A 45-Year-Old Man Walks Into a Gym...
Credit: Photograph by Michael Edwards
No one ever tells you that you could stand to lose 10 or 15 pounds, until you go ahead and lose it. Then, walk into a party full of people you've known forever and haven't seen in months, and you'll know. "Oh, my God," a friend's petite wife says, looking up at what was once a double chin. "You lost weight. What, like, 30 pounds?" Guy friends embed their admiration in emasculating put-downs. "Oh, can I get my newly svelte friend a drink? I think we have some Tab in the fridge." However it's said, it is said, and it's striking how much heavier you must have looked to the world.

After close to three months, it's time to assess my real progress. Some changes are more quantifiable than others: I have lost between 12 and 14 pounds, brought my BMI down from 26 percent to 19 percent, and my VO2 Max up from 44.5 to 49.1. Dr. Hugo calls with a new set of test results: My LDL cholesterol has dropped from 110 mg/dL to 78 mg/dL, and the enzyme he was worried about has dropped from 93 to 37 IU/L, transporting my liver to a placid state.

But most important, I'm leaner, lighter, and more efficient. The difference is tangible and visible. Me minus seven percent, with more sinew than flab and the contours resembling actual musculature. (It turns out that a few weeks spent stepping on and off a bench press while holding dumbbells does more to harden your legs than 20 years of running.) But the real test, the one I most want to ace, is the FMS, that humbling survey I was subjected to at the start of all this.

It's not the cakewalk I hoped it would be: My inline lunge lacks the rock-solid stability I thought I'd earned, my squat results in a milder but still unsightly flaring of the knees, and I'm not much closer to achieving the core-reliant feat of simultaneously raising a right arm and leg from all fours. Still, I've improved core competency, opened up my chest while strengthening my back, and increased my ground stability. I score a 16 out of 21, up from my pathetic 12. "I've only scored a 20," Vural confides, in a way he thinks I might find comforting.

The truest test of functionality is actual function, of course, and I have to admit that every aspect of my physical life has improved. I sit up straighter and run with more purpose, less pain, and heightened muscular awareness. Yoga is no longer a spectacle of flailing limbs; my planks are steady and filled with purpose, and I'm strong and flexible where I was once feeble. I play tennis for the first time in months and find a torsional force generated in my middle. It starts in the hamstrings, moves up through the core, and transfers into a whiplike motion across my torso. No, really. It results in the kind of velocity and control that any tennis player can appreciate, and no one needs more than I do.

Few people would look at me now and think of ropey forearms, a rippling back, or a powerful chest. My shirtless visage in the locker room inspires neither envy nor fear. But I'm smaller and tighter than I imagined I would ever be, there are veins in my arms I didn't think existed, and the muscle beneath the surface is tuned up and ready to go.

In many ways, I'm on my way to the best shape I've been in since I was 16, in those few perfect years after you've grown out of boyhood but before you grow into the bad habits that will drag you toward certain decay – before you develop big ideas about the guy on the treadmill and the way you'll live your life. The clock has not stopped, but it's slowed just long enough to change course. At 45, that's all you can ask for.