Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dipping birds, drumming monkeys, and more

Sometimes my clients are surprised when I describe the things we use during our session as toys.  If a cardboard box can be a toy, so can a barbell.  It is easier to imagine the toy potential of a bosu—bouncing is fun!—or a giant exercise ball.  I speak that way about my equipment on purpose.

When we think about fitness as play, as fun, it is easier to stay motivated.  No kid getting out of bed in the morning says, “Drat!  I have to play today!”  (Not just because kids don’t normally say, “Drat!”)  That kid jumps up and grabs the Legos or the stuffed rabbit or the tiara or the football or all of the above and gets into it.  Sometimes play has hard parts, like getting that block tower to stay balanced, but it is still fun.  My block towers are things like single leg squats or tree poses, but the principle is the same.

There is no wrong way to play.  All of the toys are good toys and all of them build our minds and bodies one way or another.  Of course roller skating is more fun when there are fewer band-aids involved; that is why we practice our form, why we want to get better.

Also, laughter builds strong abs.  So come over and play!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


My dissolute life has come back to haunt me.  Yes, I have to confess:  I used to do all kinds of office work, from straight data entry to payroll to all the other computer-worshipping and keyboard-intensive tasks.  Next time, I’m choosing a more fun version of a dissolute life.  The point is, the repetitive stress, which never bothered me on the job, is now biting me in the hands, wrists, and forearms, interfering with my fun on my bike and, incidentally, with my “activities of daily living,” as physical therapists say.  I’m not looking for sympathy.  I’m not having a personal pity party.  I just have some quality time scheduled with the chiropractor, the ice packs, and more weight training.

I, much like the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland, am much interested in the moral of the story.  Which, in this case, is:  choose your vices carefully.  The sub-moral is:  learn about harm reduction.

Sure, office work is not really a vice.  It is a convenient way of turning time into food, shelter, clothing, and books.  We all have things we need to do that are perhaps not ideal for our bodies.  That means that we also need to invest in our fitness, nutrition, sleep, and professional help to keep us suffering as little as possible.

Less pain is more fun.  Go play.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages"

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct,” wrote Thoreau near the end of Walden, as he reflected on why he went to the cabin in the woods and why he left.  Similarly, when my kids were little, we often walked to the local bakery, usually on the same side of the street.  When we used the opposite sidewalk, the kids called it “the sneaky way.”

Leaving our usual paths and taking the sneaky way shifts our perspective.  I ride the same routes on my bike most of the time.  Over the weekend, I rode a new way.  I saw new views.  I faced new challenges.  And growth happened.

Even during the ride, the perspective changed.  The top picture is from near the beginning of the ride, the next two are from the middle and the end, each showing a bigger world.  Fitness is about a bigger world, one with more adventures and laughter and play.

Let’s explore the big world.  (Oh, the title is swiped from Chaucer, on the desire to travel in April.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Spark plugs: also useful

Enthusiasm is like high octane gas for our cars.  With that kind of fuel, we feel like we can go any distance.

Sometimes we are wrong about that.  Our bodies, like cars, need more than fuel to run.  You know, like carburetors and dual overhead cams (whatever those are—I learned the words watching football and the attendant car commercials) and tires.

When we run on enthusiasm alone, we tend to overdo things.  If, for example, that amazing, difficult workout leaves us flattened for a week, we may have been overdosing on enthusiasm at the expense of our infrastructure.  We need to do our maintenance, including rest, filter change, and lubrication.  Sometimes we need new treads.  Let’s give ourselves every opportunity to use our enthusiasm by making sure we take care of our parts and service.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A single step

“Impatience is a vice; vice is a disgrace,” my son said the other day in the car, adapting the old adage about patience and virtue to the current topic, which was probably traffic, since we were in the car.  Impatience is also dangerous, especially in a fitness context.

Our bodies adapt to what we require of them.  All they ask is a little time to get used to it.  We can finish that long race and lift that amazingly heavy weight, but only if we let the body adjust by finishing shorter races and lifting lighter weights on our way.  We need to show the body not only what to do, but how to do it so we can live to tell the tale with a minimum of soreness.

We are, mostly, tortoises.  We put in the slow and steady work to win.  Admittedly, we aspire to being tortoises with bursts of speed at the crucial moments.  We get those by being smart.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


We all know that goals help us get results.  What we don’t think about as often, perhaps, is how goals shape our fitness process.

Some of us work out as part of a general healthy life.  We want to get our 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days because we know that will help our bodies and minds remain strong and healthy even as we get older.  When this is our goal, we do not necessarily need to be going for the gold all the time.  We show up, we do our aerobic intervals, we make sure we are doing some weight bearing or weight training exercise, we stretch, and we’re good.

When injuries set us back, we focus on regaining our full abilities.  This is when we focus even more carefully on our form, patiently lift the temporarily lighter weights, put up with extra myofascial release and flexibility work.

Then there are the performance training times.  We find our weak spots and work them.  We push to go faster, harder, longer.  We figure out the small adjustments that make big differences.  We sweat and swear and feel the aches that come from growth.

Knowing what kind of goals we have in mind, we can plan effective workouts that meet our needs.  Mindful training is always better than mindless training.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Does this bias make me look fat?

I don’t like to drink my breakfast.  No, not because whiskey is not an acceptable breakfast.  I just like chewing better.  I am sure that I could happily and healthily live the rest of my life without drinking a smoothie, but I find it instructive to challenge my biases as often as possible.

Looking at the blender this morning, however, I almost bailed out.  It is cold and dark when I get up.  A nice cold drink was really not what I had in mind.  A nice cold drink full of seeds and nuts and fruits?  Crazy talk.  But I did it.

Guess what?  I lived to tell the tale.  I even feel good.  I’ll do it again tomorrow.

Your biases might be different than mine are.  You may feel that salads are not meals, or that vegetables should never be orange, or that whoever decided that peanut butter is not a food group unto itself was wrong, wrong, wrong.  Trying to stretch past that bias may not change anything (I keep trying to like olives and have not yet succeeded…), but then again, it might.

Eventually, we may find that we are happy without some previously treasured foods and with some new and different ones.  What have we got to lose?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dance dance dance...

(OK... I had technical difficulties.  This is the video I wanted to put here:

Last week, I went to see an amazing dance production put on by the Destiny Arts Center and the Laney College Theater Arts Department.  Sitting in a theater doesn’t count as exercise, but it did give me exercise thoughts, two in particular.

First, every kind of body can exercise.  There were big dancers and little dancers.  Men, women, boys, girls, and all genders in between and outside danced wonderfully.  The careful little box of What Dancers Look Like blew up into a thousand pieces of gorgeous confetti.  No excuses.  We can all dance—or swim, or play soccer, or whatever gives us joy.

Which is the second thought.  The joy of the dancers seeped into everyone in the audience.  While we are working on some particularly sticky bit of training, we might forget that we are also exercising our joy muscles, but we are.  We are enabling our hip-hop selves to leap higher, our track star selves to feel the wind in our hair rushing ever faster, our yoga selves to fold more beautifully.

Go play.