Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rings by the Lake

Last weekend my girlfriend and I got away to Lake Almanor for some R & R.  But we got a little cabin fever and decided to take the rings out for a spin down by the lake.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fitness Is...


What’s yours for?

You’ve heard the phrase: life’s a marathon not a sprint.  While I like the idea of encouraging the long view, I think framing life this way can be misleading.  First, completing a marathon implies a set distance that you must travel, when in actuality we have no idea how long we will live.  Second, it necessitates picking a pace you can hold over the entire race, which, for most people, means slowing down when they really need to be speeding up.  Most importantly, a life lived at an unwavering, marathon-like pace sounds about as fun as having a root canal.  I’m not saying consistency is a bad thing, but we ought to think of life more like a walkabout, where our pace is determined by ability and preference, rather than necessity.  We sprint, jog, or walk at intervals determined by choice and circumstance.  This way the chief aim isn’t merely to finish the race intact, but to continue to race as long as we want to. 

On its face, I find it hard to believe most would argue with this reasoning, but after observing common social behavior, I wonder how fully it is grasped.  Some people walk around avoiding everything remotely injurious, carrying Purel in their purses and always taking elevators.  Others are jumping off of satellites and doing double back flips on motorcycles.  Still others appear indifferent one way or the other, apparently unconscious of their own physical existence.  So, why the disparity?  If everyone wants to continuing living as long and enjoyably as possible, why the disconnect in their choices of action? 

It dawned on me that there must be a fundamental difference in the way people think about their bodies, and that it’s this difference that underlies the discrepancy we see in the way people approach longevity.  After some thought I came up with 5 typologies that I think represent the majority of society.  While everyone is most likely a blend rather than a pure breed, defining them each apart from one another is a logical place to start.

The Pin Cushion

These people are habitually self-destructive.  A constant source of stress, anxiety, and irritation, their body is the most negative aspect of their existence.  They think of it as burden to be born, punishing themselves with a million daily pricks of the pin, from the food they eat, to the clothes they wear, to the attitudes they adopt.  Often times they hide their pain through outward indifference:  eating, smoking, and drinking more than ever in an effort to ignore the issue of long-term health.  Other times inroads are made but quickly re-routed by another destructive habit—it’s as though they can’t get out of their own way. 
Interestingly, this typology tends to attract the help and encouragement of those around them more than any other subsection (apparently, we like to ration our energy according to those who need it rather than who are asking for it).  Pin cushions are seen as charity cases or hard luck projects when most are self-made, and contentedly so.  Therefore, support is often perceived as pity, is rudely dispatched, and serves only to drive the pins further in.  After years of this pattern, these individuals become an emotional suck on those who care about them, causing withdrawal and weariness that further perpetuates their anxiety.  It usually takes a serious health scare or medical diagnosis to break this cycle, but often times it is already too late.

The Machinist

This is the category most people fall into.  Machinists think of their bodies as machinery, existing to move them from place to place, carry them up stairs, jump them off cliffs, or lay them to bed.  Food is fuel, sleep is a tune up, working out is maintenance.  They’re not overly concerned with the way they look, only whether or not they can perform their daily duties and enjoy themselves on the occasional weekend retreat.  While this philosophy is extremely functional and pragmatic and a large step up from the pin cushion, it takes no real ownership over the process of fitness. These people work just hard enough to keep the machine running but not hard enough to see it excel.  And if a part goes bad—eh, that’s the cost of doing business.  The problem is: you can’t turn this machine in for a newer model like you can a car or a lawn mower.  As they age and things stop working, these individuals fall into disrepair and don’t do what’s necessary to salvage what remains of their life.  Instead, they shrug their shoulders and assume their machine just wasn’t built as well as somebody else’s.  It’s an outlook that is only as long term as genetics will allow.

The Artist

This is the category that considers their bodies to be an end goal, something akin to a piece of art or a classic car.  Their goal is to shape and craft it in such a way that they can admire and be proud of the result.  This ideology has its merits, creating for people a project to work on day after day, keeping them motivated and, unlike the machinists, personally invested in the process.  The problem is the artist often forgets that his masterpiece must also be functional.  He’ll spend years building his arms, back, and chest to look good in a shirt, but then get out of breath chasing his kids around the yard.  Or she’ll spend hours on the ellyptical every day to tone her legs, but have to ask for help to pick up a box of dishes.  These are neglectful tendencies that limit our fitness later in life.

Furthermore, the idea that fitness can be an end goal is flawed because we are constantly evolving and changing.  It is literally impossible for our bodies to ever “arrive” at our aesthetic goal.  We may pass through it on occasion
(figure show, wedding day), but those types of moments are only maintained in photographs.  Real life never pauses.  The reality is that your piece of art will rarely, if ever, live up to your expectations, and you’ll never be able to hang it on the wall.  So, what then?  How does one stay motivated to work towards a goal they will never achieve, when things like age, weather, and bad lighting are factors that will forever be out of their control?  Hitching your conception of fitness to something so fluid is doomed to fail.  

The Investor

This is the subsection that thinks of their bodies like a bank account or a retirement fund.  With every hour invested at the gym they are ensuring a profitable return.  In the short term, it’s easy to see the value in this outlook.  As you dedicate more and more time to improving yourself, you will see greater increases in strength, endurance, and skill.  Your body becomes more adept at handling challenges of all sorts and your confidence grows in all areas from the process.  Unfortunately, the body does not respond to investment the way a 401k does in the long term.  It more closely follows the law of diminishing marginal returns.  As the individual approaches his genetic potential, the massive gains seen early give way to slower and more incremental ones.  Additionally, the body accumulates wear and tear that limits its ability to train at the level it once did, frustrating the investment type further.  Still, he refuses to accept this drop in return and redoubles his efforts, training harder and longer than ever.  All the while he is accruing stress on his joints and connective tissues that lead to tendonitis in the best cases, to arthritis and joint replacement in the worst.  These are setbacks that the investor struggles to deal with because he is, again, hyper conscious of using every possible opportunity to invest, improve, and return.  Eventually he risks becoming either too injured to continue or so burned out he gives up.

The Mariner

Finally, there’s the mariner.  This is the category that likens their body to a ship, their life to the sea, and training to a storm.  Every session they sail through teaches them more about how best to survive the next.  They reinforce the bow, adjust the sails, and become more efficient in how they tack.  Invariably they become better sailors for having endured such trials, but they recognize there are repairs to be made as well.  Lines have frayed or snapped, provisions were flung overboard, and their crew is battered thin.  They understand that heading into another storm is perilous until the ship is mended, even if they know the ocean better than ever.  Their goal is to protect the ship that protects them, and always have it ready to sail.

This person is like the machinist in the sense that he knows his body’s primary function is utility, but he takes greater care and ownership of it than his counterpart ever would.  There is a bond and commitment to his vessel akin to that of the artist, but without the need for perfection or the ignorance of functionality.  Finally, he invests time and energy into improving his craft, much like the investor, but he knows from experience what the body is and isn’t capable of.  He won’t risk his long-term capability for any short-term return. 

Without a doubt, the Mariner is in the best position to ensure his fitness for a lifetime.  He is neither abusive nor delicate, obsessive nor flippant.  He understands the need to work hard but reserves the right to rest when necessary.  When I look at those I respect most in the fitness community, this is what I see.

The frustrating thing is that I’ve also seen flashes of it in those I know to be pin cushions, artists, and machinists.  I’ve had investor types question me about recovery and long-term goal setting one day, then go hit triple WODs in spite of knee pain the next.  I guess this means the potential for a better definition exists in all of us, but it takes time and work to turn the corner.  This reality, again, encourages the long view of fitness.  We aren't capable of changing our physical appearance overnight--we shouldn't expect to alter our psychology immediately either.  Understanding our current definitions and why we hold them is the first step, but only one step.  We have to reinforce this knowledge with action, day after day after day, until our new approach to fitness has become so ingrained that it re-defines our idea of what our bodies exist to provide.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

TRIP ANNOUNCEMENT: Anywherefit 2013: The Balkans

Spots are now open... Email to for information and reservations

Anywherefit 2013: Buenos Aires to Santiago Day 10

Workout of the Day

Beach Party

For our final day of the trip, we were up early and navigating public transportation networks towards the coast.  This was not an easy task, mind you, since seemingly nothing in South America is up and running before 11:00 am.  Still, we made it happen and by 8:30 am the city was behind us and we were headed to the beach.

Upon arrival in Vina del Mar, our group almost immediately grew by one.  One canine, that is.  As we were walking through the streets towards the beach we couldn't help but notice the crowd of wild dogs surrounding the bus station.  It seems that the strays have been conditioned to know that tourists who will feed them are to be found at this location, so they huddle and wait for friends.  One such dog just started walking with us and didn't stop until we reached the beach, grabbed a patio full of chairs, and started drinking cervesas.  Seriously, he was with us til 4:00 pm.

The beach itself was crowded, but pleasant.  I think everybody in our group made it into the water at least once while we were there, but it wasn't without convincing.  The water is still Pacific cold even at the equator, and the waves crashed right on the shore, making body surfing a little more rough and tumble than most would like.

But the best part of the day was the conversations being had.  Being that this was the last official day of the trip, everyone was reminiscing about the places we'd been and their favorite workouts along the way.  As one might expect, the buddy carry up mount San Cristobal was among the most lauded--not surprising since it was also the most recent.  Many of the group were already talking about the next times they would see each other, and others were postulating about the next Anywherefit trip!!!  As a trip organizer, this made me feel great.

We stayed on the beach, eating food and drinking beer, until the sun started going down.  What an amazing and enjoyable end to an unforgettable 10 days.  As everyone loaded onto the bus to return to Santiago, there was talk of going out for a late dinner and more when we got back.  20 minutes into the ride that plan was thwarted, as not a single person remained conscious.  By the time I woke up we were nearly back and I was pretty severely hung over.  Looking around at the rest of the group, I could tell I wasn't the only one.  In any event, it was after midnight and most of us had flights to catch in the morning.  The day was enough of a sendoff as it stood.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Anywherefit 2013: Buenos Aires to Santiago Day 9

Workout of the Day

WOD 1 – in the morning…

3.5 mile buddy carry to top of San Cristobal

WOD 2 – in the afternoon…

Death by pushup + wall walk

Everyone awoke eagerly Saturday morning to go explore Santiago.  After being trapped on the bus for the majority of the day Friday, nothing sounded better than open space and freedom to move. 

On the agenda was a hike up Mount San Cristobal, the large peak at the center of the city where the famous statue of the Virgin Mary overlooks all.  In total, the distance to the top is said to be 5.5 km, but really that seems to be an estimate at best.  Nowhere did we see any signs or markers to indicate exact distances, only park officials giving us shaky hand gestures and educated guesses.  All the better, this would be a mental WOD as well.

As we approached the initial climb, a suggestion rang out from among the group that we should run the hill.  Then another that we should carry each other instead.  Sven and I looked at each other for a second and quickly agreed that this was an excellent idea.  A 5km buddy carry uphill would be an unforgettable challenge. 

So, with the gauntlet laid down, the group partnered up and set off.  As we started I couldn’t help but think back to the 2011 Iceland trip where we partner carried each other to the top of the largest volcano crater in Europe.  One distinct difference made itself apparent, however.  The heat.  It was damn near 90 degrees farenheit during this climb, making bodies a lot more slippery than they had been in the volcanic version of this WOD.  Another difference was the distance.  While the grade was significantly less steep than in Iceland, the San Cristobal climb seemed to stretch on forever.  I think every team was in the lead at some point during the climb as people seemed to get sporadic bursts of energy, then just as sporadically fade to the rear.  All kinds of techniques were employed, both in method of carry and in intervals of work.  In all, we were working for what turned out to be over an hour. 

Of course, the view from the top was worth the wait.  We were blessed with an impossibly clear day so the entire city stretched before us like an architectural model.  The city is flanked by the Andes on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, but the mileage between the two is vast.  This metropolis is seriously enormous.  We made our way down the mountain slowly, stopping for a shower in the oscillating sprinkler system halfway down.  This relief was quickly evaporated in the heat, and by the time we reached our lunch on Pio Nono, everyone was bone dry. 

An unmistakable characteristic of Santiago is the art.  Everywhere we walked there was vibrant graffiti, light projections on the water and walls, and a very distinct artistic energy.  Even on the subway trains. Saturday evening we attempted to find some live music during dinner in an area of the city known as Bella Vista, but discovered the venue we sought only opened after 11:00pm.  Still, walking through the streets of this neighborhood was a window into the bohemian life that exists there.  While not the most comforting of places at night, I could see it being a wonder of culture and art during the daytime. 
Instead, we wound up back on Pio Nono for dinner for what turned out to be arguably the best meal of the trip.  An in-house pianist served as a more than suitable replacement for the music we had been looking for earlier, and the menu was pretty incredible.  As tends to be the case in these trips, the unplanned events always trump the planned in enjoyment.