A Call To Think Before We Follow…

Richual…

Arrive. Light the candle. Do the gesture. Say the words. Sip from the cup. Eat the thing. Read the verse. Talk with some like-minded folks. Leave.

Arrive. Unzip the bag. Lift the thing. Do the stretch. Sip from the bottle. Eat the thing. Read whatever, while your legs move. Talk with some like-minded folks. Leave.

When viewed in these terms, it’s hard not see parallels between the observance of religion and the observance of exercise. Largely, both are based on ritual in the day-to-day practice. I think it’s fair to say, whether we are talking about religion or we are talking about exercise, many who observe these rituals don’t viscerally understand how their rituals, or that their rituals have evolved over time.

It’s also fair to suggest that many who observe these rituals don’t understand how those evolutions have been influenced by those of varying levels of intent through the decades. Often, people have been indoctrinated into these cultures and rituals superficially, without adequate study, and have only the feeling that they should be observant.  Many people feel if they aren’t observant, they will be seen by others as missing something important in their life. That is, they go through the motions unwittingly, because they feel they should.

The Bible Of Fitness…

Lore has it Rabbi Hillel was approached by a student to recite the entire Hebrew Bible while standing on one leg. The story goes that Rabbi Hillel took to one foot and spoke,

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah, the rest is just commentary. Now go you, and learn it.”

An early Hebrew interpretation of The Golden Rule.

The only rule that matters...

The only rule that matters…

Most religious scripture is just that; commentary on a very simple theme which, when lived by, serves us well as individuals and as societies.

I have been told many times that this book or that book is the bible of exercise. I have purchased dozens of so-called bibles in my fitness life. Each one of them has contained variations and over complications of what can be reduced to a simple theme; eat properly, exercise regularly, be consistent. In a sense, that is the golden rule of fitness.

Most exercise scripture is protracted commentary on the theme of proper eating and movement. A lot of words, variations, and agendas assembled, rewritten, manipulated, and utilized for good and for lesser intent. None of it though, more important than the simplicity that Hillel prescribed to his student while standing on one foot.

The only fitness bible you need. Hint: There are no pages inside...

The only fitness bible you need. Hint: There are no pages inside…

Who Wears The Collar: Dogma And Leadership…

I can’t pinpoint the year, but somewhere in my mid-teens is when I made the connection between religious leadership and leadership in exercise. When I was 15 years old my church gym was the Eisenhower Park Recreation Center in suburban Denver. The biggest, strongest guy there was Gary Dorren. Gary was in his mid-20s, puffy if not muscular, with red curly hair, and made his living as lineman for Mountain Bell.

Being the biggest, strongest guy in the gym made Gary the go-to guy for advice from us smaller folk. In a sense, he was our minister, and he even sold himself to us in this way. One problem; Gary was the beneficiary of good genetics and quality pharmaceuticals, not the pinnacle of wisdom nor education. He was qualified to be a telephone lineman, not a gym priest. It was poor vetting and high expectations of my friends and I which elevated his stature in our naive eyes.

One of the first pieces of advice that Gary offered me was that if I wanted to make good gains, I needed to eat a loaf of bread a day. So I took the sacrament, and for several weeks thereafter, I ate a loaf of bread every day of my life. I gained nothing but body fat.  That wasn’t the only bad advice Gary gave me, nor was he the only one who sent my eager mind down counterproductive paths through the years.

As I grew older I sought fewer answers from the exercise clergy – men like Gary who stood on the mountain top.  I quit listening to others and began looking for those answers within, where I would ultimately find them. At the heart of my search, alongside common sense, was the golden rule of fitness; eat properly, exercise regularly, be consistent.

Though I would advance to make this a career, create and share my own commentaries on that central theme through the next several decades, I have always kept my opinions streamlined and easy to comprehend, for myself as well as for those I teach.  With leadership comes responsibility. From my own perch, the responsibility I take most seriously is the idea of keeping things simple, and keeping agenda filtered out to the best of my ability.

The overcomplicated, relentlessly dogmatic, and ever changing trends in fitness are selling a lot of gym memberships, DVDs, books, magazines, and supplements. Cardio theaters fill like pews on a Sunday, pockets get lined with cash, and though there are some beneficiaries from this process, many more just go through the motions not knowing why, and with little to show for it.  At the end of the day, most answers will come from within, and individual success will be the product of simplicity and consistency. Go now, and learn it. Be well… rc

Post Script:  Please feel free to superimpose this message over the ideals of religion, business, higher learning, and politics….

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Harlem. Enjoy!

Thank You…

Living Intentionally…

Each morning I wake up with the best of intentions. In my pre-dawn meditation, as I take inventory of all I have and all I am, I remind myself to be the best possible father, son, friend, businessman, and neighbor that I can be. Most mornings I have screwed it up by 9:00am. Never though, do I quit trying.

Yesterday, after helping a friend complete the final stage of a move into her new apartment, it was a sincere joy to surprise her by treating her to a live Christmas tree. Her artificial tree had been lost in the move. Not only did I buy it for her, I chose to stay and set it up so she could spend the afternoon focused on her school work.

When it came to buying a stand for the tree I had 2 choices; $6.99 or $14.99. I chose $6.99. Once the stand was assembled, I tilted the tree up, positioned it in the center of the stand, and tightened the 4 screws which were to stabilize the tree. I was ready to be a hero for my friend, if only for a moment.

Like a bad case of Tourette’s though, the rapid-fire discharge of my foul language from my mouth, as the tree fell out of the stand was cause for my friend to take shelter behind a led shield. She just stepped into the kitchen instead, as her 2 dogs and my dog began to shake. So much for being a hero…

After offering my friend and our dogs my sincere apologies, and hiding behind a false calm exterior, I returned to the store to purchase the $14.99 tree stand in hopes it would actually work.  Though the short drive should have been a good opportunity for me to calm down and remember what’s important, each red light raised my blood pressure a few more points. By the time I got to the Wal-Mart parking lot on the Saturday before Christmas, I felt like Michael Douglas in the movie Falling Down.  My hands were trembling and steps were fast and hard.

Then I stopped for a minute and re-listened to a voice mail message which another friend left me only hours before. In this message I had gotten word that an elderly friend and former client had been hospitalized – I was told she wasn’t going to make it. So a Christmas tree fell out of a stand, and I hit a few red lights – no big deal. I quickly remembered what’s important and calmed down.

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Goodbyes Too Often…

In the last few years I have known or known of more than a dozen people who have passed away unexpectedly and far too young. The younger brother of one of my best friends died suddenly and unexpectedly – he was in his early 40s. Another friend who had recently texted someone that she was having the best day of her life died of a heart attack only moments after she sent that text – she was 42. Last month the adolescent daughter of a friend and fellow fitness trainer passed – that one will haunt me forever. Earlier this year the son of a client and local business man passed – he was my age. I have run out of fingers to count these losses with. Hardly a month goes by…

Thinking of these people and their families is always grounding to me – a good reminder that, as cliché as it sounds, each day really is a gift.

So when I returned to my friend’s home with the better Christmas tree stand, I immediately put the stand down, kissed her cheek, and told her that appreciate her. After all, we were married for 17 years and have a daughter together. For me, that kind of appreciation is eternal.

Each morning I wake up with the best of intentions. I wish to be the best possible father, son, friend, businessman, and neighbor that I can be. I really do try. Most mornings I have screwed it up by 9:00am, though I never quit trying.

Thank You…

In the course of my life I have given everyone who knows me numerous opportunities to dislike me, if not sever our relationship. Family, friends, business associates, and neighbors have all seen me at my worst, despite that it is always my intention that they see me at my best. To be around me long enough is to see me go from zero to son-of-a-bitch in 2.3 seconds.

I suppose everyone who knows me well though, knows me well enough that they understand my good intentions. Like a quality golf shot on an otherwise poor outing, I guess that’s what keeps them coming back for more.

As another year closes out, and the mile marker of 2016 is within sight, and as I try even harder to let the better me prevail, I would simply like to thank my family, friends, business associates, and my neighbors for knowing me and liking me anyway.

If a tree falls in the living room, do I make a sound…? I will hope that in the future, I won’t. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from a later incarnation of Led Zeppelin. Enjoy…

The Primary Colors Of Strength…

Few Ingredients…

We learn the primary colors early in life, often before we even learn to read. From combining just 3 colors; red, yellow, and blue, all other colors can be reached. Often though, we don’t need much more than the primary colors to achieve a creative conclusion.

Though many great works of art include a myriad of colors from across the spectrum, it is the seasoned artist who understands best where and how to apply those colors, or even if they are needed. Even so, some of the most advanced artists through the years have been touted for their simplest works. We call this minimalism.

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The Workout As A Form Of Art…

All traditional strength exercises are variations of 6 simple movements; pushing, pulling, bending, torso rotation, squatting, and raising the extremities laterally. Every strength exercise is a variation of those 6 primary movements.  What is a workout, if not an expression of creativity…?

Pushing: The use of force to transfer a load away from our body. There is vertical pushing, horizontal pushing, downward pushing, and pushing through any angle in-between.

Pulling: The use of force to draw a load toward our body. We can pull from overhead, pull from in front, we can pull from below, or we can pull from any angle in-between.

Squatting, bending, torso rotation, and raising the arms and legs laterally have as many variations.

Other ways in which we can vary our pushing and pulling are by adjusting hand positions. Wide grips, medium grips, narrow grips, overhand grips, and underhand grips can all be used to promote variety in the pushing and pulling aspects of strength training. These varying angles and hand positions allows us to direct tension to different areas of our musculature. In squatting, varying one’s foot position can have the same effect.

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Primarily Speaking…

I try and teach my students that not every painting requires every color. In fact, the works of art I appreciate most are those with few colors and few complexities. Similarly, not every workout needs every possible angle, hand, or foot position. This is a mistake I see frequently with others; the more is better mindset. Walk into any gym and you’ll see people of all ages and all levels of proficiency performing set after set of many variations of the same exercise by changing angles, hand, and foot positions until they are exhausted.

Though I also tend to pursue this type of variety in my workouts, I do so more on a monthly basis, not by the workout. That is, in the course of a month I might include bench presses performed on an incline bench, on a flat bench, or on a decline bench.  I might perform chest presses on a machine, with dumbbells, or with barbells in a month’s time – there is value in all of these, but rarely do I duplicate them in a given workout. Not only can that duplication be detrimental to the muscles by over training them, it is a very large waste of time – my most valued commodity.

Though variety will help to foster progress in hypertrophy and functional physicality, it is variety over time which matters much more than variety within a workout. Like the simple painting, simplicity in the structure of a workout can offer more from less.

It’s Not Rocket Science

We live in the granite counter top generation. We decorate every wall. Most of us have at least some clothes in our closet which we rarely wear or have never worn. Our phones have more power than most of us can comprehend, and our cars now do things which we could do on our own not long ago. Increasing social and technical complexity are among our many co-masters.

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For my time in the gym, that is where the real beauty is; in a lack of complexity. I usually perform one variation each, of 6 basic movements in my workouts, and use the 13.7 billion year old force of gravity to affect them. Despite what social media, many fitness trainers, and the fitness industry at large might have you believe, it’s not rocket science – it’s a simple art. Be creative, and be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Van Morrison. Enjoy!

Mixed Thoughts On Religious Tolerance…

Calling 9/11…

In the days after 9/11 people went to books stores and got online in droves to attain, read and better understand the Qur’an. Presumably, so they might better understand the motivation behind the attack on the World Trade Centers. Huston Smith once wrote, “nobody ever curled up on a rainy night with the Qur’an.” Honestly, on the heels of 9/11 the need to better understand Islam never crossed my mind.

I guess I was fortunate inasmuch as I didn’t feel a need to read Islamic text to better understand Muslims. I simply saw them daily and up close. I had two Muslim clients at the time; hardworking business people with dreams, beliefs, shortcomings, puppies, and tonsillitis – just like me. Because we were social in and out of the gym, I saw firsthand through their extended families and friends what their surface lives looked like. With the exception of names which were often difficult to pronounce, their lives and mine were surprisingly similar.

My friends, both female, didn’t dress in what we think of as traditional Islamic women’s attire – unless sweat pants and ponytails fall into that category. From their gym memberships, to their favorite chocolates, to Wiggles concerts and all in-between, they were Americans.

They didn’t remain clients too long after 9/11, though they do remain friends. Despite that they dressed and conducted themselves like normal Americans, they had middle eastern names, darker skin, and did little to hide their Muslim faith, though they were not overtly Muslim. Their Islam, like many people’s religion, was just something they carried in their back pocket, to be taken out as needed.

Celebrate difference...

Celebrate difference…

In a conservative town though, it became increasingly hard for them to go out without having their faith publicly questioned, and often persecuted by the ignorant. In watching this take place I would learn that ignorance can be overpowering. So overpowering that my two friends eventually left the area in favor of the more forgiving downtown San Diego where there is a more broadminded populous.

To think, from that singular day in 2001, and from the actions of only a few, every day thereafter my friends, like many Muslims in the US, would have to pull their Islam from their back pocket and present it like some kind of cultural ID card to be scrutinized whenever questioned by the ignorant. How old that must have gotten. Rarely do I see Christians and Jews have to explain their beliefs or justify their intentions while buying detergent, based solely on the act of a few on a given day.

Broad Brush Strokes…

I was asked recently by a young woman I mentor about the differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I was quick to channel her toward seeking the commonalities between them, explaining she would learn more by directing her attention to how similar the 3 faiths are. She kept pressing me though, as if she might discover some major difference(s) if I were to better divide the 3 religions for her.

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I explained that broad brush strokes usually paint blurry pictures, but I would do my best to reduce it to three fundamentals differences which I see to be as much cultural as they are religious:

– Christianity is fundamentally about forgiveness over indiscretion.
– Judaism is about repairing indiscretion.
– Islam is about living life in a way that there is no need for forgiveness or repair.

None of those 3 explanations is more noble than the other two. I’ll even suggest that it is the goal of each faith to combine all 3; to forgive, to repair, and to move forward in a better way, but that each tenet noted above is central to its corresponding faith. However broad those brush strokes might be, I actually stand with them. I feel very good about offering this perspective to my young friend.

Atheism, Islam, And Prejudice…

One of the great ironies I see in the social media era is this: I have a network of liberal, open-minded friends who would fight to their death to protect my human rights. If I were gay, transgender, or preferred to have sex with monkeys, they would support me. I find an unsavory duality with the knowledge that many of those open minded friends are against all religion and call themselves atheists.

By the way, being against religion doesn’t make one an atheist. It makes one an anti-theist. In an even more inverse irony, many of these anti-theist friends are now standing up for immigrant Muslims, yet take a hard stand against American Christianity. This makes no sense and can’t be explained, only rationalized.

Simply put, if a person is against religion as a collective, or any particular religion, that is a form of prejudice – period. To be against anyone’s beliefs in favor of their own is an undeniable act of bigotry. So please, don’t defend my right to have sex with monkeys if you won’t also support my right to pray to a god – any god, or every last god in the pantheon.

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Religion has been part of our cultural DNA since hunter-gatherer times. Like any trait of biological evolution, if religion did not serve a sound purpose in carrying our species upward and ahead, cultural evolution would have weeded religion out long ago. Clearly it has not. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there is this from Jellyfish. Enjoy!

The Elegant Plateau…

Road Detour…

In life we often find ourselves traveling a road which takes us in a direction that was once obvious and fitting, but in time becomes no longer consistent with our personal growth and changing values.  So we choose a new road, one which we see leading us in a better direction or into the next phase of our life.  Somewhere down that road, we may realize we’re back on the original road we turned off of.  Either consciously or subconsciously we’ve circled back only to find that we’re headed in that same direction which we had exited for all the right reasons.

As it relates to my relationship with strength training, several times since my mid-40s, I have chosen to leave one road in favor of the road which makes more sense for the next phase of my life.  It usually doesn’t take long though, for me to end up back on the road I left; the road of bigger, stronger, leaner.  That was the right road for the younger me, but no longer.

At least 3 times in the last 10 years I have said enough is enough in the pursuit of more; more strength, more mass, more lean.  I well understand the limits of age; that the human body will only get so strong, so muscular, so lean.  So I choose a new road; the road of the elegant plateau.  The elegant plateau is a direction where if I don’t get any stronger, any more muscular, or any leaner, I’m ok with it.  That if I can just maintain what I have as I grow older, that is progress enough.

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This Time I Mean It…

Nearly 10 years after I first told myself enough is enough, I found myself on the road to bigger, stronger, leaner yet again.  Daily in my strength workouts I note in my journal how challenging or not a movement is.  If it’s not too challenging, and the form is intact, I note to increase the weight for the next workout.  In some exercises I’m actually using more weight in proper form than ever.  That this progress is doable is feeding me ego.  It is also stifling the very purpose for my workouts.

This pursuit of increased poundages is not breaking my body down excessively.  It isn’t hurting me.  It isn’t stressful.  It’s simply a departure from a philosophical tenet; that I just don’t need more of anything.  In all other aspects of my life I pursue less or just enough, yet when it comes to my workouts, I have been pursuing more.  I’m done.

I am once again committing to the road of the elegant plateau – and this time I mean it.  Simply stated, I will no longer pursue more strength, more muscle mass, or a leaner physique.  The condition I maintain today, is also the site of my next month.  If I can maintain this condition ongoing, I’m ahead of the game.

I look ok in a form fitted shirt – even when it’s tucked in.  I push reasonable weights in proper form.  I can run as fast as needed if being chased by Frankenstein.  I’m as lean as I’m going to get.  For all of this, I have few aches and much confidence.  I work out first and foremost to enjoy it.

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Buddhabuilding…

Bodybuilding light, or Buddhabuilding as I like to think of it, is based on the structure of traditional bodybuilding for larger purposes, but with a little less intensity, a little less volume, and a more moderate load.  It is still concerned with strength, size, and aesthetics so far as maintaining them goes.  However, it carries with it more utility in the areas of functional strength, balance, flexibility, sustainability, and the best aspect of all, a transformative, meditative state during the workout that just isn’t there when I’m in pursuit of more.

Buddhabuilding also incorporates balance and stretching movements in-between sets.  That is, if I’m doing 3 sets of incline bench presses, in-between sets I’ll either hold a stretching posture for 30 seconds or perform a balance exercise for 30 seconds, then on to the next set with more balance or stretching in-between the sets which follow.

The weights used with a given strength exercise are by no means light.  They are challenging, yet achievable, and lend themselves to a meditative state as I am better able to concentrate on the muscles involved.  This is where a connection takes place between my mind and my body that just isn’t there when the weights are heavier.

The Soundtrack & The Result…

One of the better aspects of Buddhabuilding to me is the soundtrack.  I gave up listening to music while exercising years ago.  These days it’s books on philosophy, religion, and cultural evolution which lead me through my games with gravity, efficiently building body and mind simultaneously, one hour at a time.  I had a great run at Buddhabuilding from 2005-2011 when I got greedy again and wanted more.  It’s time to get back to being me.

Liking my workouts – loving them has been the methadone of my existence for years.  It’s where time stands still for me.  I find that when I’m pursuing bigger, stronger, leaner, the physical results may be glorious, but that timeless state that sooths my soul is elusive.  When the weights are more moderate, the concentration is higher, and my mind is similarly stimulated, the result is a transformative workout, and that result is much more needed in my life than larger triceps.  Be well…  rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this from Jason Falkner.  Enjoy!