Get Up Get Moving

Being seventy plus pounds lighter, I was able to start jogging and then running again. I had a goal in mind; I wanted to be able to run a 5k non-stop. I feel that this is a simple benchmark that men should be able to do. Time does not matter so much as the accomplishment of. We need our challenges. 

Every morning 2.5 min walk to warm up, I started working my way from 5 mph for 30 mins, to going for a distance of 3 miles/ 5k. I got my average to about 25 mins, which out to about 7 mph.

What a way to get your day going. I can tell the energy it gives me carries me through the day. Able to accomplish more any given day; it also helps wake me up and give me a cleared mind. After 10 weeks of running, slowing working some fat off, which is a good feeling. Adding 4 nights of lifting weights and seeing some muscle definition. Makes you feel good about yourself.


About this time, I picked up a book from Craig James, Death Blow to the Dad Bod, a little bit of history here, when I first got it was under another name. I will have to say the title now fits the current era; there are so many “dad bods” running around thinking that’s ok, and then wonder why so much of their life sucks. I digress. 

What I enjoyed most of his book is that in combined strength training with some bodybuilding. The variation that I was looking for. For I have come to find out in my training, I need a bit of variation. Each of us is different in this regard to a point. Our bodies adapt and then need a bit of change to shock them into continuous improvement. 

I ran his course through; on several of the lifts, my nagging shoulder injury hampered me. Between this frustration and some extended travel time, I quit lifting for a bit to let the shoulder and some other injuries heal up. There are times you need to take a step back and heal; pushing through continues to prolong, if not make you worse off. 

Major Shift

Halfway through the year, I left the 9-5. I put more effort into this blog. Also, I started my ecom store Barbaric Soap. This move and building a decent home gym gave me more time to work on my fitness. I continued to follow the DBDB program. I was making some outstanding gains. 

With the change of pace, I let my diet go, not horribly, I still ate well. More to the fact, I was not tracking how much intake of food. I continued to try and burn fat off. By the end of the year, I had plateaued. I was no longer losing, and what was worse is old injuries start to mess with me again, while strength had stagnated. 

I once again started religiously tracking my calorie intake. Now usually, you would think I would be overeating. Well, this was time I realized I was under-eating. My average maintenance level when I run the numbers is about 3300 calories. I had worked myself down to 1700-1800 calories a day, which you would think the fat would melt off me. 


Nope, not me. Not only did I stall, but I also started to put fat on. For I have gone past the annoyance of weighing myself each day, that number no longer bothers me. It lets me know how my body reacts to my activities. I also measure myself regularly and feel that it is a better way to track one’s fat loss. 

In the first few weeks of the year, I kept lifting and tracking. Working on adding some calories back in. I had a great trip to Florida to meet up with the Fraternity of Excellence Men. When I got home, I buckled down and got to work. 

The first order of business was to get my diet back on track. I kept adding calories in every 2-3 weeks. Even some go nuts refeed days, which for me is a good breakfast and a half of pizza for dinner. 


When it comes down to macros, I always like to keep things as simple as possible. The only one I really concern myself with is protein. I decide how much protein I want, this typically sets up my fat intake by default, and then I add some carbs to make the rest of my calorie intake. 

I am elementary in my eating habits, to some extent, even bland. Is my way of eating the best? No, not even close, but it works for me. I know that I could optimize it more and see quicker results; and more than likely better results. I am not a fan of cooking, which hinders me a little bit; I view this side of things as it will take me longer. I am good with this. 

From February to the present day, I have done well. I dropped from the mid 220s down to 206ish. With the more important measurement of dropping my waist from 39 inches down to 36 inches. I have continued to add calories working to feed my muscles. My waist continues to stay stable as my weight is slowly going up. 

Going into Fall 

I am adding more muscle than fat. I know the fat will come as continue to eat to grow. The time will come in the spring when I shall work that fat back off, and by then, hopefully, I will have the muscle needed and that I want to help burn it off more efficiently. 

That is something that I am learning on my fitness journey is that it is not linear. I hit stall points, and I need to change directions. You want to look good when the fat comes off. You need muscle there to show off. Just losing the fat is not enough. You end up looking sickly is all. 

I have my goals set, my program is set for the coming weeks. I am back to lifting heavy, going slower yet chasing numbers I want for the big lifts once again. Taking care of my body and listening to it. I am 95% healed up and feeling good, pushing the limits of what it can do to grow once again feels good. 

Only time will tell where I will end up, and I am in it for the long haul now. 

Written by Nathan
Twitter @steeljanz
IG @barbarianrhetoric


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