Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Balance: It Does a Body Good

On days between cardio and weight sessions, as long as my body feels up to it, I like to go to the gym and work on balance, not just in terms of being able to stand upright in tricky situations but in terms of making sure all the planes of the body are getting the necessary push and pull they need. I want all the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other functioning parts to work as a complete unit with each and every individual element "carrying it's own water" and not having to make up for others that might have been ignored during previous workouts. This may seem like an obvious concept to many but I know that for years I didn't vary from a routine that covered most of my body and got me in pretty good shape...or so I thought. The muscles I ignored eventually made me pay dearly for bypassing them.

I like the way anatomy books break down the body dynamic into three planes: the median, horizontal, and coronal. (A good anatomy for dummies is: Anatomy of the Moving Body: A Basic Course in Bones, Muscles, and Joints; Second Edition by Theodore Dimon, Jr.) Simply put, your body is broken down into left and right sides, top and bottom sections, and front and back sections. All sections and halves need an equal distribution of work to maintain balance. Think of things this way: if you work your right arm make sure you work your left arm, if you work your legs make sure you work your torso and if you work your biceps make sure you work your triceps. I immediately thought of the cliched gym talk of "look at that guy who's got broad shoulders and deep chest but chicken legs." Being out of balance not only makes muscles work harder to make up for the weaker elements but its grounds for malicious gym gossip as well!

For most of my life I feel like I was pretty good at maintaining a proper balance of exertion and exercise  on an equal level across all three planes. Sometimes in our daily lives this becomes difficult. On movie sets my job was to lug heavy gear around. I always attempted to never have to carry heavy gear only on one side of my body. If I was directed to grab one item I carried it with both hands in order to spread the weight around as equally as possible. Watching my brothers and sisters all hunched over to their weaker side as they carried gear in their dominant hand looked painful and harmful. (To those still in the business: stop carrying a 1200amp box in one hand!!) Because balance is hard to maintain during the daily grind it is important to make sure that, when we can, we put out a conscious effort distribute healthy and beneficial exercise across the whole body.

Working the left side if you work right and working the top half if you work bottom is fairly self explanatory. The coronal plane, what divides us into front and back halves (think biceps and triceps) is where my focus has lacked over the years. This has been especially true when it comes to abs and back. If you work the abs work the lower back muscles as well. If you work the chest, work the shoulders. If you work the hamstrings work the quads as well. Hit the front; hit the back. This seems obvious but, for me, it has often been easy to lose track. For those who live life constantly on the go maintaining a balance when it comes to exercise can be extremely difficult. Working the whole body correctly can take up some minutes in the day. Time management is an important factor when planning a schedule for exercise so balance, even if it is over a series of workouts over several days is maintained.

Over the last three years I have not focused on the muscles in my lower back because I have been scared to since experiencing back trauma. Even thought it has been some time, fear still creeps in when I start doing exercises that target my lower back. However, I cannot, once again, build up everything around the lower back and expect to continue an active lifestyle with any kind of confidence. Do you realize how many muscles are in the lower back? Recently, little tinge of pain in the lower right side of my back and occasionally the left side has informed me I have not been doing things correctly. With everything else around the lower back being worked how could there not be some screams for attention from the ignored muscles? Yesterday I made sure I found the right machine with the lower back muscles highlighted. I worked out with very light weight and did high reps. This morning was the first morning in a while that I did not wake up and feel a ping of some sort in my back. This morning I have been able to sit in the chair at my desk and get up without thinking uh-oh. I listened to my body and made adjustments. Already, I am feeling the benefits.

Balance across the whole of the body is so important. These days I am making sure that I take that one day at the gym to make sure that nothing gets ignored over the course of a few workouts. I call this the Makeup Day. Here is a chart of how I like to incorporate the Makeup Day into my schedule.

Workout 1: Power Circuit
Workout 2: Cardio
Workout 3: Makeup Day
Workout 4: Cardio
Workout 5: Power Circuit
(then repeat process)
(I don't workout five days in a row. I incorporate days of rest and active rest in between these workouts as necessary.)

My workouts will change as the weather gets warmer and I can get back out on the water. I think I have fallen so in love with Stand Up Paddling because it is the low-impact, total-body workout. Everything from the toes to the brain is put to work when you are out on the board. And everything FEELS GOOD because of the balance across the whole system! It's funny because I feel the only muscle lacking in attention while paddling is the bicep. Maybe that is due to my technique, which still needs attention, or the fact that for all of my life my biceps received most of the focus during workouts (ah, vanity) and everything else is catching up! The rest of my body feels completely worked after a paddle session except for my biceps, which is just strange to me...

Reading up on anatomy has truly opened my eyes up to not only the beautiful construction of the human body but some of the intricacies that allow us to do what we do day in and day out. My spiritual side has always made me think of the body as a temple for the Holy Spirit, even when I was filling that temple with insane amounts of garbage. Looking back, I had no idea what a temple the body is! Reading up on things like synovial fluid, which lubricates bones sliding against each other at the joints and how our head seemingly stays upright on our spine without a conscious effort due to a complex system of muscles, vertebrae, and other insane stuff I cannot recall blows me away when it comes to realizing what a gift we have available to us. (Our top two vertebrae are awesome pieces of machinery and quite different from the other 31!!)

Acquiring a basic knowledge of how the body is put together has only reinforced my desire to treat myself with respect and care. I had an idea but I had no idea! I want to be thorough, deliberate, and vigilant when I exercise so fitness and health are both focused upon equally. A major step in achieving wellness is to think of the whole body, where all three planes are getting balanced out, when setting fitness goals. Plan smart, be thorough, and adjust accordingly and you will reap many rewards.  


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Achieve Now; Harvest Later - A Cardio and Balance Session

Stamina - the ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort. (Definition courtesy of Apple Dashboard Dictionary)

The Graveyard Race in the Carolina Cup is just under 13 miles...so not only do I wish to get stronger but I want to be able to breathe easier over a longer period of time than I am used to.

Doing cardio is always a mental and physical battle for me. Since my back troubles I have been limited to running on a treadmill with very rare sessions out on the open road, which I used to love. Running on a treadmill, no matter how good the music is on my Iphone, can be a form of torture. However, I need to work on breathing while my body is in motion so the treadmill it is. Because the treadmill is so awful, I truly believe it greatly benefits one's mental stamina.

For example: if I set a goal to run 3 miles I will try my hardest not to look down at the digital readout for as long as I can possibly stand it. Also, I don't want to stare at the clock on the wall to see how long I have been running. I listen to music and judge the time by how many songs have played and keep my eyes on the North Avenue looking to see what antics Street Jimmy might be up to in desperate attempts to stave off the boredom. (My gym is almost right across the street from the Old Town Ale House.)

Unfortunately, boredom always sets in much earlier than expected or hoped for and I lose my focus on NOT checking my progress. I look down at the digital readout and see that I have only been exercising for .63 miles. The sinking feeling in my chest comes on so strong and so sudden that I am thrown off balance for a second. I want to stop and do something else, but what else is there under the realm of CARDIO, that you do indoors when the weather outside is frightful, which isn't considered boring. I am sure there are other things (like playing hoops, squash, and spinning) but I am relegated to the treadmill because I like to have control over how much stress I put on my body.

Pushing past the mental blocks of exercising indoors and reaching your goals, on say a treadmill, will only improve your ability to achieve higher levels of fitness when you get back to doing the things you love to do outside. If I can compete 4 miles on a treadmill watching traffic and my favorite addict begging for money on North Avenue imagine what can be done on the water watching dolphins and eagles, hawks, and the guy or girl paddling just a little bit faster in front of you...

ACHIEVE NOW, when the conditions aren't ideal and HARVEST the BENEFITS LATER when it's board short and bikini season!

Since I have been getting serious about my own health and fitness and wanting to help others get serious about theirs, I have noticed improvements in my stamina by doing cardio, that borders between aerobic and anaerobic, on a consistent basis. On the treadmill I set small goals and work at different paces and levels, without taxing my body too much. This particular workout described below I use to offset the POWER CIRCUITS written about in the previous post. Depending on how my body feels after a power session I either do this the next day or after a day of rest. I don't do these workouts on any specific day because, for me, longevity is the key so I make sure my body is rested enough and ready to take on any challenge put before it. I DO NOT believe in forcing the body into an exercise session just because it is pre-planned. I DO believe in exercising even when I don't feel like it but it is important to adapt, and change plans if necessary, in order to ensure the body is on the road to improvement rather than further taxing any areas of the musculoskeletal system that need rest and recovery. That being said, here is a good workout I like to do following a day of weight training.

.50 miles at 6.0
.50 miles at 6.0 incline increased to 1.5
.50 miles at 6.3 incline back to 0.0 (flat)

squats standing on 6lb medicine balls, as many as possible (the bigger the medicine ball the harder it is {for me} to maintain balance so progress as needed)

.50 miles at 6.3
.50 miles at 6.3 incline increased to 1.0
.50 miles at 6.5 incline back to 0.0 (flat)

variations standing on 6lb medicine balls: here I do squats, medicine ball tosses, roll a 4lb medicine ball around my torso toward the left and toward the right, heel slaps with opposite hand holding 4lb medicine ball {hold medicine ball in left hand overhead, try and tap left heel with right hand before having to place foot back down on medicine ball, switch and do opposite side - I can do one on each side then have to step off before falling - hard but so fun!}

.50 miles at 6.5
.50 miles at 6.5 incline creased to 0.5
.50 miles at 7.0 incline back to 0.0 (flat)
.25 mile cool down from 6.0 - 3.5

NOTE: this next example was something I just started doing to have fun. I fell A LOT but the falls were under control and on a soft floor in one section of the gym
one legged hops onto Basso ball:
-stand, feet together, with right foot next to Basso ball hop from left foot and land with left foot in center of Basso ball - land one then move to other side with left foot next to Basso ball and hop from right foot with right foot landing in center of Basso ball
-vary stances and just do one-legged hops
-after PERFECT LANDINGS reward yourself by doing one-legged squats with non-weight bearing leg extended behind you and in front of you
-if you are having trouble, do two-legged hops on the Basso ball as a way to RESET your brain and body (the brain and body enjoy successes and therefore erase the failed attempts from before making further attempts seem fresh) then go back to trying one-legged hops and STICK 'EM!!

Over time, more progressions can be added meaning more mileage under the belt, longer times on the medicine balls, and further improvements to your health and fitness!!

It is so important to have fun when training and/or exercising so never be afraid to add a variation that will breathe new life into your routine. I look forward to doing these wacky exercises because: one, they make cardio seem fun and two, because they make me feel like I am improving myself and three, I hope that during the next race in choppy conditions (meaning you Surf to Sound and Orange Bowl Paddle Championships) I will not get tossed off my board like a rag doll!

Have fun and be well(er)!!

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Power Workout for the Podium

Everybody is dealing with winter, even the folks down in Florida have issues with the fluctuating weather. I have to chuckle when I read about fluctuations between 80 and 50 degrees as winter...but no matter what the case may be any change in what you are used to can be hazardous to your motivation. For many years I suffered from extreme cases of motivation-suffocation-by-cold weatheritis. This winter is no different; in fact, it may be worse than the previous years because I will use any excuse to avoid paddling on a frosty lake. I have until February 27th to be paddle-lazy but after that particular day the serious on-the-water training commences for it will begin the two month countdown leading up to the Carolina Cup.

Until February 27th I am hitting the gym for strength, speed, power, endurance, and confidence going as anaerobic in my workouts as my body will allow. I will continue to include anaerobic workouts into my weekly routine until March 16th. With six weeks to go until the race I will go completely aerobic and train according to my Maximum Aerobic Function, which is a mere 143 (more on the MAF in later posts). For now, I am working with weights to near failure and incorporating a lot of balance exercises into any session at the gym whether it be weight training or cardio.

Here is a typical workout I have come up with after reading all kinds of information on other people's blogs. For instance, Dave Kalama suggested push ups to help the shoulders for paddling. I hate push ups so I found a way to make them fun. Just about everyone who writes about exercise mentions doing pull ups and they have always been one of my favorite exercises to do. Youtube is full of examples of workout routines so I have incorporated some new stuff into a full-body circuit that I have done for many years. While this workout is good for anyone looking to better themselves I am doing these circuits specifically to become a stronger paddler.


.50 mile run at 6.0 to warm up

1). 8-10 pull ups Follow with a set of ab exercises.

2). 10-12 medicine ball pushups (each palm on a 6lb medicine ball and toes on a 12lb medicine ball. chest presses close enough to floor so shirt touches). Follow with a set of ab exercises.

3). 25-30 shoulder shrugs holding 45lb plates in each hand and standing on a Basso ball. Follow with a set of ab exercises.

4). Triceps/Balance - stand with each foot on a 6lb medicine ball and using a 25lb plate place it behind your head and press upward (do these near a wall so you can help yourself get settled standing on the medicine balls holding a plate!). Try to do 10 in a row with out falling off. DO NOT TRY TO STOP YOURSELF FROM FALLING OFF MEDICINE BALLS. STEP OFF MEDICINE BALLS BEFORE YOU FEEL YOURSELF FALLING. When 10 have been completed, grab 45lb plate and stand on the flat side of a Basso ball and do 25 overhead tricep presses. Follow with a set of ab exercises
---------OPTION: do 8-10 dips instead and follow with a set of ab exercises---------

5). 15-20 Lat pull downs. Follow with a set of ab exercises

6). 10-12 dumbbell curls standing on a Basso ball. Drop down 10 lbs and using one dumbbell...stand with one foot on Basso ball and do curls with opposite arm, 5 with leg extended behind you and 5 with leg extended in front of you. (So, if you are standing on your right leg do curls with left arm and extend left leg behind you and in front of you. I use 35lb dumbbells for the first part then drop to using one 25lb dumbbell for the one-legged/ balance curls. This way just makes doing curls more fun for me.) Follow curls with a set of ab exercises.

7). Balance work: stand with each foot on a 6lb medicine ball and just do small movements with your body so your body has to adjust and recover without having to step off or fall. DO NOT TRY TO KEEP YOURSELF FROM FALLING!! STEP OFF MEDICINE BALLS BEFORE YOU FEEL YOURSELF FALLING!! As you get used to standing on medicine balls, add weights, other medicine balls, a lightweight curl bar and continue to make movements so there is adjustment and complete recovery. When you get really used to balance work on medicine balls...lift one leg up and try to tap the  bottom of the foot with the opposite hand before having to step back down on the medicine ball. This is a fun one but you get a lot of looks when you fail and medicine balls go rolling across the floor in opposite directions and you have to get up off the floor to go chase them!!

.50 mile run at 6.3

SECOND CIRCUIT: Try to maintain the same number of reps or more from the FIRST CIRCUIT and follow each of the 6 weight-training exercises with ab exercises.

.50 mile run at 6.5

THIRD CIRCUIT: Again, try to do the same number of reps as the FIRST CIRCUIT and follow each of the 6 weight-training exercises with ab exercises
End your last CIRCUIT with as many pull ups as possible until you achieve failure

.50 mile run at 7.0

.50 - .75 mile cool down at 6.3 - 3.5

Try to do 3 CIRCUITS but if time only allows for 2 you will still feel it. Make sure you end with pull ups to failure before a final jog top wrap things up for the day. AND...make sure you cover all your abs when doing ab work. Those lower abdominals just above the waist line often get ignored so make sure you get everything covered as you incorporate ab work throughout the CIRCUIT TRAINING.

Also, some of the balance work may engage the muscles in the back that have been in hibernation during the cold months so please listen closely to what your body is telling you. Adjust, slow down, and/or stop as necessary.

This CIRCUIT TRAINING is what helped me over the early part of the winter. I was doing these workouts 2-3 times a week before I went down south to race in Florida and North Carolina. I know I got stronger in a very short amount of time, which I truly believe has helped me become a stronger paddler. Nowadays, I am also incorporating some weight training that is more focused and specific to make certain muscles healthier. I don't plan to always go for power power power in the weight room because longevity is one of my long-term goals, but for now it sure feels good, especially when I am too much of a wuss to paddle in the cold.

Now, go get strong(er) healthy(ier)!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Compression Apparel and the Linus Blanket Syndrome

I have always had an addictive personality. If something tastes good, sounds good, looks good, or feels good I will go all in until I become the definition of the word gluttony, which doesn't just apply to food.   Give me a great song on my Ipod and I will put it on loop until I never want to hear the song again. Give me a slice of cake and I will make that thing disappear or keep eating until I get hives. Give me a great-feeling compression top and I will want to wear it during every aerobic and anaerobic activity. Now, let me remind folks of the cliche: too much of anything is a bad thing. I want to pass on a bit of information that I received during the healing process of my back that I have further evidenced during recent workouts.

As of late I have become a huge fan of 2XU compression tops for almost all my fitness and health-related activities. Originally I wanted a compression top for my shoulders as I decided to move to a larger paddle blade. My wife got me one for Christmas and while it was too cold to get out on the lake I immediately put the top to use at the gym in order to get a feel for it. The feeling I experienced was quite familiar and after some analysis, maybe not the best idea for excessive use.

My first back brace after the herniated disc was nothing more than a compression band to go around my torso. The second doctor I saw during consultations, while undergoing the healing process and physical therapy exercises, warned me about wearing the brace too much. He said my muscles would get used to the physical activity with aid of the pressure created by the brace, which would not be very beneficial to the healing and strengthening process in the long run. I trusted him and worked hard at trying to balance the time exercising with and without the brace. This proved to be very difficult. Exercising while trying to heal required an acute attention to the details going on within the body, especially while trying to find that balance. I had not yet learned to trust my own instincts and constantly lived in fear as I tried to not only get well but get better. Wearing the brace felt incredibly good and boosted my confidence; not wearing the brace gave me the shakes, but was better for me in the long run. I was not a fan of having to decide when to wear and when not to. Even months after the injury and when I was feeling much better, weening myself away from wearing the brace was not an easy task.

Compression tops feel so good that I want to wear one anytime my heart rate goes above 85. In such a short amount of time I have quickly grown accustomed to that comfortable feeling encompassing my body when I stand under the chin-up bar looking svelte in my 2XU (it's like male Spanx!). When at the gym without wearing my 2XU and facing a set of 8-10 pull ups my confidence lacks. My body craves the compression like it used to crave a cigarette with morning coffee. I remembered what that doctor told me 3 years ago about wearing the brace too much and now need to be more careful when it comes to the use of compression as an aid for exercise. Too much of anything is never a good thing!

I am sure there are plenty of scientific and/or psychological theories associated with the body and compression tops that are both pro and con but that material is far beyond my research capabilities. This entry is just a little heads up/warning. I am only speaking of the possible effects from excess that I have experienced and wanted to pass such information along.

Basically: I don't want my muscles to rely on a compression top in order to perform at their peak during any activity. I am not against compression tops at all. I still plan on using them, especially in SUP races. As I head to the gym today I am going to wear one, but that is only my because my back is a little sore from being on my feet for several days in a row bartending. My Linus Blanket Syndrome has both physical and psychological justifications this morning. Ideally, the next time I go to the gym I won't think twice about going WITHOUT wearing a compression top. I want my muscles to move and react at 100% no matter what I'm wearing. Besides, the dream is to be wearing no top at all in warm sunny weather isn't it!!??

Take Care and Be Well!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pain - Your Body is Speaking but It May Not Be Saying Stop

Pain...we all feel it. For those of us over 40 we may feel it a bit more regularly than we did only a few years ago in our late 30s. A friend of mine told me that everything changes after 40. For me, that was all too true as I have explained in previous posts (back failure, teeth falling out of my head, and easy weight gain/difficult weight loss). After the onslaught of a few emergency-room-worthy experiences, and since attempting to remain active, I have had to take much more detailed evaluations of how my body reacts to the exercise I put it through. Before I made health and fitness an important goal in my life these evaluations were much too brief and shallow. What often resulted from not being very thorough was consistent and sometimes increasing pain. Pain made for a great excuse to stop going to the gym in favor of resting on the couch and taking the directed maximum amount of Anacin every day until the affected area was completely healed. In many cases it would take days before I would stop feeling any pain. Over the course of my recovery period my motivation to get back into the fitness groove became elusive.

Let me say that while laziness was about 80-85% of the reason I had trouble getting into a routine and sticking with it I was also VERY SCARED of having another disc explode in my back. I didn't like gaining weight, but I let fear inhibit me from doing what I needed to do to help my body recover from the trauma it experienced. At the time I didn't realize that there were many ways to exercise that didn't require lifting weights at the gym. Unfortunately, I wasn't ready to adjust my routine according to what my body was telling me. When enough was enough I finally decided to seek out something physical that was fun.

Online I had read a few testimonials about the benefits of stand up paddling for the back which helped rev my enthusiasm for the sport. When I first got into the sport I felt pain in my back. Rather than give up immediately I decided to investigate the areas of my back that were hurting and see what could be done about doing away with the pain without doing away with the sport. My symptoms were easily remedied when I closely examined what was happening inside my body, what I was doing to help and/or hurt it, and what could be done about making things right. I wondered: am I going too hard too fast? (Yes, I was  even though it was hard to tell because people were always so far ahead of me.) Am I using the wrong form? (Yes, and I still do to this day but it is getting better.) Is this bad for my back? (Yes and no are the correct answers, of which this information is based solely on my own data and observations and I am not a scientist, even though I am pretty smart at times.) My grandfather was a scientist so that must count for something...

The pain I felt from paddling instilled in me a fear that I would have to stop this sport and find something else as an outlet. I had already given up wakeboarding followed by skatebaording so fear was in full effect at the possibility of having to give up a sport that is very soothing and relaxing and one my mom could do. I did not want to give up stand up paddling so I did more research on WebMD, did Google searches for stand up paddling and back pain, then imagined what I would look like doing water aerobics with the ladies at William Hill Manor.

Most articles I found were all positive saying stand up paddling was very beneficial to those with lower back issues. My fears subsided but I have not always been a big fan of Google searches for trustworthy information but what else was I going to do? I had no plans to truck up to Johns Hopkins or Northwestern and hit up their medical libraries. I had to sift through and trust the information I deemed as most useful. One article stated that SUP is excellent for the back and the pain you feel in the early stages is from new muscles being exercised in a new way. Also, I watched videos on Youtube about improving my stroke using proper technique. Neil gave me the best piece of advice when he said that I should be able to flutter my fingers at any time while paddling. Not squeezing the paddle hard always makes for a more comfortable glide. I felt better. The information provided made sense. I decided to continue paddling and keep evaluating the effect it had on my back.

Over time the back pain went away completely. I decided to up the ante and entered the SEA Paddle NYC race. As soon as I sent away my entry fee and started raising money I began to have major pain issues in both shoulders. Luckily, this is when I had begun to study Dr. Maffetone's "The Big Book of Endurance Racing and Training." I skimmed to a section that dealt with sports injuries. This is when I properly learned how to do a thorough evaluation of everything that was going on when I started to have issues. Not only did I analyze my physical regimen but I also took note of everything else that I was doing, including eating, resting, drinking sleeping, and all other aspects of day to day living.

At this time in my training I had: bought a new paddle with a bigger blade and a shaft with a smaller diameter, started using synthetic proteins in shakes, begun Thai massage, and done away with all alcohol. In terms of the paddle, I was now squeezing too hard with my bottom hand to get the grip I liked and I was pushing much more water than I was used to with a bigger blade. Obviously these factors would increase stress on the shoulders. I added tennis grips and cut the blade down from 8.5" to 8". I cut out the protein shakes and got my protein from real food. I cut out stretching all together and (very hesitantly) went with Dr. Maffetone's idea of long warm ups and cool downs. I did continue to stay off the alcohol in the time leading up to the race.

After taking a detailed survey and applying some fixes I was healed well before the race. I barely had to take any time off from training. I also learned that I wasn't getting enough fat in my diet so I added avocados to all breakfast meals. Time off was necessary so I took two days off and just walked. When I got back on the water I trained at a very low heart rate so my body was never stressed and could continue to work on healing itself. I did not go to the doctor. I listened to my body and made adjustments.

Adjustments are not always easy to incorporate into a routine. Change is difficult for some. Do you think I enjoyed walking instead of running? Paddling at a low heart rate required incredible discipline. Sea nettles were moving faster than I was! At the time the adjustments made everything suck but for the long term the discipline paid off and I was able to paddle at full strength when the time came to go around Manhattan. Even though I did take some Anacin to help with the pain, I did heal myself by evaluating all the details in my life and applying changes that favored lower-stress activities and various recovery methods and let me just say ice baths are NOT FUN but they work! I will do a whole post on the beauty of ice instead of heat.

Over the last couple of days I have had to listen to my body again. Some pain crept into my back on the lower right side. I probably got too excited about the new changes in my life so I hit it way too hard and way too often at the gym. I added some new exercises to my routine but I think the biggest contributors to my pain are an old pair of boots that are very heavy and make me walk with a different stride. Also, I have not been out on the water since I got back form the Carolina Cup. Obviously some changes need to be made but stopping exercising would be disastrous. If the weather would get warmer that would help me out a lot but what can I do? I will make some changes and adjust to the weather and my surroundings because I will NOT lose momentum this winter! One thing I could do is man the F^@$ up and put on some wool with my wetsuit and go for a paddle. People are surfing on Lake Michigan right now so I have no excuse, except a big fear of falling in cold cold water.

The biggest thing I have learned is that pain does not always mean STOP. It definitely could mean stop but it just might mean ADJUST. I will suggest that if you feel sharp pain in the middle of movement then the pain stops when you stop then I would take this to be a pain that needs immediate rest and/or attention. But if pain is just there, kind of along for the ride, and your breathing doesn't change when you move you can still exercise but you should adjust and lighten your workout. Another good rule of thumb is that if you are in pain go for a walk, a long stress free walk. When it comes to the pain of being sick the best thing I read is that if the symptoms are above the neck you can still work out but if you have any symptoms below the neck ease off completely and rest.

Listen closely to your body and don't always reach for the Tylenol or Advil. A good walk is just as good if not better than a couple of anti-flammatory drugs manufactured by somebody who does not have an exact idea of what you are going through. You know what you are going through and you can probably make the proper adjustments to make the situation better.  One thing I did was make my own evaluations and prescribed remedies then discussed them with a family friend who was a doctor. When I gained confidence in my own diagnoses I no longer needed to fact check with a doctor. My fact checker was my body saying yes, that's good or no, that's bad. More often than not, after taking care of my own body's needs myself, I can get back to the gym and get back to feeling healthy and fit.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Are Decisions Sacrifices or Making Right Choices?

Getting healthy usually means giving up and letting go of certain aspects of our lives. When a thorough and no-holds-barred evaluation of the way we live our lives is undertaken, and if we see a clear picture of the results, we might be shocked by what we allow into our daily routines. I believe society's influence has caused a majority of the population to believe that getting rid of harmful areas in our lives is considered a sacrifice when making necessary changes is simply the right thing to do to better ourselves.

I used to think that NOT overindulging in: alcohol, tobacco, Breyers ice cream, Milky Ways, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, donuts, Tombstone pizzas, and 8 straight hours on the couch watching Swayze Crazy Saturday on TBS was sacrifice. Sacrifice means giving up something valued. Value means the importance or preciousness of something. Needless to say, my skewed beliefs belittled the true meaning of what it actually means to make sacrifices.

The way my mind works (now) I think that NOT eating ice cream in favor of obtaining better health is no longer a sacrifice. Putting bad ingredients in your body is harmful; therefore, letting go of doing harm should not be considered giving up something of value. Not going paddling in favor of spending quality time with my wife is. Paddling is healthy and necessary for my overall well being, but so is keeping my wife happy. Giving up an exercise session on an unusually warm winter day is hard to do but watching my wife smile because of a decision I have made is of a greater overall value. Ice cream brought me a lot of joy so ignoring the cravings for mint chocolate chip seemed like I was making an enormous sacrifice to get fit. After tipping the scales at 225+ not buying ice cream no longer felt like a sacrifice. It felt like I was making the right choice. Holding onto the belief that a little bit of ice cream isn't bad is the hard part, but after a few times it does get easier.

For people with busy lives making the "right" choice can be extremely difficult. When those with full time jobs, kids, night classes, sick relatives, and personal health issues finally have a few minutes of free time, choosing what to do with those precious minutes must be quite challenging. Throwing a Healthy Choice microwaveable dinner in for nuking rather than taking the time to cut up some vegetables and steam some rice can be a no brainer for those constantly on the go. Those 6 quiet minutes on the couch can feel like heaven when life is a riotous mess. Why sacrifice those few moments of peace to stand on already achy feet and work in order to eat something that, according to the manipulated photo on the box, appears very similar and comes ready to prepare? Go read the list of ingredients in a Healthy Choice dinner or a Lean Cuisine, truly discover what you are putting in your body, tell me what those big words mean, and evaluate your decision making process...does cutting up fresh vegetables from a market rather than eating chemically preserved food still seem like a sacrifice?

The same goes for one half hour of sitting on the couch watching television versus one half hour of walking. What will benefit you in the long run? When I was working as a lighting technician on movies and commercials I could justify any amount of time on the couch as "research" for my job. It would be a beautiful day in Oxford with a light breeze blowing on the river, 70 degrees, and I could talk myself out of any kind of exercise in favor of watching all kinds of garbage found on MTV, VH1, or AMC. I didn't feel the need to "sacrifice" my level of comfort to engage in any sort of movement whatsoever because my job was to help make television shows. After a week of lugging heavy cable through the city streets and up narrow staircases a nice 45 minute walk would probably have done wonders for my soon-to-be effed-up back. Instead, I slumped around on the couch holding my body in awkward positions for hours upon end. Foolish thinking, which I truly believe, helped prepare my back for disaster.  

Making the right choices for our minds and bodies must come from a proper perspective. I have spent years and years trying to get mine in order and finally feel like I am starting to get a better grasp of the difference between a sacrifice and a proper choice. Going for a walk rather than sitting on the couch when I don't feel so well will help me in the long run. I wished I had figure this out sooner. I might even be able to paddle faster today had I had a better perspective in my twenties and thirties. Gaining such a perspective comes from getting in tune with your body and mind, doing research to find the best fit for your future goals, then putting practices into motion that will reap positive rewards.

Another example is for years I never wanted to "sacrifice" my own freedom for the alternative - marriage. Again, more foolish thinking! Six weeks into married life and I already feel healthier than I did at any point between 18 and 42. Getting married wasn't any kind of sacrifice; it was the right thing to do. At least it feels that way for now...:)

It is important to note that implementing a good perspective for the decision making process, concerning health and fitness issues, will only come about when the decision is made on the inside to do so. People can tell you what you need to do to live a better life but until you decide for yourself to do so the fight is an uphill battle. I think living a healthy lifestyle is extremely difficult. My wife's family owns a damn bar. Delicious ice-cold beer is free for me. We live across the street from said bar. You want to talk to me about struggling with the difficulty of making right choices!!?? The struggle continues but making the right choices has gotten easier because I decided that being healthy was very important to ME. Until I made that decision I constantly became overwhelmed by the struggle.

What I hope for is that people I know and begin to work with develop proper perspectives when it comes to making healthier choices in their lives. I want to be there to help anyone who wants to take steps toward improving their overall well being. When one sees the true depth of and intent for the word "sacrifice" they may see easier paths down healthier roads when it comes to the decision making process in terms of healthy vs. bad, lazy, and detrimental. Getting the mind right will only benefit the rest of the body because when you really start to evaluate what you decide is best for your body and mind you may come to realize that you really aren't sacrificing anything at all.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Advancing Health and Fitness - A Broad Stroke

If you are so inclined to improve your overall health and fitness I strongly suggest you get to know the teachings and philosophies of Dr. Phil Maffetone. Last summer I became a student of his methods as I trained to conquer the SEA Paddle NYC race and I continue to read his works as I attempt to get involved in the business aspects of stand up paddling, paddle fitness, and personal training. There is so much information to cover in any aspect of physical activity undertaken to benefit one's body. I am writing to pass along what has helped me. My intent is to help others. Take what you will from this; disagree with this; argue with this; just know that I am not trying to be an expert on anything to do with the body. I am just trying to do what I can to make people aware of some practices that might be useful to exercise, competition, health, and longevity.

First off, let me state this: success can be achieved if you decide to adhere to a training regimen derived from principles of Dr. Maffetone.

Last summer was my first summer of incorporating stand up paddling as part of my weekly workout routine and signing up to do some races. I knew immediately that I wanted to do something bigger than 6 miles and found my way into the SEA Paddle NYC event. I also knew that in order to do my first endurance event I needed help along the way, especially after talking with some more experienced paddlers. (Thanks again for your advice John Beausang and Westy!)

My research led me to "The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing." As a newbie to any kind of outing that taxes the body beyond imagination I decided to come up with a plan and stick to it. Success eluded me in the SEA Paddle Race but I did discover the benefits of training according to Dr. Maffetone's suggestions two days later when I raced in the Battle of the Bay in Ocean City, MD and placed 2nd Overall. At one point I was leading the race. This was achieved against a group of paddlers who had been consistently beating me by minutes throughout the earlier parts of the summer. Minutes in stand up paddling feel like eternities. While on Friday after the 26.5 mile race in New York I was stomping around Manhattan wondering why I ever listened to Dr. Maffetone's hippie-dippy mumbo jumbo by Sunday afternoon I was like - Holy $#!%, he's absolutely right!

As soon as I stopped training according to the principles adhered to over the summer my results dropped considerably. The podium was ever elusive after I took up my own training practices and scheduled time on the water and in the gym whenever I felt like it instead of according to a strict schedule. My dedication waned after the summer had ended but I still enjoyed padlding. I just didn't like paddling in a chilly breeze. Then there was the whole marriage celebration thing...the holidays...and did I mention the deflating chilly breezes?

I started 2013 in the gym first thing in the morning. My dedication to improving myself re-appeared after a several-month hiatus. I wanted to be a better paddler and a better person.

The Carolina Cup, scheduled for the end of April, is closing in fast. While in Chicago it may be that uninspiring time of the year known as Winter, in a physical reality April 27th isn't too far away at all. It is time to make up a new training plan of attack and a new schedule. My 2013 plan of attack will included some new additions to Dr. Maffetone's methods because as of late I have meet so many great people. I am learning so much from talking to and paddling with fellow enthusiasts and from reading another one of Dr. Maffetone's books called "The Big Book of Health and Fitness."

For instance, on my trip to Paddle Fit certification and the two races I competed in, I learned that if you are going to be on the water with Florida paddlers, that means you Dave Rose and Mike Lemus, you better be in tip-top shape to try and keep them in your sights. Those boys are fast! I learned that true dedication to improving your stroke is strapping on a wetsuit, a headlamp, and a leash and paddling in winter's darkness after getting home from work and changing your newborn's diapers. If you do that you can finish only a few seconds behind Dan Gavere in a big race, eh, Denny Grant? One of the biggest lessons I learned was to just find joy in what you take on, no matter if they give you a crappy rental car and a rental board without a displacement nose, find the positives in any situation. Thank you for that, Mark Bandy (I could always use a lesson in not getting angry in situations out of my control!).

Starting February 27th I am going back to a stricter training regimen and I look forward to blogging about the undertaking and seeing what the results are after racing for 12+ miles around Wrightsville Beach. There is so much that I need to apply to my own practices that writing it all down will, hopefully, make it stick.

My approach to health and fitness will not strictly be for the SUP folks; it will be for anyone looking to take positive steps in their overall well being. A lot of what I will do will be of great benefit to anyone. I know, because I have experienced the benefits, that walking is better for the body than running on the side of the road. Walking has greta healing powers when the body has been under a lot of physical and mental stress. I know that training according to a certain heart rate, one that feels incredibly slow and worthless, will benefit the body in the long run. This approach is not only about seeing acceptable results in the next few months it is about still being able to paddle, exercise, and race as long as my limbs still function. When I started to train for SEA Paddle my shoulders were ragged but after many adjustments were made the pain went away before the race (more details will come in a later post). I owe that success in letting the body heal its self to Dr. Maffetone.

I know some people will scoff at what I will write and people may even stop reading this blog thinking the practices that I will undertake to be a fool's mission. Such is life. My only hope that some people will start to re-think their own habits and do research on their own to come up with a plan that will best suit them as they try to improve their own levels of health and fitness. About .0035% of what I will write will be what I have come up with on my own. The rest will be information passed on from those I consider to be "in the know" when it comes to being healthy and fit and preparing for a long and active life.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Date Day and the Preventative Pedicure...Ugh

This fall I could barely walk. I thought I had another case of the gout because the pain in the big toe on my right foot was excruciating. At this point in time I had not completely given up overindulgences in coffee, expensive beer, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and cake. For most of last summer I had been doing so well, especially after training hard for and competing in the SEA Paddle NYC Race. A few days after the 26.5 mile jaunt around Manhattan I got engaged. Getting engaged should only happen a few times in someone's life (tee hee I kid, Gracie, I kid) so I took such a special occasion as an excuse to party with friends and family. The great shape I had gotten in disappeared quick then the pain in my toe started. I feared the gout had set in once again.

I was wrong. All it was was an ingrown toenail. For a couple days I tried to poke and prod my way into feeling better but was unable to ease any of the pain. The Sandbridge Hei Hei race was not far off so I wanted to train hard but the pain in my toe was not allowing me to put a lot of pressure on my right foot. If you are a SUP enthusiast you understand how important toes are for support and balance. To rectify the situation I decided to check out an Express Care in Chesterton, Indiana.

I was the only patient at the Express Care so they brought me in as soon as I filled out the required paper work. The doctor was a young attractive blond and the nurse was pretty easy on the eyes as well. I didn't think the experience was so bad. Within 20 minutes I was out the door and on my way home to rest for a day before being able to get back on the water. I paid $250.00 up front in case my horrendous "catastrophe only" health insurance refused to pick up any of the bill, which I assumed would happen and it did.

In the middle of October I received a bill from Porter Regional Hospital for over $1100.00. Now, if you don't think the state of our health care system needs reform then go to an Express Care and have an ingrown toenail removed. I wrote Porter Regional Hospital a letter and asked them to explain how in the world a simple procedure such as cutting off the side of a toenail in rural Indiana could be more expensive than a root canal in downtown Chicago. I knew the cost of both because both happened to me within a 45 days of each other. I received a call from a nice lady who said someone would look into the matter and the bill would be adjusted. They knocked off around $200.00. Now I owe Porter Regional Hospital $778.00 for a procedure that I should have let Gracie take care of with a utility knife and a bottle of rail vodka, which would have only cost her family's bar, the Old Town Ale House, about $2.63. That bill I could have paid off in a month or two.

The point of this story is that I cannot afford to have simple health issues attended to by large corporations. I need to live my daily life taking careful consideration of how I treat EVERY part of my body. Back in September 2012 I found out how important it is for an athlete to have healthy toes, which leads me back to yesterday - date day.

Gracie took me to get my first pedicure ever at the nail salon next to the Old Town Ale House. I hate feet and I don't like to be touched and therefore I would hate for someone to have to touch my own feet. However, after having to go into more debt in order to pay to have an ingrown toenail worked on by a professional I decided that prevention was necessary.

Am I glad I did it...yes. Will I ever get a pedicure again...yes. Did I hate every second of it...yes.

Needless to say Gracie had more fun on our date than I did. I could hear her giggling as I constantly squirmed in my chair, but such are the sacrifices I make to make my wife happy. Insert very important slogan here that I have become all too familiar with as of late: happy wife = happy life.

The pedicure was torture, but I have never been able to cut my toenails in a straight line. The pedicure cost $30.00 including tip and I walked out of the nail salon feeling like I was walking on air. Today at the gym I felt no discomfort in my toes as I went like lightning on the treadmill. For the last two weeks I had been feeling quite a bit of discomfort running and knew I had to do something before having to deal with another toenail issue. I grabbed toenail clippers and thought about trying to take matters into my own hands but all my attempts to correct matters didn't feel like solutions. I needed professional help so I put on sunglasses, trench coat, and a fedora and slinked behind Gracie to the nail salon.  

I may not be all excited and jumping up and down about pedicures and trips to the nail salon but I like having happy toes. Toes are vital parts of the lifestyle I have chosen. Maybe my terrible toenails were the reasons why I fell so much in the Surf to Sound Race and the Orange Bowl Paddle Championships (or maybe it was just bad balance). Nevertheless, I must recommend the pedicure experience to anyone who has feet and wants to use them in athletic pursuits. If you have any discomfort in your tippy toes get thee to a nail salon. Do it! Luckily for me I think my wife enjoyed our date to the nail salon so much that she will be happy to take me for another date next time I feel the slightest tinge of discomfort in any of my toes. That will be $30.00 of my our money that I can stash away for another paddle!