Sunday, November 30, 2008

Exercise for Non-exercisers

On most Thursdays at 3 PM at the Family Services waiting room of the Salvation Army at Front Street between Academy and Columbia Streets, I give presentations for those who want the benefits of exercise -- without all the usual reservations people have about adopting such regimens in their daily routines.

My father was one of the first teachers of tai-chi in the US and many of his cohorts were also the masters/adepts of their own discipline and teaching, and so I just naturally grew up watching people exercise who also liked to think and talk about it as a child. And then in my adolescent years, I became involved in more traditional sporting activities -- including weight training/lifting and bodybuilding. Through it, I used to meet some of the great pioneers in this activity, and particularly notable was Arthur Jones, who “revolutionized” the thinking on exercise back in the late ‘60s.

Many of my close personal friends went on to work with him but also fell under the spell his powerful arguments on exercise -- while I took on a more independent route to the ultimate truth on it. At the same time, another powerful commercial success was the books on exercise written by those advocating “aerobics” as all one needed to know on the matter.

What was increasingly obvious to me despite these two successful commercial paradigms on exercise, was that it either eliminated participation from those willing to try them, or caused many to not even consider them because the threshold required was too high for a beginner or one so poorly out of shape to enjoy.

In fact, potential exercisers were usually advised that if there was no pain, there was no point in doing it -- rather than the acknowledgment that the pain and strain, were the problems. Since constant irrecoverable injuries were the result of my own ambitious workouts, I became intrigued with the idea and notion of the ultimate heresy in exercise, “Could there be an easier, painless way to achieve the benefits -- while avoiding and eliminating everything one didn’t like about exercise.”

While recovering and taking time off from the roller-coaster involvement of either too much exercise or an enforced rehabilitation from it, circumstances brought me into an awareness and involvement with the elderly and terminally ill, and with my background and interest, wondered if there were ways even the most “hopeless” could exercise and strengthen themselves back to health -- even if every traditional advocate had proclaimed them beyond hope.

So rather than continuing down the conventional path of devising ways to make exercise “harder,” I explored the absurd notion of how “easy” and truly “foolproof and unavoidable” one could make it. The “easiest” thing to do went counter to the belief that the value of exercise was in the necessity to exercise the “core” muscles of the body, which are its largest -- and to consider whether moving the smallest muscles (fine-motor coordination) could be the key to recovery if that was all that was possible.

That led to my great observation and insight that the primary function of any muscle is to recruit a larger, stronger muscle in achieving its ends -- and so if one started in this direction, it would recruit the entirety of the musculature while exercising the largest muscles first and primarily, would not -- because there were no larger muscles to recruit.

Much of what we do and accomplish in life is achieved in that manner -- of doing the smallest things first, or attention to detail -- and that fastidious attention to detail, is the basis and foundation for which great and large things can be accomplished -- and not just by having a great ambition at the start, and never figuring out the details of how one even achieves the smallest task.

Great advances in any field occur when one finally questions that which nobody thinks can be questioned -- and which everybody, especially the “experts,” all assume must be true, and merely repeat those believes as though simply repeating them makes them true. That is also true in any field of inquiry and ultimate greater mastery -- and for anybody embarking on any lifelong activity in their lives, that is what sustains their interest and involvement -- that it becomes their primary experience of developing this awareness and possibility of self-discovery.

Cindy Riley, manager of the homeless shelter and family services (food bank, etc.) at the Salvation Army, was desperately searching for such answers to her own health issues and so was extremely receptive, if not desperate, for a way that would work, when everything else one was told should work, did not. After a week’s intensive of five minutes a day with miraculous results in feeling, functioning and presence, she recommended such a regimen to everyone else she met, and suggested I share these insights with those at the Salvation Army who needed such strength and health to enable them to help others, as well as for clients of the Salvation Army who could benefit from an insidious program of exercise for non-exercisers.

The presentation/instruction is open to anyone who can make it to the Salem (Oregon) venue -- from the least able, to world-class athletes or masters/adepts of their own discipline. It is an inquiry, discussion and observation into the simple truths of the matter -- that make a diference -- by the pioneer in this field.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What One Thing Implies the Rest?

When I first encountered Alzheimer’s and dementias in the ‘80s when it became the epidemic condition of aging, I was struck by the unresponsiveness of such people, particularly since there seemed to be nothing otherwise wrong with them. And that is the perplexing challenge of that condition -- that the brain seems disconnected from every other functioning of that individual, so that it was impossible to have any clue and interaction with such an individual anymore.

It was very obvious to me that if there was any one thing worthwhile for them to do, it would be to retain that expressiveness until it was absolutely impossible -- yet by doing so, they never lost it, but increased that ability of expressiveness.

The remarkable realization was noticing that the maintenance of that range at the extremities of expression, required and activated the support of the large muscles designed for that function of providing base stability, support and empowerment.

One is familiar with the impressive physical development of those who for a brief time in their lives, devote themselves dedicatedly and wholly, if not exclusively, to finding out what is the greatest development possible for them to achieve. That is a healthy and healthful impulse that unfortunately becomes corrupted by the competition for great commercial and professional success afforded to only a few -- which means competing by some standard not determined solely by one’s own best potential., unless one just is that genetic freak with that potential.

All others will be consumed by their failure to achieve that singular success -- and fail to appreciate their own great accomplishment. The approval and approbation of anyone else, or even everyone else, is never the best reason and motivation for doing anything. The highest achievement is to set one’s own standards -- and exceed them always.

‘The traditional measure has been increasing the workload or resistance, rather than the much simpler and more meaningful increase in the range of one’s movement -- that tends to deteriorate with greater resistance. Inversely, the range and form of that movement, is greatest when there is no resistance to achieving it.
But the beauty of this realization, is noting that the muscle achieving this greatest range of motion, also achieves its greatest contraction, which is the ultimate expression of each muscle -- and not any other measurement.

That is seldom even thought, or supsected, in the preoccupation with lifting the weight, throwing the ball, or running many laps -- but assuredly, it is that which is the greatest achievement and significance any muscle can be conditioned to achieve.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What 5% of the Effort (Work), Will Give One 95% of the Results?

Most people would find such a return on their efforts to be exceedingly attractive, and if it could be accomplished, they would be regarded as one of the most successful who ever walked the earth. Most people’s results, or return, is much lower, and for those at the bottom, life and everything they do is a crapshoot, leading them to remark that unfavorable outcomes “just happen,” and good fortune and consequences, are equally random and illusory.

However, the most successful in any endeavor, are those who are most successful at getting 95% of the favorable outcome with only 5% of the effort most people think they have to put out to achieve that 95% -- usually with the mistaken notion that the reason they have to put out 110%, is because they don’t know which of the 5% they are getting in return.

This manner of behavior and strategy are employed by other successful specimens in the animal kingdom as the conservation of energy -- and so before taking off after every jackrabbit that catches their eye, they do quick calculations as to the probabilities of their success, or they would quickly exhaust themselves in a dwindling prospect for success.

As humans, we pride ourselves on this learning (conditioning) as the maturation process -- that we don’t go up to every hulking dominant figure and kick sand in their face, thinking that is the way to get to the top -- instead of getting beaten to to pulp, and wondering what happened?

There is a saying among meticulous coaches who correct, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect.” The rest we do hoping to achieve that perfection -- but it is not the work alone that distinguishes that, and that is the critical point that is missed by those participating unsuccessfully at everything.

The secret to doing anything well (successfully), is finding out what that simple difference is that makes a difference -- and not all that can be learned, signifying very little. That is the value of a good teacher and coach -- and not all those merely claiming to be certified, usually from some bogus organization that exists only to sell their certificates to those who don’t know any better, and are easily impressed by such things.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Value of Conditioning -- and the Meaning of Fitness

The Problem of the Bodybuilders:

If one agrees that the great healthful effect of exercise is the optimization of the circulatory effect, and that is best achieved by mimicking the heart function’s alternation of full contraction with a full relaxation by the voluntary (skeletal) muscles of the body, the the problem of bodybuilding exercises and the bodybuilding effect, is that the relaxation phase is not effected well, and neither for that matter, is the fullest contraction.

In fact, the pumping up of a muscle, is an indication that the flow is being impeded -- not in the flow to, but in the flow from that muscle pumped up -- which is obviously constricting the flow out of that area. The inevitable result of that manner of working (out), is that it will produce the “muscle failure” frequently attributed to exercising “anaerobically.” which means, without an oxygen flow, which is also the effective removal of the waste products produced with the release of energy (the breakdown of muscle cells).

Under most normal operating conditions, muscle failure is never desired because one wants to retain their capacity to respond at all times. That would happen if the product of one’s work, was to increase one’s capacity to sustain that work -- which is the aerobic effect. That is, one desires to row a boat in such a manner, that they increase their ability to sustain that effort practically indefinitely and even get stronger doing so -- while also maintaining (building) a reserve for an extraordinary effort that might be required to meet some unanticipated challenge or encounter.

That would be providing and ensuring one’s “fitness” for an appropriate response that is the “survival of the fittest.” In the bodybuilding manner of training, this attainment of muscle failure is unique -- because in no other conditioning activity, would that be desirable. Also, the distinctive non-relaxation postures maintained even in their “relaxed” conditions, predispose that muscle failure through fatigue and exhaustion.

That is often one’s first impression on encountering bodybuilders -- that they never relax, but remain hypertensed, because their relaxation, would be most other people’s contracted. Obviously the maintenance of constant contraction and tension throughout one’s entire waking hours, is vary stressful and damaging to the long-term maintenance of one’s body systems that require rest and recuperation.

The far more compelling picture of health, would be for an extremely relaxed person to be able to momentarily achieve an impressive degree of contraction that is striking in its transformative impact. Those are the individuals who are a lot more impressive than those bodybuilders who don’t seem to change much from relaxation to contraction -- because they are virtually always in a state of contraction, whether they realize and admit it or not.

The truly healthful conditioning, is to be able to effect the fullest relaxation alternated with the fullest contraction -- as the greatest indication of that individual’s ability to effect change in their own bodies and lives. That conditioning and outlook, would ensure one’s appropriate response to all conditions and challenges -- rather than always being the same way, no matter what is required to respond appropriately -- whether that is always too relaxed (flaccid), or too tense (contracted).

Proper conditioning, is not one state all the time -- but the ability to attain the fullest range of possibilities, as is appropriate to the actual situation and requirements. That is the value of conditioning -- and the meaning of fitness.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Freedom From the Machines

The problem with exercise machines, is that they generally increase the resistance through the range of movement in which the muscle is not fully contracted -- or in a position of its greatest structural integrity -- precluding the possibility of a maximum contraction.

Because of the intelligence and evolution of natural design, the body will ONLY allow a maximum (powerful) contraction (release of force) in a position in which it is safe to do so --or it risks the inevitability of injury, to provide such a powerful explosiveness when the body is in its most vulnerable positions.

Classic examples of injury producing positions are to place a very heavy load on a knee in the full squat position and then try to move out of that position. The violence of such a powerful contraction in the knee’s most vulnerable position risks -- or ensures damaging the knees, or is so hurtful and painful to many, that they won’t even consider such movements.

Yet most exercise machines supposedly working or developing the leg muscle structures, absolutely demand such movement. In designing equipment counterintuitive to the natural intelligence, design and evolution of such structures, naturally the individual will rebel and rightfully question such actions -- as a sign of their intelligence and awareness of one thing being related to everything else, and their knowledge of the general principles of underlying realities.

So to the question, what kind of machine will produce the greatest resistance in the proper position it is safe to do so? -- the answer is that no machine is necessary, or possible to achieve that peak contraction. Another example of this point is the commonly designed bench press machine, in which while lying on a bench, the individual straightens his arm directly in front of him (while lifting a weight) -- as though in doing so, that required the chest and arm muscles to fully contract.

However, once in the presumed “finished” position while holding no weight, it is difficult to discern any required muscle contraction to hold that position -- and in fact, the muscles can be quite relaxed while holding that position. But when one moves the straightened arm towards the shoulder of the opposite side, that movement then requires the contracting of the chest, shoulder and arms muscles to effect -- which is simultaneously powerfully resisted by the mass of the muscle that is already there. Attempting to move further in the completion of the movement of the elbow towards the opposite shoulder, meets a natural resistance that cannot be overcome.

In like manner, a similar effective movement can be designed to achieve the greatest contraction possible for any muscle of the body -- and the addition of any machine to do so, is always counterproductive to that objective and clarity of purpose.

Most of the muscles in the body have never been taught how to achieve maximum contraction -- which is the very powerful transformative effect of muscles -- no matter what condition one is presently used to being in. But all that can change momentarily -- if one is clear about that purpose, and even the possibility.

When do we learn to do that? Most don’t, and so are powerless to change, and to effect changes, and think merely going through the motions, has some kind of magical, mystical powers.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Problem with Exercise Programs...

Is that they take up too much time, energy and other resources -- so as to create a barrier for everyone desiring optimal health -- without first having to join a gym, hire a personal trainer, and buy into everything the health or health care professionals are selling.

It often begins innocently enough with a physical education teacher convincing his students that unless they run a mile a day or otherwise exercise an hour a day 3 or 4 times a week, it won’t do them any good. and so thinking that, fall into the hopeless despair of thinking there is nothing they can do because the minimal effort required, is prohibitive.

It would seem to be that an intelligent public health approach would be to find the minimal effort that would put everybody into the game -- rather than keeping them passive outsiders as television watchers.

That would seem to be a very logical and intelligent way of including everyone in the national health effort -- rather than disqualifying most at the outset, from even seriously considering it. And surely, the viable life of the future absolutely requires it -- with decreasing demands for rigorous work and efforts to ensure that vitality -- in the familiar and traditional manner.

However, those traditional demands, were not necessarily the best way of fulfilling the body’s requirements for healthful movement and activities. In an era not requiring traditional activities of "hard work," humans are now free to design whatever optimal movements they can understand to optimize their functioning and well-being, and so that would be less likely to be those that have traditionally characterized fitness.

The most frequent mention of exercise for those not in the habit of doing it, is walking, which is a very imperfect and imprecise way of obtaining the greatest health benefits of activating the over 600 different muscles in the body, and ensuring their involvement and articulation. Walking is so imprecise an activity, that one is hard-pressed to say what muscles are actually engaged, and to what extent.

Running is not that much better -- at producing the desired effect of putting oneself in the condition one wants to be in -- directly, effectively, and obviously. For that, we have to go to the sport of bodybuilding to obtain our greatest insights of that possibility.

In fact, bodybuilders, both men and women, are so effective at producing prodigious developments, that many people’s immediate reactions, is to want not to achieve such freakish developments -- while overlooking the desirability of just achieving normal from their appallingly gross and obvious out of shape conditions.

It would be like every person declaiming the need for learning by rejecting their desire to become Einstein -- as though such a thing were possible to every average person. If they could just function as an average thinking person, that would already be a huge contribution to human progress.