Life, At Face Value..

Lives Which Matter…

Last winter, after a couple of young persons I know of lost their lives, I began an exploration in my head about the value of a life.  Shortly thereafter began the string of musician deaths which will partially define 2016.  This got me thinking even more.  Ultimately the dots connected further and I began to also consider animal lives.  As all of this was playing out in my head, I moved my aging mother in with me.  One more life to consider.

From teenage girls gone too soon, to older people hanging on.  From puppies loved, to Glenn Frey and David Bowie, to the would-be lamb chops on my plate, I cannot help that throughout each of my days, I spend some time contemplating the value of any of these.  Not that I am in pursuit of any hard answers or true knowledge on the value of lives.  I simply want to distinguish better, that blurry line which separates the lives that matter from those that don’t.

Little Balls Of Duality…

An unexpected day off landed me beach side today to take it all in.  On a quilt my mother stitched by hand, I lay staring into the distance, thinking about the past and taking sporadic inventory of the many lives which surrounded me.  Mom lives.  Seagull lives.  Kid lives.  Surfer lives.  Dolphin lives.  Some lives guarded by lifeguards, others only by fate.  I was surrounded by life, yet I could not pick out a single one which I could deem unworthy

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A mother with pale skin and chubby legs stood beneath her wide brimmed hat, slathering sunscreen on her two small boys and then on herself.  Oddly though, she struggled negotiating between the tube of sunscreen in her hands and the cigarette in her mouth.  That’s when I began thinking that, as a species, we’re just little balls of duality when it comes to this lives matter stuff.

A young mother, fending off cancer with one hand, and inviting it with the other.  I hearkened back to a client who was recently grieving the loss of his niece during one of our sessions.  Shortly thereafter he proclaimed that a would-be President Trump would wise carpet bomb the Middle East – Middle Eastern nieces notwithstanding, I guess…

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Little Balls Of Duality…

Staring into the horizon, and with the sun on my back, I continued to ponder.  On one hand, we go to enormous lengths to protect and preserve the lives which matter to us, our own included.  We medicate, radiate, negotiate, and we pray.  We exercise, wear seatbelts, have designated drivers, and enrich our junk food with extra vitamins – just in case.  We bow to caution.  We respect and avoid threatening forces.  We sacrifice, and we will go into insurmountable debt in the name of preserving a life, be it a toddler or a terrier.  The lives we love matter most –most of the time.

On the other hand, we can be careless and casual when it comes to any life with which we are not fully vested, also, our own life included.   We take risks.  We partake in that which we know might be harmful.  We overeat, but when we pass by the man on the corner with the cardboard sign asking for food, we take caution not to make eye contact.  We leave some out in the cold as we sit warm by the fire.  We apply a tangy sauce, add a little sea salt, and take another bite.  We change the channel when we are asked to help starving kids in Africa, or see dogs held in cages.  A truckload of dead Mexicans overheated in the desert while trying to cross over…?  Some call this a tragedy, while others consider it an evolutionary response to population control.

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And Further Complicating Things…

In the social media era, we are bombarded with suggestions that the universe is so large, so magnificent, and so potentially full of life, that we are selfish to give so much credence to our own tiny lives.  Yet, when I think of Clara, or when I see the lost look in my mother’s eyes when she momentarily forgets what she’s doing, I can’t help but believe that each life granted has far greater significance to its constituents than all the potential of all the stars combined.

I’m ashamed to say this, but sometimes my mind swings the other way.  Please forgive me for this next thought…

It’s not a popular question to raise, and I truly don’t mean to offend anyone, but I often wonder if we fulfill our quests to cure cancer, cure heart disease, cure diabetes, stop epidemics before they begin, and in our quest to end all wars, where are we going to house all the survivors, and whose jobs will they take…?  I’m ashamed that I think about this, but, I do think about this.  I dunno…

My own life…?  Well, I’m a little dichotomy too.  I bend, I stretch, I lift, and I step, that I have a better quality of life, and a longer one.  I also do dangerous things like ride my bike without a helmet.  I have taken my liver to the brink and brought it back to health with all the zeal of parent searching for a kidnapped child.  I have taken risks, overindulged, been outright reckless at times.  I can honestly say I have had a half-dozen self-imposed near death experiences.  But do I value my life, I guess…

By the way, this isn’t about Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter.  It’s simply been an exploration in my head about why so many lives matter to most of us, most of the time, but also why so many don’t.  I guess all I really know about the value of a life is that each one has infinite cascading effects on so many others.  That, and when one life goes out, it will rarely be at the right time, and just as rarely for the right reason.  We are little balls of duality, ongoing.  Be well…  rc

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Eytan Mirsky.  Enjoy!

 

Swimming In Systems…

Girthing Globally…

The so-called obesity epidemic has made headlines once again.  Another study released this week suggests that obesity on a global level is still on the rise.  In the days since this study was published, I have read a half-dozen feature articles and blogs about how we can reverse this generations-old trend.  Yet, for all the intellectual studies, discussion, and attention obesity gets, and despite all the good intentions behind solving the problem, obesity levels worldwide are still increasing.

When it comes to fighting obesity, as with many other consequences of our social and technical advancements, too often our thinking is narrow, poorly aimed, and most often searching for singular fixes in small areas which feel good to pursue, but are often demanding and fruitless.

What is largely ignored in all the conversations about solving obesity, is the entirety of the problem; the constant expansion of the many systems which have led to its existence.  Food systems.  Marketing systems.  Social systems.  Political systems.  Religious systems.  Educational systems.  Pharmaceutical systems.  On and on.

Any one of these systems could alone be considered a monster.  Together, they conspire to be a leviathan.  Like any good leviathan, obesity is going to go where it wants to go, and will only die when it runs out of the fuel on which feeds it.  I am reminded of two fleas attempting to steer the dog they sit upon.

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Complexity begets complexity…

On the surface, solving obesity may seem like it’s all about calories in vs. calories out, changing portion sizes, providing better school lunches, CrossFit, Yoga, using a treadmill, going low-carb, low-fat or paleo, standup desks in the workplace, and even the use of qualified fitness trainers.  These may hold some value for some people at some times, but alone these aren’t going to change a thing.  The fact remains that scientific advancement and social awareness relating to obesity are at all-time highs, and our collective girth is still girthing.

How’s The Water, Boys…?

While in mid-thought this morning, as I was pondering obesity, it finally occurred to me that systems – all systems, whether they apply to the obesity epidemic, politics, consumer culture, or anything else, is the water that David Foster Wallace spoke of during his now famous commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005.  Whether this was his intention or not, it seems to me that systems, invisible and everywhere, are the water which surrounds us.

If you’re not familiar with the speech above, please bookmark it for when you have time.

 We live within millions of systems.  We navigate and transcend them, never really seeing their entirety, and always under the influence of delusion, believing we possess some level of control.   We live, breathe, act, choose, survive, delight, frown, frolic, and even get fat as a result of our systems.  We select our presidents, career paths, partners, and even our gods as influenced by an invisible ocean, and like the young fish who replies to the older fish, “What the hell is water”, we are oblivious to it as we swim.

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When I think about obesity in this context, or when I think about any disturbing social trend from air pollution, to engineered corn, campaign finance, political partisanship, landfills bursting at the seams, and even when I think about war, I tend to be more gracious these days in my judgement for both the victims as well as the perpetrators.  We are all born under water and begin swimming through our sea of systems immediately, most often with the best of intentions.  All the while though, we never really know we are swimming at all.  So, how’s the water today, Boys…?  Be well.  cc

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Procol Harum.  Enjoy…

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!

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!

First Step On A New Road…

Hunting For Smells…

We call it, hunting for smells.  It’s the 3-4 times daily ritual of my dog, Stroodle leading me on a walk along the streets and nature trails which run through town.  We go at his whim, at his pace, and are guided exclusively by the scents of the day.  My primary job is to ensure that he safely navigates the intersections he must cross as his nose guides us through town.

More recently we have come to rest briefly at the halfway point, a small grassy park just a block off of Main Avenue. Once there, we lay on the ground together for 20 minutes or so and Stroodle warms his bones in the sun as I find purity and peace by watching the calm of his face as he does this.  This is one of the more grounding and beautiful experiences I have known.  The other day as he lay in warmth, with the sun shining on his face, and with my hand gently stroking his head, I had never seen him so content.  It stirred a few tears from me.

From Peace To Macabre…

As I held one of Stroodle’s legs in my hand, I took note of the musculature.  Not from the perspective of a fitness trainer, but from that of a carnivore.  I was looking at his meat.  Only the night before, I had enjoyed one of those roasted chickens from the grocery store – the ones which smell so good under the heat lamp that I have to buy one almost every day because I can eat one almost every day.  And that’s when I looked at Stroodle differently; I envisioned how some 3rd world refugee or indigenous hominid might view his leg as I have viewed the legs of chickens time and time again.

The rapid fire chain reaction in my mind began immediately.  First, I was upset that I even went there – that I envisioned my dog as someone’s entrée.  I went further by picturing his leg without skin and this disgusted me but I couldn’t stop.  Worldwide, I thought, few animals have avoided being meals to other animals, dogs and humans included.  Suddenly, some words popped into my head and I froze.  They were words I heard spoken several years earlier by the singer, Morrisey while being interviewed on British television…

“If it has a mother” he said, “I won’t eat it.”

That has always made sense to me.  As the parent of a child and as the steward many dogs through my life, I wouldn’t want anyone eating my children – or my dogs.

The Intimate Bond...

The Intimate Bond…

The Eagle, The Snake, And The Rationalization…

I have been down this road several times before. Under the influence of inspiration, and motivated a bubbling morality, I have told the world that I am all done eating animal products of any kind.  The longest I have ever made it was 6 months in 2012-2013.

Though my intentions had always been sound when turning away from animal products, I have applied the brakes to my stance against eating them, and dipped my fork back in the trough, by contemplating a single experience I had years ago…

In 2005 I was paddling a kayak down the Middle Loop river in rural Nebraska on a hot summer afternoon.  As I turned a corner in the gentle current I looked to the shore to see an eagle swoop down, grasp a snake in its talons, rise up 50 feet or so, and thrust the snake into the ground killing it instantly.  The eagle returned to carry the snake away, presumably as takeout for its family.

This became an ongoing reminder to me during my vegan times that animals have been eating animals since there have been animals.  And that is where the rationalization to fight my moral current with this topic has always ended; with the realization that man too is an animal who has been eating animals since man has been man.  And then I saw my dog’s leg as meat and I froze in my thoughts.

The Intimate Bond…

I recently read The Intimate Bond, a book which chronicals man’s relationship with animals since hunter-gatherer times.  Among the many ideals that were exposed to me by this book is that through much of civilization, man has revered and respected the animals he has raised to eat.  Through some of the earlier times, man has paid lesser respects to what we now call household animals; cats & dogs.  It seems now that paradigm is upside-down.  Many of us hold our household pets in higher regard than members of our family.  That, and it’s okay for chickens and cows to be kept in cages, injected with steroids and antibiotics, and subsequently slaughtered only to be dressed up with just the right amount of rosemary and lemon.

Through books like Nonzero, The Better Nature of Our Angels, and The Intimate Bond I can see the trajectory of man’s gentile is getting better over time – slowly, but consistently.  There are many things which were once common place that we no longer find socially or morally acceptable; burning witches, drowning cats, and corporal punishment in schools to name a few.

I can’t help but think that 200 years from now, along with the asinine notion of growing decorative turf lawns in the American west, and sending fossil fuels into the air by the metric ton, that the idea of raising animals to kill them cruelly, and eat them nonchalantly will be something our descendants will find disappointing if not shameful.

Social & Moral Evolution For Some…

Going back to the eagle and the snake.  That eagle has not evolved morally or socially and probably never will.  Eagles 5,000 years from now aren’t any more likely to consider the snake’s feelings than the eagles of today.  The eagle reacts out of instinct and necessity.  I don’t.  I react to options and choices.  For me I’m choosing to follow my heart and my conscience, even if people see me as a fool.

I understand that a skeptic or critic might question my stance on the use of leather, other animal related products, services, and where I might draw the line.  In truth, I have no response to this at the moment.  It’s a duality that I will have to navigate for now, but I will be exploring ways to minimize the use of all animal products until the systems that stewards animals can show me a better side.

I have taken meat and animal products out of my diet before and yes, I have gone back.  On occasion, I have even questioned whether or not plants feel pain and if so, then what to eat.  Looking at my dog’s leg though, and contemplating it as though it were a piece of meat is a place I don’t think I can ever come back from, but I’ll keep you posted.  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 push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from Cornershop.  Enjoy…

A Failed Conversion…

I was approached by a man at a local coffee shop the other day. He and I had met briefly once fore. A conversation ensued between us. The man, knowing I am a fitness professional, asked if I was familiar with a nationally known multimedia fitness enterprise. The program in question is scientifically based and assures, if applied properly, an outcome of increased muscles mass and decreased body fat with just 15 minute workouts. The program calls for high intensity workouts, supported with a high fat, moderate protein and lower carbohydrate diet. I played dumb and told him I had never heard of it. I sensed immediately that I lost points in his mind for my ignorance.

As he explained the program to me, he suggested recruiting me and my facility as a resource where he could test and apply it. As we discussed this, it was clear that he had an intelligent grasp of the physiology and nutrition. I explained to him my own value-set when it comes to exercise, strength training in particular, and eating. I said nothing to debunk the science of the program he was advocating. I well understand the efficiency of high intensity training. I simply used more science, some logic and a smidge of experience to support my stance the high intensity training, despite the science behind it, might not be the best option for many most.

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Still, he kept suggesting that I look at the website, the book, and the science behind this enterprise. He felt it might change my values and subscribe me to something better than what I am already teaching. He felt this high intensity program might also open a new world for me, for my clients, and for my business, and he was willing to be my guinea pig.

In truth, I am familiar with the program he was discussing, and I believe the science behind it is solid. Variations of high intensity training have been applied to many fitness enterprises over the past 15 years or so. I have practiced variations of them and taught some as well. Despite this, I have never bought completely into exclusively high intensity programs.

I gently let him know that my own fitness ideals are sum of many years of training, studying and practicing my craft, and that I wasn’t going to let go of those values regardless of the science behind what he was suggesting. It was clear that he saw me as a narrow minded buffoon who probably just takes people’s money in exchange for letting them go through the motions as I stare at my cell phone all day long. We exchanged business cards with what I’ll suggest was a mutual assurance that they will never see the light of day again.

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I have been down this road with people many times. I am a very science minded person. When somebody approaches me about high intensity training I can tell at a glance whether they are sincere, if they understand how demanding that type of training can be, if they are capable of it, and if they truly understand the bleakness of the associated nutritional component. If they are, I absolutely know how to apply those principals for maximum results, and I have a track record of success stories which demonstrate my competence.

However, even proven science has to fit an individual’s body and lifestyle to be effective in the long-term – it has to work within the scope of a person’s life. I don’t care how sound the science is, many genres of high intensity training aren’t agreeable when superimposed over a less than fit body or a less than fit lifestyle. My firsthand experience has seen high intensity training push more people away from an exercise lifestyle than toward one. For many people, high intensity exercise isn’t fun, isn’t sustainable and won’t be the foundation of the lifestyle change they actually need.

I know there are exceptions to this; that’s where before and after pictures come from. However, for every before and after picture posted on a magazine or website, I’ll suggest there are tens of thousands of people who feel they gave money away in exchange for doubt, frustration, and perhaps even some humiliation – for buying into something they could not sustain or that never made sense to them to begin with.

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All of this I can let go of because I have faced it many times, so I wasn’t disappointed that the man I spoke with had no interest and was unwilling to learn more about my own more moderate approach to fitness. What will remain with me though, in the foreground of my conscience, is that the man who approached me is an evangelical minister. Essentially he wanted to hire me away from my own faith that I might subscribe to his. When it became clear that I was unwilling to make that leap, he spoke to me as though I were a lost soul. And so it goes… rc

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

A Fair Comparison…

I’m about to compare people’s desire to spot-reduce body fat to their need for religious salvation. To amuse you even further, I will also compare myself to Confucius.

A Day At The Beach…

About 10 years ago I took a day off to enjoy the beach with a few friends. At the time I was in my mid-40s, pretty lean, and definitely in good aesthetic and functional shape. I kind of like being at the beach – it’s a nice reward for the efforts I put into my exercise and eating regimen. It was just a casual surf day, a little chicken on the fire, some cold beer, and some sun on our backs… and hips… and bellies.

The gentlemen I was with though – my social contemporaries, had a little less back, and a little more belly and hip. As the afternoon unfolded we lay in the sun, chatted, and eventually questions began to come my way about what exercises can be used to lose body fat; hips, bellies, etc.

The Lost Diet-tribe…

I went into my normal diatribe about how fat loss is almost exclusively related to dietary concerns, and that there are no exercises – NONE which can foster or expedite fat loss in a particular region of the body. My response was based on two factors; empirical science, and my time in position working with others. Or as I like to call them, knowledge and wisdom. Confucian-like wisdom.

High on the mountain top...

High on the mountain top…

My friends appreciated my explanation, but as is always the case, they were not pleased my answers. The very idea that one has to eat less and be patient in order to lose body fat is far too similar to the story of eternal salvation; live a long time, be patient, do all the right things, and heaven awaits – but not until then!

Savior Questions For The Beach…

Later that afternoon we played some pickup football in the sand with some younger guys, two of whom happen to be defensive backs for a local junior college. One of the guys was extremely lean – shredded, and was impressive to look at. He and I began talking about the weight room when my friends joined in, asking him what he did to get his abs so developed.

First point of clarification: This was a 19 year old man who was genetically gifted, both athletically and aesthetically – that’s what skill position players in college football are.

Second Point: His only job was to spend his mornings and afternoons running sprint intervals at top seed on the practice field, tear up the weight room, and to sleep through classes and meetings. This is what college football players do – even more so at the JC level. Guys like this can and often do eat whatever they want. And by JC, I mean junior college – for now.

Now if that contradicts what I said earlier about spot-reduction, understand there is a big difference between doing a few sit-ups to lose inches, and spending a majority of one’s day running sprints and lifting weights.

No, Spot. No!

As my friends watched and listened, the JC player began to describe what he did to get his abs. I could feel the knowledge and wisdom I had shared with them earlier disappear as they created more room in their heads for something which better suited their high expectations – JC wisdom. The fact that my friends could see this man’s abs in action was all they needed in order to have false hope. And a savior was born – if not anointed.

JC, but not JC...

JC, but not JC…

Notwithstanding, the ab exercises this guy described were not only unnecessary to condition the abs, they were unsafe for anyone not already in excellent physical condition. They were abdominal exercises which offered more risk than benefit – but that’s another story.

Looks perfectly safe -- and smart...

Looks perfectly safe — and smart…

The Lightbulb…

And that’s when the light went off for me, what does it say about the human condition that when we want something so badly we often pin our hopes on things which not only seem too good to be true, but can steer us away from sound wisdom, common sense, and even science…?

We see this in all areas of life, from Keith Urban’s instant guitar success course, to investment advisers who too often throw darts on our behalf when we aren’t looking, to houses of worship claiming they alone possess the exclusive path to salvation.

There seems to be an innate desire in all of us to abandon wisdom, experience, hard work, and patience, in order that we get more of anything and get it sooner. Sadly, this includes deliverance from evil, or from adipose.

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Those same friends did not benefit from the exercises they learned from the young football player that day at the beach. They probably never attempted them. More to the point, my friends did not accept or benefit from the sound wisdom and experience I offered them, and they could have – if only they hadn’t been looking for sooner, easier, and miraculous. 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 John J. Presley. Enjoy!

The Path Of The Righteous Man (Get Off My Lawn)…

Dear Graduate,

Well, you finished. You should be proud of all you have accomplished, and anxious to begin clearing your path. If you’re like many, you’ll be busy clearing that path before you ever begin defining it.

Of course your path be largely defined by the influence of others, whether you want it to or not. Ultimately, it is you who decides in what direction it will extend, and when it is to change directions, though you may not realize this until it’s too late. Remember, that path is not just to be aimed, but to be studied. This concludes my use of the term path.

On the occasion of your graduation some pretentious asshole will stand up and speak before your entire graduating class. He or she will offer words of caution, of optimism, and of inspiration. Because your parents and school faculty will be present, those words are likely to be tempered and sugar coated. I might use this platform to offer you some thoughts less sweet, which may help illuminate the road full of forks which you are about merge onto.

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Work, Bosses, And Co-workers…

The best job you will ever have is the one you just left, or the one you are going to next. Rarely will it be the one you are in right now. You may find yourself in some employment situations where you work for assholes, but love your co-workers. You may be in situations where you love your boss, and loathe your co-workers.

At some point these may intersect and you will despise everyone in your workplace. However, the winds may blow just right one day and you may find, if only for a moment, that you love everyone you work with. Enjoy those times, for they are as magical as they are rare.

Through it all, there will be times when you thoroughly enjoy the work that you do, but some of your time in the adult workplace will haunt you far beyond quitting time, and will disrupt your sleep on a regular basis. The older I get, the more I see this as being evenly balanced. Please remember though, that at the end of the day work is what we are here for, not retirement.

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Ultimately, if you can’t find a job that you love, or can’t learn to love the job you’re in, you may wish to create your own job and your own work environment. Of course even when one is self-employed, a job is still a job. Self-employment is no guarantee for happiness, but it can put you in better field position.

Relationships…

Above all things, life is about relationships. Little else in your life will matter more than the relationships you protect, except the ones you fail to protect, though you may not discover this until it’s too late. Appreciating the value of the relationships you maintain, and possessing the ability to understand why relationships so often change or deteriorate will be useful in finding your way in dark times and in light.

People, you will learn, are clearly beautiful. Just as clearly, they are complicated confusing, messy, and can be tiresome.   At some point everyone gets dirty, bruised, and ignored, and they will let you know it. That they will let this bleed into a relationship only makes them human, not disposable.

You may be married someday. If you are, that marriage may be wonderful, tolerable, or tragic. If it’s like many marriages, it will hold elements of all of these. It may also include divorce. Divorce, I have learned, is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the marriage. Conversely, a sustained marriage does not necessarily state quality in a relationship.

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Before marriage and beyond, there will be other relationships. Many of these will start off with promise, but will quickly dull. Others may end with you never really knowing why they ended, and wanting for more. You may ask yourself at some point; how many soul mates does one get…? At best, that question can create knots in one’s stomach. At its worst, it can paralyze you to a point of emotional stagnation.

Marriage or partnership, if you are fortunate to find the right one, and are able to ride it out for the very long term, it will not be without your share of sacrifice and second guessing. In relationships, it is best to wake up each day and do what you believe is correct that you win the day, even if it contradicts what you did the day before. That ideal by the way, can be superimposed over just about any situation or dynamic in life.

Loss…

You will have friends and loved ones who will get ill and recover. You will also have will have friends and loved ones who get ill and die. Nothing can prepare you for the shock you feel when a friend or loved one dies unexpectedly.  There isn’t anything you can do to prepare for how to handle this when it happens, but it will happen.

When it does happen, use these instances as perspective to better appreciate your own life, and those relationships who remain in it. Disease and loss never make sense, but they can make you appreciative anything and everything else that much more.

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Money And Freedom…

There will be times when you have money, and you will feel an overwhelming sense of security that fits you like a warm cocoon – don’t get used to it because it’s not likely to last. Other times you will be broke, question many of your spending choices, and it will seem like the end of the world. It won’t be the end of the world, though it should be the start of a new behavior.

At best, money is a useful tool that is necessary to experience any level of personal freedom. Personal freedom though, as most people know it, is an illusion destined to distort and disappoint. Ultimately freedom means not doing the goose step down Main Street, and the proper use of money can help you avoid Main Street altogether – the road less traveled.

Lessons Learned…

There are lessons to be learned in every moment, every circumstance, and every conversation you will ever have. Of course, you won’t find those lessons if you are not looking, you won’t hear them if you are not listening, and you won’t benefit from them if you are not receptive.

Perhaps the most fruitful lessons you can hope to learn are those you will learn from watching others. Being a conscious witness to the joys, tragedies, triumphs, and misfortunes of others is often the best way to assure your proximity to them.

Creativity…

If you can incorporate some level of creativity into your daily work, or find some level of creativity buried within it, your life will surely be warmer. If there seems to be no room for creativity in your workplace, finding a creative outlet beyond he workplace will help keep you whole, if not sane – especially in difficult times. Creativity is a gift we all possess, but very few take the time to explore or to enjoy.

I am reminded of the most formative movie line I know, written by John Hughes for the movie, She’s Having A Baby…

“In the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, that I was loved more than I loved, and in the end, I realized that what I was looking for was not be found, but to be created.”

That this was recited by Kevin Bacon, makes it that much sweeter.

You will be the creator of every single one of your days. I ask you rhetorically, what kind of day will you create today, that will be acceptable to you tomorrow…?

Children…

I’ll suggest only one hard rule in all of this: If you go on to have children, please don’t shelter them from the realities of life. Expose them to the beauty in life of course, but don’t screen them from the harshness and messiness of it all. Expose your children to life as it comes and teach them, as best you can, how to accept it. Be honest with them – all of the time. Dishonesty with our children is the cause for more social decay than anything else.

Expose your children to who you really are without fear – regardless of how it may make you look in their eyes. Be humble when you are wrong, don’t gloat when you are correct, and when their names show up on caller ID, don’t ever let the call go to voicemail.

I wish you luck. Now get off my lawn!

Sincerely,

Still Learning

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Please check back n 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 The Dead Daisies.  Enjoy…

Intentional Trainer…

Critical Mass…

It has been pointed out to me that I can be excessively critical of fitness trainers not named Roy Cohen. Maybe. I am confident though, that even the greenest trainer in the average gym knows more about the basics of strength training than a majority of the members in that gym at any given time. My criticisms more often relate to the intentions of the trainer, and his methods.

Above all things, what matters most to me when teaching strength training, are safety and efficiency. If a trainer ensures the safety of the student, and plans an efficient workout, then a positive outcome is more likely. I see this combination, of safety and efficiency, rarely when I visit box gyms.

More often what I see in other trainers are people standing over their clients, scarcely engaged, hypnotically counting, and largely forgetting the task at hand; helping establish an improved physicality for the student.

Intentions…

As a trainer who always invests in the best possible outcome to a given workout with my students, the hardest thing for me to witness in other trainers is a lack of intention. Yet this is the most obvious flaw I see in other trainers – that they would rather be anywhere else.

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There is a good foundation for the cliché that trainers become trainers because they don’t want to get a real job. I can even say that of myself to a degree. I often tell people I get to do recess for a living, but I take my recess seriously. The trainers who don’t take it seriously, make that cliché shine.

Last week I was training in a local box gym. Since I know an executive with that chain, I spoke to her in advance of my workout. She suggested I keep my eye out for a trainer I’ll refer to as Agent RubberMade. She explained that Agent RubberMade was the busiest trainer at that club, that he made good money, was highly regarded, and even trained the president of the company.

Why do I call him Agent RubberMade…? On identifying him at the gym, and watching him for several days, I had regularly seen him eating out of  little RubberMade containers which were ever-present in his hands – while with clients.

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That this trainer is highly popular does not surprise me. He is a competitive bodybuilder, is good looking, and seems to know his stuff. Sometimes I guess that’s all you need. That fact that he knows his stuff is a bonus to his clients. Even if he didn’t, he’d probably still make a good living, and be highly regarded because, good looking bodybuilder…

It’s been 5 weeks now since I’ve been keeping my eye on Agent RubberMade, and he is an adequate trainer though I don’t believe his reputation is deserved. People are certainly getting something in exchange for the time and money they are giving him, but I don’t doubt they are getting full value.

Eating during training sessions notwithstanding, I have seen Agent RubberMade display most of the common stereotypes while training his clients. Texting. Stepping away or turning his back on his client in mid-set to talk with other gym members. Being excessively enthusiastic and back-slappy to the point of annoyance. Allowing his clients to talk during an exercise. And of course the big one for me, not paying enough attention to exercise form.

All that said, his clients are still better off with Agent RubberMade than without him. Without some amount of leadership and instruction, a new gym member has few choices but to mimic the actions of others – who have mimicked others through the generations of fitness enthusiasts, and so-on.

Cash Cow…

Something you may be surprised to learn is that with most of the big chain gyms, the trainers have one job above all others – to generate revenue for the facility. This is done in two ways. One, by selling more training sessions to existing clients. The other is where the real money is made, in getting their clients to bring in new members in the form of friends, family, and coworkers.

That’s right, the criteria for a trainer keeping his job is not in being a good trainer. It’s in being a good salesman. In the corporate structure of most chain gyms, the dedicated salesperson is a job in decline. In the current era, it is the trainer who is depended on to increase revenue for the club. And that business model works.

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Two days ago I ran into an old friend who now trains for this chain of gyms which I am now a member of. He is an excellent trainer, and has been at it for much of his life. After my workout, he and I sat at his desk and caught up a bit. He discussed the sales revenue he generates for his club. In his best month working there he generated $9,000 of new business, though he averages $6,000. That’s pretty good for the club since they keep 60% of that. The trainer gets the rest, but then has to pay taxes and liability insurance out of that.

If the club employs 4-5 trainers bringing in that much new revenue, then that’s $18,000 per month in sales from the floor after the trainers are paid, walk-ins and counter sales notwithstanding. The good news for me as a member of this chain is the 75/25 rule of corporate gyms. That is, 75% of the members which pay monthly dues never uses the club, thus supporting the 25% who pay and do use the facility.

Dedicated Space…

A great irony for the consumer of paid training sessions in big box gyms, is that they are often relegated to small areas in the gym known as the trainer area. These areas often have limited strength and functional fitness equipment. They are in place to keep trainer and client free of the primary workout areas, especially during peak hours when multiple trainers and clients in the open workout area can create traffic jams.

For the cost of a years membership, you can have a "trainer area" in your own basement..

For the cost of a years membership, you can have a “trainer area” in your own basement..

Of course the irony is that the client is not only paying for his gym membership as well as expensive training sessions, but that for all of that money he is corralled into a smaller section of the gym which has less equipment to work with. Many exercises done in the trainer area are body weight exercises which could be done on a person’s living room floor.

Options Away From The Box…

With that in mind, I’ll suggest a better option for many would be to train in a private fitness studio. I don’t say that because I own one. I say it because I have a good understating of the fitness industry at both the micro and the macro level.

Most private fitness studios are not in business to increase profits each month. They are in business because they are run by, and employ people who are more likely to care, and wish to positively impact the lives of others.

I'll suggest that a client/trainer relationship in a big box gym, rarely becomes a life long friendship...

I’ll suggest that a client/trainer relationship in a big box gym, rarely becomes a life long friendship…

Hiring a trainer who will come to your home is also an option – depending on what your goals are, as well as what equipment you may have at your home. This can be a convenient, and far less expensive option than going to a chain gym.

I’m not suggesting that working with trainers in big box gyms is a bad idea. I am though, suggesting that if when one takes crowds, cost, and the trainers intentions into consideration, I would not choose a chain gym as my first option. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks for Part III of this series; a look at the many exercises that make no sense whatsoever. Oh, and there’s this from the great J. Mascis. Enjoy!

Tolerance, Tole-Rant, To All You I Rant…

I asked a friend recently about hostility on social media. He replied by saying, “What’s the use of having an opinion if you can’t cram it down somebody’s throat”. Of course he was joking, but many I know truly subscribe to that belief…

My Belief…

I don’t believe in god, not in the sense of a divine being – man on the throne kind of stuff. Nor do I believe in a singular intelligence or designer, however vague, ethereal or non-specific it might be. At best I believe in an accidental system, and that beneath this system exists an underlying current of higher purpose pulling society in a singular direction. I believe that as time carries forward the stream of that current narrows.

As human complexity increases and that stream narrows it appears to me that we may be headed for a social eruption of some kind. Whether that eruption takes place in the next few years or few hundred, I have no idea. When I step back though, and attempt to take a big picture view of society, complexity, and directionality, it appears this eruption is unavoidable, so I want to get this off my chest while I can.

No Fight In Me…

On the topics of religions, god, and higher purpose, I have two basic rules; I don’t argue on behalf of, nor do I proselytize my beliefs. I also choose never to argue against the beliefs of others. That is, as I hope my beliefs will be respected by others, I ensure that the beliefs of others are respected by me — unless those beliefs involve hatred.

As the futile debates over religions and god causes schisms, what I do seek are occasional discussions that might otherwise fill those gaps. I tend to think the wellness of culture is absolutely dependent on religious tolerance. If useful discussions can’t be had, I simply disengage from all conversation. To attempt to change a person’s beliefs, mine or yours, is a supreme violation of consciousness.

Probably All That Can Ever Be Known…

In the appendix to his book, The Evolution Of God, Robert Wright masterfully explains what I believe is all we can ever truly understand about god, higher purpose, or why we even think in those terms. Wright speaks of an early hunter-gatherer walking alone through the woods alone at dusk. Suddenly there is a noise. The noise stops the man in his tracks. For a split second he thought he saw something associated with that noise, but can’t be certain whether or not he did. He looks again and sees nothing. Rather than continuing in the same direction, the man adjusts his path. He does this as to exhibit caution in order live another day – to push his genes into the next generation.

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The idea though, that he thought he saw something served him much better than not thinking he saw something. That is, if that guard had not been put up, he may have well walked into danger, and not survived another day to spread his genes.

And that’s where the idea of god begins and ends for me; as an evolutionary presence to ensure we protect ourselves, both physiologically and culturally, from things that may hurt us.

Fast Talkin’ Dawkins…

The primary tenet of biological evolution is that traits which serve getting genes into the next generation survive, and traits that don’t serve that purpose get weeded out in time. If cultural evolution parallels biological evolution, which Richard Dawkins himself stated early on in his career, than religion must be a trait that is serving the advancement of culture. After all, religions have not been weeded out over time, only transmogrified, misused and abused.

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At its very core religion is where all culture began. All art began as sacred art. All governance began as sacred governance. Albeit art and government are now (mostly) secularized in the modern era and in the western world, we have early religions to thank for providing us this framework that today keeps chaos in check – despite what we see on the evening news.

Did You Read Anything Up To This Point…?

I know there are people who have read this far, and ready to take me to task. Don’t bother – that’s kind of my point. However asinine my beliefs may seem to you, they are my beliefs and I value them as I value my child. Try and talk me out of loving my child or my beliefs, and you have lost the argument so there is no need for me to speak.

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I have a great reverence and appreciation for religions, though I subscribe to none. I actually believe that rituals are the most important aspect of the human experience, and like art and government, all ritual began as sacred ritual. Whether we believe in a higher power or not, to me, is not as important as behaving as though there is one.

Where religions go in the future can’t be predicted, though billions will try to chart their path, as billions more try to extinguish them. History though, makes a great case that religions may change over time, and may evolve, but for those who would like to see them disappear, I’ll suggest their very presence is the most vital part of culture, and a necessary trait for cultural survival.

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I believe that a successful outcome for humanity is absolutely dependent on religious tolerance. If one steps back and takes a big picture look at the evolution of culture, I’ll suggest it will be hard to disagree with that. 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 The Mountain Goats.  Enjoy…