Formative Moment #3,287: Fitness Culture On The Skids…

Love Hate Love…

At the core of my love-hate relationship with the ideal of fitness, is my love-hate relationship with culture itself. Specifically, how society so often manages to ignore the very priorities which should preserve and enhance culture.

Example: Smoking causes early death.

Reality: Smoking is prevalent in society.

lovehate

So what does this have to do with fitness…?

Example: Working out to take care of one’s self is good.

Reality: Obsessing on exercise to the point of ignoring everything else in one’s life is selfish and counterproductive.

This morning I overheard one gym member speaking to his workout partner about blowing off his wedding anniversary later that evening in favor of a 2nd workout – on the same day. Hearing this, I began reflecting on a similar moment I experienced with my own workout partner a couple of years back.

Formative Moment #3,287: The Back story…

In 2012 I had been about 7 or 8 months into one of the better training cycles, and training relationships I have enjoyed in my life. My workout partner at the time, formerly a client, was a female bodybuilder with a great physique and a supreme work ethic. She was also a working professional, the mother of 4, and seemed to have it all.   She and I strength trained together 3-4 days per week, trail ran 1-2 days per week, and dined together frequently.

She was the most disciplined training partner I have ever had. She even planned her professional travel schedule around gyms in the cities and countries where she traveled. She helped reignite a fire in my training life which had been cooling for a couple of years.

If It’s Broke, Fix It. But Don’t Interrupt My Lunch…

One Sunday morning after my partner and I finished a hard trail run, we were on our way to our ritual lunch of Mediterranean salads, ice tea, and patio time in the San Diego winter sun. While driving, she got an unexpected phone call from her husband. Her son, 12, who rides motocross a very high level, had been in an accident and had broken his arm. So much for lunch.

I was a little confused when my partner didn’t turn the car around on a dime. She just continued driving as she and her husband discussed which medical facility he would take the child to. Minutes later my partner and I were on the café patio. This left me feeling uneasy. I was sitting under a palm tree drinking tea with this kid’s mother while he was on his way to the emergency room to have his broken arm set.

What's my scene...?

What’s my scene…?

 

The following day my partner had told me that her son had a fracture of both the radial and ulna bones in his forearm, and there would need to be a surgical repair involving rods and screws. That surgery would not take place for several weeks since his arm would have to set first in a cast.

Formative Moment #3,287: Gulpsmacked…

Several weeks later my partner showed up for a morning workout. As I do with all my clients, I greeted her at the door and asked her how her family was doing. During this exchange I asked about her son’s impending surgery. I was thinking it was scheduled for later that week.

“Oh” she said, “I just dropped him off.”

Just. Dropped. Him. Off.

Now the hospital in question was only a mile from my training studio. The child’s father was with him, and my partner did have her cell phone with her. However, I just couldn’t imagine the mother of a pre-teen boy who wouldn’t want to be at her son’s beside as he goes under a general anesthetic – or at least be in the waiting room. No surgery is a guarantee, but I guess no workout is either.

That moment changed me – truly and deeply.

Yes, she was the action figure every woman wanted to be, and the best training partner I ever had. She was becoming somewhat of a social media sensation, and a local hero for her physique and for her hardcore work ethic. She was no longer though, my candidate for mother of the year.

Zombie Workout…

I sauntered through our workout that day in an almost catatonic state. During my sets I was on. In-between I just looked at the floor and could hardly speak. I was saddened sickened that she chose leg day over her son’s bedside. Yet another person I had greatly admired up and disappointed me, but that’s on me not her. I should know by now the only person I should put any expectations on is me. This was just one more reminder that in life that those who seem to have so much often achieve their success at a price we may never know about behind the scenes.

My relationship with this partner deteriorated in the coming weeks, to a point where eventually we no longer trained together. She caught the CrossFit bug at just the right time, and that’s just as well since I am the opposite of CrossFit. She and I have come face to several times since the demise of our training relationship and have been cordial.

It all looks good -- until you have pass on the beer...

It all looks good until you have pass on the beer — or your kid’s surgery…

At the time she dropped her son off for his surgery in favor of a workout, I was nearing the best shape of my life past 50. That night though, as I took it all in, I ordered a pizza and enjoyed it with a beer or three – and didn’t think twice about it.

Keeping the right fire lit...

Keeping the right fire lit…

Since that day I have continued to train hard – most of the time. I have eaten well – most of the time. I have maintained a fair physique, though I am not where I was on that day two years ago. I knew the second she spoke those words to me, “I just dropped him off” that the fire required to be jacked and shredded would never burn that hot again. I can only hope that my fire to be mindful, and reasonable stays lit, and for the rest of my days. Be well. rc…

   *****COMMENTS ARE CLOSED THIS WEEK*****

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I hit the STOP button on the blender in m head. Oh, and there’s this from The Hoodoo Gurus.   Enjoy…

Thus, I continue…

Deep thoughts in grade 3…

I can trace the start of my life-long existential meltdown to a single moment in the 3rd grade.  A friend had told me that if the radio next to my bathtub fell in while I was bathing, I would be electrocuted, and die.  That thought frightened me.  It also opened my mind up to possibilities, and options.  That is the first memory I have of contemplating death, and all that may come after.

That was also the first moment I realized that my own death could be in my charge.  That is, if I chose to push that radio into the tub, I would have control over my own existence.  That idea remains the most powerful thought I would ever have.  I have thought about my death, self-inflicted or otherwise, nearly every day of my life since that day.

To consider self-inflicted death or to actually contemplate it, are not necessarily synonymous.  I think about ending my own life intermittently throughout the course of most days.  Mostly as an instant way out of the otherwise tedious moments which comprise my days.  I imagine it, but I don’t do it.  I only contemplate taking my life when the confluence of external and internal forces narrow the stream of my thoughts into a space so tight with borders so rigid that I feel they will burst from the pressure.

In stressful situations, or when the heavy blanket of my own depression lowers itself upon me, I have craved to be excused from this world in favor of another.  Therein lies the good problem; there is no guarantee of another life.  Even if there is another life waiting, what guarantee is there that it would be better than this one…?

Why I don’t…

If you’ve read this far then you have probably determined that you’re going to contact my mother, state authorities, or avoid me altogether.  Please don’t.  Throughout this ongoing negotiation in my head, there has been a kill switch on that kill switch.  I believe to my core that suicide is just a reset button which can only return me back to Go, without collecting the $200, and forcing me to start this game all over again.  Perhaps in a another time, and in another body, but a do-over just the same.

In my life have done many wonderful things, and shared amazing times with beautiful people.  I have loved, laughed, and stood at the edge of nature with wide wonder.  I have seen beauty which has moved me to tears, and felt love even greater.  I have been thrilled to the point of ecstasy, and fulfilled to the point of absolute guilt.  I am grateful to have won the lottery of life.

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I have also cowered down though, many times beaten by fear, paralyzed by apprehension, overcome with rage, and stifled by depression.  I have cried without explanation, experienced loss, deprivation, and sorrow.  I have expressed hatred, caused hurt, and come to regret it.  I have even thwarted murderous feelings on more than one occasion, the murder of my own self included. Despite these, I have found the strength to carry on.

I have not exercised my option to take my own life, and I believe I never will, for the simple fact that as good as my life has been, I don’t wish to relive the bad stuff.

On the selfishness of suicide…

The act of suicide is often referred to as ‘selfish’.  Those who are left behind are often resentful of, and bitter toward the departed.  I don’t subscribe to that belief, and if you are one who does, I ask you to reconsider.

We who remain behind in the wake of suicide, have no idea what thoughts may have been colliding, nor how hard or how long those collisions might have been taking place inside the head of someone that desperate to end their life. We often know little of the external influences, and even less of the internal conflicts which may have led a person to that moment.  Assigning selfishness to the act is a judgment no living person is qualified to make.

There can be no way to understand that moment – that chaotic moment when a life, a future, a legacy, and the all the relationships that go with it, no longer hold any value.  It must feel, in that moment, like the universe has not yet begun, or has already ended, and therefore there is nothing to lose since there is pure solitude.

I have even come to actively question whether suicide is the ultimate act of bravery, and we who are left behind are the dumb and the weak ones.  I don’t genuinely believe this to be the case.  However, if I am capable of such a thought, then others might also have felt this.  In my quietest moments I wonder if some who have taken their own lives, have done so in the name of bravery, not looking just a little deeper into the outcome.

At the end of the day, despite all that isn’t yet known of causality, and existence, my dog still needs to be fed, my daughter requires shoes, the lettuce in the crisper still turns blue if I fail to eat it, and my mother deserves to know each week that she is loved, if only by telephone or text.  Thus, I continue…  Be well.  rc

Please take a moment to scroll back to the top and rate this essay honestly.  Thank you.

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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 Dog Trumpet.  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…

 

Into the mystic…

Into the mystic…

Yesterday I wrote on my Contemplative Fitness Facebook page about how I believe an extended calorie deficit is required to promote fat loss.  By and large what I wrote was accepted, but there were a few comments, and a few more private emails which suggested (reminded me) that at some point a calorie deficit may not be enough for fat loss to continue.  This is true, and at some point there does exists a gray area.

The ideal of fat loss is based on manipulating a system.  Like all systems, the metabolic system has varying components and influences.  Components and external forces work with or against each other to determine the result of that system.  Examples of these variations included quantity of caloric intakes, insulin resistance, hormone production/fluctuation, sleep, activity level, and food intolerances to name just a few.  These all can influence metabolism, and subsequently fat loss.

I’ll suggest that most people attempting fat loss, be it for aesthetic reasons or for reason of improved health, don’t have a clue where they stand with regard to many of these factors, with the exceptions of caloric intake, and activity level.  Thus, people focus on primarily on caloric intake, and activity level because these are within an individual’s mental grasp, and immediate control.  Ghrelin production?  Food allergies…?  Not so much.  Many people reading this will have to use The Google to find out what ghrelin even is.  Few people know of their food allergies, intolerances, or hormone discrepancies.

 mystic

When I talk about these intangibles in metabolism, the analogy I like to use is that of cardio activities.  Many people who attempt fat lost engage in a cardio activity to help accelerate the fat loss process.  It’s clear that burning calories is good, and that cardio burns calories.  With this in mind, people take to their cardio theater somewhat intelligently, yet somewhat blindly, and go 30, 45 or 60 minutes at a time – whatever.

Rarely (never) have I seen anyone calculate the precise cardio duration required on a given day to meet their goal based on these variables; BMR, BMI, age, blood sugar at inception of exercise, KCals of the current 24 hour span, and caloric intake of the current 24 hour span.

If someone were to calculate their required cardio duration for a given day based on these variables, it would probably not be the cookie cutter 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or 60 minute of cardio commonly done.  I don’t know of anyone who uses that kind of math to accurately calculate their daily cardio activity to the precise minute needed in order to maximize fat loss on a given day.  I don’t even do that myself. I just choose 30 minutes, or 45 without knowing the details of what I truly require on that day.  In short, I eyeball it.

Back to calories in vs. calories out.  The broad brush stroke that I painted yesterday is just that; a broad brush stroke.  By and large if one lives in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, one will lose body fat – we just eyeball it as best we can, despite the many unknown intangibles involved.

Should someone live in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, and not lose body fat, I will suggest the following things:

1.      Know your BMR.

2.      Accurately track your ingested calories daily to ensure there is a continued deficit.

3.      Accurately track your kinetic calorie expenditure to ensure you are promoting a deficit.

4.      Track your sleep patterns.

5.      Spread your calories out as evenly as possible through the course of a day.

The science of metabolism is getting better, but like all sciences in this era, there are at least as many unknowns that there are knowns.   If you follow the steps above, ensure their accuracy, remain true to them for an extended period of time, and still do not lose body fat, see an experienced endocrinologist to explore potential hormone imbalances, and food intolerances.

Your general practitioner or primary care physician may be a good person, and may have even coached your kid’s ball team, but he or she probably knows slightly less about the many variables in fat loss than the monkey-see-monkey-do editors of Shape magazine, or the Fitness Blogasaurus you put such blind trust in.

It’s a science, but not a science wholly understood just yet.  I will always suggest that when questions arise, you yourself should dawn the lab coat, be the note taker, collect the data of you, study that data as it applies to you, be the scientist, and hopefully master your system before you place it in the hands of professional amateurs.  Just my opinion…  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 Spain.  Enjoy…

The math of a mile…

 

Short and sweet this week.  A re-post of yesterday’s thought on my Contemplative Fitness Facebook page.

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The math of a mile…

The U.S. population is about 316 million people. Of those 316 million, approximately 240 million are between the ages of 12 and 65.

Of the 240 million people between 12 and 65, most possess the physical ability to walk or to run an uninterrupted mile. However, it is estimated that of those 240 million, only 34 million run or walk regularly. That leaves 206 million people who could benefit from a daily walk or run, but choose not to.

On average, for every mile walked or run, approximately 100 calories are burned. I know this will vary depending on the person, and the intensity of the walk or run, but 100 calories per mile is a good number for the sake of my argument.

If those remaining 204 million people who possess but don’t use the ability to walk or run 1 daily mile, did so for 33 days, AND made no other changes to their daily exercise or eating, each person would lose (approximately) one mathematical pound. That’s not a lot.

As a collective though, the U.S. would lose approximately 204 million pounds in that month’s time. That is a lot.

In a year’s time, without changing any other eating or exercise habits, if everyone who could walk or run one mile per day did so, individually they could lose 12 pounds. That’s tangible, if not impactful.

By the end of that year, our nation could lose nearly 2.5 billion pounds. That’s more than a lot. Again tangible, and impactful.

shoes

Imagine what effect this collective weight loss could have on our healthcare costs, on the prescriptions needed or not needed, on the moments enjoyed with family and friends, and on the mental health and personal confidence of all, let alone of us as a nation. 

I’m not trying to organize any kind of movement here.  I can scarcely organize myself.  I really do wonder though, what the country might be like one year from now if everyone who isn’t moving began moving — today.  Food for thought.  Be well… rc

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Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this by The Mooney Suzuki.  Enjoy…

Downshift…

Preying for change…

I’ll begin this by stating in clear terms; I have no problem with the killing of, or the eating of animals.  So long as those animals have been raised humanely by organic methods, or have been caught in the wild by methods which will not significantly reduce populations or threaten the species, I’m good with it.  Man has been eating other animals almost from the beginning, as animals have also been eating other animals, including man.  All who are born, are born as a potential snack.

What I can no longer do, what I am no longer willing to accept, is to eat animals raised inhumanely, sustained callously, and slaughtered brutally.  Between the callousness of their surroundings, the hormones and antibiotics they are reared with, and within the filth they are raised in, high volume animal farming is something I can no longer support.

Shake up in the cabinet…

As I have cleared the last of my farmed meat from my freezer; beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp, and as I have used my last egg given by a caged chicken,  I now begin a process that will have me obtaining most of my protein from plant-based sources – even if those sources contain GMOs.  I would rather eat genetically modified soy curd, than an inhumanely raised chicken, or farmed or threatened fish. Or to put it more succinctly, I would rather have more GMOs in my diet, than OMGs.

As I can access and afford it, I will also include protein derived from un-caged chickens, unchained dairy cows, grass-fed and humanely slaughtered beef, bison, and whatever game and fish I catch, or my friends are willing to provide to me.

This is not a stand against eating Bambi.  If Bambi is in the right place at his wrong time, and ends up on my dinner table, I ‘m down.  This is a stand for how I believe we should conduct ourselves as a species, and as the stewards of this planet.  I am no longer willing to accept the way many corporations raise, slaughter, distribute, and market animal food sources.

BambiII

Guess who is coming to dinner…?

Sensationally speaking…

I understand the video below is social media sensationalism at its best.  I also understand that it’s real – nothing seen in it has been contrived.  These, and similar methods of animal processing are all around us, and have been for decades.  It is only social media that has many of us seeing red for the first time, over seeing red for the first time.  Seeing this video was simply the final push I needed to take this personal stand I have been on the verge of for more than a decade, but have selfishly resisted.

Judge Not, Roy Bean…

In this decision I am not passing judgment on anyone else, nor am I advocating similar actions by others.  The complexity of our food system – of our society has expanded to a point where answers and truths can no longer be established by outside sources.  In this era of increasing complexity, I truly believe that the best answers and the best truths we can depend on must come from within.

Sadly, people are certain to judge me on this decision.  There will be jokes cracked, social media friendships threatened, more than a few snickers.  That’s on them, not on me.  Though I don’t believe I will waiver on this, as I have not wavered on not owning a vehicle, I certainly won’t attempt to predict the future – I consistently suck at it.

 Restaurant not impossible…

Though I expect making these changes might offer some challenges in the beginning, I’m not too concerned about the adaptation process.  My weak link though, will be in restaurants. I eat out often, sometimes several times a day.  Most everything I eat in restaurants I have deemed acceptable until now.  That definition has changed.

Most of what I order in restaurants has been chicken or egg based.  My friends may roll their eyes as I add tofu or textured vegetable protein to a garden salad at the local diner.  Perhaps not as much if I just thrown a little ground bison that salad, and call it good.  We shall see.  Regardless, eating out will need to be modified.

Did somebody tell me that the restaurant chain, Chipotle, offers tofu...?

Did somebody tell me that the restaurant chain, Chipotle, offers tofu…?

The hustle to keep up the muscle…

Lastly, as a lifelong weightlifter, bodybuilder, and weekend athlete, I have raised myself to be the ultimate carnivore.  I have eaten red meat most every day of my adult life, often by the pound, with a belief that animal protein, beef in particular, is a requirement for strength, energy, and forging a tasty aesthetic.  This is going to be tested to be sure, since my bodybuilding aspirations remain intact.

If my strength, energy, and aesthetic suffer for a lack of feedlot beef, farmed fish, and caged eggs, my soul certainly will not suffer.  In these days, and in these times, my interest lies much more with soul-building than with bodybuilding.  Be well… rc

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

Caught between Emerson, And George…

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.

On George…

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.

Minolta DSC
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!”

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 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.

Probably not what I will be doing at 74 years old...

Probably not what I will be doing at 74 years old…

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

“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.”

“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.”

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…

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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…

On social cancers, building walls, and establising legitimacy…

No real cancer answer…

I have believed for some time that the future of humanity depends largely on religious tolerance.  I believe that through my very core.  To say the same thing from a less optimistic direction, it is my opinion that religious intolerance is a social cancer metastasizing, and preparing to deliver a slow and excruciating and death to mankind.

Of course the conundrum in that scenario is that humanity’s cancer can’t be treated or cured by a select few practitioners such as priests, popes, or prime ministers.  For this cancer to be cured it will need to be an effort in which the entire congregation opens their minds and steps outside of their comfort zone.  Let the followers lead, and the leaders will follow.  Well, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Cancer: Real pretty from the outside...

We can see this pattern unfolding in other areas of life as well – everyday, and all around us.  Divisions in nations, politics, the sciences, and social issues in the media are increasing as time expands.  Chasms extend.  Harder and faster lines are being drawn as cultures and subcultures push further apart, and shore themselves into deeper isolation.  As these divisions become wider, the walls separating them become more important to those behind the walls.

Let’s face it, we just need somebody to fear – or somebody to hate…

Chasms in lesser places…

There is an increasing divisiveness in the fitness communities as well. We have clean eating vs. IIFYM, Yoga vs. Pilates, Paleo eating vs. Mediterranean eating, barefoot running vs. ultra-stabilizing shoes, P90x vs. Tai Chi, and CrossFit vs. the gym on the corner.  Of course, these are just light examples of such divisions.  Hard and fast lines are being drawn, walls are being built, and unwitting insurgents are being bread by way of the social media with each new week, and with each new trend.

Think about it: the ways that fitness factions use their constituencies, information, and the media to increasingly establish their legitimacy is not too different from the ways religions, nations, and causes use their constituencies, information, and the media to establish their legitimacy.  There is a blurry line though, between establishing legitimacy, and creating isolation.  Just look at around…

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”

Oh, and when you’re done, can we please recycle the materials so we can build a new wall in Gaza, or in Texas…?

We'll teach those barefoot runners who's in charge!"  And I wouldn't want my sister to marry one...

In fitness subcultures, unlike in national or religious identities, loose borders are first established by the followers of organic trends such as barefoot running.  As an organic trend catches on and increases, speculators identify the trends and see them as profit centers.  They then seek to take control of those borders, redraw them, and depend on those who initially carved them out organically, to take protect them.  The followers of the organic trend have then become followers of a corporate trend, and the organic subculture dissipates in favor of a for-profit trend. Then again, maybe that is how happens in states, nations, and faiths…

The leaders of fitness business trends don’t scare me as much as the foot-soldiers who guard these borders do.  The followers, or devotees, of many modern fitness movements are the militia of these fitness factions.  Like other militias, these people often don’t even understand the flexibility of the borders they strive to protect, yet they make the most noise, and throw the first gas cocktails when feeling threatened.  Many aren’t too willing to try and understand the other factions.  Hope fades in fitness, as it does in Gaza.

“For this cancer to be cured it will need to be an effort in which the entire congregation opens their minds and steps outside of their comfort zone.  Let the followers lead, and the leaders will follow.”

Getting good with groups…

There must be some reasons that life, in biological and in social terms, unfolds in groups rather than in singularities.  We have multiple languages, corporations, skin tones, species, radio stations, landscapes, faiths, and fitness pursuits.  Life varies.  There is simply no denying the divisions of life that we live among and between.

I teach a very specific style of strength training.  I see a great deal of utility in what I teach and I’m proud of how I teach it.  I don’t, however, see it as absolute.  Nor do I see what I do as a good fit for everyone.  It’s a good fit for those who see it as a good fit for them.  So too should be Judaism, Hinduism, and Catholicism.

An open mind is a dangerous thing, and must be stopped in our lifetime...

In this age of increasing divisiveness, I don’t find it surprising that people may not agree with one way of eating vs. another way, or of one way of exercise vs. another.  What does surprise me though, is how passionate people become about disagreeing with others.

Building walls and screaming through them is our new national identity.  It just seems to me that channeling all that passion into understanding others, even if we disagree with them, might be a better use of our energy.  I guess I would also like to see that applied to the way we view nations, faiths, and causes as well…  Be well.  rc

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Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this from the Replacements.  Enjoy…

Point The Finger At You…

Many people I know complain – most people I know complain often about the healthcare system.  People complain about greedy insurance companies, convoluted billing systems, apathetic physicians and medical workers, and about how those in Washington only make the problem worse.

At the foundation of all of this, in my opinion, there is much truth.  The system in its current state blows.  However, if every capable adult chose to exercise for 20-30 minutes daily, and every capable adult chose to keep their calories in line with CDC recommendations, I suspect the healthcare system would be much more fluid, much more time efficient, and far more dependable than it currently is.

Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and strokes occupy a large portion of the healthcare pie.  Often times these ailments are genetically predisposed and can not be helped, but most often they are self-inflicted.  In either case, none of these are the fault of greedy insurance companies, they are not the fault of convoluted billing systems, and they are not the fault of healthcare workers, or lawmakers.  We can make the healthcare system better by making ourselves better.

A little movement daily, and a few less calories at each meal could add up to a drastically improved healthcare system.  It could also result in a country better prepared to deal with increasing its woes.   Be well.  rc

A Room Full Of Words…

The Mix

As a fitness trainer I’m fortunate to have such a variety of clients in my current rotation.  On a given week I will work on balance and flexibility with some silver haired folks.   I will aid clients my age who are interested in maximizing their functional fitness, that they live more active and more productive lives.  I will work with weight-loss clients who are trying to improve their overall health, appearance and confidence.  I will also work with a few prep athletes helping them with their strength and conditioning, and enabling them to perform better and stay injury free in their respective sports.

With such a variety in clients in a week’s time, my studio walls will also be witness to a variety of personalities and conversations.  The personalities are often strong, the conversations rarely dull, and I am richer for the discourse.  It works best when the client can talk and exercise at the same time, or restrict the conversation to the short breaks I allow in-between sets.  If the workout begins to take a back seat to the conversation, I just tap a bench with my finger tip, point to a weight, or look in the direction of a yoga mat and without interrupting the client, they will know to continue the workout.  They are all well-oiled machines.

Different Genders, Different Subjects

There are many subjects which get discussed in my studio each day.  Most men like to talk about seasonal sports.  As a sports fan I enjoy and look forward to these conversations.  I can actively contribute to them, even if I might disagree with the client’s stance or allegiance to a player or team.  Of all the sports conversations, football and golf tend to dominate.  That works for me since they are my two favorite sports.  Once football season is over, some sessions go completely silent for a while.  It’s like a black hole exists, post-football, where there is just nothing to talk about.  Then, a mass killing will take place somewhere, a tornado will toss a mid-western town down the highway a bit, or some senator will bag a 19 year old girl while his wife is in the next room, and the conversations start up again.

When football season is over Bill, age 69, and I have less to talk about. Then, I just mention Obama, and he pushes 135 pounds around in perfect form like it’s nothing…

Most women like to discuss shopping.  When the subject of shopping comes up, I’m more an active listener than participant.  Often times when shopping is discussed, I make lots of mental notes.  However, if the subject of shopping goes on too long, I listen to my client like my dog listens to me; I pretend to pay attention, but am more interested in the fly orbiting the half eaten orange on the other side of the room.  Still, I learn a lot during shopping discussions with my female clients, in a getting to know the enemy kind of way.

Food And Cancer

Of all the subjects which get discussed each week in my studio, two lead the way; food and cancer.

Cancer is discussed because it’s everywhere, all the time, and directly or indirectly affects everybody.  These are rarely bright conversations.  Discussing the cancer of friends, loved ones, and even the clients themselves can be heavy and a bit draining.  The positive aspect I try to retrieve from such conversations is to just be grateful for my own health and abilities on a given day.

Countless conversations of cancer have laid a solid groundwork in my psyche to help me prepare me for some variation of cancer which might afflict me some day.  Maybe it’s wrong to go through life with a it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when attitude.  However, daily discussions of cancer with clients through the years have placed me well into that state of thinking.

I find it interesting that whether they are 15 years old, or 89, all of my clients have brought up the subject of cancer at one time or another – all of them.

Food is the other topic which serves to nourish my day in conversation.  Though I make my living touting a healthy lifestyle, not all food discussions in my studio are about broccoli, grass-fed beef, and keeping processed foods minimal.  Yes, there is much discussed about healthy recipes, resources, tools, and motivation to eat well, and my studio is a great redistribution center for all healthy eating information.  There is much also much spoken of cheat days, where the best pizza places are, decadent desserts, and beyond.

In conversations of eating, I am a contributor to the healthy as well as the not-so-healthy of it all.  I sometimes feel myself cringe when I recommend Bronx Pizza to a weight-loss client, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it – Bronx Pizza is the bomb!  Moderation, I remind them, moderation.   Whether it’s on healthy eating, or the best dessert and martini combination in San Diego, food gets discussed literally ever hour in my studio.

I find it interesting that whether they are 15 years old, or 89, all of my clients have brought up the subject of food at one time or another – both healthy foods, and the not-so-healthy.

Though they gather more attention than all other topics combined, food and cancer are rarely spoken of together, or from the same root.  There is probably a connection there somewhere, and I may explore that connection in a future essay.

Conversations Over Crunches Redux

I once had a rule that no words be spoken in my gym unless they related to the workout itself; that if one is speaking, one can’t give supreme effort in an exercise, and I was all about supreme effort by my clients. I also had a rule about friendship with clients, or a lack thereof. As my client base has changed through the years, those rules have also changed, and conversation has become central to the experience.

I am blessed and wiser for these conversations over crunches. Since I still like to see strong effort by my clients, if the talking ever does get out of hand, I just increase the weights they are using and render them unable to speak. It’s good to be king.  Be well. rc