I have long had a passion for science and research that has intertwined with my love of strength and fitness. One way in which these interests of mine have interacted over the years has been an ephemeral “journal club” among my like-minded friends.
I have led reviews and discussions utilizing published research on fitness, exercise, weight lifting, cardio, and nutrition regarding specific questions one of us had asked. Rather than keeping this information among so few, my friends and I hope that others will desire to join us in our journal club for training research. We want to help others easily understand how exercise affects their bodies so that they can enthusiastically and more effectively become the healthy, fit person that they desire to be.
For those interested in my journey leading up to this website and journal club, please keep reading!
I was a nerd and have loved science as far back as middle school. Later, when I had to start thinking about college, I knew that I wanted to get into science and to do research. Just as well, my father raised me good and proper to love action movies, action stars, and action heroes. These characters were just as prevalent in my mind as the science was.
Over the course of middle school and high school, I also became an overweight kid that grew into an obese adult. Lots of sedentary living in college peaked my weight at 300 lbs by the time I was 20 years old, in 2001.
While hanging out at a friend’s place in early 2001, I noticed his copy of Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. I thumbed through it and was in shock and awe. In that instant I had a revelation come over me. While growing up with my head in the clouds of science and action movie heroes, my self-image had not accounted for how obese I had gotten. Sitting there, looking at hundreds of pages of the bodybuilder of all time, I realized that I was not actually how I imagined myself to be…and I wanted to do something about it.
“Is this where you wanna be, Joe Dirt?”
That same friend who showed me Arnold’s encyclopedia just happened to be a personal trainer. He gave me complete support and encouragement. Using methods such as low-carb eating, a little bit of cardio, and weight lifting (that I now think of as just muscular cardio because of how light the weights were), I went from 300 lbs on May 1st 2001 to 219 lbs on New Year’s Day 2002. As I am not different from the average person, I stopped putting effort into losing more weight after that and I crept up to 239 lbs by New Year’s Day of 2003. I decided to get back on track then. So I put my game face back on and hit reset on my previous practices. By New Year’s Day in 2004, I weighed in at 186 lbs.
Due to maintaining strict training logs since day 1 of my journey in 2001, I can say that I oscillated between 168 lbs and 185 lbs over the next 3 years.
During all that time, I was very interested in learning everything I could empirically about weight lifting and weight loss. Because I started with basic weight lifting and low carb eating, that is what I initially learned about. By 2005, I was developing an interest in strength training specifically. As I developed my knowledge of research methodology in academia, I also started applying that strict empiricism to my training and my personal research into the spheres of exercise and nutrition.
By 2007, I had found my particular strength training interest in powerlifting and I began training with powerlifters in a private gym. That experience taught me more than any reading ever could about how to focus and motivate myself, about what training intensity is, and how to properly do all the lifts. Those training partners gave me the best “in the trenches” education. I competed in my first powerlifting meet in May 2008, in the 181 lbs weight class. The researcher in me wanted to objectively confirm my training results and strength levels.
I relocated from California to Boston in the summer of 2008, where I began graduate studies at Boston University. My academic interests have been in neuroscience and psychology, and the skills that I developed in that field allowed me to quickly and easily read through the research on exercise and nutrition. I continued to do that and to powerlift while in Boston.
“I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”
My last powerlifting meet was in 2010. I had found that making weight for the 181 weight class was not as easy as it had been the first time. I became focused on the research of the foundations of nutrition. At the same time, I pinched a nerve in my lower back that required me to take time off from powerlifting to let the damaged nerve heal. I decided, rather than to give up on everything, to put to use the knowledge I had gained from the exercise and nutrition research. In the words of The Martian’s Mark Watney, “I scienced the shit out of it”.
Until that time, I had been what can be described as “skinny fat”. I did not have any definable muscle mass at 181 lbs. Of course I was satisfied with the success I had achieved from 300 lbs in 2001. But, I still did not see in the mirror what I had imagined I would see when I started out in 2001. The truth is that I did not have as much muscle as I thought I did when I was 300 lbs. I was not jacked ‘n tan at 181 lbs. I knew I had some muscle. I just needed to get rid of the last remaining fat that covered it in order to see it. My knowledge and perseverance proved to be more accurate than I would have expected. I easily went from 185 lbs in October 2010 to 165 lbs at the start of February 2011. I maintained that weight with ease throughout the rest of 2011, sometimes getting as low as 155 lbs.
At the start of 2012, I decided to finish what I started. I leaned out to 148 lbs by the end of April and an estimated 10% body fat. I also utilized some local sports medicine offices to test my resting and exercising energy expenditures. That provided me with a wealth of information about my training and my non-exercise physical activity. Beyond that, the information allowed me to see where I fit among the subjects of all the studies I had read over the years. I developed a whole new understanding from those test results.
Since 2012, I have continued to read the research on training and nutrition. My weight has flowed between 155 and 165 lbs. I became a father at the end of 2014, which has been the ultimate test of time-management and prioritizing efficient training to stay fit and healthy for my family. I have also continued to “journal club” the training studies with my like-minded friends.
As I said at the top, my friends and I hope that others will be able to join us in our journal club for training research. We want to help interested people easily understand how exercise affects their bodies so that they can enthusiastically and more effectively become the healthy, fit person that they desire to be.