Tag Archives: health

The B.S. of Busy

Let me ask you a very simple questions, my friends.  How much of this sounds eerily familiar to you:

“Yeah, I’m just SO insanely busy right now.  I just don’t have any time to…

  • Eat better/cook at home
  • Read more
  • Go to the gym
  • Go church/pray/meditate/think
  • Spend more time with my family/friends/alpaca herd
  • Finish that epic poem that would make Homer look like a complete and utter poser
  • Knock off that home improvement project”

It’s a pretty familiar refrain, no?  I can see a few of my own lines interwoven amongst that particular list.  Our lives are incredibly frenetic these days as we seek to balance work, family, hobbies, friends and maybe even sneak in a few moments of welcome solitude where we do nothing but appreciate the silence.  Ohhh, if only there we more hours in the week!  THEN we could make some magic happen.

One problem: we’re totally kidding ourselves and doing a damn fine job of it, I might add.  We have completely bought into the notion that we are unable to do any of the noble items listed above because of time.414314_3382676527306_1281256846_3291588_1565812469_o

What do you mean, I’m not busy? Look at all that freakin’ paper! Paper = busy!  Sheesh…

I think I’ve had this occur to me before, but an article from the Wall Street Journal really brought it home for me.  Laura Vanderkam wrote a wonderful piece called “Are You As Busy As You Think?” where she brings up some thought-provoking data on how much time we truly spend working, sleeping, eating and so on.  Many people will talk about 50, 60, 70 hour work weeks, but apparently the data does not back up the quote figures.  We tend to inflate because… hey… we’re competitive and we can’t be seen as less busy than the Joneses, right?

But here is where Ms. Vanderkam’s piece gets real.  She writes:

Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets,

I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.

Ouch.  Come on now… don’t tell me I’m the only one who felt that one sting a little bit.  How many things have I said I couldn’t do because I was just too busy, when in reality, I was just saying they weren’t a priority for me.  More than I want to think about.

This is a big reason why I get frustrated with people who tell me over and over about how they want to exercise, get in shape, etc.  The typical pushback I get is about time and being too busy… but I know it’s not that, in the end.  It’s just that 5 other things are much more important to them.  And those could be legitimate things for certain, but it’s just a matter of what you will deem to be important, much more so than just time.

So it’s time to rethink the time rationale, my friends.  I’m going to try her test by switching every statement of “I don’t have time for…” with “It’s not a priority…”  I can’t lie – not sure if I’m going to like the results, but who said attaining self-knowledge was all rainbows, sparkles and puppies?  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Nietzsche, but it has been a while since I’ve read “Beyond Good and Evil” so I could use some brushing up.  Maybe that sneaky bastard snuck it in there without my noticing.

What I Learned at My Obstacular Trail Race

I’m someone who likes finding some new challenges for myself every now and again.  I like new stimuli since I can otherwise stagnate, so when my friend, Jason, let me know he was putting together an obstacle trail race to benefit The Wounded Warrior Project, I was 100% game on.  OK, maybe more like 99% game on.  I was there in attitude for sure… but I suppose actually doing a whole bunch of running BEFORE the race probably would have been a good idea and a finer example of 100% game on.

But I was able to recruit my brother (the gentleman with his eyes closed below) and our friend Tom (who ran a half marathon the day before this) to venture forth for 5 miles and 15 obstacles worth of mayhem-filled fun a few weeks ago.

The Spigot Warriors... a team to be reckoned with. Now if my brother can just keep his eyes open.

And I even learned a few things along the way.  What, pray tell?  So glad you (and by you, I mean me) asked!

1) Keep your head down.

I’m not great at endurance style exercise.  This is a combination of not really training that way and not being terribly well-built for it.  Both of these things can be overcome (the first by different training and the second through not letting this become an excuse).  So when I was in the midst of this race, there were a lot of moments that were difficult for me.  If there was one pretty useful trick I used to keep myself moving, it was to keep my head down.  This is actually a big part of why I wore my baseball hat and pulled that sucker nice and low.

If my head was down, I was only focusing on what I could control at that very moment: my next few steps.  Looking ahead to see how much was left to run did me absolutely no good.  Heck, it would have probably discouraged me if I thought about it all that long.  But those next few steps?  I could do those and I could do those every single time until I was done with the 5 miles.

This happens in life all the time.  If you have a daunting task in front of you… especially one that could take quite some time to address… it will never help you to look too far ahead because the only thing you have some semblance of control over is the here and now.  So crush the here and now and move onto the next step.  Keep… your head… DOWN.

2) Stronger teammates = stronger you.

Unless you are some kind of Shaolin monk with keenly-honed powers of self-mastery, the environment around us has a big a effect, both for good and ill.  If you work in an office full of people who are horribly negative and whose chief hobby is complaining about anything and everything… I have a hard time believing you will be all that productive (at least not without listening to your iPod all day long to drown them out).  If you lifts weights consistently with people a lot stronger than you are… lo and behold, you will get a lot stronger too.  I would contend you will also get a lot stronger than you ever would have on your own.

On our team of 3, Tom was the strongest on the endurance front BY FAR.  It wasn’t even close.  He could have left my brother and I in the dust multiple times, except many obstacles required a team effort to complete.  That being said, Tom was still at the lead of our little pack at all times… and he ran a freaking half-marathon the day before.  I kid you not.

The big positive is that Tom always being there pushed me and Chris to keep running just a little bit more and pressing just a little bit harder.  If Tom could keep running, so could we, damn it.  And ran we did… for 5 miles and for a total of 1 hour, 11 minutes.  I have never run that far or long in my life and if Tom wasn’t there, I cannot really say I would have done all of that.

3) It takes all kinds.

Dress the part. Or at least dress part of yourself.

I cannot imagine why anyone would have run this in purple short-shorts… shirtless… and with double pierced nipples.  I kept imagining the potential to be hurling yourself through an obstacle in the woods and there being that one branch sticking out  juuuuust the right way.  *shudder*  But hey, he was probably through that course in half the time I was, so who am I to judge?

4) I want more.

It’s sometimes the things you least expect that can interest you the most.  I finished this race, felt like my legs had been beaten severely by a gang of Muay Thai fighters… and yet I wanted to do another one.  As I noted above, I am in no way well-suited (at least not currently) for this kind of activity… but if there is one thing I know about myself, it’s that I need challenges to bring out my best.  This was something new… something hard… yet something ultimately fun that I can do with a team (and I like team stuff quite a bit).  I am already looking up 2012 events for things like Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash and so on.  I know I will need to rearrange how I train, but I enjoy the chance to do so.  Sometimes a little forced evolution is good for the soul anyway.

In the end, the entire event reproved something I’ve long known to be true: competitive sporting events are never just a moment of physical activity, but are often very pure opportunities for learning a lot more about yourself.  I would definitely encourage you to give it a try.  You don’t need to be a hyper-competitive monster to enjoy these kinds of things, but until you’ve pushed yourself past a moment after moment where you wanted so badly to quit, I don’t think you will truly know yourself.

Keep your head down.

My Insanity is the Sanest Thing I’ve Got

If there’s one area that I tend to cause puzzlement in my friends, family and co-workers, it’s the way I approach my training, exercise and diet regime.  It’s not that they are necessarily amazed at my being into health and fitness (since lots of people are), it’s really the specifics of my philosophy and approach that give them pause or cause them to cock their heads, look at my askew and remark (after an extended sigh) “Seriously… why???”

It can actually be a little odd to explain to someone outside of the worldwide family of lifters and physical culture devotees who make this kind of strenuous exertion the best part of their days.

I have talked to or exchanged ideas with on forms a lot of people who are as into training (I almost never call it “working out”, FYI) or even more so into training than I am.  There seems to be a fairly common thread that ties all of us together into one big, borderline irrational family:

The power of transformation.

With training, you will truly get back from it what you give to it.  If you learn a bit and then work hard at what you learned, the results will come.  They just will as sure as day follows night.  They will come faster for some and slower for others, but they do come when you give yourself over to the training.

Can you see the appeal?  Think of how many areas in life where despite your best efforts and all your smarts and all your talents and all the sweat of your brow… you get diddly-squat back in return.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  It’s ridiculously frustrating.

A few years back I went to a doctor for my lower back.  He was a pretty good physician, but very, very old school.  He took a look at my x-rays, showed me how one disc was a bit narrower than the others and simply said, “You need to stop all exercising that loads your vertical spine.”  I gave him a look of “Umm… you gotta be kidding me, dude.”  He went on to say, “I don’t know what it is with you weightlifters and why you can’t seem to stop.  There are so many other wonderful kind of exercise out there.”  You can tell I really didn’t listen to him and I am trying my best to be a lot smarter about how I train… but I ain’t quitting.

I think this is why when I had someone very special and very close to me going through leukemia for several agonizing years, the weight training I did was utter salvation to me.  I could not fix her horrid illness which ravaged away at her for those 5 long years.  It was excruciating to feel so powerless to do much except to be an unyielding form of support the whole way.

My EliteFTS power rack (i.e. my baby)

But during that time while I was training?  I could effect change.  It was at least something I could control and for at least a little while, use to chisel away some of the hurt in the process.  It was also something that taught me a lot about myself and how to push through the challenging parts of life… and then I would use all of that to better support her day after day after day.  The two things began to feed each other and without that constant of my training, I’m not sure what all of those 5 years would have been like.

So the fact I hit a new personal record on my deadlifts (427.5 lbs for 5 reps, in case you were wondering… and I just know you were) tonight just makes me feel like a little bit more is right with the world… that things can make a little more sense… and that when it comes to my training, I will get back what I give.

All of which raises one question for me: If you don’t feel the same about your own exercise program… why not?

You might view me as nuts for what I do… I see it as a lone sane act in a sometimes completely insane world.

Foundations First and Pretty Stuff After

When I was growing up, there was a decent chunk of time where I really wanted to be an architect.  Building things held a real fascination for me and the genesis of this was likely my complete and utter Lego obsession (something I’m really happy to see has been taken up by my nephews).

My Saturday mornings often fit a very neat pattern in those simpler days.  I would get up, go downstairs and pull out of the family room closet a good-sized draw string denim bag that was chock full of those magical plastic bricks.  I would open the bag up and gently spread the pieces in front of me on the floor so I could build while engaging in my other favorite Saturday activity: watching cartoons (especially the Super Friends).

wallpaper_10rittpourLegos taught me an important early lesson, although I did not truly appreciate that teaching until many years later: anything of substance you wish to build first requires a strong, consistent foundation.  Without that foundation on which to rely, you’re just setting yourself up for some kind of collapse and with it all the pretty things you built upon that weak foundation.

What I love about the analogy is how well it works in several contexts.  It applies for buildings (as in this photo for a 33 story tower as it was being built in Philadelphia) or sports teams or relationships or just that little corner of the world you call your own life.  If you don’t have some goals or guiding principles or common understanding or shared values, you will find little success or what success you do achieve is only eked out through pure strenuous effort and bullheadedness.  Not exactly the best use of time or energy, methinks.

I started thinking about foundations the other day because I’ve been in a bit of a funk of late.  Nothing incredibly extreme, mind you, but not a ton of fun any way you slice that bad boy.  Part of the reason you can tell I’ve been in a funk is the utter dearth of blog postings popping up here.  I’ve not been feeling (or probably acting) all that fierce or mighty.  So, the other night I tried to settle in for a bit of thinking time without distraction… and uhh… that’s actually a bit hard.  Anyone with a Droid, iPhone or Blackberry will know the feeling – it’s like you are just so damn connected, you’ve forgotten how to disconnect yourself, even for a little while (unless you are asleep and even then you’re probably having dreams of apps and snarky text messages).

Often when life feels funky, I need to find myself something to pour my heart and efforts into.  Maybe some of that is just pure distraction from whatever is truly bothering me, but a lot of it gets back to the foundational values or principles I’ve set up for myself to live by.  If I can find one thing that is a core value for me and I can really focus my efforts on it for a while, slowly but surely the rut begins to fade and just becomes an unpleasant memory that also dissolves like morning mist in the sun’s heat.

While some who know me well may laugh at what I’m about to write, I think this is what I might do: get myself re-dedicated to my exercise and health plans.  I know… I know… I’m the guy with the gym in his basement and who posts videos of himself on YouTube of doing all sort of funky training.  I hear ya people – really I do.  The hard thing is that even that has taken a hit of late where it feels too much like a chore to get myself lifting or doing my stretching as I should or really being good much more often about what I eat or getting a good night’s rest every night.  I think if I give myself an extra push in this area, I will begin to enjoy it again as I should and get some momentum going… and that momentum?  It tends to have a positive carry over into other areas (at least that’s my sincere hope).

Today was a good start to all of this with the first outdoor soccer game of the season, a 5-2 win for Maniacs FC (the team I am the captain of).  I felt focused and in good shape all game long… but most importantly, I just had fun.  Isn’t that the point anyway?

So onward I go and the blogging will be much more consistent (as my next post will illustrate).  Here’s to getting back to the foundations on which we build our lives… because with their strength, we can build beautifully.

Hardware Stores, Tires and Offbeat Conditioning

So in my gym tour, you can see I picked up a 10 lbs. sledgehammer and a big ol’ truck tire.  That right there is about $20-$30 worth of really good conditioning tools, as odd as that may sound.  Just a little video to demonstrate:

And truth be told?  It’s actually pretty fun and a very convenient way to take out your frustrations.  I’m actually looking forward to warmer weather so I can do this out on my back patio.

Not sure if my neighbors will feel the same, though.  Trying to imagine what might be going through their minds when all they can spot above my fencing is a sledgehammer rising and falling while Slipknot or Disturbed plays on my stereo.  I sense a condo meeting discussion on the horizon…

The Failure Cushion

The month of January is the carnival of newbie-dom at gyms and health clubs across this nation of amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesty… you know, above the fruited plain and such?  Anyhoo, while I am fully one to applaud the efforts of anyone looking to get into better health and such, there are clearly some hazards.

MSNBC had an article this week on the variety of injuries incurred by those looking to get back into shape or just into shape for the first time ever.  The article itself was not terribly remarkable to me… until I got to the following passage:

In a fit of New Year’s resolution frenzy, Taryn Wright marched herself to the gym and onto a treadmill on a January afternoon two years ago. “I had never — literally, never — worked out before, ever, in my life,” says Wright, who’s 31 and lives in Chicago. But, she reasoned, “How hard could it be? All these muscle heads are doing this high on steroids. I can do this!”

At first, she walked. Then, spurred on by the imaginary scorn of her surrounding exercisers, she kicked it up a couple notches — and couldn’t keep up. She flew to the end of the treadmill, caught herself at the edge and did a weird little hop back to the front of the machine. “It lifted the end of the treadmill and sent it crashing down to the floor,” says Wright.

It’s not the fact of her tumbling onto the floor that caught me.  Believe me, I have had enough near-disasters in gyms to last me a lifetime.  I’m just thankful I’ve come out fine in all of those cases.

But it’s that one damn line…. “How hard could it be? All these muscle heads are doing this high on steroids. I can do this!”

My problem with this line and this mentality is that if people are out there looking to get in shape and immediately start off assuming that anyone who looks slightly muscular is on steroids… well… then they’re simply working from a place of failure from the get-go.  Too harsh?  Honestly, I’m not so sure.

The problem I see with this mentality (and I have heard it from several different people before) is that it is a case of seeing those who are successful and immediately jumping to they must be cheating or taking shortcuts to get where they are.  It’s the act of tearing down others who are in a place we wish we were in, so instead of using them as an inspiration or a goal or even a point of competition, it’s easier to say, “She must have had work done” or “Pfft.  He’s obviously on steroids.”

Are there people in gyms on steroids?  Sure.  Are there people out there who have had “work” done on themselves?  Of course.  floor-cushion_main

But here is the crux of the matter: if you start in a place that anyone who is leaner  or stronger or has a better build or whatever it may be cut corners to get there, all you are doing is building your cushion for failure… because hey, if you cannot get into the shape they got into, it’s because you have ethics or morals or standards unlike them.  It couldn’t possibly be that you just didn’t want to put in the time or dedication to accomplish those goals.  Oh gosh no!  That requires accountability.

And who has time for accountability anyway?  That takes up too much time from carefully crafting that comfy velvet wrapped failure cushion.  It really does pull a room (or an enormous set of excuses) together exquisitely, don’t you think?

All About the Fundamentals

The company for which I work frames several of its most important core values in its Code of Ethics.  It’s something I genuinely appreciate about where I work because it’s something that’s taken seriously and in my current job, it’s my role to support those values and ensure they are not compromised.

vince_lombardi As part of some training today related to all of that, I began to think a little bit about things you might consider to be the “fundamentals”.  I think to some this may conjure up thoughts of some old-school football coach yelling about the need to block and tackle or your high school history teacher discussing some dusty concept from ancient Greece.  Or possibly it makes you think about eating your broccoli because your mom tells you to.  Truthfully, there is really nothing about fundamentals that seems all that sexy.  They often are cast in terms of things you have to do because, gosh darn it… they’re good for you!  Not exactly the greatest sales proposition of all time if you ask me.

But as I got to thinking about it a little more, I started to think about the lifting session that was to come this evening and everything about it just screams fundamentals.  I would be doing military presses (standing barbell presses), dips and then pull-ups.  There’s nary a “core exercise”, stability ball or fancy piece of gym equipment in sight there… but it’s actually what I love about it.  After finishing all of that up tonight, it just felt really damn good to focus on the fundamentals?

Why?

Because there is something pure about the fundamentals.  It’s stripping away all of the extraneous extra “stuff” that is often added onto things in life.  We as humans have an amazing ability to take simple concepts and make them unduly complicated because we figure we are pretty advanced creatures, so we must prove this by making things really, really confusing.  That’s how you show you’re smart!

I find myself liking the fundamentals (or values) so much because I am the kind of person who finds comfort and strength in having a firm foundation which I can always rely on, but which also allows me to get a little creative beyond it.  So here is my list of life fundamentals which you may find handy too:

Lifting/Exercise:

  • Focus on the big, basic lifts. Bench press, squats, deadlifts, military press, pull-ups, dips, lunges and such.  There is a place for more specialized stuff too, but never lose sight of these bang-for-your buck exercises.
  • Intervals for conditioning are much more effective (and fun) than being stuck like a rodent on a treadmill.
  • Play sports or do something active (like maybe go dancing if you are into that).  They’re just fun and they are an easy way to disguise exercise.
  • In the words of Connecticut native and 800 lb. bench presser Vincent Dizenzo, people need to worry less about debating minutiae of programs and just “smash f**king weights.”  This applies to more in life than it may first appear.  Don’t get caught up in paralysis by analysis.  Sometimes the enthusiasm of execution means 100X more than the planning.  Maybe if you are a runner, it’s “run f**king miles” or a swimmer as “swim f**king laps”.  You get the idea.
  • “Eye of the Tiger” is guaranteed to add 10 lbs and 2 reps to any lift.  It’s just science.

 

Eating/Nutrition

  • Eat protein at every meal.  This just seems to work for me and honestly, I just like protein.
  • Fish oil kicks ass.  Every single study you hear about seems to find a new benefit to taking it, from brain health, heart health, lower cholesterol, improved body composition, decreased inflammation of all kinds, etc.
  • Fruits and vegetables.  They are good.  Eat them.  Nobody gets fat from eating too many fresh fruits and veggies.  My Mom would be happy to read this.
  • Green tea is good for you.  Like fish oil, they keep finding out good stuff about it.  Drink some.
  • I enjoy the occasional cheeseburger, so as long as I am sticking to the above 4 points 90% or more of the time, it’s perfectly fine.  This is the part where keeping the strong fundamentals in place allows me freedom in some other areas.

Life Rules:

  • The Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not some hokey notion. It’s probably the single most important lesson I have ever learned in my life.
  • Related to #1, kindness counts.
  • When my life eventually comes to a close, I want to be remembered as a great friend, brother, boyfriend/significant other/husband, uncle and son.  If no one really remembers what I did at my job, but remembers that first part, I will consider my life a smashing success.  I wish more people felt this way.
  • The more I read, the more I feel both more relaxed and sharper, all at the same time.
  • Reality TV might be the worst thing I have ever seen in entertainment.  I don’t mean reality shows like “Extreme Home Makeover” or even the ones that are on History Channel and such, but basically any of the genre which seems to thrive on the enjoyment of other’s peoples most base elements… i.e. any dumb MTV reality show, ever.
  • Every year I am amazed at how much more I realize my parents were right about a lot of things. At some point, I should probably admit this to them.
  • Every year I am also amazed at how much more ridiculously good-looking I get.  I feel a little bit bad for the rest of you slobs.

My advice to everyone is to figure out what your own core values or fundamentals are because when life gets hard (which it will) and you are not sure what is the right decision to make, at least you will be true to yourself if you rely on these values.

Fresh Start Sunday

The super smooth Lionel and his Commodores had a cool, mellow and super-groovy version of Sundays, specifically Sunday mornings.  They were easy. Just listening to the song makes you think of relaxing on the couch with your favorite morning beverage and the newspaper with no particular place to go.

My Sunday will not resemble that, at least not for the span of about 90 minutes.  Oh no, my good friends… tomorrow begins the first wave of my new training plan and I begin with deadlift day.  It’s not a complete change of what I have been doing, but it’s definitely going to be some tweaking on what I’ve been doing.  The goal is to continue to improve strength across the board while incorporating some new movements for explosiveness and keeping my conditioning cranking along.

Strength Training: Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 (which is by far the best training template I have ever used).  Lifting 3 times per week.  The core lifts will be Deadlifts, Bench Press, Cleans (this is new), Squats and Military Presses.  The Cleans will be done on the Squats day and I’ve never done them consistently, so we’ll see how these bad boys go.  The Cleans are mostly to incorporate a new element of explosiveness to my training.  The accessory work to go along with these lifts will be a lot of the basics (dips, pull-ups and all that fun) and I am shooting to complete my lifting sessions a little more quickly.

Conditioning: This is mostly going to be comprised of playing sports.  I play indoor soccer on Thursdays and I will now start playing basketball (for the first time in a really long time) on Wednesdays.  I am going to pick one other day out of the week to push the Prowler around and look to have one full off day per week.  I may (just may) look to do some bikram yoga at some point because I think it would be a huge help to my horribly inflexible behind.  I am also thinking about adding in some “finishers” at the end of my lifting sessions to get in an extra dollop of conditioning.  Yeah that’s right… dollop.  Like sour cream baby!  And yes, I know that makes absolutely no sense.  Work with me, people.

Oh and to all of you hoping to see video of my using the Prowler and puking?  So far I have kept down all my food – HA!

Diet: I have phased out of the formal plan I was on with Shelby and the weight difference was about a 2.5 lb increase which has stayed consistent over the last 2 weeks.  I will be incorporating several of the elements of what I learned from Shelby along the way.  Essentially, it will be working from that carb cycling idea of “earn your carbs” with less carbs on non-lifting days.  Outside of that, I looking to just eat well and very balanced.  If I can eat things that organic or get grass-fed beef/bison, that is what I am looking to do.

That’s the plan and now it’s a matter of execution.  In keeping with the overall theme of the blog (i.e. it’s not just about lifting or ideas or developing your mind and spirit, but the interrelation of all of those things), I am hoping to gain a better appreciation for attacking my plan now that it is set.  The plan is not terribly complicated, nor does it need to be.  What it certainly does need is for me to go after it with full spirit.  I think a lot of people fall into the “paralysis by analysis” trap instead of going after things full bore for a while and then stopping to assess after some practice.  Hopefully, I will avoid that.

Time to SFW.

(And if you do not know what SFW means, feel free to click here. Pardon the language though.)