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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Catharsisaurus Rx…

The blender in my head…

I’ve live pretty deep inside my head.  I am continually haunted by the complexities of modern life, and how they may be impacting my reality, assuming there is a reality. That doubt, of my own reality, is the heart of the thing.

On the surface I train clients, check on my mother, text my daughter, and reassure my dog.  Underneath all of this, my mind is bombarded by tiny pellets of doubt, all day long, that are slowly deteriorating the shield which protects my rational side.  Among my greatest fears is that this shield will parish before I do, leaving the chaos in my head to play unbridled havoc with my mind as I age.

My inner Cartesian has come to appreciate those frantic moments in my life, like when my frozen vegetables fly out of the bag and land all over my floor because I pulled them too quickly from my freezer.  That things like this always happen at the worst possible time also serves me well.  Those moments snap me out of my doubt, if only for an instant, and halt the existential banter between all the Roys within.

The life within the life…

I regularly entertain the life within the life.  I imagine waking from a nap on a summer’s day, my right cheek stuck slightly to the warm concrete beside the swimming pool of my youth.  The distant chatter of Marco and Polo awakens me.  I am 12 years old, and the life that I have lived since will have been only a dream.  Reagan never won.  I never married so I never divorced, and the internet was all in my imagination.

Perhaps though, I’ll awaken in an asylum, and not by the pool.  My arms tied behind my back, and with a crayon between my toes I write my suicide note on a foam wall.  This life I write from right now will have been a peaceful dream, and what lay ahead, a nightmare.

And don’t get me started on my lifetime of chronic bad dreams.  Where do I go when I dream…?  Is what I do any less real than what I do when I’m awake…?  In an active mind, I often feel that the only thing separating my memories of life from my bad dreams  are the words memory and dream.

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Kinda hopin’ Really hopin’ I don’t wake up here…

Occasionally I consider that all other people are just extras in an orchestrated game between the gods.  I am at the center of their illustrious amusement – just a silver ball in their game of pantheonic pinball.  At the end of the game, I wonder, will the gods rise in unison and offer me the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down, based on how well I performed bouncing off the obstacles they set before me.  Ever-present is the feeling I am being watched and judged.

The illusion of conclusion…

Even if I am real, where and how am I real…?  Between parallel universes, infinite universes, or an eternal universe where anything that can happen will happen, I find myself right here, right now, and in this glorious life.  Although in the quantum world, I’m only probably here, and probably now.

Physicist Brian Greene tells me freewill is only an illusion and suggests that mathematics supports this.  The calculations of my future have already been laid out, he says, and that I have no say in my say.  However, I don’t steel tips off tabletops in restaurants when nobody is looking, and I don’t push people down the stairs – even when they deserve it.  Sounds like free will to me.

Some scientists suggest existence as I know it is some kind of holographic image created in an alternate reality, and is smaller than the tip of a pen.  Others say I am slave to the algorithms within a cellular automaton.  Just the thought of that has me pining to be a slave building a pyramid, for at least then I would exist in a simpler state.

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Holographic Youniverse…

The idea that some being in another dimension might be administering my every thought and every motion by way of a joystick bubbles under the surface of my daydreaming as I clean my studio.  On one hand this appeals to me inasmuch as if it is true, then I am exonerated from all indiscretion and responsibility.  However, if I’m not a Sea Monkey in a jar on some extraterrestrial kitchen counter, atonement and responsibility are not only my duty, they are my only hope.

Dog is one of us…

When my eyes lock with my dog I feel love and truth – simultaneously.  That emotion is a daily confirmation that I am real.  When our eyes break though, I can’t help wondering if my dog is actually an angel sending signals back to God, or an observer sending recommendations back to the mother ship.  I wonder the same thing with many of my human contacts too, you who is reading this included.

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“Stroolde calling Orson, come in Orson…”

I flash back to a time in school when I was taunting a special needs kid.  My friend Jeff stopped me and said…

“Roy!  Don’t tease Milton!  What if he’s God and he’s just testing you…?”

Jeff was joking, but I’ve never been able to get that thought out of my head; that anyone else might be God, or a designated representative of the Junta Grande.

The scratch ticket and the interwebs…

I feel guilty for having won the lottery of existence.  All my needs are met – exceedingly.  I’m able to enjoy and appreciate so much.  That I get to make a living doing what I love, and do so in such a beautiful place seems unjust to me, on behalf of those who can’t.  I wonder why I’m not a knobby-knee’d Ethiopian child with fly on one eye suckling his mother’s dry tit.  Yet I seem to be me, and this seems to be my time and my place – probably.

Living in the internet age has only thrown gasoline on the fire of my doubts.  I wonder if this increased connectivity with people and information around the world isn’t just an expanded test by my maker.  It makes no sense that I have instant access to most of the much of the knowledge ever attained and so much information, even if it isn’t always accurate.

Are my social media friends and my analog friends truly connections, or are they an audience watching me and trying to influence the way I bounce off the bumpers in the pinball game of my life…?  They might just be 7-billion lesser gods.

When I look the grocery clerk, the beggar, or the barista in the eyes, I often wonder if they’re thinking,

“He’s on to us…”

That people so seamlessly merge in and out of my digital and analog lives makes me feel increasingly uneasy.

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My maker…?

The known universe is precisely 54 years old…

Let’s assume I am real.  I see memes on social media daily that remind me how small and insignificant I am relative to the immensity of the universe.  This is bad internet juju in my opinion.  I am the only component in the universe that I have absolute dominion over.  If ultimate inter-connectivity is inevitable, then the universe can’t fulfill its own destiny if I fail to fulfill mine.

I was dead for nearly 14-billion years before I was born.  I’ll be dead again in a decade or two more.  I better get this thing right while I’m still here.  It’s all pretty overwhelming at times, this work of performance art which I call my life.

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At the end of the day, I suppose my reality is simply my choice – my decision to carry forward without worrying too much about any of this.  Whether or not I’m a spec in the universe, the center of it, or an organic shuttlecock in game of badminton between gods, so long as standing in nature stirs my heart, and my daughter returns my phone calls, I will choose to act and feel real.  I will though, always have my doubts.  Be well, and thank you for taking the time…  rc

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Enjoying God’s creation, in his creation, and where I feel most real..

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Fat Dogs, Niebuhr, and Tomorrow…

No Time For Obese Dogs…

I sat down this morning preparing to pose a question on social media about the responsibility humans have in stewarding obese dogs.  This after an exchange last week about who is responsible for canine obesity.  My stance is that, much like obesity in humans, pet owners bear only a portion of the responsibility for canine obesity.  That is, dogs like humans, are subject to increasingly complex food, pharmaceutical, medical, and social systems.

Though humans do have some say in the obesity of their dogs, these systems are probably also influencing canine obesity, though not to the level that the same systems are influencing human obesity.  To a lesser degree, canines are also susceptible to the economic and media systems which influence humans, though the freewill thing which humans relentlessly pander to, probably doesn’t distract dogs too much.

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I’m thinking, too much bread in his diet….

I chose not to post my original question on social media though, because I realized it would have done nothing more than set anchor to a line of convoluted and irrational arguments that would chain me to my laptop for hours.  At the end of the day I thought, we’re all caught up in an endless web of systems anyway…

Three Wise Men…

In his book, The Religions of the World (formerly The Religions of Man), Huston Smith suggests,

We need to remember that in their own day, prophets are not seen as prophets.  To most, they appear to be fringe thinkers, not to be trusted, and often irrational.  It is only those few who follow them, and with the posthumous spreading of their ideas over time, that elevates them to prophet status.

As they walked and spoke in their own communities, men like Jesus, Confucius, and Muhammad did not command the attention of too many, though they did make some noise.  It was only after death, and by those few who valued their ideas who worked to spread those ideas, did they become elevated to prophet status.

I have been reading (some of) the works of Reinhold Niebuhr recently.  Niebuhr is hard to classify.  He was a Christian theologian and educator.  He was a prolific author, a public intellectual, a sounding board for other intellectuals, and an occasional advisor to heavyweight political figures during his time.  Though he considered himself a socialist Christian, and since both of those terms today have been hijacked and mutated, I will argue that Niebuhr was the ultimate conservative by the real meaning of that word.

Portrait Of Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

A portrait of the American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971), United States, mid-20th century. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

I came to Niebuhr by way of Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich, both of whom draw on Niebuhr’s moral and diplomatic sensibilities in their own works.  In his book The Limits of Power, Bacevich refers to Niebuhr as a prophet at least a dozen times.  Chalmers Johnson suggests that if every nation had a Niebuhr whispering in the ear of its leader, there would be no need for NATO, The United Nations, or military bases beyond domestic borders.

All Systems Go (Where They Want To)…

Among other things, what the works of Bacevich, Johnson, and Niebuhr reinforce to me is that principled ideals, however impactful their potential might be, are not going to immediately override systems which are already in place and aimed in a forward direction.  The best we can hope is that reasonable ideas take root, and are cultivated over time to gradually steer the trajectory of a system.  The civil rights movement, still in progress, is a good example of this.  If we take an honest big picture view, it’s clear that prophets make good helmsmen on the initial watch, but communities need to keep steering once the prophet is no longer around.

Americans are caught up in all the systems of modernity; technical systems, political systems, cultural systems, economic systems, and many others.  Whether we are talking about obese canines, the military industrial complex or international diplomacy, and whether we consider ourselves passengers, components, or victims of the systems which carry us, I am reminded as our presidential election draws near, of the two flies believing they control the horse who’s ears they stand upon.  We are driven, and we are bound by systems.

Vote The System To A Slight Turn…

Like many, I often think voting doesn’t matter and I don’t trust any of the candidates.  I do though, believe that voting is a responsibility and it’s one I take very seriously.  Perhaps my vote this year, which will go to the most Niebuhrian candidate on election day, will help steer the modern political system just enough toward a new direction that we can pass it off to a more reasonable generation, who might spread the word of Niebuhr’s prophecy and steer us better still.  Of course I’ll need the help of 100,000,000 or so like-minded friends to make this happen.

Before you vote this November – before you decide on a candidate, a platform, or donate any more money or your own sensibility to a cause, please consider reading The Irony of American History by Niebuhr, The Limits of Power by Bacevich, or Blowback by Chalmers Johnson – all 3 if you have the time.  It’s time we steer away from America’s imperial ambitions abroad, and that we take a good look in the mirror.

I gasp at what is taking place with the current presidential race, but realize the idiocy of it all is a reflection of our culture at large – of the systems we have set into motion and make no attempt to steer.  It seems clear to me that we could benefit from a new prophet to help lead us out of our Idiocracy.  As Bacevich calls for a Niebuhrian revolution, I stand alongside him in hopes that someone – anyone will listen, learn more, and help spread the word.  If not Niebuhr, perhaps David Brooks.  Be well…  rc

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We are just one or two elections away from President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho…

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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 Dave Alvin.  Prettiness and such like that.  Enjoy…

Abbondanza…

Malaise Isn’t A Sandwich Spread…

I’m reading The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich – again. It was published during the campaign between Obama and McCain. One of the book’s primary threads is the changing role of the presidency in post-World War II America.

The author lends time to Jimmy Carter’s malaise speech in 1979. Regardless of your thoughts on Carter as president, that speech remains the only instance in my lifetime where a president told the nation what we needed to hear, and asked us to adjust our behaviors in order to protect and sustain a reasonable standard of living. The speech had a short-lived effect though, and with it Carter handed the presidency to Ronald Reagan. It turns out America didn’t want to change its behaviors for very long in order to live as a less gluttonous society.

“It’s morning in America” was the starting gun fired by Reagan that would set in motion the quest for abundance that has expanded from the1980s to the present day. Retail culture, image culture, and fiscal culture joined together in a symbiotic disharmony that has become the social cancer we are now choosing not to treat. That quest for abundance by the masses, by the way, has largely shaped our policies abroad which most of us complain about. For more on that, read Bacevich’s very important book.

I doubt we will ever again see a president, nor a mainstream candidate speak to the American public as Carter did in July of 1979. With his malaise speech, Carter taught all politicians that, going forward, candor is not the best policy, and look at the shape we’re in today. Voters don’t elect austere presidents any more than 3rd graders would elect a strong-willed teacher were they given the chance. Talk of rainbows and unicorns will trump roll up your shirt sleeves every time.

As It Relates To Fitness…

The award winning documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster is, I suspect, a malaise speech for the fitness community. It was one of the first things to get me thinking about, and to check my own behaviors and ideals as they relate to fitness and exercise.

Our national question for bigger, stronger, leaner is as inwardly gluttonous as our quest for better ear buds, dope shoes, wi-fi cars, and granite countertops. At the other end of the wellness spectrum, we also find people who could care less about exercise, and care more about portion size.  Whether it is 6-pack abs or bottomless fries, we just want more of it.  That math does not seem to add up.

I saw this asinine meme earlier this week, and I have seen others like it in recent years. This image is a reflection of everything wrong with fitness culture today which is simply a byproduct of culture at large.
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It’s one thing to suggest a 40-year woman pursue the beach body of her youth, despite that those transitions are rarely successful, and even when they are, they aren’t likely to be sustainable. It’s hard enough for a 16-year old boy to gain muscle when he’s working out like madman and eating everything but the family cat. Suggesting that granny go get guns is a bit over the top.

It is shameful to suggest, as the image above does, that looking like this into one’s 70s is a choice. Though there are people in their 70s, 80s, and even into their 90s who maintain aesthetically pleasing physiques that (may) also function well, they are rare exceptions.

We get old. We break down. Skin wrinkles. Hair grays. We gain weight. We receive diseases. We slow down. We weaken. We die, though there is some choice in this at some levels. Dick Lamm’s famous assertion that people have a “duty to die and get out of the way” should be the first amendment to the Golden Rule. Although Lamm said it in the context of the terminally ill artificially extending their lives, I have always appreciated that statement as the only fools fight aging doctrine.

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Truth to power:  Dick Lamm…

Every Meme Has Two Of Me…

Notwithstanding to any of this is the underlying message in these social media memes and in modern social values in general, suggests that looking good makes us better people. I assure you, our prisons are full of well-crafted triceps and 6-pack abs.

Within reasonable bounds, functioning well physically while we live is as much a responsibly as dying and getting out of the way when the living ain’t so good. The Confucian ideal that families, communities, and businesses all function better when we take care of ourselves physically has been long lost, though I guess it was never really a part of western culture to begin with.

Fixed Not Educated…

What Jimmy Carter couldn’t do to the consumption culture that began expanding through the 70s, from the highest office in the land, I know I have no chance of doing to the fitness culture of the current decade from the lowest blog on earth.

When our quest for abundance positions us into a places we no longer recognize and that drown out rational thinking, people don’t want to be educated to change, they simply wish to be fixed.  They look to, and depend leadership to do the fixin’.

I lead a microscopic sample of the fitness community, and my voice doesn’t carry. I wish though, I could better help people understand that, whether it’s the quest for more muscle or the quest for bottomless fries at Red Robin, our relentless American quest for more isn’t serving us too well. Be well. Jhciacb
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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 my head. Oh, and there’s this from The Meters. Enjoy!

Fan Day Go…

“Me winning isn’t. You do.” Ty Webb

The Jig Is Up…

Some athletes know when the time is right to hang up their cleats. John Elway is the supreme example of this. After a storied career and 3 Super Bowl losses, Elway won 2 Super Bowls back-to-back and called it a career. We hold in high regard, the athlete who goes out on top and rides into the sunset at the pinnacle of his professional success. That metaphor endures, as we all wait for Peyton Manning to make it official sometime this spring.

Other athletes though, hang on too long. Brett Favre. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. The list goes on. With many athletes, playing the game is too ingrained in their psyche. For them it’s less a matter of letting go, and more a question of who they will become when their careers are over…?

Run Ricky Run…

I was in middle school. I have a clear memory of my father leaping from his chair, landing on his feet with arms in air and fists clinched as he screamed…

“Run, Ricky, run!”

Denver Bronco, Rick Upchurch, was running a punt back for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders. My brother and I watched silently beside him.  That may be the day I became a sports fan. I wanted what my dad had – passion. Within a few years I was every bit the zealot my father was, but it didn’t end with the Broncos.

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Run, Ricky, Run!

As I grew older, and I better understood the games of football, baseball, golf, track & field, boxing, and other sports, my capacity as a sports fan grew. So too did my desire to follow these sports. Then one day I woke up and cable TV happened. Enter ESPN.

Sports Center became a requirement, 2-3 times per day. It was Cliff’s Notes for sports fans. I could enjoy several sports, and more than a few games in just 60 minutes. This did not eliminate my desire to watch complete sporting events on the weekends, it only enhanced the experience during my workweek. Crude math suggests that in my adult life I have spent some 15,000 hours watching sports news & highlights, sports analysis, and listening to sports talk radio.

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Go Big Screen Or Go Home…

In the early 2000s I was living alone in a 3-bedroom house. I had TVs in my master bedroom, my kitchen, my living room, and even one in my walk-in closet – that I not miss a moment of Sports Center as I was preparing for, or winding down from my workday.

One morning in 2005, on realizing the ridiculousness of having 4 TVs for one man living alone, I gathered them and placed them on the sidewalk in front of my house – to be taken by whoever wanted them. They were gone in an hour. Though well past my peak as a sports fan, I was done with sports and ready to retire. Time to give my attention to other interests.  Then one day I woke up and the internet happened…

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We take it for granted now, but in 2005 the idea of using a computer as a TV set was somewhat fresh. Internet speeds were improving, live streaming was crude but increasingly available, and suddenly I found myself unretired, once again watching Sports, and Sports Center from my 15” window to the world — every chance I got.

This was less a matter of letting go, and more a question of who I would become when being a sports fan was over…? I didn’t know what else to do with myself.

Slowly though, I began to come to my senses and realize I was well past my peak as a fan.  This came to a head in 2011 when Tim Tebow lead the Broncos to victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a playoff game.  Earlier that week,my father – you know, the “Run, Ricky, run” guy had a mild heart attack. He lay scarcely conscious in a Las Vegas hospital as the Broncos marched off the field in victory that day. Already on hospice, my father would never watch another Bronco game. That was the 1st time I truly thought; it’s only a game.

Sports Transcends, And Body Slams…

In an era when professional athletes are seen as crybaby millionaires, and as people increasingly turn away from sports due to everything from allegations of domestic violence, performance enhancing drugs, concussion syndrome, and that the underlying current that all sports is the ejaculate of corporations stroking their wallets, I have defended professional sports for its transcendent qualities.

Sports gives us a reason to come together. Sports separate us, if only for a while, from the boss, the workplace, the responsibilities of the yard, the bills, the wars, and school shootings. Sports fulfills our need for ritual in an increasingly secular world. Sports can elevate us from an otherwise dreary life.

Sports though, can also be brutal.  It make a good day bad in an instant.  Sports can body slam us and give us an emotional beat down that even a bad boss or a cheating girlfriend couldn’t. Ask anyone who has ever watched their team lose a Super Bowl.

After The Thrill Is Gone…

It’s too late for me to hang up my fan-cleats the pinnacle of my career. That should have happened when I drove my 7-year old daughter home from the parade in downtown Denver after the Broncos won their first Super Bowl in 1997

When the Broncos won the Super Bowl for the 3rd time last week I should have been overjoyed. I should have cried, tipped over my coffee table, and run around the neighborhood screaming as my brother and I did in 1997 when they won their first. I didn’t though. I just sat in my chair and thought, that’s nice, as I continued to pet my dog and reflected Super Bowls past.

It was less a case of being grateful that Denver won, and more the comfort of knowing they didn’t lose that soothed me. I was relieved I wouldn’t have to spend the next 3 weeks in a state of pointless depression. And that was my signal to walk away once and for all. I just don’t enjoy it as much as I once did.

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The Only Big Screen I Need On A Sunday…

I live in a beautiful place. I have things to do, friends to see, a business to run, and some would-be volunteering to pursue. Like my meat-free lifestyle, I am going to give a sports-free lifestyle a legitimate chance without the expectation of perfection.  After all, I do still have meat on occasion, and the Masters is only weeks away. Maybe that will be a cheat day 4 days. I am committed. Be well… rc

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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 my head. Oh, and there’s this from The Dharma Violets. 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!

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!

The End Of A Meaningful Streak…

Field Marshall…

Thirteen years ago a tall man with a square jaw and well-groomed gray hair burst into the gym where I trained my clients. He threw his wallet and keys on the counter and loudly exclaimed,

“I want to hire the oldest male trainer you have, and with the broadest shoulders.”

Just by chance I happened to be the oldest male trainer in the facility, with the broadest shoulders, and also happened to be at standing there. A business relationship was born. He told me what he wanted from me as a trainer, and how soon he wanted it. His name was Marshall, a Fallbrook local who ran several international businesses. He explained he spent a great deal of time bouncing between Europe, Asia and South America and didn’t workout too often on the road. When he was home in Fallbrook, he continued, he wanted to workout every day.

In the beginning Marshall took more to me than me to him. I don’t do abrupt personalities well. Also, I wasn’t accustomed to being told what to do or how to do it by my clients. This was Marshall’s style though, and probably and what made him successful as a businessman.

Cardio Party…

Despite being 10 years my senior, Marshall was almost as fit as me from the start. He hired me, I would quickly learn, not for my knowledge, experience or advice, but for the appointment. Traveling 2-3 continents per month, and with many business related arms constantly reaching for him, he knew the only way he would make it to the gym regularly would be to pay a lot of money to someone to meet him there.

Marshall always showed up on time, allowed me to push, never complained, and we had similar values in life. I was helping raise a preadolescent girl at the time we met, and he had 2 who had just finished college. Over time, he became an excellent role model for me as both a father and as a businessman.

After several months of working with Marshall my schedule got increasingly busy. Since he and I were equally matched in our physicality I began to jump in with him during his workouts. This was convenient for me, and reassuring for him. From the start we were very competitive with one another.

Every Friday we would have challenge day. This was simply he and I picking 6 strength machines, 3 each, putting the pin at the bottom of the stack and seeing who could do the most reps with the entire stack. We were so evenly matched that if he won one week, I would usually win the next. Though Marshall was a good partner for strength workouts, he was an excellent partner for cardio. When he was in town, we would do daily lunch time cardio sessions together for the next 7 or 8 years.

On a challenge day with Marshall...

Warming up before a challenge day with Marshall…

The Pact…

Early on Marshall and I made a pact with our cardio workouts. We agreed that once we began a cardio session, we would not stop until it was completed — regardless of how hard we pushed. Come rain, shine, or torn meniscus in process, we fulfilled our commitment to each other for years – never stopping during a cardio session regardless of how badly one of us wanted to quit.

Marshall once fell of the StepMill with a hurt knee. Without missing a beat, he climbed back on and completed the 45 minute session – primarily on one leg. I gave him credit for not stopping since he kept one hand on the StepMill during the fall.

24 Hour Fitness Oceanside, CA. Where high intensity lunch meetings took place for years...

24 Hour Fitness Oceanside, CA. Where high intensity lunch meetings took place for years…

All Things Must Pass…

Marshall and I parted ways when I relocated my studio too far for us to be able to meet for lunch cardio. Sadly we lost touch shortly thereafter. The partnership might have dissolved, but the pact to never quit a cardio session regardless of how hard it might get, has lived on with me for years. In all this time, regardless of how hard I have pushed or how badly I have wanted to stop, I never quit a cardio session early or to even take a break.

Early this morning on my high-stepping elliptical machine I just wasn’t feelin’ it. Understand that my cardio is always hard. On a scale of 1-5, I always shoot for a 4, never settle for a 3, and often reach a 5. Most days my ending heartrate is 160 bpm or so.

Some days are better than others. Today was one of those others. Burning legs. Higher than average heartrate. An otherwise occupied mind, and on the heels of a poor night’s sleep, I  wanted to stop almost from the first stride. Twenty-five minutes into a 40 minute session I simply stepped off the machine. I’m still not sure why.

I walked to the window which looks out over Main Street and saw the sign for Pedro’s Tacos – a place where Marshall and I had eaten many post-workout carne asada burritos together. Seconds later I was back on the machine completing my 40 minute session. Even though I finished the session, for the first time in over a decade, I violated what I have long considered a sacred bond.

The one that got the better of me...

The one that got the better of me…

Best post-workout nutrition in Fallbrook...

Best post-workout nutrition in Fallbrook…

I really don’t know why I chose to step off the machine. Age…? Changing priorities…? The good sense to finally respect and listen to my body…? I don’t know. Tomorrow I will start another streak of uninterrupted cardio sessions, not knowing if it will last years, months or only weeks. I will assume though, that Marshall is out there somewhere, still fulfilling his part of a pact we made so many years ago. Be well… rc

Veteran trainer, Roy Cohen, is available for online consulting and workout planning.  Click here to learn more…

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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 Exponents.  Enjoy!

The Exercise Graveyard – Graveyard…

Quit All Strength Movements – Before It’s Too Late!

I had a couple of back to back cancellations last week. Rather than clean the studio, get my own workout in, or do a little networking in town, I went to Google and YouTube to explore lists of the top exercises which experts suggest people should never do. I know these exist because my clients occasionally forward them to me. These are lists that have been published online by fitness trainers and those in the know who feel they should have the final say in your workout.

I learned quickly in my little study of a place I had scarcely heard of previously; the exercise graveyard. The exercise graveyard is the place where fitness trainers and experts cast off exercises which they find inefficient, useless, or are dangerous. Apparently the exercise graveyard is larger and more populated than I had previously known. So large in fact, that it’s apparently home to most known strength exercises.

After a couple hours of exploring lists of these inefficient, useless, and dangerous exercises, I came to realize that strength training, by the collective thinking of the trainers who have published these lists, is an unnecessary indulgence which offers little benefit and comes with abundant risk.

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Below is a cumulative list of some of the exercises which these trainers feel belong in the exercise graveyard:

  • Squats
  • Leg Extensions
  • Incline Bench Presses
  • Decline Bench Presses
  • Flat Bench Presses
  • Overhead Presses
  • Low-Back Extensions
  • Deadlifts
  • Stiff Legged Deadlifts
  • Leg Presses
  • Leg Curls
  • Upright Rows
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Barbell Curls
  • Bench Curls
  • Standing Calf Raises
  • Pull-Ups
  • Lat-Pulldowns
  • Anything done seated
  • Anything done behind the neck
  • All machines
  • All free weights
  • All isolation exercises
  • Jumping
  • All types of crunches

I found these and many others scattered between the various lists which I searched. And that’s where the idea of an exercise graveyard breaks down for me – completely.

I understand why those experts argue against doing any of these exercises. If I chose to, I could use science and logic to support arguments against any of these movements. I could also use science and logic to argue in favor of any of these exercises – and that’s kind of my point with this little rant.

While it is true that there are some exercises which carry more risk, some that are less efficient, and some that should be avoided relative to a person’s goals and abilities, which exercises a person includes in their strength training routine should be a lesser factor than how those exercises are applied and performed.

So as friends and family members forward you lists of exercises which belong in the exercise graveyard, please take them with a grain of salt. Invest your intelligence in how you approach and apply your strength exercises, not in which ones to avoid.

I’ll go on the record as stating I am in favor of any exercise done intelligently, in proper form, and within reasonable bounds. I’ll state just as clearly that I am against choosing exercises blindly, performing them haphazardly, and doing them too heavy, too often, not often enough, or just because someone else says you should.  It’s time to place the exercise graveyard in a grave of its own. Be well… rc

veteran trainer, roy cohen is available for online consulting and workout planning.  click here to learn more.

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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 Flemish entertaining legend, Bobbejaan Schoepen. Enjoy!