Working Out- The Basics

December 4th, 2006 | Posted in General

Anna and I returned home from the 2002 NCS Reuben awards after having a great time as always. Held on Memorial Day weekend in Cancun, Mexico, the event that year featured a lot of laying around the pool and meeting other cartoonists, playing water-volleyball, swimming up to the sunken bar (a lot) and general fun in the sun activities.

Anna’s more than a bit of a shutterbug, so a week or so later she came home with fat envelopes full of developed pictures for her to scrapbook with. Looking through them, I was startled to see a fat, bloated looking guy in a bathing suit with my face looking back at me. Yikes. I was 36 years old and my waist was almost wider than my shoulders. I have always been rather tall and reasonably lean (6’1″ and around the 185-190 mark), and I was appalled by my flabby physique. My pants size was 38″ and getting tight. Stepping on the scale I saw I was pushing 230, and it was all flab.

It seemed that sitting on my ass for a living doing nothing more strenuous than erasing pencil lines, poor eating habits and a rapidly slowing metabolism was having a pronounced effect on my weight and build. Health problems could not be far behind. I was highly motivated to start an exercise program. In June of 2002 I went to my local fitness center and spoke with a personal trainer. I started that month on a road to health and weight loss which eventually led to amateur bodybuilding. I did not take measurements of my body at the starting point, but within the year I had lost 35 pounds of body fat and was back to under 200. Then I began to pack on muscle, and today at age 40 I am 225 lbs with significantly less body-fat and far more lean muscle mass. After a one year absence I attended the 2004 NCN convention in Orlando, and nobody could believe the difference in my physique. More significantly, I had made a lifestyle change to good health and fitness.

I think it’s very important to incorporate some kind of exercise program into your daily life. It keeps your body in shape and your mind sharp and focused. This is especially true if, like myself, your job entails no physical activity at all. I’ve been asked by a few people to share some of my routine and thoughts on working out, so over the next week or two I’ll have several posts about my approach and program.

The Basics:

Establish your Goals

Any exercise program needs to establish goals to be successful. What do you want to work out for? To get in shape? To lose weight? To become bigger and stronger? Those are the three typical goals. People often get derailed from a program because they are unrealistic about their goals and the time frame it will take to reach them. Saying you want to lose 40 lbs is a great goal, but that is a very long haul. Losing weight the healthy way, meaning by a good diet and with exercise to lose body FAT, not water and lean mass as well, limits people to about 1.5 to 2 lbs a week at best. At that rate it would take 4 months to take off that weight… and most people would take longer. People today want everything yesterday, and after two or three weeks when only 3 to 5 lbs have gone it’s easy to get discouraged. Better to establish smaller goals… say 10 lbs and give yourself 6 weeks to lose it. Tell yourself that no matter what the results you are going to do it for 6 weeks. See where you are at the end, and judge your success in smaller increments.

Another problem with goals is that people often think that one goal, say weight loss, equals only one flavor of exercise. No matter what you are trying to do, you have to have a well rounded program to maximize your results and overall health. Sticking with the weight loss goal, a person may figure they can ignore any resistance training because they just want to lose weight. That’s a big mistake. Maybe you don’t want to get bigger muscles or become stronger, but incorporating some weight work into your program will not only accelerate your weight loss results, but it will improve your overall health and how you look. Bodybuilders and power lifters still need to do some cardio in order to help them improve and work towards their goals.

My goals at first were to get into better shape and lose weight. I quickly discovered that what I really wanted to do was become bigger and stronger. I have no interest in competing in bodybuilding contests, but I wouldn’t mind being mistaken for someone who does. I started tailoring my workouts toward building lean muscle, size and strength… in that order. In a later post I will detail how I am accomplishing that.

Just get Started

The first month is always the hardest. It is so easy to find other things to do or to drop exercise far down on your priority list. I get a lot of people who write me and ask where I find the time to do this or do that, especially working out. The truth is, everybody has plenty of time during the day they waste away surfing the internet, watching TV or what have you. Yes, you need some relaxation every day. That is as important as exercise. Realistically, however, there is always time we waste throughout the day. Just eliminate one hour of that wasted time and you just made room for your workout. I get up at 6 am every morning, and am in the gym from 8 am to 9 am. I get home about 9:45 after my shower and am ready to get to work. Had I not worked out, I likely would have slept another hour. There’s my workout time right there.

There is a certain amount of discipline you need to keep going, but the real trick is keep it up long enough that it becomes part of your routine. That’s called a ‘lifestyle change’. Once that happens, it’s a lot easier to keep at it. You find you don’t feel right if you miss a workout or two. Meeting your goals and seeing results is a big part of keeping it up, but eventually you will have a day where only your raw will gets you into the gym. You may even have to make a sacrifice or two in order to keep on top of your workouts. Do it if you can, but above all remember that even if you miss one or two workouts, just get back on the horse as fast as you can. Many people give up because they aren’t doing it perfectly and without fail… nobody’s perfect. Just get back to it sooner rather than later and you’ll be okay.


I am lazy. No kidding. There are plenty of mornings I would just roll over and go back to sleep if not for the fact that I have trainer I am paying to meet me at the gym and work out with me. That’s expensive, but I don’t drive fancy cars, wear Italian suits and shoes or live in a million dollar mansion, so this is a good place to spend my money. Working with a trainer has kept me from getting hurt (except for right now… more on that later), keeps my workouts changing and focused on my goals, but most importantly gives me a reason to get up and go to the gym. Without that accountability I’d have given up the ghost one 20 below zero day in January years ago.

You don’t need to pay a person to meet you at the gym every day. Find a workout buddy. That is by far the best way to do it. Hopefully on the days when you are feeling low and just don’t want to go in, your partner will get you to the gym… and vice versa. Plus it’s more fun to work out with someone. You can provide each other with support and encouragement. If you can’t find a partner to work out with, then next best thing is to get to know people in the gym. If you work out at a consistent time, there are always a group of individuals who are always working out at the time you are at the gym. Introduce yourself and chit chat with them a bit. Get to know their names. They will start to ask you where you were after you miss a day, and will comment on your successes and consistency. That is an accountability of a sort. If you work out by yourself in your own basement, then it’s your own self discipline that will have to keep you on track. That is by far the hardest road.

Again, in the next week I will post about my general workout philosophies, my supplement and diet plan and my actual routine right now. In the meantime I have to get going to the gym!


  1. Trevour says:

    What a great post, Tom!

    I was a regular runner back in my high school days, so I was always in pretty good shape and stayed thin. After I got married in Jan. ’05, I packed on nearly 25 pounds in a year. I hadn’t gained that much weight since hitting puberty! My jeans got all tight and my manly jawline faded. I felt miserable.

    So this past fall I started running regularly again. Dropped 10 lbs. since! Not that I’m targeting for a certain weight, but it’s nice that my jeans have gotten loose like I remember ’em. I cut back for the winter months, but my ultimate goal is to train for my very first marathon in ’08!!

    Also, I’ve never been much of a bodybuilder, but I’d like to build up some upper body mass. Looking forward to your next post on the subject!

  2. Hey Tom,
    I haven’t actually told anyone this, but after I returned from my trip to the US, I’d gained a ridiculous amount of weight and was carrying around 211 Lbs.
    There was flab in places I didn’t even know you could have flab.
    A while ago you did a post detailing some of the above and as I sat an read it, I looked down at my chubby gut and realised it was time to do something. The fact that you and I do the exact same thing every day (and I was eating poorly, not exercising and generally being lazy) was a real inspiration.

    I’ve now lost 35 Lbs since then and am starting to tone up – I’ve never felt better! Thanks for the kick in the butt I needed to get started.. I can’t wait to see your next post on this as I’ve got no idea what I’m doing from hereon…

  3. Tom says:

    Good for you both! Once you get past a certain point I think the results motivate you more than anything. Keep it up!

  4. Michael Garisek says:

    I thought this was a blog about cartooning What’s all this stuff about working out I’m gonna get together with Jert and go get a beer. Just kiddin Tom really appreciate it. Maybe you can post a before and after picture
    !!! no photo retouch though !!!


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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