The Art of Resting and Lolling About

Maybe you’ve noticed something now that you’re forty or sixty or eighty: your body takes a little longer to do what it used to do easily and effortlessly. Use this information wisely. Be nice to yourself. Take care of small scratches and cuts as they can take longer to heal. Be patient with others as they are moving a little slower, too.

This is essential advice if you exercise. Back in the good ol’ days, I could step on the scale on Friday morning, frown, run ten miles on Saturday and another five on Sunday, and smile at the scale on Monday morning. Not now. Now that I’m on the brink of sixty losing weight takes a concentrated effort.

I had an interesting insight into rest and healing and health last summer. I’ve lived in South Carolina  now for four years and am still not used to the sunny, blistering, buggy, and drippingly humid weather. It’s glorious in April but by the end of June I wake up to 85 degrees and a forecast of 100. Running on paved roads where you can see the steam rising as you run adds another five degrees. My wife loves this stuff. Natives complain less than I do but for this coffee-infused Son of Seattle, it’s a tough slog.

So, I quit running. I took August off and did yoga to the hum of the air conditioner. I ran a three-miler once a week just to remember how to run. September came and it was just as hot as August. I decided to start back up in mid-September to get ready for a race in early October. When I went out for my first Saturday morning run in six weeks, I wasn’t sure what to expect – and I was seriously shocked when I turned in one of my fastest three-milers ever. I felt smooth and comfortable the entire run. At first, I thought it was my new Lycra tights. They admittedly look pretty sweet but I don’t think they contributed to my times. I wondered if it was the cooler temps and I’m sure that helped. What I’m most convinced of is that the time off helped. Stretching and resting gave my legs time to repair from long runs in the late spring and it took a few weeks of rest to begin feeling the benefits.

Every fitness book and trainer talks about rest. It’s when our bodies repair and recharge but few of us really believe it. We’re athletes! We push through pain! We force our body to submit to our iron will! Well, maybe not. So I’ve incorporated indolence and sloth into my weekly regimen and I feel so much better for it. When my legs feel like lead on Tuesday, I listen to them and take off until Saturday. I stretch. I get a couple hours of extra sleep. I loll about and read.  Maybe even spend some quality time with the family! And I feel better for it.

So go work out. Work hard. Breathe hard. Pump your muscles. Feel your body work. And when you’ve worked enough – you’ll know when that is – take a rest. Maybe for a day. Maybe for a week. Or for six weeks like I did. It’s not the end of the world and will almost certainly make your world a little better. And isn’t that exactly what exercise and living the good life is all about?

She Hired a Track Coach at 77! Another post about older bodies.

How about you? What have you learned about rest and recovery?

Cheers!

 

Give Yourself a Break – with Caveats

Take a Break!

Whatever you are working on to improve, there will be days when it is the very last thing you want to do. It doesn’t matter if you are training for a marathon or a spelling bee.  So what to do?

You can always give yourself permission to duff. I do this with some of my workouts. On some days, I burn straight through these drills and the sweat feels great. Other days, not so much. So, I slow down. What they hey – I’m not training for the Olympics. And doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

Or you can take a break for a day. Or a few days. Sometimes, a couple of days off helps you return with a vigor and enthusiasm that you had forgotten. Be careful, though. The key to improvement is mindful, incremental plodding toward a goal. There is a fine line – you will have to decide where it lays – between a rejuvenating break and giving up.

Cheers!


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Exercise? Some is Better than None

New Year’s Goals?

It’s April now, and it’s very likely that your New Year’s resolution to become the Most Fantastically Healthy and Best-Looking person on the planet has been dashed by a thousand pieces of chocolate, by croissants dripping with butter, and by voluminous glasses of ‘healthy’ red wine. If you are especially resolute, you made it through January on track with your workout routine. If you are one-in-ten-thousand, you actually signed up for a French class rather than just looking through the catalog. Oh well. It’s called being a human being and it’s not such a bad thing. We change in tiny increments that all add up to who we are today. It’s the very same way that we become who we want to be tomorrow.

There is a pervasive idea – a lazy excuse? – that if you don’t get outside and run for at least half an hour then you are wasting your time. Or that you need to visit the squat rack five days a week to crush your thighs into submission. Whatever you do, the myth is that you must do lots and lots of it to see results. Exercise science, though, tells a different story. We now understand that adding up ‘little virtues’ through the day totals up to a real and healthy exercise experience.

Real Value Adding Up Smaller Effort

What does this mean? It means that there is real value in parking your car in the next lot over and walking an extra two minutes to your office. It means that there is real value in taking the stairs. It means that you should turn off your instant messenger at work and actually walk over to talk to someone. Who knows? You might find the added benefit of having a nice relationship with another human being? It means that there is value in work. Mow the lawn. Take the dog for a walk. Good gawd – go have sex rather than watch other people do it. There’s a crazy idea! Find ways to let your body do work rather than machines.

Aside from the earlier onset of disease, our Great Grandads and their moms were typically in much better physical condition than we are yet they didn’t exercise. How? Their lives were filled with physical activities that added up through the day. Do you want a good night’s sleep? Go bail hay for a day. Imagine your great-grandmother dragging her carpets outside to hang them on the line to beat the dirt and dust out of them. And then dragging them back. Most folks today would need a glass of wine and an hour watching home remodeling on television after this kind of workout.

Let’s be clear: carrying your groceries to the car won’t build biceps that will get you on the cover of Muscle and Fitness. For that, you will have to live at the gym and inject steroids. But as a general boost to your health, adding up daily chores and using your body as a tool can reap real rewards.


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10 Essential Tips for Starting a Workout Program

Specifically for the not-so-fit

If you are a twenty-year-old bathing suit model who runs half-marathons in your spare time for fun, you can probably just keep moving along.  If you are like almost every other human being on the planet, and if you are just now starting a fitness program, here is some well-earned advice offered in an attempt to deprogram you from some of the silly and potentially harmful exercise advice many of us have bought into:

For Starters:

  • It’s said all the time and most people will ignore it: check-in for a check-up. You probably need one anyway and your doctor will be impressed with your efforts at better health. Really. They will probably give you permission to start slow and that will comfort you on your first trot around the block. Get the blood-work done, too, and save the results. When you return for next year’s check-up, compare the results of your blood work. You’ll be surprised with how much your work has paid off. You will look better and feel better but these results prove that you actually are better. On the inside.

    • Ignore stretching and warming up at your peril. Prep your body for the work ahead. Warm up slowly and ease into stretches. I will tell you from experience: it is stupid to lose a month of training time while you recoup after tearing a muscle because you couldn’t spare five minutes to stretch. If you only have twenty minutes and can’t get your full workout in then focus on stretching. You can run tomorrow. The earth will still turn.

    • Wear good shoes on a forgiving surface. My preferred gym is my garage when it’s ninety degrees outside. I wear heavy running shoes and have a sturdy carpet on the concrete to cushion my legs and feet. If you are doing more weights than cardio then consider a pair of heavier gym or cross-fit shoes. They will give you a solid foundation and help hold your ankles in place. They don’t have to be expensive but be sure they are of good quality.
  • Most guys won’t be able to do this – we’ve simply been too brainwashed about what it means to be manly – but if your program uses weights, I highly recommend going through the first day or at least the first set without the dumbbells. Learn the movements. Your body is used to doing everything in a straight line. The very best way to hurt yourself is to get excited about losing forty pounds, grab a fifteen-pound dumbbell, and start swinging it sideways. I can almost guarantee that while the weight goes in one direction, your lower back or your hamstring, which hasn’t made a turn like that since the fifth grade, is going to stay right where it is. When one part of you moves and the other doesn’t? Not a good day. You can still work up a good sweat without the weights so start in easy.

For the mind:

  • “No pain, no gain” is stupid. Pain means that you are doing something wrong or moving something too far or aren’t ready for the movement. I’m not talking about soreness or the feeling of pushing yourself. I’m talking about that feeling of having an ice pick jammed into the side of your left knee when doing a squat. Quit immediately and adjust if you feel pain. It took you fifty years to mold the body you have today. It’s okay to take some time to bring it back into a healthy condition. Working through real pain will only set you back as you take the time to recover from your dopey and misleading belief.
  • Remember that the people featured in those videos you are watching are fitness

    models and fitness professionals. While true that you can reach their level of fitness, you probably don’t have six hours a day to exercise while a professional chef waits in the wings to cook your meals. Be nice to yourself and take some time. Learn to enjoy feeling your body improve.

  • Don’t worry if you can’t work at a 110% or 50% or 10% effort through the entire workout. Keep at it bit by bit and you will finally do it. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. But to rush because of false expectations only invites injury or frustration and both will detract from your efforts and goals. Feel free to rest for a set or just to take a few breaths. Enjoy the workout! It’s not a punishment.

Food:

  • If you want to lose weight then you’ve got to do some kind of food plan. It’s becoming more and more clear that while exercise promotes fitness and health it does not always equate to weight loss. Eating less equates to weight loss. I really, really, like the container system used by the Beachbody programs. It takes away the guessing and calorie counting and tracking. You’ll be hungry sometimes and that’s okay. Find a program that suits you and your personality. I know that I won’t stick to anything too complex to explain to the nearest third grader. The simple fact is that if you want different results then you need to cultivate different habits.

  • Avoid eating at least a half-hour before your workout and avoid heavy fats or protein. In time, you will learn what your body likes. I feel best and do my most energetic workouts in the morning before I eat anything.  I don’t use pre-workout shakes or meals though many people enjoy them. I doubt that they provide any real boost but experiment to find out what you like.

  • Do nibble on or drink some protein after your workout. The efficacy of protein for
    post-workout muscle repair and replenishment is one of the very few sports nutrition guidelines that you can trust. Your muscles are hungry after a workout and as our bodies age, we have a more difficult time metabolizing protein. So you want to replenish what you have burned and add a buffer for building new muscle.

A bonus!

  • Don’ t be stingy with the water. It’s free out of the tap and is the single best ‘nutrient’ to can put in your body.

An anti-bonus!

  • You can always forget about exercise altogether. Running around the block in silk shorts while you sweat like a dog isn’t the only path to a better life. Some of us like to do this stuff. I do. But if you don’t there is golf, gardening, walking, yoga – any kind of movement will improve your health. For more on healthy living without spandex read here and here.

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Sprinting Workouts. Maybe the hardest thing you’ve ever done

Even old guys can do it! Photo credit: Rebekah Romero
Even old guys can do it!
Photo credit: Rebekah Romero

If crawling on all fours across the finish line is your idea of a big time then have I got a deal for you. Sprint workouts. Not running-fast workouts. Not race-pace workouts. I mean 100 meter sprints. A full-out, balls to the wall, every cell in your body straining, sprint. The kind of races that Olympic runners do in 9-odd seconds and this old man does in 16.

I just recently learned about the glories and agonies of the sprint. I get bored on long pavement runs, and hot, and thought that trying sprints would be fun. I went to the local track to run ten 100 meter dashes. My plan was too run one, turn around and walk back to the start, and then run another. I figured that by the time I ran the tenth sprint I would have a good work out going. Wrong. By the time I hit about the eighth step of the first run, I was done. My legs turned to lead and I felt like I was running headlong into gale force winds. It was crushing. My heart rate zoomed to over 100% of my calculated maximum. By the time I did four runs, I was exhausted and spent. I managed to do three more that resembled running. I felt horrible. The last three couldn’t be categorized as runs. I could hardly feel my legs. When a ran, I imagined my feet tied to my hands like a marionette. The only way to bring my feel up off the ground was to force my hand upward and forward. I dropped a full five seconds from my first to last sprint.

The next day I was still tired and slightly sore. The following day I was sore from my calves to my lats. My biceps hurt. My abs hurt. I hurt in places where I didn’t know I had muscles.

So what did I learn?

  1. I learned what insiders already knew. This is one heck of a whole body workout. When I run for distance I relax my upper body and breathe easy. When sprinting I push with my legs, pull with my arms, and lean hard toward the finish. Even my back was sore. This intensity has an added benefit: long-term charged metabolism.  My soreness and elevated heart rate indicated that I upped my metabolism for an entire day.
  2. When I run a long distance, I listen to music or podcasts, watch the scenery, and have been known to jump into the woods to chase down a bird or butterfly. Sprinting is more of a zen activity. You are entirely present. Every ounce of focus you can muster is used to move you forward. Everything else slips away.
  3. You get a little more comfortable with pain and discomfort. When you are slogging through your sixth dash and everything you feel says to stop – and you don’t – you are training yourself to overcome temporary discomfort which has benefits for all areas of working out.

Some considerations:

  1. By its nature this is an exercise-to-failure workout. My resting heart rate is in the low 50’s and during a normal run hovers in the low-140’s.  It topped 170 in my sprint workout. I wouldn’t do a full-out sprint workout unless you are in reasonably good condition. Start a little slower and do shorter sprints. Take time to work up to two, three, then ten 100m dashes. Ramping up slowly here is even more important than with your distance. Things can break.
  2. Do not ignore stretching and warming up for these runs. It’s not unusual for me to dash out the door for a slow five miler without stretching. Pulling that stunt here can have serious repercussions. You are asking your muscles to perform in a way they might not have since high school gym. They will need coaxing and gentle persuasion. I guarantee a rebellion if you step to the line and do a full exertion for fifteen seconds without preparation. And it can take weeks to heal. As in all things regarding exercise, start slow and keep your footing with new activities.
  3. Along with stretching and warming up there is some wisdom to be learned about stopping. Don’t. At least not fast. Run all the way through the finish line and slow down slowly over several meters. Watch the track stars. They run half way around the curve to slow down. Coming to a screeching halt can beat up your taut muscles just like starting with stretching.
  4. I do these workouts at a track for two reasons. The first is that there is no guessing about distance. No pacing. No laying a branch across the street and hoping it doesn’t blow away. Just a well-marked 100 or 200 meters. This enables me to track my results over time. The other reason is that it’s a smooth and softer surface. If I fall – and you will be surprised how akimbo you feel – I want a smooth track instead of the tarred crushed gravel they call roads here in South Carolina.
  5. The physiology wonks can have fun with this one. It was interesting that my first wall – about eight seconds into my first run – corresponds exactly with the amount of free ATP in my muscles. We each carry enough ATP in our muscle cells to fuel 8-10 seconds of an all-out activity. After that, up until around two minutes, we convert to what is called fast-glycolysis  where the mitochondria manufacture glucose from other biochemicals. Then we convert to slow-glycolysis where glycogen in broken down with oxygen. This is the aerobic zone we are familiar with where we can just keep going. Doing more and harder workouts can increase the mitochondria in our muscles and thereby increase the length of time that we can exert at an 80-100% level. Those Olympic sprinters? They are at 100% for the entire race. I get only halfway down and then convert to 80%. Oh well. I gave up Olympic dreams a long time ago.

So go out and have some fun with the hardest workout you might ever do. If you are an experienced sprinter please add to the conversation for the benefit of us newbies who don’t want to hurt ourselves.

How to sprint from Livestrong
Physiology wonk-fest go here to the Medical Biochemistry Page.
10 Articles on Sprinting from The Max Effort Black Box – unvetted!

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Blazing asphalt – how to workout and avoid heat stress

I grew up in Tacoma, Washington, where a nice summer day starts out chilly and inches toward seventy-five. Who cares about the week in August when we shield our eyes from that blinding thing in the sky and watch the thermometer push toward ninety? For runners it’s so infrequent that you can take the day off without any effect to your running program.

Not so here in sunny South Carolina. Not for me anyway. I barely made it through May last year and by June I was done. I couldn’t even make it through short runs without turning to lead halfway through. Beating sun and heat stress were doing me in. I finally just quit running and did yoga inside with the AC blowing. I came out of the summer lighter and more flexible but I’d like to keep up with my running this year. I’ve found several things that allow me to feel much more comfortable in the heat. I’ll have to wait and see how they work when I wake up to 90 degrees and dripping humidity but I’m hoping to make it at least through June this year.

If you’re going to run or workout in the heat this year please consider the following to stave off heat stress and sluggishness:

    • Run shorter routes and add a second lighter workout. It’s the sun that seems to kill me. Working out in my garage doesn’t have the same effect. If it’s blazing out I might cut my run in half and then finish up with some kind of workout in the garage. Or you can do another workout later when you’ve cooled off. Misery in small doses seems a little more bearable.
    • Ignore this and your legs will feel like spaghetti a mile out: ensure you are hydrated before you run. If you pee before heading out notice the color. It should be clear pale yellow. Any darker and you are not hydrated. Drink some water and chill for half an hour or so.
    • And please. Do pee before you run. When it’s this hot your body becomes a water processing plant. The need to pee hits like a truck. Take care of it beforehand to avoid being both baking hot and completely uncomfortable. It’s hard to run with your legs crossed and around here they shoot strangers running into the woods.
    • Ramp up your time and miles slowly. This year I started running during the middle of the day as temps began to increase. And if it’s really cooking I cut my miles. I will run a shorter loop that I can do twice or three times depending on how I’m feeling. A ten-mile out-and-back is too much of a commitment.
    • Slow down or walk. There have been times when I have slowed to just a running heat1form. There have been times that I’ve walked. I burn the same number of calories and enjoy the same workout. And there is a mental reward for finishing your distance. Remember that unless you are training for the Olympics you are just out enjoying your body and nature. It’s more fun to enjoy it standing up rather than laying down after you pass out from pushing yourself in the heat.
    • Where a hat. I’m not a hat guy but have learned to like the small bit of shade it gives my eyes. Toss the canvas trucker hat. Wear a lightweight hat meant to wick moisture and you will definitely feel the relief.
    • Run as close to naked as you can get. I wear the least I can and not get arrested. I also invested in some running togs made to wick moisture away and keep me cooler.  I’ve been surprised to learn how well they work.
    • Get a hydration pack. I bought one on a whim because I was so baking hot and because it was on sale. Now I can hardly leave the house without it.  A must.

And a couple of things not to do:

  • There’s more drama.  I think – and feel free to fill in the blanks here – that your body is more strained and you’re having a little less fun. So tiny things that don’t normally bother me begin to loom large. I take an extra minute or so to make sure I’m all set knowing that a little pinch in my shoe or the battery in my headphones dying will irritate the crap out of me. Be proactive.
  • Wear sunscreen. An absolute non-negotiable.
  • Avoid the rain. At least here in the South. I held off on a run once last year waiting for the black clouds to open. When the rain came I ran out expecting a nice Northwest style run. Good bloody gawd. It was the worst run I’ve ever had. It was still ninety degrees and when the rain hit the pavement it turned the entire street into a steam bath. I have never been on such an uncomfortable run.

So take it slow. Take it easy. Let your body acclimate. Remember that you do this for fun and that you would like to do it again tomorrow.

High-Intensity Exercise And Your Heart.

Can your exercise routine kill you?

Can your exercise routine kill you? Maybe. But lots of things done poorly can kill you. Water can kill you: 6 liters will kill half the people who drink that much (called the Lethal-Dose 50 or LD50). Like coffee? 120 cups will probably put you under. But what about exercise? Isn’t that supposed to be good for you? It is good for you. At least most kinds of exercise. There is evidence, though, that high-intensity exercise can have negative health effects over time if done to extremes. Before the bad, though, let’s focus on the good.

What is high-intensity exercise?

High-intensity exercise is typically defined as exercise that brings your heart rate up to or

close to 85-90% of your maximum rate. There are as many ways to figure your maximum heart rate as there are websites but the standard formula is to subtract your age from 220 and multiply that number by 0.85 to get beats per minute. View that as a good starting point that will change as you exercise more and train your heart and your body. I maintain a heart rate of about 148 beats per minute for a 5k running race and have pushed to over 170 for brief workouts. Done properly and infrequently these workouts exercise your heart, which is made of muscle, expand and scrub your blood vessel walls as blood surges to feed your muscles, and increases your lung’s ability to process oxygen and carbon dioxide.  All good things.

So what’s the down side? The downside comes when people think that if one day is good then two must be better and a whole week will turn me into Superman by next Friday. Once a week or so is good. And depending on your age and fitness level, maybe several times a week is fine. But at some point, prolonged and constant high intensity exercise can have negative benefits. What are they?

High intensity work outs can exacerbate existing conditions

We’ve all heard stories of someone who started running and dropped dead of a heart

attack. I knew a family of brothers who lost their youngest brother from an aneurysm while running. Doctors guessed that the problem was pre-existing and triggered by exertion and that he was dead before he hit the ground. But other, more benign, problems can crop up. Knee and foot problems are common. Muscle soreness can linger and make even walking painful. Pulled muscles and torn ligaments can occur. If you start a regiment that includes high intensity workouts then expect to find any chinks in your armor. This is just the nature of machinery. Slow and easy is usually painless but add some stress and you start finding the weak spots.

High intensity workouts can contribute to poor rest

It seems that you would sleep like a log after these workouts but the opposite is often true. Your body is either too amped up or too sore to rest. Yoga and meditation can help as can baths. An aspirin helps me relax. And poor rest can contribute to a compromised immune system as well.  And make you damned crabby. Who wants that?
This is age and condition dependent but I’ve had to learn to leave lots of room for rest healing. I need just about a full two weeks of easy stuff to recover from a really hard work out.

What is the real killer?

Prolonged high intensity training becomes a problem when your heart begins to deform. Remember that your heart is just a mid-line pump that pushes blood around your body. During times of intense exercise when your cells and muscles scream for every bit of energy, they can get your heart does two things: it starts pumping faster and starts to pump more volume. It’s the volume that can hurt you. At those levels of exercise, the heart expands more to gather up more blood to push. When it expands, the heart muscle, especially on the right side which tends to be smaller, can become thin and stretched just like a balloon will when you blow it up too much. And just like that balloon, it can become weakened and limp when you maintain that pressure. It’s known, too,  that very high heart rates can skew your heart’s electrical circuit and develop into arrhythmias or heart rhythm disorders.

What to do?

Don’t be scared – be smart. For most people doing intense workouts once a week or a couple times a month is fine and adds to your health. Your heart will thank you, your lungs will thank you, and your cholesterol will thank you. More than that is fine for short periods. I’ve done a couple cycles of Power90 workouts but tone them down a bit and make sure I get plenty of rest if I feel tired.

High Intensity Exersize
Take it easy and enjoy.

Remember what you are exercising for. Most people running on the side of the road aren’t Olympic athletes. They run for fun and fitness, and maybe to fit into a new bathing suit. There just isn’t a need to work at such an intense level. For most people slow and steady is the best road to improved health.

If you want to try it out start slow and let your body adjust. Ramp it up if you feel good. Slow down if you feel tired. Remember that the whole purpose of exercise is to live better and feel better today. And I recommend stopping after ten cups of coffee.

Cheers!


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