Category Archives: Exercise

Hey coach!

Football coachesWhat’s happening with these American football coaches? I don’t think it’s fat shaming to wonder what’s going on with these guys. If health is wealth then these guys must have long ago declared bankruptcy.

Maybe they think the way they look is what successful high-level coaches  look like, so they neither recognize nor accept that their actions have consequences for which they’re ultimately accountable for.

These guys are metabolically broken. It probably took a long incremental path to get to where they are. Action, or in this case inaction, expresses priorities.

What are the Euro coaches doing differently? Is it the culture? Maybe some of these American coaches should reach out to their European counterparts for advice.

It’s difficult to get people to understand something, when other people around him act like everything is normal.

Do they ask their doctor what they should do about their weight? The poor doctor will probably spin out advice that allows the obese coaches to feel better about themselves.  Instead, the coaches should ask their doctor what he’d do if he were in their place.

I don’t follow pro football, or soccer, so maybe the way these guys look is the new normal and no one mentions it. But It seems grotesque to me. The coaches shouldn’t need to look like athletes but they shouldn’t give up any attempt at health either.

Fast, cheap, and in control

tara on ladderI started making workout “ladders” several years ago. Some friends who’ve used it have made them too. The ladders are fast to use, cheap to make, and allow you to control your hand positions.

It’s a fast workout. I use the ladders three times a week. There’re three rungs, letting you do pull-ups, dips, rows, push-ups and inverted dips. Just drop down another rung on the ladder to do a different exercise, there’s no fussing with equipment. You can come up with other exercises too as you get used to using it.

Making the ladders is cheap.All you need is plastic pipe for handles, one inch wide webbing between the handles, and two carabiners to hang it up.

Because you’re able to pick your hand position, you can control the torque on your joints because your hands aren’t forced into the rigid positions they’d be in on a fixed bar. Smaller muscles are also brought into play on a flexible, hanging ladder.

Also, as you go through the different exercises you’ll be alternating between pulling on the joints and pushing on the joints.

Looking at the picture, you can see how it’s built.

In case you’re interested, here’re the dimensions I use. Each handle is about 4.5 inches, the top triangle has 11inch sides, the middle section is 40 inches between handles, and the bottom section is 28 inches between handles. Add 8 inches to each end for tying the knot, and cut off the excess afterward.

The hardest part is the tying the knots so both ladders are the same length. If you have a sewing machine, bar tacking the loops instead of knotting is the way to go.

The ladders are also very light and portable.

There’s the TRX, if you want to buy something similar. But it’ll be more much more expensive and not as easy to use as these ladders. Have fun.


Thorny non-problems

bull headsYou can’t judge another man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.

I walk barefoot most of the time. Not in town, that’d be weird, especially in Mexico. But as soon as I’m on the backroads walking our dog I slip off my flip flops. Doing anything around the house is usually done without shoes too.

There’re lots of benefits to going barefoot, stronger healthier feet and lower legs, a more natural stride, better balance, and that sort of thing. It also just feels better.

What got me thinking about walking around barefoot was walking over some stickers yesterday without being stuck once. I realize that, in eight years of walking around barefoot a lot in tropical Mexico, I haven’t had problems walking over things most people wearing shoes assume would be dangerous or painful.

The stickers look like the head of a small black bull with sharp horns about two inches apart. But they lay flat on the ground and don’t poke you. I was struck by how I didn’t think about walking over them.

I wouldn’t walk on rose stems barefoot or go barefoot on backroads at night. You need to take a few precautions but not many.

Maybe it’s the speed of walking that gives you time for unconsciously anticipating and judging the terrain ahead before you’re there. Also your feet get tougher with use, but they’re soft to the touch, mainly, walking barefoot makes your feet less sensitive to walking over small rocks.

If you wear shoes all of the time, you’ll wind up thinking you need to wear shoes everywhere.

The Danish bikers

danish bikerThere are a lot of cyclists in Denmark. Most of those cyclists seem to use their bikes for utilitarian purposes like shopping, going to work, or going out.

I’ve visited Copenhagen and I don’t remember seeing one cyclist wearing biking specialized clothes or shoes. The Danes I saw just rode around wearing whatever it was they needed to wear for work or play without regard for biking.

Generally, the bikes in Denmark are comfortable, they’re built to be ridden in a position similar to sitting in a chair. Most of the bikes have fenders, and their chains are completely enclosed in the chain guard which cuts out most of the mess cyclist incur. Bike lanes are common and well laid out. Basically, the “perceived effort” of riding a bike is so low that everyone does it.

What about the “bikeconomics?” There’s lots of research demonstrating the social, economic, environmental, and health benefits of urban cycling. Danish studies claim that for every kilometer cycled, society enjoys a net profit of 23 cents, whereas for every kilometer driven there’s a net loss of 16 cents.

Last year, 2014, Danes peddled about 3.5 billion kilometers, almost 10% more than the year before. All those kilometers work out to 8,000 trips to the moon.

Many of the cyclists I saw in Copenhagen looked like they might be on their way to an appointment at a modeling agency. Maybe it’s their genes or the high quality of Danish life but some it is also due to riding their bikes everywhere.

How much exercise is best?

baseballNo one’s getting out of here alive. But most of us want to live full lives for as long as possible. One big component of good health is movement, but how much exercise is best? We don’t really know for sure. But we’re getting some good ideas from the records of big groups of people.

Here’re excerpts I found informative from a NYT article, The Right Dose of Exercise for a Longer Life. It’s about the results of two analyses of two large databases. I wrote this post to have a place I can quickly access the gist of the article, which is this:

…researchers with the National Cancer Institute, Harvard, and other institutions pooled data about people’s exercise habits for more than 661,000 adults, most of them middle-aged…they compared 14 years’ worth of death records for the group.

…exercise doesn’t come with dosing instructions. Is there a safe upper limit on exercise, beyond which its effects become potentially dangerous? Are some intensities of exercise more effective than others at prolonging lives?

Current guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. But whether that amount of exercise represents the ideal amount has not been certain.

… But, the people who did not exercise at all were at the highest risk of early death.

…those who exercised a little, not meeting the recommendations but doing something, lowered their risk of premature death by 20 percent.

Those completing 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, enjoyed greater longevity benefits and 31 percent less risk of dying during the 14-year period compared with those who never exercised.

The sweet spot for exercise benefits came among those who tripled the recommended level of exercise, working out moderately, mostly by walking, for a little more than an hour per day. Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised.

And a larger dose… doesn’t seem to be unsafe. The benefits plateaued, but never significantly declined. They didn’t gain significantly more health. But they also didn’t increase their risk of dying young. 

…these studies can’t prove that any exercise dose caused changes in mortality risk, only that exercise and death risks were associated.

Anyone, who’s physically capable, should try to “reach at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and have around 20 to 30 minutes of that be vigorous activity.”


Lifting, moving and eating

cupcakeHere’s what I’ve noticed over the years of lifting, moving and eating.

Because muscle is muscle and fat is fat, if you’re interested in losing weight, focus on what you eat more than exercise. Exercising is good, but if you just want to lose weight, just cut way back on carbohydrates and you’ll lose weight without any extra exercising. Exercising is good but it’s not required if you only want to lose weight.

You can both watch your carbs and exercise too. Our bodies make every effort to conserve energy, so if you want to build muscle you’ll need to give your body a good reason to do it, and that’s through stressing it by lifting heavy things and moving more. Then allow time between the stress sessions for your body to rest and adapt to the loading you’ve put it through.

I’ve noticed that people either worry about getting too muscular from exercising or not getting as muscular as they’d like to be through exercise. People get their unrealistic expectations from examples they’re exposed to that focus on exceptional specimens. We aren’t shown the wrecking yard full of the people, without exceptional genetics and/or an exercise history, who’re hurt, worn out, or just frustrated. Instead, work at being the best you possible without concerning yourself much about what the exceptional specimen is able to do.

That’s about it in a  nutshell.

When one twin exercises

french twins“One Twin Exercises, the Other Doesn’t” is the descriptive title of a fascinating NYT article. Here’s the gist of it:

Identical twins in Finland who shared the same sports and other physical activities as youngsters but different exercise habits as adults soon developed quite different bodies and brains.

To prove that exercise directly causes a change in people’s bodies, scientists must mount randomized controlled trials, during which one group of people works out while a control group does not. But these experiments are complicated and costly and, even in the best circumstances, cannot control for volunteers’ genetics and backgrounds…genetics and upbringing matter when it comes to exercise. 

All of this makes identical twins so valuable. So researchers turned to that country’s extensive FinnTwin16 database, which contained twins’ answers to questionnaires about their health and medical conditions, beginning at 16 and repeated every few years afterward.

Most of the pairs had maintained remarkably similar exercise routines, despite living apart. But eventually the researchers homed in on 10 pairs of male identical twins, one of whom regularly exercised, while the other did not…

The sedentary twins had lower endurance capacities, higher body fat percentages, and signs of insulin resistance, signaling the onset of metabolic problems. Interestingly, the twins tended to have very similar diets, whatever their workout routines.

The active twins had significantly more grey matter than the sedentary twins, especially in areas of the brain involved in motor control and coordination.

Presumably, all of these differences in the young men’s bodies and brains had developed during their few, brief years of divergent workouts, underscoring how rapidly and robustly exercising… the results strongly imply that the differences in the twin’s exercise habits caused the differences in their bodies.

…the findings also point out that genetics and environment “do not have to be” destiny when it comes to exercise habits…

It’s a very small study, but I would bet you’ll benefit from exercise and movement more than you might think you will.

Changes over time

kat-kung-fuIt’s interesting how some things change over time, becoming clearer and simpler. I think there was a Zen monk who said something like, “In the beginner’s mind there’re many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there’re few.”

There’s a Brazilian Jui Jitsu legend named Jean Jacque Machado who’s been practicing BJJ for 30 years. He’s a 7th degree black belt with lots of competition wins. Winning in BJJ requires imposing your athletic will on an opponent who’s trying to impose his on you.

A BJJ match is sort of like wrestling and usually lasts until one person is submitted, basically saying “uncle” by tapping the mat or the opponent. Rarely is anyone hurt, but all your abilities are maxed out, which is why people get so involved in BJJ, the total concentration and exertion required puts you in a “flow” state.

Reaching the black belt level usually takes around ten years There’re lots of moves, variations, and combinations of moves to master, leading some to describe BJJ as a physical chess match.

Anyway, the other day I heard an interview with Machado. He said something like, “The more BJJ moves you know the fewer moves you use,” reminding me of what the Zen monk also said.



Immediacy and satisfaction

Hour glassjpegThere’s an aspect of a workout I forget about sometimes. When you show up to workout – you’ll always get in a workout – unlike what can happen with other activities that can eat up a lot of time in not doing what you set out to do.

Surfing, for example, is often frustrating when there aren’t waves or if there’re waves, they aren’t very good both after spending time on “the search” as it’s called. Or if you show up to practice some other sport and your partner who you need doesn’t make it.

Or if you’re a student studying an advanced and hard to understand subject, you can wind up frustrated if the material isn’t sinking in after hours of studying. Or in business you might be trying to close a deal and be undercut by a competitor at the last moment.

I’m not saying there’s no value in failure and trying, but it can lack in satisfaction.

When you lift weights there’s the immediate satisfaction of completing the movement along with a sense of accomplishment. And if you’re doing the lift correctly and safely you’re also getting stronger. And as someone once said when talking about why in a nutshell it’s good to be strong: strong people are just more useful and are harder to kill. You could also add that strong people are more satisfied too.


Be Clear

edwardA friend asked for some advice on getting into better shape. He’s a regular guy, not much of an athlete and was after some clear, simple advice.

Like most people, he just wants to look good naked and to be generally healthy. That means he doesn’t need to train like elite athletes do. He doesn’t have to aim low, but by definition, an elite athlete is rare, probably in the top 1% of the population, so why should he train like an elite athlete?

And he’s better off not trying to be someone else. Shoot for you, but better. A better you is something you can do.

He has to make sure he’s harvesting the low hanging fruit that produces a lot of benefits without much effort like not smoking, sleeping enough, eating more protein and fat, and getting some sunlight. Plus he should start standing more than sitting.

Next, he should find exercises he enjoys doing and he’ll be more likely to show up for workouts. And try to arrive at the minimum effective number of workouts a week. The right amount of exercise is more effective than doing as much as possible. If laying in the sun for 30 minutes produces a tan, doubling the time in the sun just burns you. Less is often more.

An another important consideration is not doing exercises which may result in harm. Getting hurt is a big setback. Some exercises might look cool but can hurt you when they’re done incorrectly or too often. For example, unless you’re fascinated with Olympic weight lifting, why bother learning those complicated high velocity techniques, when you can easily and safely do deadlifts, bench presses, and squats with moderate weight?

That was enough information to get him started. I’ll try to keep tabs on his progress. If knows he’s accountable to someone, he’ll be more likely to stick with it. We’ll see.