Friday, October 28, 2005

Is Anything Better Than Nothing?

How you move, is more important than how much you move. Many people who are terribly out of shape, actually expend many more calories than those who are sedentary or world-class athletes, many who have such efficient metabolic systems that they eat very little -- and also expend very little energy.

Because of the quantitative orientation imposed by medical and scientific people, what they fail to notice is that the difference between the world’s best and the worst, is not how much, but how. Those who move around most gracefully, effortlessly and efficiently are your world’s champion at that event; those who labor hardest at that event, are likely to be the least suited for that event -- and lack that economy of movement that those gifted for that event was born with.

That’s the level of natural selection taking place in every sport (activity) these days -- that is open to universal participation. One has to be a genetic freak to be the champion -- among a lot of other genetic freaks. No longer can one expect to go far just randomly picking the event they’d like to be the best at, and going for it. Everyone is not born with equal talent and ability. Somebody will be born with virtually all the talent and abilities for that event; who that is, nobody knows until they’re all brought together, for the contest. Quite often, if one is so far ahead of the pack, the judges and officials will not be prepared for such abilities that are unprecedented -- and may regard them as illegal or cheating.

The significance of this for the fitness participant is the realization that the condition they’re in, is not produced by the lack of proper movement but also the reinforcement of movements that cause the body to take on the appearance of inefficiency and bloat. The body is ultimately a reflection of one’s activities -- good or bad, and that’s why, one wants to practice the good, and eliminate the bad. Doing more of bad movements, reinforces their present condition, and exacerbates it. Just doing anything is not necessarily better than doing nothing at all. One may be destroying their body -- rather than just allowing it the rest it needs to recover from the abuse one puts on it, engaging in improper activities or movements.

There’s a reason people come down with injuries or illnesses. Most think that they have no input into that causation -- when behavior is always a major component of outcomes. Bad things don’t just happen; more often than not, it is caused, or at least predisposed. If one hangs around bandits, one is much more likely to be a victim of crime. If one moves around like a fat person, one will likely look like a fat person. If one moves like a ballerina, one is likely to look like one; conversely, the ballerina who moves like a fat person, is likely to look that way eventually.

And that is what one sees on the jogging trails or stair steppers -- people reinforcing bad movement, limited range movements, rather than the full, graceful articulation of the joints of the extremities, particularly. Although the casual observer is most impressed by the range of movement at the torso, most of the well-trained eyes will note, the best of the world’s greatest dancers, could have performed Swan Lake, entirely with their hands, and mesmerized their audience.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What You See is What There Is

The idea that the effectiveness of exercise and conditioning efforts, is not readily, immediately, visibly, and experientially apparent is the most damaging concept introduced into the field of exercise in the last forty years. The reason for that break was not a scientific necessity but a commercial consideration -- of being able to sell measuring devices, such as heart rate monitors, and body immersion sessions. Thus, the measurement of change and effectiveness, became rocket science -- rather than simple enhanced well being and appearance -- as it had been for many centuries before.

In the early 20th century, exercise sessions consisted of instruction on how to hold the body erect and walk properly -- a recognition that change was readily, immediately, visibly and experientially apparent. Many people’s appearance can be drastically enhanced just in realizing that they can hold their body differently -- just as the performance artists do. Doctors seldom think about it, but their first assessment of a person’s health is this visual examination -- “Does this person look healthy?” If they do, the chances are greatly in favor that they are healthy, and conversely, if the appearance is less than robust, there is cause to discover what might be the problem.

But in the fragmented world of contemporary life, we are often convinced that nothing has any relationship to any other thing, and that randomly, good or bad health can affect anyone equally. While that makes good television and melodrama, the fact of the matter is that people who look very healthy are likely to be so, and those who don’t look in top condition, are more likely to have an clinical problem.

Most non-participants don’t realize that a performance-artist looks very different on stage than they do offstage. In the case of competitive bodybuilders, many people have never seen them, and they will not allow themselves to be seen, without every muscle flexed to the max -- often while denying that is so. Another exaggeration of this difference is seen in women gymnastics -- in which little girls are instantly transformed into confident divas -- commencing with their march to the platform.

More aestethic sensibilities prefer the extremely muscular physique in repose -- as a supreme statement of human attainment. They were poses, or postures assumed by those skilled at effecting them. Most people are not aware they have a similar ability to effect a fairly drastic change in their appearance instantaneously -- if they only knew how. That ability to effect a momentary change is more than 50% of one’s change in appearance -- as much or more than a permanent change in body composition.

For the person with a poor self-image, the notion of presenting a confident appearance seems preposterously self-conscious and unnatural. But it is no more unnatural than a poor posture indicating a poor self-regard. So in the movements one performs and the postures one attains, it is with the intent of making the movement and position, familiar and natural.

That is what conditioning does. It makes that which seems unfamiliar and unnatural, second-nature. Understanding this process and strategy, accelerates the results.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The One-Minute Workout

No matter how brief, simple and easy one makes it, there will always be those so resistant to exercise and conditioning activities, that they will demand that it be even less. With that thought in mind -- for all those too busy to do anything else other than what they are already doing, this is the one-minute, if-you-do-nothing-else program. And if one does nothing else, with this, one will notice significant improvements in health, appearance, and functioning. It would be this:

Upon awakening each morning, while lying on one’s back, raise the knees towards the chest with legs bent at the knees and ankles crossed. Then grasp the lower part of one’s legs with arms and hands to hold that position, as the head moves forward naturally. Hold that position for one minute -- with an awareness of how that position causes the contraction of the stomach muscles. While holding that position, note the changes in muscular contraction just in breathing -- as naturally and effortlessly as possible -- letting air move only through one’s nose.

In this simple exercise, there is no limit to how good one can become at it. Only in this position, is it possible to achieve maximal muscular contraction of ALL the muscles of the body. This is the position of ultimate muscle contraction. It is the very familiar fetal position -- which is obviously the position of strength as well as growth for the human organism. But rather than being a retreat and withdrawal from the world, as often encountered in despondent and dysfunctional individuals, it can be, by intelligent and deliberate design, transformed into the ultimate movement (posture) for growth and improvement. It is that simple.

While the basic fetal position is suggestive as the model for this posture -- it doesn’t take it far enough -- in the direction of complete, ultimate and maximal contraction uniquely possible in this position.

What most people don’t realize is that muscle states -- of contraction and relaxation -- is not determined by effort or resistance, but simply in knowing what positions the body part has to be in for the muscle to be maximally contracted or relaxed. The muscle really doesn’t care whether it took a lot of effort or resistance to achieve that position. Once one realizes what position the body part has to be in for the muscle to be in contraction, one doesn’t have to create an apparatus to assist him in getting into that position (or make it more difficult). It is simply the natural range of motion -- accessible at any time, under any conditions, once one is aware of it. That is something which is not normally taught -- or learned by most, no matter how long they live, and all that they do.

Obese people will have difficulty accessing those extreme ranges because the mass of their own body makes it difficult or prohibitive. But simply moving into that range as much is possible, causes a contraction (making smaller) that ultimately becomes the more normal appearance and function of that muscle.

The position, posture, movement described, perfected one minute each day, as soon as awakening, will result in the most dramatic transformation possible.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Survival of the Fitness

Every so often, one sees a body that is so unusually out of shape, that the usual talk about exercise and its value, does not even begin to address the situation. The body seems to have become entirely disconnected from the mind, itself, and everything else. It’s just a mass that one marvels at how it can move around -- in its flaccid condition. And one wonders, doesn’t this person realize that something is grossly wrong -- and how could a seemingly rational and otherwise intelligent person look that way? What goes through the minds of everybody else around them? The reaction and responses to people in such condition are obviously prejudiced and distorted. The impact is too great to ignore. Their condition has become a huge handicap for them -- and nobody in their lives dares breach that subject with them again. They have reached the point of no return.

Some people claim it is the natural process of age -- as their excuse. But not every person of advanced years is in that condition. And there are young people who are afflicted in that way also. The body language is that there is no possibility for change, and thus, for improvement, because improvement requires change; to stay the same is already catastrophic, and the fear and inevitable, is that the condition deteriorates even further. One doesn’t even want to project into that further possibility. One wonders however, what is the culture and environment that supports such deterioration and dysfunction?

If one learns nothing more about exercise, it should be that the essential organ of the will to change, is the muscle. It is that tissue and its interconnectedness, by which one can do anything, effect changes, produce movement -- willfully. One doesn’t have to run a marathon to convince that one is capable of doing so -- if the body seems capable of doing so from its evidence of command in essential body language and communication.

What would be a shocking revelation to many, is the realization that a healthy body is integral to the healthy, fully-functioning mind -- that the powerful mind must be contained in a powerful body, and vice versa. It is extremely rare to find a highly developed body without a highly developed mind -- while a highly developed mind without a supporting competent appearance, undermines the confidence in that person’s overall abilities. Anything less, conveys an imbalanced weakness and vulnerability. When one is the “total package,” a completely and fully developed human being, opponents do not know where to strike for a vulnerability and quick advantage they can further exploit.

But such a poorly out of shape person would be at everybody’s mercy, and the obvious target for all the other players -- as the weakest link in every forum and human activity. They don’t have to be physically picked on; the psychological effect is the same. They don’t have the ability to react, to respond, to be an active, moving target for such taunts, verbal or otherwise. They are the proverbial human punching bags. They can only stand there and take it; they are at the mercy of everybody else. It does not bode well for one’s prosperity and success in life.

Fitness is the power to change -- all one’s life. That is the survival of the fitness. It’s more important, the older one gets -- not less important. It just doesn’t have to be the onerous task, that many have been conditioned to think it has to be.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Game Theory: Encountering the Unfamiliar (Enemy)

Attack an opponent’s weakness -- and not their strength.
Make the opponent attack your strength -- thinking it is your weakness.
Allow the opponent’s weakness, to nullify and overcome their own strength.

To determine an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, do not try to change them -- but allow them full play to express themselves and display their extent and capacity.

If an opponent is cruel and ruthless, do not give them lectures on compassion and humility and expect honor from them -- but allow that observation to justify the extraordinary and decisive measures one must take in defeating that opponent.

Right action springs automatically from right understanding, and right perception. Right perception is clearest when the mind is empty of pre-existent thoughts -- and only the senses provide input and information for the right action in that moment. “Winning” and “losing” is a preoccupied mind -- incapable of perceiving fully and clearly -- a mind already lost in its own thoughts and ambitions. There should only be perceiving -- without the self. That is being one with the universe.

The strongest position is having “nothing to lose.” The weakest position is thinking one “can lose everything.” He who loses his self, gains this vital life force.

The more skillful the action, the less is needed. One should train to be skillful -- and not tireless in effort.

In a world in which there is universal participation, there is the possibility that there is one there, who may be the greatest master of that art. Do not reflexively presume that one is of superior ability and understanding. Look for one that might know more than all the others put together. That is the nature of superior understanding -- it subsumes all the others. Vain people, thinking they are the limits of understanding, assume a different understanding to be less -- and not that it is vastly more and beyond their comprehension. They will insist that the greater, must be contained and fit into the lesser -- their limited understanding.

That which is taught -- is only the limits of the teacher’s understanding -- and not the ultimate limits of understanding. The teachers who do not recognize this difference, have little understanding. All they know, is what somebody else taught them; they have never taught themselves anything -- and therefore, are not the masters of what they know. They are only people pretending to know.

The smartest person in the room, doesn’t feel the need to prove it; the stupidest person in the room, thinks that is why everybody is there.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Things that make you go, “Huh?”

A standard boilerplate justification for exercise is that it is good for the heart -- as though that was a variable rather than a constant. Heart function is not optional -- in any living animal. It is a hardwired constant. Those who have studied animals across many species, have even noted the not surprising fact that every species seems to have a heart that has about the same finite number of beats over a lifetime. The faster the heart beat, the shorter the life; conversely, the slower the heart beats, the longer the life -- as is borne out by the tortoise, elephants, animals of a slow disposition. The shrew on the other hand, has a heart rate of 1,000 a minute and lives a year. It also burns inordinately greater amounts of energy than most.

Intuitively, what would the lesson be for one interested in a longer life (recognizing that sheer longevity is no guarantee of quality of existence)? Well-conditioned athletes generally have a lower heart rate than less aerobically efficient others. Yet the “target heart rate” mantra, takes nothing into account except one’s arbitrary age in calculating an ideal target -- for everyone! Obviously that can’t be meaningful when the difference between the most aerobically efficient 50 year old and the least aerobically efficient 50 year old, varies more greatly than the most aerobically efficient 50 year old does from the most aerobically efficient 20 year old. The “target heart rate,” was nothing more than arbitrary conjecture and formula that captured the fancy of a public that had no idea or sensibility on the subject of exercise.

Champion athletes do not try to increase their heart rates, sweating, and energy expenditure; they try to do the opposite -- lower their heart rates, increase their composure and tranquility, and make no movement that is unnecessary. That is what is striking in the athletically gifted; they make no movement unless it is absolutely necessary. They do not waste energy; they rest as much as they can -- until the right moment of unleashing all their power in a very focused effort.

People of great efficiency and skill in any field, do the same. The skilled brain surgeon is not hacking away at everything within his reach, as though simply more was better. In golf, bowling, tennis, the fewer attempts indicate greater competence. There is no event in which it would be favorable to elevate one’s heart rate and energy expenditure arbitrarily -- to improve one’s performance. Those would invariably be negatives to optimal functioning -- and optimal functioning is what fitness is all about. That’s what all fit people recognize as self-evident truth.

Meanwhile, most of the people who have these arbitrary notions about exercise, usually have no idea what they are really talking about, and have the results to show for it. Meaningful and obviously favorable results -- would be obvious and apparent -- and not only detectable with precision measuring devices in a special laboratory somewhere. That is the kind of results most are hoping for. Not to have that kind of obviously and easily verifiable reality, should tell one something. Otherwise, all one is doing is deceiving themselves.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Biking Basics

As people get older and have trouble with their feet, knees, hips, back -- it’s actually more comfortable for them to move around on a bicycle than it is even to walk. But it’s difficult to convince people of that -- because that’s a lot like responding, “If you can’t walk, you should run.” Biking is easier than walking -- and why it should be preferable even to walking as a basic movement activity.

The ideally fitted bike distributes the weight equally on the hands, feet and seat -- and these days, the standard state-of-the-art bike, has shock absorbers for the hands and the seat. That’s using modern technology to enhance the design of the human body. Just standing, alone, is punishing for many people -- and a major relief is obtained by breaking the straight line of the body by moving the knees toward the torso, as one does in pedaling.

Leonardo da Vinci had drawings of bicycles as the basic propulsion for his flying machines. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Wright Brothers, credited with developing the airplane, were similarly bicycle mechanics. So rather than being a primitive device, the bicycle is really the state-of-the-art in human movement efficiency rather than merely a toy for children.

Most people who bike regularly, don’t do so primarily for fitness considerations; they’re usually just fit and so don’t have to give it further thought. Contrary to a lot of popular myths on effective exercise, frequency is more important than duration of activity. That observation seems to hold true of virtually any activity that conveys benefit -- frequency is more significant than duration.

That is to say, if one just gets started, you don’t have to worry about the rest of the journey; that creates its own momentum and eventually a life of its own. It is often the case, that one of anything is all one needs, and one is not better off with a hundred more.

If one could get themselves to exercise five minutes each day, it would be far more beneficial than 35 minutes once a week. In that five minutes, a lot can be accomplished. Some people could run a mile in that time. And if one could run a mile in five minutes, very few exercise experts would argue that such a person was not fit enough because he still needed to run 30 more minutes. He could probably do whatever he wanted to do -- if he really wanted to do it, or more.

One does not have to "prove" their fitness daily to be fit. In fact, most experienced bike riders recognize that riding fast requires less skill than riding slowly -- and those who seem to have a particularly slow pace, have developed it riding across the continent.

In achieving that feat, the last thing they’d want to do is raise their heart beat and energy expenditure as high as possible -- arbitrarily. The challenges of the terrain and traffic would provide enough such challenges. And always, they’d want to hold back a little in reserve for the extraordinary that surely lay ahead -- and if it doesn’t arise, so much the better.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bicycle sales boom in US amid rising gas prices

Sat Oct 1, 9:14 AM ET

More bicycles than cars have been sold in the United States over the past 12 months, with rising gas prices prompting commuters to opt for two wheels instead of four.

Not since the oil crisis of 1973 have bicycles sold in such big numbers, according to Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, an industry association.

"Bicycle sales are near an all-time high with 19 million sold last year -- close to the 20 million sold during the oil embargo in the early 1970s," said Blumenthal, whose association is based in Boulder in the western state of Colorado.

The US Chamber of Commerce says more bicycles have been sold than cars over the past 12 months.

In a country where most of the population still relies heavily on cars, some 87 million people have climbed on a bike in the past 12 months, Blumenthal said.

While less than car sales, bike sales generate about five to six billion dollars of business a year, he said.

Bicycles are back mainly because the sharp increase in gas prices has made them a practical alternative, said Paul Gaiser, owner of Scooter Commuter in Bethesda, Maryland.

"Above all it's the higher price of gas, but also it's concern for the environment and the cost of another car," Gaiser told AFP.

The average price of gas in the United States has increased 47.3 percent in a year, according to figures published last week by the American Automobile Association.

Gaiser believes the bicycle trend is no passing fad.

"Our sales have quadrupled in the last two months," he said. "I think it's a major paradigm shift. It's here to stay."

Cyclists on the streets of the US capital agreed.

"I bought my first bike six months ago to go to college. I could not do without it. It's faster in traffic and less expensive," said Erik Lubell, a student at George Washington University wearing a multi-colored helmet.

Near the affluent district of Georgetown, Stella Hardwood said she had a different motivation.

"I don't want to put on weight and my bike forces me to exercise," Hardwood said.

The superstar status of cycling champion Lance Armstrong, who has won the Tour de France seven times, has also helped spark interest in the sport.

The US government has also done its part to promote a more bicycle-friendly environment. Some 3.5 million dollars in federal money has been set aside to create cycling trails over the next four years.