James can be reached at TwinFreaks CrossFit, where he is an owner and trainer. James coaches barbell lifting classes and CrossFit classes. Contact him by email at james@twinfreakscrossfit.com or by phone at 720-204-2631.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Twelve Week Transformation

I have been CrossFitting for over three years now and most of that time I've been on some form of Paleo diet.  At times I have been in stellar condition and able to perform at a high level.  I am, however, a guy which means that I love to lift heavy, and I have a tendency to become obsessed with the slow barbell lifts at the expense of everything else.  I rarely eat junk, but I do have a near weekly cheat day, and at times I have drunk a pint of heavy whipping cream on a daily basis.  I tend to cut CrossFit down to about two work outs a week, and I often cherry-pick those; they're going to be short, heavy, and quite likely barbell-centric.  None of this is really bad, but all of it is far short of perfect.  It makes me strong, people ask me where I work out, and while no-one says, "dude, you're jacked," no-one says I'm fat.

In early July, 2011 I decided to enter the July 31st USAPL power lifting meet at the Colorado State Games at 181.75 pounds. I usually walk around at 185 pounds, and I was shocked to find that I had crept up to 194.  It's not hard to take off 13 pounds in three or four weeks, but I am much more accustomed to take off 5 pounds in a week.  There was, coincidentally, a twelve week fat loss contest at work purportedly with a more than $1,000 prize to the winner, so I thought I had adequate incentive to hone my diet for three months and see how much fat I could strip.  Additionally, the inaugural Colorado CrossFit Master's Open competition would occur immediately after the fat loss contest, so I thought I might as well go all in and see how much I could improve my conditioning in the same three months.

Here is where I started:

7/10/11 Powerlifting Faileo James - those could be abs
Weight: 194
Body fat by four site pinch test: 17.5%
Body fat by consensus: 12-13%
"Cindy" score: 14.433 rounds
2,000 meter row: 7:26.0
mustache: perfect

What I attempted to do for three months:
1) Follow John Welbourn's dietary recommendations for fat loss - strict Paleo diet, no fruit, no dairy, 15 calories per day per pound body weight, 25% protein, 25% carbohydrate, 50% fat. 
2) Lift four days a week hitting the squat, dead lift, bench press, and press.
3) CrossFit four times a week with two entirely random WODs and two cherry-picked WODs designed to hit my weaknesses, notably all body weight movements and time domains exceeding 15 minutes.
4) Do a second work out on the C2 erg.

What I actually did for three months:
I ate absolutely nothing forbidden.  If I want to seriously do anything, I have to make it very easy on myself, so I ate only the following foods: ground beef; chicken; yams; squash; eggs, sardines; coconut oil; various green leafy vegetables.  I entered the nutritional data for all of these into a spreadsheet and tracked my daily intake of macro nutrients and calories.  In ninety days, I never got this absolutely right.  I tended to do okay on the fat, but usually had too much protein at the expense of carbohydrates.  I never had less than my body weight in grams in protein, as I made absolutely sure to hit this number every day no matter what else happened.  When I started, I noticed my calories were way too low, and over time I moved them to the target number and eventually beyond.  I chose not to be hungry.  Often on Thursday, dead lift day, I would program a met con involving high-rep, medium weight dead lifts after my lifting, and I would develop a ravenous appetite.  By the time I gave up tracking calories on Thursdays, I was well over 3,000 while my target was around 2,500.

I was perfect with my lifting.  It's easy to do what you're already good at.

I started out hitting four WODs a week, but after several weeks it was becoming clear to me that I was not recovering.  I was at least smart enough to realize continued pushing would make me regress, so I backed down to three a week.

Over time, my second rowing work out degenerated into a very low intensity affair due to my inadequate recovery.  I love the erg, but here again I realized I over-reached and entirely quit the attempt at a second work out.

To summarize, I did a fantastic if overly ambitious job of planning, and while I fought to the best of my ability, I fell well short of what I targeted as perfection.  Now of course this is subjective, but I honestly believe I came very close to doing my best.  Yes there were days when I could have pushed the WOD harder or passed up the extra 150 grams of ground beef and I failed to do so, but there were not many of those.  To be honest and not merely ego saving, I think I did an excellent job of adjusting my programming and eating on the fly.  My over-riding principal was to listen to my body and quash all the attempts, which I damn well knew I'd make, to be an idiot and push too hard.

Here is what happened in twelve weeks and a few days:

10/16/11 CrossFitting Paleo James - six evident

10/16/11 CrossFitting Paleo James - twin pythons and who knew the trapezius has striations?

Weight dehydrated: 174.5
Walking around weight: 180
Body fat by four site pinch test: 12%
Body fat by consensus: 7% (when building a consensus, find people who already like and support you.)
Body fat by hydrostatic test: 8.1%
"Cindy" score: 16.756 rounds
2,000 meter row: 7:08.4
mustache: still perfect but now seductively lustrous probably from the dietary fat

Twelve weeks is really not a long time to make such a dramatic change.  I had fun the entire time and enjoyed my self imposed discipline.  I did have a very high motivation level for various reasons.  I wanted to win the fat loss contest and the money, I wanted to have a respectable showing at the Master's Open, and as a CrossFit trainer and affiliate owner I though it was time to quit being lazy, practice what I preach, and show my clients the synergistic power of CrossFit and Paleo.

It can be seen that all those are external motivations, and I think that it was critical that I also had a high degree of internal motivation.  To be succinct, I was disgusted with my previous half-hearted efforts at everything besides lifting, and I wanted to quit effing around.

I did what I set out to do, and it was Awesomeness cubed.


  1. Fascinating that there are no comments on this one. I have to imagine it's one of the all-time greats.

    Myself and another gentleman helped ourselves to a laugh this week whilst changing in the locker rooms at the fishery; we were arrested by someone who, after displaying their badly under-developed back and shoulder muscles, said "You don't get this by being lazy." Immediately I thought of your last photo in this blog post, and was pleased when my compatriot referenced the same thing afterwards. Whispers and echoes of the RIF contest, I guess, still resonant.

    1. Thanks for reading, David. You can rock 'n roll or you can ask me where the party was after I'm gone.

  2. Nice work! Sick looking abs - I'm jealous!