Older and Bolder

Enjoy this great video of Stephen Jepson showing how he turns exercise into play. This TOJ really likes his mix of balance, agility, fine motor skills, and endurance.

Too often exercise recommendations for older adults are not very challenging. Older adults are treated like delicate porcelain vases ready to break at any moment. Jepson sees it differently, and shows how it can be done.

He understands that an older body, just like a young one, has muscles with motor units that are ready to go with a little stimulation and practice.

Ya gotta love it!

Shifting Gears

The tuffoldjock blog will soon pass into history. I'll leave it up for a while, sort of like a cyber petroglyph, but will no longer be putting up new posts.

Watch for a new book late fall/early winter.

Meanwhile, subscribe to http://www.cascadeboomerfitness.com and follow my new blog there. You'll learn more about exercise for seniors and the challenging training protocols of the Black Knights.

Remember: Aging is only a flesh wound!

Exercise Message in a Bottle

This TOJ is working on a new book about an advanced approach to exercise for Boomers.  If you've followed this blog for long, you've no doubt seen a transition taking place with the general direction and content. Have you noticed what it is?

There are numerous topics that I have yet to address here. What are some you'd like to see discussed? What have you liked and not liked?

Maybe you have a specific issues with your training you would like to have some advice about. Bring 'em on.

Please email me your topics or questions: tuffoldjock@yahoo.com

Rope Power

You've heard TOJs need to develop power, not just muscle mass. This can be hard to accomplish in the conventional weight room because power is developed by rapid movements that are not easy to perform safely in a gym environment. Here's a good, cheap, power workout you can do in your backyard.

What's good is that these exercises involve every muscle from your toes to your fingertips. You'll tap your Type II fast twitch fibers, the ones that cause the release of human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor, both of vital importance to TOJs.

Go to your local Home Depot and get 30 feet of 1.5 inch rope. Pick one that feels okay to your hands. You can also wear gloves if you prefer.

Grab a couple of weight plates. In the picture below I tied on a 35 and 45 pounder. You want it to be enough weight that you have to pull hard, but that you can still pull fast. If you don't have plates, a sand bag, backpack stuffed with rocks, short log, or other heavy object that will slide on grass will do fine.

Prior do doing any of these exercises, try them first slowly and with a lighter weight to make sure you don't have any pain or other limitations, e.g., old injuries, surgeries, severe arthritis, etc.

Take the rope and walk away as far as it will go, where it's taut. In the first exercise, you face the weights in a basic athletic stance with feet shoulder width and knees slightly bent. Brace your core. Alternating hands, pull the weights towards you as fast as you can, pumping your knees and rotating slightly at the hips as needed. Do this 3-5 times.

Next, again holding the end of the rope, stand sideways to the weights. Brace your core. Pull the weights with both hands a few inches apart, keeping them close to your torso, and passing the hands and rope across your lower ribcage. Think about your two hands on a rail travelling from left to right. Finish the pull with a full rotation so your body is facing away from the weight at the end of the movement. Then turn and reach far down the rope for your next pull. Do this 3 times on both sides of your body.

Finally, lay down on the ground with your feet towards the weight. Brace your core, then using both hands, alternating one in front of the other, reach down the rope and pull the weight in.  Your hands will stop close to your chin. Arms should be bent, not stiff and straight. Keep your torso on the ground. Do these 3-5 times. 

Remember these exercises are to build power. Really put some force into the pull. Because you are in different postures and multiple-planes, afterwards you'll feel how this type of exercise is different than standard weight routines.

Why to Train Younger

The more I observe other TOJs, the more I realize that to progress, we need to regress.

Remember when you crawled around on the floor as a child? Or rolled your body across the grass? Or doing short sprints and agility drills in high school physical education? For most of that, those movements are in the distant past, and it's to our detriment.

As we grow up and age, very steadily we reduce both the range and velocity of movement. Once we're out of school at whatever grade level, we sit more, maybe walk or run, or lift a few weights, do some activities of daily living, like mow the lawn or vacuum, but no more crawling on all fours or hopping sideways or skipping or jumping or quick lunging. Adulthood in industrial societies becomes an inexorable process of  steadily forgetting body movements.

This TOJ thinks that this is a mistake. We become fragile because we act fragile. Our society cues us that we're delicate and vulnerable. Yes, it's part of the natural process of aging for your bones to gradually become more brittle and the muscles, ligaments, and tendons to lose strength and be less flexible. However, by accepting and living the stereotype of the old  and fragile, we accelerate this process and grow old before our time. I see it all around me in our spectator culture.

If you're an older TOJ, now's a good time to rethink how you exercise. If you've been limiting yourself to any one activity like endurance running or pumping iron, break out of the rut and think back to agility drills you did for high school football or basketball. Get on the ground and do a commando crawl. Get in a push up position with only your hands and toes in contact with the ground and do a crab walk. Dribble a ball while moving forwards and backwards.

The reason older people can't do many movements is because they just stopped doing them a long time ago. The muscle motor units still remember, but they've gone to sleep from sitting in front of the television or a computer. You can wake them up. You need to wake them up.

Once you did these exercise routines to prepare for competition. Now's a good time to revisit some of those routines to prepare for the rest of your life.

Start slowly. Obviously you need to be mindful of vulnerabilities if you've had injuries or surgeries. You'll feel awkward. Sometimes you'll quickly fatigue.  It can be a sobering reminder that you've aged. 

But if you persist, you'll get stronger and more flexible than you ever thought you could. Your joints will feel better. Your energy will increase.

Will you be as young and strong as the good old days? No, but you're body will become functionally younger in the only time that counts - right now.

Question or topic you'd like addressed? tuffoldjock@yahoo.com

Tough to the Bone

I knew there's something special about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The scrappy 80 year old woman is not only a brilliant lawyer, she's also a TOJ.

Recently she fell in the bathroom, cracking her ribs. A two time cancer survivor, in the days following this injury, she didn't miss any of her demanding duties as a justice. Not only that, she got right back to the gym to lift weights to keep her small bones strong. No wonder the wimpy Justice Alioto is so afraid of her.

This TOJ may have been hit in the head too many times to be able learn much from her about how to be so mentally sharp at her age, but she's got a lesson to teach on bone health.

Like everything else in our bodies, bones are mind-blowing in their elegance and complexity. As we age, they gradually lose strength and flexibility, especially if we don't use them because we spend our time plopped on a chair watching TV or a computer screen.

While subtle bones losses start to occur after our mid-30's, they get more pronounced around 50 years of age. While these changes have several causes, perhaps the most concerning is bone density. This loss, known as osteoporosis, is most threatening because it can cause bone to fracture too easily. It's more common in women, especially smaller ones, but it also occurs in men.

All kinds of research shows that bone density improves with physical loading, i.e., stressing the bone. If you want to understand the science of improving bone health, read this excellent research by Katarina Borer. 

Being highly intelligent and motivated to maintain her high performance on the bench, Justice Ginsberg uses resistance training to develop and preserve her bone health. Simply placing additional pressure on the bone stimulates it to grow stronger.

This loading can also be accomplished by doing 60 jumps twice a day at least five days a week. These can be jumps, hops, or skips.

Don' be fooled by her friendly smile, Justice Ginsberg is tough to the bone. Resistance exercise isn't just for the good old boys.

The Black Knight

After a circuit class at our gym, this TOJ was talking with Dennis Jennings, a fellow TOJ, about how hard it is to find a suitable workout regimen if you're a male and older. Most of the group classes at the gym have dance elements and just don't incorporate stuff that's very athletic. Although the classes can plenty challenging (in circuits you get out what you put in), something's missing in the other ones.Gyms are careful not to over-tax the old people to prevent injuries and heart attacks. 

As I described what I thought it is and what exercises needed to be added, he got a smile on his face, knowing just what I meant. He thought old guys would like a workout like that. He suggested, tongue in cheek, that we should form a group called the Black Knights, named after the hilarious scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail. I went home and watched it again (101st time) and agreed.

TOJs are just like the Black Knight when he says his classic line, "It's just a flesh wound." We probably don't have a much better handle on our actual physical capabilities than the Black Knight, but, like him, we keep at it against all odds. He doesn't quit, whine, or hesitate. He fights on, despite his steadily vanishing capacities and mortal condition.

Don't forget that the only reason the Black Knight didn't skewer King Arthur was that he was exhausted from his previous fight.  Swinging broadswords really takes it out of you. He needed a few minutes to restore the ATP in his muscles.

The Black Knight has inspired me to design a workout routine in his honor. It will be hard, a full body workout with agility drills, plyometrics, strength, power, and cardio. It'll start with a dynamic warm-up, and go immediately into high intensity sequences to enlist every muscle in the body, deep down into the core.

Designing a program like this will be a challenge because TOJs were always physically active, so they have muscle or joint vulnerabilities and limitations from old injuries or over-use. You have to find ways to work around these.

But the Black Knight shows the way. If worse comes to worse, you hop around on one leg. It's better than nothing, and you're still in the battle. Aging is just a flesh wound.

Email me with any topics you'd like to hear more about: tuffoldjock@yahoo.com


Gravity Is Good Medicine

Not often will you read this blog and not find something about one kind of vigorous exercise or another. But this one will be different because it's about the importance of Non-Exercise Activities for health and well-being.

Many months ago this TOJ ranted about the dangers of sitting for prolonged periods of time. The video interview below between Dr. Joan Vernikos, an former NASA scientist and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, and Dr. Joseph Mercola is nothing short of fascinating. For many years, Dr. Vernikos was responsible for maintaining the health of astronauts while they were weightless in space for prolonged periods of time. At some point in her career, she realized that the physical changes due to weightlessness, which include muscle and bone deterioration, were identical to those which occur in sedentary people as they age.

Many of us who exercise hard a few times a week, if not daily, tend to think we're bulletproof. Unfortunately, that's not true. Despite our exercising, if we spend prolonged periods of time motionless in front of a computer or TV, we are subject to the same metabolic threats - poor insulin sensitivity and systemic inflammation - as lazy couch potatoes.  

Listen carefully to this fascinating interview. It's long, but worth every minute. Also, read Dr. Mercola's comments about Vernikos's work. You'll never think about gravity the same way again, if you even thought about it at all.

If you want to maintain a healthy metabolism, her prescription is simple: just move - reach, bend, kneel, squat, jump, walk. Most important if you want to be a healthy and do the bare minimum to achieve it, just stand up at least 36 times a day. You don't even need to break a sweat, unless you want too.

Remember she's not saying you don't need to pay attention to nutrition or that there aren't other benefits from exercise. She's saying simply that to advance our metabolic health we must be more active, more frequently thoughout each and every day.

Flopping Like Lebron

TOJs can learn something important from Lebron James, a remarkable basketball player and athlete - how to safely fall.

In the NBA flopping refers to the practice of intentionally falling down to try to draw a foul. Lebron James recently got fined $10,000 (the equivalent of $1 to the rest of us) in a playoff game for an awesome flop.

The video below shows Lebron doing a series of flops. Watch carefully and notice as he goes down how he first slows the fall by reaching out with his hand and relaxes and rolls his body, when possible, as he hits the court.

Also watch flop #1 in the link below. His body is flexed, not rigid. Yes, that's an incredible display of reflexes and strength, much more limited in a TOJ, but the principles remain the same.


This TOJ has talked about why it's important to know how to fall before.  It's only slightly less  important than knowing how to swim because it can help avoid serious injuries.

I'd run across some of these Lebron clips over a week ago. Seeing him flop reminded me I had't practiced falling in awhile, so after a workout, I got on my knees and took a couple of forward and sideways falls onto the mat. I practiced just like Lebron, reaching out as I approached the mat, dropping to my hip, and lightly rolling onto my shoulder.

Ironically, just yesterday I was out for a nice run on the Deschutes River Trail. The temperature was just right and I was feeling energetic, though starting to fatigue after over 40 minutes into the run. I had just passed through a rocky section, where I was careful, and picking up the pace when my right toe caught on a small rock I didn't even see. Down flew this TOJ with a groan and a cloud of dust.

It could have been much worse. Because I'd had some recent practice, I got my left hand down and mimicked Lebron. The left knee shared the force with my entire left side as I rolled across the dirt.

Severe injuries happen when all the force goes to one place, as when the hip hits first. I was able to avoid that, though my best running shirt got trashed.

TOJ's dont need to go slamming themselves against the ground. But some practice and physical training makes all the difference.

The physical training part is very basic. You get in the upward position for a push up and then descend very slowly towards the ground. Think of it as a push-down. This is an eccentric muscle action where you are decelerating. The ability to quickly decelerate is the secret to agility. Work up to sets of 15 reps a couple times a week.

Also do some yoga cobra poses and hold them for a minute. Throw in some side planks as well. You never want to fall with your arms locked as in the side plank, always have the elbow slightly bent. However, the plank will strengthen your core, which help keep everything supported when you hit the ground.

At least you'll be able to flop like Lebron, even though you don't get paid as much for doing it.


Get your FREE copy of my book, The Wellness Club: A Journey To Health Beyond Healthcare.

Just go to Smashwords. At checkout out enter Coupon# WD77M.

Avoid Fire

The other night I attended a showing of Escape Fire, a documentary film about the crisis in the US healthcare system. It's very well done and I highly recommend it for everyone to see, although it triggered PTSD because I'm only a year removed from working in it.

The sad message of the film is that our healthcare system is the most expensive on earth and yet we have some of the poorest health outcomes when compared to the other industrialized countries. I addressed some of the reasons for that in the first chapter of my book, The Wellness Club: A Journey To Health Beyond Healthcare, which you can download for free at Smashwords.

While the film's diagnosis of what' wrong in healthcare - in a nutshell, it's controlled by profit driven insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, who in turn control the government - it's not real specific as to what can be done about it. I don't blame the film makers for not having magic answers because unfortunately there aren't any. Maybe if more people pay attention to how badly they're being ripped off, they'll get mobilized to do something about it. Don't hold your breath. Health is not a national priority.

In the last chapter of The Wellness Club, you'll find a discussion about some of the first signs of rebellion among the more enlightened doctors insisting that the system needs to be fixed. Perhaps that's the beginning of a massive change, but it will take a long time. In the film, Dr. Dean Ornish talked about how it took him 16 years to convince Medicare that his program to slow or reverse severe heart disease with a plant based diet, exercise and meditation should be eligible for reimbursement because evidence showed if was more effective and less costly than stents and other invasive procedures. Much of how money is distributed in medicine has nothing to do with science.

But the most important message in the last chapter is that people need to avoid the healthcare system as much as possible by not needing it in the first place. The film pointed out that 75% of the $2 trillion paid to the healthcare system goes to treat preventable diseases that could be avoided if people took more responsibility for their health by eating better foods, stressing less, and exercising more. It's that simple. No individual, family, or community needs to wait for a government program to get started with this.

Yep, if you're in the fire, by all means try to escape. But better yet, avoid it in the first place.

Graduation from Old School

A long time TOJ friend emailed me that some of his body parts are acting up with strange pains here and there.

He gave me a rundown on his activities, which still included basketball, skiing, and line dancing. What caught my attention was his very short list of training exercises he does routinely that he probably learned back in high school, including a few upper body lifts and good old-fashioned ab crunches.

He's going to get some opinions from a physical therapist, which is a good idea. He's in his 60's wants to keep doing what he enjoys, so it makes sense to figure out what he needs to do next.

Hearing what he's doing (and not), this TOJ surmised there could be all kinds of causes for the pain, like aging combined with quick movements on hard surfaces causing compression on nerves. But some of his maladies likely have a simpler explanation.

What his list of exercises revealed was that he's doing a minimal number of exercises that  aren't well matched to what his activities are. Missing in action were exercises focused on the core. In the old days the core was synonymous with ab crunches. However, these are of limited benefit because they are isolated to only the rectus abdominus muscle and there are better, safer exercises even just for it.

Training your core is more important than ever as you age because it enables good posture, provides lumbar stability, and, for people doing athletics, is the link for dynamic movements in the muscles of the lower and upper body.

Think of your core as a ring of strength from your lower rib cage down to pelvis. The rectus abdominus muscle is just a bit player in what makes the core function. The real core is composed of several layers of muscles, in particular the transverse abdominus, multifidi, quadratus laborum, internal oblique, diaphragm, and muscles in the pelvic floor.

In many blogs about aging I rant about how important it is to activate Type II fast twitch muscle fibers by doing some exercises that require speed and power. Not today. The core is an exception.

The core is mainly composed of Type I slow twitch fibers that need to be exercised as well to develop their endurance. The best exercises to do this are isometric exercises such as the Plank, Side Plank, and Bird Dog. The video below nicely demonstrates how to do the Bird Dog.

Core exercises should be performed a few times a week. It's surprising how many physical problems, starting with low back pain, disappear when your core is strong. As if by miracle, your performance vastly improves, whether in a sport or activity of daily living.

Many of us Boomers learned old school exercises like the ab crunch. Now it's time to graduate to newer, more effective ones based on current exercise science.


Get your FREE copy of my book, The Wellness Club: A Journey To Health Beyond Healthcare.

Just go to Smashwords. At checkout out enter Coupon# WD77M.

The Kiev Gym

At CNN's website there's a very cool collection of photos by Krill Golovchenko of an outdoor public gym in Kiev, Ukraine. It was built in the early 1970's. As you'll see, it's pretty crude because it was built with scrap metal, chains, ropes and old tires.

But you'll notice that this gym produces the same physical challenges and muscle definition you'd find in any fancy gym in America.

You also can't help but notice that these people are focused on their exercise, not their outfits. No spandex and $120 workout shoes. The man below swinging a sledge hammer has sandals on. His muscles don't care.

This gym is open at no charge to the public. People of all shapes, sizes and ages use it.

This photo collection demonstrates how basic fitness really doesn't require very much when people have the desire.

And it begs the question that in a rich country like ours with a runaway epidemic of heart disease and obesity, why isn't there one of these in every city in America?

Join the Resistance

The more I study and learn about TOJs and aging (50 years of age and up), the more I realize the importance of resistance exercise. While running, biking, walking, and all the other aerobic activities are good for your heart, nothing matches resistance for total body fitness. Period.

Resistance is the also the foundation for balance, agility and even flexibility. Resistance exercise gives you better body composition, i.e., more muscle, less fat, and raises your resting metabolic rate. And the research shows that it also has huge cardio benefits, especially when done at high intensity.

Resistance means just what it sounds like - working against the force of gravity, a material with resistive properties like rubber tubing, or even against something immovable like a brick wall. Resistance enlivens skeletal muscle.

There are three qualities you want to train into your muscles, all worthy of some of your time: strength, endurance and power. You should work on these 2-3 days per week. You can mix some of each into every workout or focus on one in each in three week cycles.

Strength is developed by doing exercises that require you lift, push or pull a resistance or weight you can only do 4-12 times. Do a couple sets of 8-10 exercises for both the upper and lower body. Pause 2-3 minutes between exercises to allow the energy system in the muscle cell to replenish.

Endurance is developed by almost identical exercises, but the resistance or weight is light enough that you can do 15-20 repetitions. Do a couple of sets of 8-10 exercises for the upper and lower body. Pause 1 minute between exercises.

Finally, power is developed by choosing a resistance or weight between the amount used for strength and endurance that you can do 10-15 times, only you will do the pushing/lifting movement very quickly, then slowly lower the load. Do a couple of sets of 8-10 exercises divided between the upper and lower body. Pause 30 seconds between exercises.

You can do resistance with body weight, bands, tubes, or weights on machines or dumbbells and barbells. I like all of them to keep workouts interesting and constantly challenging different muscles.

Each resistance device has some advantages. Bands are very effective strengthening smaller stabilizing muscles, like the rotator cuff and hip abductors. Machines are excellent, especially for TOJs who are not experienced with barbells, for serious strength training. Although machines limit the range of motion, they are safer for working with high weight loads. Both barbells and dumbbells allow much more dynamic, multi-planar movement and thus mobilize more muscles than any machine.

Most TOJs can develop all the strength they need by lifting their body weight with a full range of calisthenics, on TRX type strap devices, and doing pull ups on door or wall mounted bars. However, many TOJs like to push their limits, thus will find them faster by using weights in some form.

The strength you're looking for isn't in bulging pec muscles you see in the mirror. That's kid's stuff. It's about being able to effectively navigate and manipulate your environment. To move, lift, push or pull something without injury. To be able to move with speed, when needed. To keep the body lean and toned. To keep up with the requirements of daily life.

In your spare time, you can rest, work on balance and flexibility, for just go for walks and smell the roses.

Out to Pasture

For the first time in many, many years, this TOJ won't be joining a wave for the Bolder-Boulder, the coolest 10K race there is. It's not because of an injury. Or the fact that I now reside in Oregon.

It's more basic than that. My long endurance runs are fewer and fewer. Over the past forty years, I've logged thousands of miles, much of it on trail runs in beautiful mountains. I've enjoyed the adventures, like my encounter with three mountain lions, and always felt a discernible runner's high afterwards.

Just yesterday I went on a run along the Deschutes River. It felt great to be outside, though it was a little warm. I felt a great sense of satisfaction churning up the dust. But a few hours later, I noticed something. My hips and knees were sore. That's nothing new because both knees have been scoped and my legs have always felt sore the next day. 

However, I've been busy learning other types of exercise the past couple of years. During that time of not pounding my legs almost every day, I've discovered how good and strong they can feel. The post-runnning soreness is not due to bad shoes or difficult terrain. It's the collective toll of the repetitive motion of running for decades.  

This TOJ's brain, which loves those running endorphins, says it's time to let my distance running legs out to pasture. They're tired of slow plodding through spectacular scenery. The slow twitch Type 1 leg muscles used in running will only get a spin, maybe once a week.

 Entering their sixties, TOJs become prime candidates for osteoarthritis in places like the hips and knees due to overuse. A few blogs ago I mentioned a book by Lee Bergquist entitled Second Wind: The Rise of the Ageless Athlete, a collection of inspiring stories of athletes who are continuing to compete into their old age. But there was also a consistent, discouraging pattern to most of them - they suffered from painful, sometimes debilitating, overuse injuries, e.g., swimmers with shoulder problems, weightlifters with back problems, bikers with knee problems, etc.

In my ACE training, the experts divided physical capacities into two groups. The first was those that are health related, including aerobic capacity, muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and body composition. 

The other group are skill related - power, speed, balance, agility, coordination and reactivity. I believe these are much, much more imporant to develop at this stage of life. I've got enough aerobic and muscular endurance, maintained by high intensity exercises that are short and sweet. I spend more time with weights, bands, stability balls, ladders, jump ropes and Bosu balls.

The legs still get plenty of work. The fast twitch Type 2 fibers in my legs are coming back to life. They can still jump, sprint and hop. They feel ageless.

From the Ground Up

In all the exercise focus on heart health, other parts of the body are largely forgotten. True, if your heart stops for very long, you're dead. But if your ankles and feet don't function well, you might as well be dead because you're going to be limited in what you can do and lose your independence much earlier.

Most TOJs are a little ahead of their sedentary peers, but depending on the type and frequency of the exercise they do, their lead might not be as large you might think. Hours running or riding a bike or hitting the weight room don't guarantee strong, responsive ankles and feet. What good is a super strong heart in a rickety body?

Remember that all your physical power starts from the ground up with the action of your feet and ankles. They propel you forward, keep you level, and help protect from shocks, like when you recover from tripping on a rock instead of falling.  

If you've survived to TOJ-dom, through all those years the 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles in each foot/ankle have done their job. You might have some old damage, but you're still pretty mobile.  However, around age 50, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons inevitably start to lose some of their youthful elasticity. You see downward progression when you see frail people take flat footed baby steps and shuffle their feet to turn around. The end point of this progression is loss of balance and falls.

To maintain mobility, you must train to strengthen the weakest links, and as you age you can't take any of your links for granted. A shortcoming with TOJs is we can be set in our ways and do only the exercises we prefer and avoid those we could use, but may not enjoy that much - like those specifically for the feet and ankles. But the more I learn about aging, I realize how important it is to work on your whole body, including your ankles and feet.

Here are some excellent ankle and foot exercises to incorporate a couple times a week into your exercise routine.  

When you're just hanging around your house chatting or watching TV, take your shoes off and slowly rock back and forth up onto your toes then back onto your heels. With your feet directly beneath you a few inches apart, circle your knees so you roll onto the outside and inside edges of your feet. When you get proficient at this, do it on an unstable surface like a pillow or piece of foam rubber.

Do some very light jumps and short hops where you spring off your toes and gently come down on your full foot. When you get proficient at this, jump and hop a little higher and further and faster.

Just balance on one foot for 30 seconds, then the other. Repeat. Progress to 45 seconds, then 1 minute.

Balance, strength and power come from the ground up.

Exercise in The Wellness Club

When I realized one of the members of our wellness club didn't know what dumbbells are for, I then knew we'd have to get back to very basic information on exercise as you'll see in the chapter summaries of the book.

But we kept coming back to exercise again and again. Two requests made people jumpy - one was the request to eat less sugar, and the other was to exercise more.

Turns out we're not all hard wired to love physical exertion. Sometimes people looked at this TOJ like he was a creature from outer space. Likewise I was a stranger in a strange land. No wonder we have an obesity epidemic. 

When it comes to exercising hard, one is reminded of these words from the Good Book: Many are called, few are chosen. Hopefully we can change that.

TOJ's New e-Book Is Now Available - The Wellness Club: A Journey to Health Beyond Healthcare

I'm happy to announce that the e-book I've been working on for the past nine months is now available at Smashwords and Amazon. It is available in formats from most major e-readers such as Kindle, computers, and mobile devices. 

Readers of tuffoldjock may not know that I was the executive director of a community health center in Colorado prior to moving to Oregon in July 2012. 

During my last year in healthcare, a group of employees got together once a week to explore wellness topics. People in healthcare are no healthier than the general population and we wanted to find out why and what do do about it.

We had lively discussions and watched videos on a host of wellness issues. Many of us embarked on various wellness journeys, e.g., to lose some weight, eat better, exercise more, stress less. Some succeeded, some failed. We had lots of fun and learned a lot.

For only $4.99 you'll get over 63,000 words of cutting edge information on the US healthcare system, nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and many other topics, plus the links that will take you to the sites we visited during our presentations. We promised that each time we met, we'd learn something we didn't know before. We kept our promise, and if you read The Wellness Club, you'll learn some things too that will change your life.  

You can learn more about what's inside by visiting www.the-wellness-club-medicine-show.com. We're posting excerpts from each chapter over the next couple of weeks.

My wife was a key contributor to The Wellness Club. Together we're soon launching a personal training business, called Cascade Boomer Fitness, in Bend, Oregon. Everything we do will be shaped by what we discovered in The Wellness Club. 

The Anti-Frailty Instinct

The first time I saw Andy I was warming up for a circuit class. He wasn't in front of the mirrors with the young guys in tight-fitting compression tops grunting and grimacing, who would lift too much weight for thirty seconds with poor form, then spend a minute admiring their puffed up pecs and biceps as they recovered.

Andy was towards the back of the room, moving slowly and quietly from weight machine to machine, like a bee working a flower bed. His white long white hair and beard contrasted sharply with the black sweatsuit and shoes that covered him from head to toe. He would do a set, very slowly, sit for a moment to catch his breath, then get up and move to the next machine. When he got up, he wobbled a little and sometimes reached out to steady himself with his hand, especially if he had to wait patiently for someone to vacate a machine. Standing there, you could see he has a severe curvature to his upper spine, called kyphosis, that is common in old age.

One day when the weight room was crowded, I found myself stretching between two of the machines. I met Andy when he sat down on the calf machine, set the pin and with a quiet exhalation, started exercising.

I said had a question to ask him that I had wondered about for weeks: "How old are you?"

Continuing to exercise, he glanced at me with twinkling, small round eyes peering out from under bushy eyebrows, and answered: "I'm 90 years old."

This TOJ told him how impressed he was seeing him there and how hard he worked.

He shrugged and smiled. "I just want to be able to take care of myself. When I can't, it'll be time to go." He told me his father had lingered for a year and a half after a stroke. He would avoid that if he could. He said his daughter kept an eye on him, but he had specific instructions to not attempt anything dramatic if something happened to him. He said he'd already had his share of pain in life. When he was in the Navy, he broke his back. The doctors said he'd never walk again. He shook his head as he talked about this, "I was 19 years old. I had to get out of that wheelchair. That pain was..." He just shook his head as his words trailed off.  

I asked if he'd always worked out. He said that for many years he was an electrician and truck driver and didn't. It wasn't until he was in his 70s and fifty pounds heavier that he started to exercise. He felt bad, had some medical problems, and figured out he needed to do something and asked his doctor if it would be okay. She said yes, and he'd been lifting weights a few days a week ever since.

I told him I'd just finished a course on senior fitness and from what I had learned, he was doing everything right. He's an inspiration to others, including me. He smiled slightly, saying he figured it had something to do with living so long. He said his balance wasn't what it used to be, but other than that he was hanging in there.

The trainer called us to gather to prepare for circuits, but one day I'll talk more with Andy. Something got him out of that wheelchair and kept him in the gym five decades later. I'd like him to tell more.

He's living proof that resistance exercise is a key to a long, happy life. A  harsh fact is that we lose muscle mass as we age through a process called sarcopenia. The process starts in middle age and accelerates as we pass age 50. The muscles shrink and neurons die.

However, though it cannot be stopped, it can be significantly slowed  by resistance exercise. Other types of exercise for endurance and balance are also important, but strength enables the other two. Strength keeps you upright, mobile, and able to continue with activities of daily living. It's the key to remaining independent for as long as possible.

Andy discovered the elixir of life and the antidote to frailty. It's not in a pill. It's good old-fashioned sweat.

Jump for Joy

This TOJ was reading a book by Nassim Taleb called Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. He's best known as a brilliant, contrarian financial risk manager. However, he's also one of those broad thinkers who looks to other fields for insights to shed light on his work and life, including his choice of exercise - power lifting.

While doing some research he ran across a an 2003 Science article by Gerard Karsenty, a cutting edge scientist, who believes that bones are not just like passive metal beams in a building, but are very metabolically active, producing a host of chemicals that work at a molecular talking to other organ systems in the body. It's likely that bones play a key role whether or not you're healthy, not just whether you have bone related maladies as you age like osteoporosis or arthritis, but even diabetes or loss of sexual function.

At the heart of Taleb's argument is that we, the civilized and industrialized welfare staters, have developed an aversion for stressors of all kinds, in particular physical stressors. And this has been detrimental to our health and well being. Ironically, as we age, we're supposed to be more careful in order to avoid injury, but what we really need to do is be more aware of our limitations then consistently challenge them.

This TOJ thinks Taleb is right on the money. We become fragile (decrepit) earlier in our lives than necessary because we don't do the physical activities that will keep us strong and robust. The bones are very complex and not as well understood by science as you'd think they'd be. But one thing they do know, though they can't fully explain how it works, is that if you stress your bones the "right" way, they get stronger.

Once they thought only young bones reacted this way to the mechanical loading from exercise. However, more and more research shows that everyone of all ages benefits from using gravity and/or additional weight to stimulate the bones to grow stronger. Check out this successful program for older women at Oregon State University called Better Bones and Balance.

You'll see that the OSU program includes exercises that involve stepping and jumping to place a brief mechanical stress on the bones. Here's an interesting article by C.H Turner and A.G. Robling that explains what might be going on. Worth noting from their research is that you'd don't need to overdo the jumps. In fact, the bones respond better when exercise sessions are split; they observed if you do are going to do 120 jumps in a day, you see a 50% increase in the osteogenic index, a measure of bone formation, if you split the jumps into two 60 jump sessions separated by an 8 hour rest.

We TOJs are anti-fragile. We do our bones a favor and take some calculated risks. We seek positive stressors. We're jumpy.

Strong from Head to Toe

Last blog you saw this video of some amazingly fit young English guys doing some very unconventional, non-gym strength training. This TOJ suggested that much of it would look like the familiar stuff, e.g., push-ups and pull-ups, but to watch for differences. Those differences are the reason they're much stronger and fit than most guys their age.

So why would TOJs care about this? They're young, right? Yes, but they demonstrate some "secrets" that are really important to a TOJ because they promote physical resilience.  

The more experts understand human movement the more they are beginning to understand that it's not just muscle and bones that enable us to perform the range of motion we enjoy. Your entire body is is linked together by connective tissue (myofascia) that transmits dynamic energy from head to toe. This tissue, just like every other in your body, is constantly renewing itself - or not, if it's inactive.  

So here are a few of the secrets the English parkour artists revealed to us in the video.

Periodic Asymmetry - Notice how they shifted sideways during their push-ups, pull ups, and still ring exercises. They get slightly off-center. This places unusual stresses on the muscles and myofascial tissue because they must respond to additional gravitational forces as they  move away from their center of gravity. The guy presses a rock, not perfectly shaped, hard to grip.

Multi-Directional - They don't just move forward, they also move backwards and sideways. They don't just work on a flat surface, they climb and descend. All this multi-directional movement engages the muscles and anatomy trains in new and challenges ways. These guys aren't building isolated muscles like the guy in front of the mirror at the gym doing biceps curls, but building total body strength - the most useful strength there is that enables the body to safely perform a variety of tasks and adapt to unexpected forces, like breaking a fall on ice .

Non-Repetitive & Adaptive  - Their bodies, whether hands or feet, must adapt to a broad variety of surfaces, textures, and planes. They are developing incredible kinesthetic awareness of what their world feels like and how to adapt to it.

Whole-Body - They recruiting multiple muscles and anatomy chains by constant, variegated movement from head to toe, as opposed to sitting on a weight machine doing isolated calf presses. Nothing is more important than what you can do (or not) with your own body weight.

Bounce - One interesting discovery is that connective tissue is elastic. Much of our power results from loading and releasing energy stored in connective tissue, including ligaments and tendons, not just muscle. In the video, you see principle at work in the burpees and when the guy in a push up (plank) position climbs the steps doing a rapid downward then upward movement that "bounces" him from one step to another.

So here are some ways TOJs can start incorporating myofascial training into their exercise.
- When you do push-ups, slightly lean toward the right and go down, then repeat with the left.
- Stand with your feet flat on the ground and lightly spring up and down, keeping the ball of your foot in touch with the ground. Progress to jump roping off the balls of your feet.
- Do single arm swings with the kettlebell.
- Do push-ups with one hand or both hands on a medicine ball.
- Spider walk (crawl face down on hands and feet only) in all directions, sometimes lifting up onto a small step, box, Bosu, or sturdy coffee table.
- Crab walk, on hands and feet, facing up. Forwards and backwards.
- Hold a medicine ball with both hands and bend back (like a soccer throw-in) then slam the ball into the ground as hard as you can (you can also do this with a sledge hammer into the dirt).
- Hang from a bar and lift your knees towards your right shoulder, then your left. Repeat.

By incorporating some unusual movements, you literally strengthen your myofascial tissue. You get "bouncier" and less vulnerable to injury. Read this excellent article by Divo Muller and Robert Schleip about remodeling and rebuilding myofascial tissue. Note the importance of good hydration!

It only takes a few minutes of this a couple of times a week to get results, but because connective tissue develops more slowly than muscle, you need to be patient and persistent.

At first as you ad these elements to your exercise, you'll feel weaker and awkward. But not for long. Pretty soon, like they say in the TV ads for fancy men's clothes, "You'll like the way your feel. I guarantee it."

Web of Power

This TOJ, who studied English a long time ago, thinks that when Shakespeare had Hamlet say, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" that one of the "things" he was referring to was myofascia, the connective tissue which is like a whitish web that weaves throughout the entire body, holding muscles and organs in place. And, as scientists over the past twenty years are figuring out, much, much more.

The myofascia plays a bigger role in movement and athletic performance than ever dreamt of in the conventional fitness paradigms focused on muscular strength and cardiovascular conditioning. While those are still important, the discovery of the role of connective tissue in enabling movement, in particular quick, powerful movements, is rapidly changing things.

For centuries, anatomists, kinesiologists, and coaches focused on the structure and function of isolated muscles, like the biceps, or muscles groups, like the shoulders. Connective tissue was a passive presence, designed by nature to support organs sort of like the asphalt road is held aloft by the spans on the Golden Gate Bridge.

However, as science probed the source of injuries, it became clear that the actual site of non-fractures is in the connective tissues, which also include ligaments and tendons. Of course the next question was why to the injuries occur and what can be done to make these tissues more resilient. Why are they so painful? Obviously they were being pushed beyond their capacity. But how?

This is where it gets really interesting. It has always been right in front of our eyes watching sports on TV, but invisible to the naked eye. Ever notice how home run hitters slightly turn their bodies counter to the direction of the ball then rapidly rotate their bodies towards it? Ever noticed how basketball players preparing for a dunk make a slight dip with their ankles, hips and knees before soaring towards the basket? The home run and dunk both start in the foot which is flexed hen unflexed (dorsiflexed then plantarflexed) unleashing a cascade of anatomy trains to generate force.

These powerful athletic movements are chosen for examples because what nobody had realized until relatively recently is that power is transmitted through connective tissue, just like a locomotive speeding down the tracks. In fact, one of the pioneers in this area is an integrative manual therapist named Tom Meyers who wrote a book about Anatomy Trains to identify the interplay of connective tissue with muscles and bones to enable movement and has even mapped them. If you want to feel an anatomy train as you're sitting reading this, hold your right palm on your back just above your hip bone. Lift your left knee slightly off the ground. Feel the contraction in the right side of your body?  

So why should a TOJ care?

Connective tissue is just like muscle - you either use it or lose it. For many people, their trains are sound asleep from under-use. Even for athletes, they can be underdeveloped if they are not routinely used in multi-planes of motion. Yeah, a person may be able to curl a lot of weight or run a marathon but can they (you) do what's in this video.

Meyers cites Parkour, basically urban gymnastics in which athletes turn everyday structures into tools for exercise and physical challenges, as an example of movements that maintain and develop your power trains. Check out this video:

Obviously, most of us, especially TOJs, will never have this level of body mastery. In physcial prowess, these English men rank with any elite athlete.

You probably noticed many of the Parkour training exercises are very familiar, yet there's something different and unusual. In my next blog, we'll explore just what's different in more detail, and how to tame these down so they are safe and doable.

TOJs, too, must maintain their web of power.  

Outer Limits

Sometimes we need a reminder of the wisdom in Clint Eastwood's great line in Dirty Harry: "A man's got to know his limits."

One of the hardest things to figure out is just what the limits of our physical abilities are. The longer I'm a TOJ, the more I realize that finding out what they are gets riskier. As you age (which athletically is just past 35, younger than many think), it's difficult to separate what's the natural fall off in speed, power, agility and strength versus just plain lack of motivation and discipline to push yourself as hard as you can to maintain these.

We're inspired by against all odds stories in athletics, like the crippled veteran who gets out of the wheelchair and finishes a marathon. Or the 50 plus guy who deadlifts several hundred pounds. They move us to try harder, longer, faster.

Recenty a friend in his early sixties ran his fastest time ever in the Moab Half Marathon: 01:36:15, an excellent time at any age. He's a classic example of what may be possible if you really go after it. He's worked obsessively hard for years to prepare for that performance. I hope he can keep it up because I know it's important to his sense of well-being.

However, I've been reading Lee Bergquist's Second Wind: The Rise of the Ageless Athlete, which recounts the stories of TOJ's in many master's level competitive sports. They live for their competitions. There are some inspiring stories, like my friend's, of continuous improvement, although those are exceptions. The rule is their performances are starting to falter because of aging and mounting injuries. Their limits are rising faster than they can neutralize them through training. Their days are numbered as competitors and you hear a tone of sadness and frustration, if not outright depression in their stories.

This TOJ let go of competition years ago. Exercise, for its own sake, is a joy of my life that I look forward to every day. But the pursuit of fitness can be as excessive and misguided as competition when a TOJ ignores Dirty Harry.

I already have a good routine that consists of running 2x/week, weight circuits 2x/wk, strength training 1x/week, kettlebells and bodyweight work 1x/wk, and a day of rest. Thinking I needed a challenge, I decided to attend a 35 minute bootcamp at our fitness center. A great trainer put on the music, and working with body weight, light dumb bells, and a weight bar, she took us through a Tabata routine (continuous fast exercise with 10 second rests) of fast squats, forward and side lunges, punches and kicks, and plyometrics (jumps). When it was over, I was drenched with sweat and pleased that I could still do it.

But two days later, my glutes and adductus longus were so sore I groaned when I got out of bed. I wasn't injured, but I'd taken my lower body to an outer limit for no good reason. I found out I could do it. A better question was should I? I missed my circuit training the next day and only did a light jog the following day, wincing with every stride.

For TOJs, just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. A TOJ's got to know his limits.

Pedal to the Metal

Before getting underway with the gist of this blog, this TOJ wants to go on record that all exercise is good exercise. Whatever you like to do, do. Whether walking, biking, jogging, Pilates, whether alone, in a class, on a team, whatever it might be, go for it.

A few times in the past, I've suggested that sometimes it's a good idea to put the pedal to the metal and push your body very hard for a short period of time via High Intensity Training. Wait, wait! Don't click away! (I know most eyes on this blog don't fear sweat or a fast heartbeat anyway.)

Recently I've been studying stuff about senior fitness and aging. According to experts, this TOJ is an official member of the category called the "Young Old," which spans 65-74. When I read the articles by the PhD experts about the 65 year old threshold, it's alarming how cautious they are about exercise. You'd think we're like pieces of fine China, ready to crack and disintegrate at any moment. Their concern is not completely unfounded because many Boomers have sat on their butts much of their lives and are not physically ready for vigorous exercise. About half already have either an illness or musculoskeletal problem that limits their activity.

However, my concern is that frailty begets more frailty. Obviously nobody should put themselves at high risk for injury. And that's not necessary. Most risk can be removed by starting very slow, even below what you might be capable of, then systematically working up from there. By not pushing yourself a little, you accelerate the onset of frailty down the road.

A little high intensity exercise has amazing benefits. See this excellent discussion by Clarence Bass, a Master TOJ if there ever was one. Easy cardio is great, but there are some life-enhancing things that happen only when all the muscles are worked really hard.

Watch this short video of an older guy doing exemplary HIT workout that lasts about seventeen minutes. Here's what's worth noting:

First, he's on machines which are much safer than free weights for HIT because you can't get in an awkward posture that puts you at risk for injury when your muscles move towards failure.

Second, his trainer is making sure he keeps his form correct so only the targeted muscles are engaged (unlike the grunting twenty-year old guy doing a simple bench press with free weights who's arching his back and jerking his entire body to enlist every possible muscle to get the barbell up).

Third, he's using a weight he can lift only 8 reps, so he's building strength and using his fast twitch fibers (hence the powerful human growth hormones).

Fourth, he's keeping a brisk pace. He pauses only long enough to switch machines.

Fifth, he makes sure to use every major muscle group - shoulders, hips, legs.

It's that simple. Challenging, yes. But very doable. He's not collapsing, gasping for air.

Everyone can do this, at all ages. You can do it without ever going to a gym by using your own body weight in a series of calisthenics like push-ups (from your knees if that helps you), squats, lunges. If the latter two are too easy, you can make it more challenging by holding a plastic milk carton with whatever amount of water you can safely hold tight to your chest. Just move from one exercise to the other with minimal recovery.

Most days, it's fine to cruise along in a lower gear. A couple days a week you want to be like the Little Old Lady from Pasadena. Go, TOJ, go TOJ, go TOJ, go!