Science in, science out

The cyber universe is a scary place; theft of personal information, political opinions running unbridled, pornography, what we now call news, and even cyber-bullying in the modern era. All disturbing. I find the internet just as disturbing though, as it relates to fitness and exercise. So many out there know so much it seems. I have been reading lately, a great deal about fitness and exercise from fitness related blogs (sources), as they relate to a variety of fitness practitioners, disciplines, and disciples. Weed through the crap though, and there is some powerful information available – by way of science, I guess.

I have stated for many years that I believe we over complicate fitness with science. That to quantify what can or can’t be accomplished by way of exercise, or in what time frame it can or can’t be achieved, all in the name of information derived from the scientific method, shouldn’t matter quite so much as we let it. Yes, I’m down with the scientific method; run an experiment, duplicate the experiment, review the data, make your conclusion – the method does work. However, I don’t believe that information learned from the scientific method should be the exclusive remedies for many of our fitness decisions – and ambitions. Fitness is much more personal than that.

As mentioned, there is much good information out there; information provided by smart, often brilliant people, trying to make a difference in the lives of others and in the world as a whole – valid information, confirmed with the scientific method. Will that information alone be enough to engage and help change everyone whom it reaches? I question further, in sometimes choosing against the scientific method – in taking a different path than what has been proven in the lab, does that automatically make a fitness choice wrong, as the scientist might suggest? I believe these questions are worthy of consideration. Fitness isn’t cold fusion, and it shouldn’t be linear; defined alone by charts, graphs, percentages, patterns, and probabilities. Fitness is much more malleable, and in my opinion, much more important than that.

Fitness (depending on how it is defined), above everything else, is about getting to know one’s own self in the most intimate way possible; by attempting to master one’s own physicality. The scientific method may provide a good trail, but it may not always provide the proper motivation nor the best reasons to stay on that trail. The best path to mastering one’s self may not necessarily come from an experiment and a data review from within the lab. Rather, a more appropriate path, and result may come from the lab within. That’s where philosophy, attitude, and instinct can not only help, but can sometimes trump the scientific method – so far as reasoning and motivation go – and results often follow.

A few questions relating to your personal fitness worth considering, which fall outside of the scientific method, are as follows:

  1. Do you enjoy doing it?
  2. What is the benefit of that enjoyment?
  3. What is the cost of that enjoyment?
  4. Do your instincts suggest you should not do this?
  5. Do your desires suggest you should do this?
  6. What is the emotional price of not doing it?
  7. What are your priorities?
  8. Where does your motivation come from?

These are just some of the infinite questions you can ask yourself, from the lab within, about your own fitness program – many of which have nothing to do with science.

In my own instance, my first fitness value has nothing to do with losing weight, decreasing bodyfat, lowering blood pressure, looking good, etc. Simply put, my daily cardio, for prolonged periods of time, keeps me sane. It is the methadone that keeps the shakes and shivers of my everyday life at bay. High-intensity, long-duration cardio has proven to be a great mood stabilizer – for me, despite that some data suggests this is a lesser protocol.

In his seminal piece, “case against cardio”, fitness savant Mark Sission (who seems much smarter than I am) suggests, by way of the scientific method, that my way of doing cardio is not only inefficient for me, it is counterproductive. This may be true on one or more technical fronts, but on the ultimate front, the science behind his article is inconsequential to me. The ultimate front for me has nothing to do with bodyfat, stress hormones, imunes system, or complex energy systems. The ultimate reason I do high-intensity, long-duration cardio is that it makes me feel good and I LIKE IT! My intense daily cardio has probably helped keep me from killing more than a few people over the years. Ask any cardio junky who has it taken away from them for a week or longer, just how important that calming affect can be.

My point in a nutshell: There is a lot more than science to be considered when nurturing and developing a personal fitness program, whether it relates to eating, or actions. Part of developing a fitness persona is to also develop a deeper soul and a more broad character, while operating within realistic boundaries. These questions above, in my opinion matter just as much, if not more, than those questions posed and answered by way of the scientific method.

Answering these questions honestly, and shaping your exercise and eating habits around these answers may not be scientific – but who’s to say that they are not valid. Science has it’s place, but fitness can be much more personal than that.  Be well.  rc

Race, Pace, or Place; Being A Schmuck Is A Humble Place

(originally written, November, 2008)

My girlfriend, Patti, and I just completed the Long Beach half-marathon – in preparation for a full marathon we will complete in December. This process, the preparation for, and including a full marathon, is to be the Mt. Everest of my adult life. The half-marathon Patti and I completed this weekend went well. We felt strong, and very fit throughout – because we ran our race, and keeping true to one’s own pace for such a distance matters. 

Patti and I, post Long Beach 1/2M.  A great race, a great day...

Patti and I, post Long Beach 1/2M. A great race, a great day...

Every fitness enthusiast has their own story of non-fitness – whether they admit to it or not. This might be mine:

In my adult life I’ve competed in many athletic endeavors; power lifting, ocean-going paddle board racing, springboard diving, sprinting, bodybuilding, and cycling. I have never been though, a distance runner. This year, I have become a bit of a distance runner because my girlfriend is a bit of a distance runner. That is, if my girlfriend became a cross-dressing, Nazi bowling, pole-vaulter, I believe it’s reasonable to suggest that I too would partake in cross-dressing, Nazi bowling, pole-vaulting events. To be fair, it’s really Patti’s friend Kindra who coaxed us in to this. I hate Kindra.

Several months ago, Patti, by way of Kindra who I hate, entered us in a 5K race; the first in a series of races which would lead to our completion of the California International Marathon on December 7th.  A 5K?  No problem, as I already run 3-5 miles on my twice-weekly runs. The race was to take place early on a Saturday morning in July, in good weather, and there was no reason to say no. I committed to the race, took the time off of work, and was ready to begin this first race in preparation for my first marathon. Patti had called the night before to inform me that she would not be able to attend this 5K race – I believeshe needed to overhaul her vacuum cleaner, or dust all the horizontal surfaces in the fish tank, something like that. No biggie. I would trek the 5K alone, thinking of, and missing her with every stride.

On arrival at the race, it quickly became clear that this was not a garden variety, nor even a friendly neighborhood 5K as I had assumed. No, this was a race open to a couple of dozen track clubs from the San Diego and Orange County area, as well as some high school cross country teams. I was outclassed and outmatched by simply arriving. Realizing this, I knew immediately I would not pace well or be competitive in this group. In fact, I soon began to visualize myself crossing the finish line last and alone, with only a sea of crushed paper cups in the dirt to cheer me on.

Withthis competitive set in mind, I thought it best to identify someone who appeared to haveless of a chance here than me – someone withless than a runner’s body, and try and pace with him. This way I could assure a modest pace through the race, and hope for a strong kick at the end in order to run a time inside the perimeters of embarrassment. Gazing the crowd of runners’ bodies it was very hard to identify such a soul, but eventually I did; a man I had been introduced to earlier by Kindra, who I hate, perhaps in his mid-30s and looking, if not soft, not too athletic. He possessed no great deal of muscularity to his legs, and looked as though he spent his 40-hour weeks moving papers from pile A to pile B. Clearly this was my guy. I approached him.

He would be confirmed as my guy moments later as I witnessed him reach into a cooler and extract a bottle of Guinness, and slam it – at 6:55 in the morning! This was definitely my guy – for surely I could pace with a soft looking, Guinness slamming, white collar type. I approached him and asked if I could pace along side him. He said, “No problem,” and a partnership was formed. We made a dash of small talk as we headed slowly with the crowd to the starting line, and he finished his beer. My running mate did no warm up whatsoever except to run to the port-a-potty, and immediately after took his place at the very back of the starting pack, further confirming my choice that this was my guy. When the gun sounded, he and I began to jog – for about 30 seconds. And then, depression set in. Lungs-a-fire would soon manifest.

From the very back of the pack we were mid-pack within 2 minutes, and all of a sudden, I knew this was not my guy. Hell, at this point I wasn’t even sure if he was a mortal guy. I hung on. Slight conversation ensued as we strode side by side. More conversation from him than from me, as I felt just this side of the South Col at Mt. Everest – gasping for air. As we ran, I thought to ask hard questions of him which I knew would keep the onus of the conversation on him, and provide me greater opportunities to breath. One and a half miles in he was done answering all the questions I could think of; about his family, job, background, etc. He then asked me about my job…

…how hard is it, do you suppose, to explain to some non-fit looking, beer drinking runner, who is seamlessly gliding across the hilly terrain, expending no breath and seemingly no energy whatsoever, that “I am a fitness trainer, that’s what I do for a living”, as I gasped for each breath, grunted, twitched, and paused between words? Exactly.

Still, I pushed on. I was just about to lay up and allow him to go on when we approached a local high school cross country team running as a pack. We passed them. We freaking passed a high school cross country team!!! Never before had I done that in a race, and the urge to quit disappeared smartly. For a moment, I was now Edmund Hillary on Everest, and I kept on. My running partner and I came across the 2 mile marker. He was talking of work, wife, and BMWs – I was praying for an earthquake. Not a profound nor damaging earthquake, just one strong enough to ensure the race would be called off instantly. No such luck, we continued.

Mile marker 2.5; that was it for me. “Hey, I’m gonna lay up a bit if you don’t mind?” I asked my pace master shamefully. “No problem” he said, and I slowed up as immediately as he began to speak. As I slowed up, it was obvious that his pace increased. In that, I realized that I wasn’t keeping his best pace, and that he had been holding back all along – for me. Wow. I began feeling very guilty that I might have held him back even though he told me earlier he was “not running for time.”

The last ½ mile I was all but alone on the course, it was reflectiverunning at its best. Instinctively, I knew I had been running my fastest pace in a 5K ever. Aesthetically, I knew I had been beaten by an office guy with a soft chin. The fuzzy, warm tingling of mediocrity had woven its way through my veins like a Demerol IV as I spied the finish line. Despite my lack of air, I kicked and kicked hard. I even passed another school team enroute. Then, I saw a gray haired man a couple of hundred yards in front of me, crossing the finish line – he looked to be in his late 60’s. Suddenly, my inner Edmund Hillary morphed into Beck Weathers, and I felt more like a Special Olympian, just off the short bus, in quest of an honorable mention.

Time: 24:55. My best 5k ever, but not even competitive in this group – unless I had been entered in the 65 and over class, and at that I would have only placed 4th. Later, I would learn my running partner was the president of his chapter of the San Diego Track Club. He had previously run a full marathon in less than 3 hours, and was a damn good runner. Never judge a book by the shape of its legs.

I was a Schmuck on this day, and a humbled schmuck at that. On this day, I chose to run someone else’s race and not my own, and in that there is a lesson to be learned. Not just as it applies to running, but a lesson in life. When one learns to run their own race, at their own pace, inner freedom will pace with you, stride for stride. I hate Kindra still, just not as much.

Redemption/Addendum: 

This Saturday past, June 20, 2009, Kindra and her track club invited me to join them in their incarnation of a beer mile.  A beer mile is….   well, exactly as it sounds.  It’s a race.  A beer is chugged, a 1/4 mile is run, another beer is chugged, another quarter mile is run, and so-on.  Four beers, four 1/4 mile sprints, and hopefully no vomit.  Kindra, who is currently training for the Boston Marathon, is a great runner.  I, who am currently training for life with gray hair, am I hack runner at best.  I beat her in the beer mile — by over a minute.  Read ino this what you will; The beer mile has two components, running and drinking.  If I’m not a good runner and still beat an elite runner, I must be good at…..  Be well, and enjoy a few beer mile pictures.

A beer mile is a dressy afair...A beer mile is a dressy affair…
Dressed like Kenny Chesney, but scrambling like Kenny Stabler -- my first beer mile...Dressed like Kenny Chesney, but scrambling like Kenny Stabler — my first beer mile…

 

What I lack in running skills, I make up for in... What I lack in running skills, I make up for in…

 

And the award for Best Newcomer goes to... And the award for Best Newcomer goes to…

 

Patti and Kindra; my best friend and my bets enemy :-)Patti and Kindra; my best friend and my bets enemy 🙂

What Price, Friendship…?

I have never thought of myself as someone who is likeable. From my earliest memories, kids and contemporaries teased me, challenged me, fought with me, criticized me, and when all that wasn’t going on they just ignored me. As a child, I couldn’t buy a friend, and my fondest memories of growing up were held in solitude; moments of wonder witnessed and appreciated by only me.

I took to individual sports early rather than team sports as a result of that isolation. Diving and weightlifting captivated me most during my early adolescence and into my teens. However, one trumped the other as the desire for big squats, big biceps, and a big bench press aren’t too consistent with fluid diving, graceful body rotation, nor a seamless entry into the water – big weights and the diving board just didn’t mix and in the end the weight room won.

I would rarely leave the comfort of my isolation growing up. What few friends I had are still my friends and I remain in touch with them to this day. As such, the word friend has carried a powerful meaning with me because its’ use by me is limited to so few. A true friend, I decided early on, would be a friend for life. As a one-on-one fitness trainer, I have had to reexamine my definition of the word friend and accept that the word friend has evolved for me – and I am glad.

Before I agree to work with a would-be client, I first interview them and explain in detail my perspective on exercise, fitness, and the relationship between trainer and trainee. My purpose in doing this is to ensure I am a good fit for them, and they for me. During the course of those interviews I always take time to explain that,

“I am not a bartender, I am not a therapist, nor am I a hairdresser.”

I’ve said it so many times now that it must sound pretty canned. I reiterate to my prospective client during these conversations,

“I’m sure you have a great job, a great family, and a great life. If you wish to talk to me about those things with me, please take me to lunch or buy me a beer and you can tell me all about them.”

Lastly, the rant goes,

“When we are in my studio working out, I insist that all conversation be limited to the topics of exercise, fitness, and proper eating – nothing more.”

On hearing this, people are always quick to agree and steadfast in assuring me that is “exactly” what they are looking for in a trainer. By the 3rd or 4th session though, I find myself hearing things that have nothing to do with fitness whatsoever; jobs, kids, spouses, hobbies, etc. No matter how much I try to squelch the non-fitness conversation, usually by the 10th or 12th session, I will know more about my clients than I ever wanted to. In fairness, they learn a bit about me along the way as well. Where I was once resentful of this dynamic, I now realize how valuable it has been in gaining trust. Trust is the key element in fitness education. More so, I am grateful for how this dynamic has enriched my life and my personality. I am a better person for these relationships.

My product is not the workout, though the workouts are always good. My product is not my equipment, though my equipment is state of the art. My product is not my ability to motivate, understand, educate, or even communicate, though I do strive to excel in all these areas. My product as a fitness trainer, is the sum of all these elements wrapped, and I believe I offer a fair product.

That said, I also realize I’m more likeable now than I was as a kid; I must be or people wouldn’t choose to pay and spend hours per week with me. The term client quickly gives way to the term friend and these people are my friends – and in time they become my friends first and clients second. They see value not just in what I have to say and teach regarding their health and fitness, but in what I have to say regarding life; politics, religion, philosophy, et all – even if they don’t always agree with my values.

Therein lies a trainer’s paradox; that these people are paying me for my time and expertise in fitness. At some point though, for my long-term clients, I believe they are also paying me for my friendship and they may not even be aware of it. In my life, I have traced no line more blurry than that, and I spend a great deal of time trying to distinguish the absolutes on both sides of that blurry line. Even now, I’m not sure how this makes me feel, and those feelings fluctuate from day to day. Are they my friend? Are they my client? Are they getting what they are paying for? What are they paying for? In order to successfully march forward each day, I must be the first one to see value in my product.

Lou Gehrig famously described himself as the “luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” I truly believe that I am the luckiest man on Earth, though I guess this can’t be accurately measured. I’m lucky for so many reasons – too numerous to count. Mostly I’m lucky because each day of my work life is the sum of effort, simplicity, reward, success, and friendship. What a great work day.

I work from home. My commute involves stepping over my dog as I enter the studio where I train my clients. I mostly dress in shorts and tank tops. My clients, those friends who entrust with their fitness goals, are willing to pay for my knowledge, drive to receive it, endure the physical discomfort of the exercise, and leave telling me how much they “love it”.

And for all of this ease on my part, my bills are always paid, there’s money in the bank, my fridge is always full, and I sleep warm and safe with a roof over my head. I earn my keep by helping people improve their bodies as well as allowing them to empty their psyches — and most days I do all of this in bare feet. Who would ask for more?

Yes, I earn my keep as a fitness trainer, as therapist, and even as a friend. Where I once couldn’t buy a friend, I now get paid to be one. In the end, I truly am the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I wish those kids who pelted me with rubble, debris, and various insults at the school bus stop could see me now. See me? Hell they probably couldn’t catch me if I ran, and these days, I wouldn’t even think about running.  Be well.

Afterbirth…

Like other parents, I have actively sold my daughter’s birth as the happiest moment of my life; a graduation, lottery win, and Olympic gold medal rolled into one. To suggest anything else would be to isolate me from my social peers. Though this action may be unpopular, I now choose to confess an emotional perjury and state for the record that the moment my daughter was born was not the happiest moment of my life. It wasn’t even near the top of the list, and yes there is a list.

For both mother and father, child birth is frightfully magnificent, exhausting, fantastic, grotesque, and profound, but not altogether happy. Least of all, the happiest moment of one’s life. Happiness would come later on.

The happiest moment of my life came just days after my daughter’s birth, as I watched my tired wife carry our weighty bundle into our new daughter’s apartment home for the first time. Chelsea immediately burst into tears, succumbing to the stress of the flashbulbs, the family, the commotion, and the barking dogs. My happiness soon did fleet.

Soon after, the real happiest moment of my life would appear when Chelsea demonstrated an exceptional commitment to human conveyance and, like an inch worm, transferred herself from one end of the living room floor to the other. I later discovered that Chelsea had not crawled at all, but had been pushed by my dog as he was searching out his favorite chewy toy. My happiness soon did fleet.

Months down the road my daughter chose to speak her first word; “Dada”. That was the happiest moment of my life – no doubt! I was more proud than euphoric, until my wife pointed out that the word my daughter spoke was actually “Dahgcock”, and was the sinister result of a bad mixture of formula and rice meal. My happiness soon did fleet.

I’m sure the happiest moment of my life came weeks later when Chelsea again proved her physical prowess by standing tall, and taking her first steps in our living room. My wife would later explain that first steps don’t count if the hands of the parent are attached to the behind and the shoulder of the child. I guess this makes sense. My happiness soon did fleet.

The happiest happiest moment of my life came a couple of years later when Chelsea prepared my lunch for the first time; a peanut butter and M&M sandwich. Actually, the M&Ms fell in by accident, and she burst into tears when I made mention of them. My happiness soon did fleet.

Seriously, the happiest moment of my life turned out to be my daughter’s very first day of school. Actually, my job hijacked me from that moment, but I’m sure it would have been very happy, though it fleeted before it had ever arrived.

I guess the happiest moment of my life came when Chelsea was seven, and announced that she wanted to be a professional drummer – I was so taken by this I actually called some friends and family to share the good news. Three hours later, she said she wanted to be a professional waitress. My happiness soon did disintegrate.

Without a doubt the happiest moment of my life came in 1995, age 5, when Chelsea stood in the ocean for the first time and announced that she had never felt so “at home” before, and vowed to never leave. Moments later she sprinted to the sand screaming “shark shark” and did not set foot in the water again that day. My happiness soon did fleet –though  I am grateful to say that she now plans to earn her keep in this world, ocean-bound.

Probably, the happiest moment of my life was last Winter when Chelsea, now 18, prepared my dinner and on a whim and chose to make peanut butter and M&M sandwiches – this time the M&Ms were included intentionally. We giggled and laughed as we ate, right up to the point when we realized we had eaten moldy bread. Our happiness, along with our suppers, soon did fleet.

So what does all of this have to do with fitness? Not much really except to remind those who prioritize fitness above all else (myself included), that in over prioritizing exercise, we may miss out on some of life’s happiest moments.

This week, rather than taking in my usual Friday, Saturday, and Sunday onslaught workouts of kayaking, trail running, weightlifting, and sprinting, I chose to skip the weekend of Roy and take my daughter to San Francisco for two days of non-Roy. We ate breadbowl chowder, fancy cupcakes, shopped, discussed philosophy, faith, and South Park along the way, and when we were all done, we ate some pizza and some truffles. Two days of being together without the benefit of exercise. It was the best weekend ever! In skipping my weekend workout regimen, I really did experience some of the happiest moments of my life.

An ill-conceived American edict suggests that the moment that a child is born, should be the most joyous and blithe moment of one’s life – that so long as we live, nothing will exceed the happiness experienced in the first moments of parenthood. This lie is a frivolous distortion, destined to disappoint.

The moment I became a parent was not the happiest moment of my life. It was just a step in the cumulative experience of discovery, education, laughter and adventure that is parenting. A process which will only be complete as I draw my final breath in this world; at which time my happiness will have defined my legacy, and my spirit will fleet.

Chelsea in a rare snow in Temecula, CA -- 2006

Chelsea in a rare snow in Temecula, CA — 2006

On this my day my daughter graduates from high school, enroute DePaul University on an academic scholarship. Best day ever! I won’t even sniff a workout today, and I am so okay with that. I can’t be sure, but tomorrow may provide the happiest moment of my life. I hope I don’t let the gym get in the way.

Dawn Of The Deads

 

An incurable romantic I am. Every so often I find myself falling in love though I do try to avoid it – for rarely is the romance worth the ensuing torment and pain. However, the lure, the intoxication, and the gravity of love anew is persuasive and it gets the better of me every time. It’s as though Alzheimer’s bends time and space before me, that I enter love again and again at light speed, with no sense whatsoever that it will ultimately break me down. Sometimes it’s a new love which captures and consumes me. Other times a previous love crosses my path, and a new spark sets an old flame ablaze in my heart.

It hit me again last month; and old flame whom I had been involved with for years saw me, winked at me, and gestured her index finger to call me back her way. How could I say no? She was one of the best I ever had. She has consumed me with all she can provide, this sweetheart from my past. She offers me much more in many more ways than any other – she completes me. Her name? The Deadlift. God I love you deadlifts, where have you been, for I have missed you so?

Okay, so I’m a bit passionate and a hair twisted when it comes to exercise. But I’m a twisted man with a strong and stable core, powerful hips & glutes, and shoulders that were carved and strengthened by years of regular deadlifting. Why I left her I’ll never know. She was very good to me, deadlifts – unconditional love.

Regular deadlifts gave me a kind of strength that only deadlifts can give when they are done correctly. It’s okay now, dry your eyes, dry your eyes — I’m glad to say that deadlifts and I are back together once again, and this time for keeps. In this instance, however, I’m willing to share her with you and feel no guilt for my infidelity.

Done correctly, deadlifts will make you strong – every day life kind of strong. They will make you stable too; deadlifts can significantly improve your core strength. Deadlifts promote power from the legs, hips, glutes, abdominals and spinal erectors. Deadlifts can condition you as well; they can be cardio intensive, lending themselves to increased cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory fitness.  At some point in the course of a deadlift, every muscle in your body fires at least a little bit, and the large profile muscles of the low-back, hips, quadriceps, and glutes fire a lot.

Often thought of as a power exercise, deadlifts are the third element in the sport of powerlifting, and there are men who can pull nearly 1,000 pounds off the floor to stand erect with that weight. That’s impressive but that’s’ definitely not the kind of deadlift I am talking about. The deadlift I’m talking about, although done in the fashion of competitive deadlift, is not about the poundage you use. Rather, my suggested deadlift is about lifting a weight which you might use in every day life, and mastering the form at that weight. A controlled lift, reinforcing the management and synchronicity of one’s mind with one’s muscular strength, emanating from multiple regions of the body. Done correctly, deadlifts can improve the strength of anyone, male or female. Be you triathlete, weekend warrior, golfer, mature adult, or teenager, deadlifts can help you perform better at just about anything. I don’t even consider deadlifts an exercise, I consider them a life-skill.

Done incorrectly, deadlifts can profoundly and negatively affect your back, knees, hips and even neck so pay attention to good form – perfect form, and these will make your life better, not worse:

  • A weighted bar rests on the floor or on a pedestal just off the floor just in front of your feet.
  • Take your stance; feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Toes are pointed slightly outward.
  • Though you are flat-footed, your bodyweight should be more over your heels than toes.
  • Squat down, bending at the knees not the hips, to grasp the barbell, maintaining a flat middle back.
  • Hold the bar with your hands slightly wider than your legs; one hand with an overhand grip, one hand with an underhand grip. This “mixed” grip will enable better grip strength
  • Keeping your weight on your heels you simply stand erect, exhaling as you raise the bar to hang in front of your legs.
  • Fully erect, the bar should be crossing mid-thigh.
  • Keeping the bar all but touching your legs, you lower the weight back to the ground, not by bending over, but by squatting down and keeping your back as flat as possible, and your shoulders as high as possible.
  • On contact with the ground, you stand back up again, leading with the shoulders, and now you’re deadlifting.
Start Start
Mid-point Mid-point
Finish Finish

I often consider that if I could only do one strength training exercise which one it would be. Low-back extensions always wins that contemplation. Deadlifts, however, run a very close 2nd. Whether it’s picking up a bucket of tools in the garden, a sack of dog food in the garage, or some groceries laying on the kitchen floor, proper deadlifts can prepare you to better lift items in every day life, better than any exercise I know.

If they are new to you, the day after your first deadlifts there is a soreness associated unlike any other muscular soreness you might experience from strength training – it’s an intoxicating inventory of what you are made of, top to bottom. You will know, beyond doubt, what muscles are involved in the deadlift. It’s not a deep, I can’t get out of bed kind of soreness. More so, it’s like a mild blast of soreness buckshot; little pellets of sensation scattered over the back, legs, hips, abs, and shoulders.

Love equals pain, we all know that. But as in romantic love, sometimes the pain actually makes the love worthwhile and a life is enhanced – completed. Learn to love deadlifts, and accept the pain as in any relationship. You will be better for it. I sincerely believe that you and deadlifts can be very happy together – so long as there is compromise and open communication. Well, that’s what Dr. Phil says.

Homo-Karateous

My brother, Mark, is now a black belt in Karate. More on that later.

I met my brother when I was just a few days old; he is four years my senior. Our first dialogue took place the day I came home from the hospital. It was a one way conversation, he calling me a “puss”, me knowing better but unable to respond. From that day, he has never called me anything else. My reply to his name calling would only come years later, when enough became enough and I formed the word “homo”, and direct at him with a sinister precision that was born of our complementary antithesis. That’s just how it works with us. Since that time, these two names are all we have ever really called each other. Too bad only one us can be right.

Karate has been the theatre of my brother’s physical release, of his daily action, for over 16 years. I don’t think of my brother without also thinking of Karate – it may be the largest part of who he is. Though some 4 of those 16 years were lost to injury, Karate has been at the front of my brother’s exercise mind since his first introduction into the art. Immersion and participation into the whole of Karate has enhanced my brother’s life in ways I never would have imagined. Sixteen years in, he has become a new man – an improved man. With every belt earned and from every lesson practiced, a change has been made for the better.

Mark was always athletic, even in his earliest youth. In our basement home gym when I was 10 years old or so, he taught me properly how to do bench presses, concentration curls, how to sprint, and how to punch our homemade punching bag – he was scarcely 14. He ran cross country and track in high school, and had that fast white guy thing going on. Simultaneously, he was a good deadlifter, and proficient in the bench press. Later, in college, he boxed, played intramural football, and rugby. His nickname on his football team was, Bear. While in law school, in one of the nation’s earliest incarnations of the modern 5K race, The Boulder Bolder, Mark ran a competitive time and even got his name in the local paper. Mark has always kept himself in-shape.

Though he was always good in sports, he never excelled at any sport – not for his lack of discipline, but for a lack of priority. His attentions lay elsewhere. My brother’s passion was academia. If it came down to running 5 miles, or reading about philosophy, Mark would choose the read three times out of five. Despite his passion for both institutional, and independent studies, Mark has always made time to run, and has always participated in strength training, stretching, and general conditioning on his non-reading days. Sixteen years ago, he realized this was no longer enough to stimulate his exercise needs and he entered a local school of Karate. This ancient form of action captivated him, and Karate became a defibrillator of sorts, getting his psyche and his body firing in synchronicity for perhaps the first time ever. He was now free to move and philosophize – simultaneously, and he has ever since.

The Karate man, and hiss Karate Kids...

A Karate man, and his Karate Kids...

My brother is an amazing person, and if his middle name weren’t Homo, it might be Achievement. All before he turning 50, he has been a highly decorated military judge advocate, a municipal judge, a published novelist (http://www.pepperkeane.com/index.html), father of three children adopted from China, a business man, and a political leader in his community. Mark is the type of man who does things the right way – period. He just identifies what needs to be done, and then goes about doing it. He reads the directions. He keeps the tools in the right place. He uses his turn signal 200 feet in advance of the turn. He once refused to buy beer for me – at a time when I was just weeks shy of the legal drinking age. He suggested I drink milk that evening.

Mark uses his mad Karate skills to stave the onlsought of Winter....

Mark uses his mad Karate skills to stave the onlsought of Winter....

 Mark wrote to me last week to tell me that, after 16 years, he is now a black belt. Knowing him as I do, I was still awestruck that he accomplished this. Not that I ever doubted his goal, but I understand well the commitment of time and physicality in achieving it. I ruminated on this for several days before I could finally reply to him. I responded by writing back and congratulating him on, what I feel, is his greatest achievement, above all the other achievements. To achieve in the theater of physicality has no parallel. To have achieved in the theater of physicality, is to know the joy of triumph over one’s own self. Mark may have been a judge. He may be a novelist. He also be a great father and have accomplished many great things. Today, he is a black belt in Karate; a champion over his own self – and a homo. Be well.