My last blog was about some anti-runners who recommended a grueling, once per week, 12 minute routine in which you do extreme resistance (weights or machine) exercise to the point your muscles fail. Half their book was a dire warning that running will debilitate or kill you.
Then I got an email from Al Sears, MD, who promotes a copyrighted program called PACEBOOK (I bought a copy and found some good stuff) that recommends short, intense, progressive interval training, which can be sprinting, biking, swimming, lifting, jump roping, etc. Like his book, his email had more dire warnings about jogging/running. Check out: http://www.alsearsmd.com/jogging-injuries.html
So I cringed when I picked up the the August issue of Trail Runner magazine (in which you'll find a snatch of poetry about running in mud they printed from my April 2009 blog) to see an article entitled "The Fabulous 4 (Minutes) - The Short - Intense - Workout That Delivers." It is about a system developed Izumi Tabata, at a Japanese sports institute in the early 90s, that involves sprinting as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then resting 10 seconds, then sprinting again. You do this eight times. Tabata discovered that this painful regimen can confer tremendous improvements in aerobic and anaerobic capacity. (I'd be wary of any regimen developed in Japan because, even today, it will be influenced by medieval samurai culture, which places a high value on suffering.)
I think there are great benefits to be gained from interval training. I do sprints once or twice a week. But it should be noted that the only injury I've had this year was a pull in the lower left Achilles tendon that occurred when -- sprinting! The anti-runners always offer scientific studies to support their attacks on jogging/running, however, often these studies are flawed or incomplete. If you want to read a good blog, with solid scientific thinking, that questions these broad claims for interval training over running, go to http://frayedlaces.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html.
If you haven't done intervals in a long time, start very slowly and build up. There is no hurry to get to "fitness." The journey itself is the goal. Start with the slow gentle approach to interval training recommended by Covert Bailey.
A TOJ knows that all physical activities come with some risk of injury. So what? To a TOJ, the real problem with the 4 minute this and 12 minute that is he or she enjoys exercising too much to be subject to time limits. Life's too short as it is.
A longtime friend recommended a book entitled My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, a young neuroanatomy teacher at Harvard who suffered a horrific stroke, and her long, unlikely journey back to wellness. The brain hemorrhage devastated the circuitry in the left side of her brain, eradicating her verbal and math skills, ability to see color and three-dimensions, awareness of her body, and much of her personality.
However, the circuits that constituted her will and identity, though damaged, survived. With the help of family and friends, she basically rebuilt herself from a quivering sack of protoplasm back to a high functioning professional, and, in the process, maybe a better person as well. It is a insightful and informative book about the brain. But beyond that, it is a deeply spiritual, gut wrenching, and inspirational story as well. Read it, if for no other reason than what you will learn about the enlightened right side of your brain.
But being a TOJ, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the process she followed to re-train her brain and the process a TOJ must follow to train his or her body. Jill Bolte Taylor is an expert on the brain. The brain is an organ, and many systems in the body respond in the same way to the techniques she describes. Here are highlights that resonated with me:
First, change/improvement takes effort, discipline, and repetition. Systematically, she had to relearn to read, associating each letter with a sound, then multiple letters with combinations of sounds, then associate meaning with sounds. It was slow and made her head throb, but she celebrated small accomplishments, and ignored obstacles and setbacks. She worked through pain and challenges beyond anything a healthy Olympic athlete would ever remotely experience. The take away message for a TOJ is that effort pays off. It may not be quick or easy, but you will run a little faster, successfully navigate a more difficult technical section on your bike, or complete another pull up if you just keep working at it.
Second, she discovered that her brain needed and responded to lots of rest. In the months following her stroke, the onslaught of every day stimuli -- sounds, smells, faces -- exhausted her. But like a child, when she rested, she was re-energized. And as she slept her brain was organizing and restructuring itself, via neuro-plasticity, because steady, rapid progress followed periods of rest. Because your cardiovascular and muscles respond much like the brain, a TOJ benefits from rest in the same way. While exercising hard, you create catabolic processes that temporarily tear down your body at a cellular level. If you follow this with adequate rest (meaning not just sleep, but not-exercising), anabolic processes then rebuild your body faster or stronger than it was before. For a TOJ, this period of rest and recuperation may take a longer time than for a younger person, but it is worth it because you get the same results.
Third, Jill Bolte Taylor focused on hope and renewal, whether she was confronted with a tricky surgery or difficulty relearning a particular task. Given the right sequences of activity and rest, she knew from her own professional experience that her brain would heal itself. She had faith that the life force itself would do it naturally. Similarly, a TOJ knows intuitively that no matter how difficult running a certain distance or lifting some weight one more repetition might be, his or her body can do it, in fact, wants to do it. There may be some aches and pains, and progress may come slowly, but as sure as the sun rises in the morning, your body rises to the challenge. It's your nature.
I'm glad my friend recommended her book to me. Dr. Taylor gave this TOJ his own stroke of insight.