Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday Book Report: Incognito

David Eagleman’s book Incognito describes the intersection of biology and consciousness.  He begins, “Take a close look at yourself in the mirror.  Beneath your dashing good looks churns a hidden universe of networked machinery.  The machinery includes a sophisticated scaffolding of interlocking bones, a netting of sinewy muscles, a good deal of specialized fluid, and a collaboration of internal organs chugging away in darkness to keep you alive.  A sheet of high-tech self-healing sensory material that we call skin seamlessly covers your machinery in a pleasing package.” (p. 1)  Obviously, he has a way with prose.

He explores, at a general level, the questions of philosophy, psychology, and biology, with excursions into chemistry and physics.  It’s all informative and entertaining.  We are led to reflect on what makes us who we are, and this is not an easy or comfortable process at times.  It’s a useful bunch of brain gymnastics with a side of soul-searching.

I personally found the section on criminal justice to be… odd.  Yes, his arguments about free will do have implications for how we deal with transgression and protection and rehabilitation.  He presents an interesting batch of proposals that make, if nothing else, an interesting thought experiment.  He is very invested in this particular experiment, however.  The overall feel of the discussion resembles that family dinner where someone makes the mistake of bringing up a particular conspiracy theory and Uncle Frank goes off the rails, again, even though he is totally reasonable on every other subject.

Overall, a good book and well worth reading!  Go brains!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

What counts?

What counts as exercise?  We know that watching a movie doesn’t count.  We know that running a marathon does.  What about the stuff in between?

Like, say, gardening.  Well, it depends.  Sitting on our butts weeding for hours probably doesn’t count.  We’ll get dirty and possibly sweaty if it is hot and sunny, but most people don’t find their pulses racing while having it out with the dandelions.  If we’re digging compost into the garden beds, however, it probably does count.  Hefting the bags, shoveling, turning over the dirt and everything can get us good and breathless.

Same deal for housework.  Light dusting: no exercise.  Spring cleaning with rug beating, Goodwill-schlepping, and forty seven trips up and down the stairs:  exercise.

Bottom line:  if it makes you sweaty and breathless, it counts.  If you’re sore the next day, it counts.  Otherwise, not so much.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Two things to do

Fitness, shockingly enough, does not happen in the time I spend with my clients.  What we do with our session contributes, I hope, to their fitness, but all the rest of the hours in the week heavily outweigh our time together.  This is why I’m working on mind control.  Just kidding.  Mostly.  It’s why I write a blog about fitness issues in hopes of helping non-workout time become better for us all.  There are two things that clients need to do for themselves in order to make the most of their fitness and of their time with me.

1.     Sleep.  Rest is as much a part of fitness as work.  Culturally, we are sleep-deprived, to the point that many of us take pride in how un-rested we are.  This is not good.  Our bodies and brains need sleep and dreams and downtime.  Let’s grab a nap.  Let’s forgo the extra hour of television or housework or video games and go to bed on time.

2.     Eat.  We need the right amount of healthy food.  This may require some experimentation because we are all our own personal chemistry labs.  Some of us need more protein.  Some of us do better without dairy.  Some of us must have green things.  Find the right balance.

Do these two things and we can have even more fun working out.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

File under things to think about...

Over the weekend, I helped move some filing cabinets.  It was fun (yeah, I know; not everyone has the same sense of fun I do) and I wasn’t in charge of making things fit, so it went well.  The thing is, filing cabinets, like most things, are not shaped like dumbbells and barbells.  They are bulky and awkward and sometimes sharp and poky.  Moving them around has only a tangential relationship to what I do when I work out.

Keeping the relationship between workouts and real life tasks in mind can make workouts more relevant.  I’m not suggesting outfitting a home gym with filing cabinets and boxes of books and unwieldy bags of dog food, although there would be a certain novelty in doing that.  The point is that we don’t, generally, lift weights to get better at lifting weights in the gym, but to have a better experience in the rest of our lives.

When we do whole-body exercises during workouts, when we change direction or twist during a movement, when we work with ropes or medicine balls or other objects, we are practicing for the real world.  Let’s get strong for living.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Workout: Kick Butt

This week, we’re going to work our butts (off).  Heavy squats and deadlifts are great for our behinds.  All the other stuff is good for us, too.  Four rounds!

1 min cardio

heavy squats
ball bench press
1 arm clean and press
tricep kickbacks

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Book Report: Shoe Dog

Andrew Luck picked a good one again for March.  His “veteran” book club selection is Phil Knight’s memoir Shoe Dog.  The man can write.  He’s engaging and he has done many interesting things, from bootstrapping his company to climbing Mount Fuji.  There is plenty in the book to interest the sports nut, the business person, and the traveler.  Perhaps even those looking for something more spiritual can find it:

“I thought back on my running career at Oregon.  I’d competed with, and against, men far better, faster, more physically gifted.  Many were future Olympians.  And yet I’d trained myself to forget this unhappy fact.  People reflexively assume that competition is always a good thing, that it always brings out the best in people, but that’s only true of people who can forget the competition.  The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact.  You must forget your limits.  You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past.  You must forget that internal voice screaming, begging, ‘Not one more step!’  And when it’s not possible to forget it, you must negotiate with it.  I thought over all the races in which my mind wanted one thing, and my body wanted another, those laps in which I’d had to tell my body, ‘Yes, you raise some excellent points, but let’s keep going anyway…’” (P. 61).

Risk averse people might need to breathe deeply while reading about his methods of running his business in the early days.  Sometimes the tone veers a little too far toward the drinking frat boy.  Those are quibbles.  The book is definitely worth reading.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Both, coach

Sometimes people ask me if they should be doing personal training or Pilates.  There are two answers to that question.  It depends, and both.

The first answer speaks to the question of what we want to get out of our workouts.  If our primary focus is building muscle mass or burning fat, we probably want personal training.  If we want to increase our core strength, maximize our tone, and improve our posture, Pilates can help us get there.

The second answer addresses the fact that we need both big and small strength.  We need to work those big muscles with weights and we need to align ourselves with our small ones.  We need power and we need finesse.  We need force and flexibility.

Whether you choose one or the other or both, I can help!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hey, bud...

It’s not hard to tell when spring is coming.  Flowers!  Pollen!  Sneezing!  Baby animals!  Sunshine!  The temptation is to throw all the sweaters into deep storage, break out the flip-flops, and stake out a lounge chair in the sun.

The thing is, spring is a process.  We start with buds and then proceed to flowers and then leaves and then fruit.  Sure, the potential for a peach is right there, balled up on the branch, but it isn’t there yet.

We need to be patient and give ourselves time to unfold and develop.  (Yes, I am talking about fitness, too.)  Breathe.  Enjoy the warmth.  Let the stretch come when it comes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rules and Rubrics

I love making up rules.

For example, my basic three rules are:  1. Don’t be a jerk.  2. Use your good judgment.  3. No sangria ever, under any circumstances.

My rules for biking are:  1. It has to be fun.  2. I don’t have to go far or fast.  3. I can stop any time I want.

In the car, the rule is that the driver gets veto power over the music.  Reading is allowed by the rules during breakfast and lunch, but not at dinner.  The person who makes dinner, by rule, does not have to do the dishes.

In addition to rules, I like to use rubrics.  Rubrics help me define what a good job is.  The rubric for housework, for example, is that a good job has been done if things are better than when I started.

Finally, I have reached the fitness part of the story.  I suggest that when it comes to workouts, we use both rules and rubrics.  For rules, I offer these:  1. Let’s be safe.  2. Let’s have fun.  For rubrics, let’s try these:  1. Show up.  2. Do something.  3. Get sweaty.

We can make it a lot more complicated, but let’s start here.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Workout: Fun with Medicine Balls!

I’m in the mood to play with medicine balls, so we all get to do it!  Three rounds.

ball slams

curtsy with ball overhead
twist lunge
ball pushups

side slams
Russian twist

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Book Report: When Breath Becomes Air

Andrew Luck made me cry.  I’m a little behind, so I just finished the “veteran” selection for February for his book club, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air.  What a beautiful book!

And, despite the fact that it made me cry and the fact that it’s about a guy dying of cancer, the book is not depressing, not at a deep level, because it is about someone who gets it, someone who figures out how to live life before it’s over.

We don’t get to control the quantity of our days.  Let’s make the most of the quality.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Planning and unplanning

Of course I plan workouts.  That’s what I do.  I’m a professional, after all.  But I don’t always stick to the plan.

Sometimes stuff happens.  We eat something that keeps us up in the night.  We twist an ankle unloading the groceries.  We have cramps, or allergies, or goosebumps.

We have to listen to our bodies.  Sometimes they don’t want to lift heavy, but they are happy to run around outside.  Other times, weights gladden our hearts and muscles. 

One of the messages we ignore most often is the one about stretching.  Our bodies like it.  We feel like we can’t spare the time, and how useful can it be to do something that, you know, feels good?

Listen.  It’s how we learn.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

It's kind of about fitness, if you squint a little, or if you run away from the comb fast enough

As a kid, I was a pretty serious Goody Two-Shoes.  I believed in following the rules and doing my homework and not leafing through the Candyland cards to find the one that got you to the end quickest.  It worked.  I am a reasonably successful adult with a sense of responsibility.

I did, however, once steal a fire engine, according to my mother.  I was maybe two or three, so I don’t actually remember the crime in question.  A kid in our neighborhood had one, the kind you could sit in and pedal.  The lust in my heart apparently led me to pedal it home and tantrum because I eventually had to give it back.  The punishment for this crime?  I got my own fire engine.

A few years later, there was a new chapter in the epic battle between my mom and me over my hair.  We were running late for school.  I hate to be late (see previous declaration about Goody Two-Shoes, who is clearly always prompt.).  I explained to my mother that I could in fact go to school without combing my hair, but I could not go without putting on my shoes.  This logic did not cut it with my mom.  Then again, she would go out naked before she would go out without lipstick, so I expect she reasons from different premises.  (I eventually learned to go to school both with combed hair and shoes.)  Discovering the difference between actual rules and preferences or norms can be a painful process, particularly if there are tangles involved.

The point is that rules are useful, but breaking the rules can also be useful.  We cannot be rigid and still grow.  What rules are keeping us from blooming?  Are they really rules?  What are we so passionate about that we are willing to make off with it from the neighbor’s driveway?  How can we get our own?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


When I work with clients, the most important questions I ask are about what they want.  We grow toward what we practice, so it is important to choose practices that are in line with what we wish.

When those things aren’t aligned, we are as likely to get what we want by blowing dandelion seeds to the wind.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday Workout: More core for stability

I think this week’s workout continues our theme of stability through core strength!  Four rounds!

1 min cardio

jump lunges
flying tricep kickbacks
plank straddle jump & pushup
mountain climbers
Russian twist
femur arcs

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday Book Report: The Nichomachean Ethics

So maybe Aristotle doesn’t make everyone’s list of top fitness writers.  I put The Nichomachean Ethics on my to-read list because it was cited in one of the books about resilience that I read; knowing what is right helps us survive. 

It turns out that Aristotle wrote a pretty good justification for personal training:  “Moreover, individual tuition, like individual treatment in medicine, is actually superior to the public sort.  For example, as a general rule rest and fasting are beneficial in a case of fever, but not, perhaps, for a particular patient; and presumably a boxing instructor does not make all his pupils adopt the same manner of fighting…” (Book X, ix).

I’m not sure that we need yet another Dead White Male telling us what is right, but the exercise of thinking is always useful.  We need to use our brains as well as our bodies to be healthy.