Longevity is a crap-shoot; each day a gift

Life is a series questions, held together by a web of human behaviors, and daily opportunities to alter those behaviors. The answers to the questions are, of course, in the back of the book. Unfortunately one has to die to get to the back of the book – to get to the answers.

Somewhere in the mid-west there is a man – he is 93 years old and despite his age, he is more active than the average American though he never considers this. This man wakes up daily at 4:30am and walks on his treadmill for 30 minutes, followed by another 20 minutes of stretching and bending. He eats nothing but whole foods – and he eats scarcely at that. The man reads more books than he watches TV, he still drives his car, loves gardening – takes care of his own lawn, and he has a charming woman in his life whom he has adored for 60+ years. When asked about his secret to living long and living well, he refers mostly to his healthy eating habits, his daily exercise, and points the woman beside him as his primary mechanisms for his longevity.

Wake up, stand up, set up the day...

Wake up, stand up, set up the day...

Somewhere in the deep south there is a woman – she is nearly 102 years old, and might be the oldest person in her county though she never considers this. This woman wakes up daily at 4:30am and immediately clicks on the TV to CNN and moves from her bed to a tattered recliner chair in her livingroom. She consumes a hot buttered sticky-bun and a Dr. Pepper for breakfast followed by a small glass of whiskey as she has each morning for nearly 50 years. She never married, doesn’t talk much, she spends 13 of her 17 waking hours stagnating in that recliner watching shows such as Jerry Springer, CNN, The Price Is Right. Her lunch consists of hush puppies, fried fish sticks, and a belt or two of Jim Beam. When asked about her secret to longevity, she refers mostly to the Dr. Pepper, the Jim Beam, and that no man has stuck around long enough to complicate her life.

I hate Larry King -- but theres nothing else on...

I hate Larry King -- but there's nothing else on...

These are just characters born of my imagination, but they likely represent somebody you know, or have known of. Jim Fixx, author of the famous book, The Complete Book Of Running, died of heart failure in his 50’s. America thought he was in great shape when he died. As a point of fact, he was in great shape. It was not his lack of conditioning which killed him. Teddy Bruschi, a Pro-Bowl linebacker for the New England Patriots had a stroke – in his early 30’s. America thought this was impossible – for such an athlete to have a stroke. Again, this stroke was not for a lack of physical fitness. These are real characters who you probably know of. You no doubt know of other “fit” people like them who have suffered medical traumas or early death despite their high fitness level.

Jim Fixx, running near empty -- and completelyunaware...

Jim Fixx, running near empty -- and completely unaware...

My friend Rich Thompson died in his mid-30s – of cancer. He was as active as any man I have known. He ate well, exercised daily, played baseball regularly, loved life, and had many good friends around him all the time. Most of all, he was a great father. Rich took very good care of himself. I know of nearly a two dozen people who have battled cancer and other life threatening illnesses in past couple of years – many of them under 40 years of age. Some have succumb to these afflictions while others have survived. Some of these people took good care of themselves physically, others not so much. The only thing they have in common is that they never saw it coming. Clearly there are no guarantees, despite what precautions one might take in staving off the grim reaper.

It is a crap shoot. Genetics, environment, circumstances, as well as those all-important choices, contribute to when we go. Many great minds dedicate their lives to finding on how to avoid disease, illness, and minimize the affects of aging. Despite this, there are many more unknowns than there are knowns when it comes to wellness-science. We live, and we go. We go when we are told to go – be it at 43 or 101 years of age.

Life; the ultimate crap-shoot...

Life; the ultimate crap-shoot...

I exercise because first, I enjoy it. Daily exercise is the methadone of my consciousness. I also exercise because I do believe it will help me function at a higher level longer, but I know there are no guarantees. I think it should also be considered that should any of us face life threatening illness or events, being a better conditioned person may enable us to recover from said affliction in a more complete fashion. Being a well conditioned person can better enable one to deal with harsh medical treatments and medications.

There are increasing medical studies which relate regular exercise to a higher level of brain activity, memory, and reaction time. Also there is evidence that suggests daily exercise can help stave off certain diseases such as (types of) cancer, heart disease, and other potential aliments. Not eliminate them – just minimize the risk. I say so often that exercise really does matter in life; that to fulfill our time as the upright hominid stewards of this Earth, we must be in control of our hominid machines. I say nearly as often that exercise really doesn’t matter in life; that in the end we are judged by who we are and what we give, not by the shape of our abs, the speed of our run, or the ability to tie our own shoes. It’s a crap shoot – exercising with the expectations of longevity and a higher quality of life.

Seen here from the outside, he too often lurks within...

Seen here from the outside, too often he lurks within...

Yes, I believe my daily workout does put me in a much better field position than most to live a longer, more active life. Still, I know not were my cancer hides, for it has not exposed itself – yet. I feel no tiny holes in my heart, but they could be there. Aneurysm? Aneur-maybe, and probably when I am least expecting. If a stroke is right around the corner in my day today, I am no more aware of it than I am of that little piece of space junk aiming for my forehead right now. Each day is a gift. And yes, I believe my daily workout will help keep me from being just another wagging tongue of drool, seated in a wheel chair and haphazardly shoveling Salisbury steak into my trembling mouth at Shady Acres when I’m 83 years old. But ultimately I know each day is just a throw of the dice. 

Blowing silence

My body, under the stress of lifting weights, is always held tight. Good form must prevail. My trunk and core are rigid throughout. The only action I allow during my resistance training is movement from the muscles I am trying to engage while lifting. The rest of my body, I envision, is made from stone. This keeps me injury free, maximizes the use of my body’s energy, and promotes greater intensity in my strength training. Beyond that, there must be proper breathing.
Good form must prevail...

Good form must prevail. Good breathing is at the heart of it all...

There is a leak though, within the scope of my good exercise form. I never knew it was there until today — until a gym member slapped me across the face with this information, and then handed it to me in a paper bag to carry around for the rest of my life. Sadly, I speak of a trait which I have grown to despise in others through the years – to the point where I have made many jokes of such violators. A violation of exercise protocol so sacred I may not workout again until I get this resolved within myself.

I now confess; I am a breathe-counter – one who counts his repetitions aloud and breathes his air out simultaneously. Who knew? At least one person.

I have explained many times to my students how important it is to exhale through the mouth during the concentric phase of resistance training. That a steady outflow of air minimizes the temporary state of high blood pressure which exists while weight is being lifted. That to talk, even to count aloud during this phase of exercise will disrupt that steady air flow, so there is to be no talking by my students. What is counting, if not talking — in numbers?

"threeeeeeeee.... foooooooour......"

"threeeeeeeee.... foooooooour......"

Yes, under the stress of the weights, while exerting my will against gravity, I disrupt my should-be breathing pattern and restrict my outward air flow by counting my repetitions and breathing simultaneously. God, where was I and what was I doing when I went so tragically wrong. I thought I was far above and beyond these actions. “I must be perfect in the gym” I often tell myself — to walk the walk in the presence of my students. Now I learn that I am not perfect; I am a breathe-counting schlub. Will my mother speak with me again? My father, am I still in his will? The shame of it all. The shame of being both a Cohen and a breathe-counter. Bhha-a-a-a-a says this black sheep, bhha-a-a-a-a.

I have known and seen many breathe-counters through the years. In truth, most seem to be men and women of virtue, people of faith, and of high moral standards like you and I. The very fact that they exercise says much about their human quality. Still, I have always felt eerie in the presence of breathe-counters, and would not want my sister to marry one. In fact, I have thought to myself many times that gym life would be better if breathe-counters were to be confined to separate facilities; internment gyms. Now I must accept that I too belong on the kibbutz of kinetic counting.

Breathe-counter Louise is mocked and shunned by her peers....

Breathe-counter Louise is mocked and shunned by her peers....

There may be hope. Though there is no “cure” for breathe-counting, there are treatments. A less rigorous exercise program designed around nasal breathing is one option. The intensity must be lowered to accommodate the smaller air passage, but it might be used to train myself into silent breathing. There is also yoga, where breathing matters most and where silence is absolute in the presence of most yoga instructors. Above all though, there could be the cold turkey approach; continued lifting, but silence in my breathing. Silence? An action so foreign to me I had to look up it’s meaning in the dictionary; a speechless moment. Not likely, not for this orator of athletic endeavors. Guess I’ll switch to nasal breathing with flared nostrils and closed lips. Hope you never need to. Be well.

The battlefield; the 11th question

A battlefield exists, different than any you can imagine. A barren place, where the landscape is nebulous; void of boundaries and borders. It’s a place of infinite width, depth, and breadth. It’s a place with everywhere to run, and nowhere to hide. A theater where an ongoing battle takes place between the opposing forces of ability and reason, and where the tenets of can versus should regularly attack each other unprovoked. Ironically, these two opposite sides of an identical concept, take direction from one leader – instructing both camps and orchestrating both sides to fully leverage their potential against one another. This battleground? You guessed it – it’s all in my head.

This battle which takes place between the two sides of my mind, ability and reason, only sees victory in the clear answer to one simple question. A question that is at the very core of my daily cause: Just because somebody can do something in exercise and fitness, does it mean that they should?  Even with no answer, their can be great value, and knowledge gained, just by considering the question.

There are many concepts in exercise, many methods, trends, agendas, and strategies offered by so many, too many, practitioners. On the receiving end, there are many objectives, much desire, and many, too many, wants — plenty to go around on both sides. Is there a right way, I often wonder? Who’s to say what’s wrong? Just because a 73 year old woman can bench press 90 pounds, does it mean she should? Will that action improve, in any way, her health or her quality of life? Before that question can be fully answered, the question should also be raised: What might be the consequence of that action? Question further: Could it hinder or adversely affect, in any way, her health or quality of life? Further still: If the 73 year old woman can bench press 90 pounds without consequence and chooses not to, is that choice wrong as well?

That was just a sample question, but the ideology behind it can apply to everyone who exercises regularly, within any genre of fitness. As well, it can also be applied by those who compete in athletics, whether at the Olympic level, or just running the neighborhood 5k: Just because you can, does it mean you should. Though I might be able to run a marathon at the age of 47, should I? What will be gained? What will be lost? Will my life, my health, be affected by this positively, negatively, or not at all?

The idea of healthier eating can be contemplated by this question as well: Just because we can eat low-carb, low-fat, Zone, Atkins, or Primal diets, etc., does it mean we should? And if we can eat this way but we choose not to, does it mean we have failed ourselves? The answers to these questions are not as easy to come by as one might think, and they are very personal indeed. One has to exercise supreme honesty to gain anything from asking and answering these questions of one’s own self.

These answers ultimately are relative to one’s objectives in exercise, in eating, and in life.

That’s the point I am attempting to make should you wish to begin or expand your fitness regimen. Before you join a gym, sign on to work with a trainer, before you even plan your next workout, run, ride, or swim, or subscribe to a particular style of eating, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is it you are trying to accomplish?
  2. What is the risk involved with your long-term and short-term health?
  3. Is your goal achievable?
  4. If it is achievable, is it realistic for you and your circumstance?
  5. How long will it take you to achieve your goal?
  6. How much time do you have to dedicate to this endeavor?
  7. Do you have the financial means to achieve this?
  8. What gets sacrificed along the way; family, work, friends, other hobbies, etc.?
  9. Will the results be worth the sacrifice, the investment of your time, and the investment of your money?
  10. Who are you doing it for? (To me, this question is as important as any)

Only after these questions have been answered, can a form begin to take shape with one’s fitness structure. A plan can be conceived, a framework constructed, a timetable can be set, and the work towards completion can begin. But then still looms that other question, the 11th question: Just because somebody can do something in exercise and fitness, does it mean that they should?

Ultimately, I believe the answer to this question is unattainable. However, my belief that it’s an unattainable answer isn’t enough to stop me from considering this question daily as it relates to my own quest in exercise, and on behalf of those who trust me with their time and their money, to culture their fitness objectives.

Most adults who take to exercise for the first time offer me this simple statement; “I want to look and feel better”. Good reason enough I suppose and it is probably be best left at that. However, I have always suggested people new to exercise contemplate the 10 questions above before they begin. As I grow older though, the 11th question has eclipsed the other 10 — just seems more important than the others.

In my own life I have trained as a springboard diver, a soccer player, a bodybuilder, a powerlifter, a cyclist, a sprinter, a kayaker, adventure racer, and even got caught in the yoga trap for a while. I just completed my first marathon – because I could and because I wanted to. Still, does that mean I should have?

This is a question worth considering. Though no clear answer may ever come from asking yourself this, much knowledge and personal insight can be gained in the search for the answer. And even if it is answered in the short term, it is likely that in time that answer will change as it is applied to different forms of exercise and competitive goals throughout your life. As we grow older, the term fitness should evolve to mean different things at different stages of one’s life.

I do believe this, and perhaps this is as close to an answer as I will offer to others: If you can, if you want to, if you don’t sacrifice too much to achieve it, and your health won’t be adversely affected, then just maybe you should.

 

Of experts, agendas, and mindful consideration

There are some intelligent, passionate, and mindful people in the online health and fitness community. Observing people, who endeavor to evoke thought and promote dialogue on a variety of fitness related topics, by way of the internet. They do so in recognition that they are not experts, but insightful enthusiasts who wish to exchange values and ideas with others connected to this world-wide platform.

There are many more who possess even higher intelligence, without the quality of mindfulness. I refer to these people as experts. I view their websites and read their blogs, and I see layer upon layer of intelligence and expertise – intermingled within layer upon layer of agenda. Agenda, even above misinformation, is one element of the internet which can make learning sketchy, if not dangerous. Where is mindfulness? Where is discussion? Where is respect? Agenda disallows these.

I’m not even an expert on me, let alone on anyone or anything beyond me. I’ll master me first, and then perhaps then I will move on to mastering you. In the mean time, I just want to talk about exercise and where it may, or may not, fit into your own agenda, in this era of modern man. I wish to cultivate and share some good conversations about fitness and exercise along the way. I am passionate about exercise. I believe in the values of exercise. I believe this would be a better nation if everyone invested in daily action.

There are many genres and subcultures of exercise touted in the online fitness community. The Primal or Paleo lifestyle. Kettlebells. CrossFit. Yoga. Pilates. Running. Kickboxing. Triathlons. Spinning. Participatory sports such as soccer, softball, tennis, golf, etc., all have their online platforms and devotees. There are also Tai Chi, martial arts, and the like. There are obstacle courses being built in parks and strip malls all over the country, and blogs which tell you how to best utilize them, and the list goes on still. Then, there is bodybuilding. In the case of bodybuilders, they are to the online fitness community, what Israel is to the global community; nobody likes them, everyone is critical of them, but one would be wise to appreciate and respect their fortitude and discipline. Afront all of these disciplines, are many self-christened experts – leaders prescribing how things ought to be, and how you and I ought to do them.

There is plenty of science to back up what the experts of these disciplines preach, and they are quick to pepper our computer screens with buckshot blast after blast of numbers supporting their agendas with that science. Within the science though, there is always contradiction. These contradictions make for heated discussions, elicit passionate dialogue, and create divisiveness among the experts and constituents alike. This is the point when leaders, wanting to be heralded as masters, begin to lead from the front of the line, and not from the back – where from great leaders usually command.

Obscured by this comotion is the much larger picture of what, I believe, exercise and fitness should be about; play and prayer – for the mind, body and spirit. Exercise and fitness, in any form, can be the play and prayer from which one can better cultivate one’s inner and outer self – in ways which might eventually promote an expertise of one’s self. In the contradicting agendas of how we should play, it is lost by the experts that what matters most is that we play.

That which I play, I play wrong according to many experts, and they are quick to tell me. Wrong according to them – just right according to me. I just like to play. I like playing with weights. I like to play with hiking trails. I like to play with kayaks. I like to play with sprints, pull-ups, push-ups, and do so daily. I even like to play with modern electrical cardio equipment too. My exercise is both my play and my pray – despite that my protocols of play may not be consistent with science based agendas of the experts.

Lest the experts not forget, it is play. I wish I could make a COEXIST-type logo supporting all disciplines of exercise; an ecumenical trademark of exercise tolerance, promoting the sharing of, and the respect of commonalties among fitness values and ideals. A statement denouncing the contradictory behaviors and agendas which so many have with regard to the exercise platforms and protocols of others.

COEX(ER)IST! Please...

COEX(ER)IST! Please...

Time stands still. I’m fortunate; I get to do summer vacation for a living. Those who aren’t as fortunate need be thrifty with their decisions of play – make your fitness work for you, guilt free, and strive to become an expert on yourself. Consider that both play, and pray be at the core of your daily action. That’s my agenda and I’m sticking to it.

This post was inspired by my online friends, Dr. J and Gal Josefsberg. Please visit their blogs when you have time.  They are two of the more mindful bloggers I read. I respect each of them for their lack of agenda, and they’re willingness to share and promote dialogue. It’s an online kinda of fellowship.  Be well.  rc

The faith of fitness

Fitness is both concept and ideal. I often use metaphor in speaking about fitness – to relate fitness choices to other areas of life where we may be more prone to making mindful choices. The realm I compare fitness to most is that of faith – reverent faith. Fitness dogma may sound silly, but there is a definite parallel between religious faith, and the realization of fitness objectives.

To succeed in fulfilling a fitness goal, there must first be curiosity. After curiosity, there must be appreciation for structure, for leadership, for observance, obedience, and for ritual. Finally, there must be belief; the belief that something better awaits a person for adhering to the concept and the ideal. Sounds like religion to me.

Should exercise be observed as a religion? It already is by some. Although I celebrate exercise as I celebrate religion, it is not where my true faith lies, but it is where my ritual best connects me to my creator. Suggesting that exercise be the new world religion could be as offensive to some people, as suggesting that Toy Poodle be the next white meat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a blasphemer of biceps, and I don’t see fitness as being divine – exercise is not what created me.

In the absence, however, of ever identifying a creator, perhaps when can get to know our creator better through exercise – I have certainly lived an entire life time doing this. Exercise has been the path to all I know, and all I am. If my creator did make me in his own image, I can honestly say that I have nurtured and fulfilled that image the best way I can, and honored that creator in the process.

So I wonder today, whatever your faith, whatever your religious convictions, what will you do to your body to be appreciated by your creator. More specifically, what would your creator think of all that you choose not to do with your body today. Do you truly treat your body as the metaphoric temple of your creator? Or, do you treat your body as a vehicle of forgivable sin?

Like a rental car, your body is just a loaner, and it must be turned back to the rightful owner when you are done with it. So I ask you, are you the type of person who would abuse a rental car, or the type of person who would respect a rental car and return it in tact?

One never knows when one will be asked to give back the keys – and the car. The stakes and consequences, I suspect, are much higher in offering a proper return of your body. Be well.

 

Of making ketchup and growing old…

(Originally written in June of 2006)

I might suggest, that I not suggest. You see, I’m dying. Don’t cry, don’t cry, you’re dying too and I’m not crying for you. We’re all dying, we just won’t know when that moment will arrive until it arrives.

I think about dying more these days because like you and me, my father too is dying. Though in the case of my father I have a more clear idea of when; soon. Soon saddens me. Not just sadness for my father, but in my father’s proximity to death, I must look my own mortality in the eyes. This reflection haunts me.

My father left his home one afternoon several weeks to frequent the emergency room due to a an overwhelming, non-specific weakness in his body. This is a cyclical condition he has lived with for several years now; an increasing lack in mobility due to aging, poor eating, and a life of inactivity over the age of 75. On his way out of his front door enroute the hospital my father didn’t bother to turn off his television or lock the front door. He had been through this before and expected to be home, medications in hand, by dinner time. He had no idea that he would never return home.

He is now bed-bound and in nursing care where he will live out all his days, unable to ever regain his mobility. He now toggles between bed, a recliner, and a motorized scooter, with no in-between inbetween but for the sturdy shoulders of his care takers — to lean upon during the transitions. All time is spent at rest, and rest is not as comfortable for him as that word implies.

Me and Pops, Jan. 2009.  I'm the one in the red shirt...

Me and Pops, Jan. 2009. I'm the one in the red shirt...

 

 

It wasn’t always that way, my father was once my age and he was active. I remember my father one Sunday morning when I was a child; he was standing over a pot of red sauce boiling over on to the stove top below. He was making his own ketchup because he didn’t want to ingest all the sugar that was in the store bought ketchup. Eating well mattered to my father back then and grilled swordfish and vegetables were the order of the day. I reflect on that memory frequently these days, as I regularly make my own salad dressings – not wanting to ingest the all the sugar from store-bought salad dressings. I think about the value of good eating vs. poor eating – of the value of exercise vs. stagnation and I wonder. But it’s a two-way contemplation.

I wonder that since we’re all dying anyway what is the point of fitness – of a fitness lifestyle…? Exercise and mindful eating are the great dilemmas in my life. If we get but one life to live, should it not be lived free, enjoyed, maximized, and fulfilled. A fitness lifestyle you see, is not exactly free. Fitness is restrictive, and can often charge a premium for one’s participation. Fitness; exercise, healthy foods, the planning involved, the dedication, time spent, and so-on, costs. It costs time, moments, and effort.

Here’s the core of this dilemma: I suggest that fitness can extend one’s life, and improve one’s quality of life. That’s always been my perception. Since I was a small boy I have wanted to live to be 100 years old – still driving at that age, still making love, and still tying my own shoes. Or two out of three anyway. The exchange rate for a life of exercise and fitness, I have thought, would pay large dividends well into my functional octogenarianism, and beyond.

I did the math recently, and now I’m not so sure. If I add up all my workout sessions of varying fitness disciplines I have done, and will continue to do through my adult to the age of say, 80 years old, it will equal some 21,000 hours (about 2.5 years) of exercise. What else could I have done with that time. What volunteer work, what studying, what conversations, what readings, what meaningful circumstances would be lost to exercise in the course of my life? And lost for what, better abs, better fitting jeans, or keeping the ability to tie my own shoes at 80?

Now time to subtract. If I subtract all the good times I have missed in favor of fitness, if I subtract all the good foods I’ve missed in favor of fitness, if I subtract all the moments of personal relationships I’ve forsaken in favor of fitness, my quality of life would too have suffered. Fitness in this context would keep me bound and not allowed me to maximize my human experiences and freedoms. When I consider all of this, it too saddens me.

Then, I remember the man I saw in the hospital bed last week in Las Vegas needing the help of two people to transcend from his bed into a chair, and I wonder still. I remember the time two years ago when I saw my father eating cannolis and slices of pizza at a Las Vegas buffet. He was already using a walker at the time, so he sent my daughter to retrieve his entrees and desserts for him – too difficult to do it himself.

So what is the answer to this conundrum? Moderation I suppose. Reasonable expectations, reasonable effort, reasonable sacrifice, and a reasonable investment in time in exercise and mindful eating. The reward? A reasonably long, reasonably healthy, and reasonably well enjoyed life – I guess.

There is no right or wrong here. I suggest that I not suggest. Should we expect fitness to lengthen our life, and to enhance our quality of life, it should be a commitment that is life long. Two and one-half years of exercise in the course of an 80+ year life is but a drop in the bucket at times, and a huge waste at other times. If we forsake fitness ideals in exchange for moments, we will definitely gather more moments; cannolis, pizzas, movies, and the like. In gathering those moments, we may also be setting us up for more moments – moments with care takers. Still, I wonder……

 

Living inside the dime

For those who know me well, and for those who are savvy enough to read between my lines, it is understood that I live my fitness life between the two sides of a dime. I exist in a chaos sandwich.
What some call I dime, I call a chaos sandwich...

What some call a dime, I call home. In the middle? Its not a site for kids...

The face of my dime is more western in nature; action in exchange for immediate gratification. Exercise which takes place with purpose, in whatever form, is often intense, present daily, and representative of a very specific value-set. This value-set perceives exercise as a vehicle which should enhance my quality of existence, and maximizes my now. To better understand this mind-set, one need only consider my friend Debbie who, at 57, just won a triathlon – again. Her physical contemporaries are 20 years younger. Her chronological contemporaries have prescriptions to be picked up. The face of this dime is etched with the silhouette of achievement. 

What I had wanted for the face of my dime...

What I had wanted for the face of my dime...

The tail of the dime faces east and represents lesser actions. These lesser actions are practiced for a less glorious now, but a more likely tomorrow. The tail of this dime is etched with the silhouette of physical thrift. This side of the dime recognizes that from doing a little less can come a little more. This value-set understands modest exercise has utility; serving to prolong life by not overdoing life. A car driven harder and more frequently will likely go to the junk yard sooner. To better understand this mind-set, one need consider my friend Benny, who walks, stretches, practices yoga, and does so in moderation. He is 62 and has not seen a doctor in 32 years.
The etching of my dimes tail...

What I suspect will be etched on my dime's tail...

What lies between the two sides of the dime, is the tight space where I lay in my bed of discomfort each night, crying myself to sleep in the emotional chaos of coveting both sides of the dime. In appreciating the aspects and value of each side, I have tried to negotiate between the two sides for several years now. The differences, as described above, can be thought of as comparable to those differences between eastern and western thought.

The view from inside my dime...

The view from inside my dime...

It occurs to me now, in this cathartic moment, I can just as easily suggest that the face of this dime represents my years up to age 50. The tail of the dime represents my years left to come, post-50, however many there may be. Perhaps that is why this narrow space where I live, between the two sides of the dime, has been so chaotic for me. I stand on the edge of 50, having lived as a young man – surrounded daily by life in a western world. As I prepare to step over the line of 50, imploring an increasingly eastern set of values inside, I am that much more confused, though at least I am aware.

Old bodybuilders... that aint right...

Old bodybuilders; that ain't right! Or perhaps it is...?

There is no real moral here, no point to be made for the reader, scarcely a lesson to be learned. Just the observation of a boy and his weights, hailing from the west – growing into a man and his walks and postures, attempting to settle his soul in the east, and trying to figure it all out.

I suppose if there could be one lesson learned here it is this; that either side of the coin is actually quite peaceful. It is in attempting to live between the two sides when chaos is created. But isn’t that one of the great lessons in life?

Wow, where was I and what might I have been doing the day that lesson was taught? Oh yes, I believe I was in the gym. Be well.

Perhpas, inmy case, its just a Gemini thing...

Perhaps, in my case, its just a Gemini thing...

“Hypers” Nickname of the greatest

Hypers.  That terms has appeared in my personal exercise journal more than any other noun in the past 20 years.  In my quasi-hieroglyphic journaling style, hypers simply refers to one exercise; the Hyper Extension, also known as the Low-back Extension.  For it’s  ability to offer strength to the lower back, hip, and glute areas, I give this exercise more consideration than I give to any other – in, or out of the gym.

If "core strength" has an altar...

If "core strength" has an altar...

As I point to the device above, the first sentence I speak, during the first workout with any new student is this,

“If you only have 15 minutes to go to the gym each week, you should spend 5 of those minutes doing this exercise.”

I then proceed to demonstrate low back extensions done both in proper, and in poor form, so they can visualize the distinction.

I continue,

“Depending how they are done, low-back extensions can significantly enhance your lower back strength, and thus contribute to your posture and over all strength more than any other exercise I know.  Done with less than proper form, they can profoundly screw up your lower back.”

Core strength is a very sexy term in fitness these days.  I don’t buy into it as a concept – not at all.  Discussing the importance of lower back strength is as close as I am willing to get in addressing the concept of core training.  Core strength is the snake oil of the modern fitness salesman.  The concept of core strength sells books, magazines, and devices like nothing in fitness ever has.  Core strength for masses, of course, is all about abs.

If there is a core, your abs are in the vicinity, but not at the center, and should not be the primary to one’s fitness agenda.  If there is a real core, it is the musculature of the lower back, gluteal muscles, and upper thighs.

What

  • Low-back extensions done properly and consistently, will help strengthen, and improve flexibility of the musculature of the lower back.
  • They help stretch, strengthen, and improve flexibility in the hamstrings.
  • They will also strengthen and harden the gluteal muscles.
  • In all three cases, the lower back, the hamstrings, and the glutes, low-back extensions can also have a major influence on the aesthetics of these areas as well – dietary considerations must be in place for these benefits to be noticed.
  • Be you competitive athlete, weekend warrior, gardener, or just plain active liver of life, including the low-back extension into your fitness regimen can offer you added strength, and serve you well in helping keep your lower back injury free.

Don’t

  • Don’t cheat this exercise.  To reap the benefit, movement must be kept pure.  Don’t swing, or allow momentum to be used in any way to continue the exercise.  Low-back extensions can cause a significant burning sensation in the musculature of the lower back.  This should not be worked through.  Rather, when it goes it goes – your instincts will tell you when to stop.  I suggest you listen.

How

  • Place your feet on the pedestal and extend your body beyond the support pads in an erect posture.
  • Bring arms close together at the chest, parallel to one another, not crossed.  This arm position provides the best position for a neutral spinal posture.
  • Lower your torso slowly (about 6 seconds), bending at the hip joint only, taking caution not to bend or breach the middle spine.  The rest of the spine should remain in a rigid alignment with a slight inward curvature through the middle spine.
  • Lower no further than to a natural stop.  At this point you will feel a tight sensation behind the knees where the hamstrings merge to connect behind the knee.  This is a normal sensation and is to be expected.
  • Breath in and out naturally while you are lowering yourself to the bottom position.
  • Raise yourself up slowly *(about 4-6 seconds).  Lead with the shoulders and upper back as you begin the motion upward.
  • Exhale slowly as you rise until you reach the top of the motion where you began.  At this point you will feel a hard contraction in your glutes and in the muscles of the lower back.  This is normal and to be expected.
  • Hold the top position for a “2” count, while taking gentle breaths.  Repeat the exercise as many times as you are comfortable doing.  Two to three sets of 8-12 repetition  one to two times per week should provide noticeable improvement in strength and flexibility with in several weeks.

 

Testament

In my studio, there is tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment.  No student, no client has ever asked me to help them purchase any item of strength equipment I own, that they might also have one at their home to use.  No item but one; the low-back extension bench.  I have purchased dozens of these, on request, for clients, friends, and students over the years.  Like the seminal punk bad, The Clash, low-back extensions are the only exercise that matters.  Be well.  rc

Ten things that aren’t cardio

Many of my clients update me on their daily/weekly cardio activities by way of email. I think this is noble, and it is always appreciated — though it isn’t always cardio. And though the line between exercise and cardio can be fine, it is more often broad — especially under the confluent human behaviors of rationalization and indolence.

Here are the ten most common non-cardio cardio sessions I receive from week to week.

  1. Mowing the lawn. This is definitely work and there are calories burned to be sure. But the calories burned are relative to the size of the lawn, and the equipment being used. If you’re mowing ten acres with a tractor, you are still going for a ride. If you’re mowing a quarter acre on a 21% grade with a push-mower, there may actually be a sweat brewin’, still not necessarily cardio.
  2. Chasing the kids. Chasing the kids is to cardio, as getting a beer is to halftime — not exercise. Nope, not too many calories burned chasing the kids. Accelerated heart rate and frustration yes, but that’s not the healthiest way to increase your pulse. Unless your child is on the treadmill in front of you, or you are chasing them from San Diego to Carlsbad, probably not sufficient cardio.
  3. Walking the hills of Fallbrook (or any community). By far the most common cardio session I receive each week. Walking can actually be cardio, but as I drive the hills of Fallbrook, I observe how people walk. This activity can be a very healthy endeavor, as well as relaxing. But cardio, true cardio? More often than not, these walks are very healthy, but not true cardio — not in the fat burning sense that most people are seeking.
  4. Sex. I had a woman ask me recently if sex was cardio. Like mowing the lawn, this is relative to the size of the lawn and the equipment used. Anyway, sex, like other physical activities, is exercise and can burn calories. Only the lucky ones can count it as fat-burning cardio.
  5. Cleaning the house. Very seldom do I clean mine, so I can’t really say. This I know; if you’re breathing hard and sweating, and maintaining a heart rate of 130+ bmp for an extended period, your housework may be cardio. Otherwise, it’s just housework and that’s why I never do it.
  6. Walking on the beach. See number 3, and then reduce it’s metabolic and caloric value since the beach is that much more relaxing.
  7. Gardening. Great dexterity, flexibility, and balance developed here if you adhere to, and maintain good postures during your planting and yard grooming activities. Calories burned? Not too many. Calories grown? Depends on what you’re planting. Gardening is a great activity — but not a major fat burner.
  8. Waxing the car. This is exercise to be sure. Especially for the right deltoid — wax on/wax off, that sort of thing. Just like a tennis player, you can tell a car enthusiast at a glance, by the disparity of the size and definition of his right arm and shoulder relative to the one on his left side. He’ll still have a belly though, unless he does some real cardio.
  9. Visiting SeaWorld. Even if you run through SeaWorld at a sprinters pace, any would-be cardio will be offset by two words: Funnel Cake.
  10. Shopping at the mall, Costco, Ikea and other large profile structures. Okay, I actually do consider this cardio because I really do run to get in and out of these wretched places as fast as possible. Most linger though, and there are few calories spent in lingering.

“Cardio” in the perception of a fitness enthusiast is a way to coax the body into losing body fat, minimizing blood sugar, and increasing and maintaining a higher heart-rate. However, in the mind of a fitness professional, this entails reaching a certain heart rate, and maintaining that heart rate for an extended period of time. Exercises which will promote this include the usual fair; rigorous walking, running, cycling (stationary or hard road time), stair stepping, elliptical trainers, etc.

In simplistic terms, cardio for the purpose of fat loss can be described as follows: Exercising, breathing hard, sweating — and maintaining that level of intensity for 30-45 minutes. That is more likely to be cardio than the 10 items listed above.

That’s not to say that the activities listed aren’t good. There is value in all exercise; all movement is good. Decreased blood pressure, burning blood-sugar before it turns to fat, stress relief, mental clarity, improved balance, increased flexibility can all developed by embracing the ten listed activities. But as a means of cardio for the sake of fat loss, stick to the standard fair, and stick to ’em like glue.