Monday, April 25, 2016

Forth Eorlingas! Get under the bar!


Indulge a lengthy quote from The Lord of the Rings:

“Now Théoden son of Thengel, will you hearken to me?” said Gandalf. “Do you ask for help?” He lifted his staff and pointed to a high window. There the darkness seemed to clear, and through the opening could be seen, high and far, a patch of shining sky. “Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.

Théoden was an old king, sitting in his hall, despairing of the world. He was easy prey to evil advice, and thought that all hope was gone. A convenient counselor told him that all hope was gone. He sat in the dark waiting to die.

There is an old man, well-loved by me, who has been sitting on his couch despairing of his health. He has avoided exercise because “it hurts”, and resisted my arguments that he needed to get stronger because he was worried about getting hurt. A convenient doctor told him not to lift. He preferred to sit and decay.

Now he has fallen and broken his arm, and I’m angry. Broken bones in the elderly are quite often the prelude to the spiral of morbidity, and this could be it. But it didn’t need to be this way! His weakness is entirely self-chosen. Sarcopenia and osteoperosis, the loss of muscle and bone, are not inevitable, but happen because we get old and quit doing things that require muscle and bone. We tell ourselves or let our own Gríma Wormtongues tell us that we are too old, that days of vigorous physical activity are behind us, that we might break or get hurt. Fear then makes us weak.

In the book, Théoden is nearly overwhelmed by the darkness of the world, but Gandalf says “Your fingers would remember their old strength better, if they grasped a sword-hilt.” The king then ends his life in strength and glory rather than in darkness. May I suggest you could be the same, if your fingers grasped a barbell?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wasting Time in Kentucky

A sweet lamp at the entrance of the gym
My family and I recently took a short vacation in Kentucky. It's a favorite getaway of ours, close enough to drive in a day and far enough south that we can taste an early spring. This year was no exception. It was a delightful trip.

I'm preparing for a meet in a few weeks, and I had to find a place to train. I found a place not too far away that was kind enough to give me a week's pass. I got two good sessions in. In the process, I got to see what goes on in a commercial gym.

On two beautiful Kentucky spring afternoons, I saw lots of people come to the gym. This is good and shows dedication. These are people who are serious about exercise, at least serious enough to get in the car and come to the gym. Once there, they proceeded to waste all of their time.

I saw the following:

  • Biceps curls
  • Preacher curls
  • Bench presses (partial ROM)
  • Incline bench presses (partial ROM)
  • Lateral dumbbell raises
  • Long, slow cardio
  • Behind the back forearm curls
What I did not see:
  • Squats, deadlifts
(Full disclosure: three people did reasonable attempts at squats, but they were a rare exception.)

All of the lifters were weak. Most of them were skinny. One poor boy had his father instructing him. Dad gave him a series of biceps curl variations to do. For two hours! 

Gym time is precious. Most of us can't spend all day there. Wouldn't you like to get the biggest bang for your buck? You get bigger and stronger faster if you do full-body moves with lots of weight. In other words, squats, deadlifts, presses, bench presses, and power cleans. The curling kid could have done 3x5 on the squat, 3x5 on a press, a set of deadlifts, and then stopped for a gallon of milk on the way home in half the time he spent curling. He would have gotten much more benefit as well. 

They could all have trained more efficiently, gotten more benefit, and then could have enjoyed the rest of what their fair state has to offer: