The Limits Of Power…

This is Part I of a 3-part series on how I have perceived, worked within, and beyond the limits of power with the human body...

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The Limits Of Power…

I have understood for a long time, in ways I believe many around me fail to understand, that the human body will only get so strong.  I have also believed that for most, the human body should only get so strong. 

It’s always been my belief that we have a social responsibility to be physically strong on behalf of those who may need us; family, friends, members of our community.  Not bench press strong, but help a wife move the sofa strong.  I feel the responsibility of strength extends that we maintain ourselves so we won’t need to depend on the strength of others.  In this era, that kind of strength is often cultivated through exercise.

That said, the utility of exercising to increase physical strength has a tipping point that, when it’s exceeded, utility can give way to diminished returns in other areas of one’s life.  Those who reach high levels of physical strength have likely sacrificed in other areas of their life in order to do so.  Peripheral physicality can give way when excess strength is pursued, as can personal, social, and business relationships.  That’s just my opinion, but I believe it has teeth.

However, the human body is capable of advancing in strength, and within reasonable bounds, at nearly any age, and without peripheral damage to the musculoskeletal structure, or to one’s social relationships.  Despite attempts to advance physical strength by millions of people each day, even the middle limits of individual power are generally never met.  

So how much is enough, how much is too much, and how does one find strength in the gym that translates outside the gym…?   In these next three essays I will share my thoughts on this…

strength

Fred Ain’t Dead…

Fred is 68 years old.  He is an engineer by education, and tree grower by trade.  Fred is active, plays senior softball each week, hikes regularly, backpacks, and spends a fair amount of time daily tending to his trees, and his property.

Fred began working out with me several years ago in hopes that regular strength training would support his softball, and help him stay injury free.  For the first couple of years together, my emphasis with Fred was on the mindful conditioning of the areas which are most vulnerable in softball; Achilles tendons, hamstrings, low back, and shoulder movement.

Last year as I assessed Fred’s progress, I began to slowly increase the poundages he uses in his workouts.  The arcs of those increases are still on the rise.  He is now deadlifting 50 pounds more than this time last year.  His bench press is up about 30%.  His balance and agility are off the charts for being 68 years old, and his form in all of his movements is exceptional, and safe. 

What makes this progress significant though, is that each week he feels he’s playing softball as well as the week prior, and often better.  He’s remained mostly injury free.  When he has experienced a strain during a game, it’s always minimal, and gone within several days.  As Fred recalls his play from 3 years ago, it was anemic compared to his level of play after three years of strength training. 

Oh, and Fred strength trains just one day per week – just one.  As such, he’s not sacrificing too much in the form of unnecessary wear and tear on his body, nor is he taking excessive time away from his business or his family.  He’s making progress, without even approaching the tipping point of excess sacrifice from his body or his life.

Throwing In The Towel – Sort Of…

For years I have battled a duality within me, of how I perceive and pursue physical strength.  On one hand, there is the person who wishes to age gracefully, and function well right up to the point of my final breath.  On the other hand is the person who wants to perform, function, and look at the highest possible level – right now, today. 

In my mid-40s I began to reconcile this conflict with several of compromises.  Chief among those compromises was that I would continue to practice my brand of strength training, only do so with an increased emphasis on functionality, and a lesser emphasis on poundages used and aesthetics.  In theory, this was a means of preserving the longevity of the practice with only minimal sacrifice in performances and looks.

I made the decision that I would no longer attempt to increase my strength on any exercise.  My emphasis would be on consistency, and proper form.  I justified that so long as I maintained my existing level of strength, I would still be making progress inasmuch as I would still be on the clock of aging.  Through my mid-to-late 40s, this became my protocol. 

What I had theorized was ultimately fulfilled.  My muscle mass suffered some, my body fat increased some, but for a guy in his late 40s, I was looking, and functioning well, with less overall sacrifice, and I enjoyed my workouts.

Mid-Life Crisis 2.0…

Shortly after I turned 50 I began training several serious bodybuilders for the first time in a decade.  As I took inventory their progress, I began to yearn for progress of my own once again.  Shit.  Despite my concerns for aging well, and avoiding that tipping point where excessive strength and muscle work against utility, as well as the biological limitations of my aging physiology, 18 months ago I set into action a plan to regain the peak bodybuilding condition of my early 40s.  I’m now in my early 50s.

Leg Press:  Every weight in the house.  Proper form.  Full range of motion.  Not joint pain.

Leg Press: Every weight in the house. Proper form. Full range of motion. No joint pain.

In the past 18 months or so I have become stronger in most every strength movement than I have ever been – ever.  On most movements in the weight room, I’m using weights previously unused, with form as good as it’s ever been, and no residual pains, aches, or injuries.

Okay, so the faces ain’t pretty but the form is.  I could not have approached this weight in this form 12 years ago. 

I’m not suggesting that pursuing muscular gains like this, at this age is correct or even beneficial.  In truth, it’s both good, and bad.  I don’t expect to be hoisting these poundages, or sporting this mass 10 years from now.  I’m truly good with that.  If I’m being fully honest, there is less joy in hunting for gains than there is in pursuing utility from exercise.  I am though, committed to making meat while the sun still shines, knowing full well that the sun will begin to set at some point, and the arc of my recent progress will rescind.    

Be it by designer, or by Designer, we are designed to age and break down.  Believing we can avoid this is foolish.   However, within that design plan there exists some wiggle room – even for card carrying AARP folks like Fred, and me.  It is possible to make gains in physical strength which translate to enhanced physicality outside of the gym – at any age.  How far we take this, and what we sacrifice to achieve it, is open to discussion.  Does anybody remember discussion…?  Be well.  rc 

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see how I explore the negative side of me using heavier poundages than ever, and how I plan to scale down – yet again.  Oh, and there’s this from Jeff Beck And The Big Town Playboys.  Enjoy…

Words can’t express…

Two month’s notice…

That day finally showed up last Thursday.  The day I knew had been coming for several months now, but hoped never would.  George, a client of many years, and a friend for precisely as long, explained that he would be leaving Fallbrook in mid-January, and relocating to a senior living community in Orange County.  George is 74, and lives with Parkinson’s disease.

On George…

George stepped into my studio for the first time years ago.  He was in his 60s, and was scarcely into his retirement from his career as an executive with an energy company.  George 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, and do so safely in proper form.  His golf even improved.  He even dropped a few pounds through the years here and there, occasionally joking that Nabisco wasn’t going to get anymore of his money.

Though our workouts have always been results focused, conversations of life, politics, family, and sports are always present within the fiber of our exercise sessions.  In fact, those conversations have been at the heart of this friendship.  My conversations with George, even when of a serious nature, always had a positive tone.  Nobody ever asked us to, but if challenged, George and I are prepared to save the world.

Witchcraft in the wind…

Maybe 5 years ago, George was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The pragmatic engineer in him 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 strong faith in western medicine.  Though there is no cure for Parkinson’s at this time, his neurologist has excelled at helping George use medications to treat his symptoms.  George’s wife, Judy, has been a supreme support system.  He often refers to her as, The Project Manager.

In the years since his diagnosis, George’s physicality has suffered some, but not disappeared entirely.  This is partially due to the disease itself, and partially due to the medications he uses to offset Parkinson’s.  He still plays golf twice weekly, continues to exercise regularly, mows weeds, and periodically hunts for gophers, and squirrels on his property.   His attitude and acceptance of the cards life has dealt him have been exceptional.  We should all be so graceful under these circumstances.

A couple of years back he entered my studio one day, and I asked him how his golf outing went the day prior.  This was his response:

“It was great!”

He continued,

“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 and I often talk about how fortunate we both are, to the point of silliness, both grateful that we each seem to have won the lottery of birth.

The inevitable…

George no longer leg presses several hundred pounds.  Most of George’s workouts take place with a broom stick for resistance, and some 3 and 5 pound weights in his weathered hands.  We work largely on balance, and with a secondary goal to minimize muscle wasting.  He still gets pissed off when he misses a step on one particular balance exercise we do.  He rests more during the sessions these days, and the conversation extends more as the exercise have been scaled back, but the time is still useful for us both – for us both.

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.  The exercises themselves are quantifiable, but there are many variables involved with determining success; aging, medications, sleep, nutrition, etc. We both just agree, as does his neurologist, that he just keep moving.  I have seen no data source which suggests people with Parkinson’s avoid exercise.

George, and I last week.  George is the one wearing eye glasses...

George, and I last week. George is the one wearing eye glasses…

Of functionality, and fulfillment…

At a time when I struggle walking the line between the utility of functional exercise and the personal fulfillment of more intense exercise, George’s presence in my life has been a grounding factor.  If I don’t hit a PR in the deadlift, I’m good with it.  If i have trouble walking up stairs, I take notice.

George has paid me well for my time and resources through the years.  As time has gone on, I ruminate more and more over all I have learned from George – about how to address aging, disease, and the perspective he applies to both.  I have wondered increasingly, who should have been paying who all these years.

Passing of the torch…

The community George will be living has an onsite exercise facility, and a trainer to help facilitate exercise for the residents.  He and I calculated that he would have roughly 20 training sessions left, and we both want to maximize them.  I offered to capture some of our upcoming workouts onto video to share with his new trainer, and George agreed this was a good idea. This will not be about instructing the new trainer on how to work with George.  Rather, this will be done so the trainer can more easily assess George’s limitations, and abilities.

I have great faith that the trainers there will help George continue on his path of most resistance.  I can only hope they will appreciate his good nature, intellect, and wit, and warmth.  I have worked with many clients of varying ages, and for varying reasons through the years – hundreds.  It is an honor that George is the first person I induct into the Contemplative Fitness hall of fame.

Footnote…

My own father lived with Parkinson’s disease.  He also died with it.  Thoughts of the physical deterioration associated with this affliction resonate with me daily.  Though the data is incomplete as to whether or not there is a genetic lineage, I somewhat expect it at some point.   We’re not much for curing great diseases in recent years.  Maybe we’re not supposed to.  Perhaps the best we can do is to take care of ourselves well enough that we avoid disease, in hopes research will help us treat the symptoms as best we can should we ever become afflicted.

I have been writing this blog for many years now.  I have done so strictly as a hobby.  I have never asked that it be supported by donations, nor have I sought sponsorship.  I ask today, one time only, if you have found value in reading this essay, please make even a small donation to the Davis Phinney Foundation, or a similar organization.  Thank you, and be well…  rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this by The Kingston Trio.  Enjoy…

 

Modernity, Complexity, Conflicting Data, And Guruism…

Increasing complexity…

Every so often I sit down to write what I perceive will be my final essay for this blog.  To this point, I have been incorrect to have made those assumptions.  Today was one of those days, once again that feeling came over me that this was it.

In the 10 years or so since I began writing fitness related essays, the world has changed more than it had in the 30 years prior.  That’s not an exaggeration.  The complexities of culture have increased, and expanded in a seemingly exponential way.  It appears no part of culture is exempt from this.  Ideas, boundaries, rules, opportunities, and arguments have grown more complex in all aspects of culture.  The ideals of exercise and fitness are part of that cultural expansion. 

Complexity begets complexity...

Complexity begets complexity…

 

Conflicting data….

As there are many more ideas in what exercise and fitness should be then there once were, there are now many more resources, more information, and more people supporting these ideas, resources, and information.  Along with the increasing ideas, have come increasing platforms.  There are many outlets now for anyone who wants to share their fitness advice.   If a person has an idea, and a computer, they can establish a dedicated following in short order.  That said, there are now many more conflicts within the ideals of fitness and exercise.

I say often that we live in the age of conflicting data.  For every argument one can make in support of a cause or an idea, and back it up with some kind of data source, someone else can make an opposing argument supported by a different data source.  Few data sources, on either side of any argument, are without agenda.  Though such conflicts are as old as culture itself, in this technical age arguments come much faster – often faster than they can be processed or understood, and that’s a huge problem. 

Social media has become a platform, if not a battle ground, on which these conflicts are increasingly played out.  The utility, as well as the benefit of any good idea can be quickly obscured by the clouds of argument.  Information becomes chaotic. 

World War III might not a a terror based war.  It just might be a war over conflicting data...

World War III might not a a terror based war. It just might be a war over conflicting data…

As is usual in battle, truth seems to be the first casualty.  The internet is scattered with millions of peddlers selling products, ideas, and agendas with varying degrees of sincerity behind what they sell.  The internet is lined with millions of consumers, not all of whom are discriminating enough to avoid becoming the unwitting victims of those pushing a lesser agenda.  The intentions of those on both sides, of course, can range in reason and motivation. 

Information Merchant…

Personally, I fall into both categories.  I use the internet as a consumer of ideas, to gather fitness, and exercise related information.  I also use it as resource to promote my business; that I may share information.  In short, I am an information merchant.  I hope my intentions are on the reasonable side, and believe they are.

Through my social media platforms; my Facebook page, youtube channel, and this blog, I attempt to share information, and generate a peripheral income with my online training business.  I make my primary living though, teaching exercise in a one-on-one environment.  Be it in my studio, or via Skype, a student can look me in the eye, judge me, and even question my intent for his or her self.  He or she can walk away if they prefer to purchase the information elsewhere, or not at all. 

A trade route for modernity; the overland data trail...

A trade route for modernity; the overland data trail…

 

As it relates to my information, I have never sold my ideas, values, or techniques as absolute.  Rather, I have sold them as useful suggestions which may carry some level of utility based on how they are accepted, and applied.  I believe I have something to say, and I appreciate that I have had a clientele through the years willing to purchase my information.

Guruism; it’s the new hobby…

The relentless guruism touted by the self-appointed leaders in the fitness social media, and the concussions of the conflicts they create, have begun to wear me down.  Many of the so-called leaders in the online fitness community simply dress themselves up in low body fat, tanning solution, and a catchy logo only to regurgitate bad or stale information in exchange for cash.  At the end of the day many of these people are selling untested or second hand information, and don’t have a clue to stand on. 

Several years ago a reader of this blog, a 30-something fitness enthusiast, part-time professional writer, and mother suggested to me that she wanted to switch careers, and become a fitness trainer.  Through many emails, phone conversations, and even a personal visit on my part, I not only helped point her in the right direction and encouraged her, I was her biggest cheerleader. 

hello

In less than a year’s time, she began a training business, and grew her fitness blog to be one of the most popular online.  She has thousands of followers, and now makes a very good living at it.  All it took was a weekend fitness certification, a few steamy pictures of her torso on her website, and the platform of social media.  She is now free to give absolute and exclusive advice to anyone willing to pay for it.  There are thousands more out there too, just like her; supremely knowledgeable, absolute in their beliefs, and connected to PayPal.

Here are a few things (from a list of thousands in my head) that would-be fitness gurus of the social media era might want to consider as they strive to promote themselves, and their business:

1)      Leadership involves listening, and not being exclusive.
2)      Admitting gaps in one’s knowledge base, and subsequently filling them is always a good thing.
3)      Even that best ideas don’t always need to be shared with everyone, because they don’t always apply to everyone.
4)      You don’t always have to be right.
5)      The primary objective of your business endeavor should not be to keep score, to sell books, to hook up subscribers, or to count fans or web hits at the end of the day.  The primary objective of your endeavor should be to share information applicable to the audience, do so in a concise way, and be available to the end user should they have any questions regarding your messages or your intentions.  If there’s money in that at the end of the month, then count your blessings!

rag18

Snorting creatine, because that one guy on youtube told me I should…

 

This will not be the last fitness related essay I ever write – not by any means.  By way of my social media platforms, I will continue to share my ideas, values, and experiences in exercise and fitness, never making claims that my ideas, techniques, or experiences are exclusive, though I will suggest they are often unique.  I will though, become much more discriminating in the social media outlets I support, and champion.  I will encourage you to do the same – this platform included. 

It’s funny, after reading this a time or two, I can’t help but feel this message could well be superimposed over similar conflicts in the areas of politics, and religion.  But you already read between those lines, yes….?  Be well…  rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Deer Tick.  Enjoy…