The crossroads in my head…
On a personal level, I am compelled by the fulfillment of challenging exercise. The drug of intensity in movement clears my head, offers me confidence, and provides moments to me during which the stress of daily living vanishes, if only for a while.
Whether my requirement for challenging exercise is an addiction, a compulsion, or a mere personality defect, I may never be sure. What I have come to accept is that, for now, exercise for the sake of fulfillment is a necessary component of the clock that is me.
Earning my keep…
On a professional level, I am more cautious about the ideal of intensity in exercise. This caution though, is relative to the moment, and to the client. Some moments in my studio are all about fulfillment in exercise. I am paid well by some clients to establish the limits of their physicality, and incrementally raise those limits, rendering them more capable at given tasks, aesthetically improved, or both.
With other clients it’s about utility. They entrust me to help increase their physicality by offering functional exercise into their lives. This may be due to age, disease, or simply because they have lived a deconditioned lifestyle previously. Regardless, for these clients mindfulness comes first, and intensity isn’t even a consideration.
George stepped into my studio for the first time seven years ago. He was 67 years old, and a few years into retirement. He wanted to begin a fitness regimen to augment his twice per week golf schedule.
George also wanted to lose a few pounds around his waist, and improve his overall “shape”. If functional strength training might help his golf game, peripheral weight loss would be a cherry on top.
George was focused with his workouts, and made progress quickly. His balance improved. His flexibility improved. His endurance improved. His strength improved – to a point where he could leg press several hundred pounds, in proper form, and through a complete range of motion, and do so safely. Even his golf even improved.
George is 73 now. Four years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. An engineer by trade, George accepted that affliction with no resistance. He approached it with a resolve to wake up each day and address Parkinson’s in the best way he could – stoically, and with a pragmatic faith in Western medicine.
In the four years since his diagnosis, George’s physicality has suffered. This is partially due to the disease itself, and partially due to the medications he uses to offset Parkinson’s. However, his attitude and acceptance of the cards life has dealt him have been exceptional. We should all be so graceful under the same circumstances.
Yesterday as he entered my studio I asked him how his golf outing went the day prior. This was his response:
“It was great!”
“I didn’t play too well, but the turkey sandwich was excellent, and my friends and I laughed a lot.”
I was as humbled by his attitude, as I was by the sincere smile on his face as he spoke.
George no longer leg presses several hundred pounds. Most of George’s workouts take place with a broom stick for resistance, and some 3 pound weights in his weathered hands. He accomplishes less than half the sets and repetitions in a given workout than he did prior to the onset of Parkinson’s.
He rests more during the session, struggles to drink his water without spilling some, and he and I have become more social. His efforts though, have been just as focused as ever.
There is no way to quantify how George’s functional strength workouts have helped offset his fight with Parkinson’s, or whether they have made a difference at all.
At a time when I struggle walking the line between the utility of functional exercise, and the fulfillment of more intense exercise, George’s presence in my life is a grounding factor.
George pays me well for his two hours in my studio each week. As time goes on, and I ruminate over all I am learning from George – about how to address aging, disease, and the perspective he applies to both, I wonder more and more, who should be paying who.
Caught between utility and fulfillment…
Of my many daily rationalizations, chief among them is that my personally fulfilling, intensity-driven workouts offer my life a great deal of utility.
There may be some utility in me in racing up a 1,200 foot hill as fast as I can. Running back down that same hill fast, I can assure you, is not in the best interest of my long-term physicality. Nor do I believe that my quest for a bodybuilding title in September is in my body’s best long-term interest.
These ideals which underlie my exercise though, are who I am today.
Who I will be tomorrow…
I may never have the privilege of being 74 years old. If I am so fortunate to get there, I have no illusion that I will look or function then as I do today. I also require myself to accept that what I do today – how I exercise, and how often, may actually have a negative impact on the physicality of me at 74. I don’t know.
There is a fine line between pursuing what we want, and what makes sense. When I have difficulty distinguishing that line, or when I see it clearly but can’t decide which side I should stand on, I draw from the only scripture which has mattered to me in my adult life:
“Speak today in hard words what you believe, and speak tomorrow in hard words what you believe though it may contradict what you say today.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
More and more these days, I find myself caught between Emerson, and George — between the lessons of two great men who have both inspired me. Be well. rc…
Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender inside my head. Oh, and there is this from the best rock and roll band you have never heard of, The Hellacopters. Enjoy…