Monday, December 28, 2009

A Lesson for Life and a Proposal for the New Year

Athletes and movie stars are often raised up as heroes only to disappoint in the end.
Excellence in athletics on and off the field and a penchant for acting are supposed life lessons for the less noble, us and our children.
Politicians fall into this same category but I really don’t know of a politician that is praised as a “hero” on a daily basis.
A lot of them are being investigated as they investigate the athletes and the movie stars to avoid investigating the things that really matter.
Recent vivid evidence of life lessons include high profile infidelity, animal cruelty, drug usage, doping along with a cornucopia of other indiscretions including fraud, bribery and a vast range of mischievous behavior.
Another recent example of how not to live life was afforded by the management of the Indianapolis Colts.
The decision to bench the first string athletes to pursue a game losing strategy eliminated the possibility of a “perfect” season.
Ending a record 24 game winning streak in this fashion needs to be viewed with a jaundiced eye.
It may not have been a “big deal” for the coach and the owner but it seemed like a “Big Deal” for the fans who expected more from their “heroes”.
This was a decision that didn’t just impact records and statistics but had a very negative impact on the fan base who as I understand, pay to watch their team make an effort to win.
So what should a concerned individual do?
Turn off the Television.
Make yourself your own “hero”.
Become a “hero” for your children, your spouse, your best friend, the people you work with, the people you live next to and others you might encounter.
Get off of the couch and rejoin life in the active lane.
The fact that Tiger can hit a golf ball doesn’t really make you a better golfer.
The fact that the Colts can win or lose a game doesn’t do anything for your health status or your ability to throw a pass.
You can on the other hand decide to change your eating habits and eat healthy.
You can decide to lose extra weight and become more agile.
You can decide to give up smoking.
You can decide to get a trainer, head to the gym reshaping your mind, your attitude and ultimately yourself.
In the final analysis you want to avoid the need for health care, reformed or unreformed and play touch football till your eighty.
It is not up to the politicians, sports figures, “movie stars” or any other person on this planet to set your life path.
It is up to you.
The power ultimately resides in each individual.
Maybe it is time to decide that it is going to be each and every one of us that is striving to be a hero.
It is just too important to leave it up to someone else.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Ambassador Has a Brand New Bag

The Ambassador has been gone so long I assumed he was in Afghanistan overseeing the elections or in France with Sarkozy drinking wine and signing contracts for the Super Hadron Collider.
But it was much more mundane.
He was brought low by a virus and told to stay away for at least 4 to 6 weeks.
Many students struggled to begin without the expert advice of the Ambassador.
But he is now back and in full swing.
To celebrate the return, a new speed bag, tight, hard and fast was recently installed.
Tonight he tested the speed bag and made it sing.
The new students will benefit from his return.
He knows the ropes and takes each new student through the routine with extreme patience.
Only one issue, he has developed other interests and he is young.
I am curious to see if he will be diverted from the life in the gym to the life of work and the life of “Luv”.
I am sure he will never fully desert the gym; it is in his blood.
His blood runs three parts “heart” and three parts steel.
The Ambassador has too many “sisters” and at least one really older brother of whom he is really fond of saying “Out of 100 you are the better part of 60 to my 30” and so we keep pushing each other to newer and higher levels of work.
I wish him much “Luv and Laughter” in his other interests but I certainly hope the steel in his blood keeps him in the gym.
I need someone that I can match bench press for bench press and chin up for chin up.
See he is now more than Ambassador, he has become my “little brother” and the best source of competition is always the younger brother.
So watch out little brother, the speed bag is trying to sing for me.

Can This Sixty Three Year Old Learn To Run

I guess it really depends on “what is chasing you”.
I have decided that I want to run at least a half marathon, at best a full marathon.
I was actually pushed to this decision after watching The Biggest Losers run a full marathon following six weeks of training.
I last ran in high school and tended to stick to the middle distances, the 440 and at the seminary, the 600 meter run.
I was lousy at sprints and at any distance beyond the 600 meters, I died.
As an adult, Ihave tried to start running for “fun” but always ended up with shin splints and a lack of motivation.
But now something big and terrible is chasing me, the past and the future.
The past, something I am trying to leave behind, is there in the shadows hoping to reclaim me.
I smoked, was overweight, sedentary, short of breath and in need of some vascular re-plumbing.
I have now been losing weight, exercising regularly, attending Boot Camp, so why not start a running program?
It should keep me out of the kitchen and off of the couch.
It will be hard to get engrossed in television while doing roadwork.
It will add a whole new level of activity to a fairly complex exercise schedule.
It is also a good time to start as winter is coming and sweating won’t be a major problem.
The future is also lurking out there.
As I see it there are two possible futures.
I have an opportunity to pick one of them without violating a time travel paradox.
I want to pick the path “less traveled” as stated by Robert Frost in a famous poem:

Two roads diverged in a wood and I-
I took the one less traveled by

The road less traveled might in the end be filled with the most excitement and perhaps yield the greatest rewards.
This is not a given, but I have already walked pretty far down the other road.
It did seem like so much fun at the time but as a now infamous wag was once heard to say, “If I had known I was going to live this long I would have certainly taken better care of myself”.
I figure it is never too late to begin “taking care of yourself” especially when your walking down a strange road in a strange new land.
Somehow I don’t think the past is strong enough to come down this road.
Besides it is good to know I am now actually involved in making the future instead of just letting it happen.
So can this sixty three year old learn how to run?
Everything I am seeing says, “I’ll bet on it”.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Only Constant Is Change: Part Two

I am really comfortable.
I have found my niche.
Boot Camp, 6:30PM Tuesday and Thursday night and 9:00 Am Saturday morning.
I have been able to make it for many if not most of the sessions.
Then suddenly a change, Tuesday night now starts at 6:00PM.
I know I will miss some classes.
The real question, can I go it alone on Tuesday and catch up on Thursday and Saturday?
This is where the Zen of Exercise needs to exert a powerful influence.
Exercise is more than aerobic and isometric work. It is also a unique form of communication among like individuals pursuing a similar goal, deep health.
Exercising alone is lot like talking to yourself unless you can transition the experience into a metaphysical trance or Zen like state where you become one with the equipment and the muscles.
It must become a form of meditation.
In this state you can begin to feel each muscle fiber slide over the other and the weights seem to lift themselves as you watch with joyful detachment ignoring the pain and exhaustion.
This is an extremely hard state to attain.
It is like a pitcher “who is able to clear the machine”.
It is like a golfer who sees the swing.
It is like the running back that sees the seam.
It is like Michael Jordan, who on many occasions left gravity behind as he floated to the basket, the only destination in that moment.
I am trying to achieve that state on Tuesday nights now that I will on occasion leave the group dynamic for a singular pursuit of exercise excellence.
I prefer the group dynamic but such is life and if I can achieve the status of an exercise aesthetic without the benefit of I-Pods or earphones then I may yet discover some new truth in my quest for health.
Just remember Psychology and Physiology aren’t really spelled all that differently.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pushing The Envelope

“When will it ever get easier”, the question hung there waiting for an answer.
This was about forty minutes into the Tuesday night Boot Camp when everyone was either a light shade of purple or deep maroon.
“I have been doing this for years and it seems to be getting harder”.

I decided I needed to respond; I have a background in exercise physiology and the answer will not be reassuring.

There are two components that must be addressed in responding to the question.
The first component has to do with Sparta.
Sparta can easily see when people are coasting.
Sparta can make the exercise routine as hard or as easy as she sees fit and I don’t anticipate a sudden feeling of seasonal warmth to suddenly cause her to change the routine into Slipper Camp.
It is called Boot Camp for a reason.
Sparta can put three grueling leg exercises in a row, she can add laps, she can follow the heavy bag with mitts and she can knock out any station that provides a little breather.
There are enough combinations of stations that Sparta could challenge even the best trained athlete.

The second component that needs to be addressed is Maximal Aerobic Capacity or Maximal Exercise/Work Capacity.

Maximal Aerobic Capacity or Maximal Exercise Capacity is usually expressed in the amount of oxygen used per kilogram body mass per minute. It is usually determined during exercise such as cycling, running or even Boot Camp. The intensity of the activity is progressively increased until the subject is exhausted. The average value for a 20-year-old female is between 32–38 ml/kg/min; for a 20-year-old male it is 36–44 ml/kg/min.

The last time I looked, I didn’t see that many twenty year olds in our class.

Training can improve Maximal Exercise Capacity but the amount of improvement is highly individualized and inversely related to the initial level of fitness. A sedentary person may experience as much as a 25 per cent increase in VO2 max after only 8 weeks training; a highly trained athlete may experience as little as a 5 per cent or less improvement in the same time.

The key phrase:

There is an upper limit of oxygen consumption beyond which training has no effect. This limit seems to be genetically determined and may be reached after 18–24 months of intensive endurance training and it must be remembered that Maximal Exercise/Aerobic Capacity does decline with age.

Most everyone has been training in Boot Camp for more than twenty four months and many of us are getting older as each year passes. (A few, left un-named appear to be avoiding the aging thing). So it suggests that most of us are probably at our maximal aerobic or maximal work capacity and each little change in intensity will dramatically affect how we perceive the level of work.

But here is the bright inner lining; all in the class have increased their exercise capacity and are working at levels far above the average person. Some in class may be approaching levels as high as 60 ml/kg/min.

It is estimated that Lance Armstrong is the best endurance athlete in the world and his maximal exercise capacity is somewhere around 80 to 100 ml/kg/min.
He increased his capacity by 7% over 7 years of intense training and added another estimated percentage by reducing total body fat which is another way to increase work capacity by a few percentage points.

So to sum it all up, unless Sparta changes the class to Bed Room Slippers Class it probably won’t get any easier, ever, unless we can keep peeling the total body fat down to extremely low levels and achieve higher levels of maximal work capacity.

Unfortunately age and genetics are working hard against us.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mr. Id

Remember the television show, Mr. Ed?
Mr. Ed was a talking horse that would say just about anything.
Well, we have a similar personality in our exercise class, Mr. Id.
Mr. Id appears to have lost all brain filters such as Ego and Super Ego so that whatever bubbles up in the hindbrain soon finds expression at the mouth.
I understand this as I have suffered from a similar problem.
Age and slowed reflexes have begun to solve mine.
Mr. Id is about as funny as anyone I have ever heard.
It may just be the environment, the exercise class, but he has Jay Leno, Jack Paar and any other late night comedian, I have heard, beat by a mile.
Maybe he wouldn’t be as funny on day-time TV or at a Tea with a Ladies Society but the exercise class laughs all the way through the crunches.
Last night he said, “I must be the most out of shape ”#@$%^” in this class, I have already been unconscious twice and I am numb from the hips down”.
This is all said amid a number of expletives, praises for the trainer and other noises usually reserved for rooting water buffalos.
He attacks the heavy bag like it is his worst enemy and if he hits it any harder, he might one day knock it out, for good.
The class seems easier with Mr. Id in the room.
He was a doubter at the beginning.
I think he believed the class was for "them" but he has not only joined it, experienced the pain, but actually seems to have moved to the stage of loving the agony.
Mr. Id has added a whole new level "of freedom of expression" to the class.
So hats off to Mr. Id.
I hope he keeps coming back.
Laughter and great humor help ease the pain of that last run or the final two minutes of flutter kicks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Old Dogs, New Tricks and Nicknames

It is hard to learn to jump rope when you are past fifty.
It is difficult to get the rhythm of the light bag when you are beyond fifty five.
It is hard to remember Jab, Upper cut, Hook, Cross, Hook, feint, duck, Jab, Jab, Hook, Cross, and on and on.
The neurons just don’t fire that fast anymore.
I guess that explains why I sometimes seem to stare straight ahead after hearing a command.
It takes a few seconds to register and a few more seconds for the impulse to activate the muscles.
But, the hardest of the hard, has been the Hula Hoop.
Try learning that when you are over sixty.
In a car, sixty equals eighty eight feet per second.
In a body, sixty equals about eight feet per second.
The joints and muscles just don’t seem to move as easily as needed to keep a Hula Hoop up in the air, defying gravity.
Then one night last week, it clicked.
I am sure it looked strange but I was actually “Hula Hooping”.
Sparta saw the moment and began whooping as she announced to the assembled class, “looks like the old dog can learn new tricks”.
The mind rebelled.
Old Dog, “who is she talking about”?
The mention of age rarely comes up in the gym.
I actually forget my age during these intense exercise sessions.
But in deference to the Master/Mastress, placing a fist in my other palm, I bow like an acolyte in training, thanking her for the recognition and the new nickname.
See, I have given each person a name that reminds me of some special characteristic and finally I was given mine, Old Dog or OD for short.
So from now on OD will be doing the Blogs, OD will be attending class, OD will be working out in the gym, OD will keep on, keeping on.
And finally when it all ends, hopefully in my eighties, the final report will most likely read like some strange form of poetry:

The Hula Hoop
Won This Day