What If

Below is an exhilarating amateur video from a contest at Mark's Daily Apple, a really good website for "primal" living, that is, basic exercise and real food. There were many fine entries in their contest, but this one especially caught my eye.
What's so uplifting about it, beyond just a great song to accompany it, is you see a guy breaking out of the the confines of an office to set his body free. Many of think of exercise as a trip to the gym, a special space set aside to exert your body. But no matter how well-equipped, nothing you do on a machine will match a total body workout like he demonstrates or provide the Vitamin D he gets outside.

It would be a better, healthier, less stressed world if more people felt free (as in it's ok and they aren't weird) to take off their ties and high heels and go to a park for some exercise. Right now it's acceptable to run, but not so much the norm to exercise anywhere and anytime, and turn objects in the environment into a physical challenge.

They guy in the video is really creative. All he needs is a patch of grass, a weight from the trunk of his car, a bag with something heavy in it, his own body weight, and even a playground or some broken concrete.

This is what the world would be like if health really was a priority. We'd build more playgrounds for adults to use, too. Your employer would give you time to get out of the building and do some short Tabata workouts, like the one in the video, that would make you more focused and productive at work.

Yes, it would be different. People would value what they feel on the inside as much as what they look like from the outside. Sure people would be a little more rumpled upon returning to their office cubicles, but that's no big deal, nothing that couldn't be cured with a dab of perfume or aftershave.
And everyone would be thinner, healthier, happier.


Solid Gold

This TOJ, along with some family, had the opportunity to attend a parade in honor of Ashton Eaton, winner of the Gold Medal in the decathlon at the London Olympics a couple months ago. Eaton was raised in Bend, Oregon, where we now live.

Judging by the huge turnout of people in Bend of all ages lining the street, people agree with the marquee on the theatre along the parade route, declaring Ashton Eaton the World's Best Athlete.

Some would probably contest that feeling others are just as deserving, like the top Ironman Triathlete (bike, run, swim) or CrossFit champion, who does all kinds of weird stuff like push sleds, flip tractor tires, do handstands, and sprint or run, sometimes carrying an awkward weight. Maybe there's a Navy SEAL, who's name we'll never know, who could beat all of them.

Or course, there's no definite answer to what constitutes a greatest athlete, any more than there is what it means to be fit. That you can run an ultramarathon or deadlift 800 lbs.? Does it really make any difference? But the decathlon, which requires strength, speed, power, and skills in 10 track and field events conducted over two days, testing all three energy systems in the body to their maximums, sure puts you in the running for a title.

They say you could tell Ashton was different when he hit high school. He was very good at several sports and seemed to have a unique drive and focus found in only in champions. He was fortunate, also, to have tremendous physical abilities, mostly from good genes, that were developed further by hard work and solid coaching. Below is a picture of him walking in the parade with his medal around his neck.

They had a nice welcoming ceremony for him and gave him a key to the city. He made some simple, heartfelt remarks about growing up in Bend, how it provided the social and athletic resources to support to his development. It was sort of an "It's Takes a Village" message. He's a humble and gracious champion.

After the ceremony, he did a fun run with a horde of elementary aged children inspired by his achievement. This TOJ thought about Aston while lifting weights today, all the sweat and time he put into his training. Wow!

I guess that's what Olympic champions do for all of us. Inspire!

On Weight Lifters, Walkers, and Apes

The other day this TOJ was enjoying a nice workout with his kettlebells while listening to a podcast interview by Jimmy Moore, a guy who lost tons of weight on a low carb diet and hosts a website with some really good thought leaders in low carb living.

Moore was interviewing Fred Hahn, a strength trainer for over 20 years, about his new book on slow lifting, the kind I've talked about before where you lift a very heavy weight very slowly, for a very short time, until you reach failure and can't lift anymore. Anyone who's done this knows it's basically 30 seconds of torture with each lift. The technique seems to work for some people, if they can stand the discomfort. Hahn must be a true believer in suffering to be fit.

I was enjoying the interview until he started to criticize kettlebells because some people don't know how to use them properly and break their wrists or otherwise injure themselves. Of course, that's true with any piece of resistance equipment you if you don't know how to use it properly or how your body responds that particular equipment. It was hard to understand his point because kettlebells are a good overall strength training device.

But Hahn became really annoying when he started to bad mouth walking. There's a genus of trainer out there who thinks only bad-ass muscle building counts as exercise. It was especially strange to hear him so critical of walking when many who tune into Moore's "The Livin' La Vida Low-Carb Show" might be listening in because they're working on a weight issue.

Walking is a valid weight loss exercise and great fitness activity for people of all ages. For many people, as any good trainer should know, it's the right place for them to start, even if their goal is to do higher intensity exercise someday. High intensity is beyond their safe physical limits or may be too difficult for people if they have a health issue. Fitness is important for wellness. What's the obsession with performance? Studies have shown that people who walk everyday live longer than the rest of the population.

Below is a great tutorial on the benefits of walking. We should all get out for more walks.

There are plenty of people around the world who will live long and happy lives and never subject themselves to arcane physical training theories that require torturing yourself in a weight room.

This TOJ likes to do harder stuff too, but still enjoys a nice, long walk because it's good for body and soul. Walking up on two legs is what separates us from the apes. That, and having the brains to avoid extreme forms of exercise.

Retread versus Monster Truck Tire

You have to love it when politics gets physical, as recently happened when Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) called Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif) an old retread.

Brown took offense and challenged Christie to a contest. Check this out.

He re-challenged him last Sunday on CNN - running, pull-ups, and sit-ups. Brown is almost 75.

Christie just turned 50. He's truly representative of his generation, which according to the latest government analysis, has the highest obesity rate - 37% - of all living generations.  

Brown just ran 3 miles in 29 minutes.

Not long ago, Christie was flown by helicopter to see his son play  baseball. The chopper landed 100 yards from the field. Christie had to be carried by limousine to the field because he couldn't walk it.

Too bad the contest won't happen - Christie declined. Vegas would have taken bets.If people are dumb enough to vote for the Tea Party, they'd be dumb enough to bet on Christie. This TOJ's money would have been on Brown. Christie would lose, and I'd be rich.

Hail the Turkish Get Up

A good friend, who's a middle-aged, devoted triathlete, told me he's out of competition for a few months due to a pretty serious ankle injury. He's working hard to resume his run-bike-swim routine.

To stay fit during his rehab, he's been doing some biking and Turkish Get Ups (TGU), a smart choice because his body won't miss a beat when he's able to resume running. He sent the following request: "How about a write up - TOJ style - about Turkish Get Ups? Lace it with ancillary tidbits typical of the TOJ exercise profile."

Good idea, and anything for a friend. The Turkish Get Up (TGU) is such a powerful exercise that if for any reason you could only do one exercise, it might be the one because it is a total body exercise, strengthening muscles, ligaments and tendons from head to toe.This is truly an uber-exercise, like the yoga Salute to the Sun, only much more challenging.

The TGU has been around for a long time, maybe 300 years or more. If you Google it, you'll find it was a staple of strongmen in the old days. The TGU has risen in popularity right along with the Russian kettlebell. When you see or experience the intensity of the TGU, you get the Russian connection - simple, cheap, challenging, effective, unfashionable (like their space suits).

Grab your anatomy charts (I don't really expect you to look these up, but if you want to, here they are!). Your body has over 600 muscles. Of the prime movers that enable us to lift, walk, bend, squat, and lunge, the TGU relies on the Deltoids, Erector Spinae, Glutes, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Adductors, Trapezius, Rhomboids, Flexors, Extensors, Serratus, Rectus Abdominus, Abductors, Gastrocnemius and Soleus. In addition, the TGU enlists scores of smaller stabilizer muscles that enable these prime movers to safely and effectively accomplish their work.

There are two videos below. If you've never performed at TGU, this TOJ suggests you just watch the first them to see how they're done to gain the maximum benefits offered when done properly.

Unfortunately, some professionally-produced videos and YouTube videos show people doing sloppy TGU's, skipping some of the key movements, showing poor alignment, not fully extending, and hurrying like its a race. You want to mimic how the professionals in the videos below execute the movement. Like so many things Americans try to make easy, say frozen gourmet French cuisine, the TGU is not. You are moving directly against gravity, the greatest force on earth.

In the first video, Gray Cook, a leader in the emerging field of functional movement, demonstrates the TGU. Cook is a physical therapist who wrote an influential book called "Movement" that is very critical of the reliance on machines and fancy technology that is so prevalent in gyms because they don't really prepare people for everyday life or athletic competition - they don't build basic mobility and stability.  He writes: "People move muscles without the burden of controlling body weight, maintaining balance or managing alignment, but that is not life." All these "burdens" are in the TGU.

Note that he says he's is not that good at them. The TGU is much like a difficult piece of music that you must practice over and over again. Many times, especially at when you're learning, it's a struggle, but then it gets manageable.

Here's another excellent video by a Russian Kettlebell Association certified instructor. What's worth noting here is the full extension of his legs and back and how he stays centered under the kettlebell.
Note how during the transition from ground to single leg kneeling position, his body is held up by one leg and two feet in a rotated plank.

So why does this TOJ think the TGU is such a great exercise? It looks so awkward and easy - you just have to stand up. What's so awesome about the TGU is that 14 separate movements are incorporated into it that build the legs, core, and shoulder. This is not the typical gym machine muscle grunt in a single plane like the bench press. The TGU involves rotating the torso and sitting up (using deep core muscles like the internal obliques) and single leg lunge movements firing the glutes. From the very beginning of the exrcise, your shoulder performs one of the most challenging tasks there is for the scapula and glenohumeral joint (ever hear of rotator cuff injuries?) -an overhead press while the body moves. Finally, the TGU improves your balance in all multiple planes (up, down, sideways, forwards, backwards) . When you move through all the postures in the TGU, literally hundreds of  muscles are communicating neurally with each other and the brain with reports as to the status of the body in space, and what muscles may need to be enlisted to support other ones.

The TGU is not a beginners exercise. You must have a relatively strong core and strong, stable shoulder to do this safely. The TGU is really a good guage of your overall

If you've not done it before, train for the TGU by breaking it into three stages: the sit-up, transition to a lunge position, then the rise up. The second half is just those same movements in reverse order. At first, just do these movements with no weight, then, when you know how if feels, add a light kettlebell or dumb bell.

You'll notice that both men in the videos keep their eye on the kettlebell during the entire exercise. They do this to maintain good alignment and stay centered under the weight. The further away a weight is held from your body, the more unstable it will be. The TGU increases the challenge of keeping the weight stable overhead because the weight is loaded asymmetrically - that is, it's held in one hand on one side of your body. The challenge for the rest of your body, which is accomplished when the TGU is done properly, is to maintain your body's center of gravity in complete alignment with the weight overhead.

Here are a few other tips if you want to learn or improve with the TGU:
  • It's not necessary to do more than 3-6 reps per side of your body. At first you may find it challenging to do it on both sides because you have muscle imbalances such that one side is stronger than the other and you may need to train both sides into parity.
  • Concentrate on doing the entire movement properly, not how much weight you are lifting. This exercise is powerful even with light weights.
  • Remember to breath throughout the entire exercise. Don't hold your breath. You're going to use a lot of muscle that needs a steady supply of oxygen.
The TGU never gets easy because you'll steadily want to increase the weight and reps to keep stimulating your muscles. Yeah, it's one of those exercises you'll take a deep breath before you get on the floor to do the first one. Sometimes your arm holding the kettblebell and all the rest of your body will tremble and waver as you struggle to maintain proper form. But you will feel exhilerated like Atlas when you see the kettlebell overhead after you stand up, and you feel a wonderful sense of relief and accomplishment when you lay down the kettlebell after that last rep.

The TGU is training for real life, not building faux muscle for strutting on the beach or in the gym. The real rewards are much more important and long term - you can get out of bed, lift up your child, kneel to pick up something you dropped, reach overhead across a fence to pick an apple, roll under your car to see if the muffler is coming loose. As you watch or do the TGU, think of all the everyday physical activities that are rehearsed in the TGU.

The rewards aren't just physcial either. Sometimes life knocks you down and you have to get back up. You have a setback in your health or at work, wherever. The TGU gives you mental stamina and toughness. Do them so, like my friend, you'll get up.