The Elegant Plateau…

Road Detour…

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

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

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

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This Time I Mean It…

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

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

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

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

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Buddhabuilding…

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

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

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

The Soundtrack & The Result…

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

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

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

My Dyslexic Body-Image Part III; I Blame Me…

I closed Part II of this column by stating that I would argue that God is to blame for all my body issues – and all of yours.  In truth, I had no intention of making that argument, but the NyQuil had me in its grasp and it seemed like a great hook for Part III.

I want to acknowledge everyone who took time to privately email me over that idiotic statement.  I appreciate the discourse.

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 The Sizes Of Me; Lots Of ings In My Life 

I stepped on the scale my first day of high school at 114 pounds – I was 5’7” tall.  Today, I’m still 5’7” tall – apparently I quit growing vertically that very day.  Since that day, I have spent at least one moment at every notch on the scale up to 240 pounds – for most of those moments I would consider myself to have been fit, whatever that really means.  Despite that fitness, I have never liked how I have looked.

And so the story began...

At any given period during my 40s, I might have weighed between 165 pounds and 190 pounds – depending on which look I was after, and which endeavors I was pursuing at the moment; running, cycling, bodybuilding, paddle boarding, heavy lifting – lots of ings in my life.  It all depends on my mood…

Where My Mind Drifts, My Body Follows

Sometimes I might want to be a bit bigger – more bulky, and I like it that way though that aesthetic requires a bit more eating than I care for.  When I’m bulkier, guys tend to feed on it as impressive.  The shirt sleeves are filled out and there is an obvious sense that I spend time in my weight room.  During my bulkier times, I tend to look pretty good in clothes, but you wouldn’t want to see me in a swim suit – not a sight for kids.

220 lbs.  Uhm, wake, eat, lift, eat, lift, eat, sleep. Not worth the price…

Other times I might be leaner, smaller, and have a more athletic look, and I like it that way though that aesthetic requires a bit less eating than I care for.  When I’m leaner women tend to feed on it as impressive.  The shirt sleeves might flap a bit, but the abs and obliques are in, so I don’t feel too bad taking my shirt off – right up until some male friend will ask me why I quit lifting weights.

Of course I’m never really in one of those places, bulky or athletic, for very long.  Usually I’m in transition from one to the other – my fitness dyslexia.  Sometimes running is calling my name, and a race is in my future.  Other times it’s bodybuilding; once you’re bitten by that bug, you’re hooked for life.  Other times still, my bike has been central – I have a 100 mile ride coming up in January.  More recently, I have been pandering to all of these aspects of my mixed up personality and my body is revolting – if not revolting.  I want it all, and I want it all at once.

A post-marathon 165 lbs., and getting ready chow down on some carne asada from King Taco...

I Blame Me

The truth is I’m not satisfied with my body, rarely satisfied with my activities, and never satisfied with how much, or how little exercise should fit into my life.  I suppose my cranial wiring just can’t be satisfied with the concept of being satisfied.  If nothing else, at least I’m consistent.   

I don’t really blame God for my body-image issues.  I don’t blame my mommy and daddy either; because they didn’t give me enough love or attention when I was a kid – they did, lots.  There is no blaming Kevin and Kerry Mets either; the two twins who beat the crap out of me at the bus stop the morning of my first day of the 1st grade.  There is only person to blame for my body-image woes; me, the king of myself, and creator of my own destiny(s).

Flipping The Switch

I am grateful, and sometimes in awe, that I know how to throw the switch from one ing to another; from running to bodybuilding, to some other ing, and back again.  However, these continual transitions and transformations have me pretty messed up psychologically and physiologically.  I think I spend more time in transit from one ing to another, than I spend in any fitness destination.  I need to get good with that. 

Somewhere between running a marathon and wanting to deadlift 400 lbs again. The ultimate conflict of fitness interest...

In the end, I work hard to remember that I am not on this Earth to look good, I am here to do good.  However, I can’t escape my relentless desire to look good while I’m doing good.  But even deciding which look looks best for me has been a life long struggle.  In the words of Steve Earle, “I ain’t ever satisfied…”

One Final Confession

I have to admit that at times I really do want to blame Kevin and Kerry Mets for some of my issues – but I don’t.  You get bullied and beaten up on your very first day of school – in front of all your new neighbors, and it stays with you.  I was bloodied that day, and that would not be the last time it happened.  Due to a course of bullying throughout my elementary school years, I became introverted – until I discovered all of my ings

My current bicycling legs. Here comes another ing...

Every so often I think what it would be like to come face to face with the Mets brothers now – what I would say to them.  Of course I would probably just thank them.  After all, everything I am and everything I have, I might just owe to them. 

Lastly, though I might like not wholly like how I look at a given moment, through writing this series I have come to discover that it’s not so much that I don’t like how I look.  I’ve come to learn that I ain’t ever satisfied with how I look…  Be well, and thank you for reading these past three columns.  rc

Oh, and there is this from Steve Earle — enjoy!

My Dyslexic Body-Image, Part II…

This is Part II of a 3-part column I will be posting over the next several weeks.  Comments are open, and private emails are also welcome so long as they are mindful and constructive.  Please check back Friday, November 26th for the final installment of why I blame God for my poor body-image…

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The Belly Of The Beast

When I’m introduced to someone I have not previously met, as I was at a social function over the weekend, I always cringe and brace myself if I’m introduced as a fitness trainer because I know what’s going to hit me next;

 “Oh really…?  That’s great!  What can I do about my belly…?  I just hate all this flab!”

It never fails.  Notwithstanding that the woman who asked this question of me Friday evening was 5’9” and might have weighed all of 125 lbs.  She looked like model, an athlete, or both, but was unhappy with her belly.

Because of my vocation, that question is ever-present in my life – regardless of the size and shape of the person asking it.  When given a chance for advice, that belly question is asked by nearly everyone.  It shows me that there are few people who have a completely positive body-image.  We all have high desires, if not a high willingness to earn our bellies away.

A Judgment In The Belly Case

There are times when I think I look good, or as I often say, “ahead of the game for man near 50”.  But those times are few and far between.  More often than not I am critical of how I look.  The fact that fitness is my livelihood fosters a continual sense of urgency when it comes to keeping my own body in shape; belly included.  Expectations from the outside can be high…

I have often said;

“In the end, nobody will be judged by the shape of their abs, the tone of their arms, or whether they do sinister justice to a pair of jeans.”

Though I believe that value, and I try and live that value, my day-to-day living is not done “in the end” – it’s done in the middle where the human beings who surround one another, breathe in oxygen, and exhale judgment in equal portion – belly is often front and center of that judgment.

Religion Casts A Shadow

One of my (many) issues with western religions is that we are taught from an early age that the eyes of God are upon us and that we are being judged.  Being taught from a young age that someone who I can’t see, and who I don’t even know truly exists is judging me, makes it quite easy to believe that all those around me who I can see, and can also see me, are also judging me.  I suspect I’m not alone in this.  In-turn, I tend to regularly judge myself, and I don’t often judge myself favorably.  Expectations from the inside can be high…

That’s just what religion does, belly included.

Complemented By Compliments

The conundrum: I like getting compliments about how I look, though I don’t usually receive them well.  Internally, the immediate sense of validation I receive from a compliment is instantly thwarted by that judgmental Roy inside of me who knows I could look better; less body-fat, larger muscles, a more athletic look, a more fit look, not good enough compared to the magazine covers, whatever.  Besides, the person complimenting me is probably lying because they feel sorry for me.

I even try to compliment myself on occasion.  I mean, I do workout hard, I workout consistently, and I eat pretty well that I look good – not that looking good matters.  I might look in the mirror and like what I see, or parts of what I see – for a moment.  It won’t take long though, to find more bad than good, and then negativity and depression take hold.  By the way; the scientific term for that personality defect is, Being Jewish.

I try hard to remember, I am not on Earth to look good, I am here to do good. I force myself to take refuge inside that thought regularly, and it’s a very warm and comforting place.  Refuge be damned though, it doesn’t take too many TV commercials, too many magazine covers, or to many movie trailers to remind me I don’t look as good as I should, and looking good should be a moral priority.   I wonder if Stephen Hawking or Mother Theresa ever had internal discourse such as mine…?

To be continued…

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Please check back next week for Part III of this column.  I will attempt to make the case that God is to blame for all my body-image woes…  and yours 🙂

Oh, and there is this from Steve Earle (Mike Coalson is to blame this week);