Snow Day

Sticking with it isn’t easy. Some days it feels downright impossible.  But that really is the key–if you can master that, you can pretty much do anything.

IMG_20150414_115432622Underneath that simple thought somewhere is the necessity of doing the work to figure yourself out well enough to understand what it is that you can stick to.  Aim to high and you’ll quit (probably sooner than later). Aim to low and you don’t reach your potential.

For me it’s about 5 workouts a week–three short but high intensity ‘cardio’ efforts, and two single set max effort bodweight sets, one of chin-ups and one of push-ups. My total training time varies between 40 and 90 minutes a week, give or take.  It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough for me.  In truth, it is about all I can maintain. Occasionally I’ll get more–some sort of longer effort–but I don’t count on it or need it.  I work hard and keep at it and it keeps me pretty darn fit.

The last couple days were a challenge though–cold and snow and a major hassle just to keep warm (the ‘cottage’ we’re living in doesn’t have heat yet…).  And there are the daily trips to the library for internet (don’t have that at the cottage yet either) to spend a fun couple of hours in front of the computer doing taxes.  Then family dinners before everything gets dark by 6:30 because, you guessed it, the cottage doesn’t have electricity yet either.

IIMG_20150413_085419951‘m not really complaining though–the cold snap also means cozy family cuddles on the couch under heaps of blankets and sleeping bags watching torrented movies on the chromebook (“Trash” was on tap tonight) before a bit of bedtime Harry Potter (just starting book six) for the boys.  La Dolce Vita, really, but not quite ideal for motivating training.

That, though is the challenge.  And whether it’s living in a cottage chock full of good excuses not to go outslde or a long day at the office, it’s all the same.  If you decide you want something, to pursue something, you also have to decide to commit to the journey it’s going to take to get there.  No one else can do it, and most of these goals we opt to go after take pretty long journeys. It’s not the first day on the path that is the hard one.  Or the second.  Or the fine days.  It’s the snowy, cold, miserable ones.

So yesterday, between bouts of sleet, I managed to steal outside and get my hill intervals in (UM training file #7). And tonight–after Harry Potter, after I’d polished off the rather too cold bottle of Gewurstminer that had been sitting with a glass and a half left in it on the dark kitchen counter while watching the movie, after I’d eaten the rest of the sour gummies the kids got to pick out for a ‘it’s cold outside so lets eat candy’ treat, but before brushing my teeth–I did my pushups.

I did the slow ones–one rep every 10 seconds.  I failed on the 13th, a new record for me (six months ago I could barely get 9).  I guess it means I’m improving.  Stick with it–even during the snow days–and whatever your goal might be, you will be too.



Strength Training

I have always wanted to be strong(ish).  In my youth this desire stemmed from a sunken chest and skinny arms, coupled with years of swim team in which I was confronted daily by mostly naked examples of much a more muscular male physique. Those were formative years I suppose and they must have made an indelible mark in my psyche

As soon as I was old enough to go to the gym on the military base where I lived on my own (age 16!), I spent 6 days a week there, for two hours a day.  I was obsessed, something that the piles of IRONMAN, MUSCLE AND FITNESS, and RIPPED magazines stacked next to my bed testified to.  I emulated the routines of the pros–too naive to understand that these guys were nothing like me, and that no amount of hard work would get me to look like them. In hindsight I realize I dodged a bullet there, but I digress.

In college I discovered climbing which brought me to a bit more balance with it’s emphasis on functional strength, but I still didn’t quite let go of the idea of being strong for strong’s sake, and ripped regardless.  I did abandon my silly notions of high volume work and focused instead on higher intensity efforts a few times a week.  I got much stronger too, mastering the ability to do full one arm pull-ups, parallel bar dips with 90 extra pounds hanging from my waist, and reps of the military press (shoulder press) with 135 pounds (nearly my bodyweight).

Today, the ego driven side of things has diminished in intensity.  I’m happily married with a couple of great kids and no longer motivated by an subconscious belief that my chiseled pecs serve some bio-evolutionary mate attracting purpose.  My desire to be strong has relegated itself  to a more pragmatic realm.   I now view strength in terms of ‘strength to weight ration’ rather than the number of pounds I am able to move. My focus has shifted to a very functional and easily measured strength–the ability to handle my bodyweight.

My current strength regimen is based on my desire to do as much as I can with as little time, as well as a comfort with the notion of maintaining the pretty decent level of strength that I already have.  Just before losing my access to the gym a couple of months ago, I had begun using a routine modified from Doug McGuff’s book, Body by Science (muscle building in 12 minutes a week–my kind of read!),  His program called for a five movements on machines, done in succession, one set after the other in very slow form.  My excommunication from the gym means I don’t have equipment and forced me to re-think the routine. I decided to do what I do best and take what already seems a crazy low-volume approach and go a step further.  I settled on a two movement routine, done once a week.  The whole thing takes just over three minutes. Here’s the plan:

Movement 1: Chin-ups. Do as many reps as possible using a strict 5 second concentric contraction (chin to bar) and 5 second eccentric contraction (lowering to nearly straight arms–not completely releasing the lats as the point is to keep muscle tension throughout).

Movement 2: Push-ups or parallel bar dips.  I’m currently doing push-ups while a rotator cuff injury heals but plan to move to dips once I am pain free, as it is a more robust compound exercise than standard push-ups.  The same 5 second concentric and eccentric contraction patterns are followed as with the chin-ups.

I’m currently able to perform 9 of the chins and 10 of the pushups, having advanced slightly in both over the past four weeks.  If it doesn’t seem like much, try it!  In truth, if you are in the league of folks who can endure a constant level of muscular tension strong enough to counter your full body weight through a full range of motion for 90 seconds on a chin up bar, you’re in a pretty select group.  Of course there are folks that are able to do more, but there are always going to be folks who can do more, and these days I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of focusing on what I can do vs. what I want to do, and as always, pursuing my goals as efficiently as possible.