The Pros and Cons of a 100-Pound Weight Gain

TAGS: weight management, blood pressure, Firefit Combat Challenge, Ken Whetham, sleep apnea, Arnold Sports Festival, body composition, weight gain, westside

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A lot of articles talk about losing weight, the effect it has on body composition, and the benefits it has on your health. I’ve gained 100 pounds over the last seven years and I’m going to share my journey and my experience, both good and bad, this has had on my general health.

I have always been a big lad. I grew up working on a farm, busting my balls bailing hay, shoveling shit, and picking stones from sun to sundown. When I was 14 and started high school, I was over six feet tall and was already over 200 pounds. In my senior year playing football I weighed 235 pounds, and when I worked in the Police Department and played Senior AAA hockey, I was 245 pounds.

Something that really amazes me is how your body responds to whatever stimulus you expose it to if you’re disciplined and committed enough to follow through with the execution of your plan.

I have never been a runner; in fact, I hated (and still do) running. Part of the hiring process for the physical for the Fire Department screening was the dreaded VO2 Max test. You are hooked up to monitors with a non-rebreather style mask and you run on a treadmill. The speed and incline are continually increased until you reach your maximum VO2 reading (maximum volume of oxygen used at maximum output). Each person’s VO2 max is calculated by bodyweight and lung capacity, which is determined by a pulmonary test. I’ve seen people vomit, pass out, give up, and literally collapse on the treadmill before they reach their max VO2. It’s not a fun experience AT ALL!

My first major weight change was initiated when I was preparing for the VO2 Max test. I started running (yes, running) four to five times per week in addition to my Kettlebell training. My strength went in the toilet but my endurance went through the roof. I weighed in for my physical at 202 pounds. I had dropped 43 pounds. Most people wouldn’t recognize me; I was a shadow of my former self. I easily passed the VO2 test, physical, all the interviews, and got an offer of employment. This was seven and a half years ago.


RELATED: The Firefit Combat Challenge: The Toughest Two Minutes in Sports


Once I got settled in and completed my probationary period, I returned to strength training and decided to start competing in the Firefit Combat Challenge circuit, appropriately coined “the toughest two minutes in sports.” My training included a lot of push/pull compound strength training movements, explosive training, running stairs, dragging sleds, and pulling ropes. I brought my weight back up to 240 pounds and was very lean and in great condition. I did very well competing in Firefit, winning several first place medals, our regional event, and first place at the Canadian Nationals. This was the best condition I had ever been in, both physically and aesthetically. My blood pressure was perfect and my resting heart rate was always in the mid 40’s.

louie and Ken

In March 2012 we went to the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio. We had been going every year since 2009 but this year we found our way to the auditorium and watched an XPC Powerlifting meet. It seemed like everyone was squatting 1000 pounds, benching in the 700 to 800-pound range, and deadlifting ungodly amounts of weight. I had never witnessed anything like this before and became very intrigued, to say the least. Upon returning home I started researching powerlifting and found elitefts.com and Westside Barbell. I bought some Westside training manuals and started reading articles on elitefts. I began to train on a regular basis with the intention of competing in powerlifting.


MORE: I Wanna Get Fat


I ordered the first two bars I ever bought from Westside, but asked if I could go to pick them up so we could see the infamous Westside Barbell and meet the legendary Louie Simmons. Meeting Louie Simmons was an amazing experience. Louie took a couple hours out of his day to take Sheri and I through the Westside gym, showing us equipment we had never seen before, demonstrating and allowing us to try exercises we had never done before, and explaining why they incorporate them into their training. We were like two starry-eyed kids who just walked into the front gates of Disney World for the first time.

Louie gave us an open invitation to come and train at Westside anytime we were in the area, and we have taken him up on his generous offer several times. Each and every time we go there, it’s an amazing experience. While we were talking about lifting, Louie asked how much I could squat. My answer: 520 pounds. Louie smiled and said I was “too skinny” and if I put on some weight, I’d squat a lot more. I started to work on getting a little heavier and my first meet I competed in the 275-pound class and weighed about 260. As my training progressed, I started to get heavier, eventually creeping over 270 pounds. At this point, my overall health still felt pretty good and I didn’t have too many issues with mobility, blood pressure, or any of the strenuous tasks associated with Fire Suppression operations at work. Every time we are in the Columbus area, we always stop in at Westside to say hi to Louie and his staff. When I was in the 270-pound weight range, I mentioned to Louie, “I’ve gained over 30 pounds like you said." Louie looked at me and said, “If you put on another 40 pounds your deadlift will go way up.” And then he walked away. Point taken.

I competed in the 275-pound class for about three years and then started creeping into the 280 range. This meant if I wanted to keep lifting at 275, I had to cut weight. It wasn't a huge cut, but any type of weight cut sucks. I had a couple of shitty meets trying to cut and decided I would no longer cut weight. Instead, I would add some more and lift in the 308-pound class. My current bodyweight is staying right in the middle of the 290’s and as high as 302 pounds. You wouldn’t think that going from 270 to 295 would be a huge deal health-wise, but I've had a few things happen that have made me raise my eyebrows a little.

Blood Pressure

I have donated blood with the Canadian Red Cross every 56 days for the last several years, totaling almost 60 donations. My blood pressure was always in normal range 120/80 and my resting heart rate (RHR) has gradually increased as my weight has gone up. When I was competing in the Firefit Combat Challenge events, my RHR was usually mid to high 40 beats per minute. Currently, my resting heart rate has increased into the mid 80’s. I’m not a rocket scientist, but I can figure out that my heart has to work a lot harder to carry around the extra weight. About a year ago I went to donate blood as usual, and I was unable to donate because my BP was 180/100, which really freaked me out. I was scared! I left the Red Cross and immediately went to the doctor's office to get it checked. The doctor used a large blood pressure cuff and it was still an elevated 140/90, which is on the higher side of normal. Regardless, my doctor decided to put me on blood pressure medication to keep my blood pressure at a more acceptable level.

Sleep Apnea

In addition to my blood pressure and heart rate increasing with weight gain, I noticed my sleep was getting worse and worse. I was waking up several times during the night and every morning I felt like I slept for about two hours. I tried to justify my shitty sleep by saying it was associated with working 24-hour shifts at work, but after a while, I decided to go for a sleep study. My sleep study results showed that I stopped breathing over 170 times during the test. My neck size has grown to over 21 inches and the doctor explained that when you’re relaxed during sleep, the additional weight makes it difficult to breathe.

So now I’ve joined the ranks of the CPAP brigade so that I can actually sleep at night.

Getting heavier unquestionably helps with getting stronger, and I fully intend on squatting my first 1000 pounds soon. Getting stronger is definitely an advantage for powerlifting, but it has made me realize that it does come at a cost. Higher blood pressure that requires medication, increased heart rate and sleep apnea are some of the measured side effects I’ve already experienced during this journey to squat 1000 pounds.

There are a lot of other little “incidental things” that are included as well. My arms seem to fall asleep and tingle sometimes when I'm sitting or lying in certain positions. There is definitely a lack of endurance; a drop in energy levels and finding any clothes that fit is a monumental pain in the ass. Sitting in vehicles smaller than a pick-up truck or trying to fit in an airplane seat is like trying to audition for a role as a contortionist for the circus. Forget trying to scratch your back or the back of your neck — it just isn’t happening. And I don’t enjoy feeling distended and bloated 24/7. To practice “safe sex” you need a defibrillator on the wall beside the bed and your phone set to 911 so you just have to hit the call button. You should probably get your partner to sign a waiver that you are not liable for what happens and that she's aware there’s a probability she could be suffocated by a large elephant seal!

I have definitely realized how important it is for me to add more conditioning into my weekly regimen when I’m not prepping for a meet. Come March, I plan on dropping some weight and trying to get back to a better balance of strength and conditioning to reclaim a better foothold on my overall health. My goal when I started powerlifting was to squat 1000 pounds. I’m 100% confident I will reach that goal. I will be turning 52 years old in March. It will be time for me to take my foot off the “extreme” accelerator and feather the brakes a little.

I have been able to get really lean and also put on weight to reach a specific strength goal. Your body will respond to whatever stimulus you submit it to if you have the dedication and commitment to achieve that goal. You simply have to commit to it.

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