You’ll recall in our last issue, Kyle decided to start a fitness program. Many folks who start a program lose interest in the first few weeks. Well, Kyle was as good as his word. For a former activity avoider, he is turning into quite the jockboy.
He began with a simple weight training routine, using a few basic exercises. At first his training was somewhat intermittent as he figured out how to incorporate it into his busy routine. At times he trained only once weekly. So, I think his progress is doubly significant, in that it shows what can happen even with the bare minimum of adherence. As the months progressed, he was better able to schedule workouts around job and social commitments, and so trained with more regularity.
The first thing to show noticeable improvement was his strength. On the first day of training, in October 2001, he struggled to do a few pushups from his knees. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. In February 2002, a few months later, he easily cranked out a few sets of fifteen, not just from his feet, but with his feet elevated on the couch! All the exercises showed significant gains in strength.
The second thing to show improvement was the muscularity of his legs (good old squats! they do a booty good!). Full depth squats with attention to proper form were showing some awesome results. In only a few months, Kyle had added an inch to his thighs, and noticed a decrease in the amount of fat on them. This decrease in thigh and hip fat was a welcome departure, since it was part of the “female” fat deposition that Kyle was hoping to change.
The third thing to show improvement was Kyle’s bodyfat levels. One evening, he proudly demonstrated to me that his pants were now so loose, he could pull them down without unbuttoning them (I guess I just host the right kind of social events for this behaviour). This is noteworthy because up to that point, we hadn’t really discussed any kind of dietary modifications, so Kyle hadn’t changed his diet very much. I felt it was better for Kyle to address one component of a program at once, before proceeding to alter something else in his daily routine. For me it was most important that he started a fitness program and stuck to it. I didn’t feel that it was a good idea to make a lot of big changes at once.
The fourth thing to show improvement was Kyle’s confidence levels and willingness to take physical risks. I was stunned when he told me he was going to take a water aerobics class. At first I was impressed simply because he was taking the initiative on his own to engage in another physical activity of his choosing. Then it dawned on me: trans person, bathing suit, public! Wow! What chutzpah! Later, during a rather difficult session which involved me pushing him a little bit to learn a new technique and add some weight, we found that he kept getting stuck on a particular exercise. Instead of giving up, he just paused to allow himself time to re-focus, said, “I know I can do this,” and eventually did it. Watching this from the sidelines filled me with pride because I knew that when we started, such a challenge would have been much too intimidating, and he would have felt much less willing to try (and to feel confident about succeeding). By the time Kyle informed me in February 2002 that he, Mr. Night Owl, had been getting up early in the morning (early in the morning!) and doing cardio, I felt like I didn’t even know him any more.
Kyle’s Updated Workout
I played around with the training program a bit to see what Kyle enjoyed doing. I settled on a 2-day split, still training full body, to give him some variety, but enough constancy to see progress.
I also had to show him some new exercises in order to get around the problem of how to get the squat bar on his back once it got heavy enough. One possible solution would be to increase the reps of the squat set without increasing the weight (or not increasing it till he could lift it over his head). Another solution was to teach him the push press, which worked for a while. The third solution which I eventually settled on was showing him how to clean the weight up to the “racked” position, then front squatting it.
This issue’s training article covers little tricks such as the above that you can use to increase difficulty of common exercises, and to perform exercises with minimal equipment. It also explains how to do the exercises I indicate here.
Ideally this workout was performed 3 days weekly, but 2 was okay too. Each workout began with a 3-5 minute warmup of walking up and down apartment hallway.
Front squat 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Stiff-legged deadlift to bent-over row 3 x 8-10
Pushups 3 x as many as possible
Weighted ab crunches 2 x 12-15
Clean pull to shrug on toes 3 x 5
Standing one-arm shoulder press 3 x 10-12
One-arm dumbbell row 3 x 10-12
Weighted ab crunches 2 x 12-15
Kyle also added about 3 days per week of cardio of his choice, usually walking on the treadmill or water aerobics. He found water aerobics to be fun and challenging, so consider that a recommendation.
In our next exciting episode…
Now, the biggest challenge. Kyle continues his dedication to the cause of scientific inquiry by volunteering as a test subject for surgery. Umkay, well, this wasn’t exactly planned, but it turns out that he needed a hysterectomy. So, this shifts the focus a bit from examining what a FTM beginner can accomplish, to looking at how an existing state of physical fitness, as well as testosterone supplementation, can affect recovery from major surgery. Just like many other issues affecting trans folks, there is scanty data on recovery from hysterectomy in a person in his twenties who is also supplementing testosterone. The standard suggested recovery for “return to normal activities” following an abdominal hysterectomy is between four to six weeks. In the next issue, I’ll discuss Kyle’s experience with recovery from surgery, and what modifications we made to his program while he was on the mend.