Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rotator cuff exercise

As we get older we become more prone to damaging our joints. Wish it weren’t true, but that is the way it is. Having said that, there is a bunch we can do to help prevent injuries, both to our joints, and to our backs. I am focusing this post on a couple of exercises I do on a regular basis to help build the muscles, tendons and ligaments that hold my shoulder joints in position. These muscles, tendons and ligaments are collectively called the “Rotator Cuff”. I recommend that every one get used to doing these exercises and do them daily, especially if one is considering starting to do upper-body exercises, or increasing the severity of upper body exercises.

As with any exercise, the following moves should not cause you pain. If you feel pain, especially sharp pain, stop exercising. Start again with a lighter weight, or no weight, and only increase the weight when you are very comfortable with the movements.

The first exercise I call the “Rotator Cuff Flip Flop”. The goal in doing the exercise is not to move heavy weights – in fact, I am pretty comfortable doing this exercise with 10 or 15 pound dumb bells. The goal is to get good range of motion (rotating as far as you can), no sharp pain, and focusing on good balance as you are doing the exercise. I find this an excellent exercise to start out doing with both feet on the ground. Then, as you develop proficiency, progress to standing on one leg with the other leg on a Bosu ball, standing with both feet on the flat side of a Bosu ball, standing on one leg on a Bosu ball, and ultimately, kneeling on an exercise ball. I suppose the next thing we will have to try is standing on an exercise ball.

If you find it hard to believe you will ever do exercises standing on a Bosu ball, just take it slowly, and be consistent in your efforts. YOU WILL GET THERE!

I shot a short video of my doing this exercise: Rotater Cuff Flip Flops

The second exercise focuses on a different rotation, but is still an exercise that strengthens the rotator cuff. Once again, use a light weight and focus on a good range of motion and maintaining your balance.

Another Rotator Cuff Exercise

With time I will shoot more short videos of different exercises that I believe are especially relevant for all of us over 50 years old!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Old Muscles

People talk to me at the gym - and, as Art Linkletter used to say about children - people say the darndest things.

Two recurring themes - “I used to be able to do that”, and “I’d do that except my (fill in the blank) is hurt”.

A couple of days ago I was talking to a gentleman I had talked to in the past - he was apparently able, 8 months ago, to do 60 one-armed pushups in a set. Which is pretty darned awesome. But, 8 months ago he tore his rotator cuff - and had to have surgery.

Yup, he managed to get both of the recurring themes in one sentence! I’d say he gets bonus points for that, except that today he has added perhaps 30 pounds and doesn’t plan to try to get back to where he was 8 months ago. As he put it, his muscles are getting too old to go through that effort.

Back on September 20 I posted on the concept of maintaining ones fitness - not getting stronger or more fit, just maintaining. And I commented that in truth, we are either growing or dying - there really is no in between. I suppose one can almost guess how disgusted I was with the concept of old muscles. If not, trust me, I really do dislike copouts like that.

As I said back on September 20 - I was tempted to entitle this blog “Fighting for your life”. That is what this blog, oh, and life is all about.

The book “Younger Next Year” is a great resource for understanding the physiology of aging, and the beneficial impact of exercising. Perhaps we should have a term “Youthing” - to imply the opposite of “aging”.

Hard, not so hard, even easy exercise, it all benefits. Did you know that all the muscles in your thigh are replaced every 4 months? So, where does the concept of old muscles come from? It is an excuse to quit trying so hard. Or, more simply put, it is a copout.

Muscle growth is controlled by the load we put on the muscles. Go light, they respond with smaller muscle cells. Work them, and they grow. And this growth helps us handle all the challenges associated with life.

Of course, a corollary with this whole concept of growing muscles by working them hard is we need to protect our muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints from damage. Where I am now, I can get away with things that would have made me sore for days a year ago. That is the growth thing - and it is so absolutely wonderful!

Developing a program, a plan, for your exercise program is a very wise idea. Start where you are, and, on a monthly basis, define the changes you want to make to build your program. As I outlined in my December 1, 2011 post, build an exercise routine that focuses on core and balance. Slowly increase the balance challenges, and equally slowly increase the size of the weights you are using.

Tomorrow I want to include some pictures and hopefully a simple video of a rotator cuff exercise that is very important as you start building your upper-body strength!

Sunday, December 25, 2011


As part of my clock fascination I field quite a few questions from people working on their own clocks. This is due, in part, to the number of “how-to” kind of articles I have on my clock site, and in part to the articles that are published in the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors Bulletin. I quite enjoy these discussions, it gives me a chance to pass on some of the knowledge gained at the bench of a retired railroad watch inspector.

A couple of days ago a gentleman called to discuss the challenges he was having getting an antique German clock mechanism to work. He explained that the clock had belonged to he and his wife for 35 years now. But, he first wanted to comment on this blog. He discussed how he is not able to see all that well, but that he has a computer that can read text to him. And he had listened to my entire blog. He then asked if I was a philosopher.

Let’s say the question took me aback. Or, as a South African once said, “I was gobsmacked” - which is sort of like being taken aback, only in a bigger way.

Being the bright spark that I am, I responded “No, I am an engineer”.

We went on to discuss his mechanism, and I discussed some things he should look for, whereupon I had the chance to talk to his wife. See, she is his eyes in these endeavors. Just typing that gives me goose bumps. Talk about a really neat relationship? As I explained things to him it was clear that he picked up the concepts very quickly - he is also an engineer it turns out, with some great experiences. And then I also walked his wife through the same things, so she could be his hands.

I was a bit humbled. No, I was a bunch humbled. What a lovely conversation I had with these two people who had found ways to overcome challenges and rely on their mutual love and respect.

I seriously doubt I am beginning to get across how much their relationship impressed me.

But, back to his question: Am I a philosopher?

Being an engineer I will readily admit I have never really given much thought to philosophy - it turns out my definition of philosophy is focused on Merriam-Wester’s “a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means”. This pretty much leaves me out - I believe I am more of a hands on, try to understand what I see kind of guy.

But, as I kept reading what Merriam-Webster had on line, I found another definition: “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”. So, in my efforts to explain my basic beliefs, concepts and attitudes, perhaps I am a philosopher. I will have to give this some thought.

And I will also think about how lucky I am to be able to see what I am doing when working on clocks.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The New Year

As we come to the end of 2011 I thought I’d share a few thoughts on how I hope to make 2012 even better than 2011. Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty darned pumped about how fit I am, how well I am doing at selling off the clocks I have bought over the last 20 years, how well this blog is being accepted, and how our vegetarian diet is fitting both Kelly and I. So, pretty happy. But, my nephew sent me a provocative article and I wanted to use it as a basis for talking about how we can make next year memorable.

1. Heard of a bucket list? The concept is that you list specific things you want to do or have or experience before you, well, kick the bucket. If you haven’t given this any thought, now is the time to decide at least one thing that you need to do/see/have. And go for it.

Face it – so much of your life has been spent doing what you had to do – or what others expect you to do. I suggest you try to identify something that will give you a great deal of satisfaction – the kinds of things I really get into are new skills – wood carving – that was 2 years ago. Hammered dulcimer – that was 3 years ago. I suppose 2011 gets using Olympic rings. So, for 2012? Good question. I need to make that decision. But, at least I know I want to come out of 2012 with something wonderful to look back on.

2. Begin now simplifying your life – decide what you really need, and forego what you don’t. Spending less (yes, your car will run for a long, long time if you take care of it) means having to work that much less. And, if you can relieve some of the financial stress that drives most peoples work schedule you can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And start doing the things that are so often sacrificed to bring home a check: Vacations with loved ones, working out with your wife or children, WORKING OUT…

3. Be willing to take a little risk – be the one who helps someone make the copier work, wishes people a great day, even if you don’t know them, asking if you can help when you see someone struggling with a box/door/whatever. Message here is to reach out and make the world better for those around you. The payback will be immense.

4. Stay in touch with friends. It really is up to you to make the effort to keep in touch with those who are significant in your life. Today we are all way busy, and there are so very many distractions that keep us from keeping in contact. I was reading about how pervasive on-line games are becoming – people are loosing touch with others just because they have fallen into pastimes that are centered on activities that isolates them. Way too much research has shown the value of friendships – reach out – keep them fresh – keep your friends!

5. Let yourself be happy. At some point I became a little better at letting frustrations go – I wrote a post about my subconscious listing of what went right on a day that I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to. As I mentioned at that point, I was surprised to find that I had developed an automatic coping mechanism – I just started subconsciously listing everything that went right, allowing me to reduce the impact of the things that didn’t go the way I wanted.

Bottom line – happiness is our choice. We can let things get to us, or we can cope, find reasons for joy, and be happy.

The article that my nephew sent discussed the regrets that people express when they find their time is running short – when they are forced to face their own mortality. We all owe it to ourselves to live our lives in such a way that we can smile, and honestly say we have had a good life.

Bucket List, simplify your life, take a little risk, stay in touch, let yourself be happy. Think of these as 2012 starts, and find little ways to make them happen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Second Careers

I have discussed the concept of getting ready to retire in previous posts. In my case, I started getting ready quite a while ago - when I figured out that my primary hobby, restoring old cars, was not likely to build a retirement nest egg. Or provide spending money when I quit earning a living as an engineer.

Part of what makes restoring old clocks viable, or perhaps perfect for me is the fact that I am not constrained on how well I do restorations. In comparison, my day job always had challenges that had to be resolved if not yesterday, than at least before I left for the day. In my early years as an engineer this engendered quite a bit of frustration - not being able to do things to my standard. Fortunately in my later years as an engineer I had figured out that they paid me to get things done - not perfectly, but done. And, by then I had also gotten a lot more serious about my hobbies and learned to focus my desire for perfection on my projects at home.

Why do I bring this up - because I am currently on a plane flying back from Salt Lake City, where I set up a very nice floor-standing Vienna Regulator (what you would likely call a “Grandfather Clock”, except the term Grandfather Clock had not yet been coined when this clock was made). My customer, a lovely lady who loves clocks, was very pleased with the restoration work I had done - as she is with the other two clocks she adopted from me.

In fact, my customers are pretty much always pleased when they receive clocks from me - which likely explains why I have so many repeat customers.

Side note - I recall once visiting with a clock restorer in Oklahoma City, and mentioning I was going to visit a customer who had bought a clock a couple of months earlier. He wanted to know why I was going to visit? I explained that I just wanted to make sure the clock was doing what it was supposed to be doing, and that the customer was not having any problems getting it regulated. His response still rings in my ears: “Why would you ever call a customer - all they ever do is complain”.

For me, the satisfaction of solving all the little challenges while restoring a clock gives me a massive sense of satisfaction. Over and over. But then to see a clock I sold years ago, and realize that I did the restoration - almost shock I fear - it is so gratifying to see a piece that came to me a bit rough, and to then see it years later and not even be able to tell what I had to do in its restoration.

This mild ramble really focuses on how nice it is to be retired, and have the time to do things the way I want. And, then also, the joy of having customers who turn into friends and who really appreciate the workmanship and the quality of the pieces I restore. These are pretty darned significant benefits that make my retirement occupation so gratifying.

No, I can’t tell you what might work for you - I don’t know what makes you happy while generating a product that can perhaps generate a bit of income and a whole lot of satisfaction. But, as this plane starts its descent into Portland, and as I turn off this computer, I wish you godspeed in finding your second career - doing things, generating satisfaction, and ultimately finding happiness.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Initially I thought about entitling yesterdays post Commitment - but decided instead to go with Friends - which left Commitment for today.

I’ve been working out with Michael for around 6 months now. Before that I had worked out with perhaps 6 other people, one other for 6 months, and a number for shorter periods.

Each have taught me things - better ways to do exercises, or better ways to teach others how to do exercises, or, well, about a hundred other bits of wisdom. And each have made my workouts more pleasant, each have given me extra incentive to be at the gym each day.

Reality is I will be at the gym. Fortunately my track record supports this assertion, since I have missed very few week days over the last 30 or so years. None the less, it is a lot nicer working out with someone else - someone to notice when I do something a bit more difficult than previous, or applaud me when I do a few more reps on a hard exercise.

Funny in a way, Kelly, my wife, commented at one point that I always seem to find really nice people at the gym. In this world, so many people worry about problems with meeting strangers and being open with them. I suppose there are plenty of examples where trusting someone doesn’t work out - if in doubt, just watch the news, that is all the typical news program focuses on - the problems in the world. Hmmm - perhaps that is why I haven’t had a TV for 36 years.

One of the advantages of the exercises I do - my focus on core and balance - I sort of stand out at the gym. People notice I don’t do the same old same old that is the common focus. This “difference” engenders conversations and also results in people asking if they can try an exercise I am doing. This makes it pretty easy to recruit work out buds. In fact, about 6 months ago, Michael asked if he could try an abs exercise I was doing. Since then he has pretty much made every day possible with the exception of when he needed to study.

As an aside, I also want to mention a bit about how much Michael has improved in just 6 months. Not only is he gaining significantly in muscle volume and definition, but he is able to do so very much more - when he started working out with me he could do 10 pushups, but it was a struggle. Now he can do 20 push-ups with his hands on one basket ball and his feet on another. In fact, today he did 16 with his hands on one basket ball and only one foot on the other basket ball.


One thing I do recommend if you start working out with someone - make it a rule that you each will tell the other if they can’t make it. That is no excuse for you not to show up, but it does keep you from looking for your partner and feeling frustrated.

Oh, one other thing, if you want people to want to work out with you, put in some real effort to always be upbeat. Always. No one wants to work out with a grouch. And, it is surprising how choosing to appear happy proves to be a self fulfilling prophecy!

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I was practicing my hammered dulcimer yesterday morning as the sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon. I love watching the mists drifting over the lake and through the pines on the far ridge, the sun bringing color to the clouds and the trees. And, this time of year, the geese heading south... But yesterday the thing I also noticed was a humming bird sitting in the tree in front of my window. It was 29 degrees out and quite humid - and cold. The following shot is not that great - but, in my defense, the little guy was perhaps 40 feet away, the light was not brilliant, and it was bloody cold standing out on the deck in my stocking feet trying to take the picture.

That is when I noticed the humming bird feeders were pretty much empty. With the little guy sitting there watching me.

Into the house, mix 3/4 cup sugar with 3 cups hot water, stir while coming to a boil, boil over on the stove, smell of burnt sugar, clean bottom of pan, then back out onto the balcony to set the hot pan on the freezing tile to get the sugar solution to cool enough to put in the feeders. And back into the house to clean and sterilize the feeders...

While the little guy just kept sitting there watching me.

It took about 30 minutes to get the feeders filled and rehung. Back in the house - by the time I turned around he was at one of the feeders. He was there for a while too - clearly appreciating the nectar.

When I was younger I found Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book “The Little Prince” - a fanciful tale of a young man being befriended by a fox. If you haven’t read it, you should. The story tells of how becoming someone’s friend is a bit like being tamed by that person - I suspect I have now been trained by a hummingbird - and have a new friend.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I learned something about myself today: My focus is on what I am doing now and what I am planning to do in the future. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of the things I have done in the past - very proud. But, I guess my challenge is those things are behind me - and the best is yet to come. So, why talk about the past when the future is more relevant and exciting?

I am sure by now you are shaking your head and wondering where this rant is coming from.

It struck me, as I listened to a gentleman tell me that in the past he was able to do 60 one armed pushups, and another as he explained that he used to do 100 chin-ups - as I was saying, it struck me that neither of these men planned to ever achieve these levels of fitness again. In fact, the first man said he didn’t plan to ever do one arm pushups again, just too much effort.

Even Michael commented: “Why would he say that?”.

Good question that. Perhaps because he doesn’t think he can do 60 one armed pushups ever again. He is giving up.

One of the quotes I brought up when I was talking to the group of 75 and older gentlemen last Saturday is relevant here: “Sedentary, 70 year old men double their strength within three months of weight training.”

Double their strength.

At what point do we become old? My theory is that we become old when we quit seeing tomorrow as a chance to improve, as a time to get stronger, as an opportunity to do something new. In short - we get old when tomorrow is no longer a chance to do something, to find satisfaction, and happiness. To grow, to become more than we are now. TO LIVE!

Talking to a customer today - he commented that he could hear the joy in my voice talking about the clocks I love. He went on to comment that I clearly loved what I was doing and was very lucky to have found such happiness in my retirement, in as much as most people just “muddle along” waiting to die. His words.

It is times like these that I realize how hard it is to express - to get across the excitement I feel about my life - the next clock I get to restore, the next day in the gym when we will be working out on the gymnast rings, the chance to learn a new song on the hammered dulcimer, the next batch of bread I will make, the next time I see the shine in my ladies eyes... My life is full of tomorrow’s that remind me how glad I am to be alive.

OK, ‘nuff of the rant for tonight.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Life Begins at 75! - The Video!

On Saturday I had a chance to discuss my thoughts on diet and exercise with a wonderful group of older gentlemen. The focus for the talk was exercises to improve both core strength and balance. I also discussed my thoughts on the challenges we all face in staying healthy in today’s world.

It was so very encouraging to see so many people who were still in good shape - and interested in getting in better shape. I recorded my talk, and have uploaded it to my photo-sharing site – overall the talk and questions took about 40 minutes, so I have broken the talk into two sections and then included the Q&A as a third section - see what you think!
Life Begins at 75!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

La vie commence à soixante-quinze (Life begins at 75)

I have been given the opportunity to talk to a group of men, the youngest of whom is 75 - and am posting my notes for this talk. I have tried to pare my introductory comments down to a bare minimum so I can spend most of the time discussing how these gentlemen can develop their core strength and balance.

People assume they will get old and die - in fact, people today tend to get old and live - decrepit perhaps, but they live. They can get decrepit, if they like, but it is their choice.

We are stuck with aging - it is inevitable. But, decay is optional, which means that most of the functional aging is optional as well.

As we age we trip and fall more - because the neurotransmitters that coordinate balance deteriorate with age, and because we don't have the strength we did when younger. Lifting weights repairs the neural wiring and cures the problem. Not 100%, but significant improvement.

You can lose half your muscle cells between 20 and 80, and still be stronger at 80.

Sedentary, 70 year old men double their strength within three months of weight training. Sadly, men do strength training less often than they do aerobic exercise. Only 10% of Americans over 65 even claim to be doing any form of regular strength training.

In an evolutionary time frame we are fighting three big changes

Sedentary lifestyle - Our ancestors ran for their lives for hundreds of millions of years, searching for food, storing it in their bodies against drought, ice ages and starvation

Refined sugars and starches - Consumption of calorie dense and easy to digest carbohydrates

Stress - Used to be we ran for our lives - “fight or flight” stress was short term. Now it is a full time part of our lives and we are not made for that. It is killing us.

In time (as in hundreds or thousands of years) our bodies may be able to adapt to these changes - for now the results are:

Heart Disease - to name the big 3

Prescription: Diet and Exercise

Balance and moderation in diet - lots of fruits, nuts, vegetables (yes, beans are a vegetable), and whole grains with as little refined carbohydrates (as in white flour, white sugar, white rice, alcohol, beer) and small amounts of animal-based products (meat, cheese, eggs...)

Exercise absolutely as much as you can.

Focus today - Exercise for Seniors - Balance and Core

Results from study relating age to tripping
20 and 60 year olds trip about the same number of times
20 year olds catch themselves.

My Regimen

Daily focus - 2 to 3 hours
Everyday - 30 minutes cardio
Focus for each day
Gymnasts rings - extreme upper body and core
Chin-ups and abs
Push-ups - 400 to 500
Balance and upper body

Safety - Michael - no severe damage
Focus on developing muscles - not taking risks

Balance and core - show video of variations on a curl

Balance and core
Put together a plan
Schedule changes in difficulty, don’t progress until comfortable and safe
Build physical stress very slowly


1. Sitting
2. Standing
3. One foot on flat side of Bosu, one on floor - hang onto something for stability
4. Standing on one leg holding onto something
5. Standing on one leg and not holding onto something
6. One foot on flat side of Bosu, one on floor, not holding onto something
7. Two feet on flat side of Bosu - hang onto something for stability
8. Two feet on flat side, not holding onto something
9. One foot on flat side of Bosu - other held off the ground and Bosu

Barbells and dumb-bells
1. Both hands on one barbell
2. Separate-dumb bells in each hand
3. One dumb-bell, alternate hands

1. Upper body twist
2. Overhead triceps extension
3. Arm lifts to front and sides
4. Curls, regular and hammer, wrists up and wrists down
5. Military Press
6. Wrist curl - extension and flexion