Monday, December 10, 2012

Working Out

I want to share a few things that stick out in my mind from recent workouts - hopefully these will give you some idea why I am so very satisfied with my time at the gym.

Today, toward the end of my workout 3 young men came up and wanted to chat. They started out saying they were amazed by the variety of things my group does, and were curious where we got our routines. And then one of them said “You guys are the only people in this gym who always seem to be having fun”.

Think about it, a guy pushing 60 having fun working out with a bunch of kids in their late teens and 20's. Oh, plus a 53 year old, and several ladies, ranging from mid 20's to mid 60's.

Then, last week, I had to leave early (5 pm, only a 3 hour work out that day), but Maia, a lovely lady in her 60's had just shown up and wanted to work on pushups with her hands or her feet on an exercise ball. Matt (19 years old) jumped right in. Now picture this - a 19 year old spending time helping a 60's year old on pushups???!!!

Another time - I had noticed a guy watching us periodically - he finally got brave enough to come try our routines for a bit. He asked me, after a couple of days - “Why do you do this - what’s in it for you?” He seemed to find it hard to believe that I do what I do because I love working out.

Today, just finished doing pull-ups and chin-ups with a 30 or 40 pound dumb-bell between our feet. Oh, when going up we also lift our knees to our chests. Great exercises those. But, turn around and one of the young guys is already hoofing the weights back to the rack, across the gym. So very considerate.

When we work out we focus on making everyone feel a part of the group - part of this is the way we fist bump each other after every set. Part of it is the way we give positive reinforcement as we each do something tough. Part of it is the way we count for each other, and make appropriate comments as we get near the end of a set to spur each other on. Part of it is understanding that it is inappropriate to make comments like “I can do it, I can’t believe you can’t”. Funny how little bits of guidance can keep people very positive, and those positive vibes just build and build.

Don’t get me wrong - there are folk that don’t really fit in - that don’t get it. One guy, wanted to drop weights after doing one-arm presses - too heavy for him to set down carefully. And he wanted one of us to hand him the weights at the beginning of each set. I tried to gently explain that we don’t drop weights - if we can’t handle the weight we don’t use it - we go lighter - we focus on form over big weights.

Safety was more important than keeping up with some one else. He was trying to match the weight a couple of us were using but was clearly not quite up to it. He didn't come back.

Which is ok - he really was not adding something positive to the group. Callous - not really. One time one of the old guys who watch us work out commented that, since I was heading up the group it was my responsibility to make sure that the people in my group kept safe and were courteous. I thought about it, and realized that, for the good of the group, he might actually be right.

I have spent a bit of time working with a 70 plus gentleman with some balance issues and a lot of joint pain. I have guided him in doing some steps from one BOSU ball to another while holding onto a rail. And, I go through a 25 minute stretch routine with him 3 or 4 times a week. Today he told me his joint pain is gone - as in the pain that was making it very hard for him to walk normally is gone. OK, still has the balance issues, but he is walking better. Know how good this made me feel? Do you have any idea???

Is what we do for everyone? No, not really. We don’t focus on building muscle - we focus on building a balanced body. We don’t lift weights that are as heavy as we possibly can handle. Instead we make the lifts more challenging because we intentionally lift in unbalanced poses - forcing ourselves to develop more control, balance and core strength.

And, each day, I have someone who wants to work out with me - who is making progress, and who appreciates what I am doing.

And this makes me happy. Five days a week.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stretching - What I do

I wish I could say that one day I just decided to start stretching and knew right off the bat what it was I should do. Didn’t happen that way. But, good news is that I read a lot, and I tend to try things out to see if they seem to help. So, over the last several years I have been building up my stretching routine. Is it the greatest ever - not so much - or, more precisely - no.

Does it work for me - do I have fewer aches and pains, can I turn farther, and feel better during and after exercising - YES! So, for me, it is a good thing. Funny though - recently, as I was leading a group of 4 of us older folk through my routine a lady joined us who actually knew what she was doing. She gave us some great pointers. And, I was feeling pretty self-conscious - my simple routine - how would it stack up against the program a pro would develop.

Perhaps with time I will find out - but what I came to realize, as I finished the routine, was that each of the people that stretch with me are there because it is doing them some good. One old guy (honest - even older than me) is walking better. Another has virtually eliminated hip pains that were plaguing him. Anyway, at the end of the session each of the people came up to me and thanked me for taking the time to help them stretch.

Lesson here - my taking the time to hold a session each day, for 25 or 30 minutes, is really making a difference for real people. Is it the best in the world? No. Is it the best in these peoples lives - actually it is.

I was especially touched with am elderly oriental lady who doesn’t speak that well, a lady whose name I still haven’t figured out. Today, after our session, she applauded me, and the other guys joined in.

Bit of a digression, but it seemed important as I was writing this.

In case you haven’t found it yet, I do have a website - On this site you can learn more about me than you could possibly want to know. If you were to look long enough you might find my “Stretching for Us Older Folk” gallery. Or, you can follow this LINK Just click on the triangle in the middle of the larger picture.

I just reviewed the video - and I have to admit I look pretty stupid doing stretches. But, it will give you an idea of what I do, and how much my cats help.

My routine hits the rotation of the back a lot. Because my work out routines are so focused on my core, I definitely can tighten up my back: It feels so good to spend 20 or 30 minutes and find that I am flexible again. Of course, there are times when, after a particularly good abs work out, I manage to get a cramp in my abs - so perhaps once in a while maybe I go a little far in my abs workouts. But, cramps aside, it is amazing how much strain and stress these simple stretches work out.

Don’t have cats - I promise, the stretches will still benefit!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Stretching - the ins and outs

Let’s talk for a moment about the physiology of stretching. The purpose of a stretching program is to relax a muscle and work it through its range of motion. Muscles should only be stretched after they have been warmed up. Flip side, one should not stretch just after a long or strenuous workout when your muscles are likely to be fatigued and dehydrated. Rehydrate and rest before stretching.

Stretching is done to relax the muscles and the connective tissue. To stretch effectively we have to overcome a natural safeguard that is built into our muscles to keep them from being damaged by overextending too quickly.

Muscles contain receptors called “spindles” and “Golgi tendon organs” that act together to protect our muscles. The main purpose of the spindles is to respond to stretch in a muscle and, through reflex action, initiate a stronger contraction to reduce this stretch. This pretty effectively limits how far you can quickly stretch a muscle: The spindles resist quick stretching of our muscles.

The Golgi tendon organs cause reflex relaxation of the muscle and its opposing muscle. If the stretch is held long enough, the Golgi tendon organs allow the muscle to relax. This lengthens the muscle and allows it to remain in a stretched position.

OK - so much for the physiology of spindle cells, Golgi tendon organs and the like.

We have all seen people stretching by twisting back and forth at the waist - swinging from one side to the other. Or by stretching and then bouncing against the limit of their stretch. This is called Ballistic Stretching. This kind of stretching actually make the muscles shorter and tighter by activating the stretch reflex and have been found to contribute to the risk of small muscle tears, soreness and injury. Let’s not do these.

What we want to focus on is a slow gradual stretch though the muscle's full range of motion until resistance is felt. This is called Static Stretching. The stretch should be done slowly and carefully to the point of slight pull or slight discomfort. It should not be painful.

Bottom line is that it takes time to stretch. I was taught in my Personal Trainer certification course that one needs to hold a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds to get muscles to relax. Some sources say that the Golgi tendon organ starts to let the muscle relax after only 6 seconds, but that one must continue to stretch for 20 seconds or longer to get a good stretch. Some sources say as long as 2 minutes.

Probably the easiest way to think of this is to try to stretch a little bit farther each time you take a breath while stretching. As adults we breathe between 12 and 20 times per minute if we are not exercising. When I am stretching I count my breaths, and typically hold a stretch for 10 to 15 exhalations, while seeing if I can stretch just a bit farther each time I exhale.

Stretching is not a competitive sport. Flexibility differs with each individual. Your goal should be to achieve a good level of flexibility for you, not to match anyone else's level. This was brought home to me last week when a lady joined our stretch session and gave us a few pointers. With 35 years of yoga behind her she is an exquisite example of the benefits of stretching. Believe me, I can only dream of being as flexible as she, but that doesn't keep me from doing my best to go just the least bit farther in each of my stretches.

The take home message from this posting: If you do a fairly complete stretching routine it can easily take 20 to 30 minutes. And leave you feeling so much better it is almost unbelievable. Oh, and reduce the risk that you will pull a muscle!

My next posting will discuss some of the stretches I do and why I feel they are important.

I used several references for the above, but pulled the most information from Team Oregon Stretching Reference