Lazers, pointy bones, and KOMs - flexible working conditions can be great
Words - James Raison
One of my favourite things to write about is the magical, transformative effect of cycling (just see my Bikes are magic I have proof article). I adore bikes for how they’ve redirected my life in a better direction. The last few months have seen another bike-related transformation. This time, I can measure it. With lasers!
In late May I took the plunge. I left my familiar office job with nice people, a standy-uppy desk, crisp new Microsoft Surface tablet, regular morning teas, 15 adjacent cafes, and rather excellent end of trip facilities. I decided it was time to take a gamble and jumped in with cycling apparel brand Spin Cycle Clothing whose owner is targeting world domination on the back of some very cool new tech (more on that below). 5 months later my cycling kits (already S and XS) began to feel bigger, all of my hill climb PRs have been annihilated, and I feel like a million bucks. American ones, not the crappy Australian ones.
So, what did 5 months working from home do to my body, and my cycling? Let’s find out!
WORKING FROM HOME
Just a little background on the nature of working from home to frame the rest of the article.
Working from home seems to go one of two ways for people; a clunky light rail journey to social isolation, low productivity, boredom, and snacking on Nutella with a desert spoon, or a bullet train to structure, regularity, and hitting all your work goals by midday. Luckily I fell mostly into the second camp. Mostly.
I’m a self-motivating person so my working from home days were solidly productive for these reasons:
Removing commutes meant I would transition straight from breakfast to work. 7:30 would see me tapping away at my computer. By 9am I’d smashed out a decent chunk of work. My work (media, marketing, communications, content production) is creativity-based and the mornings are where that happens easiest.
The reduced distractions made me more focused. Sure, the looming monster of social media and phone notifications tried to pull me away from my tasks but that would be true regardless of where I worked. I began setting 30 minute timers where I was forbidden from focusing on anything other than work. Without people around these were very productive blocks.
Afternoons could be allocated to lower productivity tasks like video or photo editing, proofreading, or sending emails.
I don’t advocate working at home for everyone. You need to be comfortable with being in your own company for hours, and able to resist the plethora of distractions your own possessions offer. There’s a lot of benefits for those who can handle it though.
Now we’re getting to the interesting stuff: bikes! The important point up front is that I made no intentional or structured change to my riding. I followed no plan, had no targets, and was not accountable to anyone. I rode the distances that fit with my schedule and balanced work output and leisure. So, what did I do with my new found agency?
Obviously the riding numbers rocketed up. Below are the 12 weeks before each scan (more on the scans below) to illustrate the difference we’re talking about:
22 Jan-22 April - 78 hours in the saddle, 1,889 km, 37,000 m ascending. These numbers are a little lower than my usual volume because I’d bought an MTB and was hitting shorter rides more often.
23 Jul-23 Oct - 158 hours in the saddle, 4,014 km, 79,000 m ascending.
Typically I’d wedge a ride in between 11am and 3pm on weekdays. Distance tended to be 30-50 km. One or two mornings I might head out for some early rides but usually of the same distance. The flexibility let me have more ride time options too; able to wait out bad weather or head out with a friend at a specific time. I still did my standard weekend rides with other people. Nowadays I’m hitting 250-350 km a week. Nothing crazy, and fewer kms than many who work in offices, but that’s roughly 6 rides a week. The crucial word is: sustainable. I rode distances that didn’t leave me fatigued so I still felt fresh most days. Riding was never a chore, rather something I looked forward to and dearly missed on my enforced rest days.
A few weeks into my working and riding routine I began to notice I was going faster than I ever had before. I’ve always judged my cycling by hill climb times and I began crushing all of my former bests. Every day I’d go for my ride and often swing by a hill for a full-noise effort. Without fail I’d handily beat my PR. I’ve always been high on leaderboards of Adelaide’s steepest climbs owing to my human greyhound physique but now I was hitting the very top.
I entered something of a feedback loop where more riding made me lighter and faster which led to more, and faster, riding while continuing to get lighter. Regular threshold efforts made me better at regular threshold efforts, again, making me faster. The best part was that I rarely exhausted or wiped out. My body adapted to the routine and I felt great on the bike.
My power meter showed little change in power, though my Stages has given me some very questionably low numbers over the last few months so it’s hard to tell exactly where I was at. Something else was going on to cause such a speed increase, and thankfully I had a very handy tool to measure myself.
THE FRICKIN’ LASERS
I was lured to Spin Cycle Clothing because they’d developed a new tailoring system that turns a 3D laser scan of your body into hyper-accurately fitted cycling apparel. It uses a rotating base station and laser tower made by Styku to get a full 3D picture of your body and Spin developed a system to turn that into kit. For the purposes of this article, that’s all the necessary info, head over to an interview we did on Startup Daily if you want to read more about what we’re doing.
We bought the Styku scanners for the tailoring process but we then started playing with their other functions because that’s what nerds do with lasers. There’s a substantial suite of health assessment and body analysis tools in the hardware. In short, they use laser surface scanning to make algorithmically-calculated determinations on body composition and health information. Styku’s system has been tested against dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), air displacement plethysmography and tape measurements. The laser scan results tended to give results very close to the other methods, with much faster measurement. I’ll leave a couple of citations at the bottom if you want to read more.
THE SCAN RESULTS
Styku’s system outputs a full health report that can compare the results of your scans over time. I first scanned myself on 22 April while still working at an office, then 6 months later on 23 October after about 5 months of working from home.
The results in body composition are quite stark:
Reduction in total body weight of 2.7 kg - 66.7 kg down to 64 kg. A significant change for someone 183 cm tall.
A reduction of 2.1 kg in body fat alone - 9.5 kg down to 7.4 kg of total body weight.
A reduction of 600 g in non-fat weight - 57.2 kg down to 56.6 kg.
My body measurements are significantly different too:
Torso: A decrease in total torso volume. Interestingly, there was a slight increase in diameter of my upper torso while my lower torso shrunk.
Arms: My spindly arms are not even smaller. My neck has grown slightly.
Legs: Decrease in calf diameter, increase in thigh diameter.
Now I have the burst the bubble that my results were just riding more and more regularly, and just working from home. Your physical output is the result of many inputs and decisions made every day that collectively add up to your physical form. My results are supported by the rest of my lifestyle. As someone who used to fall into the overweight, heading towards obese, weight category I know very well that there’s no easy shortcuts.
So here’s a look across the other habits that support my darn good physical results:
Diet. I generally avoid talking about my diet and why I choose to eat what I do because there’s enough food opinions on the internet. I will point out that I made no intentional change to my diet when I started working from home, other than increasing my intake to support the extra activity. Broadly speaking I am a healthy eater with a smattering of dark chocolate, cakes, and burgers to bump up the calories.
Cooking. Following from my diet, I cook almost all my own food. I might eat out once a week. The rest is food I’ve prepared at home myself.
Sleep. I LOVE sleep and I get a consistent 7 ish hours per night. It’s lovely.
Drinking. I drink water and coffee. I gradually phased alcohol out when I reformed my lifestyle several years ago and nowadays I drink maybe twice a year. I’m not telling anyone to stop drinking, it’s just an unusual and relevent feature of my diet.
Incidental exercise. I have never had a driver’s licence so I accrue a lot of movement time by just getting around. I ride and walk everywhere. Maybe once a week I’ll find myself a passenger in a car.
Greater work flexibility and increased control over my schedule allowed me to unintentionally lose weight, and have a significant increase in riding quantity and speed. More than that, it let me do what I love most more often and more easily; ride bikes.
I’m now the owner of larger thighs, neck, and torso than I had a few months ago. Basically everything else has been chiselled down, leaving plenty of visible bones and no mystery as to what I do for recreation.
I’m not going to win the McArthur Fellows Program for pointing out that office work isn’t necessarily good for your health, and regular exercise and healthy diet choices are good for it. What I want to impress is the power of schedule flexibility. Workplaces are slowly changing to give more time management options and I wholeheartedly encourage people to pursue those options if they can.
My journey from almost 100 kg down to 64 kg has been one of slowly accruing habits that support good health. It could be, for some, that working from home is one of the best habits of all. Failing that, just ride bikes. It’s awesome.
Oh, and if you’re in Adelaide we can scan you too and give the full health report. It’s $65 for the first scan and $45 for the follow ups. Shoot and email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s some studies that have been done on laser scanning for body composition. Don’t roast me for my citations style; I’ve been out of Uni for 7 years!
Brianna Bourgeois, Bennett K. Ng, Dustin Latimer, Casey R Stannard, Laurel Romeo,
Xin Li, John A. Shepherd, Steven B. Heymsfield, “Clinically-Applicable Optical Imaging Technology for Body Size and Shape Analysis: Comparison of Systems Differing in Design” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volume 71, 2017
Brianna Bourgeois, Dustin Latimer, Casey R Stannard, Laurel Romeo, Xin Li, John Shepherd, Steven B. Heymsfield, “3D Imaging, Technology for Human Body Size and Shape Analysis: Comparison of Three Different Acquisition Technologies” The FASEB Journal, Vol. 1, April 2017
BK Ng, BJ Hinton, B Fan, AM Kanaya, and JA Shepherd, “Clinical anthropometrics and body composition from 3D whole-body surface scans” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, (2016), 1–6