Friday, May 18, 2007

Exercise In Futility?

There was a time when I could be counted on to spend five hours a week at the gym — the "gym" being my garage or the dirt road north of town. I don't have the temperament for a public gym. And now that I'm in my 40s, I no longer have the temperament for five hours of this and that.

When I was a 16-year-old yoot, I would occasionally head downtown with some friends to Winnipeg's YMCA to make some ruckus in the weight room. One evening a middle-aged gent showed up, did a few warm-up exercises, then stood in front of one of the mirrors and performed 20 minutes of what was then referred to as "calisthenics." (The Canadian Armed Forces had a routine that my father(!) adhered to, called 5BX.)

One middle-aged guy in decent shape performing a 20-year-old fitness routine, while my buddies and I (each of us weighing in at 145 lbs, dripping wet) were doing our utmost to swell up to Franco Columbo proportions. He comes to mind because now I'm a middle-aged guy, sticking to a light weight routine I was taught in high school: five upper-body exercises (curls, reverse curls, upright row, shoulder press, push-ups). Back in the day, the idea was to perform five sets of 12 reps using a light barbell (I don't think I ever did more than 40 lbs) within seven and a half minutes. When I was a 16-year-old lad that wasn't impossible, but at 42 I'm inclined to stretch that to the 20-minute mark.

There was a routine for the legs, too. I can't recall it exactly, but it seemed rather Soviet in design — lots of jumping and hopping on one leg. Rather than tempt cardiovascular seizure, I'll finish the work-out with a brisk walk. The idea isn't so much to build a bod for the beach as it is to keep limber enough so that a day of raking the lawn doesn't cripple me for the next two weeks, while adhering to a regime that doesn't take up more than two hours a week.

Of course, any fitness expert could take one look at my routine and point out a dozen blind spots. I could point out a few, myself: there's not much there for the back, for instance. I tried doing some chin-ups the other day, and quickly realized my arms were up to the task, but the back-end of my shoulders (the "lats") were not. But it's a flexible platform. A few tweaks to it, and I'm sure I'll be doing what this guy does before the summer is over. Or not.


DarkoV said...

A few hints from the exercise-challenged.
1) As in your linked YouTube, clothing is what makes exercise so rewarding, especially if you happen to be, unintentionally on your part, of course, in the public eye. Forget the spandex, gym shorts, and the moisture-wick-away-$80-shirts. The best way to exercise is in loose everyday clothes. This allows one to have room to expand the heaving muscles one secretly believes they have while affecting modesty with one's hard-chisselled (HaHA) body. It also allows one to slink away if that first chin-up doesn't go as well as one had hoped.
2) A spritz can/bottle of water. Prior to any exercise, even the simple task of bending one's elbow to sip that morning coffee, mist yourself and the front of your shirt with the water. Appearances in exercise are everything and if you appear to be sweating, all the more credit will be given to you.
3) Exercise partner. If you're (well, not you) 5' 10" and weight 180 lbs, choose a 5' 8" partner weighing 200 lbs (I'll leave you to do the metric conversion here on the height and the weight). Contrasts in proportions are as valuable for sight inspection as are the colors one chooses.

Yes, exercise is good for one's body especially, as you pointed out, when one doesn't want to seize up like the Tin Man when doing household chores.

However, in the social world we unfortunately inhabit, the semblance of exercise is even more important.
And a lot less tiring.

DarkoV said...

...By the way, on the link to the Royal Canadian Exercise Program, I noticed this little blurb at the end of the Wikipedia entry.

"The 5BX (Five Basic Exercises) plan was developed for men. A corresponding program was developed for women under the name XBX (Ten Basic Exercises)."

Geez!?? Even in Canada, the women had to work twice as much as the men back then. I thought that concept was unloaded only on the female sex down here in the States. No wonder they're wreaking vengeance on us men types these days. All that extra exercising; the Man's trying to keep her down seems to have backfired.

Whisky Prajer said...

When it comes to exercise my propensity is toward extreme privacy, so any sort of partner (no matter what their proportions) is out of the question. On the issue of dress, however, I'm completely with you. To my mind the West has yet to provide work-out clothes that are half as attractive (for this wearer, at least) as chin-up man's uniform. Sweats? Hate 'em. Lycra? Do NOT want to go there!

As for the 10BX, one visit to our household will quickly prove your point. If you think you'll achieve male dominance by giving a woman more to do than the man a single weekend with us will put paid to that nonsense.

F.C. Bearded said...

Were I to hang like that from a crossbar, the entire rig would bow towards me, until my twinklies gently kissed the earth.

Such are my powers!

Whisky Prajer said...

Bearded - now that's a video I'd like to see!

paul bowman said...

Dude. I just got home from work. On the way home, I remembered there were a couple of items I'd been meaning to pick up at HD or Lowes for some considerable time, and tonight I did stop and grab them. What were these items, you're compelled to ask? The items were a 5' length of iron pipe and some assorted hardware — this is true, I am not sh___ing you — for putting up that chin bar I've been promising my buddy, who works out in my folks' garage every week (mostly without, lately, the partner who's supposed to be there to make him feel like Frank Columbo by comparison, namely me), I'd put up soon. On getting home I sat down at my desk directly, still glowing in anticipation of satisfaction that I'll enjoy tomorrow when he shows up and finds I've finally done it ... and proceeded to check in & find out what's been on your mind. — Too strange, my friend.

By the way, he just turned 44 — and I'm afraid he looks really, really good. Years of weight training have taken some toll on joints, but he regularly passes for early 30s, and younger. The secret? I don't mean to speak for him, but try being a chaste, introverted single Christian man who only ever seems to get attention from women you feel, in conscience, you can't date. The tension has to be worked out somewhere. (Having some african-american in your genes can't hurt, either, from what I've observed.)

Whisky Prajer said...

I'm thinking "no kids" probably helps some, too (not that I'm complaining - at 6:00 in the a.m. on a Saturday). Looking very much my age, I'm afraid...

paul bowman said...

I'd take looking my age, with a good marriage & a couple of remarkable kids, any day of the week — again, no sh__.

DarkoV said...

No offense intended toward your friend, but I think we child-raisers have developed those unique muscles only fathers have who've cradled those miracles of nature in the crook of our arms in the wee hours of the morning and the struggling hours of the night.

I'll take on your buddy any day with the assured, make that guarantted, manner that I'll kick his tightly-muscled backside in the child-carrying competition. He probably has no clue on how to change cloth diapers one-handed. The (soiled) gauntlet has been thrown down!

Whisky Prajer said...

"Cloth diapers"?! Even I am trembling, DV.

Peter said...

now I'm a middle-aged guy, sticking to a light weight routine I was taught in high school: five upper-body exercises (curls, reverse curls, upright row, shoulder press, push-ups)

All of these exercises other than the shoulder press are overrated. Curls and reverse curls are okay, but they appeal mainly to teenage showoffs who think big biceps will help them score with girls. Push-ups are fairly good at building endurance but aren't challenging enough for building muscle. And upright rows are notorious for devouring rotator cuffs.

You're much, much better off sticking with multi-joint "compound" exercises. These include the Big Three: bench presses, squats, and deadlifts. Add dips and straight-legged deadlifts, barbell or dumbbell rows (pull-ups work well too), and some sort of abs work, and continue with the shoulder presses. Sticking with the curls is okay if you want. Only a small number of exercises, yet you'll be hitting every major muscle group and building overall strength quite effectively.

paul bowman said...

On unique abilities to be gained from (and on the enviability, in general, of) being a parent, you won't hear any contrary claim from me, DV.

As for my good friend, I surely overdid it a bit in that comment above in the first place, but let me say of him that you won't find too many guys more genuinely respectful of others bearing familial responsibility than he. He treats my dad, for instance, with extraordinary deference, though for familiarity he's been like one of the household for quite a long time.

Lost his own father to heart attack at age 11, and assumed the primary provider role for his mom & younger brothers way too young, not long out of high school. Naturally a comic, light-hearted & congenial in a group, a winning personality — but having got into some things as a young man that still weigh on him heavily as regrets, has lived an almost excessively regimented, socially restrictive life, devoted pretty much to supporting his mom & a brother on a small income and to working out, for years now. He's got the looks to go with the charm and does regularly get a species of compliment from women in his office & so on (and doesn't hesitate to acknowledge it in private!), but that's all he's getting. For better or worse, the self-promoting instinct is severely restrained, or very narrowly channeled at any rate, with him. It's knowing his story & obeying sort of a compensatory impulse against his self-restraint (besides being much endeared to him as a friend), I suppose, that I rather too gleefully draw his image into that comment earlier. Not the seemly thing to do in this context, maybe — for which I apologize. Hopefully this puts it in a better light, in any case.

I'd have doubts about his diaper changing; but, for the record, he's won high praise for managing upwardly mobile 3's & 4's, in herds of a dozen & more, at his suburban electric-worship-experience megachurch's sunday-school (from which he retreats, weekly, like the Wehrmacht from Moscow) for something like fourteen years. As a dad, you'd be the clear favorite in a child-carrying match, but it might not be altogether a cake-walk.  : )

Whisky Prajer said...

Peter - I suspect I was probably on a program similar to the one you recommend, up until a year ago (Chad Waterbury, with some changes). 41 was the year of magical injuries, however. I experienced some tearing in my foot while doing squats, and one of my elbows has let it be known that it will no longer put up with a serious strength training program. "Endurance" is probably the key word for me at this point, so push-ups will probably remain on the list. But I'll dispatch with the upright rows, and throw in some chins and maybe lunges in hopes of giving the rest of my bod a little provocation.

Peter said...

W.P. -
Stories like your are unfortunately quite common. While sometimes I lament the fact that I was a total couch potato until age 45, the upside is that today, rapidly approaching 50, I can engage in fairly heavy lifting and other exercises largely free of pain. It's almost as if each person has only X years of pain-free exercising before the body just can't take it anymore. This means, of course, that the younger you start heavy physical activity, the younger you are when you can't manage it any longer.

Whisky Prajer said...

*choke* "Rapidly approaching 50"?! Reading the numbers on your blog, I assumed you were at least 10 years younger. Talk about an endorsement for a sedentary lifestyle in one's "youth"!

Peter said...

Well thanks, I don't know how many good years I have left but for the time being I'm trying to keep my numbers going up.

One big disadvantage of getting involved in fitness as an adult, which in this context means any time after 25 or 30, is that you're pretty much limited to individual rather than team sports. A recent article in Men's Health magazine noted that 43% of marathon runners in the United States are over age 40. That's wonderful, but I would imagine that the over-40 percentages for people playing in organized baseball or basketball leagues are way down in the single digits, and zero for organized football leagues. Team sports are pretty much restricted to children, adolescents, and (to a limited extent) young adults.

DarkoV said...

Yes, cloth diapers. I believe that's the main reason our kids have grown up to be so bright, beautiful, and content. The nuzzle of the cloth. Well, o.k., that and their mother's wise ways.

Thanks for filling out your friend's personality portfolio; damn, but how harder it is to cast lightweight dispersions now at a person who'd multi-dimensional!

Your friend now sounds like the cheery doppelgänger (if such an apparition can exist) that every married man with kids has, IMHO. You know, he's the guy that you look at and say, "You know if I'd gone down that other fork back in the days when I was at the intersection of 19 an d20, this is the guy I'd be!"

Now, we all know that that is not true, but if we were all to have our alter-egos, you might as well have one that you admire and respect.

And one who stayed in fine physical trim.

Rhea said...

I used to go to a gym twice a week. I gave that up to walk my new dog. Unfortunately, the gym does stuff that walking never will.

Whisky Prajer said...

rhea - I hear you. Still, there are things you get from fresh air and a canine companion that you'll never find in a gym. Hm. Maybe if you integrated a few chin-ups in mid-dogwalk?