Pumping Irony

Craig Cox, EL’s managing editor and resident geezer, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

Monthly Archives: July 2008

Experience Life Magazine

Miracle Cure?

OK, this is weird. Against my better judgment, I shuffled my pathetic ancient body downstairs to the gym after work last night and went through a slightly truncated version of my normal goal-averse routine (elliptical danger machine, lifting, etc.) expecting to pay the price this morning. But instead of feeling worse, I felt better!

There’s still this little painful kink just inland from my right shoulder blade that I can activate by  cocking my head to the left, but it’s not as painful as it was yesterday. In fact, it feels like I’m stretching out a tight muscle when I move my head that way.

I didn’t do anything special (like stretch) last night, so I’m at a loss to explain what’s happened.  I always figured that pushing your body past the point where it starts to hurt was a bad idea, but apparently I don’t know everything anymore. (Who knew?!?)

And, indeed, I see in this piece by Susan Gaines in a recent issue of EL that exercise actually plays a role in healing  sore muscles. Moving your body apparently gets the circulation system pumping more blood to the injured area, where other biochemical influences I don’t pretend to understand do their healing magic. All I know is that I’m feeling moderately less stiff than a couple of days ago — not to mention relieved that I didn’t do more damage.

Maybe the aging body isn’t as fragile as I think it is.

Experience Life Magazine

Resting . . .

I rode my bike about 15 miles on Saturday — in two separate trips — and did some stretching, as well. But my back is still pretty stiff this morning, so I’m thinking I’ll take another day or two away from the gym, just to play it safe. I’ll do some more stretching tonight and see what happens.

Experience Life Magazine

Back and Forth

It's a Wonderful Life
Watch your back, Jimmy.

Remember the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart’s sitting at Martini’s bar and prays for deliverance from his financial crisis only to get slugged by Mr. Welch, the school teacher’s husband? (OK, so you never saw the movie . . . but stick with me here; I’m about to make a point.) Well, I’ve been lecturing myself for months about doing more abdominal work at the gym — not that I need it — and when I finally get serious about the ab crunches and twists and lower back and core work, my back seizes up like nobody’s business.

Wednesday night’s sweat-a-thon had me doing back extensions, “total abdominal” crunches, and moving 90 lbs. this way and that in the swivelly chair thingy. Seemed like a good idea at the time. But yesterday I climbed out of bed feeling a good deal older than I am, and today I’m stiff as a board.

This is the kind of thing that continually vexes me. I’m supposed to push myself through my strength training routine by upping the poundage and working my weaker less-strong muscle groups, but it’s hard to do that without waking up the next day feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. And, because I don’t particularly enjoy that sensation, it tends to persuade me to stay more inside my comfort zone, which will prevent me from reaching my fitness goals — whatever they are.

Yeah, yeah, I know: I should be incorporating a regular stretching routine into my weekly workout regimen. (Maybe on the off-days between my cardio-strength training sessions?) And, I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t mind spending a little time today working out these kinks in my back and shoulders and neck. But there’s work of the income-earning kind to be done. Maybe tonight.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to treat and prevent back pain, as Gina Demillo Wagner points out in this helpful feature in the June 2007 issue of EL. The piece argues, in fact, that the best way to bounce back from a back injury is to get back into the gym, because only through strengthening your core will you head off future back troubles. This, of course, is a piece of advice I’m going to respectfully ignore today.

The stretching tips, however, sound pretty good to me right now. That and a dose of homeopathic arnica might be just the thing.

Experience Life Magazine

Cramping Calves

calf.jpgI climbed on the treadmill last night and, after a five-minute walking warm-up, jogged a mile at a 4 mph pace. This would’ve been excruciatingly boring had it not been for the intriguing pain gripping both of my calves. Actually, it wasn’t so much a specific pain as it was an annoying cramp. It felt like the muscles back there all decided to hang out together in a little clump of blood and tissue.

This happens to me all the time when I jog (as I believe I have mentioned more than once on these pages) and contributes mightily to my distaste for this particular activity. It’s not like I didn’t warm up or stretch those muscles out or make sure I was properly hydrated — all reasons why the calf clump typically occurs, according to the experts.

Well, there is one other cause: A sudden increase in mileage. And I suppose you could say that my getting on the treadmill at all would constitute a sudden increase in mileage.

What is interesting is that this calf cramp stuff doesn’t usually happen when I’m running faster than a jog. Some experts say that too much pronation (foot roll-over) can cause calf cramps, and maybe I don’t pronate so much when I lengthen my stride. Who knows? I’m not looking down at my pronating feet while I run, because I have a hard enough time just staying vertical on the treadmill. (A couple of times last night, I found myself drifting off to the right and nearly ran right off the thing.)

So, I could start running at a brisker clip to prevent the calf cramp, but that would mean I’d have to run at a brisker clip. . . . This, of course, is a dilemma — or a paradox — because I’d love to keep my calves happier, but I’m not keen on running much faster than a jog — at least not on the evil treadmill.

I suppose I could try going for a run on the soccer field near home and see how well I pronate in that scenario. Any other ideas would be welcomed, obviously.

Experience Life Magazine

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Well, my shoulder’s no longer sore — now it’s my back that’s killing me. As usual, I don’t know what I did to bring this on, but I’d sure like to prevent it. I did take a different tack with my Friday workout, detouring past my usual cardio routine and heading right for the resistance machines. (I got a late start . . .) But I didn’t do anything in that 40 minutes of heavy lifting that seemed to pain me too much. In fact, my shoulder felt fine afterward.

I did spend a fair amount of time on my bicycle this weekend, pedaling maybe six miles Friday night, another five or so on Saturday, and maybe 12 on Sunday. It wasn’t Tour de France stuff, but I suppose all that hunching over my handlebars might have taken its toll. Who knows?

Anyway, I think I’ll skip the stationary bike at the gym tonight and do a little treadmill work, since my knee’s feeling OK. Then a round of lifting and a bike ride home.

We’ll see what happens.

Experience Life Magazine

Sore Shoulder

It’s a muggy day for a bicycle commute, even one that lasts only 15 minutes, and this morning it’s made more challenging by the soreness in my left shoulder. I must have strained a muscle there while lifting last night. In fact, my upper body is pretty sore all over, which I didn’t expect after what I thought was a relatively brisk and effective 60-minute workout.

I’ve been trying to strengthen those shoulder muscles ever since I started this new regimen. The right one was especially problematic three or four years ago, when I think I messed up my rotator cuff somehow. I was at my in-laws house and one of my nephews invited me outside to throw the football around. But when I tried to launch a pass, I had no strength in my shoulder at all. The more I tried, the worse it got.

Since then, I’ve been to a massage therapist, who worked me over pretty good once a week for two or three months. I think that helped, but mostly I just rested the shoulder and allowed it to heal. I haven’t had any trouble with either of them until this morning, and I’m pretty sure I just strained the muscle a little.

Anyway, I did the interval thing again last night — six 30-second bursts of speed followed by a minute of rest — during my 20 minutes on the bike. It feels pretty good (until that sixth interval) and it will give me something to measure my progress against down the road. Maybe I can do seven next time? No one cares if I sweat at the gym.

Experience Life Magazine

A Decent Interval

I’m not going to pretend it hasn’t been awhile since I’ve posted (these things are dated, after all), but real work comes first and I’ve been catching up after a week’s vacation. (Yeah, I could’ve posted while on vacation . . . whatever.) It doesn’t mean, however, that I’ve been slacking off in the workout department.

On Friday, for instance, I did a little interval-type deal on the stationary bike: going as hard as I can (about 115 RPM) for 30 seconds, followed by a 60-second cool-down (about 50 RPM). I did this, I guess, about four or five times and really blew up my heart rate (about 147). I’ve read about this approach for some time now, but never really bought into it, until now. The deal is that you’re supposed to be able to get a whole lot of cardio benefit in a small amount of time. They weren’t kidding, either: After less than 15 minutes on the bike, I was pretty much exhausted.

I’m not generally in a hurry about most things, and I can’t say I’m anxious to spend less time at the gym or to zip through my cardio in order to start lifting or head home to start drinking Grain Belt a little earlier than usual. But the whole interval approach does have its benefits. It’s supposed to help burn off belly fat pretty effectively (not that I need to do that, specifically. . .), plus it’s great for boosting metabolism in general.

All I know is that I worked up a bucket of sweat in no time and my heart was thumping in a way that reminded me of junior high cross-country (which is not a particularly fond memory). Still, I’m thinking that, all in all, this can’t be a bad thing so long as I’m still vertical, so I’m going to give it another shot tonight after work.

My left knee is still giving me some trouble periodically, which is why I’m staying on the bike rather than the treadmill these days. (Actually, I did some treadmill work a week or so ago, but unless I’m running at about 6 mph, a pace I can maintain for only a short while, I just don’t get lathered up that much.) The elliptical thingy is thrilling and all, with those poles threatening at any moment to poke out an eye, but it just doesn’t do it for me.

Everything I read tells me I should vary my routine or risk drifting into some dreaded ennui, but after more than 18 months of doing this stuff, I’m still pretty OK with it. It’s not that I lie awake at night formulating new routines, or anything, but it’s become part of my weekly routine and I kind of miss it when something prevents me from getting down there. I do need to add some kind of stretching activity, though. I’m getting stronger, but I feel like I might actually be less flexible than I was when I started doing all this.

So, I’m thinking about taking a yoga or Pilates class. My Lovely Wife mentioned her interest in doing a beginning yoga thing, so maybe we could do it together. That way, I’d have someone to remind me that, yes, it’s time to go to class and, no, you can’t stay home and drink beer. (Sigh.)

But it’s back on the bike tonight for 15 minutes of all-out cranking, followed by some ab work (sigh) and some lifting. Then home for a nice cold one.