The third month leading up to my first bodybuilding contest in October continued to exceed all my expectations. Although my willpower never truly had to be tested and I never cheated on my nutritional plan, the hardest part of the last month was trying to maintain a rigorous cardio and weightlifting routine while my body got leaner and leaner and I felt weaker and weaker. Luckily, the routine that I had been diligently following the previous two months continued to proceed on autopilot, allowing me to use what brain cells I had left to focus on my contest preparation chores, like posing, music selection, and tanning, as well as having fun like taking pics to show off my hard work! Hey, when you have the body you wanted all your life at the age of 55, you'd be doing the same thing!
But let's get down to brass tacks! My bodyfat goal was to get down to at least 6%. As I never tried this before, I was just going purely on research and sticking to a plan. For bodybuilding contests, competitors should come in at the 4-6% bodyfat range; so, taking my age and experience into account, I conservatively aimed for six percent. As I mentioned in my previous posts, I was consistently hitting my weekly targets - even being three weeks ahead of schedule - and, much to my delight, this pattern continued into the last month.
Using the Durnin/Womersley skinfold bodyfat caliper method, by week twelve my bodyfat dropped to under four percent, coming in at an astounding 3.97%!!! For the first time in my life, I saw my six pack! And although I wasn't concerned by my bodyweight, by Week 12 it dropped to 166lbs, down from 184 lbs..
So how did I achieve this feat at age 55, especially when most studies and experts say that my achievement is virtually impossible?
"You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get."
- Michael Phelps
As Michael Phelps says, I did not know any boundaries nor limits. I had a goal and I was determined to succeed. I stuck with my macronutrients and kept my carbohydrate intake to around 80-90 grams a day. Most bodybuilders wouldn't maintain such a low rate - usually reserving such a low intake for the final week before they carb load - but I needed to make my numbers and I know how my body utilizes carbs.
And as you can see from the chart, my progress didn't slow down nor did it plateau. This also goes against most studies and other bodybuilders' experiences as this usually happens as the body's bodyfat levels get real low. So what did I do? Well besides my nutritional plan, I stuck with my daily cardio routine, even cutting it back to 20-30 minutes a day. What else? I decided to go edgy and give cryotherapy a try.
As my mother would point out, cryotherapy is a Greek word, from the Greek cryo (κρύο) meaning cold, and therapy (θεραπεία) meaning cure. This makes sense as cryotherapy actually has its roots in Ancient Greece (of course!) when Hippocrates would prescribe the use of ice and snow to treat pain and inflammation. In the 1970s, Dr. Yamaguchi of Japan originated Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) when he used freezing treatments of short duration on his patients’ skin surface for pain management of rheumatoid arthritis. He found the rapid decrease of temperature of the outer layer of skin led to the immediate release of endorphins and therefore less sensitivity to pain. From Japan, the use of WBC spread to the Soviet Union and then to the West. Besides pain management for arthritis, cryotherapy is used today to help professional athletes and weekend warriors enhance their muscle recovery. That caught my attention as my daily weightlifting routine was taking its toll on my aging body. But as I researched cryotherapy, I learned that many people reported weight loss as a welcome side-effect, although this claim cannot be substantiated.
So I went to a local wellness center and stripped to my undies, put on a pair of gloves and booties, and stood in the chamber for 3 minutes in a temperature of -100F. Now for those who know me, you know it doesn't take much to get my teeth to chatter, so I was surprised that I didn't shiver one bit. I could only assume that the cold was so extreme that your body felt numb if nothing else. And the proof is in the pudding - which is in the icebox for this occasion - as after my first cryotherapy session, my bodyfat dropped from 8.38% to 6.12%. - one of the biggest weekly drops during my contest preparation. This drop can be seen in the chart above between Sept 1 and Sept 8. Pleased with the indisputable and successful first attempt, I signed up for weekly sessions right up to a couple of days before the contest.
Besides cryotherapy, I tried a thermogenic potion to help stimulate the metabolism. With my energy fading in the final month, I was consuming up to 8 cups of coffee a day. But to give my metabolism a further jolt, I would add a tablespoon of matcha green tea to my coffee once or twice a day. Although I cannot verify that this burned extra fat, it did give me the energy boost I needed to maintain my hectic workout routine. In fact, coffee was one of the few vices that I enjoyed during this time that I even created the bodybuilding version of the classic Greek frappe, mixing in my protein powder with the iced coffee.
- George Harrison
As the physique contest was quickly approaching and my summer tan was fading, I did something I swore I would never do and that was to lie down in a tanning bed. But if I wanted to show off my hard work on the stage, as well as assess my progress in front of a mirror, I needed a tan to see the muscle development. Despite my apprehension about laying in one of these contraptions (I prefer not to get skin cancer and tanning beds give off UVA rays and not the Vitamin D-enriching UVB rays), the heat from it felt very comforting, especially after my body was still frozen from the cryotherapy sessions.
Drum Roll Please....
And finally I made my decision on which song I would use during my posing routine. To refresh your memories, my top choices were: "Xanadu" by Olivia Newton-John; "Father Figure" by George Michael; "You Make Me Feel So Young" by Frank Sinatra; "Unstoppable" by The Score; and "Big Bad Handsome Man" by Imelda May. And the song I selected is...
I wanted the song to be emblematic of me and my journey and "Xanadu" was the natural choice. When my health and wellness hit the crisis point three years ago, I was immobilized and practically bed-ridden as a result of a candida yeast infection. Candida yeast infection is the culprit behind Auto-Brewery Syndrome (aka leaky gut syndrome), which basically means your gut has become a distillery. In fact, people have been arrested for DUI while they had this condition. As a result of the malady, I was racked with pain from fibromyalgia and migraines, not to mention the chronic fatigue, depression and rosacea. To give myself positive energy and the extra push I needed to get out of bed, I would play "Xanadu" over and over again on my iPhone. So it is only fitting and poetic that I would perform my posing routine to the 80's classic.
For the routine itself, which lasts 60 seconds, I studied the routines of bodybuilders from the past as I was attracted to how they transitioned between poses. Some of them were very graceful yet masculine at the same time. They also had aesthetically-pleasing physiques that I could relate to - not like the steroid monsters of today - and their posing style would surely work for me. As I choreographed every move to the beat of the song, I tried to put together a routine that told the story of my resurrection, like a phoenix rising, overcoming and triumphing over my health issues as I returned to optimal health.
As I conclude my latest blog article, I apologize for being late with this submission. But as you know, sometimes life throws curve balls at us. This past November, my charming and wonderful cousin Alexandra Caruso passed away unexpectedly. She had an amazing spirit and was always supportive of me and my journey. On a regular basis, as I shared pics of my progress, she would send me delightful notes of encouragement. And today when I began work on this article, I noticed that a few weeks before her passing, she subscribed to my mailing list. May she rest in peace.