Dropping Weight by…Dropping Weight: The BHB’s Bodyweight Regimen

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

I don’t have a home gym setup. Never did. I saw absolutely no reason to drop 12 Easy Payments of $19.99 a month for some gargantuan piece of machinery that, in all likelihood, would become another clothes rack and hiding spot for the cat.

Yet, 6 years ago, I was 240 pounds. As of this morning, this is what my scale told me:

Scale readout indicating 164.2 pounds and 10.6% bodyfat

10.6 Bodyfat Percentage
Scale readout indicating 164.2 pounds and a BMI of 22.3

BMI of 22.3

Yes, I am still a baker. Yes, I still eat my own work, as I’ve brought up before.
I just lost the weight and keep it off without buying some ridiculous workout machine or diet plan.
In the previous articles, I’d mentioned it in the broad strokes, and I mentioned that I use a single, 50lbs. sandbag for weightlifting (or, as the case may be, a sack of flour), and told you all a bit about where and why I run, but I never went to any great detail on my bodyweight exercise routine.

 

Here we go then!

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A Day at the Race

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

A few months back, I decided that I needed a goal. Work had become mundane, home life and exercise had become a routine, and even the joy I generally took from writing had become somewhat stagnant.
I needed something to look forward to- something I’d have to train up and prepare for.
I chose a 5K trailrunning race, up a mountain that I had only ever really used the paved paths on.

This is how I got up a mountain, down said mountain, and where my mind went on the way.

Mt. Tabor in Portland Oregon shrouded in mist

It was frustratingly chilly. There had been spats of sunshine and warmth the entire work week, and now on my weekend- Portland was earning one of its many nicknames as “Puddletown.” I hadn’t really slept well the night before- Emily came to bed late, and the cat decided that 4 AM was a perfect time to jump up onto my chest and bury her fuzzy face in my armpit.
I needed to pick up my race tag and swag at 9:30. There wouldn’t be an official bag check or locker system- anything I came with or acquired would be on my back for the race, or tucked away in a tree for the honor system to decide its fate. Therefore, pack light. I was wearing my Utilikilt- the hiking model I had bought for myself years ago- it has big ol’ cargo pockets that dangle from it’s sides, or can be removed and attached to the belt. I make the call to leave them at home- I don’t need the extra weight slapping around when I run.

Picture of the BHB in his Utilikilt

Cleo finally succeeds in getting me vertical at 7:30. A quick breakfast of protein pancakes, pre-workout drinks, and some eggs, then it’s time to dress… Kilt, long-sleeve running shirt, neon-green hoodie, and my favorite running bandana, tie-dyed with “kfitzat haderech” written on it in Hebrew- קְפִיצַת הַדֶּרֶךְ. One of my own little superstitions- the words are from Kabbalistic Judaism, and mean “contracting the path” or “The Shortening of the Way”- a divine miracle in which someone is blessed with super-speed, or otherwise able to cross vast distances quickly. Frank Herbert had borrowed it to mean something a little different, and changed the pronunciation to “Kwisatz Haderach”.
“And how can this be?”
Long socks and my running shoes go on… then I stroll out into the wind, hands deep in my pockets, for the uphill hump to the starting line- no point in taking a car, and no car to take anyway.

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This is not my first time running a 5K- in a kilt, or in the cold- and the fact that I’m doing it at all is at least a little bit of a miracle. Not a divine one, though- the miracle of being too stubborn to die young.

The first time was in Philadelphia- a country and several years back. I ran the Ugly Sweater run with my sisters through Fairmont Park. It was really my first test of my fitness since I had decided I needed to lose weight- that I wasn’t happy being overweight and in constant pain, and that I needed to outrun a family history that promised diabetes, obesity, and disease of the heart and lungs.

I certainly didn’t make the run easy on myself- it was going to be cross-country, but on mostly flat terrain. I wore a light, woven kilt, a t-shirt, the requisite ugly sweater (mine said “Happy Elfin Holiday”) and my denim jacket. The morning of the race, it was 1 degree F. Oops.

Better borrow a scarf from my sister.


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The sweater got given away to charity later, sorry to say.

Racind tag from the 2018 Tabor Challenge

I’m one of the first to show up at the mountain- the volunteers running the race had been setting up for a couple hours already, but the wind and cold were making it slow-going. The Tabor Challenge started in 2015 as a fundraiser for scholarships for athletically AND academically worthy high school students. This is its third year.
As soon as I show up, the giant banner/selfie background reading “The Tabor Challenge- Run Fast. Think Smart” blew over. As I start lifting it back up, a few volunteers coming running up to help. A couple cases of bottled water function as sandbags.
Hey, thanks for the help!”
“No worries- hey, where do I pick up my packet?”
I get pointed over to the single most stable structure nearby- a large picnic pavilion containing the registration and raffle. I get handed my tag, instructions for the raffle (some great running gear, gift card to Columbia sporting goods, etc.) all the energy bars I can handle, and a copy of the Chinook Book– a long-running coupon book with deals for locally-run/sourced businesses. A hell of a gift for running the race- that I now need to carry with me or stash.
I should have worn the pockets.

Back in the main starting area, people are starting to file in behind me. They’ve laid out free granola bars, bananas, bottled water, and Gatorade for all the participants, and a merch tent is selling Koozies, hoodies, shirts, and more. Off to one side is a bizarre little bus-like vehicle that, at first, I think is the beer cart getting set up for those who apparently need a beer at 9:30 AM. As I get closer, I read the signs and see that it is something FAR more important- the coffee cart.


The Gotta Have Coffee Coffee Truck

As more racers start to file in and the sun slowly peeks through the clouds, I get a chance to talk to Cleann- one of the two folks working the coffee cart. The cart came together much the same way I built up The Black Hat Baker- her husband Scott had been a mechanic all his life, and decided that his body wasn’t going to be up to the job forever. Holding on to the knowledge he’d gained from a small business course and making espresso in high school, he decided he was going to sell coffee. The ingenuity and resourcefulness that comes with a lifetime of metalwork and fabrication meant that, in the fall of 2016, Scott dragged a totaled 1970s mail truck into his garage and told Cleann he was going to turn it into a self-sustaining coffee cart. Rebuilding, raising, and outfitting the truck himself and sourcing coffee while his wife worked as an assistant school principal, in 2017 Gotta Have Coffee launched for catering and events.

As Scott preps for a rush of runners craving caffeine, Cleann and I chat about her story.
There’s a blog on our website, but people never seemed to care much for it. I just stopped updating it after a while- but when I started taking pictures and telling people about us and the cart, they were MUCH more interested.”

People like hearing about coffee, we agree- but they like hearing about people more, and they LOVE a good story. We part, agreeing to follow each other on social media.

The lineup is starting. I look at my hands holding the coupon book, free t-shirt, and stuff I’d been handed since registering. No way in hell am I carrying all this, and I brought nothing to carry it in anyway. After a little inventive wrangling, I tie it all up in my neon hoodie (yes, I’m cold, but I’ll warm up on the run.) After a little more wrangling and attempted ties, I notice others are stashing their bags in the crooks of trees or under bushes. Well, if they’re comfortable with it….
I tie my hoodie and its tiny treasure trove to the branches of a nearby tree, like a weird offering to Odin. If the Norns decide it’s worth taking… realistically, I’ll be more pissed about losing the hoodie.
Anyway, it’s time to line up.


I am F***ING. COLD.

The race starts ridiculously early, and in Fairmont Park, the sun isn’t even up yet. My sisters and I meet under the registration table where we are given our tags, “Ugly Sweater Run” backpacks, a handful of swag, and a plug for Save the Children- the worldwide charity that part of our registration costs go toward. I’m pounding down mediocre hot chocolate and jogging in place- everyone else is in heavy coats for the moment, or leggings. Lauren and Steph are a bit more bundled, but we all huddle out of the wind. As we stick together against the cold stone of a staircase, groups of runners start clumping together- they’ve been doing these and other runs together for a while.

In a way, I envy them. Ever since I started, running for me was a solitary activity. I ran specifically FOR the quiet time- the energy of motion, and the chance to be alone with my thoughts for as long as the track/my legs could hold out. While being part of a community of runners would be fantastic, I don’t think I’d ever want to actually run as a group. Still, it’d be nice to have a group of friends to talk about it with though. Maybe someday…

A dull loudspeaker announcement… it’s time to line up. Steph, Lauren, and I hop in place- everyone agrees to go at their own pace, and we’ll meet up at the end.


The race began on a downhill. A goddamned DOWNHILL.
We tear off on a short, paved uphill stretch to get over a small rise, before a sharp right turn takes us through the dirt and on to a long-bomb, downhill paved run straight past the first reservoir.
I’d been running on this mountain ever since we moved into the area- almost always on the same, paved path, but it followed the mountain: uphill all the way to top, when one normally has the most energy, then the long downhill run when gravity helps your tired muscles and all you need to do is keep your feet.
The race is starting out downhill though… and paved. This might be problematic. I hadn’t prepared for this.

Halfway through, I know that I’m not making my average pace. The long downhill led to a flat run around one of the reservoirs, and then a lap around the lowest ones- the reservoirs I do laps around at the end of my ordinary runs.
The lined path has sharp corners and switchbacks- baffling any momentum a runner might pick up by forcing them to stop on a dime and change direction. With half my energy burnt up on the downhill, and essentially having to start from a standstill after a hairpin turn, I recognize where in the course we are… and that we are making for the top, in the mud.


Roots. A few small rises, and the frozen ground warming under wave-after-wave of pounding sneakers and the rising sun make the going a challenge, but not impossible. I’d been running almost entirely through the flat streets of my neighborhood in Egg Harbor City, NJ. There was rarely a space- or need- to run over dirt, and the flatness of the Pinelands made elevation changes non-existent.
No matter, though- my main speed came from the need to keep warm. My bare legs, though still chilly, were being warmed by rushing blood. Some people are slowing down- others are walking. I manage to outpace a few- I’m sure that if I slow down, sweat will make me freeze.
Run for warmth,” I think. “Run for your life.”


Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” is blasting in my headphones. Goddammit, I’m TRYING.
I’ve been reduced to walking, more like a dogged hike. The uphill dirt path is rendered to cold mud by the recent rains- absorbing all the energy from my footfalls, and giving little support underneath except what I can gain in traction. I remember my hikes as a Scout- “when going uphill, stay on your toes. Lean in to the hillside. Make it a controlled fall, and keep your legs pushing BACK, rather than DOWN.”
A few guys who had passed me earlier are walking too- stretching or breathing out stitches. It’s too cold to make out if anyone is really sweating, but their breathing is heavy enough. The sun is fully up, and I’m starting to feel hot.
“Glad I ditched the hoodie” I mutter, rolling the sleeves of my running shirt up. We’ve gotten to the flat moutain-top park.
Oh god, they’re making us use the STAIRS?!

Pink Floyd gives way to Springsteen. “Baby, we were born to ruuuuuuuuun!”


8:14.
8 minute, 14 second mile- that’s my pace as I barrel down the long stretch to the finish line. I’ve long since stopped feeling cold- the layers of t-shirt and sweater actually feel unbearable as I emerge from the trees into the sunny clearing.
My sisters are nowhere in sight, so after walking out any cramps my legs may have, I grab the phone in my pocket to text them- let them know I’m at the finish line, ask where they are, maybe brag a little bit. I wind up reading instead.
Matt, are you at the finish line yet?”
“Someone’s hurt, around mile 2. I think she sprained her ankle.”

Find a medic, there’s no one on the trail and we can’t move her.”A medic is leaning against his ambulance. A quick rundown, and he’s grabbed his bag, heading back the way I came. My sisters cross the finish line, jogging slowly- one of the runner’s friends caught up and agreed to stay with her when they said they’d texted me for help, and would try to run ahead to find a medic or me, whoever they got to first.
The medic gets to the injured woman quickly and patches her up. My sisters and I grab a beer in the sun. It’s been an exhausting morning.

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8:46.
8 minute, 46 second mile as I come down the mountain- appropriately now set to “Mountain Song” by Jane’s Addiction as I cross the finish line.
I’m bitterly disappointed. 8:30 min/mi had been my target pace, and if I had trained properly, maybe I wouldn’t have wound up slogging up some of the trails.
At the bottom, the volunteers are laying out MORE water and granola bars. One of them grins at me- I’m one of the first group to make it over the line.
“How’d you do, man?”
“Ugh…
not so great. 30 seconds behind my goal pace.”
Aww, don’t sweat it, dude! The rain made the whole place muddy. You sign up next year, I bet the weather will be better. Get some record action going, brother! Here, have a snack!”As I stretch and walk off the race, I happen to look at the tree. My hoodie is still hanging up where it was. No one touched it- just like they didn’t touch anyone else’s. There is a community here- an understanding.
The beer tent is set up, but I skip it- I can’t stand IPAs. As more people come across the line, a few wave and smile at me.
“Dude, how’d the kilt treat you?! I saw you have some really good leg motion on the uphills- I gotta think about that!”
“Hey man, how’d you do? That mud was a killer- I was trying to keep pace with you, but DAMN!”

I walk around and watch friends catch up. Pizza arrives, Scott and Cleann are busy. I don’t win the raffle, but I DO treat myself to a new running tee and a laser-engraved steel coaster. There’s an afterparty that night at a local brewery, but for now I’m fine just walking home.

At home, Emily is awake. She asks how the run was, and if I want to go shopping with her later- she’s had a lazy morning and wanted to slip off somewhere and write.
I’ll join up with her later. My hoodie gets hung up, my clothes in a laundry bin. The tag goes on a pegboard with the one from the Ugly Sweater run.

Well, that was interesting. Just like last time.

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Stay Classy,

Finding Your “Why” Where You Are

Good evening, friends and neighbors! Happy New Year! I hope everyone is starting 2018 off well. I’ve been starting mine off with getting a bit more reading in- and now I’m starting to look up more regarding Kabbalah.

No, not that fashionable, Madonna, celebrity bullshit. The real deal- and I started off learning about it with a book about a group of rabbis sitting down with the Dalai Lama.

No, that’s not a joke.

Cover of The Jew In The Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz

“Ok, so 6 Rabbis and a poet walk into India…”

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The Ins and Outs of Healthy Eating, with Ken McCullough

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

One of my favorite stories about dealing with the realities of life comes from Buddhism. A young man once approached the Buddha as he was teaching and asked, “Please grant me wisdom that is truly transcendent- that holds true throughout all ages, all teachers, all places in the cosmos.”
The Buddha’s answer was a smile and the phrase, “Sesame flatbread.”

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Photo from EatSmarter.com

The reason I like this story is that it truly does cut to the heart of things- beyond morality, convenience, and creed, is the simple wisdom of biology: when you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep. When you are thirsty, drink. It really is that simple.

The “how” of it, however… that’s another story.

 

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The Bakeshop Workout

Hello, friends and neighbors!

The other day, I was making a supersized batch of Zucchini Bread batter at work- and in so doing, I did a 117 lbs (53 kg) deadlift from floor to chest.

Not a problem, I do it all the time.

THAT’S how you stay in shape working at a bakery- you WORK at a bakery.

I’ve mentioned before that I use a 50 lbs. (22.67 kg) sandbag for exercising at home, and that the motivation for this came directly from wanting to be a baker, but I don’t believe I ever went into any real specifics about it.

So here we go: presenting,

“The Black Hat Baker’s Bake Shop Workout!”

Otherwise known as, “I Pick Up Heavy Things and Put Them Down, but I can bake bread with them too when I’m done.”

The author with a bag of flour over his shoulder, wearing a Ramones tee.

See, my workplace DOES have a private gym!

 

“What Do I Need?”

That’s simple- a bag of sand! You can get a 50lbs. bag of play sand at Home Depot for about $6. Get the sand, put it in a couple garbage bags to help insure against leaks, and then either put THAT inside a large, sturdy duffel bag or wrap it up in duct tape.

The thing that makes using a sandbag different from barbells or dumbbells is the fact that the sand will slosh and shift as it moves. The bag also doesn’t have any handles- thus as you manipulate the bag, you will have to constantly use accessory muscle groups and reaffirm your grip in order to keep control of the bag.


OK… why are we doing this again?

When my brother-in-law Kevin gave me advice on how to start getting in shape, he had asked me what I wanted to do with a fit, healthy body. When I said that I just wanted to be able to function in a bake shop, he suggested exercises that mimic what I might do in a bakeshop. Makes sense, right?
All these exercises, therefore, are the actual names of lifts and movements that I have found myself needing to do in my career as a baker. I tend to do 5 reps of each of these exercises in rotation.

*ENORMOUS FREAKING BRIGHT RED DISCLAIMER!*

I AM NOT NOW, NOR HAVE I EVER BEEN, A FITNESS EXPERT OR A PERSONAL TRAINER! THESE EXERCISES ARE PRESENTED PURELY AS SUGGESTIONS FOR WHAT HAS WORKED FOR ME PERSONALLY- YOUR ABILITY, RESULTS, AND SPECIFIC HEALTH RELATED CONDITIONS MAY VARY. DO NOT START ANY NEW WORKOUT ROUTINE WITHOUT SPEAKING TO A FITNESS OR MEDICAL EXPERT. ATTEMPT THESE EXERCISES AT YOUR OWN RISK.

1. The Sandbag Carry

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This is really as simple as it gets. Pick up the bag, bearhug it to your chest, and just walk around. This happens roughly daily in the shop, for obvious reasons.
The reason this exercise is great is because it’s comparatively low-impact, and simply learning to move while carrying a load will help you learn to use your core muscles- that’s the ones in your lower chest and abdomen. Learning to tense and use these muscles will help support your back and spine, reducing the likelihood of injury for any of the other exercises.

2. The Sumo Deadlift

Author Demonstrating Sumo Deadlift

“LIFT WITH YOUR KNEES, NOT YOUR BACK!” There’s a reason this is heard over and over again- because it works.
I prefer this stance/grip over a regular deadlift for the sandbag, simply because the bag is flat on the ground and must be gripped from there- as opposed to a barbell where the bar is likely off the ground a bit. For my purposes, flour is delivered to us on large wooden pallets. They need to be lifted from floor to table/shelf.

For this lift, stand with your feet a bit more than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and reach down to grip the bag. Keep your core tensed, and lift in a smooth, controlled motion- keeping your weight back on your heels. As you come up with the bag, bring your hips forward to meet the bag. Slowly reverse and bring the bag back down.

3. Sandbag Curl

The author demonstrating bicep curls

Curls are good.  Yes, they are infamous for “gymbros” doing them in the squat rack. Working out your biceps in the bakeshop, however, helps you get that mixing bowl off the machine and on to your table. It also helps you make mousse and meringues by hand- those take a LOT of whipping….

Stand up straight, core tensed, feet shoulder-width apart. With a firm grip on the bag, just curl your arms and hoist the bag up to your chin. Return under control- DO NOT just relax your arms and let your elbows snap straight. You WILL injure yourself.


​4. Sandbag Lunges / Squats

Yeah, if you’ve got bad knees in a bakeshop, you are REALLY screwed. Half my day is spent squatting or kneeling, with or without weight, to put things in a low oven, grab that giant jug of oil, fetch up 5 dozen eggs, and so on.
You want to EAT chicken legs in a kitchen, not HAVE them.

For both of these exercises, the keys are to keep your core tense, flex at the knees and hips, and never let your knees go past your toes- doing this prevents your ankles from taking the brunt of the weight.

5. The Overhead Press

Animated GIF of the author demonstrating an Overhead Press with a sack of flour

While it’s generally not smart to store heavy objects higher than head-level- you tend to put things where they will fit. If you look at the rack behind me, some of those boxes up top weigh up to 30 lbs. It’s good to know your arms and shoulders won’t give out on you when you need to get a new crate of chocolate chips down.

With your core tensed and your feet shoulder-width apart, bring the bag up to your chest and raise over your head slowly, to your full range of motion. After a moment, bring the bag back down slowly and repeat.


There you go! With a sack of flour providing strength training, simply being on your feet for 10 hours a day offering cardio, and intelligent eating, this is how you can work in a bakeshop and stay fit.

Best of luck, and

Stay Classy,

P.S.
Special thanks to Collin Jones, my boss at Crema Coffee + Bakery for letting me mess around with the dry goods after hours!