Draw Your Sword

Even for a TOJ, on some days its hard to put on those running shoes, or pick up that kettlebell, or get down on the floor for pushups. It's that streak of laziness and, sometimes, fear.You anticipate that discomfort, the burn of lactic acid, a sore muscle, even pain.

When you encounter that hesitancy, remember this great Zen story:

A samurai was about to go into battle. He could see in the gathering army across the valley that his side was vastly outnumbered and he would likely die.

On top of a nearby hill, he spotted a Zen monastery. He kicked his horse and sped up the hill. When he got to the gates, he asked to see the Master. A few minutes later, a stern looking old monk stood in front of him. The samurai bowed to him.

"Why do you come to me?" asked the Master, glancing at the assembling armies below.

"I must go into battle, but I have fear," answered the samurai. "What should I do?"

The Master nodded, then answered, "Draw your sword and ride to your death!"

With that, the samurai bowed in gratitude, mounted his horse, drew his sword, and galloped towards the battle line.

So don't think, just act. Tie your running shoes, grab the kettlebell, get down on the floor in pushup position.

Heavy Steps in the Right Direction

Some people have criticized this Nike ad showing an obese young man named Nathan running down a country road. Watch it.

You can read all about the controversy in this article from Time magazine. Nike is definitely no Mother Teresa and has a mixed record when it comes to how they do business, e.g., exploiting child labor in Asia to assemble their shoes (they say they don't do this anymore).

However, watching this ad, it's hard to see what the brouhaha is about. Nike is smart to try to sell shoes to everyone, not just the skinny runners. This is especially true now that 1 of 3 people in many states are obese.

But beyond their mercenary motives, Nike has sent a great message. This kid isn't light on his feet, but he's on his feet, and that's the point. If he keep doing this and watching what he eats, he'll be much lighter on his feet before long. This TOJ admires him for being out there because running for him takes more guts than it does for a gifted athlete like Usain Bolt. You can see this is hard work for this runner.

It's surprising and disappointing to see the reaction from Dr. Katz at Yale. Somehow he (if the sample of his email is accurate) thinks the ad is derogatory to the kid because it shows him struggling. He'd rather see him playing a piano?

Not this TOJ. Katz is a smart guy and heads up an childhood obesity center. He, of all people, knows that running can have instant benefits to someone who is obese and probably pre-diabetic. After even ten minutes of running, Nathan's insulin response improves and his blood pressure will drop a few points. He's young and resilient, so he can handle the stress on his joints in a way that an obese guy in his 50's might not.

This kid is running for his life, and if he keeps it up, he'll win.

The Flame

What a fun couple of weeks watching the amazing young athletes from around the world go for Olympic gold. When you look beyond the parochial nationalism and media hype, you see the flame of desire, effort and aspiration burn bright in those athletes, beyond the sweat, blood, and tears of being in the arena.

Only a select few ever make it to that level of  physical performance, but many carry the flame. People in all countries, of all ages, of all abilities. An old friend (Thanks, Bear) provided a link via Facebook to a cool website called the Age of Happiness, where a Russian guy is featuring never-say-die TOJ's around the world.

My guess is that most of the people reading this blog (and definitely this TOJ) would be hard-pressed to physically accomplish what some of these old folks are able to do, like 86 year old, German gymnast Johanna Quaas. Look at her incredible grace and strength.

Wow! Feel the heat?

You Don't Know Squat

Not long ago, I was with a couple of doctors, chatting in the shade of an umbrella at a Starbucks, when they surprised me by their lack of knowledge of one of the most basic body movements known to man - the squat. 

We had been talking about much healthier people would be, and how they would access the health care system less, if they ate more whole food and exercised more. I mentioned how earlier that week at our wellness club at work we had explored some very basic exercises everyone could do, without a gym, without any equipment, like push-ups, planks, the squat...

When this TOJ said "squat," one of the docs said, "Oh, no, you want to avoid those. They wreck knees. The patellar shear." The other nodded in agreement. "Yeah, those can be dangerous." One of these docs was an avid bicyclist and the other a distance runner, both of which can be very hard on knees. Not only that, both were family practitioners and one of the major complaints of people coming to see them is lower back pain, often caused by not being able to do a squat correctly.

The squat is one of the basic movements that is unavoidable in daily life. If you are going to lift a child or a bag of dog food, you are going to squat. If you don't use the squat, or don't do it correctly, you risk a back injury, usually in the lower lumbar area. Injuries occur when you try to use your back, rather than legs, to lift something off the ground. A properly executed squat requires you to have a strong core and correct posture. It ain't rocket science, but there are some fine points you need to be aware of.

The "patellar shear" mentioned by the doc is caused by using the large thigh (quadriceps) muscles rather than the butt (gluteus) muscles to lift your body during the squat. It's easy to determine whether you are glute or quad dominant by doing a squat. Just do a couple. If you lift your heel off the floor, you are likely quad dominant (and may also need to work on your ankle flexibility) and more prone to knee and back injury. Your heel will be solidly on the ground throughout the entire squat when you are using your glutes.

Learn to do a good squat so it's second nature. When you're comfortable doing them, you can add some weight if you like. But if all you ever do is use your own body weight, you will get stronger and burn lots of calories because you are using the largest muscles in your body.

Here's an excellent video tutorial on how to do a squat. Don't be put off by the trainer's muscles. He knows what he's doing and demonstrates the correct way to do a squat without using any weights.

The two docs know more anatomy and physiology than this TOJ will know in ten lifetimes. But if they want to help people avoid back or knee pain, they need to go back to basics. Until then, they don't know squat.