When I started strength training three and a half years ago, my main goal was to regain some of the muscle I had lost from years of inactivity due to chronic fatigue syndrome.
After my initial two and a half years of barbell training, I accomplished that goal and more. Not only had I improved my muscle mass, but I had become stronger than I’d been in the previous 27 years.
However, what I had failed to do was eliminate 40 years of excess fat around my abdomen and chest.
Here’s something I learned after three years of lifting. If you’re in my age range, you won’t lose significant pounds by simply weight training.
If you’re a serious lifter or doing a lot of high-intensity training you might induce weight loss if you’re burning huge amounts of calories.
But if you’re an older guy you won’t lose weight. Sorry, exercise doesn’t produce significant weight loss.
Now here was my specific problem. The excess fat I was carrying around posed a significant health risk.
Even though I wasn’t terribly overweight my waist was approaching obese territory. And it was out of proportion to my legs and hips. Also, I was carrying around a disproportionate amount of fat to muscle.
This is called a skinny-fat body type and is considered by health professionals to be metabolically unhealthy.
With that in mind, my goal now was not only to continue to get stronger but also to become leaner and healthier.
In part 1 of this series, I’ll discuss the problems associated with a high waist measurement and excess body fat.
In part two I’ll explain how I was able to increase my strength and lose body fat and significant inches off my waist.
Becoming A Better Physical Version Of Yourself
Becoming a better physical version of yourself means becoming stronger and metabolically fitter.
Strength training will accomplish the first goal and also contribute to the second.
However, lifting weights alone will not get rid of excess abdominal fat which is often an indication of metabolic problems within the body.
Strength training alone won’t significantly improve things like insulin resistance or a poor lipid profile.
It can restore your muscle mass, but it can’t undo 40 years of a bad diet or poor lifestyle choices.
That requires another sort of training.
Getting Stronger And Fatter
Once I started lifting regularly, I got stronger quickly. I enjoyed this new found strength so much that I wanted to get even stronger.
To do so, I applied the classic weightlifting maxim: if you want to get stronger, consume more calories.
So I ate more, and I did get stronger. I didn’t deviate greatly from my paleo-type diet, but I did add a sweet potato daily and 20 grams of whey protein.
The problem was that I also put on about 5 pounds. That’s no big deal if you’re lifting consistently, right?
Well, not exactly. Those 5 pounds seemed to migrate right to my midsection. That was the last place I needed extra pounds.
Some of you older guys remember when you had abs or a six-pack. Well, I never even had a one-pack. My abdomen has never had any definition, and since my twenties, it’s always been rather prominent.
But now that I was gaining body weight, it was getting even bigger.
No big problem right. At my age, it’s expected to have a little extra weight around my middle.
Well, that’s not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it’s often a sign of dangerous things taking place inside our body.
Let’s take a closer look at belly fat.
Hey, My Belly’s Not Fat. It’s Average.
According to the general population, my belly isn’t fat. It’s average.
Statistics from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that the average American male is 5’9” tall, weighs 195.5 pounds, and has a waist circumference of almost 40”.
Eight months ago, I was almost in line with those statistics. At 5’11” tall, I weighed 185 pounds, and had a waist of 38.5”. I was almost average. In this case though, average is not where I or you should want to be.
Body Composition And Metabolic Health: Waist Circumference
A waist circumference greater than 40” in men and 35” in women is one indicator physicians use to indicate abdominal obesity.
As you can see, I was approaching 40”. If my waist grew another 1.5 inches, I would have been considered abdominally obese.
Abdominal obesity isn’t something to be taken lightly. When health professionals refer to it, they are talking about a specific type of fat that accumulates around your abdomen.
This type of fat is not subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is pinchable and squishy. It’s the type of fat that accumulates under your skin.
It provides insulation from the cold, cushioning for your body, storage for extra calories, and is generally found in the arms, legs, or buttocks.
Abdominal obesity, on the other hand, is a buildup of excess visceral fat around your midsection. You may also hear this fat called belly fat.
Visceral fat is firmer to the touch than subcutaneous fat. It lies deeper in your midsection and often accumulates around your organs.
Obviously, excess abdominal fat is extremely unhealthy. It was something that I wanted to eliminate as soon as possible.
Body Composition And Metabolic Health: Body Mass Index (BMI)
While waist circumference (WC) is one indicator of abdominal obesity, it’s not the best marker. Somebody could have a 41” waist but be extremely muscular. In this case, a 41” waist might not be a health liability.
In order to obtain a better diagnosis of obesity and metabolic health, practitioners also consider your body mass index (BMI). BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.
After 2 and a half years of weightlifting, my BMI was 25.8. This placed me in the overweight category. You can check your BMI here.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI),
The higher your BMI, the higher your risk for certain diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems, and certain cancers.
According to this chart by the NHLBI, my waist circumference together with my BMI put me at an increased risk for several diseases.
However, BMI like waist circumference can be deceptive when assessing body composition and metabolic health.
Some individuals can possess a lot of muscle mass causing their BMI to be high, yet they may be very healthy.
However, with my WC almost in the obese category and my BMI in the overweight category, I had two findings suggesting that I had to start paying attention to reducing my body fat.
There is, however, another marker available for assessing the danger of excess body fat.
This marker is considered superior to the previous two.
Body Composition And Metabolic Health: Waist To Hip Ratio
A better indicator of metabolic health is waist to hip ratio (WHR). It’s determined by taking your waist circumference and dividing it by your hip circumference. If you want to find out how to get a proper measurement, click here.
Discovering my WHR ratio and understanding what it meant was an eye-opener for me.
After two and a half years of weightlifting, my waist measurement was 38.5” and my hips were 39”. Yeah, I know, I had a fat belly, a skinny butt, and skinny legs. More on that later.
Nonetheless, my WHR was 0.99. According to some WHR charts, that put me at a moderate risk for the health problems associated with obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure.
The World Health Organization defines the ratios of >9.0 in men and >0.85 in women as one of the decisive benchmarks for an increased risk of metabolic complications.
The Dangers Of A High Waist To Hip Ratio
Medical researchers today are in general agreement that waist to hip ratio is a good predictor of health problems.
Data from the famous Nurses’ Health Study has shown that women with a high hip-to-weight ratio are more likely to suffer higher rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and mortality.
A High WHR With Normal Weight
Now, you might think that if you have a high WHR but are not overweight, you have nothing to worry about.
That’s a dangerous assumption because you don’t have to be overweight to have an unhealthy amount of visceral fat.
In the Nurses’ study, researchers found that elevated cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality was also present in women who had a high WHR but who also had a normal body weight.
So there it was. Even though I was getting stronger and not terribly overweight, I was still at risk for a number of serious diseases.
Three markers said I was still carrying around way too much fat compared to lean muscle.
And this fat was in the worst of all possible places, my belly.
I Confess: I Was A Skinny Fatty
As I started doing some research on how to get stronger and leaner, I discovered that I had inherited a body type that’s called skinny-fat. Can you imagine a 60-year-old worrying about his body type? Sheesh!
Anyway, for 60 years I was a skinny-fatty. Wow, doesn’t that sound like a logical contradiction? How in the world can you be skinny and fat at the same time? This is how.
Skinny-fat individuals have relatively low levels of lean muscle mass (skinny) and too much body fat. We usually look good in clothes, thank you.
But, in reality, our muscle mass is low compared to our fat content.
In fact, I was one of the worst kinds of skinny-fat. My hips and legs were relatively free of fat and non-muscular while the bulk of my fat resided around my chest and abdomen.
For most of my life, I was a large-bellied skinny fatty with a high WHR.
After two and a half years of strength training, my body type changed slightly. I did add muscle mass, and that was good. It meant that I was increasing the amount of muscle compared to fat.
However, there was still significant fat around my waist.
My Goal: Building A Better Body
Strength training experts said lifting weights could make me stronger, and they were right. After lifting for two and a half years, my deadlift was at 250 pounds, bench press at 180 pounds, and I was starting to do back squats with a barbell. My body weight at this time was 185 pounds.
My strength gains for a 60-year-old recovering from severe CFS were not something to make light of. I was proud of my achievement. But I wasn’t satisfied.
It was time to take my body to the next level. I had to tackle the excess fat and the high WHR problem.
In order to optimize my WHR, I could do two things. I could increase my hip size or I could reduce my waist size. However, and here’s the hard thing, I didn’t want to lose strength in the process.
Experienced weight trainers will tell you that recomposing your body without losing strength is one of the most difficult things to do.
Well, I did it, and in my next post, I’ll tell you how.
That’s it for this post. Have a great week.