A Case For Strength…

(originally written April, 2009)

Reach.  Extend.  Bend.  Stand.  Carry.  Pull.  Lean.  Twist.  Sit.  Push.  Hold.

 The ability o perform any of these should not be taken for granted; no one a luxury, each one probable in the course of a day. Only two gifts are awarded at birth; the conscious and the body. In matters of virtue, most seek to nourish the conscious by use of the conscious; prayer as a means of better fulfilling one’s purpose. The virtues of love, forgiveness, healing, compassion and others can be enhanced by prayer, providing vast returns. This kind of prayer is practiced by billions each day.

 There can also be physical prayer; actions of a body practiced to better enable the virtues of movement, and connect with one’s ability. That investment in regular action can provide both intimate internal, as well as cascading external returns – just like conscious prayer. Move with confidence. Direct your body without fear. Live with ability, and be poised to give more of yourself to family and to your community. To connect with one’s body in this way is to be closer to fulfilling one’s purpose and potential. I believe this in a literal sense.

 Statistics tell us those who practice exercise are a great minority in comparison to those who practice conscious prayer. In the current era there are many genres of exercise practiced world wide. I will not say that any one form of exercise is better than any other. That should be left to the individual. Today I only suggest that traditional strength training, seemingly on its way out of the modern exercise agenda, is an exceptional way for individuals of any age to connect with, and to expand their capacity for movement – to body-pray.

Strength training offers many secondary values; improved flexibility, enhancement of athletic performance, slowing of bone density loss, decrease of blood pressure, improved balance, ability to shape and tone the body, and much more.

 As a vehicle of prayer, the primary benefits of strength training I speak of are derived from two elements; range of motion and capacity. Combine range of motion with capacity, be it done with free weights, machines, dumbells, or bricks, and one can not help but live inside of, and better identify with their body. When one slowly and deliberately extends a loaded muscle or a group of muscles, concentrating on how these muscles feel throughout the extension and subsequent contraction, one experiences a very intimate connection between mind and body – a literal inventory of that which enables us. This can be grounding and poetic. 

There are those who will suggest that exercise today is better done out of doors and not in gyms. Others propose that since strength training devices; barbells, machines and the like were not around 100,000 years ago, they are not relevant for human beings. Others still will suggest there are better forms of exercise to connect with one’s body; the ancient yoga, the well-thought Pilates, the in-vogue endurance and cardio classes, martial arts, running, etc. They all make great cases too, though not exclusive ones. I have been a practitioner of all of these and none, in my opinion, offer as much utility and benefit to the human experience as proper strength training practiced in moderation. My strength training is how I know I’m the physical me.

 Where human priorities were once completely instinctive, they are now largely manufactured and clearly this will never turn back. This is our time, and this is our place – we should make the best of our options and opportunities. In no way am I suggesting that strength training be one’s exclusive outlet for exercise – there is so much more out there than the dirty old gym. I do much more physically in the course of a month than just lift weights; kayaking, trail hiking, running, stretching, yoga, and more. I am saying that, as an investment in prayer, strength training is unique, and has an amazing return value per moment of effort.

 Historians 200 years from now may shake their heads in disbelief that gyms, barbells, Nautilus machines, and dumbbells ever existed, or needed to exist. This may be true. Those same historians though, will also shake their heads in disbelief at the notion of cars, manicured green lawns, neck ties, trash bags, recreational drugs, hedge funds, television, Krispy Kremes, labor unions, and prejudice – but that doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone from embracing these in this time and in this place.

 This is my time, and this is my place. Since the weight room exists in my here and my now, I accept it, and will continue to use it as one sanctuary for my body-prayer.   Be well.  rc

Terms of the deal…

A term: Hard. Exercise is hard. I have said so often, it never gets any easier, only more rewarding. Cardio, stretching, resistance training, yoga, trail running are all as hard for me now as they have ever has been. I have never deceived myself into believing, nor do I seek to deceive others that productive exercise isn’t hard.

Three terms: Challenging, achievable, and daily. These are the terms I equate most to productivity in an exercise program. Dietary concerns notwithstanding, to expect a tangible change in the body one must pursue exercise which is challenging, which is achievable, and which occurs (almost) daily.

Another term: Discourage. Discourage is a bigger term then the sum of four previous terms. The gravity of discourage is high and it’s mass powerful. It’s easy to get discouraged in exercise. Discourage’s binary twin is unreal expectations; regularly looking at what you are not. Better you stay focused on what you are doing to achieve the end result, than how you are looking at a given moment.

Yet another term: Success. As both term and concept, success is much bigger than discourage. An ounce of success can beat the living crap out of a pound of discourage. Take regular inventory of your successes. Success requires challenging, achievable exercise, done daily.

Momentum: Momentum is the cruise control of your fitness vehicle. Once you are on the healthy highway, momentum will take you to your destination before you even realize you are there. Momentum is the streamlined child of daily, challenging, and achievable.

 Failure: Failure is what happens when momentum is lost – when one of the elements of challenging or daily is forsaken. Failure is surmountable though, see below.

Support System: Support system is the sum of people and their energies which can pick you up when you feel you are in failure. Designate a support system when you enter an exercise program; a workout/accountability partner, fitness trainer, friend, coworker, family member, etc. Establish 2-3 people in your life to act as your support system and stay connected to them daily – don’t just show off the good when you succeed, keep them aware of the not-so-good. Tell your support system what you are feeling and ask them to be there for you.

An enticing term: Fun. If you like hard, then exercise can be fun too. If you equate fun to easy, then you are defeated before you begin, because we have already established that to be successful, exercise can not be easy. Fun is in the psyche, see below.

 Psyche: Converting the terms hard and challenging into the term fun (see above) is possible, but requires help from your psyche. Your psyche is what enables your world – your attitude. Like everything else in your life, fun is a choice. If you let your psyche take you there, challenging can be fun. Psyche.

These are just a few of the dozens of terms and concepts I use to stay motivated, and avoid failure. This is written not from the hands of a fitness trainer who exercises daily, and watches what he eats with the eyes of an eagle. Rather, this is written from the heart of a man who allowed himself to get in profoundly tragic shape a decade ago, and understands very well how hard it is to connect to, and to embrace daily action – daily exercise. Be well. rc

Jaw Cardio; the death of progress…

Jaw cardio is not an exercise, yet it is the most practiced activity in gyms across the country. More words seem to be spoken in health clubs each day than weights lifted, miles run, and stairs climbed combined. Jaw cardio is the unbending deterrent which stands impregnably between you and the results you seek from your workouts. Jaw cardio is number two, just behind poor eating choices, as the leading cause of diminished exercise returns. Jaw cardio must be stopped in our lifetime.

Far be it from me to play the part of buzz-kill in your weekly fitness endeavors, but there is a very good chance you practice jaw cardio. If you’re not a practitioner, you are likely willing to receive it, fresh from the mouths of Mr. or Mrs. Gym-Spew, seated on the machine next to you. As such, it might be concluded that your workouts are not providing the maximum benefit they should. Straight up; what is it you seek from your time in the gym, results or social satisfaction?

Time: The less time you spend doing your workout, the more time you will have for your other interests in life; business, family, community, etc. Flapping your gums, or lending your ears to a would-be gum flapper during your workout diminishes your time for interests away from the gym. There is no reason for a healthy individual to rest more than 30-60 seconds between sets of a resistance exercise.

For fitness enthusiasts of any level, minimal rest between sets will serve you better. Rest long enough to stretch the muscles you just worked, and stretch those muscles long enough to catch your breath. This simple rule of stretching will serve to promote flexibility, strengthen tendons, keep you focused on your workout, and promote intensity within your exercise scheme as you use time to your advantage.

Results: Jaw cardio, particularly while you are performing an exercise, will absolutely minimize the affect(s) that an exercise will have on your body. There is a direct relationship between concentration in strength training, and the results you seek. If you are talking during the course of an exercise, you are less likely to maximize that opportunity. Talking during your exercises may distract you from paying attention to proper exercise form, possibly resulting in a muscular injury, a tendon or joint injury, a tweaked back, neck, or worse. If there is an exercise Satan, the primary mechanism he’ll use to steal your fitness soul is injury.

Crowds: Forgive the simple math, but if cutting down on your talking between sets will get you out of the gym sooner, then it stands to reason that it will get other people out sooner too. Particularly at peak hours, the elimination of jaw cardio will minimize crowds in the gym. The result? Less people in the gym which translates to less stress and tension in the gym, more available equipment, and more room to move around the gym floor. With more room to move around, and more equipment available, you are that much more likely to get the results you seek. In this instance, a group effort is needed, so spread the word!

Cure: Though there is no current vaccination for jaw cardio, steps can be taken to halt it’s spread. For those doing the talking; shut up and workout. ‘Nuff said.

For those on the receiving end, avoid eye contact with everyone in the gym — especially those in torn sweat shirts with the Tap Out logo inscribed across the chest. Another sound course of action is the I-pod. Nothing says “Stay the hell away from me you jabbering yay-hoo!” better than a pair of form fitting headphones.

Lastly, the best way to stop jaw cardio is to lead by example. Somebody is trying to talk with you during your rest, gently pat the seat of the machine you are taking your rest from and utter the phrase, “Your turn buddy.” Humility has great silencing powers.

Practitioner: Pardon the self-loftiness, but I’m often asked about how I maintain my shape and conditioning at nearly 50. The questions asked in this regard usually relate to which exercises I perform, how many days per week, sets, reps, etc. Sometimes people will be so keen as to actually ask which foods I eat. Indeed. One of the main reasons though, I am able to maintain this level of physical conditioning is by promoting intensity in my workouts. Intensity begins with focus. Focus begins with silence. Be well. rc

Exercise, and a clear head…

Next month it will have been one year since writer, David Foster Wallace, ended his life. His death has affected me more than any other – even more than the deaths of my own friends and family members through the years. His death still haunts me, and I’m glad.

I feel compelled to share something with you that you might find alarming. If that statement alone concerns you, then please read no further. You see, many days of my life I wake up and must decide whether to put a toothbrush in my mouth, or a revolver. This has been a choice I have faced on awakening on many occasions since my teens. Since I don’t own a revolver, and possess an obvious genetic predisposition toward dirty teeth, and that I still see so much beauty and so many possibilities in the frame of a day, toothbrush always wins.

A voice for my generation... A voice for my generation…

I work hard, very hard, at reminding myself of all the reasons why toothbrush should win – and it should. No, I’m not suicidal, just more honest about a taboo subject than most; depression, and the thoughts depression fosters in the lonely cave of an active consciousness. I do understand why people do it though – why people choose to end their lives. I understand better though, why people don’t do it – why we shouldn’t do it. This understanding is getting easier with age – the understanding of why people choose not to kill themselves. The anniversary next month of this sad loss will be a reminder to me, of why a beautiful mind should prioritize, and strive to fulfill it’s possibilities and potential. 

David Foster Wallace was a person I admired, and even sought to be more like. His writing style, thought process, flippant attitude in the public eye, and express honesty in speaking, all captivated me. Though I never read Infinite Jest, I absorbed his essays and short stories. To me, he remains more relevant to my generation than Kurt Cobain or Tupac. I learned only after his death, that he and I had a common antagonist; the relentless clashing of thoughts in the blender of our heads which comes from cyclical depression.

Exercise, rigorous exercise, has been my medication in dealing with (my) depression for some time now. Exercise works, and it’s how I cope – how I deal with life’s challenges, and the puppets of another ilk perpetrating lesser thoughts in my head. There are a lot of reasons to exercise; looking good, keeping blood pressure down, staving off the loss of bone density, improving balance and flexibility, increasing every day strength, and so-on. Tonight though, I reflect on the most important reason (for me) to exercise – it keeps me stable.   

One cure for that which ails me... One cure for that which ails me…

Increasingly, physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists are recommending exercise for persons who live with depression, as well as other mood related disorders. In some instances, exercise can help minimize or even eliminate the need for medication – this to be the judgment and the discretion of the treating authority. A dose of exercise goes to work quickly and has few side affects – its good stuff. Rigorous exercise can make a difference and how one may receive a moment and a circumstance – or not. Exercise, for many, can also pave the road for a new day tomorrow. Be well. rc

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