27 January, 2015

Lifting myself

I lift myself up a lot. I lift myself from my chair and bed onto my feet several times a day, of course, but I do a lot more than that. I lift myself from the ground using my hands, or only my feet. I lift myself up to a bar using nothing but my hands. I even lift most of myself using only my back muscles.

For 30 minutes a day, I lift myself in the most difficult way I can. When it gets easy, I intentionally make it harder. I lift myself using just one foot. Or I lean more of my weight onto my hands. I'm only just getting to where I can lift my whole mass up to a pull-up bar, but someday I'll need to make that harder. And when the day comes, I have several strategies, ready-made.

The thing is, the more and harder ways I find to lift myself, the better my body becomes at doing it - and the better I become at being me. I think I've probably already written a piece somewhere about how exercise makes me better at being a social creature, so I don't have to write that now. Today, I just want to write about making my body better at doing body stuff. Over the last three years, I've been amazed at watching what I've made better and worse by pushing myself physically.

I'm all-in on doing this until the day I die. It may be the most consistently exciting 30 minutes of my day. I mean that. I always resisted exercise, but I love doing this.

First, let me talk about the things I've made worse. I'm pushing this thing, but there are concerns.
  • Repetitive Stress Tendon Injuries
    I started doing this at age 47, and was pleasantly surprised how much I could do and how quickly I became able to do more. I read all the warnings about letting the tendons develop, and I understood them. I still didn't let my tendons develop, and I repeatedly injured them. I'm continually re-realizing how very weak my tendons had become, and how much more slowly I need to progress through levels of difficulty. Not less than 6 weeks after a mild tendon injury can I begin testing that tendon again. If I stop immediately upon noticing an issue developing, I can get back into the game after a 2 weeks rest, but I keep trying to pretend nothing's wrong. In my youth I played through injuries. With each new injury I learn again I must always let tendons heal, and I'm actually getting better about it.
  • Adrenal Fatigue
    This one is no joke. Almost a year ago I began to notice I was tiring sooner while working. I kept pushing, and even pushing harder. I especially applied this thinking to my 30 minutes of lifting. I imagined I was growing weaker, and only work would reverse that trend. Wrong. My body was slowly shutting down and trying its best to warn me, but I interpreted its messages incorrectly. By May of 2014, any hard work would drain me completely, to the point I could hardly think straight or even stay awake. In June I took a little swim out into the ocean and very suddenly was so drained I wasn't sure I'd make it back. 8 months later, I'm pretty sure I'm beginning to make a recovery. Pushing myself when my body was crying for rest was a bad, bad mistake. After this year, I might even avoid making it again. Time will tell.
Spending months recovering from troubling adrenal exhaustion while simultaneously nursing strained tendons is a small price to pay for the benefits I feel from training my body to do all it can do. I'm genuinely not sure whether I'll make those two mistakes again, or how often, but it's worth the risk. I'm still all-in on this stuff.

Everything in my world weighs about half what it did three years ago. I used to have to rest after carrying my 70 pound tennis ball machine to the courts. Today, I set it up and go. I used to have to plan a day before to make sure I had energy for setting things up at church. No more. I bring the groceries in with the same number of loads, but now I don't wish I hadn't carried so much. I can weed the yard now, without regretting it for days afterward.

More importantly, to me, I'm smarter and less afraid about almost everything. I've hit my limits several times every week, so I know what I cannot do and what I can. I used to say, "Sure!" when presented with an opportunity to do something beyond my limits. I did it easily last time. (Yeah, twenty years ago.) I would go out, and sure enough do it just like twenty years ago, but then I'd be sore for weeks. Now, when presented with the same opportunity, I know for a fact whether I can do it and whether I'll suffer for my decision. That knowledge makes my yes's and my no's confident. I value that.

Here's a high level record of what I'm doing these days
  • I work on balance almost every day
    Two years ago I learned I really couldn't stand long on one foot, no matter how hard I tried. The progress comes glacially, but it comes. Over the course of a month I see almost no difference, but somehow over two years it's made a real difference. I can now stand on one foot with my eyes closed or walk a slackline. Since falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injury in the aged, I can't ever imagine stopping this effort.
  • I work on strength about 3/4 of all days
    The benefits are wide-reaching. I work pushing, pulling, standing, forward, and backward strength, and am learning to skip sessions when I need to.
  • I work my aerobic capacity 2-3 days a week
    I sprint in 6 foot wide figure eights, followed by pushups, then half squats, all in succession and as quickly as I can. The net effect is to drive my heart rate and breathing up somewhere near (but not to) my max.
  • I work flexibility a little bit each day
    I'm not really getting any more flexible, but moving to the limits of my mobility keeps those limits as comfortable as possible.
  • I never jog
    Everything I do is sprint-like. Nothing in my life requires me to keep my heart rate at 70% for hours, so why train myself to be able to do so? People jog, treadmill, stair step to build an ability I never personally use, so I don't copy them.
The experts to whom I choose to listen say I'm doing it right, but this is the 21st century. There are experts out there everywhere saying jogging, boot camps, power yoga, bicycling, weight lifting, martial arts, rock climbing, gym membership, massage, swimming, rowing, crawling, or any other thing is the perfect thing. What I'm training matches up well with what I do. It's just the usual stuff I do every day, taken to a useful and fun extreme.

Paul tells me bodily exercise profits little, by which he means it only helps one part of me and only for these brief 70 years. I can accept that. But I'd just as soon these last 20 years I have here be useful. I'll keep doing what I'm doing.

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