An Amazing Age,,,

Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words — mank and ind. What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.” Jack Handy

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An Amazing Age…

A father stood by a campfire sharing thoughts of life with his discouraged adolescent son. He explained that life can be hard, but reminded his son that it was much worse for their ancestors. He explained that they live an amazing age. He spoke about how quickly man can cover long distances – much faster and further than even a few generations ago. The food system had advanced in a way that fewer people were going hungry, and food was much easier to produce. Though wars still took place, there were less of them, and with fewer casualties within them. Tyrannical leaders had declined in number, and advances in medicine had enabled longer lives, and a better quality of life with each passing year.

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Of course that conversation could have taken place in any age of man going back 4,000 years or more. And I guess that’s my point; that every generation of man reaps the benefits of advancement. All who have lived, have lived in an amazing age.

Today we live with the most advanced technologies and social structures to date, and certainly the most complex. Yet I’m not such a fan. The worst unintended consequences of advancement are… a lack of advancement. I too am a discouraged youth.

And Then, Depression Set In…

I have experienced my share of depressive episodes – those times when continuing my own life seems the worst possible solution. I have survived those episodes though, without medication, for one reason above all others, the knowledge that my depression always passes – always.

I don’t wish to understate the value of medication for those who live with depression. That technology – the advancement of pharmaceuticals, has changed and saved millions who live with depression. I only suggest that for me, the best medicine is the knowledge that my depression always passes – always. It’s kind of old school.

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When I’m in the throes of depression, it’s not so easy or so convenient to conjure up thoughts of it passing. Nor are those thoughts fast-acting. They do come though, with no side effects, nor any cascading consequences which may lead to more cascading consequences.

In recent decades depression has become better addressed, both scientifically and socially. Depression can be treated, discussed, and most importantly, it can be allowed. That it is allowed, is a great social advancement – part of our amazing age.

I Need A Kind Of Therapy Which Hasn’t Been Invented Yet…

I live with another ailment though, one which is rarely discussed and may not even exist beyond my tortured mind, though I suspect it does; the inability to comprehend and cope with the increasing complexities of our amazing age. I live in a greater state of flux today than I did at age 40. Each new advancement for the betterment of mankind seems to come with choices, tenfold.

Last night I spent 75 minutes navigating the Netflix search menu, looking for a program worthy of my time. Eventually I selected a series of TED Talks on space exploration. Seventy-five minutes spent searching. In that amount of time I could have watched 5 of those TED Talks, or 4 episodes of McHale’s Navy. I yearn for the black and white Admiral TV of my youth. Only 12 channels choose from and a few dozen more on UHF, but most of those were snow.

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Driving last week my advanced navigation system was guiding me to a job interview. Knowing the area fairly well I decided to trust my hunter-gatherer instincts and took an alternate route. The voice from the speakers kept attempting to reroute me – even to the point when I was directly across the street from my intended location. “Make a U-turn and go 1 mile to the Rancho California Exit” the voice said. My destination was 50 yards away. That actually happened.

I can’t remember my daughter’s phone number – because I don’t have to. Talk about an instant panic attack when I needed to call her from someone else’s phone…

The thought that gets me through my depressive episodes, that it always passes – always, doesn’t work for my complexity issues. The increasing complexities of life are exponential. They never pass, they only get worse. To paraphrase Lewis Black, “Exponential means to get crappier and crappier and crappier.”

I’m not a neuroscientist nor a cognitive psychologist, but I do read some of their work when time permits. Once conclusion I can safely make is that in no way is the human brain keeping up with the pace of our advancements. My disease may not be your disease yet, but it will be.

No Going Back. Close Your Eyes And Ears Going Forward…

There’s no going backward though, only the hopes that humanity will figure out how to take the greatest advancements from the past, retool them, and superimpose them on the future. We won’t see horse drawn carriages again, but we already see cars without internal combustion engines and that’s a legitimate advancement. That those cars might drive themselves is also an advancement. If self-driving cars are an advancement, there will surely be unintended consequences along with them – like losing our inherent ability to find north or south quickly, or to minimize what little muscle tone most people have left – from turning that steering wheel.

I genuinely believe the humanity is headed in a positive direction, pulled by the underlying currents of a higher purpose. Read the books Nonzero and The Better Angels Of Our Nature and you too might be convinced of this. That future though, might look a lot like Idiocracy. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head…

Aja: More That A Continent…

The Era…

In the 1970s my social contemporaries we largely tied to the music of Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, Rush, Pink Floyd, and the like. Not that I didn’t have an ear for it too, I did. Listening to the rock & roll of the day was among my primary hobbies. It was an era when vinyl was king, and the thematic or the complete album was central to FM radio. Though this was also the era of disco and the early stages of punk rock, the FM radio of the day was all about dirty hippies making well-orchestrated masterpieces.

Counter to most of my friends at that time, one band I focused on more than Frank Zappa, Uriah Heap, or Deep Purple was Steely Dan. This was a band most of my friends couldn’t connect with, yet they were my obsession. With those who did though, it did seemed like we spoke another language.   Being a Steely Dan fan at the age of 15 landed one a very good seat at the rock & roll nerd table at school – just behind the kids from the short bus.

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The Scope and The Band…

Steely Dan’s heyday was from 1972-1977, though they are still active today. Starting with their first album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, the primary players were producer Gary Katz and musicians Donald Fagan and Walter Becker. Many musicians showed up on Steely Dan albums through the years. In the early years, the same dozen or so players were granted parts on most of their first five albums.

As the band evolved, the varying players were depended on to raise their game with each successive album. If they did not, they would be used less or not at all. Notwithstanding that as their music style changed, there might be less of a need for a flugelhorn, and thus less of a need for flugelhorn player Snooky young. By the time their 5th album, The Royal Scam was released, the hierarchy of Fagan, Becker, and Katz was firmly in place, but also beginning to strain. Though it would be a year before the world would hear their 6th album, that year took forever – at least for me.

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The Album…

We all know what it’s like to anticipate an album release. In the pre-internet, non-digital music days of my teens, this was the first album I remember truly waiting for. All we had in 1977 was teasers from Rolling Stone magazine, word of mouth from friends, and hints from DJs to tell us when a new album might be out. The buildup for Steely Dan’s 6th album was overwhelming – by design. When Aja was finally released in 1977, I was at Peaches Records & Tapes before anyone that day.   I took my fresh copy directly home and listened to both sides over and over for a couple of days on the Marantz stereo of my teens.

From the first track, Black Cow, I realized this album was distinct from any of their previous albums. It was large. Though they had always been a jazz influenced project, I never considered Steely Dan anything other than rock & roll. In hindsight so many years later, I consider Aja the first jazz album I ever owned.

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This was Steely Dan’s best album – period. Aja was made when producer Katz still had some say and control over the rotating players of the project that Fagan and Becker abused in process. Aja was Fagan’s vision, but it was to be was Katz’ finest work as producer. From beginning to end, there’s not a single bad track:

Black Cow

Aja

Deacon Blues

Peg Home at Last

I Got the News

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No matter where my tastes in music have drifted through the years; punk rock, country, Americana, the paisley underground, blues, and jazz, Aja has been a constant, and has never been out of my rotation. I have owned Aja on vinyl 3 times, on cassette, on CD, and now I stream it digitally on a regular basis. Though the delivery system has changed through the years, the effect has not.

Listening to the song Deacon Blues frames my mind in the same way sitting on a jetty and staring the ocean’s vague horizon does. Time slows down. I relax. I breathe more deeply, and forget all things but the moment. Listening to the song Aja after a long day is like the first glass of wine before dinner; it subdues the monkeys perpetrating lesser thoughts in my head.

The Memory…

All these years later when I think of the 70s as a collective, I don’t default the image of a powder blue Volkswagen Bug with bold flower stickers all over it, Richard Nixon, The Godfather, images of Vietnam, hot pants, women’s lib, or even the Rolling Stones. When I think of the 70s, I think first of Aja, its album cover, the arrangements and the artistry it contains. I think of driving my Ford Fairlane to the edge of town alone on a Friday night, turning my Pioneer Super Tuner to 11, and laying on the hood — transporting my soul to a place I can’t fully define.

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If the fingerprints of my past are responsible for the all marks that have made my soul so scuffed and leathered through the years, being touched by Aja gives that soul a smooth feel and a golden tone – if only for an hour. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I hit the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Steely Dan’s album Pretzel Logic.  Enjoy!

Living Life As A Form Of Exercise…

This will be my last fitness related article for this blog. I will keep the blog active, and continue writing about the aspects of life that interest me – and those which drive me to obsession.

After many years, I have decided to leave the fitness industry due to irreconcilable differences. I will now pursue another career path though no idea what that will be. Wishing You All Peace rc

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People often shy away when they read the term, exercise. Just the thought of it evokes connotations of grunting and sweating in ways which are often inconsistent with how adults like to think of themselves. Moreover, that term is often associated with negative consequences to the human body. We all know these; tender back, achy knees, sore muscles, and so-on.

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Exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative. Being strong is a good problem to have, being capable even better. Becoming these doesn’t necessarily have to take place in a gym. I can think of no scenario when a person’s body is under stress, when they might wish they were a little less strong or less capable.

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Certain exercises done in the gym are more life-skills than exercises. Conversely, certain daily actions at home or in the office, done deliberately and with applied concentration, are exercises unto themselves. One that comes to mind is a simple squat, or deep knee bend.

As an exercise, squats have earned a dubious reputation. I have known many orthopedic doctors and physical therapists who have advised patients to avoid squats altogether, citing them as a high-risk exercise for the knees and lower back.

However, I have no memory of doctor or physical therapist ever suggesting to a patient that they not use the toilet, not sit down to dinner, nor sit on the sofa to watch a TV show. The very act of those very acts though, is the act of squatting. On average, a person squats 25 times per day – even those with bad knees. To my way of thinking, this is an opportunity to become stronger.

By simply living life more deliberately, we can enhance our strength – without ever walking into a gym. As a fitness instructor, first and foremost I teach good form in exercise. Practicing good form in our everyday movements can also be a form of exercise.

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Sitting, standing, reaching, and bending – these are all motions most of us do on a daily basis. By simply slowing them down, concentrating on them, and being deliberate in our physical actions, we can make our muscles stronger – just by living life. Further, by living our physical lives deliberately and keeping momentum out of our daily movements, we reduce the risk of injury from those actions.

When we are moving, we are exercising – whether we realized this or not. All movement, whether we’re carrying lumber across the garage or laundry up a flight of stairs, is an opportunity to become stronger – by simply practicing good form in our daily actions.

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I’ll suggest that if a person apply mindfulness and thought to their daily movement, an increased awareness of their physicality, and increased confidence in their abilities will be just a few weeks away.  Be well…  rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button in my head. Oh, and there’s this from The Avetts. Enjoy!

Intentional Trainer…

Critical Mass…

It has been pointed out to me that I can be excessively critical of fitness trainers not named Roy Cohen. Maybe. I am confident though, that even the greenest trainer in the average gym knows more about the basics of strength training than a majority of the members in that gym at any given time. My criticisms more often relate to the intentions of the trainer, and his methods.

Above all things, what matters most to me when teaching strength training, are safety and efficiency. If a trainer ensures the safety of the student, and plans an efficient workout, then a positive outcome is more likely. I see this combination, of safety and efficiency, rarely when I visit box gyms.

More often what I see in other trainers are people standing over their clients, scarcely engaged, hypnotically counting, and largely forgetting the task at hand; helping establish an improved physicality for the student.

Intentions…

As a trainer who always invests in the best possible outcome to a given workout with my students, the hardest thing for me to witness in other trainers is a lack of intention. Yet this is the most obvious flaw I see in other trainers – that they would rather be anywhere else.

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There is a good foundation for the cliché that trainers become trainers because they don’t want to get a real job. I can even say that of myself to a degree. I often tell people I get to do recess for a living, but I take my recess seriously. The trainers who don’t take it seriously, make that cliché shine.

Last week I was training in a local box gym. Since I know an executive with that chain, I spoke to her in advance of my workout. She suggested I keep my eye out for a trainer I’ll refer to as Agent RubberMade. She explained that Agent RubberMade was the busiest trainer at that club, that he made good money, was highly regarded, and even trained the president of the company.

Why do I call him Agent RubberMade…? On identifying him at the gym, and watching him for several days, I had regularly seen him eating out of  little RubberMade containers which were ever-present in his hands – while with clients.

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That this trainer is highly popular does not surprise me. He is a competitive bodybuilder, is good looking, and seems to know his stuff. Sometimes I guess that’s all you need. That fact that he knows his stuff is a bonus to his clients. Even if he didn’t, he’d probably still make a good living, and be highly regarded because, good looking bodybuilder…

It’s been 5 weeks now since I’ve been keeping my eye on Agent RubberMade, and he is an adequate trainer though I don’t believe his reputation is deserved. People are certainly getting something in exchange for the time and money they are giving him, but I don’t doubt they are getting full value.

Eating during training sessions notwithstanding, I have seen Agent RubberMade display most of the common stereotypes while training his clients. Texting. Stepping away or turning his back on his client in mid-set to talk with other gym members. Being excessively enthusiastic and back-slappy to the point of annoyance. Allowing his clients to talk during an exercise. And of course the big one for me, not paying enough attention to exercise form.

All that said, his clients are still better off with Agent RubberMade than without him. Without some amount of leadership and instruction, a new gym member has few choices but to mimic the actions of others – who have mimicked others through the generations of fitness enthusiasts, and so-on.

Cash Cow…

Something you may be surprised to learn is that with most of the big chain gyms, the trainers have one job above all others – to generate revenue for the facility. This is done in two ways. One, by selling more training sessions to existing clients. The other is where the real money is made, in getting their clients to bring in new members in the form of friends, family, and coworkers.

That’s right, the criteria for a trainer keeping his job is not in being a good trainer. It’s in being a good salesman. In the corporate structure of most chain gyms, the dedicated salesperson is a job in decline. In the current era, it is the trainer who is depended on to increase revenue for the club. And that business model works.

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Two days ago I ran into an old friend who now trains for this chain of gyms which I am now a member of. He is an excellent trainer, and has been at it for much of his life. After my workout, he and I sat at his desk and caught up a bit. He discussed the sales revenue he generates for his club. In his best month working there he generated $9,000 of new business, though he averages $6,000. That’s pretty good for the club since they keep 60% of that. The trainer gets the rest, but then has to pay taxes and liability insurance out of that.

If the club employs 4-5 trainers bringing in that much new revenue, then that’s $18,000 per month in sales from the floor after the trainers are paid, walk-ins and counter sales notwithstanding. The good news for me as a member of this chain is the 75/25 rule of corporate gyms. That is, 75% of the members which pay monthly dues never uses the club, thus supporting the 25% who pay and do use the facility.

Dedicated Space…

A great irony for the consumer of paid training sessions in big box gyms, is that they are often relegated to small areas in the gym known as the trainer area. These areas often have limited strength and functional fitness equipment. They are in place to keep trainer and client free of the primary workout areas, especially during peak hours when multiple trainers and clients in the open workout area can create traffic jams.

For the cost of a years membership, you can have a "trainer area" in your own basement..

For the cost of a years membership, you can have a “trainer area” in your own basement..

Of course the irony is that the client is not only paying for his gym membership as well as expensive training sessions, but that for all of that money he is corralled into a smaller section of the gym which has less equipment to work with. Many exercises done in the trainer area are body weight exercises which could be done on a person’s living room floor.

Options Away From The Box…

With that in mind, I’ll suggest a better option for many would be to train in a private fitness studio. I don’t say that because I own one. I say it because I have a good understating of the fitness industry at both the micro and the macro level.

Most private fitness studios are not in business to increase profits each month. They are in business because they are run by, and employ people who are more likely to care, and wish to positively impact the lives of others.

I'll suggest that a client/trainer relationship in a big box gym, rarely becomes a life long friendship...

I’ll suggest that a client/trainer relationship in a big box gym, rarely becomes a life long friendship…

Hiring a trainer who will come to your home is also an option – depending on what your goals are, as well as what equipment you may have at your home. This can be a convenient, and far less expensive option than going to a chain gym.

I’m not suggesting that working with trainers in big box gyms is a bad idea. I am though, suggesting that if when one takes crowds, cost, and the trainers intentions into consideration, I would not choose a chain gym as my first option. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks for Part III of this series; a look at the many exercises that make no sense whatsoever. Oh, and there’s this from the great J. Mascis. Enjoy!

The Law Of Gyminished Returns…

This is Part I of a 2 or 3 or maybe even a 4 part essay on my perception of the current state of gym culture. We’ll see where this goes. Please check back in a few weeks for Part II.

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A big box of followers…

I have spent the past 5 weeks training in a chain gym for the first time in many years. As a fitness trainer and a relentless observer of people, this has been a thought cultivating experience.

I can’t help it, with each workout my mind continually toggles back and forth between what I am doing, and what everyone else is doing. So compelled am I to believe that I am always on the most correct path, that I am usually left to believe that most everyone else in the gym is on a dirt road to nowhere.

I won’t go so far as to say a majority of these gym regulars are foolish or blind followers, but I will say that most I observe are being completely inefficient in what I perceive they are trying to accomplish. Regardless of what their goals are; weight loss, body sculpting, or conditioning (it’s usually some combination of these), I’ll suggest that most I see here are not on the most direct path to where they wish to go.

I often ponder obsess on this question: Why do people believe that buying a gym membership is enough…?

Buying a guitar is seldom enough. Buying golf clubs is seldom enough. Lessons on how to use these are usually purchased with them, or shortly thereafter. However, joining a gym is too often a purchase made with no intention of learning how to use it.

At best, a new member might workout with a friend and do what their friend does – who learned from another friend, and so-on. People sign up, show up, and when they are not shown by theirs friends, they just mimic what they see other gym members doing. What could possibly go wrong…?

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The law of gyminished returns…

If a person does something inefficiently in the gym for months or even for years, and nobody ever corrects them or offers them a more efficient path, they ultimately become a veteran of failure, but a veteran nonetheless. As a veteran of the gym they are watched by beginners. Beginners see what gym veterans are doing, and they copy it. Gym culture is now many generations deep into this way of learning.

Think of it as a cassette tape from the 1970s. Back then we could copy an original cassette to a blank cassette on our home stereo. If one then took that copied tape and subsequently made a copy of that copy, the fidelity would decrease. Each successive copy of a copy would lose another degree of fidelity. After so many generations of copying the copies, the music would become less true to its original incarnation.

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In a very real sense, that has been happening with gym culture over period of decades. In particular, how exercises are performed and the volume in which they are performed. As more and more people have copied what others have done before them, who have copied what others have done before them, the overall productivity and effectiveness of the culture has been reduced. That is just my opinion.

Pump up the volume, someone told her…

The most common inefficiency I see though, is too much exercise volume; too many exercises, too many sets per exercise, and too many days per week. Again, this is not just limited to beginners. I have seen many experienced gym goers who exercise with too much volume, and too much frequency. I saw an example of this yesterday. A young woman, maybe 23 years old, and she didn’t appear unfit, but was clearly not any kind of athlete.

I first saw her performing set after set of barbell bench presses. Shortly after, I saw her doing dumbbell bench presses. Sometime after that, I saw her doing chest flies. Later, she was doing push-ups followed by more chest flies.

In the amount of time in which I was able to do multiple exercises for multiple body parts, and complete an entire workout, she had exclusively worked one area of her body, her chest, and did so with an unnecessarily high volume of sets – regardless of her goals.

Because curiosity got the better of me, I broke my never talk to people in the gym rule and asked her about her high volume of training. She explained that she wanted to make her cleavage line more pronounced so a friend suggested that she do every chest exercise she could think of. Good plan!

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I thanked her for her time and walked away without passing judgment. Notwithstanding that she could have already achieved that goal by simply changing her diet, and doing 3 sets of push-ups a day for a month, I wasn’t her trainer, it wasn’t my gym, so it certainly wasn’t my place to offer unsolicited advice.

What is water…

As I looked around after my conversation with the young woman, I better observed that there were many more in the gym just like her – people who had the best of intentions, but were on road to nowhere, or on the road to not very far.

Whether these people were just guessing at what they were doing, copying other members, or getting their strength training instructions from a cassette tape friend 4 generations deep, it was clear to me that few people in the gym were the beneficiaries of sound instruction which related to their specific and unique objectives.

I suddenly felt the old fish in that David Foster Wallace commencement address. What is water…? If I had been brave enough to point out the water to any of them, they would still have no idea what I was talking about… Be well. rc

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Please take a moment to scroll up and rate this, and be sure to check back in a few weeks for part-2 of this essay. Part-2 will address fitness trainers in big box gyms. Hint: If you ever see trainer turn his back on a client mid-set in order to take another bite of oatmeal with chia seeds in it, he’s probably not your guy.

Oh, and there’s this from Girls Guns & Glory. Enjoy!

A Daughter, A Tortoise, And A Ray Of Hope…

A Family Trait…

Several weeks ago, my brother and I were driving through a snow storm in the mountains of Colorado. As he drove, he explained to me that among his highest priorities as a father is to raise his children with a sense of compassion for animals. A love of, and a compassion for animals is something I have seen in my brother since we were children.

With the windshield wipers scraping, and Dos Gringos providing the soundtrack, that conversation transported my mind to a memory of my own daughter a few years back, and her compassion for animals. I am grateful her mother and I raised her with an appreciation for all creatures great and small.

Shell Game…

During her sophomore year at DePaul University, my daughter and a friend spent an afternoon in Chicago’s Chinatown. Somewhere between dining and shopping, they visited an Asian market with a unique product; live tortoises. Being 19 years old, and seeing the world with ultra-clear vision, my daughter and her friend each arrived home that evening with a tortoise of their very own. By my daughter’s account, each bought her tortoise responsibly, with all the appropriate tortoise gear, and with the best of tortoise intentions.

Okay, so maybe ultra-clear vision was obscured by whimsical impulse. Probably not the most responsible decision for my daughter or her friend. After several weeks of stewardship, my daughter decided that things with her and the tortoise were not working out, and that each might be in a better place without the other, but what to do…?

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Understand, this animal was scarcely the size of a 50 cent piece. A teenage girl living in the big city could have easily released this tortoise on its own recognizance, exonerated herself from all responsibility, and done so in a variety of ways; the toilet, Lake Michigan, the dumpster out back, whatever. What she chose to do on behalf of this reptile still resonates with me today.

Reptile Rescue…

She advertised him on craigslist, free to a good home. After several inquiries and telephone interviews – yes interviews, she selected a new home for the creature; a young business man and his wife. When the time came to arrange for the delivery of the tortoise though, my daughter was unable to get a hold of person she selected for adoption. It was the weekend. Pressed for time, and with a working college student’s Monday morning closing in fast, she sought a second option.

Rather than toss it out the window or throw it away, she found the nearest tortoise rescue – in Milwaukee, some three hours away. On a very cold Sunday morning in Chicago, she bundled herself and the little creature up, and prepared to deliver him to the rescue in the neighboring state by way of subway, bus, and ultimately by taxicab.  She was committed to doing the right thing.

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The Chicago tortoise transit system…

As she was headed out the door to catch the subway, her phone rang. It was the young businessman she had previously spoken to about adopting the tortoise. He was still interested. Rather than boarding the train and hauling the little creature to another state, she met the man and his wife at a coffee shop later in the morning.

Not only was she impressed with them, but impressed with their intentions as well. Apparently they had several other rescued tortoises, and seem to put a great deal of emphasis on proper care of the animals. The reassignment took place, and all was good with the world.

Better Than We Did…

In this age when it is easy to see and believe that our next generation is doing less than our own on behalf of the planet, I think of my daughter, of her friends, of her generation, and I wonder why my generation has not done as much as is being done by the youth of today — especially when it comes to compassion for animals.  This, in my opinion, is one area where my daughter’s generation far exceeds my own.

Even Stroodle Has Compassion For Animals...

Even Stroodle Has Compassion For Animals…

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Or perhaps it’s a morsel to him…

There are many more mindful people out there than not these days – I truly believe that, and the next generation of mindfulness grows. I hope that my get off my lawn generation can put down our negativity and the evening news every so often, and take a better look at the young people of today and all they are doing to better the planet.

It’s easy – so easy for all of us to look for the bad. I have news for us. If we quit looking for it, we just might find a lot less of it. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from  Al Green  Enjoy!

Tolerance, Tole-Rant, To All You I Rant…

I asked a friend recently about hostility on social media. He replied by saying, “What’s the use of having an opinion if you can’t cram it down somebody’s throat”. Of course he was joking, but many I know truly subscribe to that belief…

My Belief…

I don’t believe in god, not in the sense of a divine being – man on the throne kind of stuff. Nor do I believe in a singular intelligence or designer, however vague, ethereal or non-specific it might be. At best I believe in an accidental system, and that beneath this system exists an underlying current of higher purpose pulling society in a singular direction. I believe that as time carries forward the stream of that current narrows.

As human complexity increases and that stream narrows it appears to me that we may be headed for a social eruption of some kind. Whether that eruption takes place in the next few years or few hundred, I have no idea. When I step back though, and attempt to take a big picture view of society, complexity, and directionality, it appears this eruption is unavoidable, so I want to get this off my chest while I can.

No Fight In Me…

On the topics of religions, god, and higher purpose, I have two basic rules; I don’t argue on behalf of, nor do I proselytize my beliefs. I also choose never to argue against the beliefs of others. That is, as I hope my beliefs will be respected by others, I ensure that the beliefs of others are respected by me — unless those beliefs involve hatred.

As the futile debates over religions and god causes schisms, what I do seek are occasional discussions that might otherwise fill those gaps. I tend to think the wellness of culture is absolutely dependent on religious tolerance. If useful discussions can’t be had, I simply disengage from all conversation. To attempt to change a person’s beliefs, mine or yours, is a supreme violation of consciousness.

Probably All That Can Ever Be Known…

In the appendix to his book, The Evolution Of God, Robert Wright masterfully explains what I believe is all we can ever truly understand about god, higher purpose, or why we even think in those terms. Wright speaks of an early hunter-gatherer walking alone through the woods alone at dusk. Suddenly there is a noise. The noise stops the man in his tracks. For a split second he thought he saw something associated with that noise, but can’t be certain whether or not he did. He looks again and sees nothing. Rather than continuing in the same direction, the man adjusts his path. He does this as to exhibit caution in order live another day – to push his genes into the next generation.

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The idea though, that he thought he saw something served him much better than not thinking he saw something. That is, if that guard had not been put up, he may have well walked into danger, and not survived another day to spread his genes.

And that’s where the idea of god begins and ends for me; as an evolutionary presence to ensure we protect ourselves, both physiologically and culturally, from things that may hurt us.

Fast Talkin’ Dawkins…

The primary tenet of biological evolution is that traits which serve getting genes into the next generation survive, and traits that don’t serve that purpose get weeded out in time. If cultural evolution parallels biological evolution, which Richard Dawkins himself stated early on in his career, than religion must be a trait that is serving the advancement of culture. After all, religions have not been weeded out over time, only transmogrified, misused and abused.

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At its very core religion is where all culture began. All art began as sacred art. All governance began as sacred governance. Albeit art and government are now (mostly) secularized in the modern era and in the western world, we have early religions to thank for providing us this framework that today keeps chaos in check – despite what we see on the evening news.

Did You Read Anything Up To This Point…?

I know there are people who have read this far, and ready to take me to task. Don’t bother – that’s kind of my point. However asinine my beliefs may seem to you, they are my beliefs and I value them as I value my child. Try and talk me out of loving my child or my beliefs, and you have lost the argument so there is no need for me to speak.

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I have a great reverence and appreciation for religions, though I subscribe to none. I actually believe that rituals are the most important aspect of the human experience, and like art and government, all ritual began as sacred ritual. Whether we believe in a higher power or not, to me, is not as important as behaving as though there is one.

Where religions go in the future can’t be predicted, though billions will try to chart their path, as billions more try to extinguish them. History though, makes a great case that religions may change over time, and may evolve, but for those who would like to see them disappear, I’ll suggest their very presence is the most vital part of culture, and a necessary trait for cultural survival.

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I believe that a successful outcome for humanity is absolutely dependent on religious tolerance. If one steps back and takes a big picture look at the evolution of culture, I’ll suggest it will be hard to disagree with that. Be well. rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from The Mountain Goats.  Enjoy…

The lesser expectations of my lesser self…

Perhaps the most luxurious aspect of knowing how to get into shape is also the most dangerous; that I have the ability to live in a lesser state of shape from time to time – until I feel enough is enough at which point I earn my way out of it. Now is one of those times.

Understand, I’m ahead of the game for 53. I workout regularly, I workout hard, and do so in a way that is both beneficial and sustainable. I’m currently lifting poundages, in some case, heavier than I ever have. I put in 30-60 minutes on the StepMill daily, at a rate of 72 steps per minute. I ride my bike to and from work daily in temperatures below freezing, and often in wind gusts in excess of 50 mph. My balance and flexibility are far above average, and on those rare occasions when I tuck my shirt in, I can still pull it off.

Being in a lesser state of shape for me has less to do with working out, and more to do with eating. It’s worth noting I’m far from obese. I currently weigh about 185 lbs., at roughly 17% body fat. The only six-pack I have is in the fridge, but I’m far from being overweight. I have spent most of this winter so far eating inconsistently with my value system – at least on the weekends.  This has everything to do with depression, discontent with my current life situation, and college football season.

My very kind landlady left me a cake.  What else was I to do...?

My very kind landlady left me a cake. What else was I to do…?

Like many, even trainers are subject to the internal demons such as depression, the external forces that can ruin a good day, and the temptations of the weekend.  Beer me.  Though Monday through Friday it’s been meat and veggies, my relationship with Saturday and Sunday is largely based on barley and cheese.

Each day though, for the past month or so, when I wake up I tell myself today will be the day I right the ship. By 3pm it’s time for hummus and candy. Oh well.

Where I once let this define me, I no longer do. I am a good father – at any body fat percentage. I am a good neighbor – despite my 3am nachos.  I am good trainer – even without a six-pack.

Can I do better…? Yes.  Do I need to…? Those are expectations I put on myself. My clients, my neighbors, and my friends all think I’m just fine.

I can't be trusted with hummus...

I can’t be trusted with hummus…

I’ve cycled through these breaks for many years now.  I’m not talking about being out of shape. I’m just talking about not being lean, jacked & shredded – living in a lesser state of eating. Every so often I take my foot off the gas for a few weeks, or even a month, knowing that when I put it back down, my sports car will blow most anyone else’s SUV off the road.

Vegetables.  Anyone seen my weekend vegetables...?

Vegetables. Anyone seen my weekend vegetables…?

For me, this cycle occurs about every two years or so. I almost think it’s psychologically necessary. I work hard staying in prime shape most of the time because my physicality is tied directly to my livelihood.  Sometimes though, I just need a break. It’s both Ironic and coincidental that these breaks often occur during difficult times in my life. Or maybe not.

I’m going to workout with weights later today, and follow that up with 30 minutes of rigorous cardio.  After that I may enjoy a spinach omelet, or maybe a pizza. Who knows…? This morning finds me in particularly good spirits, and for that I am grateful.  It is though, still football season — so all bets are off.   Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Talking Heads.  Enjoy…

Summary Of My January 2015 Workshop: Strength Training For Prep-Athletes…

Summary of my upcoming Workshop.  January 24th, 2015 11:00am.  Nederland Community Center.

“The car with most, and the hardest miles on it will likely go to the junkyard first” Jhciacb

Pet Peeves…

Throughout this workshop I will site multiple instances of how sports conditioning for prep athletes is too often in the hands of people who teach without thinking, teach without knowing, and teach without caring. It is my intent to incorporate a new aspect into strength and conditioning at the prep level; mindfulness.

Analogous to blind leadership and blind following in religion, the culture of strength and conditioning for teenage athletes is a telephone game of a monkey-see monkey-do culture with little room for scientific thought, logic, or individuality. Both ego and ignorance are often at the root of bad strength and conditioning practices by prep sports leadership.

Though good science and practices exist at the highest levels of sport, its trickledown to student athletes at the prep level is almost non-existent. Much of what middle and high school athletes are taught and asked to do by their coaches is based on what those coaches were taught by their coaches, and by what they see other coaches doing with their athletes. To some degree, this also exists at the college level.

I cringe when I attend a prep basketball practice and see a coach take his players through a series of conditioning exercises. Knowing how to set a legal pick is one thing. Knowing proper hand and back placement for a pushup is another. Too often athletes and their parents assume that because a coach has lead a team to compete for a state title, they possess an inherent knowledge of exercise physiology. This is rarely the case.

Pursuit Of Better Performance vs. Injury Prevention…

Injuries as the result of strength and conditioning work by prep athletes in support of their given sport should never happen. Should. Never. Happen. Being sidelined by an unnecessary training injury may not only cost an athlete the chance to play, it might minimize his or her chances of playing at a higher level later in life. Notwithstanding, it may hinder them in some way physically, well into their adult life.

When teenage bodies are loaded, overloaded, and pushed to extreme levels of stress in pursuit of an increased physical capacity to support their sport, the opportunity to become injured in the course of the workout is greater. Unnecessary workout injuries take place every day across the country at the middle school and high school level.

I am of the perspective that strength and conditioning for prep athletes should take place primarily as a means of minimizing injury on the playing field, not in support of enhancing their given sport. This is a broad line, and is a controversial position within the strength and conditioning community. It is though, one I believe has a logical foundation.

For years the emphasis has been on creating bigger, stronger, and faster athletes. With the injury rate in all major prep sports being at an all-time high, one has to question more closely whether the practices used to create these athletes are in the athlete’s best interest.

Intentions Of The Weight Room…

Can the weight room help an underdeveloped upper body gain more power to enhance a hockey player’s slap shot…? Yes.

Should time in the weight room put that athlete at risk…? Never.

Too often though, it does. Coaches often use strength training movements based on excessive weights and an excessive volume of training with the belief that these are the exclusive means to increased power and strength.

I believe that for a player to shoot a better slap shot, he needs to practice his slap shot – with the highest level of concentration, consistently, and under the supervision of a skilled coach. Any support by way of the weight room should be reasonable, and not put the player at risk of injury.

In engineering, form follows function.  In strength training, function follows form... In strength training, function follows form...

In engineering, form follows function. In strength training, function follows form…

In engineering, form follows function.  In strength training, function follows form…

Is it possible to enhance athletic performance in the weight room without going to extreme measures…? Yes. Two of the more common traits coaches and parents wish to see developed in athletes are strength and power, both of which can be enhanced with almost no risk of injury. Power and strength can be trained for with exercises that use no momentum, thus minimizing the opportunity to become injured during the course of these exercises.

In the weight room or on the playing field, momentum is one aspect of nearly every injury. Other aspects of athletic injury include physical structure, leverage, and force. On the playing field, momentum, force, and leverage cannot be eliminated. In the weight room they can be managed. Prepare the physical structure (body) to be intact, eliminate momentum, use leverage intelligently, apply force with concentration, and a weight room injury is less likely.

Love Me Tendon…

Strength training done properly can enhance muscular strength. What goes largely unrecognized with strength training and unappreciated is, that strength training can also promote tendon strength. Tendons are where muscles taper, become increasingly dense, and fuse muscles to bone – just above and just below our joints.

Having stronger tendons offers our joints greater support both on and off the playing field. Strength training movements practiced through a complete range of motion, and are executed slowly during the transition phase of any strength movement, strengthens tendons – thus supporting joints.

Strength training movements, when performed with a minimal amount of concentration or emphasis on form, carry an inherent risk. The example I most often site is that of a lunge. The protocol for a lunge to be done properly is complex. I often refer to movements such as lunges as a thinking person’s exercise. A good deal of thought and concentration are required to perform lunges safely and properly.

Another example I site is that of high repetition compound movements such as power cleans, deadlifts, and overhead presses. These movements emphasize the body’s power zones, but also draw from smaller supporting muscles. These supporting muscles are often not able to keep up with the larger profile musculature – they fatigue and give way sooner during higher repetitions. By give way I mean one of two outcomes: The most likely, that the athlete will stop the lift. Or less desired, that the smaller muscles will cramp and fail to function properly. In a worst case scenario, they can tear.

Consistency…

One trait that many student athletes possess is inconsistency in training. As surprising as this may sound, I often suggest to prep athletes that they not to include strength training as part of their conditioning if they can’t be reasonably consistent. Young muscles drifting back and forth between hypertrophy and atrophy are good targets for injury. Better they never enter the weight room than to go once or twice per month. This is especially true with younger athletes when bone density and musculature are not yet fully developed.

Flexibility Training…

Rather than having younger athletes move in rapid succession between sets of an exercise, and throughout a workout to enhance conditioning, I suggest a technique I call stresting in the weight room. This is simply stretching in-between sets – long enough to stretch the muscles involved. Rest long enough to stretch – stretch long enough to rest. Typically I suggest these stretches be held from 20-30 seconds.

With regard to stretching before or after a workout, there is no empirical data to suggest one is more favorable than the other. There is some interesting recent data though, which suggests stretching before exercise may have more negative consequences than stretching after a workout. In either case, strength training through a complete range of motion is the act of stretching. It is stretching with weights in one’s hands or at the ends of their legs.

I find that stretching in-between sets maximizes flexibility, and also helps the athlete stay focused on the workout.

Basic Feeding…

In the case of prep athletes I recommend minimal supplementation, and minimal dietary enhancements or restrictions – unless they are in the category of gifted or exceptional athlete.  Nutritional supplements such as protein powders, creatine, vitamins, minerals, and other micro and macronutrients should not be emphasized. Basics should be emphasized.

A little green.  A little brown.  A little red.  A little white. Balanced colors are usually balanced meals...

A little green. A little brown. A little red. A little white.
Balanced colors are usually balanced meals…

I’ll suggest the emphasis on nutrition be aimed at eating frequency, balanced meals, healthy snacks in-between meals, and minimizing sugars. If a student athlete were eating consistently with the food pyramid taught in elementary school (in any era), he or she will be eating substantially better than many of their athletic contemporaries.

I also suggest that young athletes avoid nutritional trends such has high protein eating, Paleo eating, low-carb, and force feeding. Yes, force feeding. I once knew a high school football coach who required all of his players to eat a loaf of bread per day – this was mandatory.

Athletes and parents should make the distinction of between eating to gain muscle, and eating to gain weight. Certain line positions in football notwithstanding, eating to gain weight will rarely have a positive effect on athletic performance, and can have a negative effect on future dietary habits.

Look What I Can Do…

I recently had dinner with some multi-sport teenage athletes. The conversation eventually turned to the weight room. After they were done discussing the various strength exercises they most hated, the conversation was naturally reduced to maxing out on the bench press and the squat.  As it unfolded, I wanted to hang myself.

There is no physiological or rational foundation for a student athlete to max-out on any strength exercise – nor is there any valid reason other than to placate the athlete’s ego, or for the coach to measure the student’s ability against that of another student. This measurement though, is not an indication of athletic performance on the field.

The SRM (single rep maximum) has little impact on building strength, helping an athlete generate increased power, or in the development of muscle mass. The SRM is simply statement of comparative strength in the weight room, and its pursuit carries more risk than benefit. The only injury I have ever incurred in the weight room was an unnecessary SRM on the bench press at the age of 19.

I have few memories of conversations among or between student athletes and/or coaches when the discussion was centered on proper exercise technique, safety, or injury prevention. My highest hope for this workshop is that you as the student athlete or as the parent, leave with an increased awareness of safety, and the utility of proper strength training as it applies to supporting the student athlete.

Worth repeating: Strength training should make an athlete’s life better, not worse. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I hit the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from the late Gary Moore.  Enjoy!

Simple Twists Of Fate…

Little twists of fate are infinite and all around us. We swim through them all day, every day, rarely acknowledging them, and often we never know they are there.

Every action we take we take, every word we express, and pair of eyes we meet has the potential for infinite outcomes and subsequent repercussions. What we remain aware of though, is usually just the tangible result. Three years ago this week, I closed up my fitness studio for the day, and prepared to ride my bike roughly 6 miles home on a December afternoon in Fallbrook, California.

Locking the front door of my studio in my end of day scurry, and as I placed the key in the lock hurrying to get on my bicycle, I missed the keyhole, and they keys fell to the sidewalk below. I bent down and retrieved them, this time placing the key squarely into the lock, and I closed up shop for the day. This mishap of dropping my keys lasted maybe… 5 seconds.

Once on my bike I enjoyed every minute of my ride home. The aesthetic of Fallbrook on a sunny December afternoon is a gift to the eyes. Riding my bike down Green Canyon Road, I felt like I was riding across a painting of Hawaii. Between the tall palm trees, bright bougainvillea hedges, and the scent of citrus wafting through the air, my ride home from work was the cherry on top of each day.

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Green Canyon Rd, Fallbrook, CA. Heaven…

Green Canyon is a curvy rural road barely traveled. For my trips home after work it was always downhill. I usually rode the yellow line in the middle, and regularly reached speeds in the 40s. If a car approached me from behind, I would hear it well in advance, and move to the right-hand shoulder of the road.

On this particular afternoon, while in full glide and all alone on the road, I heard a loud engine behind me. I could tell it was a large pickup truck. As I veered to the road’s edge the truck passed me at an excessive speed – maybe 50 or 60 miles per hour, but the driver waived to acknowledge my lending the right of way.

Roughly 80-100 yards after the truck passed me, the driver failed to properly navigate a tight curve. The truck crossed the right shoulder of the road and slammed head-on into an embankment supporting several large eucalyptus trees on an acre or so of well-groomed property.

In less than 5 seconds my bike and I caught up with the truck. I stopped. The engine was steaming, but the driver and passenger, both day laborers, were okay. It was obvious that I was more shaken than they were. They called a friend to help them, and I returned to my bicycle commute – trembling as I rode.

Just 5 seconds ahead of me they experienced a violent collision – just 5 seconds, on the heels of me fumbling and dropping my keys at the door for about as long prior to my ride.

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Little twists of fate are infinite and all around us. We swim through them all day, every day, and rarely are we aware of them, let alone acknowledge them. I acknowledged this one, and reflect on it regularly.

The universe lines up much more in probabilities than certainties. There is no way of knowing what would have happened had I not dropped my keys. Those possibilities are infinite. I only know that I have that memory – to possess always as a reminder that twists of fate are in every moment. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this wonderful cover from Concrete Blonde. Enjoy!