My life’s fitness trajectory

I’m Sean Newton – 47 years old presently, and I’ve worked at a desk job since landing my first dot-com job in 2000. I have several interests in life, but obviously the first and foremost is being able to work effectively. I have DSPS, which is a sleep disorder that tends to keep my body from wanting to sleep at night, and I’ve found that I suffer less from it when I am actively using the gym more. So, basically I work out for two reasons – one is to get to sleep at night, and the other is to try not to be weak.

Most folks develop a gym habit in high school. I was home-schooled, and we didn’t have gym equipment at home. My dad was in the Army and has always been super fit and athletic, but he was a runner – not a lifter. I got to mess with four acres of pasture to chop with a machete, and rocks to move, but not much in the line of calibrated weights and controlled movements. I never did manage to get into running, personally, despite trying to get into it a couple of times. Way later in life, I learned that was partly because I’ve got one leg just enough longer than the other, to make running uncomfortable while not seriously interfering with walking/hiking.

That having been said, here’s what happened at different stages of my life, along with some pics to illustrate where I was at these stages.

1995-2000

1997 (20yo, college, post-Japan)

My first time in an actual gym was when I was an exchange student in Japan, at Kansai Gaidai in ’95. In that one, singular gym visit I had a great time there during that one trip, but I wound up getting really sick after that (a super nasty cold that lasted for weeks) and just never did manage to form a habit of going to the gym, despite my intending to at the time. Once I returned to the US, I’m actually not sure if non athletes were allowed into the gym at my US college (APSU), but I never really actually tried to get into the gym there. I lived off-campus at my parents’ place, so I didn’t get a chance to form a gym habit during college. I was super chubby until I went to Japan, then came back a little bit slimmer than this, then regained much of the weight on Western food again. I was the slimmest I’ve ever been when I came back from Japan.

2000-2004

2001 (25yo)

My first real, professional job was at mp3.com, and so was my first real gym experience. They spent a bunch of money putting in a beautiful facility into the bottom story of the engineering building, and then hired a coach who used to train Olympic athletes to run it. This was the first place I got used to going. My own commitment level went up and down, but I usually made it there a few times a week, usually going downstairs to work out in the evening and then going back to work until 8pm or 9pm. The preacher curl machine topped out at something ridiculously low – I think 80lbs – but this was where I first got my bench press up to 135. That was also back when Xenadrine’s original ephedrine-based formula was available, but before pre-workouts were a super popular thing (at least as far as I knew). Thanks to old-school xenadrine, that was the only time I’ve been sure my body fat was low. I always wanted to hit 10% body fat, but the best I have records of is 15%. The version of me in this pic was bicycling 34mi or so every other week, from Oceanside to La Jolla, on a mountain bike. It’s the only time in my life I ever got close to having abs.

2004-2007

2004 (28yo)

Once mp3 went under, I got a 24hr fitness membership and went back and forth on how often I attended. This WAS the time though that I realized I preferred working out between 11pm-3am though, due to the reduced crowds. I did get some good workouts in and periodically worked out with my friends, but didn’t make much progress during this time. Life things – moving from a rental to a trailer, getting married for the first time, and trying to learn a new job – got in the way a lot.

2007-2010

2009 (33yo, dressed for late night bicycling)

I worked for SCEA – the Playstation division of Sony – at their San Diego campus. While it was nice from the career perspective, their gym was an office-sized room shared with the entire office complex (not just Playstation) that had a few weight machines. Most of my quality workouts during this time happened at 24hr fitness. I also did some bicycling at the time, late at night in a nearby industrial park because that’s what worked for my wife and I.

2010-2012

2010 (34yo)

I worked for a VPN provider named Anonymizer for a while, and there was a very small gym in the bottom of their office building. The gym here was a little bit better than the one SCEA had, but not by much. Most of my quality workouts happened at 24hr fitness. I don’t know when I first broke 225lbs on bench press, but I do know it happened some time before 2010. I will say that this was the first time in life that I had even moderately noticeable biceps.

2012-2014

2012 (36yo)

I went back to Sony, now working on internet video streaming. That division was in a different office from the BIG Sony building on Via Esprillo, and we had no on-site gym. It wasn’t long before that division moved into the big building though, and anyone working from that building was allowed access to the delightful gym there at the top of their parking structure. If I look back at all of the gyms I’ve made progress at, most of my real progress came from here.

2014-2020

2014 (38yo, single)
2018 (42yo, dadbod)

Sony folded my team into their Playstation network support team, and I got access to the nice big gym at the top of the corporate parking structure, Level 6 (so named because it was the 6th level of the structure). Level 6 felt a lot like the old MP3.com gym, and I made a lot of progress there – I would’ve made a ton more if it had been a 24hr access facility, though.

This was also around when I developed my clipboard-based workout tracking methodology that’s served me so well since. I also hit my max lifetime bench press on 9/4/19 at Level 6, at 305 lbs.

Unfortunately, as time went on, the gym staff kept walking the closing time back – first it closed at 9pm, then 8pm, and I think it was closing at 7pm. On Fridays, it started closing way earlier, like around 5pm. I would go to the 24hr fitness by my house after that, and gym dates were my favorite way to spend time with my future second wife. But once we started a family, the reduced hours on the gym at work really took a toll on my fitness level and going to 24hr fitness afterwards became a bigger and bigger cost to family time. I also had some major work projects around this time that consumed a ton of off-hours effort as well. Some day I’ll dig around and figure out exactly how much of my PS5 launch related stories I can actually tell here, as some of it was really neat.

And then Covid-19 hit, and the story of me working out at corporate office gyms more or less ended.

2020-2022

2020 (44yo)

In early 2020, Covid isolation hit. At the start I had some high hopes of getting in shape because I had a weight bench in my office. Unfortunately, my office had gotten turned into a junk room pre-covid, and I was never able to get more than a desk’s worth of space cleared out of there so I could work out in my office/gym. Sadly, this remained the case for as long as I lived in San Diego.

2022-2023

Apr 2023 (46yo, divorcing)
Nov 2023 (46yo, single)

My house in Alabama has a sun room on the side, which made a pretty reasonable gym. That was good because I couldn’t leave the house at night to go work out due to the risk that my highly-autistic son would wake up in the middle of the night and wreak havoc while the family slept.

Even just looking at 2023, the difference between the April and November pics is substantial. In April I was 270lbs, and my diet consisted of one meal a day (dinner, usually frozen food or fast food), and no other meals.

During the divorce, a medical checkup showed seriously concerning liver function. This was likely due to life stress and poor diet. I took over cooking for the kids and myself, started eating three meals a day (added a light lunch and midnight meal), cut out all soda (water or black coffee only), and cut out all pre-processed foods. Mostly, I cooked food I missed from San Diego – mostly Japanese, Thai, and some Mexican. I rarely used anything frozen, and had almost no pre-processed foods. Most of my gym time was in my Warehouse of Doom’s short-lived mini gym, but the real workout was riding my bike the ~4mi round trip to the warehouse every night. It only took around 3mo to go from 270lbs to 226lbs.

2024-???

47yo, 4mo of gym later

I regained some weight when I started attending the gym, and got back up to 247lbs on 2/19/24, when it started to decline. I suspect that when I first resumed working out, I was regaining muscle mass faster than I was losing fat. At this point I’ve probably restored all of the dormant muscle, and now actual gains are going to be a lot slower.

General Takeaways

So, the big takeaway from this is: I’ve seesawed a lot over the course of my life. If nothing else, my body demonstrates that you don’t truly lose your gains; they’ll come back over time. If this weren’t the case, my ‘buff sysadmin’ pictures wouldn’t have been progressively more built. Your muscle does slack off and shrink, but it comes back once you’ve put in enough time to convince it that you won’t just stop going to the gym again next week.

The other, less formal takeaway is: bicycle regularly and eat more Japanese food. Every time in my life that I’ve been lower in body fat, has been because I’ve had more Japanese food in my diet. Every time I’ve been really heavy has been because I’ve had a diet dominated by American food. And every time I’ve had dramatic weight loss and recomposition, bicycling has been a part of the equation somehow.


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