You wouldn’t believe how actually easy is it to transform naturally from fat to fit in a year.
Of course, it wasn’t one time event, but slow process of daily grind.
Discovering my bodybuilding genetics
When I was at high school, I was this skinny asian kid, who had no muscle. Most people would be guessing, that I was suffering from anorexia. You know the symptoms. An underweight, hollow-cheeked, bony and starved-looking stick with chicken legs.
It was so bad, I was embarrassed to even wear beach shorts. I compensated my underdeveloped look by wearing big bulky skating clothes. Hoodies, t-shirts, jeans, you name it. All in size three to four times bigger than it should be.
I remember the shocked reaction from two of my ex-girlfriends, when they saw me half naked.
They were like “Honey, wtf. I thought you had more muscles”. Or. “Honey, maybe you shouldn’t wear those shorts. Your chicken legs are so obvious”.
When someone is negatively surprised with your shirtless look compared to when you have normal size t-shirt on, it is the sign, that maybe, just maybe you are gifted with genetically larger bone structure and body frame than others. You only lack muscles to fill the big frame.
If I knew this back then, I would do something about it to fulfill my natural potential.
How limited beliefs killed my gains
But being muscular was something unreachable, impossible. Partly due to lack of role models in my environment, who possessed a greek god body.
My father was even skinnier and smaller than me. Non of my friends did any physical activity besides team sports. And you know, you can’t get jacked from playing football all the time.
At that time, the most muscular archetype I was aware of were actors, that I saw on TV. Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. Both known for their ungodly muscular bodies, but both also being caucasian and both confronted about their steroid abuse. There were no muscular asians propagated by media.
So I told myself, that being jacked is naturally impossible and I am stuck with the way I was born, or that I would have to inject steroids for the rest of my life.
I was also a poor kid and there was no street workout parks back then. Even calisthenics didn’t exist yet, so having to pay for each gym entry was another excuse to not to even try.
My first bodybuilding attempts
Then in high school I got a summer job at construction site and I made a little pocket money.
With money comes endless possibilities.
And possibility of going to gym once a week was a new reality. I persuaded few classmates to go with me to the Gym on a regular basis.
As you have might guess. We failed miserably. No one had any knowledge about proper form, progressive overload or the basic science behind muscle hypertrophy besides few bro-science tips found in the bodybuilding magazines.
We just came to gym and winged it and did exactly things you should avoid as an untrained athlete. Try every possible machine in the gym for 1 rep max. Write down the list of machines we felt we can do 1 rep max. And basically do circuit training switching each machine, with a lot of biceps curls in between.
We would train that one day, every week, for exactly two weeks straight. Yeah, our determination didn’t last long.
You know the excuses. No money, no time, too busy with school, but mainly laziness. Deep down we knew, that sweating in the gym is not worth the effort and money.
Simply we didn’t see any visible changes on our bodies. Yes, we were pumped after the workout session and it felt great. But the days after, we reverted to those skinny kids again. Even when we flexed our biceps as hard as we could.
No girls were ever impressed with pumped biceps, that tasted iron only two times in their lifetime. There was no external validation, not from the girls, not from the peers. So we gave up. The pause lasted for few years.
My second bodybuilding attempts
My next attempt was during my studies at the University, where each student had to sign up into a physical activity class. Obviously, I chose the gym class as I wasn’t not interested in any skill based sports at all.
To be honest, I was not confident in doing any sports. Mainly because I was still skinny as stick and lived unhealthy self-destructive life style.
At that time, I smoked heavily. Like one box of cigarettes a week. That was my primary source of dopamine and happiness.
One day after gym class I noticed something strange. I felt actually great. My mind was clear and focused, my confidence reached unseen levels.
That was definitely caused by the pump, but I didn’t know back then. I told myself for the first time, that even though working out won’t make me big like Schwarzenegger, I will still feel great after each workout. This was a seed of thought, that helped me build a habit of regular physical activity later in my life.
Anyway, I still knew nothing about the science behind fitness. My typical workout started with a 5 min warmup on a cycling machine. Followed by a random sets and reps on random workout machines.
Well, the university gym was crowded, and I was forced to use whatever machine was left free, mostly shoulder press and chest flys. I could do dumbbell exercises, but I was clueless back then. I thought isolated exercises is the only way to get a bodybuilder physique.
This was my workout routine for next 3 years at the university. 1 day a week, for 3 months straight, each academic term.
What do you think happened after 3 years of consistent unstructured training? That I became so massive, I would have to change the entire wardrobe?
Nope, consistency is not enough to make you the next Mr. Olympia. Yes, I still looked the same.
You can do as many bicep curls as possible, but if the calorie intake is not enough to feed your muscles, your arm will stuck in size.
Being poor is the best diet
Having proper diet was my next obstacle in reaching my fitness potential.
I was a poor kid with a part time job, trying to save every penny. I lived extremely frugal life, to the point, where I literally skipped my breakfast and lunch just to save some money.
My daily food intake never exceeded 60-70% of my total daily energy expenditure. One pack of Oreos in the morning and about 300g of rice, 150g of meat in the evening. I was on a constant calorie deficit.
Not only I wasted my time and energy doing something, that had no effect at all. Worse, I lost 3 years of potential muscle gains.The best years, when my natural testosterone level was at the peak.
Becoming fat after long term relationship
Fast forward, when I reached my thirties, I was in totally different shape.
I was depressed due to recent breakup. When you are in a longterm relationship, you get fat, really fast. This is an unbreakable law.
At the start of the relationship, you keep yourself in shape, so you can attract better looking girls. But once you settle down, you get lazy.
A year after breakup, I kept my habit of overeating. Combine it with heavy smoking and you are well on the way to become a sumo wrestler.
I wasn’t exactly obese, but was more like a fatso with around 26-27% body fat. I knew the only way to reduce permanent depression, at least temporarily and naturally, is to feel the pump again.
Smoking didn’t work anymore after 15 years. I was even more down shortly after each cigar. Starting working out again was a win win decision.
Trying 7 minutes workout apps
And at that time, there was a hype around iOS apps, that guide you through a 7 minute workout routine.
You can’t build muscle with 7 minutes light bodyweight exercises, but you can build a habit of working out each morning before you go to work.
I tried a lot of apps. All offered almost same workout routine with slightly different variations.
Basically you did a whole body bodyweight workout starting with jumping jacks, following by push ups and ending with some lunges. It was not challenging and I didn’t get the pump I was after, so I gave up again for few months.
Review of Adrian James fitness apps
Until the day I discovered this new fitness app in an App Store. This app had an image of a shredded dude named Adrian James as its main app icon.
A proclaimed pro athlete, who decided to help others, by creating an App, that delivers three 15min workout routines with different level of intensity.
He had it all, eight pack, chiseled face, boulder shoulders, dry competition grade look. And according to the app description, you could achieve same look too. Just buy the app, do its 15 minutes workout everyday and someday you will magically transform into Adrian James twin.
That seemed too good to be true. Luckily, the app had a free version offering the access to its easiest workout routine. I decided to test the s**t out of it before spending any money.
At the beginning, my ass got kicked hard.
Unlike generic 7-minute workout apps, Adrian James uncovered a new world of weird compound movement exercises like plank straddle, kneeling press-up, reverse lunges, Spiderman push-ups or pike push ups. I sweated like crazy. But after few months of repeating this workout 2 times a week, exercises became too easy.
Convinced about the mighty power of Adrian James routines, I bought a pro version and unlocked 2 harder levels. That kept me busy for next 6 months.
Because of no proper diet, I still maintained same body fat percentage. I might gained a little bit of muscles and improved overall endurance though. It’s hard to tell when your muscles are hidden under huge layers of lard.
In the meantime, he released two more apps. Adrian James high intensity and Adrian James six pack workout. Bored with doing same routine over and over, I bought his other apps too. I tried them for few times, but didn’t see any immediate results, so I revert back to doing whole body routine.
First, high intensity interval training app was too intense. Show me any fatso in the gym, who is doing anaerobic exercises for 15 minutes straight with no pause. It’s a recipe for burnout and capitulation.
I couldn’t keep up with routine doing elbow to knee or jumping squats with no pause in between. Additionally, I didn’t see any point in doing Hiit for prolonged time and was afraid of muscle atrophy if I replaced whole body routine with Hiit.
Second, Six pack app didn’t deliver six pack as advertised. Unlike Hiit app, I incorporated abs training in between whole body workouts, just to spice things up. But without any change in diet, there was only one pack to show off, so I quit this app too.
Review of Touchfit GSP fitness app
Few months in, I was again looking for new apps, that would give me more variety.
You can do pike push ups (the hardest exercise at that time) for 1000th time, but with no programming or progressive overload, the exercise become as mundane as a taking out the trash.
Luckily, I discovered a new app called Touchfit GSP, that promised a huge library of over 500 bodyweight exercises and an innovative feature, that tailor each workout based on your effort and energy level.
It sounded too good to be true.
At first I was hyped. You choose the length of the warm up, length of the workout and based on how you rated previous workout, it even created a new workout routine for that day.
This app had something what previous app lacked, a system of a virtual progression. I say virtual, because even though the app generated different routine each time, the difficulty of the exercises made no sense.
Let’s say I marked my last push up workout as too easy. I would expect my next workout to have harder progressions, e.g. incline push ups, but no. It generated a routine with jumping squats. Worse, most of the supposedly harder exercises were even easier than those in Adrian James App.
You see the point. Jumping squats might be more taxing exercise endurance wise than push ups, but the result of this random nonsense is just a muscle imbalance.
I misunderstood the value proposition of this app.
It was made for people, who wants to lose weight and at the same time don’t want to be bored to death repeating 7 minute workouts every day. I wanted more. I wanted more muscle, more strength, less body fat.
Mainstream cross-fit circuit exercises didn’t seem to deliver any of this. Again, I didn’t see any results, so I took a year-long pause.
The last straw before my transformation
Then I met this douchebag, who changed my mindset and nudged me into the right direction.
During my trip to Rome, I met this Korean dude, a total a-hole. He told me two things.
First, fearless is limitless.
Second, you are ugly as f**k and your best bet is to do a plastic surgery.
Funny, it’s coming from someone, who was born with good looks, money and status. But it made me thinking. What is best natural way to change my facial characteristic?
So I looked at my photos from the days, when I eat only one meal a day. Sure, I was younger, but I had a chiseled jawline and was more attractive.
The answer was to shed body fat to single digits. I took this seriously and started to look for workout routines on Youtube, that can be exercised at home.
Following ThenX calisthenics programs
One channel, ThenX, caught my eye. The guy on the channel was a shredded half asian. Being an asian myself, there was a good chance I could achieve the same shredded look. And I am talking about shredded natural look.
There was no sign of steroid abuse. No 3D photoshopped shoulders, no paper thin skin. But lean six pack with naturally achievable muscle mass.
ThenX promoted some strange kind of workout exercises I never heard before called calisthenics. Calisthenics is a basically a little brother of gymnastics. Moves performed on this channel looked pretty badass. Pull ups, muscle ups, handstand push ups.
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I knew I wanted to learn those skills ASAP.
There was catch thought, most exercises required pull up bars and dip bars. I had neither. I didn’t want to pay for gym membership upfront, but I wanted to try their beginner program.
One day I told my boss, who was a cross-fit champion, if it will be worth it to buy home version of pull up bar. He told me, that I should try street workout parks first. There are plenty of them in Prague. That was an aha moment for me and a month later, I bought one year membership for $100.
I spent next 3 months doing ThenX daily workouts, while also going through beginner tutorials on pull ups, dips, l-sits and pike push ups. My ultimate goal was to learn pull ups with a strict form.
If you ever tried to pull yourself for the first time, you know the feeling. The burning on your wrist and forearms, the weakness in your shoulders.
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It seemed impossible. However for the first time in my life, I sticked to tutorial for as long as I could, mainly doing negatives, until I succeed.
After I achieved my first strict pull up, I was ready to start a regular 8-week beginner program. I worked out 6 days a week. One day was left for recovery.
I went in the morning, just before going the work, no matter the weather. You would be surprised how fast you do push ups, when the ground is full of rainwater and its raining hard on your head. It was painful, but the post workout pump kept me going.
Shedding fat by tracking calories
Now a few words on diet. At that time, I started to look on the internet for various shortcuts.
E.g. what is the fastest way to get jacked with calisthenics Or how long does it take to get visible six pack abs.
Most google results pointed me to bodybuilding.com forum. The more I read answers on the forum, the more I started to realise, that diet plays a huge role in muscle building.
Getting six pack and building muscles are two contradicting goals. If I wanted to cut, I have to be in caloric deficit. If I wanted to gain muscles, I have to be in caloric excess. There is no middle ground.
My goal was to be build muscle. But instead of bulking, I was on an unintentional cut.
Being an analytical person, I needed to track my bulking progress. For that purpose I installed Myfitnesspal, an app which helps you track your calorie intake.
How I ended up cutting? By making a huge mistake while logging rice meals.
There is a big difference between uncooked rice and cooked one in terms of calories per gram. When you cook rice, it absorbs water. It then weights much more than raw rice.
Thanks to this mistake, I accounted two times more calories than I should. Instead of recommended deficit of 250 calories, I was in fact a 500 calories deficit.
My weight went rapidly down. 2 Kg a month. The side effect was the constant exhaustion. Yes, the pump after morning workout was great and it lasted long enough to keep me fully functional. But by the next morning, I was dead tired.
One day, I had to log some broccoli and Myfitnesspal suggested boiled broccoli as the first choice. I was like.
“Wait, what is the difference between cooked and uncooked broccoli?”
There was a minor difference in calorie amount. So I started to audit all carbs meals, that I logged so far and I was shocked when the error with rice came up.
The important lesson is that, by tracking calories everyday, I learned to manage my weight more effectively and it helped me to reach the physique I wanted. Now, I can pretty much eyeball any food and tell on the spot how much calories it has.
Fast forward, 8 weeks passed and I was happy, that I finished calisthenics beginner program. Although I was still weak, as I didn’t achieve recommended number of 10 pull ups according to the ThenX progression chart.
At this point, my body composition has transformed from fat to skinny fat.
Fortunately I looked visually huge in the t-shirt, thanks to the pump and my good bone structure.
Bulking for 6 months with ThenX Intermediate programs
Tired from working out everyday, I had to take two weeks off. During the pause, I reassessed my workout strategy.
Being skinny fat again was not satisfactory. I wanted to look muscular as soon as possible. In order to gain muscle at a maximum possible rate, I needed to be in constant caloric excess. So i started 6-month long bulking phase.
I immersed into ThenX program again and did 8 weeks calisthenics intermediate program for the next three months.
Intermediate level offered much more variety and I had a blast doing weird moves like head hang banger or windshield wipers.
It was fun, but It was also a lot harder. The jump in difficulty was insane. I mean, show me someone at the intermediate level, who can do 10 muscle ups as warm up. If the exercise was too hard, I did an easier progression instead.
Three months passed like nothing and ThenX calisthenics intermediate program was over. I was disappointed, that I my progress significantly slowed down.
This time, I didn’t meet the minimum level of strength according to ThenX progression chart. 15 pull ups, 10 handstand push ups against the wall? Not even close.
That was the first sign, that I can’t train like Chris Heria or other younger calisthenics athletes I saw on youtube. My tendons takes a lot of time to adapt.
From the nutritional standpoint, I bulked like a traditional bodybuilder. Peanuts, oats, milk and raisins, you name it. Always in excess of 200-500 calories.
Experimenting with calisthenics & weights
In the end, I wasn’t happy with aesthetics either. No visible muscle insertions, no 4 pack, bloated face.
What I didn’t realise was the role of sugar and carbs in your body composition. I thought the reason was a lack of measurable progressive overload.
Why else are all weight lifters jacked, and most calisthenics practitioners not?
Because bodyweight exercises have very steep learning curve. Next progression in any particular skill might require months or years of training. I wanted the result fast. I was already past my thirties and was not getting any younger. I needed to capitalise on my natural testosterone production.
Weights, on the other hand, can be scaled based on your fitness level. Want more difficulty? Add one 5 Kg plate on barbell. Easy. The next logical step would be to start a 8-week ThenX calisthenics and weights intermediate program. But I was not sure if would enjoy lifting weights.
Calisthenics was still fun and challenging, weights seemed boring and dull. So I decided to try the best of both worlds, weighted calisthenics starting with weighted pull ups.
I absolutely loved doing weighted pull ups. I once again felt the burning in the muscles. I felt challenged again.
Once I reached 6 reps, I just added more weight on the weight belt. Soon after, I started to notice, that my lats were wider than usual. This was the sign, that using weights brings desired results.
I immediately started ThenX calisthenics and weights program the next day. The program was divided into push days, pull days and shoulder days, filled with legs and abs training in between.
Each workout routine had 3 weights and at least 4 calisthenics exercises. For example you started pull day with deadlifts, followed by 10 pull ups, followed by barbell rows and so on.
The change in workout volume caught me by surprise. I could barely keep up with 6 days workout schedule. By lifting heavy weights, you overclock your central nervous system, then you trigger metabolic stress by high volume calisthenics.
I don’t know the science behind this, but I was sore all the time. But thanks to bulking and eating excess amount of carbs and sugar, my body somehow recovered quickly enough just to survive the next workout.
Bulking won’t get you six-pack
Anyway, I finished the program after 10 weeks of sweat. I expected to be jacked by now, but the final results were really disappointing.
Even though I might gained some muscles, I definitely gained same or larger amount of fat in the process, thanks to 6 months of bulking. My body fat percentage accelerated highly above 16%-18% at the end of the program. Summer was approaching and my physique looked more like a dad bod than a beach bod.
There was no point in starting more advanced ThenX programs, because of steep jump in difficulty. I still couldn’t do muscle ups or front lever raises and ThenX advanced calisthenics program relied on such advanced moves.
Continuing or repeating a weights program was the only choice. I kept doing push pull days mixed with weighted calisthenics days. My main goal now was to be shredded for the summer, so I also started a regular cut.
Deadlifting so hard I injured my back
This was a big mistake, that changed the course of my training for the next year. Lifting heavy while bulking is different from lifting same weights while cutting. I didn’t know that and it was only a matter of time before I experienced my first serious injury.
Two weeks into the cut, I had a pull day. Being depleted of carbs and sugar, I felt weak and tired. I knew I will have the hard time repeating my all time max of 10 x 95Kg deadlifts.
My ego dismissed the idea of de-loading some weights and I forced myself to finish 10 repetition at all cost. How stupid I was.
After the first set, I noticed a strange pain on my lower right back. It was a warning, that I should stop doing whatever I was doing immediately. But I didn’t listen.
I wanted to finish my workout or else I miss my potential gains from pull exercises that week. I overcame the pain and pushed my reps through.
Next morning, I felt a constant sharp pain coming from my lower back. I was seriously injured for the first time in history. I couldn’t even do one pull up or any other back exercises for the next two months.
This was the first time I started to have concerns about keeping proper form while lifting. I knew nothing about how to activate the right muscles, or why is it good to tense core for stabilisation purposes, or when to avoid dangerous lifting exercises.
I was completely lost, without any training direction. There was no ThenX program to help me out. I had no idea what to do next.
Yoga, flexibility and mobility as the cure for back injury
Instead of going to gym 6 times a week, I dumbed down my work out schedule to 2 times a week. My main focus now was to maintain my condition while leaving my back alone. Each workout, I repeated one of the non-back split days in the ThenX intermediate calisthenics and weights program.
On the upside, back injury forced me to fill my rest days with non-lifting exercises, that would keep me challenged. Luckily at that time, Gabo Saturno, a former ThenX member, left ThenX and started his own Youtube channel.
I liked how Gabo mixes calisthenics exercises with yoga practice. So I started to follow his tutorials on flexibility, mobility and hand-balancing.
Fun fact, without mobility and flexibility, you can’t do handstand press. It is not about shoulder strength at all.
Determined to learn handstand press someday in future, I started doing yoga instead of lifting heavy weights. And because of yoga, my back recovered sooner than expected.
One day, I went out and tried to pull up in very with slow and controlled manner. I was hesitating to test my back, because I didn’t want to get it worse. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt anymore.
How I started learning muscle ups
Two months-off resulted in significant loss in endurance and pull up strength. If my max was 12 reps half a year ago, I could do only 2 reps now.
Never-mind, I will just train pull ups every second day in the morning before going to work. If muscle memory really exists, then I will reach my max reps in no time.
Well, It doesn’t work that way. I never reached my max again.
Rebuilding pull ups endurance was an important requirement for assisted muscle up training.
I wanted to learn muscle ups for long time. I did negatives on dips bars here and there, but this time I wanted to take it seriously. For this purpose I bought resistance bands from Aliexpress in spring and now I could finally put them bands in use.
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Muscle up is highly a technical skill, which require huge amount of explosive strength. It would take me forever practicing only negatives and explosive pull ups.
With bands, I could train full range of motion without having the strength required yet. I started with green band (-56kg) and I could do a clumsy rep every third try. The moment I swinged myself over the bar, I was hooked.
Snapped my shoulder joints with muscle ups
At the beginning, I trained for muscle ups every fourth day. Just to know, how will my tendons react to explosive movements.
I quickly realised, that not well. My tendons needs more than a week in order to heal. But I didn’t listen to my body and again let my ego win for the second time.
I overloaded my shoulder tendons this way for couple of weeks and one day it just snapped I disabled myself from training for next 4-5 months.
How it happened?
Well, each year I attend summer movie festival, where you have to wait in line for hours if you wanted to see any movie as a freeloader This year was the first time I looked more muscular than most of the hipster skinny fat dudes attending the festival.
I wanted to show off, so I was doing calisthenics moves every time I waited somewhere in line. What else can you do, while waiting in line for 2 hours? Play cards? Listen to the music? Read newspaper? It gets old.
But doing handstands against the wall, pistol squats and archer push ups? Yeah, you get the attention.
My advice, don’t do archer push ups, if you never did them before. Your form will suck and you will overcompensate the lack of triceps strength by relying too much on shoulder grid. Shoulder joints are not used to the pressure and it doesn’t look as cool as the you thought anyway.
Archer push up was not the cause, but the trigger of my second serious injury. A day after archers, I went out to do an assisted muscle ups workout.
I felt a little tension on my right shoulder, but I ignored it. I did muscle ups, leg raises, dragon flag negatives. All of them aggravated my shoulder tendons even more.
Next morning, I felt a sharp pain on my right shoulder when trying to put my t-shirt on. Pain didn’t go away even after careful stretching. I knew I f***ed up, again.
This time I lost the war. Shoulder is unfortunately a body part, that connects your arms to your upper body. That means every arm movement requires shoulder strength, mobility and flexibility.
You can’t train your upper body without your arms. It’s just not possible.
Normally, I would freak out and go to the doctor, but I had a scheduled flight to Asia in two days. I would be gone for a month without access to paid medical service. I hoped it would heal itself in a week as it usually do.
What I didn’t know was how serious the shoulder injury is. And I made it even worse by testing pull ups each week. I wanted to know if my shoulder is OK again.
The sharp pain was not always present. It revealed itself only when I did certain moves in certain angles. E.g. I couldn’t even open door. Generally any pushing movement was painful.
What happen when you fall? You try to stand up.
So I started to google everything about shoulder injuries and how to keep lifting without aggravating rotator cuff. Initial research led me to Athlean-X, a youtube channel owned by physical therapist Jeff Cavallier, who teaches about lifting with proper form.
This was the first time I heard about following muscle fibres thing and how is it important to apply correct angle during each exercise. Anyway, I watched all his videos on how to overcome shoulder injuries and I practiced his daily rehab routine for the next 4 months.
Routine was focused on rebuilding shoulder strength by doing physiotherapy rehabilitation exercises with resistance band. Only after a month, I could painlessly open any door with my right arm. And after 4 months, I finally regained full shoulder mobility.
So that was my situation as of autumn 2018, when I reached 13.25% body fat. The Lowest body fat level since my last relationship breakup. Not shredded, but looking lean enough to turn heads on the beach.
Ending notes on my calisthenics transformation
In summary, what helped me in my transformation was a desire to learn handstand and an internalised process of successfully building habits.
– A habit of practising handstand almost everyday
– A habit of going to street workout park everyday for the first 3 months
– A habit of religiously counting calories.
– A habit of tracking sets and reps progress and applying progress overload based on hard data
Still, there are so many things I did wrong in my fitness journey. Had I have the knowledge I have now, I would reach my natural limits far sooner. Instead, I am still working on my free standing handstand, assisted muscle ups and front lever.
Finally, the moral of the story is, if I can transform myself from fat to fit in my thirties, you can too. There is no excuse. I hope you enjoyed my story and let me know if you have any questions.