Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Physical Fitness History

I've been fairly active all my life. I'm not any kind of super athlete. Mostly I'm just an average active person.

There have been periods where I maintained a regular activity, either on a school athletic team or on my own. There have also been periods, sometimes years long, where I didn't do anything.

As a kid through elementary school, I was always fairly skinny and scrawny. I played outside a lot with my friends, so physical activity consisted primarily of running around, backyard baseball, riding bikes, and swimming in the summer. I had learned to swim at the age of 5 or 6, and that's served me well over the years.

As I got older and participated in more structured activities, I got stronger, but I was never bulky muscular. In my best shape, I was lean muscular.

I was never good at any sport that involved a ball or a puck, so I didn't participate much in those, attempting only one season of soccer in middle school. I did better with individual sports, though I only did one season of track in junior high school, and one season of swimming in high school.

But those team sports were very formative, starting to teach me the principles of physical fitness that I follow today.

Physical Fitness Principles

Reflecting my current age and experience with various activities and minor injuries, and my goal to live into my 100's, the principles are:
  • Avoid injury.
  • Work on strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility.
  • Warm up.
  • Stretch.
  • Control breathing.
  • Manage pacing.
  • Manage intensity.
  • Maintain proper form.
  • Don't overdo it.
  • Hydrate.
  • Occupy the mind.
  • Don't compete with others, just measure personal progress.
  • Cool down.
  • Get proper rest.
  • Don't do the same primary workout two days in a row, always alternate days with something else.
  • Use massage therapy balls between workouts.
  • Make getting regular exercise a priority no matter what else is going on.
  • Exercise for the long term, not the short term; this is for the rest of my life.
For the details on these, see Physical Fitness Principles.

Much of this is based on the fact that the older I get, the longer it takes to recover from injury. In fact, the recovery period has become much more significant even for minor injury. So I'm more cautious and less aggressive in exercising than I used to be.

The first and last principles reflect this. By avoiding injury, I'm able to keep exercising continuously for the rest of my life. I'd rather have a light workout or take a rest day than risk causing an injury that will make me take weeks off and possibly leave me with a long-term nagging problem.

The rest of the principles are in support of those two, to minimize the possibility that I'll injure myself, and maximize the possibility that I'll be able to keep it up for the rest of my life.

This is very much the story of the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins the race. In this case the race is a century of life.

Chronology of Activities

I learned a number of things doing these activities, both how to exercise, and how to hurt myself!

Some of these dates are approximate where I don't have some specific event to jog my memory:
  • 1974, 8th grade: middle school junior varsity soccer team.
  • 1975, 9th grade: junior high school track team.
  • 1976, 10th grade: high school varsity swim team. This is where I learned to use weight machines; the young lady who was the girl's assistant swim coach was our strength coach.
  • 1976, 10th grade: AAU spring swim practice.
  • 1977, 11th grade: 4 months of karate at a local dojo.
  • 1978, 12th grade: taekwondo 12-week continuing education class.
  • 1978: college aikido club for a term.
  • 1978-79: swimming at college pool 3 nights a week, 4000 yards (160 lengths) @ 2 minutes/100 average pace. This got me into the best shape of my life.
  • 1980-82: 5-10-mile bike rides on recreational trail on a Sears 10-speed a couple times a week.
  • 1980-81: I bought a copy of Staying Hard: The Only Exercise Book You Will Ever Need, by Charles Gaines. This was an outstanding book that pretty much lived up to its title, covering resistance training in 3 types: Free Exercises (body-weight exercises without weights or equipment); Exercises With Weights; and Exercises On Universal Machines; with 3 levels of each type, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. I still have that copy, with the pages falling out. Since I couldn't afford equipment or memberships at the time, I did the free exercises.
  • 1983-85: now married, lap swimming at a local health club 2 or 3 days a week, 2500 yards (100 lengths) @ 2 minutes/100 average pace.
  • 1986-1990: 10-20 mile bike rides on weekends on a Raleigh Technium 21-speed bike.
  • 1988-89: trained for and ran several short-course triathlons. I was a great swimmer, average cyclist, and lousy runner, so I would come out of the water in the top 10% of the standings, finish the bike leg squarely in the middle, and drop to the bottom third by the end of the run.
  • 1993-94: Kenpo karate at a local dojo. I worked out for 90 minutes every day during the week: 30 minutes of stretching, 30 minutes of regimentation (i.e. calisthenics-type drills), and 30 minutes of katas (forms). I stopped after my daughter was born, since parenthood took priority.
  • 1994: We bought a treadmill.
  • 1996-2002: I did a lot of weekend outdoor adventure activities, always at a novice level: rock and ice climbing, hiking, backpacking, kayaking.
  • 1995-97: lap swimming at a local health club 2 or 3 days a week, 2500 yards (100 lengths) @ 2 minutes/100 average pace. I also used the weight machines and the NordicTrack ski machines. 
  • 1998: We bought a Tuff-Stuff Odyssey 5 weight machine, similar to their current AXT-225R classic home gym.
  • 1999: We bought a NordicTrack ski machine.
  • 1999-2006: 15-20-mile lunchtime bike rides at work 2 or 3 days a week on a Bianchi Giro 27-speed bike.
  • 2002: We bought a NordicTrack elliptical.
  • 2005: I got P90X, an awesome multi-faceted high-intensity DVD-based exercise program using free weights and body-weight exercises. I did this regularly for about 6 months.
  • 2012: I bought Power Yoga - Flexibility, by Rodney Yee. This turned out to be an outstanding beginner yoga DVD, 25 minutes. I've used it repeatedly over the years.
  • 2012-2018: I commuted by train to work for several different jobs. This required a 15-minute walk to and from the local station, and another 5-20-minute walk to and from work at the far station, depending on the job. I was getting 2-3.5 miles of walking in every day. The walking was a great way to bounce back from several years of virtually no activity.
  • 2016: Carey Goldberg of WBUR did a story on Dr. Wayne Westcott, professor of exercise science at Quincy College and author of 28 textbooks. I bought a copy of his Strength Training Past 50. This was another excellent book like Gaines', but focused on safely exercising after 50. I did this regularly for about 4 months.
  • 2018-2019: I repeatedly tried to restart one of my previous regular exercise routines after doing nothing for a year, but repeatedly had minor injuries that caused me to take long periods off (weeks to months).
  • 2019: I bought a TRX Go Suspension Training kit. This is an excellent body-weight strength training system using suspension straps.
  • 2019: I bought Power Yoga Collection: 3 Full-Length Programs, by Rodney Yee. This was an outstanding follow up to his Flexibility DVD above. It contains 3 hour-long programs that are more intense versions of that workout. So the Flexibility DVD is a great starter for learning these routines, or for when I want to do a lighter version.
  • 2019: I bought a used Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5639 Rowing Machine from a coworker.
  • 2019: I finally pulled Anatomy of Fitness Pilates Book And DVD Gift Box by Isabel Eisen off the shelf and tried it. This is an excellent package that shows 25 Pilates mat exercises in clear photographs/videos and instructions. The only equipment needed is a yoga mat and inflatable Pilates ball, which could just as easily be a small beach ball or a throw pillow. This innocent-looking set of exercises is a fantastic core body workout.
  • 2019: I bought a used Stamina Pilates Performer JP machine from a coworker.
Ok, that does look like a crazy big list, and yes, our basement home gym area is getting a bit crowded! But this is everything I did over 45 years, mostly 3-6 months at a time, with months in between.

Also remember that I had to squeeze things in between working full-time and being a full-time husband and parent. So it was only at a novice recreational level, at moderate pace and intensity, for 30-90 minutes at a time. I wasn't doing it for hours at a time all the time like some elite athlete.

The health club 1995-98 is where I started the habit of getting up at 5AM to workout before taking the kids to daycare. I continue that to this day, once I pack breakfast and lunch for my wife and get her out the door at 5:30.

I find it a great way to kickstart the day, and whatever else happens, I known I've accomplished that. That also proved to be the easiest timeslot to carve out of a busy life on a regular basis.
I've used the various home gym equipment on and off over the years. Sometimes I've been fairly regular about it for a while, but like the DVD- and book-based exercise programs I followed, something always interrupted it and I would stop for months.

One big issue that came up was that I developed a persistent problem in my left shoulder rotator cuff sometime in 2014 after several years of doing virtually no exercise. What caused it? Nothing. I got old, and hadn't been maintaining regular exercise to keep my joints and muscles strong.

After that, every time I started working out regularly and building up the weight and intensity, the shoulder would always force me to stop. That was the cause of the repeated injuries in the 2018-2019 period.

The one upper body workout that seemed to help my shoulder was the TRX Go. I used it carefully and cautiously, building up from very easy intensity. I used that as the basis of getting back on track with a new program.

The New Program

In the Spring of 2019, after we had seen the BodyWorlds exhibit I mentioned in Welcome and Policies, I resolved to start a new exercise program, but with some new principles.

Specifically, dialing things down to what I call "old man pace" to avoid overuse, as well as manage my shoulder. And rather than setting some kind of goal of speed or weight, setting a goal of sustainability for the rest of my life.

Basically, that means any workout that does anything is better than doing nothing, as long as I don't hurt myself. I don't have to do things fast or hard, I just have to do things.

This is the subject of an upcoming post.

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