Kamikaze Treadmill Guy…

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in gyms over the past 42 years.  In that time, I thought I had seen it all as far as the characters of the gym go.  You know, gym characters…

  • Grunter Guy
  • Groaner Guy
  • Weight Slammer Guy
  • Intentionally Using The Equipment For Purposes Beyond The Equipment’s Design Guy
  • Loud Talker Guy
  • Swinging Ponytail On The Elliptical Machine Girl
  • The ‘Spot Me Bro’ Guy
  • The list goes on…

Add to that, all I have seen on social media – you know, the videos that show a man in tights using the cable crossover machine like it’s a Jolly Jump, or the girl faceplanting on the treadmill, and I should have seen it all by now.

Last night though, at a commercial gym in here in Souhern California, I saw the unimaginable.  It was a scene so surreal I had to ask myself whether I had taken LSD prior to my workout.  Of course, I did not.  We all know LSD is best used post-workout, for recovery.

There I stood though, high on a StepMill, the tallest piece of cardio equipment in the gym, and I was looking down to survey all the gym characters below me.  Deep into my rhythm, taking step after quiet step, suddenly I heard him…

“Hoy hoy hoy hooooo…” I heard emanating from a man on a treadmill in the foreground.

That was followed up by a couple of shorter, but more intense bursts of “Shyow!  Shyow!  Qui!”

No, I thought to myself, there’s no way somebody running on a treadmill is grunting that loudly and that deliberately.  But there he was, shouting over and over again as he ran short, fast intervals on the treadmill.

“Hoy hoy hoy hooooo…”  “Shyow!  Shyow!  Qui!”

I have heard thousands of grunts, screams, and moans from the lifting platform since the age of 12, and though I rarely grunt myself, I understand the desire, even the need to grunt during a heavy squat or deadlift.

Never though, have I witnessed anyone grunting during cardio, and certainly not in a way which was both deliberate and aggressive.

“Hoy hoy hoy hooooo…”  “Shyow!  Shyow!  Qui!”

Within minutes I wanted to hang myself just to make it go away.  He was loud too.  I looked around to see if any other members were bothered by this.  I saw a few others who seemed to notice, but most in the area appeared to be protected by their earbuds.  I was not, as my phone had died earlier in the day, so for the next 45 minutes while on the StepMill

“Hoy hoy hoy hooooo…”   “Shyow!  Shyow! Qui!”

was the soundtrack to my workout, with only a distant chorus of Loverboy’s Working For The Weekend and other crappy music offering scarce relief from the classic rock station playing through the house speakers.

It was clear nobody was willing to cease their workout to help me subdue this guy.  There was just one employee in the gym at the time, and he was on the other side, apparently oblivious to the scene.

Now here’s the punchline to this little joke…

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t point out that the grunting runner was Japanese.  A person’s ethnicity is rarely relevant in the scope of any situation – but for the Kamikaze headband this man was wearing – with the sign of the rising sun square in the middle, and he ran with fists tightly clinched.  His head was pointed up the entire time, as if he here shouting at God or a deceased relative.  He was drowning in sweat.  I had never seen anything like this.

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As previously mentioned, my phone had died prior to entering the gym so I was not able to video Kamikaze Treadmill Guy.  He will live forever though, as a memory shot in my head – a new edition to the pantheon of gym characters.  Kamikaze Treadmill Guy is in now in the house, and apparently he wants us all to know it.  Be well…  rc

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Throwing Darts At Music…

Throwing Darts…

The older I get, it seems, the greater the stakes with each decision I make.  So, I don’t throw too many darts in my decision making these days.  I did though, a couple weeks ago, throw a single dart at an album cover that caught my eye, an EP by the Nebraska band, Bazile Mills.

There was something about the aesthetic of the album art which caught my eye.  A friend, a music promoter in the Midwest, had posted the EP on his business’s social media page.  I honestly knew nothing about the band or what genre of music it was – I had no idea.  My only safety net was that it was being promoted by Widmest Productions, the enterprise of a friend whose musical tastes and my own often cross paths.

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Rather than check out Bazile Mill’s music on Spotify, YouTube, or Soundcloud, I purchased the EP based solely on the cover art, and the recommendation of my friend.

A few days after I placed my order online, the EP arrived.  Opening it, I was struck by the quality of the packaging.  I say that because startup bands and early releases often default to lesser packaging due to the cost of production.  I hadn’t even heard their music yet, and I was already impressed.  A crisp lyrics sheet accompanied a vivid blue disk.  The t-shirt I ordered along with the EP also impressed me.

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Proof In The Stylus…

Unpackaged, I placed the disk on my turntable, lowered the stylus to the vinyl, and held my breath not having any idea what music lay ahead.

The first track, Personal Concierge, went from reeling me in, to stopping me in my tracks.  There’s a tempo about the song that pulled along the physical me, as the lyrics picked away at the thinking me.  It was one of those rare songs that got me to like it – immediately.

The next two tracks, Spirals Out, and We Are Mistfits (Just Like You) also have tempo that resonates within the senses, and lyrics which tug at the mind.

The final track, We Are Here, has a different feel to it than the previous tracks, but is just as sincere.  Musically, it has a tempo which more allows one to digest the song’s lyrics while listening.

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Mixed Thoughts On The Experience…

I’ll never presume to know or suggest what a lyricist is truly thinking when they share a thought, a moment, or a series of actions by placing them into a song.  We are free to interpret them as we can.  I found the lyrics to all 4 songs worth pondering – again and again.  That’s what a good lyric should do.

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Last week I threw a dart at an album cover.  I hit a bullseye, but I recognize that it was my bullseye and might not be yours.  I do recommend this EP though, for anyone who appreciates mindful music. The 4 songs of Where We Are by Balize Mills provide a wide enough target with the scope of its 4 songs, that anyone throwing a dart will score at least a few points and probably more.

Lastly, I am reminded that within all the structures we keep in place and move about in order that we keep ourselves safe, it’s nice to throw a dart from time to time to keep things fresh.  Or, to take a left where I generally take a right.  Be well…  rc

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Soulcut…

A heavy day for me yesterday.  Issues with mom notwithstanding, midafternoon I found myself in a barbershop spending $23 (ATM fee and tip included), getting a haircut which removed little hair, but a good portion of my soul, though only for a while.

The barber, a man in his 70s and seemingly not in the best of health, struggled making small talk with me, a new customer.  After several awkward minutes negotiating some fractured clichés of light familiarization, he began spewing campaign hatred at an alarming rate.  He either mistakenly sized me up as one of his own, or just didn’t care about offending me.

Within a few minutes of his rant I had learned that Hillary has killed more people than Saddam, that Trump was going to rid the country of all the lesser brown people, and if for any reason Trump’s victory failed, an all-out civil war would occur within weeks.

When he stopped to take a breath, a female barber seated near us and eating a snack, probably in her 60s, chimed in to reinforce what the man who was too busy hating to properly cut my hair was espousing…

“The nation will go straight to hell” she said, “The woman is pure evil.”

That’s when I was reminded that ignorance is not an individual effort; that it takes a village to raise an idiot.

This is not a political stance for or against either candidate.  Just a reminder that ignorance, like fire, requires three elements:

  • Receiving misinformation
  • Believing misinformation without verification
  • Sharing misinformation
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Sky above Barker Reservoir.  August 2014

When my haircut was complete, I stood up, thanked the man, shook his hand as I paid him, and wished the two of them a good Saturday.  It made me feel good to do so – to offer friendship rather than retort.  May you all have a good Sunday.  Be well…  rc

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Not A Healthy Addiction…

When people when speak to me about their fitness regimen the phrase, it’s a healthy addiction, is often used to support their rationalization of how dedicated they are.

Of course, there is no such thing as a healthy addiction. The very nature of addiction is that one sacrifice more in the pursuit of the result, than the result will actually yield on their behalf.

On a personal level, I am compelled by the fulfillment of challenging exercise. The drug of intensity in movement clears my head, offers me confidence, and provides moments to me during which I can hide from the stress of daily living, if only for a while.

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Whether my requirement for challenging exercise is an addiction, a compulsion, or a mere personality defect, I may never be sure. What I have come to accept though, is that for now, exercise for the sake of fulfillment is a necessary component of the clock that is me.

On a professional level, I am more cautious about the ideal of intensity in exercise. This caution though, is relative to the moment, and to the client. Some moments in my studio are all about fulfillment in exercise. I am paid well by some clients to establish the limits of their physicality, and incrementally raise those limits, rendering them more capable at gin tasks, aesthetically improved, or both.

With other clients it’s about utility. They entrust me to help increase their physicality by inserting functional exercise into their lives. This may be due to age, disease, or simply because they have lived a previously deconditioned lifestyle. Regardless, for these clients mindfulness comes first, and intensity isn’t even a consideration.

There is a blurry line between pursuing what we want, and what makes sense. When I have difficulty distinguishing that line, or when I see it more clearly but can’t decide which side I should stand on, I draw from the only scripture which has mattered to me in my adult life:

“Speak today in hard words what you believe, and speak tomorrow in hard words what you believe though it may contradict what you say today.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Turn And Face The Strain…

Aye, Captain…

When I see him coming, I cringe a little.  A tall man with gray hair topped by a ball cap which usually sits a bit too high.  He’s in jeans, and always wears a blue windbreaker.  In his hand is a leash, and at arm’s length a Dalmatian with a muzzle lead.  The dog’s name is, Captain.  Honestly, I don’t like Captain.  I don’t care much for the man walking him either, though he and I have never really met.  We just pass each other early in the morning, several times per week, walking our dogs.

Some time ago this man confronted me about not having my own dog on a leash.  I explained that my dog walks off leash because he’s prone to panic attacks on a leash, probably because he was abused as a puppy.  He suggested that his dog might hurt my dog and was just giving me a warning.  Well, I thought to myself, is your dog that much of jerk or is it just you…?  I thought it, but I didn’t speak it.  I wished him a good day and moved on.

Since that encounter, we have passed each other dozens of times, always with an obvious tension between us, but we always smile and exchange good mornings.  When I see him coming I begin to feel a bad day coming on.  As we pass we each other though, and as I say good morning to him, I always feel better.  Bad day averted by simply reaching out.

When this happens, I often flash back the character, Lloyd Dobler, from the movie, Say Anything.  In one scene, Dobler, played by John Cusack, questions his grumpy sister, asking her again and again, “how hard is it to be in a good mood, and then just be in a good mood…?”

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I’ve never been able to let that go – that very often having a good day, or turning a bad one around is simply a decision, like saying good morning to the man with the Dalmatian, despite that I don’t care for him.

Tricks Of The Trading…

Bad moods happen, and almost always when I least expect them.  Hard as it might be, the best way I have found yet to combat a bad mood is by simply asking myself that Cusack question; how hard is it to be in a good mood, and then just be in a good mood…? By just stopping and asking that of myself, it gets me thinking about how easy it really is to get back on track to a better day.

Most often the answers to that question lay in several possible actions, the first being to go for a walk.  Walking in nature diffuses a bad mood quickly – especially if I set my phone to airplane mode.  With nothing but the rhythm of my feet, the thoughts in my head, and the sounds of nature, a bad mood doesn’t have much of a chance.  Problems, however mighty, soon get small when I’m walking in nature.

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To create good mood just add water…

Music is another tool I use to pry a bad mood from my head.  I dare you to listen to Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers To Cross and walk away sulking.  Not likely.  It tends to bring my inner resolve to the surface.  There is a dozen or so songs I know that carry this weight, any one of them can lead me into a better mood.  George Harrison’s Hear Comes The Sun being another, and Matthew Sweet’s Divine Intervention.  I call these my mood altering songs…

I might grab my dog and just hold him.  I’ll say something like, “This may be selfish, but I really need you right now…”  We’ll sit on the porch.  Feeling his heartbeat in my hand, and knowing that he’s absolutely dependent on me is both grounding and humbling.  It’s also a bridge to a more peaceful moment.

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My sincere belief:  All dogs are therapy dogs…

Perhaps I’ll reflect on a real tragedy; the illness of a friend or the death of a loved one.  Considering this, my bad moods don’t usually seem so bad.  Dropping my coffee on my laptop isn’t a nightmare, thinking about a young widow is, but even so, that’s not my nightmare, it’s somebody else’s – which reinforces my point precisely.  When I stop and think of the things which might be the cause my bad moods, few of them are ever worthy of that kind of power.

I’ll Come Full Circle Now…

One of the best tools I regularly use to turn a bad mood around is to simply reach out and offer a sincere hello to someone – anyone who’s path I might cross, regardless of how I might feel about them.  This could be in the bank, on my street, at the grocery, or back out on the trail.  Saying hello to a stranger, a friend, or even an adversary, and actually feeling it from deep within, always makes me feel better inside.

I can think of few better mood altering drugs than the drug of a human connection.  The next time you’re having a bad day, try saying hello to a stranger or perhaps even someone you don’t care for.  Reach out.  It might be just enough to help turn the corner on a bad mood, and it might become an addiction worth keeping.  Be well…  rc

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Analog Cabin…

Love In Decay…

Digital music, without me ever realizing it, has eaten away at my love of music.  I don’t think digital music did this intentionally.  It was just another cultural subsystem, doing what systems have done to societies for years; taking mankind on rides that humans can barely see and rarely control.

As vinyl gave way to CDs and then to digitized files, as speakers gave way to earbuds, and as collecting the finite gave way to downloading the infinite, my pallet for music has deteriorated without me realizing it.

To keep me hooked though, digital music has regurgitated bits and pieces of what I once loved, and sold it as the only nutrition I would ever need – much like orange juice concentrate would improve the state of hand squeezed orange juice back in the 1960s.

Because of this process, my love of music has been neglected and misfed for decades.  Like other aspects of my life left to neglect, my love of music is reawakening…

The Paycheck Process…

The system was simple.  From the age I began to work, 15, until CDs choked vinyl out of the music retail scene, I would direct the $1 line and the $.00 lines of every paycheck I ever eraned toward buying vinyl.

Example:  If my paycheck for being a sandwich maker in 1978 was $42.73, $2.73 would go toward music.  If my paycheck as a Coast Guardsman in 1985 was $419.38, $9.38 would go toward music, and so-on.  And for years, that was the most important product from any paycheck.

Through this process I accrued a catalog of albums ranging from Herb Alpert, Aztec Camera, Molly Hatchet, Joe Satriani, Steely Dan, Lee Ritenour, The Fabulous Poodles, Mental As Anything, and on and on.

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Not saying I’m proud, but I once owned their entire catalog…

Eventually though, turntables became scarce, new music was released on CD only, and my record collection became boxed and stored where it remained until my daughter graduated from high school in 2008.  At that time my daughter, who was raised on punk and classic rock, asked if she could have my albums.  She sensed a comeback that I didn’t buy into.  So the albums became hers.

In the meantime, the infinite Spotify and decent earbuds became my music only source.  With so much to choose from, I spent more time assembling playlists than I would ever spend listening to them.  And all of this became tedious and secondary.  I might still be in-like with music, but the love was gone…

What Goes Around (and around and around)…

With the advent of social media, and a growing outrage over the poor quality of digital music, the demand for vinyl now swells.  Much new music is released on vinyl, and buying a turntable is as easy as buying fresh oranges.

As I have witnessed this, it’s occurred to me to begin the process all over again; if a client pays me $1188, then $8 would go into a vinyl fund.  Starting from scratch though, has seemed too daunting.

Earlier this week I was searching Amazon for a vintage style radio for my studio and ran across one with a turntable onboard.  I figured, why not…?  Maybe it will inspire me to find a Herb Alpert album in good condition, or the soundtrack to Brigadoon.  But it didn’t end there.  Twenty-four hours later, and under the influence of inspiration, I purchased a console stereo for my living room.  Now what to do about the necessary vinyl…?

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To arrive this Friday…

Shortly after I purchased the console stereo, I asked my next client if, by chance, he had any old vinyl.  I was floored when he told me he was in the process of cataloging several hundred pieces to sell on eBay.  Quality be damned, I’ll be picking them up later in the week.  The symmetry of my designed universe never lets me down.

Lessons In Love And Appreciation…

This isn’t about the quality of music for me so much as it’s a romance thing.  It’s about the act of removing the disk from the cardboard jacket and running the Discwasher over the album.  This about placing the needle gently onto the glossy rim and waiting for my soul to rise…

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It’s a romance thing…

Once again I want to listen to and to appreciate albums as bodies of work.  The most soul-smothering problem with playlists on digital music is this:  You take just a piece of the painting and line it up beside a piece of another painting. You may create an interesting mosaic, but the point of each painting has been lost.

Through digital music I have lost my love of music, and that’s 100% on me.  I guess it’s time once again for me to learn the lesson I seem to keep on needing to learn; that when you truly love something, you don’t box it up and put it away, because you’ll probably never take it out again.  And even if you do take the box out of storage, what’s in the box will remember how you treated it.  Love what you love, and love it with passion – always.  Be well…  rc

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Appreciationism…

I can honestly say that my morning shower is the best part of every day of my life.  What’s more, is that each shower feels like it’s the best one I’ve ever had.  How could any morning shower ever feel as good as the one I took today…?  Yet it always does.

When I look to my front yard each morning, on those rare mornings when sunlight actually hits it, it always pops brighter and looks more alive than the day before.  Yup, today was that day.

I listened to a song recently which was popular during my teens; Sister Golden Hair by America.  As I contemplated the lyrics and drifted back in time, I felt it was the most clever and poignant song I had ever heard.  I really felt that as I was listening.

Maybe later today, or sometime down the road, I’ll hear another song, and whatever song that might be, I will think that is the most poignant and clever song I’ve ever heard.  And at that time, I will also mean it.

The workout I just had…?  Is almost always the best one of my life!  Most of the time, when I wrap my fingers around that cold steel bar, the deadlift I am about to commit is the most important set I will ever attempt, and nothing else will be on my mind.

That’s just how life is for me.  If nothing else, I enter each day with a sincere appreciation for my appreciations.  In those moments when I am truly appreciating something, there just aren’t any other somethings other than the something I am appreciating at that moment.

On a full moon surf at Trestles, in June of 2009, my friend Mike observed of me,

“The look on your face when paddle is like each wave is the biggest wave on earth…”

Though I am certain he meant it as a critique of how I could improve, I took it as a great compliment.   I was caught in a moment, enjoying myself because each wave was the biggest wave on earth, if only in my mind.  And each one always will be.  That’s what appreciation does…

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Stroodle don’t surf!  But if he did….

Even with this essay, after I complete it and publish it to my website, I will be confident it’s the finest piece I have ever written.  At some point though, my daughter may read it and will remind me that it’s just another piece of overwritten dreck.  But as I write it in this moment, I am certain it’s fantastic.

It’s not that every moment is the best moment of my life, it’s been a rough week for me.  More bad things happened in the world.  People proudly said things that I found to be offensive if not outright asinine.  I hear songs that make me want to hurl, and occasionally I get a flavorless tomato.  But it’s those moments that strike me as worthy of my appreciation, that I bow to, and attempt to do so all day long – they alone keep me coming back!

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A hand to appreciate…

And what does all of this have to do with anything…?  That during any moment, all we have is that moment, and who and those who we may be with in that moment.  So last night when I held my mother’s frail hand and led her across my rocky driveway so she could see the full moon break the horizon, and as I watched her stare with awe, well that, that was my finest moment as a son – at least for now.  Thank you to landlords Stephanie and Brian for giving me a great gift last night.  Be well…  rc

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A gift of a vintage smudge pot for my fire pit…

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Synapses At Play…

Slow Down…

“Slow down.”

“Take an extra breath in-between repetitions.”

“Eliminate the hurry in your head.”

These are just a few of the clichés Royisms that I repeat to clients all day in my studio.  Yesterday I even compared strength training to fly fishing…

“It’s a rhythm” I told a client, “but it’s a slow rhythm, just like fly fishing.”

And really, it is like fly fishing.  Strength training, practiced slowly, can be intimate and meditative.

One of the better aspects of strength training, and one that is underappreciated by most, is the opportunity one gets to develop a relationship with the individual muscles of the body, as well as the actions taken by those muscles.  Not just in realizing one’s potential for strength, but to know what meat we’re made of, and which meat does what.

Synapses, both electrical and chemical, develop quickly during the act of strength training.  Using a slower repetition speed helps better establish and reinforce those synapses.  These lines of communication between brain and meat are always active, whether one is pushing a leg press upward, or stepping onto golf cart.

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The inner universe.  Sensational synapse…

Sensational Sensations…

Increasingly, I have come to better appreciate the relationship my mind has with my skeletal-muscular structure.  Always bubbling under the surface is the tactile sensation I experience during every kind of physical exertion I may be involved in.  I can’t imagine not taking note of this, yet so many move about their whole lives never really knowing what they are made of.

Ten-thousand times per day I may strike my heels on the ground before me, subconsciously connecting the electrical dots from my feet, to my legs, to my lower back, and into my shoulders, as my well-oiled machine drives me forward.  When I push a door closed, lift a box, or pull a container from a shelf, I feel the muscular me in action.  When I press firmly on a large knife as I cut a cabbage in half, in my mind I am both feeling and thanking my triceps.  I love this, and it all starts in the weight room.

Not Widely Practiced…

The slower repetition speed I teach in strength training isn’t widely practiced.  If you were to walk into any commercial gym during peak hours, you might find one or two people lifting in this style, but you would more likely find none at all.  That’s too bad, and honestly, it haunts me. I know something wonderful and want to share it with the world, but the world — the weight room world anyway, is made up mostly of blind followers.

I am often questioned by students, fitness enthusiasts, and even fitness professionals alike as to why I place such an emphasis on form, and on slow speed in particular as a part of that form.

I don’t see too many people lifting weights as slowly as you have me do…  is an observation I have been confronted with time and again.

I try not to get too technical with my reply, and never preachy, most often just shrugging it off and saying it’s not for everyone.  I feel kind sorry for those who live physical lives, in or out of the gym, yet aren’t truly connected with their muscles in action.  They are missing one of the great dances in life.

Vacation Vindication…

Often times a student will take a break from training with me.  They may continue strength training on their own or take a break altogether.  When they come back to me, almost without exception, they will have a greater appreciation for the slower repetition speed I enforce.

I walked into a commercial gym once and saw a former student performing lunges.  Perfect, fluid lunges.  I could see people watching her and appreciating the mindful intensity she was engaged in.  I find that too; that when I work out in a commercial gym, people tend to watch me when I lift, knowing that they are seeing something different than anything else going on in the room.

Simple Execution…

It can be distilled to a simple explanation…

  • During the eccentric (negative) phase of an exercise, I typically use a 4 second count.
  • During the concentric (exertion) phase of an exercise, I typically use a 1-2 count.
  • After each completed repetition, I pause and take a secondary breath. This serves to better oxygenate the muscles, as well as supports my ability to concentrate on the muscles involved – to stay connected to them.

As I do this, I am concentrating only on the muscles involved – not on anything else.  This also helps that body awareness.

A Case For Slow…

If you strength train regularly, and you are not practicing slower repetition speed, I will encourage you to give it a try.  Be warned though, slow speed doesn’t make it easier, it makes it a little harder – the path of most resistance, so to say.  You make a lighter weight a whole lot heavier by slowing it down.

With slower repetitions, the TUT (time under tension) is greater.  You will require fewer sets since each set is going to be much longer than if you are mindlessly repping out.  A set of 10 repetitions should take between 50-65 seconds, depending on the exercise.

It’s good stuff – this slow strength training thing, and a great way to connect your mind with your meat.  Be well…  rc

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At Peace With The World…

Troubling Times…

Clearly it’s been a difficult month in America, and around the world.  Just yesterday .000000011% of the world’s population was killed in an act of terrorism in France.  In writing this, I don’t wish to diminish in any way the loss, the suffering, and the feelings of sorrow which resulted from the incidents of terror and violence which have taken place from Istanbul to Dallas in recent weeks.

Like laser beams though, channeled through our LCD windows to the world, we continue to allow streams of violence and destruction into our minds which are highly disproportionate in relation to the world’s population and activity.  The images we invite into our minds forge thoughts and conclusions in our heads that skew reality so severely that most of us fail to see and appreciate the world we actually live in.

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I say this not as an ignorant man tossing a mindless opinion about freely.  Rather, as man who invests a great deal of his spare time attempting to learn and reconcile the human condition and the directionality of society by way of books, journals, and lectures from some the world’s leading critical thinkers.

I also write this as someone whose own daughter passed through the international terminal at the airport in Istanbul, just days prior to a man blowing himself up there.  She had walked within yards of where that incident took place.

Beyond The Information Beams…

Today, roughly 7.1 billion people did not get blown up, shot, held hostage, or engage in violent protests.  Many of those 7.1 billion people had amazing sex.  Some did not.  A lot of those people started new jobs while others got deservedly fired due to a lack in their productivity.  Somewhere in southern Europe a young man tended a flock of sheep thinking very little about anything but the safety of the flock.

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Elsewhere, a woman took a coworker’s lunch from the refrigerator of the breakroom at work, without fist asking permission.  Directly over our heads, a pilot both drank and slept on the job, while most others were careful not to.  A Rabbi married a young couple in Brooklyn, and a new baby was born in a thatch hut somewhere on an island in the pacific.  Since our televisions and laptops weren’t aimed at any of these, the broad actions of others across the world did little to help cultivate our social sensibilities.

Though we think we control our LCD windows to the world, and to some degree we do, our minds are fed primarily by a finite stream of for-profit institutions which make greater profits when we are compelled to stay tuned for more details.  Dog bites man isn’t a story.  Man bites dog is.

MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, and all the others are masters of seeking out and beating to death the man bites dog stories, and we are hungrier than ever to absorb them because shock and awe provide us with an addictive stimulation.  I can no longer tell the difference between NPR and Yahoo news online.

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The Directionality Of Culture…

I am to cultural anthropology as sea cucumber is to semiconductor, so I’m not going to site books, data sources or anything else to support this opinion, but I will argue until my dying breath this clear truth…

Cumulatively, from the day of my birth until my ashes feed the fishes, the span of my life will have taken place during the most peaceful time on earth.  With few exceptions, every age of man could say the same thing – that theirs was the most peaceful time on earth.

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This is not to suggest that during my lifetime or any time there have not been spikes of violence and gross atrocities committed by horrible people.  However, as social media is brimming with far too many of these violent times we live in observations, it just isn’t true – not in the big picture.  The most violent cultures on earth were hunter-gatherer societies, and it’s been getting more peaceful, on average, with every subsequent generation.  Perhaps the best way to comprehend that statement is this:

Imagine a ball is held at arm’s length. That ball, in that place and at that moment, is the most violent time on earth – hunter-gatherer times.  The hand lets go the ball.

The most peaceful time on earth, the one our descendants will inherit, will be when the ball is resting firmly on the ground.

When the hand releases the ball to hit the ground, the ball bounces up, but then it falls again.  It bounces up, but not as high, hits the ground. Bounces up again, and so-on, over hundreds of thousands of years.

Eventually, after a good bit of bouncing, the ball will rest peacefully on the ground.

The direction we are headed is one of a global culture of cooperation – of the ball resting on the ground. It won’t get there without some bounces, but the trajectory is clear, after each bounce we become a little more peaceful.  There is no shortage of good data that demonstrates this in clear terms.

The need to be informed exists within all of us.  It’s incumbent upon us to stay informed.  I’ll make a pitch here though, that we take time to look and live beyond the technologies that feed our minds electronically, since they account for so little of what takes place around the world each day.  Speak to strangers.  Step into new places.  Don’t let fears govern our choices.  Be well…  rc

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Squalls Of Vanity And Function…

Old Guys Rule…

One of the things which attracted me to recreational bodybuilding in my teens was that it is an old man’s endeavor.  I realized early that playing football, baseball, and wrestling had their limits and, that young men peaked out with both function and opportunity by the time they reach their late teens or early 20s.  Early on though, I saw evidence of quality physiques being maintained by men who lifted weights well into their 60s, 70s, and even into their 80s.  For a kid who hated letting go of anything good, bodybuilding appeared to be a sustainable long-term outlet.

I also realized early that older bodybuilders, despite having quality physiques, can often look weathered, flat, and 2-dimensional.  That is, they can have muscle and be lean, but those physiques didn’t appear youthful nor supple.   Just the same, the idea of looking and functioning well at an older age appealed to me.

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Weathered…?  Perhaps, but still functioning well and, in my opinion, looking great!

Cyclical Affair…

Bodybuilding is a seasonal endeavor.  Even at the recreational level, few people stay in top shape year round.  Maintaining a quality physique in the long-term, is a cyclical way of life.  It’s like rotating crops and soil so they bear better fruit, longer.  To go the distance in bodybuilding, it’s important to relax the diet at times, as well as to back off on the workouts.

Bodybuilding shape, as I define it to myself, means maintaining the most possible muscle, with the least possible amount of body fat.  For me this is the 9-12% range.

I hadn’t been that lean in nearly a decade, so in my early 50s I dieted to down to get into bodybuilding shape once again.  This was around 2012-2013.  As I went through this process, I was surprised with how young my physique still appeared.  I was 51 and looking 40ish.  I kept this condition for roughly 9 months before I decided to relax the cycle a bit.

As my priorities changed during this period, I let my body fat climb up to roughly 15-16% where it is now, but have maintained a fairly rigorous, but not all-out, weight room schedule.  My daily running or hill climbing happens no matter what.  I don’t look spectacular by bodybuilding standards, but by middle aged man standards, I’m ahead of the game.

Every Ointment Needs A Fly…

More recently, I have gathered my life to be in an order it has not seen in a decade.  I am once again living the life I designed, and it’s pretty damn good.   I live in a nice home.  I maintain a healthy business.  I’m spending quality time with my mother and my friends.  So, with everything in my life going that well, why not screw it up by getting in bodybuilding shape once again…?

With no clear objective in sight, other than to just kick the tires and see what might still be under the hood, I have intensified my strength training, and begun to streamline my eating.  Not with the intentions of competing in bodybuilding, but just to see where I’m at.  I’m roughly 4 weeks into this process.

I’m no longer a mirror guy.  That is, I can walk past them without turning my head, but I did take a peak today – just for a moment.  As I honed in on my self-honing, I saw a man I knew would eventually be looking back at me; older bodybuilding guy.

I’m pleased with my conditioning so far, though I still have about 6 weeks until I hit that 10-12% body fat mark.  However, the shoulders and triceps are not as round as they once were – less full.  The quads still have some geometry, but no longer sweep and pop with every step.  The V-taper is now more a v-taper, and the calves are just calves, and no longer cattle.  I look weathered, flat, and 2-dimensional.

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Weathered…?  Perhaps, but still looking and functioning well….

Any Gym In A Storm…

In all of this I’m not the least bit disappointed.  I have always known it was inevitable.  I no longer produce testosterone the way I did even 5 years ago.  I now eat very little animal protein.  I push during my strength workouts, but not as much as I once did.

I have long recognized and appreciated that we are designed to age – that our looks as well as our abilities and will lessen in time.  My body is now weathered too, only to be weathered a little more with each passing year.  My body is not weathered from having passed through massive storms which might have torn it apart.  My body is weathered from all the little storms which I willingly step into each day in the form of my workouts; the squalls of vanity and function.  Be well…  rc

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One Now, One Later, And One On Down The Road…

The Gift That Keeps On Giving…

When I was 13 years old, the book Pumping Iron was given to me by my mother.  The book’s impact was immediate, and steered me in a direction in which I had no control; a lifetime of bodybuilding.  Bodybuilding morphed into fitness, which ultimately led to a career.  The book that Charles Gaines and George Butler assembled in 1974 was the foundation for my passionate life of exercise.  In a more subtle way, and over a long period of time, Pumping Iron also gave me the foundations for a couple other passions.  More on those later.

Though I opened that book daily and was obsessed by its pictures, I would not actually read Pumping Iron for nearly 5 years after it was given to me.  Since I struggled with reading, I selected only brief passages, and only on occasion.  Who needed words, when George Butler’s black and white photos told a story I was so hungry to see…?

I would spend the next few years of my life putting all my eggs in one basket, and clutching that basket.  Lifting weights was the first discipline I would wholly commit to.  If nothing else, from Pumping Iron, which led to pumping iron, I learned that I had discipline.  In time it became clear that I was not so genetically gifted nor so determined, that competitive bodybuilding would be my dominion.

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My Future’s So Dark…

Elsewhere in my life, I was less disciplined.  By the time I was in my late teens I was a high school dropout with a bodybuilding habit, no skills, and no apparent future.  The US military would be my only hope.  To be considered for the military, I would have to take my GED.  Being dyslexic, I was fearful that my struggles with reading would inhibit this process.  To this point, I had never read a book of any kind from cover to cover.

So with a workout-like discipline, I chose to read an hour per day – no matter what, hoping my reading would improve.  I selected Pumping Iron to read first because I had an interest in its content.  If any book could help pry me from the pictures and place me into the words, this was going to be it.  A funny thing happened on the way to The End…

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Reading Pumping Iron was a chore.  I kept at it, because I believed my future depended on becoming a better reader.   Despite my struggles, there were occasional passages which kept me coming back for more – like a good golf shot on an otherwise fruitless outing.  Charles Gaines crafted phrases that suited my imagination.  Writing of the bodybuilder Pierre Van den Steen, Gaines wrote,

“The little Belgian whose chest looks carved from ice.”

Of Arnold Schwarzenegger performing incline bench presses, Gaines wrote,

“His biceps looked like two grapefruit sliding on greased tracks.”

Reading was a challenge, but images like those provided a sufficient reward.  I completed the book, and felt that my reading actually had improved along the way.  I would read more books prior to taking my GED, but none painted pictures the way that the words of Charles Gaines did.

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It was some lucky combination of intuitive guessing and my improved reading ability which got me through my GED.  I would go on to serve in the US Coast Guard.  It was during my time in the Coast Guard when I began to write creatively.  With Charles Gaines’ descriptive phrase still bubbling under my psyche, I felt like I had something to say, and was somewhat confident in my ability.  This would be a short lived discipline though, as my writing time was a lesser priority than my exercise time.  I would not write again creatively for another decade.

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Workouts And Words…

My pre-dawn workouts, originally inspired by Pumping Iron, were once the most important part of my day.  Those workouts now take place later in the day or in the evening, and though they are still important, writing is what does it for me now.  Eventually writing took priority over lifting.  For nearly 15 years now, I have been writing for one hour every morning, almost without exception, with workout-like discipline.

I like it when the words of others paint pictures in my head.  I also enjoy using words to paint pictures of my own.  Words, in that sense, are the most malleable medium we can use as form of creative expression.  As I sip coffee in bed, with my mammal at my hip, and my 17” window to the world on my lap, I attempt to craft sentences like Charles Gaines did in Pumping Iron, knowing all the while that I am to Charles Gaines’ writing as I also am to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s physique – much less than, but I still have fun.

Walks And Wonder…

Oh, and there’s been one other influence Pumping Iron has had on me, which I have only now come to realize and appreciate…

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Each morning, after I’m done with my writing session I walk through town with my dog.  As Stroodle takes in the smells of the day, I have come to appreciate how well this town sets up in black & white.  George Butler shot all the pictures for Pumping Iron with a Leicaflex SL2, and those photographs were nothing less than artistic.

I’m just a chimp with smartphone, and do nothing which I would consider artistic, but I have fun with it, as I have fun with writing and lifting, and that my friends explains all the picture above which have almost nothing to do with this story.  Be well…  rc

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The Ongoing Battle…

I have invested far too much in seeking precise answers to questions that I know have no clear ones.   Chief among these questions is this…

Just because we are capable of doing something physical, and we can refer to it as a form of exercise, does it mean that we should take that action…?

My formula for answering this question has (almost) always defaulted to the risk/reward ratio.  That is, does the risk involved with performing the exercise outweigh the reward…?

I think I have spent the last couple of decades making what I think are good choices based on using the risk/reward formula, both for me as well as for my clients.

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Even so, there are times when I step under a bar to do a squat or lay on a bench to push a weight vertically away from my body, and I will ask myself if this is the right thing to do.  If I am wrong, and I am wearing myself out prematurely or putting myself at risk then that’s on me.

If, however, I ask a client to stand under a bar, to jump, or even to twist, turn or bend, and I haven’t fully analyzed and applied the risk/reward ratio, not only am I a bad trainer, I’m also an ass.

On the surface, I always feel as though I am doing the right thing, but deep down I wonder, and I guess I always will…  Jhciacb

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Reading, Riting, and Roy…

“I write not to get money, but for pleasure.”

Isaak Walton, from The Compleat Angler 1653

The gift of words…

Of all the gifts inherent to me, the one I am most appreciative of is creativity.  Though I seek a creative path with most of my affairs, my primary creative outlet is writing essays.  I see each essay as a kind of performance.  The beauty for me is that I am under no scrutiny when I perform.  I am free to make mistakes, change directions, retool, stop and start again, or throw it away without anyone but me ever knowing about it.

If I have completed an essay, and thrown it out to be read by an audience of dozens, it’s because I feel I have done my best with it.  If read by even a few, I feel validated even when criticized.  I understand that not everyone will be interested in what I have to share, while others may have interest but not agree with my message.  If a few people find value in my thoughts, that’s great, but I would write anyway.

I am not a professional writer.  I am a hobbyist who, like most hobbyists, would rather spend time working at my craft than at my job.  At this point, I feel that I am a capable amateur.  Not world class, but a better writer than many who are professionals.  I enjoy my job as a fitness trainer, and also see that as a creative outlet, it’s just that writing is a necessary compulsion for me.  One benefit of my day job is that it affords me the time to write.

I can write a 1,000-word essay in less than an hour, and do so with relative ease.  In fact, if I begin taking too long on an essay, I’m usually overthinking it.  When this happens, I will put it aside or just throw it away.  My creative side wants my words to flow, not be forced or hurried into place.

If the truth be told, I could not write a lick if not for modern word processing software.  My mind is too disorganized to write in longhand, and in linear fashion.  That I can cut, paste, backspace, and try different paragraphs in different places serves my dyslexic brain well.  If words are the color pallet of my creativity, editing options are my brush.

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My writer’s den…

Listen up…

Here’s the irony; I read at less than an 8th grade level.  Though writing essays is easy for me, reading one takes work – because I have to see all the words at once.  Reading a book is an outright chore.  I don’t enjoy reading.  I do read on occasion.  Most of what I physically read are online articles, columns, and blogs.  A friend or client might hand me a book.  When this happens, I make every attempt to read it even if I do struggle with the process.  It’s important to me to honor a gift from another, even if it is a book.  Honestly though, I remember very little of what I read.  I listen to books.  I listen to books every day of my life.

My comprehension when listening is greater than when I read, probably because when I listen to books I’m active.  I don’t just sit and listen to books.  I listen to books while I clean, while I organize, and when I exercise.  I listen to Kurt Vonnegut when I deadlift, and Stephen Hawking when I bench press.  I believe the activity with my body frees my brain up to absorb information better than if I just sat and listened.

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My “reading” room…

There are times when I will buy a hardcopy of a book I am listening to.  If I find a life-changing value with it, I will read portions of it concurrently – not as I am actually listening to the book, but in the same time frame.  This allows me to use a highlighter on certain passages of the hard copy which I can easily find and review later.

The books which interest me most are on science and the humanities.  I don’t listen to much fiction – there is enough of that already in my head.  There’s something about a book being spoken into my mind, especially when done by a good narrator – it’s as though the voice of God is projecting it to me, or the voice of an authority figure anyway.

My library and my shame…

With my listening done digitally, my book shelf is my phone.  I know for my literary-minded friends this is near sacrilege – to not have a wall or a room full of books.  My entire library fits in my pocket.  I like that it is always with me.  I wonder if my more literate friends ever feel sad that they leave their library behind as they walk out of their home each day.

The collection of my own writings is even less soulful.  I don’t save hard copies or even digital copies of what I write.  After I complete an essay and post it to my blog, I delete the Word document from my laptop.  All the thoughts I am so compelled to forge and to share, I trust to the gods of Google and WordPress, that anyone who might be interested in them will be able to find them, stored on a server in some unknown location with trillions of other data bits until the end of time.

That I write with the aid of technology feels good.  I enjoy the process, and am proud of the way I create my essays from my laptop.  People seem to be very accepting of this.  That I depend on technology for my learning, in place of reading, doesn’t sit as well in my head.  I feel guilty, often ashamed that I can’t read that well, and that opening a book intimidates me.  However, my biology conspired against me ever becoming a good reader.  My eyes play tricks with words, and no amount of practice makes this better.  In the scope of reading and writing, this is just who I am.

Whether they are printed on parchment or sent to straight to silicon, words are the primary messengers of all of our ideas.  Words allow us to share so much.  For my part, the words I send out each week are a message in a digital bottle.  I never know where they will wash up, but I am always hopeful they will be read by someone.  Be well…  rc

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Catharsisaurus Rx…

The blender in my head…

I’ve been living deep inside my head recently.  More so than usual.  I am haunted by the complexities of modern life and how they may be impacting my reality, assuming there is a reality. That doubt, of my own reality, is the heart of the thing.

On the surface I train clients, check on my mother, text my daughter, and reassure my dog.  Underneath all of this, my mind is bombarded by tiny pellets of doubt, all day long, that are slowly deteriorating the shield which protects my rational side.  Among my greatest fears is that this shield will parish before I do, leaving the chaos in my head to play unbridled havoc with my mind as I age.

My inner Cartesian has come to appreciate those frantic moments in my life, like when my frozen vegetables fly out of the bag and land all over my floor because I pulled them too quickly from my freezer.  That things like this always happen at the worst possible time also serves me well.  Those moments snap me out of my doubt, if only for an instant, and halt the existential banter between all the Roys within.

The life within the life…

I regularly entertain the life within the life.  I imagine waking from a nap on a summer’s day, my right cheek sticking only slightly to the warm concrete beside the swimming pool of my youth.  The distant chatter of Marco and Polo awakens me.  I am 12 years old, and the life that I have lived since will have been only a dream.  Reagan never won.  I never married so I never divorced, and the internet was all in my imagination.

Perhaps though, I’ll awaken in an asylum, and not by the pool, my arms tied behind my back, and with a crayon between my toes I write my suicide note on a foam wall.  This life I write from right now will have been a peaceful dream, and what lay ahead, a nightmare.

And don’t get me started on my lifetime of chronic bad dreams.  Where do I go when I dream…?  Is what I do any less real than what I do when I’m awake…?  In an active mind, I often feel that the only thing separating my reality from my dreams is the spelling of the words.

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Kinda hopin’ Really hopin’ I don’t wake up here…

Occasionally I’ll consider that all other people are just extras in an orchestrated game between the gods.  I am at the center of their illustrious amusement – just a silver ball in their game of pantheonic pinball.  At the end of the game, I wonder, will the gods rise in unison and offer me the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down, based on how well I performed bouncing off the obstacles they set before me.  Ever-present is the feeling I am being watched and judged.

The illusion of conclusion…

Even if I am real, where and how am I real…?  Between parallel universes, infinite universes, or an eternal universe where anything that can happen will happen, I find myself right here, right now, and in this glorious life.  Although in the quantum world, I’m only probably here, and probably now.

Physicist Brian Greene tells me freewill is only an illusion and suggests that mathematics supports this.  The calculations of my future have already been laid out, he says, and that I have no say in my say.  However, I don’t steel tips off tabletops in restaurants when nobody is looking, and I don’t push people down the stairs – even when they deserve it.  Sounds like free will to me.

Some scientists suggest existence as I know it is some kind of holographic image created in an alternate reality, and is smaller than the tip of a pen.  Others say I am slave to the algorithms within a cellular automaton.  Just the thought of that has me pining to be a slave building a pyramid, for at least then I would exist in a simpler state.

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Holographic Youniverse…

The idea that some being in another dimension might be administering my every thought and every motion by way of a joystick bubbles under the surface of my daydreaming as I clean my studio.  On one hand this appeals to me inasmuch as if it is true, then I am exonerated from all indiscretion and responsibility.  However, if I’m not a Sea Monkey in a jar on some extraterrestrial kitchen counter, atonement and responsibility are not only my duty, they are my only hope.

Dog is one of us…

When my eyes lock with my dog I feel love and truth – simultaneously.  That emotion is a daily confirmation that I am real.  When our eyes break though, I can’t help wondering if my dog is actually an angel sending signals back to God, or an observer sending recommendations back to the mother ship.  I wonder the same thing with many of my human contacts too, you who is reading this included.

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“Stroolde calling Orson, come in Orson…”

I flash back to a time in school when I was taunting a special needs kid.  My friend Jeff stopped me and said…

“Roy!  Don’t tease Milton!  What if he’s God and he’s just testing you…?”

Jeff was joking, but I’ve never been able to get that thought out of my head; that anyone else might be God, or a designated representative of the Junta Grande.

The scratch ticket and the interwebs…

I feel guilty for having won the lottery of existence.  All my needs are met – exceedingly.  I’m able to enjoy and appreciate so much.  That I get to make a living doing what I love, and do so in such a beautiful place seems unjust to me, on behalf of those who can’t.  I wonder why I’m not a knobby-knee’d Ethiopian child with fly on one eye suckling his mother’s dry tit.  Yet I seem to be me, and this seems to be my time and my place – probably.

Living in the internet age has only thrown gasoline on the fire of my doubts.  I wonder if this increased connectivity with people and information around the world isn’t just an expanded test by my maker.  It makes no sense that I have instant access to most of the much of the knowledge ever attained and so much information, even if it isn’t always accurate.

Are my social media friends and my analog friends truly connections, or are they an audience watching me and trying to influence the way I bounce off the bumpers in the pinball game of my life…?  They might just be 7-billion lesser gods.

When I look the grocery clerk, the beggar, or the barista in the eyes, I often wonder if they’re thinking,

“He’s on to us…”

That people so seamlessly merge in and out of my digital and analog lives makes me feel increasingly uneasy.

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My maker…?

The known universe is precisely 54 years old…

Let’s assume I am real.  I see memes on social media daily that remind me how small and insignificant I am relative to the immensity of the universe.  This is bad internet juju in my opinion.  I am the only component in the universe that I have absolute dominion over.  If ultimate inter-connectivity is inevitable, then the universe can’t fulfill its own destiny if I fail to fulfill mine.

I was dead for nearly 14-billion years before I was born.  I’ll be dead again in a decade or two more.  I better get this thing right while I’m still here.  It’s all pretty overwhelming at times, this work of performance art which I call my life.

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At the end of the day, I suppose my reality is simply my choice – my decision to carry forward without worrying too much about any of this.  Whether or not I’m a spec in the universe, the center of it, or an organic shuttlecock in game of badminton between gods, so long as standing in nature stirs my heart, and my daughter returns my phone calls, I will choose to act and feel real.  I will though, always have my doubts.  Be well, and thank you for taking the time…  rc

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Enjoying God’s creation, in his creation, and where I feel most real..

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Music Has The Power Of Wings…

Why So Many…

I was saddened when I heard of Merle Haggard’s passing last week.  I chose to take the rest of that day off to hike, to contemplate, and to write, just as I did with the passings of Glenn Frey, Michael Been, Christ Whitley, and Stuart Adamson.  Each has left substantial etchings on my psyche.

In 2016, people are asking the same question,

Why so many rock & roll deaths all of the sudden…?

It actually makes sense.  Like the big bang of the universe, Rock & Roll had a big bang of its own in 1954 when Bill Haley sang Rock Around the Clock.  That singularity set the Rock & Roll universe into motion.  Haley would be 91 if he were alive today.  But he’s not alive, he’s dead, just like everyone else is or will be.

Like any big bang, the Rock & Roll big bang resulted in an increasing complexity, creating more and more stars as time passed.  Whether they be stars in the universe or those here on earth, stars are born to grow bright, some more bright than others, and to ultimately perish.  With so many more stars existing than ever, that they are losing their lives with increasing frequency should not surprise us.

Despite the sadness we feel when they go, each passing star is the ultimate reminder of their work and their gifts.  So long as we remember it and pass it to the next generation, music can be eternal, if even the musician can’t.

On The Values Of Music…

“Music has the power of wings.”  Mike Scott

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Music has helped me frame moments and has provided postures that have salvaged me time and again.   In my post-divorce years, music helped me find faith and mindfulness.  On stressful days, music has been a release – a way to vent by listening rather than speaking.  Music has helped me relax when needed, and I have used music to amp me up when coffee had its limits.  Music has calmed a heart full of rage, and prevented a clinched fist more than a time or two.  Music transports.

Above all things to me, music has been about relationships. The relationships which have come my way because of music have had the power to endure in ways many of my nonmusical relationships haven’t.

When I was 15 my father caught me jumping on my bed and mimicking Jeff Baxter’s guitar solos in My Old School.  My dad, who hated rock music, found the humor, then joined me on his own air guitar, forging a moment in time I will never forget.

Music can help reinforce a strained relationship better than concrete and steel.  Had it not been for a common love of music during her teen years, my relationship with my daughter might have never recovered after her mother and I divorced.

In the 16 years since that divorce, my daughter’s mother and I remain close friends – largely because of a love of music.  Just three nights ago my lovely former wife called to ask me about some of the guitars Sister Rosetta Tharpe played. At first she chastised me for never exposing her to Tharpe

“Why haven’t you ever told me about her…?” she asked.

We stayed on the phone for quite a while and enjoyed some laughter.  I got a bit weepy when we hung up because the conversation was so dear; two divorced people laughing and talking about whether or not Prince’s guitars might be derivative of Tharpe’s, and whether or not it was a Gibson or a Gretsch.

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If being human is about relationships, then I know of no better way to enjoy or enhance a relationship than by exposing it to music.  Music can transcend politics, religion, philosophy and even social status when it is allowed to.  For this to work though, one’s ears need to be open.

I think of my camping friends who I meet most summers in Nebraska.  From working class schlubs like me, to educated working professionals – conservative and liberal, Christian, Atheist or Jew, when the campfire is aglow and the guitars come out, we harmonize as one.

Music To Our Children And Beyond…

As a child, when my father wasn’t playing Pete Fountain or Mitch Miller on the Sears Robuck stereo, my mother was playing Eddie Arnold and Bobbi Gentry.  On Brigadoon, they both agreed.  Music was encouraged.  In our house at one time or another were drums, trombones, a trumpet, and the ever-present untouched guitars.  Our musical dreams destined to be unfulfilled, though experienced quite well through the lives of others.

When my daughter was an infant in her bassinette, and just days old, her mother and I danced around the room singing to The Ramones…

Chel-sea IS, a punk rocker, Chel-sea IS, a punk rocker Chel-sea IS, a punk rocker oh oh oh oh oh oh

As part of the earthly autographs etched into the Golden Record aboard the Voyager I spacecraft, are recordings of Blind Willie Johnson, Mozart, and Chuck Berry.  How wonderful it would be, I have thought, that if the only thing an alien species gave a rat’s ass about in receiving this information would be Chuck Berry’s Oh Carrol…?  Surely they would put the tops down on their intergalactic Cadillacs and head our way with the best of intentions.  Maybe we could trade some of our vinyl for some of theirs.  And some dilithium crystals – we will need more dilithium crystals if we’re ever going to get out of here.  The God I believe in plays air guitar.  Be well…  rc

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from me, Roy Cohen.  I wrote this nearly 30 years ago for what was to be the world’s first rockabilly opera, but never completed it.  Enjoy…

Fat Dogs, Niebuhr, and Tomorrow…

No Time For Obese Dogs…

I sat down this morning preparing to pose a question on social media about the responsibility humans have in stewarding obese dogs.  This after an exchange last week about who is responsible for canine obesity.  My stance is that, much like obesity in humans, pet owners bear only a portion of the responsibility for canine obesity.  That is, dogs like humans, are subject to increasingly complex food, pharmaceutical, medical, and social systems.

Though humans do have some say in the obesity of their dogs, these systems are probably also influencing canine obesity, though not to the level that the same systems are influencing human obesity.  To a lesser degree, canines are also susceptible to the economic and media systems which influence humans, though the freewill thing which humans relentlessly pander to, probably doesn’t distract dogs too much.

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I’m thinking, too much bread in his diet….

I chose not to post my original question on social media though, because I realized it would have done nothing more than set anchor to a line of convoluted and irrational arguments that would chain me to my laptop for hours.  At the end of the day I thought, we’re all caught up in an endless web of systems anyway…

Three Wise Men…

In his book, The Religions of the World (formerly The Religions of Man), Huston Smith suggests,

We need to remember that in their own day, prophets are not seen as prophets.  To most, they appear to be fringe thinkers, not to be trusted, and often irrational.  It is only those few who follow them, and with the posthumous spreading of their ideas over time, that elevates them to prophet status.

As they walked and spoke in their own communities, men like Jesus, Confucius, and Muhammad did not command the attention of too many, though they did make some noise.  It was only after death, and by those few who valued their ideas who worked to spread those ideas, did they become elevated to prophet status.

I have been reading (some of) the works of Reinhold Niebuhr recently.  Niebuhr is hard to classify.  He was a Christian theologian and educator.  He was a prolific author, a public intellectual, a sounding board for other intellectuals, and an occasional advisor to heavyweight political figures during his time.  Though he considered himself a socialist Christian, and since both of those terms today have been hijacked and mutated, I will argue that Niebuhr was the ultimate conservative by the real meaning of that word.

Portrait Of Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

A portrait of the American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971), United States, mid-20th century. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

I came to Niebuhr by way of Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich, both of whom draw on Niebuhr’s moral and diplomatic sensibilities in their own works.  In his book The Limits of Power, Bacevich refers to Niebuhr as a prophet at least a dozen times.  Chalmers Johnson suggests that if every nation had a Niebuhr whispering in the ear of its leader, there would be no need for NATO, The United Nations, or military bases beyond domestic borders.

All Systems Go (Where They Want To)…

Among other things, what the works of Bacevich, Johnson, and Niebuhr reinforce to me is that principled ideals, however impactful their potential might be, are not going to immediately override systems which are already in place and aimed in a forward direction.  The best we can hope is that reasonable ideas take root, and are cultivated over time to gradually steer the trajectory of a system.  The civil rights movement, still in progress, is a good example of this.  If we take an honest big picture view, it’s clear that prophets make good helmsmen on the initial watch, but communities need to keep steering once the prophet is no longer around.

Americans are caught up in all the systems of modernity; technical systems, political systems, cultural systems, economic systems, and many others.  Whether we are talking about obese canines, the military industrial complex or international diplomacy, and whether we consider ourselves passengers, components, or victims of the systems which carry us, I am reminded as our presidential election draws near, of the two flies believing they control the horse who’s ears they stand upon.  We are driven, and we are bound by systems.

Vote The System To A Slight Turn…

Like many, I often think voting doesn’t matter and I don’t trust any of the candidates.  I do though, believe that voting is a responsibility and it’s one I take very seriously.  Perhaps my vote this year, which will go to the most Niebuhrian candidate on election day, will help steer the modern political system just enough toward a new direction that we can pass it off to a more reasonable generation, who might spread the word of Niebuhr’s prophecy and steer us better still.  Of course I’ll need the help of 100,000,000 or so like-minded friends to make this happen.

Before you vote this November – before you decide on a candidate, a platform, or donate any more money or your own sensibility to a cause, please consider reading The Irony of American History by Niebuhr, The Limits of Power by Bacevich, or Blowback by Chalmers Johnson – all 3 if you have the time.  It’s time we steer away from America’s imperial ambitions abroad, and that we take a good look in the mirror.

I gasp at what is taking place with the current presidential race, but realize the idiocy of it all is a reflection of our culture at large – of the systems we have set into motion and make no attempt to steer.  It seems clear to me that we could benefit from a new prophet to help lead us out of our Idiocracy.  As Bacevich calls for a Niebuhrian revolution, I stand alongside him in hopes that someone – anyone will listen, learn more, and help spread the word.  If not Niebuhr, perhaps David Brooks.  Be well…  rc

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We are just one or two elections away from President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho…

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Dave Alvin.  Prettiness and such like that.  Enjoy…

Disorder In The House…

Set Thine House In Order…

Eating, eating disorders, and food psychology are areas, in my opinion, where there are still many more unknowns than knowns.

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Los Juilgeros Preserve, Fallbrook

Factors which can lead to the more common eating disorders are, in no particular order:

– a lack of sleep

– use of alcohol, narcotics, and stimulants

– stress

– blood sugar/insulin imbalances

– other hormone imbalances

– biological depression

– environmental depression

– a self-depreciative persona

– food selections

– social and peer behaviors

– social and peer expectations

– media habits

– parental influence

– spousal or romantic influence

Of course there are others I can’t think of off the top of my head, but my point is that the roots of eating disorders are complex, and I’ll suggest for people who live with one or more eating disorder that more than one these causes might be at play at different times, and that multiple causes might be at play much of the time.

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Veggie Spring Rolls.   Golden Kitchen  in Fallbrook

Expecting that an eating disorder can be traced to a single cause, and that cause can be addressed with a single fix or two is wishful thinking.   I say this not as a fitness trainer, but as a man who has lived with, and for the most part controlled, my binge eating tendencies through my entire adult life.

I can say that at one time or another, multiple reasons have contributed to my binge eating, and in different ways at different times.

What I have found most useful in controlling it, as odd as this may sound, is by simply being myself – the person I am deep down.   When I conduct my life as I truly aspire to be – by just being true to myself, however hard that might be, I find that my eating is more streamlined, more rhythmic, and more consistent.  This ideal, I suspect, might be superimposed over other behaviors and disorders which might manifest within any of us.

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Brown rice, brocc and some tofe.  I speak casually of my veggie delights…

I am not so naïve is to suggest that simply being a moral person is enough to reverse hormone imbalances, cascading pharmaceutical conflicts, diseases or other factors which can contribute to eating disorders.  I will suggest though, that living one’s life consistently with one’s values will always place that person in a better field position to receive or to accomplish anything good.  Be well…  rc

If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this from David Lowrey.  Enjoy…

The Doorway, The Empty Bed, And The Parents Left Behind…

The Bad News…

I was driving south on highway 163 through Balboa Park when I adjusted the radio dial to to catch the news of the day. That’s when I learned of the Columbine shootings. After a few seconds of shock, I pulled to the side of the freeway and gave in to some trembling and a few tears. Though I was in San Diego looking to buy a house, my wife and daughter were still back in Colorado. Columbine was an unincorporated area of Littleton, adjacent to where were lived in Highlands ranch. This traggedy hit home.

I soon gained control of my emotions and continued driving to my empty apartment. Despite the early hour, I crawled into my sleeping bag and took it all in, continuing to listen to the radio, and to all the media speculation as to why the shootings happened. I wasn’t interest in why.

My most immediate thought was not about the reasons why, not about the perpetrators, nor even the victims of the tragedy. The image that stood fast in my mind was that of a married couple – two silhouettes of unknown parents standing in the doorway of their child’s bedroom on the first morning after the shootings, and staring at an empty bed. And that was the tragedy to me; the doorway, the empty bed, and the parents with nobody to wake up on that first day after. It’s an image I’ve never been able to go.

Too Soon…

Since that time, other school shootings notwithstanding, I have been proximate to the deaths of too many children, some by accident and some by disease. When I become aware of these losses, that’s where my head goes first; to the doorway, the empty bed, and to the parents standing emotionally paralyzed with nobody to wake up and get ready for school on that first day without.

Two months ago, after learning that a friend’s adolescent daughter passed unexpectedly, my head went there again. My heart ached at the thought of my friend and her husband standing in that doorway, looking at an empty bed, with nobody to wake up and get ready for school on their first morning without Clara.

Clara...

Clara…

I checked out that day. I cancelled my sessions, took my dog to a nature trail and spent the day immersed in heavy thought. Trying to be grateful for all I have and all I am, I took inventory of my life but came up short. For the next several weeks I tried to reconcile this untimely loss. Despite the strength her mother has showed in the wake of this tragedy, I just can’t do it – I can’t get good with the loss of this child.

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Several weeks later I would learn of another young girl stricken with cancer who may not see 2017. Again, I went to the doorway, to the empty bedroom, and the parents who will be left behind with nobody to wake up the next day and get ready for school.

As I think of these young people, and of the parents they leave behind, regardless of what circumstances lead to their passing, I will always think first of the parents in the doorway, and of the empty bed.

Though the bed can be removed and the room can be reassigned, the doorway – that portal of access into a child’s life, always remains. I can’t imagine the strength that is required to pass through that doorway on a regular basis. I can though, love and appreciate all the parents who face this, and I bow down to them with enormous respect and a great deal of love. Be well… rc

Beyond the doorway there is an empty bed
Two shadows stand and nothing is said

This moment is a vacuum as love can’t breathe
It falls to the floor and two parents grieve

Tears form but aren’t able to flow
Dreams fall never to grow

A blanket of sadness covers the two
Souls filled with lead not believing it’s true

Though the sun may shine, and the world may turn
And as the lives of others may flicker and churn

The parents in the doorway are unable to feel
Unable to cry, not ready to heal

The empty bed may stay or may go
It might be a shrine or may be let go

But the doorway is there, and will always remain
An ongoing reminder, and a portal to pain
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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.. Oh, and there’s this from Hymns from Nineveh…

The Pot On The Burner…

The Blender In My Head…

I spend much of my waking time in various states of conflict. Conflicted over matters such as events in the Middle East, Wall Street, the corrosion of America’s political structure, and the ever-increasing social complexities of mankind. I spend as much time conflicted over smaller things such as the ethics of fast food, bicycle culture, as well as changing trends in the arts and in entertainment. Conflict, it seems, is my essence.

The blender in my head...

The blender in my head…

One tool I have used through the years to (help) manage this inner turmoil is my morning meditation; it re-centers me. Each day on sit on the floor of my shower in total darkness, with the lights off, and with warm water cleansing the remains of yesterday’s dust from my skin and from my soul, and recite the following meditation aloud:

I thank you for receiving these words.

I thank you for a new day and new chance to walk in the right path.

I ask forgiveness for the sins I have committed and the mistakes I have made. Help me have awareness that I learn from those sins and those mistakes that they don’t become repeated.

I thank you for the blessings and opportunities which surround me. Help me have awareness that I recognize and appreciate those blessings, and help me have determination to fulfill those opportunities for the betterment of this world, the people in it, and the people in my life.

Help me speak the truth this day. Regardless of what situations I find myself in, and what circumstances surround me, help me remember that it’s better to stand in a room empty of words than to breach the truth for the sake of a sound.

Help me remember that my place is not to judge – that what person looks like or what they don’t look like, is not a reflection of who they are. Help me remember that behind every pair of eyes is a heart, a soul, and a life’s worth of circumstances I know nothing about.

I ask, on behalf of my loved ones, for their good health, for their safety, for their comfort, for peace, that they know love in their lives, and for strength during difficult times.

Help me take time to remember the animals in this world and in my life, that I give to them as much as they give to me. Thank you for the lessons they teach me in unconditional love, living in the moment, kindness, humility, and most of all, forgiveness.

Help me be a good man today. Help me walk tall, speak few words, be far in my reach, and help me be kind.
I thank you for hearing these words, and I love you. Amen.

Schmaltzy, I know, but it’s a part of me.

Estuary. Oceanside, CA

Estuary. Oceanside, CA

Dances With Schmaltz…

This Schmaltz Waltz is my most valued daily ritual. When I do this, who I am speaking to is unknown by me.  I suppose I speak to myself mostly – a way of reminding myself how I wish to live. It would be a fool’s task and childish game for me to suggest it’s god, God, or the Universe receiving those words. Perhaps I just speak to the underlying current that 14 billion years ago worked and reworked very little matter into increasingly complex matter which became more complex matter still, and that somehow the tiniest fragments of all that matter would become me.

Despite that my morning ritual resets and calms my early day, the conflict in my head soon returns and increases as the day goes on. Is combating ISIS worth the risking ground troops over…? How broad is the 2nd amendment…?  Is grass fed beef better for society than feed lot beef…? Should we eat beef at all…?  TV is the devil!  Thank god for college football on TV!!!  Chap-Stick or Burt’s Bees…? And so goes the blender in my head.

On the road to Santa Cruz

On the road to Santa Cruz

Despite that my morning meditation does little to eliminate this chaos, it does slow it down – if only for a moment. I can easily imagine how much worse it might all be without my daily reminder. I call it meditation, though others might call affirmation, mantra, or even prayer. Regardless, I’ll suggest we not be too quick to criticize those who participate in such contemplative practices, be they secular or religious.

A rare flat day. Carlsbad, CA

A rare flat day. Carlsbad, CA

Without such practices – rituals which regularly remind us to take step back and recenter, culture might be that much more chaotic. Maybe prayer is just the social equivalent to raising the pot off the burner before it boils over – only to place it immediately back down. We call off the overflow, but the boil beneath the surface remains. 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 Fray. Enjoy…

Thank You…

Living Intentionally…

Each morning I wake up with the best of intentions. In my pre-dawn meditation, as I take inventory of all I have and all I am, I remind myself to be the best possible father, son, friend, businessman, and neighbor that I can be. Most mornings I have screwed it up by 9:00am. Never though, do I quit trying.

Yesterday, after helping a friend complete the final stage of a move into her new apartment, it was a sincere joy to surprise her by treating her to a live Christmas tree. Her artificial tree had been lost in the move. Not only did I buy it for her, I chose to stay and set it up so she could spend the afternoon focused on her school work.

When it came to buying a stand for the tree I had 2 choices; $6.99 or $14.99. I chose $6.99. Once the stand was assembled, I tilted the tree up, positioned it in the center of the stand, and tightened the 4 screws which were to stabilize the tree. I was ready to be a hero for my friend, if only for a moment.

Like a bad case of Tourette’s though, the rapid-fire discharge of my foul language from my mouth, as the tree fell out of the stand was cause for my friend to take shelter behind a led shield. She just stepped into the kitchen instead, as her 2 dogs and my dog began to shake. So much for being a hero…

After offering my friend and our dogs my sincere apologies, and hiding behind a false calm exterior, I returned to the store to purchase the $14.99 tree stand in hopes it would actually work.  Though the short drive should have been a good opportunity for me to calm down and remember what’s important, each red light raised my blood pressure a few more points. By the time I got to the Wal-Mart parking lot on the Saturday before Christmas, I felt like Michael Douglas in the movie Falling Down.  My hands were trembling and steps were fast and hard.

Then I stopped for a minute and re-listened to a voice mail message which another friend left me only hours before. In this message I had gotten word that an elderly friend and former client had been hospitalized – I was told she wasn’t going to make it. So a Christmas tree fell out of a stand, and I hit a few red lights – no big deal. I quickly remembered what’s important and calmed down.

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Goodbyes Too Often…

In the last few years I have known or known of more than a dozen people who have passed away unexpectedly and far too young. The younger brother of one of my best friends died suddenly and unexpectedly – he was in his early 40s. Another friend who had recently texted someone that she was having the best day of her life died of a heart attack only moments after she sent that text – she was 42. Last month the adolescent daughter of a friend and fellow fitness trainer passed – that one will haunt me forever. Earlier this year the son of a client and local business man passed – he was my age. I have run out of fingers to count these losses with. Hardly a month goes by…

Thinking of these people and their families is always grounding to me – a good reminder that, as cliché as it sounds, each day really is a gift.

So when I returned to my friend’s home with the better Christmas tree stand, I immediately put the stand down, held her, kissed her cheek, and told her that I love and appreciate her. After all, we were married for 17 years and have a daughter together. For me, that kind of love is eternal.

Each morning I wake up with the best of intentions. I wish to be the best possible father, son, friend, businessman, and neighbor that I can be. I really do try. Most mornings I have screwed it up by 9:00am, though I never quit trying.

Thank You…

In the course of my life I have given everyone who knows me numerous opportunities to dislike me, if not sever our relationship. Family, friends, business associates, and neighbors have all seen me at my worst, despite that it is always my intention that they see me at my best. To be around me long enough is to see me go from zero to son-of-a-bitch in 2.3 seconds.

I suppose everyone who knows me well though, knows me well enough that they understand my good intentions. Like a quality golf shot on an otherwise poor outing, I guess that’s what keeps them coming back for more.

As another year closes out, and the mile marker of 2016 is within sight, and as I try even harder to let the better me prevail, I would simply like to thank my family, friends, business associates, and my neighbors for knowing me and liking me anyway.

If a tree falls in the living room, do I make a sound…? I will hope that in the future, I won’t. 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 a later incarnation of Led Zeppelin. Enjoy…

The Primary Colors Of Strength…

Few Ingredients…

We learn the primary colors early in life, often before we even learn to read. From combining just 3 colors; red, yellow, and blue, all other colors can be reached. Often though, we don’t need much more than the primary colors to achieve a creative conclusion.

Though many great works of art include a myriad of colors from across the spectrum, it is the seasoned artist who understands best where and how to apply those colors, or even if they are needed. Even so, some of the most advanced artists through the years have been touted for their simplest works. We call this minimalism.

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The Workout As A Form Of Art…

All traditional strength exercises are variations of 6 simple movements; pushing, pulling, bending, torso rotation, squatting, and raising the extremities laterally. Every strength exercise is a variation of those 6 primary movements.  What is a workout, if not an expression of creativity…?

Pushing: The use of force to transfer a load away from our body. There is vertical pushing, horizontal pushing, downward pushing, and pushing through any angle in-between.

Pulling: The use of force to draw a load toward our body. We can pull from overhead, pull from in front, we can pull from below, or we can pull from any angle in-between.

Squatting, bending, torso rotation, and raising the arms and legs laterally have as many variations.

Other ways in which we can vary our pushing and pulling are by adjusting hand positions. Wide grips, medium grips, narrow grips, overhand grips, and underhand grips can all be used to promote variety in the pushing and pulling aspects of strength training. These varying angles and hand positions allows us to direct tension to different areas of our musculature. In squatting, varying one’s foot position can have the same effect.

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Primarily Speaking…

I try and teach my students that not every painting requires every color. In fact, the works of art I appreciate most are those with few colors and few complexities. Similarly, not every workout needs every possible angle, hand, or foot position. This is a mistake I see frequently with others; the more is better mindset. Walk into any gym and you’ll see people of all ages and all levels of proficiency performing set after set of many variations of the same exercise by changing angles, hand, and foot positions until they are exhausted.

Though I also tend to pursue this type of variety in my workouts, I do so more on a monthly basis, not by the workout. That is, in the course of a month I might include bench presses performed on an incline bench, on a flat bench, or on a decline bench.  I might perform chest presses on a machine, with dumbbells, or with barbells in a month’s time – there is value in all of these, but rarely do I duplicate them in a given workout. Not only can that duplication be detrimental to the muscles by over training them, it is a very large waste of time – my most valued commodity.

Though variety will help to foster progress in hypertrophy and functional physicality, it is variety over time which matters much more than variety within a workout. Like the simple painting, simplicity in the structure of a workout can offer more from less.

It’s Not Rocket Science

We live in the granite counter top generation. We decorate every wall. Most of us have at least some clothes in our closet which we rarely wear or have never worn. Our phones have more power than most of us can comprehend, and our cars now do things which we could do on our own not long ago. Increasing social and technical complexity are among our many co-masters.

vitruvian-man

For my time in the gym, that is where the real beauty is; in a lack of complexity. I usually perform one variation each, of 6 basic movements in my workouts, and use the 13.7 billion year old force of gravity to affect them. Despite what social media, many fitness trainers, and the fitness industry at large might have you believe, it’s not rocket science – it’s a simple art. Be creative, and 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 Van Morrison. Enjoy!

Mixed Thoughts On Religious Tolerance…

Calling 9/11…

In the days after 9/11 people went to books stores and got online in droves to attain, read and better understand the Qur’an. Presumably, so they might better understand the motivation behind the attack on the World Trade Centers. Huston Smith once wrote, “nobody ever curled up on a rainy night with the Qur’an.” Honestly, on the heels of 9/11 the need to better understand Islam never crossed my mind.

I guess I was fortunate inasmuch as I didn’t feel a need to read Islamic text to better understand Muslims. I simply saw them daily and up close. I had two Muslim clients at the time; hardworking business people with dreams, beliefs, shortcomings, puppies, and tonsillitis – just like me. Because we were social in and out of the gym, I saw firsthand through their extended families and friends what their surface lives looked like. With the exception of names which were often difficult to pronounce, their lives and mine were surprisingly similar.

My friends, both female, didn’t dress in what we think of as traditional Islamic women’s attire – unless sweat pants and ponytails fall into that category. From their gym memberships, to their favorite chocolates, to Wiggles concerts and all in-between, they were Americans.

They didn’t remain clients too long after 9/11, though they do remain friends. Despite that they dressed and conducted themselves like normal Americans, they had middle eastern names, darker skin, and did little to hide their Muslim faith, though they were not overtly Muslim. Their Islam, like many people’s religion, was just something they carried in their back pocket, to be taken out as needed.

Celebrate difference...

Celebrate difference…

In a conservative town though, it became increasingly hard for them to go out without having their faith publicly questioned, and often persecuted by the ignorant. In watching this take place I would learn that ignorance can be overpowering. So overpowering that my two friends eventually left the area in favor of the more forgiving downtown San Diego where there is a more broadminded populous.

To think, from that singular day in 2001, and from the actions of only a few, every day thereafter my friends, like many Muslims in the US, would have to pull their Islam from their back pocket and present it like some kind of cultural ID card to be scrutinized whenever questioned by the ignorant. How old that must have gotten. Rarely do I see Christians and Jews have to explain their beliefs or justify their intentions while buying detergent, based solely on the act of a few on a given day.

Broad Brush Strokes…

I was asked recently by a young woman I mentor about the differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I was quick to channel her toward seeking the commonalities between them, explaining she would learn more by directing her attention to how similar the 3 faiths are. She kept pressing me though, as if she might discover some major difference(s) if I were to better divide the 3 religions for her.

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I explained that broad brush strokes usually paint blurry pictures, but I would do my best to reduce it to three fundamentals differences which I see to be as much cultural as they are religious:

– Christianity is fundamentally about forgiveness over indiscretion.
– Judaism is about repairing indiscretion.
– Islam is about living life in a way that there is no need for forgiveness or repair.

None of those 3 explanations is more noble than the other two. I’ll even suggest that it is the goal of each faith to combine all 3; to forgive, to repair, and to move forward in a better way, but that each tenet noted above is central to its corresponding faith. However broad those brush strokes might be, I actually stand with them. I feel very good about offering this perspective to my young friend.

Atheism, Islam, And Prejudice…

One of the great ironies I see in the social media era is this: I have a network of liberal, open-minded friends who would fight to their death to protect my human rights. If I were gay, transgender, or preferred to have sex with monkeys, they would support me. I find an unsavory duality with the knowledge that many of those open minded friends are against all religion and call themselves atheists.

By the way, being against religion doesn’t make one an atheist. It makes one an anti-theist. In an even more inverse irony, many of these anti-theist friends are now standing up for immigrant Muslims, yet take a hard stand against American Christianity. This makes no sense and can’t be explained, only rationalized.

Simply put, if a person is against religion as a collective, or any particular religion, that is a form of prejudice – period. To be against anyone’s beliefs in favor of their own is an undeniable act of bigotry. So please, don’t defend my right to have sex with monkeys if you won’t also support my right to pray to a god – any god, or every last god in the pantheon.

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Religion has been part of our cultural DNA since hunter-gatherer times. Like any trait of biological evolution, if religion did not serve a sound purpose in carrying our species upward and ahead, cultural evolution would have weeded religion out long ago. Clearly it has not. 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 is this from Jellyfish. Enjoy!

The Elegant Plateau…

Road Detour…

In life we often find ourselves traveling a road which takes us in a direction that was once obvious and fitting, but in time becomes no longer consistent with our personal growth and changing values.  So we choose a new road, one which we see leading us in a better direction or into the next phase of our life.  Somewhere down that road, we may realize we’re back on the original road we turned off of.  Either consciously or subconsciously we’ve circled back only to find that we’re headed in that same direction which we had exited for all the right reasons.

As it relates to my relationship with strength training, several times since my mid-40s, I have chosen to leave one road in favor of the road which makes more sense for the next phase of my life.  It usually doesn’t take long though, for me to end up back on the road I left; the road of bigger, stronger, leaner.  That was the right road for the younger me, but no longer.

At least 3 times in the last 10 years I have said enough is enough in the pursuit of more; more strength, more mass, more lean.  I well understand the limits of age; that the human body will only get so strong, so muscular, so lean.  So I choose a new road; the road of the elegant plateau.  The elegant plateau is a direction where if I don’t get any stronger, any more muscular, or any leaner, I’m ok with it.  That if I can just maintain what I have as I grow older, that is progress enough.

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This Time I Mean It…

Nearly 10 years after I first told myself enough is enough, I found myself on the road to bigger, stronger, leaner yet again.  Daily in my strength workouts I note in my journal how challenging or not a movement is.  If it’s not too challenging, and the form is intact, I note to increase the weight for the next workout.  In some exercises I’m actually using more weight in proper form than ever.  That this progress is doable is feeding me ego.  It is also stifling the very purpose for my workouts.

This pursuit of increased poundages is not breaking my body down excessively.  It isn’t hurting me.  It isn’t stressful.  It’s simply a departure from a philosophical tenet; that I just don’t need more of anything.  In all other aspects of my life I pursue less or just enough, yet when it comes to my workouts, I have been pursuing more.  I’m done.

I am once again committing to the road of the elegant plateau – and this time I mean it.  Simply stated, I will no longer pursue more strength, more muscle mass, or a leaner physique.  The condition I maintain today, is also the site of my next month.  If I can maintain this condition ongoing, I’m ahead of the game.

I look ok in a form fitted shirt – even when it’s tucked in.  I push reasonable weights in proper form.  I can run as fast as needed if being chased by Frankenstein.  I’m as lean as I’m going to get.  For all of this, I have few aches and much confidence.  I work out first and foremost to enjoy it.

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Buddhabuilding…

Bodybuilding light, or Buddhabuilding as I like to think of it, is based on the structure of traditional bodybuilding for larger purposes, but with a little less intensity, a little less volume, and a more moderate load.  It is still concerned with strength, size, and aesthetics so far as maintaining them goes.  However, it carries with it more utility in the areas of functional strength, balance, flexibility, sustainability, and the best aspect of all, a transformative, meditative state during the workout that just isn’t there when I’m in pursuit of more.

Buddhabuilding also incorporates balance and stretching movements in-between sets.  That is, if I’m doing 3 sets of incline bench presses, in-between sets I’ll either hold a stretching posture for 30 seconds or perform a balance exercise for 30 seconds, then on to the next set with more balance or stretching in-between the sets which follow.

The weights used with a given strength exercise are by no means light.  They are challenging, yet achievable, and lend themselves to a meditative state as I am better able to concentrate on the muscles involved.  This is where a connection takes place between my mind and my body that just isn’t there when the weights are heavier.

The Soundtrack & The Result…

One of the better aspects of Buddhabuilding to me is the soundtrack.  I gave up listening to music while exercising years ago.  These days it’s books on philosophy, religion, and cultural evolution which lead me through my games with gravity, efficiently building body and mind simultaneously, one hour at a time.  I had a great run at Buddhabuilding from 2005-2011 when I got greedy again and wanted more.  It’s time to get back to being me.

Liking my workouts – loving them has been the methadone of my existence for years.  It’s where time stands still for me.  I find that when I’m pursuing bigger, stronger, leaner, the physical results may be glorious, but that timeless state that sooths my soul is elusive.  When the weights are more moderate, the concentration is higher, and my mind is similarly stimulated, the result is a transformative workout, and that result is much more needed in my life than larger triceps.  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 is this from Jason Falkner.  Enjoy!

Choose Your Trainer Wisely…

Do As I Do And Also As I Say…

I am proud to have mentored a handful of people into fitness training careers. Another friend and former client completed her initial NASM fitness training certification this week.

On her completion she posted the following question on her Facebook page:

“So now that I got my fitness trainer certification, do you think I should get in shape? I mean like for real?

This is actually a serious question. A friend of mine and I are having this ongoing conversation, in which I claim that a trainer is like a coach and needs to know how to teach fitness and how to motivate but doesn’t have to necessarily be an athlete him/her-self. Just look at the coaches of Olympic gymnasts, for example.

My friend disagrees saying that expectations of fitness professionals are different than those of coaches. There’s probably some truth to that. What do you think?”

The thread of answers to her question were more mindful and insightful than I would have expected. To extract the commonalities from the many answers suggests that being in immaculate shape should not be a requirement or even a consideration for her. However, being in reasonable shape should be attempted if not maintained. Below is my own reply:

“I think it’s important to be in reasonable aesthetic shape, and able to perform movements as well as, if not better than your clients.

You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to be ripped, jacked, or shredded. You need to be able, and you need to be mindful.

Since you are both able and mindful, end of discussion.”

What Is In Shape…

Of course what lays at the heart of this question is the definition of in shape. I once defined my own belief on what constitutes in shape or fitness as follows:

“Physical Fitness is the sum of average or above average balance, flexibility, strength, stamina, and confidence. If these can be displayed while maintaining a reasonable aesthetic form, all the better.”

I stand with that definition today. Of course the terms average and reasonable aesthetic form are subjective.

What Does A Fitness Trainer Look Like…

I have been associated with dozens of fitness trainers through the years. They have come in all shapes and sizes, and though my place is not to judge, when I have judged other fitness trainers, I have done so exclusively based on 2 criteria; their knowledge, and their ability to communicate that knowledge. That, THAT is what a fitness trainer should look like!

Through my own career, my shapes and sizes have varied. I have been extremely lean at times when preparing for long distance races, bodybuilding, or living with longer bicycle commutes.

I have been bulkier at times when focusing on strength, relaxing my eating standards, or when I have backed off of (but never away) from my own fitness regimen. Despite what I have looked like, my knowledge base and my ability to communicate that knowledge has only increased. There have even been times when you might have looked at me and thought I might need a fitness trainer, and that’s kind of my point.

When the picture below was taken, I was not proud of my aesthetic shape. Nor was I ashamed of it. At the time this picture was taken, I was actually quite strong, as well as posting very good times on my bicycle and with my trail running, despite that the picture might indicate otherwise. In fact, at the time this picture was taken, I was very competitive within my circle of hardcore fitness friends. I was also working a full schedule as a fitness trainer.

When one friend saw this picture, he sent me an email stating,

“My god Roy, get that under control.”

Maybe I will, I thought, maybe not. That picture did not define, in any way, my client’s experiences with me.

Cyclist, trail runner, strength trainer, and professional fitness trainer.  Circa 2011

Cyclist, trail runner, strength trainer, and professional fitness trainer. Circa 2011

Factual Selection…

I have read many times what to seek when selecting a fitness trainer, and I have also been asked this question regularly. Of course what is written by others, and what I believe are often in contrast with one another.

What a trainer looks like should be among the least of one’s considerations when choosing a fitness trainer. I also believe that education, certifications, and continuing education are not the most important factors in the selection process.

Teaching physical fitness; the sum of balance, flexibility, strength, and stamina is not rocket science. Though a basic education and some experience is needed to teach these qualities, it is the ability to communicate them and to effectively demonstrate them which matter most.

Cyclist, trail runner, strength trainer, professional fitness trainer.  Circa last month...

Cyclist, trail runner, strength trainer, professional fitness trainer. Circa last month…

If you are looking for a fitness trainer I will suggest that communication skills and ability to demonstrate proper exercise matter much more than the shape of their arms, the size of their waist, or the titles they have won. Look past the electric tan and the hairstyle. Before selecting a fitness trainer, ask to watch them at work. 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 David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights. Enjoy!

First Step On A New Road…

Hunting For Smells…

We call it, hunting for smells.  It’s the 3-4 times daily ritual of my dog, Stroodle leading me on a walk along the streets and nature trails which run through town.  We go at his whim, at his pace, and are guided exclusively by the scents of the day.  My primary job is to ensure that he safely navigates the intersections he must cross as his nose guides us through town.

More recently we have come to rest briefly at the halfway point, a small grassy park just a block off of Main Avenue. Once there, we lay on the ground together for 20 minutes or so and Stroodle warms his bones in the sun as I find purity and peace by watching the calm of his face as he does this.  This is one of the more grounding and beautiful experiences I have known.  The other day as he lay in warmth, with the sun shining on his face, and with my hand gently stroking his head, I had never seen him so content.  It stirred a few tears from me.

From Peace To Macabre…

As I held one of Stroodle’s legs in my hand, I took note of the musculature.  Not from the perspective of a fitness trainer, but from that of a carnivore.  I was looking at his meat.  Only the night before, I had enjoyed one of those roasted chickens from the grocery store – the ones which smell so good under the heat lamp that I have to buy one almost every day because I can eat one almost every day.  And that’s when I looked at Stroodle differently; I envisioned how some 3rd world refugee or indigenous hominid might view his leg as I have viewed the legs of chickens time and time again.

The rapid fire chain reaction in my mind began immediately.  First, I was upset that I even went there – that I envisioned my dog as someone’s entrée.  I went further by picturing his leg without skin and this disgusted me but I couldn’t stop.  Worldwide, I thought, few animals have avoided being meals to other animals, dogs and humans included.  Suddenly, some words popped into my head and I froze.  They were words I heard spoken several years earlier by the singer, Morrisey while being interviewed on British television…

“If it has a mother” he said, “I won’t eat it.”

That has always made sense to me.  As the parent of a child and as the steward many dogs through my life, I wouldn’t want anyone eating my children – or my dogs.

The Intimate Bond...

The Intimate Bond…

The Eagle, The Snake, And The Rationalization…

I have been down this road several times before. Under the influence of inspiration, and motivated a bubbling morality, I have told the world that I am all done eating animal products of any kind.  The longest I have ever made it was 6 months in 2012-2013.

Though my intentions had always been sound when turning away from animal products, I have applied the brakes to my stance against eating them, and dipped my fork back in the trough, by contemplating a single experience I had years ago…

In 2005 I was paddling a kayak down the Middle Loop river in rural Nebraska on a hot summer afternoon.  As I turned a corner in the gentle current I looked to the shore to see an eagle swoop down, grasp a snake in its talons, rise up 50 feet or so, and thrust the snake into the ground killing it instantly.  The eagle returned to carry the snake away, presumably as takeout for its family.

This became an ongoing reminder to me during my vegan times that animals have been eating animals since there have been animals.  And that is where the rationalization to fight my moral current with this topic has always ended; with the realization that man too is an animal who has been eating animals since man has been man.  And then I saw my dog’s leg as meat and I froze in my thoughts.

The Intimate Bond…

I recently read The Intimate Bond, a book which chronicals man’s relationship with animals since hunter-gatherer times.  Among the many ideals that were exposed to me by this book is that through much of civilization, man has revered and respected the animals he has raised to eat.  Through some of the earlier times, man has paid lesser respects to what we now call household animals; cats & dogs.  It seems now that paradigm is upside-down.  Many of us hold our household pets in higher regard than members of our family.  That, and it’s okay for chickens and cows to be kept in cages, injected with steroids and antibiotics, and subsequently slaughtered only to be dressed up with just the right amount of rosemary and lemon.

Through books like Nonzero, The Better Nature of Our Angels, and The Intimate Bond I can see the trajectory of man’s gentile is getting better over time – slowly, but consistently.  There are many things which were once common place that we no longer find socially or morally acceptable; burning witches, drowning cats, and corporal punishment in schools to name a few.

I can’t help but think that 200 years from now, along with the asinine notion of growing decorative turf lawns in the American west, and sending fossil fuels into the air by the metric ton, that the idea of raising animals to kill them cruelly, and eat them nonchalantly will be something our descendants will find disappointing if not shameful.

Social & Moral Evolution For Some…

Going back to the eagle and the snake.  That eagle has not evolved morally or socially and probably never will.  Eagles 5,000 years from now aren’t any more likely to consider the snake’s feelings than the eagles of today.  The eagle reacts out of instinct and necessity.  I don’t.  I react to options and choices.  For me I’m choosing to follow my heart and my conscience, even if people see me as a fool.

I understand that a skeptic or critic might question my stance on the use of leather, other animal related products, services, and where I might draw the line.  In truth, I have no response to this at the moment.  It’s a duality that I will have to navigate for now, but I will be exploring ways to minimize the use of all animal products until the systems that stewards animals can show me a better side.

I have taken meat and animal products out of my diet before and yes, I have gone back.  On occasion, I have even questioned whether or not plants feel pain and if so, then what to eat.  Looking at my dog’s leg though, and contemplating it as though it were a piece of meat is a place I don’t think I can ever come back from, but I’ll keep you posted.  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 Cornershop.  Enjoy…

If You’re So Inclined…

There’s no shortage of data suggesting that walking is among the most useful forms of exercise. I’ll suggest that any form of regular walking is good for physical and cognitive fitness, though some forms of walking are better than others. Essentially though, there is the treadmill or the neighborhood.

I have lived much of my adult life in small towns surrounded by beauty of varying sorts. That these places have been as hilly as they are beautiful makes them great for outdoor walking – if only I found value in outdoor walking as a form of exercise. I don’t. Though I do take several short outdoor walks with my dog each day, as a form of physical fitness, I find much more value in the treadmill. When I tell people this, I’m more often met with eye rolls and disagreements than sincere interest.

Kinesis & Energy: Moving muscles burns calories. Muscle traveled greater distances equals more calories burned. By distance, in the case of walking, I’m referring to the height the stride. A more vertical walking stride (walking uphill) uses more muscle through a more complete range of motion than a horizontal stride (walking on a flat surface).

Women carry approximately 65% of their muscle below the hips, about 55% for men. When one walks uphill or up a steep incline, male or female, they will be lifting more than 25% of their bodyweight through a fairly complete range of motion before placing it back down.

Since a stride on a flat surface is more horizontal and less vertical, it is inherently done at a faster speed than walking uphill. The impact of the foot on a flat surface is actually greater and creates more stress on the ankles, knees, and low-back when done at a faster speed.

Walking uphill or on a steep incline, a person is not able to walk nearly as fast as on a flat. The slower speed minimizes the opportunity for repetitive motion disorders which are often caused by fast, momentum driven movements. Additionally, the angle of that incline actually diffuses the impact of the foot, and subsequently the ankles, the knees, hips, and the low-back.

Note how much higher the lead foot is. The leg must be raised and placed back down...

Note how much higher the lead foot is. The leg must be raised and placed back down…

Translation: Because of its slower speed and more vertical stride, walking uphill or up a steep incline is actually a much lower impact activity than walking on a flat or downhill surface, and is also more cardio intensive. I’ll suggest though, that walking on a treadmill at a steep grade should be done without holding onto the handle. Holding on allows the individual to lean buck, diffusing the incline.

Note how low the lead foot is. Less muscle required to move it, and is aided by momentum of a faster speed...

Note how low the lead foot is. Less muscle required to move it, and is aided by momentum of a faster speed…

Recommendation: If you’re going to walk outside, and do so as a means of cardio, calorie burning or conditioning, I’ll suggest attacking the uphill sections. However, go easy and slow down on the downhill and flat sections since they have a greater impact on your body, the knees in particular. Whether you choose to walk on a treadmill or outdoors in the neighborhood, stand tall – shoulders directly over hips as much as possible, and be a heel striker with your lead foot, this will minimize stress on the knees.

This kind of walk might not burn too many calories, but it's a daily investment in my soul...

This kind of walk might not burn too many calories, but it’s a daily investment in my soul…

Walking outdoors is a great activity. Again, I do this several times per day. Being in nature and moving is a cognitive therapy which is almost unequalled. As a form of calorie burning or conditioning, I’ll suggest treadmill walking at a steep grade will serve you better. Be well… rc

Fitness trainer, Roy Cohen is available for online consulting and training.  Click here to learn more.

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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 Chris Cornell.   Enjoy!

A Failed Conversion…

I was approached by a man at a local coffee shop the other day. He and I had met briefly once fore. A conversation ensued between us. The man, knowing I am a fitness professional, asked if I was familiar with a nationally known multimedia fitness enterprise. The program in question is scientifically based and assures, if applied properly, an outcome of increased muscles mass and decreased body fat with just 15 minute workouts. The program calls for high intensity workouts, supported with a high fat, moderate protein and lower carbohydrate diet. I played dumb and told him I had never heard of it. I sensed immediately that I lost points in his mind for my ignorance.

As he explained the program to me, he suggested recruiting me and my facility as a resource where he could test and apply it. As we discussed this, it was clear that he had an intelligent grasp of the physiology and nutrition. I explained to him my own value-set when it comes to exercise, strength training in particular, and eating. I said nothing to debunk the science of the program he was advocating. I well understand the efficiency of high intensity training. I simply used more science, some logic and a smidge of experience to support my stance the high intensity training, despite the science behind it, might not be the best option for many most.

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Still, he kept suggesting that I look at the website, the book, and the science behind this enterprise. He felt it might change my values and subscribe me to something better than what I am already teaching. He felt this high intensity program might also open a new world for me, for my clients, and for my business, and he was willing to be my guinea pig.

In truth, I am familiar with the program he was discussing, and I believe the science behind it is solid. Variations of high intensity training have been applied to many fitness enterprises over the past 15 years or so. I have practiced variations of them and taught some as well. Despite this, I have never bought completely into exclusively high intensity programs.

I gently let him know that my own fitness ideals are sum of many years of training, studying and practicing my craft, and that I wasn’t going to let go of those values regardless of the science behind what he was suggesting. It was clear that he saw me as a narrow minded buffoon who probably just takes people’s money in exchange for letting them go through the motions as I stare at my cell phone all day long. We exchanged business cards with what I’ll suggest was a mutual assurance that they will never see the light of day again.

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I have been down this road with people many times. I am a very science minded person. When somebody approaches me about high intensity training I can tell at a glance whether they are sincere, if they understand how demanding that type of training can be, if they are capable of it, and if they truly understand the bleakness of the associated nutritional component. If they are, I absolutely know how to apply those principals for maximum results, and I have a track record of success stories which demonstrate my competence.

However, even proven science has to fit an individual’s body and lifestyle to be effective in the long-term – it has to work within the scope of a person’s life. I don’t care how sound the science is, many genres of high intensity training aren’t agreeable when superimposed over a less than fit body or a less than fit lifestyle. My firsthand experience has seen high intensity training push more people away from an exercise lifestyle than toward one. For many people, high intensity exercise isn’t fun, isn’t sustainable and won’t be the foundation of the lifestyle change they actually need.

I know there are exceptions to this; that’s where before and after pictures come from. However, for every before and after picture posted on a magazine or website, I’ll suggest there are tens of thousands of people who feel they gave money away in exchange for doubt, frustration, and perhaps even some humiliation – for buying into something they could not sustain or that never made sense to them to begin with.

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All of this I can let go of because I have faced it many times, so I wasn’t disappointed that the man I spoke with had no interest and was unwilling to learn more about my own more moderate approach to fitness. What will remain with me though, in the foreground of my conscience, is that the man who approached me is an evangelical minister. Essentially he wanted to hire me away from my own faith that I might subscribe to his. When it became clear that I was unwilling to make that leap, he spoke to me as though I were a lost soul. And so it goes… rc

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

2016 At Sunset…

Many I know are glad to be exiting 2016.  It’s been a rough year for more than a few.  I know parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents, friends who have lost neighbors, clients who have lost family, friends, and coworkers.  Of course, the surge of celebrity deaths in 2016 has certainly given many folks reason to pause and consider this as a bad year.

And then, the election happened…

As I tap the last few drops off my own 2016 and prepare to tuck it back behind my zipper, I reflect that this has been an important year in my life, and a very good one, overall.

In 2016 I began listening to my own BS, possibly for the very first time.  This process has helped me better understand who I am, set against the backdrop of learning who I’m not – finally.

In 2016 I was reminded what alcohol still can’t accomplish.

In 2016 I admitted to myself what love really is – by learning the hard way what it isn’t – yet again.

In 2016 not only did I not lose anybody I was close with, but I might actually have found myself – at least for now.

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As the sun sets on 2016, I am glad to have gained all I have gained….

In 2016, above all things, I have come to terms with admitting my cultural and social sensibilities.  That is, I am proud of my beliefs, now more than ever, and I am no longer afraid to hide them.

I’m one of those people of who rather read 1 book 100 times than to read 100 different books.  In 2016 I have read or listened to all the books listed below at least a couple of times this year.  Many though, I have read or listened to multiple times in recent years.

Though they are not the only books I have read in my post-divorce life, these are the books which have most cultivated my adult sensibilities.

They are all available via www.amazon.com, and all but Among Empires via www.audible.com.  I have listed them in no particular order.

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1.      Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo And The Betrayal Of American Values, Philippe Sands

2.      Nonzero: The Logic Of Human Destiny, Robert Wright

3.      Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty, Steve Waldman

4.      The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker

5.      Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors, Charles S. Maier

6.      The Drunkards Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Leonard Mlodinow

7.      The Intimate Bond: How Animals Shaped Huma History, Brian Fagan

8.      Finding Each Other in Judaism: Meditations on the Rites of Passage from Birth to Immortality, Harold Schulweis

9.      Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson, Jennifer Michael Hecth

10.  Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, Eboo Patel

11.  The Limits Of Power: The End American Exceptionalism, Andrew Bacevich

12.  The Irony Of American History, Reinhold Niebuhr

13.  The Compleat Angler, Isaak Walton

14.  The Evolution Of God, Robert Wright

15.  The Religions Of Man, Huston Smith

16.  The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism,  Fritjof Capra

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The Morning After…

On the first Sunday after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, I found myself in church.  I know, I was surprised too.  It was a conservative church, in a conservative demographic, with a conservative yet mindful pastor.  The pastor, a thin man in his 40s, began to speak.  I’m quoting this word for word because I still remember the moment clearly…

“I know a lot of you are here this morning with heavy hearts” he said…

…he continued,

“For many here, the election did not have the outcome we desired.  I want to remind you this morning that he will be our next president.  The people have spoken, and it is on our best interest to stand for what we believe, but to respect the will of the people and to respect the office.”

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It didn’t surprise me that he spoke these words, again, he’s a mindful man or I would not have been there.  What did surprise me though, is what happened while he was still speaking those words.  He got booed, and by more than a handful of angry congregants.  I have witnessed much in my life that has shaken my sensibilities.  I have never though, seen a pastor get booed by his congregation.

If it had ended there, I might write it off to an emotional response during a vulnerable time in our culture.  However, in subsequent days the pastor received anonymous threating emails and letters.  Though his job was quite secure, there were some on the church’s board of directors that confronted him about his statement.  They suggested to him that it was ill-advised.  A few even tried to push him out, while some attempted to cajole him, suggesting he resign, despite his success in growing that church.

Eight years later, I am glad to say he still leads that church, and remains one of the more mindful evangelical minsters I have ever known.

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His words that morning though, and the congregation’s reaction, have resonated with me ever since.  That unsavory moment is bubbling in my mind again this week.  I am reminded that as a species, we tend to be at our very best when things are at their very worst, yet there are always exceptions to this. Those exceptions can be cancerous.

Emotions run strong.  Passion is the worst kind of social lubricant, and I am reminded that some of the worst choices ever made were made under the influence of inspiration.

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Stop.  Wait.  Observe.  Respond intelligently.  Conduct with decorum.  This is all I can do this week.  Be well…  rc

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Simple Minds AND The Stranglers..  Enjoy!

Beneath Perceived Normal…

I’m not sure why this is, but the most normal I ever feel is when I’m dining out.  Perhaps that’s why I eat out so often – it’s just feels so good to feel so normal.  There’s something about sitting in a restaurant, where time slows down for me and I feel a kind of comfortable which doesn’t show up in my own dining room.  I look at all the tables, observe the people, I listen to the proximate conversations, and take inventory of all that normalcy.

There’s an exercise though, that I take myself through whenever I dine out.  It skews that perception of normalcy a bit, but not for very long.  It’s an exercise in judgment I suppose, or more specifically, a way to better manage my judgment.  As I gaze about a restaurant, and as I take it all in, I ask myself who am I really sharing that moment with…

There are usually couples seated around me, married or otherwise.  Maybe some business associates are discussing a strategy of change, or a plan to increase sales.  There might be a couple of old friends getting together for the first time in a while.  Two construction workers getting out of the heat for a bit.  Perhaps a blind date is taking place just behind me.  Those two, over there…?  An aging father is catching up with his adult daughter.  So many combinations and possibilities.

As I take it in though – all this normalcy, and as twisted as this may seem, I always ask myself, who among them is the spousal abuser…?  Which one cheated heavily on their or her taxes last year…?  Who spent the grocery money on cocaine earlier that day…?  Which one lives in profound depression yet covers it up with a relentless smile…?  Which one stole from the petty cash drawer at work yesterday, without thinking twice about it…?

Of course the answers to those questions never appear on the surface, and I’m grateful they don’t or I’d never dine out again.  All that normalcy just continues.  I guess that’s my point.  In a sea of perceived normalcy, the answers to those questions I ask myself are there, but they are hidden so deep beneath the surface that mining for them would be required, and that type of mining can’t be done by a curious man from a distant table. Okay, normalcy, carry on…

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Who among them…?

This may seem very judgmental of me – that I go through this exercise, and that I always do this when I dine out.  Statistically though, in a room full of 30 or so people eating lamb chops, southwest chicken salads, drinking iced tea, laughing between the small talk, and arguing over who will pay the check, at least some of those people might fall into some of those judgments.  And there is a reasonable chance, that a few of them will fall into even darker places.  It’s just never apparent though, who among the crowd smacked their child that morning, and subsequently sent him off to school with a little makeup on his cheek.

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What looks normal to everyone else…

Each morning in contemplative prayer, I remind myself is that my place is not to judge.  Behind every pair of eyes, I say to myself, is a heart, a soul, and a life’s worth of circumstances I know nothing about.  By 11:00am most days, I have judged my world up one side and down the other.  Then I’ll go to lunch, and I will remind myself once again that behind every pair of eyes is a heart, a soul, and a life’s worth of circumstances – my own included, reflecting back at me from the teaspoon to my right.  Yes, restaurants are a place of perceived normalcy for me, but I know better, my own self included.  Be well…  rc

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