My Accidental Journey Into Biohacking

Happy New Year 2023!

Here, I am documenting my 4 month “Fitness Journey” that I have so far kept (mostly) to myself.

I am not sure what I describe here is “biohacking“, but you can decide for yourself. It’s a tech blog and I am not opposed to using cool buzzwords to get clicks.

Sure. Why not? I mean, it’s my blog and I’ll post what I want . . .

DEAL WITH IT!

For the record, the definition I am focusing on here is this (admittedly) more loose definition:

Attempts to improve the condition of your body and mind using technology . . .”

I certainly haven’t augmented myself with implants, but a big part of the journey I disclose here is about my use of a FitBit and, as you’ll find out, Orangetheory Fitness (OTF)1.

Bryan, Is This Just A Stealth ‘New Years Resolution’ Post?

Nope. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I mean, if you want to make your own New Year’s Resolutions to “lose weight,” or to “be more healthy,” or to “stop oversharing about your creepy taxidermy hobby” . . . well that’s up to you.

I do re-prioritize amongst my various goals/interests and see which ones are the most important to me. Just remember that you are an adult (allegedly) and you can make resolutions anytime you damn well please.

But, if you are the type who makes New Years Resolutions and you want to get rid of that crumb-shelf you call a belly, what better time for me to post this?2

My 4×4 Health Plan

Way back in August I made a goal to go to OTF 4 times a week for 4 months. At the time, I called it my “4×4 Plan”.

And I can proudly say that outside of 6 total sessions where I was legitimately injured or sick, I have not missed a single workout.

After 4 months and ** looks at calendar ** 9 days, the results have been just short of transformative.3 Although I make no claims that I have the body of Adonis (I clearly do not), I have lost 8 pounds, two belt loops, and my t-shirts are tighter in the right places instead of the wrong ones. . . .4

Sorry ladies . . . I am married.

And, I can say with confidence that I have extended my goal to a 4×8 plan – that’s 4 times a week for 8 months and we’ll see where that takes me.

Why not a 4xForever plan? We’ll see. I still have to reach my health/weight goals and I’m not there yet, so I am doing this in increments of . . . apparently . . . 4 months. Once I reach my goals, my plan is to scale back to 3 times a week for maintenance.

One could argue that I should be further along than I am: maybe I should have lost more weight?

Maybe.

But if that’s the case it’s because of restaurant food and whiskey-gin-vodka-beer-wine. I have cut back on alcohol consumption, but I have not cut back on calories as much as I should.

That’s my struggle and something I will have to come to terms with sooner or later.

Hacking My Brain: Circumventing the Excuses

  1. First, I am an asthmatic pushing 50 with chronic back problems and a strong aversion to strenuous physical activity, but I know damn well that if I have a good health regimen with moderate exercise, my asthma and my back problems nearly disappear.

    Side Rant: I even resent having to maintain this mortal coil. If it were up to me, I would do without exercise altogether. Our hunter/gatherer ancestors “exercised” for survival in the form of . . . well . . . hunting and gathering. In the year 2022, after 10,000 years of established agriculture and civilization, many of us, but certainly not all, are fortunate enough to have food brought to us, so we have to spend time running on a treadmill like doofuses so we don’t die prematurely of heart failure or Late Onset Diabetes.
  2. My 4×4 plan fits in with the same advice you got in Kindergarten: show up and do your best.

    I never learned how to workout properly. If you have your own successful workout regimen and you are disciplined enough to stick with it, I envy you! I need something where I can show up and the workout is already spelled out for me: I show up, I do my best, and I am stronger at the end. I love not having to worry about whether or not it’s freaking “leg day”: let OTF worry about that.
  3. “Being healthy” is now part of my brand.
  4. If I didn’t have a good plan to stay healthy, I would be in pretty bad shape right now. Frequenting restaurants and “knocking a few back” with customers is now a big part of my job. Without a health regimen of whatever kind5, I would probably be in some serious health trouble.
  5. I work with some very healthy people at VMware. I am in Sales now, and I would say that most of the people I work with have some form of self-health plan of which I am aware. And thankfully, that is contagious. That is not something I experienced as an Infra Engineer.

    Side Note: I also had this bizarre vision of sitting at a table where we are trying to close a deal and the customer says, “We would buy from you, but,” they point at me and say, “. . . that guy is wheezing and he looks like he’s going to pass out any moment now. Is he going to die?”
  6. And finally, I had to work past my excuses deterrents. I have known about OTF for quite some time, but until I tried it, I had some misconceptions:

    I have a rebellious spirit, and I figured the last thing I need is some a-hole barking orders at me while I workout, which is why I never got a personal trainer. I had this cartoonish vision of OTF coaches angrily yelling into a bullhorn at anyone not keeping up, shaming people into running faster while they cry uncontrollably. Then I tried OTF thanks to a close friend (thanks, Wil). And as it turns out, OTF is not like that at all.

Hacking The 4×4 Plan Part 1: Hatching the Plan

Let’s start at the beginning. We already know that a visit to OTF made me realize I had some misconceptions about it. And after a couple of sessions I forged my 4×4 plan.

How did I decide on that? I don’t know, it just came to me. You can decide if it’s arbitrary, but the most thought I put into it was that 3 sessions a week “felt like” too few and 5 sessions a week “felt like” too many. I also figured it’s likely that I wouldn’t really see results (“Gains, bruh!”) until after 4 months, and “THE 4×4 PLAN” is something a second-rate marketing person might find “catchy”, so I went with it.

Second-rate marketing is always good for a chuckle.

The next step was to get myself into a mindset where I could succeed (that’s the mind-hack here). How can I make sure I am not deterred? Remember, for 49 years, I have never been on a solid workout regimen. The problem with weights? They’re so heavy! The treadmill? It’s so exhausting! I needed to find a way to push through all that.

Then I remembered something a friend of mine said to me about the resilience of the human body. This is a guy who runs 100-mile Ultramarathons and (kiddingly) calls people who run 26.2 mile marathons “pussies”. I remember him saying this:

“You’d be surprised at how adaptable the human body is to punishment. The first 40 miles is painful, but around mile 40 your body just says ‘OK, I guess this is happening now’ and just adapts to the new normal.”

I applied this to my situation. I figured for the first 3-4 weeks my body was going to bitch and whine about the new normal I was throwing at it, but at some point my body would adapt. I was determined to push through, take Ibuprofen, ice what ails me, and get into a new normal.

It worked.

Hacking The 4×4 Plan Part 2: The Tech

I have been “using” a FitBit for years now . . . on and off, but I consider August 22 my official OTF start date. I now use the FitBit in conjunction with the OTF tracker. As mentioned before I will probably have to use the FitBit for calorie tracking, but for now I use it to push my workouts to Strava.

How OTF works, from their home page (Note: HIIT = “High Intensity Interval Training”):

“Orangetheory is a total-body group workout that combines science, coaching and technology to guarantee maximum results from the inside out.  Our workout is not HIIT. It is heart rate-based interval training, where you train through 5 heart rate zones designed to charge your metabolism for MORE caloric afterburn, MORE results, and MORE confidence, all to deliver you MORE LIFE.

Orangetheory is more than a gym because the work you do here in our studio will make all the difference out there in your world.”

A little more detail: OTF works by measuring your heart rate during your workout and that gets counted as what OTF calls “splat points”. When I started, you’re supposed to try to get 12 Splat Points per workout, but some Coaches say that “you don’t need to worry about that because all workouts are designed to get you 12 splat points or more.”

At any rate, I have been following the original advice on 12 splat points or more per workout and it’s working for me. To keep it simple, just keep your heart rate “in the orange” as much as you can during the hour and you’ll get there. My record is 37 splat points in an hour.

Remember, it’s interval training so you get rests throughout the workout.

Overall, here are some Pros to OTF:

  1. You don’t have to keep up with the coach’s instructions. You can just do your best. Not a single time has an OTF coach shamed me for not keeping up. The way I look at it, I am there for an hour to have my ass kicked. If I back off on my treadmill speed a few seconds before they tell me to, at least I showed up and I am on the treadmill.
  2. You can mix up some of the exercises if you don’t feel comfortable. At first, I took it really easy on weights in the beginning (even though it was recommended to “go heavy”) because I am used to playing it careful with my back. No one scolded me for it. I also sometimes do weightlifting exercises that are not in the routine (rarely though).
  3. It’s as social as you want to make it. I am just there to workout, but some people are friends there.

    The only annoying thing that has ever happened during a session is we had a “woo-hoo-er” once. This is someone who is apparently so pumped up about working out they have to occasionally yell, “WOO!” I find these people very strange, but hey, you do you.
  4. OTF members are all shapes, sizes, races, and ages. It’s very diverse and welcoming.
  5. The workout is supposedly based on science and data. Is it science? No idea. Burning calories is straight up math, so I guess you could call that science?

    The data part I can dig because that is kind of my jam as an IT person. You wear a Heart Rate Monitor that syncs up to a monitor and the OTF app. I don’t want to give away any proprietary info, but that data is collected and you can review it later to see progress.

The Cons:

  1. OTF is expensive. That’s it, that’s the tweet.
  2. One of OTF’s underlying benefits is music while you workout. And as a bona fide Rap/Metalhead, the music is beyond horrible. A terrifying portion of it is Michael Jackson/Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey and various 80’s/90’s vapid pop drivel. You get the occasional AC/DC song, but most of it I just end up tuning out. The music is intended to be a motivator, but it has the opposite effect on me, so it’s just something I end up ignoring/enduring instead of enjoying.

    So OTF, if you’re reading this, I have no idea how those playlists are put together, and I understand you have to appeal to a “mainstream” audience. So while you can have your I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me), FFS would it hurt you throw in a few System of a Down songs? Maybe a little Bulls on Parade here and there?

Was This Biohacking?

You decide. I am going to lean toward yes because I am using technology to “improve the condition of my body” and it truly has been transformative. So, quite frankly, who cares if it’s biohacking or not? Whatever you want to call it, I am certainly a stronger person for it.

I think the takeaway here is that any kind of “hacking” includes thinking about things differently. It’s about “hacking into your motivation”, and if you’ve read carefully, you might see evidence of that.

I hope this helps and as a last note, it doesn’t have to be OTF. There are lots of things you can turn into your own version of the “4×4 Plan”.

See you next time and I promise I will get back to more traditional technology in 2023 . . . it’s one of my New Years Resolutions.

Hit me up on twitter @RussianLitGuy or email me at bryansullins@thinkingoutcloud.org. I would love to hear from you!

Footnotes

1I have received no compensation from FitBit, Orangetheory Fitness, or any other entity for this post.

2I am not a Physician, nor am I a health expert by any stretch of the imagination. You should contact your physician before taking on any strenuous physical activity or major diet changes.

3I don’t make any claims that I am even “healthy” in the first place. I have no idea. I mean, maybe? I feel as healthy I can feel as an asthmatic pushing 50 with chronic back problems, I guess.

4I don’t do before/after pics. No one wants to see that and I think it’s cliché and dumb. I am not an influencer and it seems click-bait-ish. You’ll have to trust me on this.

5For the record, dear reader, I am also very well aware that going on a lower-calorie diet by itself is also an option.

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