Getting fit is rarely easy, and when the odds are stacked against you, the task can become overwhelming. But a lack of time, limited equipment, and an aging physique couldn't stop Andrew W. Harris Jr. from pursuing his fitness goals.
With the closest gym 25 miles away, Harris had to get creative with his fitness routine. Through diligent research and trial and error, he's crafted a comprehensive fitness plan that includes six-week training cycles, a full-body stretching routine, high-intensity cardio programs, and intense core training—all while using only a few dumbbells and his body weight.
Harris, 53, has a shredded physique rivaling those of men half his age. He has achieved his goal of peak physical condition not once, but twice, all while taking on the role of caregiver to his mother. We asked Harris to share his experience of transforming his body the second time around. We also asked him to explain how his approach to fitness has changed over the years.
Snapshot: Andrew William Harris Jr.
Height: 5' 7"
Weight: 148 lbs.
- B.S. (Community Health Education) Virginia Tech
- M.A. (Student Personnel Services) Virginia Tech
- M.S. (Community Agency-Mental Health Counseling) Old Dominion University
- Ph.D. Program (Counseling & Human Services) Syracuse University (1999-2006)
Occupation: Writer (First e-book coming by end of June 2018) and Caretaker
Location: Waverly, Virginia
Tell us about the beginning of your fitness journey.
In March 2008, after leaving a Ph.D. program at Syracuse University, I felt like a failure. I began eating and drinking as I pleased. I allowed myself to get out of shape to the point where I did not feel well most of the time.
I finally grew tired of feeling that way. I knew I needed to get back into shape. The nearest gym at the time was 25 miles away. It was too far and I had no money to join, anyway.
I surveyed the fitness equipment I brought home from Syracuse: 20- and 30-pound dumbbells, an exercise ball, and push-up bars. I started researching ways I could use the equipment I did have, as well as bodyweight exercises, to get myself back into shape.
When did you first discover BodySpace?
I created my first six-week workout cycle in March 2008 and began to see some progress. I felt, however, that I needed to find more variations on the dumbbell and bodyweight exercises I was using in my workout cycles, so I began doing more research. This led me to Bodybuilding.com and BodySpace, where I found what I was looking for in terms of articles, exercise variations, and workout suggestions.
I also browsed the profiles of BodySpace members and, after a few months, decided to put up a profile of my own.
That was on October 15, 2008. I was 44 years old. I had to overcome a lot of fear and anxiety about posting personal pictures and content, as well as the fact that I did not work out like most people on the website.
By 2011, I was in the best shape of my life. Unfortunately, by the end of that same year, I suffered an overuse injury to my shoulder and had to work through rehabbing it for the rest of the year and into 2012.
This was when I began to incorporate a daily full-body stretching regimen into my six-week workout cycles. It includes all the stretches I used to rehab my shoulder. I am happy to say I have been injury free ever since.
By fall 2012, I was back to full bodyweight and dumbbell workouts. I was honored by Bodybuilding.com with the Over 40 Transformation of the Week on November 28, 2012.
What challenges did you encounter along the way?
From October 2011 to July 2012, my extended family lost five members. It was tough, but somehow, I managed to maintain my fitness regimen.
Then, at the beginning of 2013, my stepfather's health began to fail due to diabetes and heart disease. I was put in the position of caring for him and supporting my mother through this difficult time.
My stepfather passed away in October 2014. I have been taking care of my mother ever since.
From 2014 to 2017, I didn't focus on my own health and fitness as I should have. I was too busy attending to my mom's business affairs, taking her to doctor's appointments, shopping, cooking, and cleaning. As a result, I worked out inconsistently and ate very poorly.
I regained much of the weight I had lost and, once again, began feeling poorly. I also lost touch with my BodySpace friends, who had been a constant source of encouragement and support.
When did you decide to make a change?
By December 2017, I decided I had to get back in shape. At 53, I was not sure of what progress I could make, but I decided to use the 2018 12-Week Transformation Challenge as my motivation.
My goal remains to get back into the best shape of my life. I registered for the challenge and began reconnecting with my old BodySpace friends. I also gained quite a few new friends over the course of the challenge.
After 12 weeks, I was near my goal weight and pleased with my progress. I have continued pushing forward and am currently in the middle of my 52nd six-week workout cycle.
How do you use BodySpace now?
I continue to use BodySpace to stay motivated and, hopefully, motivate others. I have been browsing Bodybuilding.com's new subscription section, BodyFit Elite, for new ideas. I'm particularly interested in the "Total-Body Dumbbell Fix," which offers new ways for me to use my dumbbells for training.
I have also finally given in and downloaded the BodySpace app to my smartphone. I still prefer to access BodySpace on my PC—53-year-old eyes don't like small screens!—but I like the fact that I am better able to keep track of my friends' motivating posts, comments, likes, and fit status updates.
I also created a blog that I post to my FitBoard that allows me to track my workouts and to show my friends and other curious people what my daily workouts look like. Additionally, I post all my six-week workout cycles to my FitBoard.
What does your weekly workout routine look like?
I use a six-week workout cycle, followed by a two-week, lighter and smaller cycle. I created my first six-week cycle in 2008 with basic exercises, but with years of research and much trial and error, my current workout cycles are more advanced.
I continue to use dumbbell and bodyweight exercises but have added and continue to add new variations to keep the workouts fresh and challenging. I added some Tabata and timed workouts, as well.
The workouts I do now are shorter and more intense. Being a caretaker, I must be efficient in my use of time. For my cardio, I run 1-3 miles after each workout, but have also added Tabata and interval cardio schemes.
Each workout week runs from Sunday through Friday. Each of my training days focuses on a different body part, type of training, or both.
When I resumed workouts this year, I also decided that each week would have a different theme to force me to use all the equipment I have available to me. This now includes a pull-up bar that I built in my backyard.
After completing my regular six-week workout cycle, I complete a two-week cycle consisting of much lighter workouts and active rest days. Then, I might take a week completely off or begin a new six-week workout cycle.
Here's what a week might look like:
- Monday: Arms and Shoulders
- Tuesday: Chest and Back
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Core
- Friday: Full Body
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Planche Training
What kind of meal plan do you follow?
Mom and I eat very well-balanced, generally clean meals. We often cook together, and we do a lot of meal prep. We prepare lean meats (chicken, turkey, and beef) and lots of fresh or frozen vegetables ahead of time.
We have also become huge soup eaters. On some occasions, we will add baked white or sweet potatoes, rice (brown or white), or couscous to complete the meal.
I continue to work out and do cardio in a fasted state, so I generally will have coffee in the mornings before my workout. I prepare my mom's breakfast and a midday snack. I don't break my fast until after the workout, usually with oatmeal, yogurt, or lean meat and veggies.
I also complete 1-2 intermittent fasts per week (lots of black coffee and water for 24 hours). I have done this for years and it helps, especially when I have indulged too much in something not as good for me, such as baked goods or chocolate candy.
Here's what a day of meals might look like:
Do you follow a daily supplement routine?
I divide my supplement routine into "morning" and "evening." I take them Monday-Friday and take a break on the weekends.
- Men's Over 50 Multivitamin
- Calcium-Magnesium-Zinc with D3 Capsule
- Saw Palmetto Capsule
- B-Complex Tablet