Pumping Irony

Craig Cox, EL’s director of business operations and resident geezer, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

Monthly Archives: July 2009

Experience Life Magazine

No Pain, No Gain?

OK, let’s see if I can do a little inventory of sore muscles this morning: lower back, check; both knees, check; right shoulder, check; quads, check; hammies, check; left ankle . . . . Maybe it would take less space if I listed the muscles that aren’t sore.

So, suck it up, right? Shake it off. Stop whining, etc. . . .

That’s what my tennis buddy, M.E., would say. And, a few years ago, I’d probably agree. But I’m not 18 anymore (actually the 40th anniversary of my 18th birthday is fast approaching), and an old guy has to be more careful.

I’m hobbling around today courtesy of a Sunday afternoon tennis match with M.E., who is not the kind of guy who lets a little pulled muscle get him down. In fact, midway through our third game yesterday, he pulled up lame, clutching his Achilles tendon, and I suggested we call it quits. No way, he said. (I happened to be leading two games to none at the time — which I’m sure had nothing to do with his decision to play through the pain.)  He hobbled through the rest of the set, which I won 6-2, and pleaded with me to go two out of three.

I declined, but agreed to return a few practice serves, which turned into more volleying, which he insisted was helping to loosen up his achilles tendon, which would allow him to play another set. I finally persuaded him to go home and ice it, which he did — insisting that he wasn’t going to miss another match at 3 p.m. with some other guys.

Guys are hardwired, it seems, to push themselves until they drop. We just tend to assume that our bodies will adapt and recover like they did when we were teens. It doesn’t work that way, and I have the aches and pains to prove it.

I don’t know how my tennis buddy’s feeling this morning, but something tells me he’ll be ready for a rematch on Wednesday.

Experience Life Magazine

Tennis Bum

True to my word (see previous post), I actually did pedal over to the local yoga studio with My Lovely Wife yesterday for a noon beginner’s class. And it went fine — except for the Eagle Pose, which probably takes a little more practice.

But I can’t blame 45 minutes of yoga bending for my overall soreness this morning. It must’ve been the tennis.

A couple of days ago, my good friend M.E. e-mailed with the cryptic subject line “Tennis?” and asked, simply, “Do you play?” I replied that I was third singles on my Edgewood Junior High School team back in ninth grade (when the rackets were still made of wood and you needed that rectangular screw-down thingy to keep them from warping). I also played a bit in the mid-’80s and hit it around with my son, Martin, a few years ago when he was briefly interested in the game. I had never known M.E. to be a tennis buff; we played basketball together every week for many years, and he once won 30-odd consecutive games of driveway one-on-one against me and driveway owner S.C. — a feat he’s not shy about recalling more than occasionally. He did not share his own tennis resume; he simply was pretty anxious to get across the net from me.

When he picked me up last night, he had already stopped at a nearby big-box retailer to buy a new racket and two cans of balls — a move that immediately raised some suspicions. “What’s up with this tennis thing,” I inquired as we headed toward some unpopulated courts near Lake Hiawatha.

It turns out that his pre-teen daughter is taking lessons and some friends had dragged him out on the court over the weekend. Plus, he divulged that he actually played quite a lot of tennis back in high school (a decade later than me, BTW), and that he wasn’t half bad.

I should note here that M.E. is kind of a competitive guy. No, that’s not really accurate: He’s a very competitive guy. It’s not that he’s a sore loser, or anything. He just really, really, really likes to win. Back in our hoop days, he was the guy when the team was getting creamed who would yell, “Don’t give up!!!”

So, I’m thinking maybe we’ll just whack the ball back and forth for awhile, but he’s thinking: Game. Set. Match.

Anyway, we get going a bit and it becomes clear pretty early on that he’s an OK player and that we’re pretty evenly matched. Neither of us are smashing aces or whacking winners down the line, though he does have a nice little drop shot and a backhand with some spin. And I’m pretty much content to try to keep the ball in play. (Actually, I’m kind of surprised that I could still hit it OK; it’s been awhile.)

But this is M.E., so we have to keep score. He wins the first four games, then we split the next two before my return catches the net at 15-40 in game eight. M.E. raises his arms in victory, I pretend to assume we were playing the best two out of three, he pretends to agree, and we gather up our stuff and head back to my place for a cold one.

M.E.’s already talking about recruiting S.C. and my son for some regular doubles play. That sounds fine to me. Tennis is a great whole-body workout (or so my body’s telling me today). But part of me is recalling those one-on-one games in the driveway and I can’t help but wonder whether we’re about to become part of another record winning streak.


Experience Life Magazine

Yoga Master

I put about 20 miles on the Schwinn on Saturday, running various errands with My Lovely Wife. That helped to work out the DOMS (delayed onset muscled soreness) lingering from Thursday’s impromptu hoops session. By Saturday morning, both knees were a little creaky, my shoulders were achy and my left ankle didn’t seem quite right.

So, rolling out of bed Sunday morning for a 9 a.m. yoga class actually wasn’t as crazy as it might have seemed had I not been so stiff. MLW has been attending a Wednesday noon class at our neighborhood yoga studio for a few weeks now, and she had suggested (a bit tentatively) that we might want to check out Sunday’s free session, which promised to give us the basics we need to start a home practice.

I was skeptical: Not because I didn’t think I could break my lay-around-with-the-newspaper routine for one Sunday morning, but because I’ve never been very good at yoga. I’m not at all flexible, I have a great deal of difficulty following the instructor’s movements, I don’t inhale and exhale at the right time, and I never really relax into most of the poses the way you’re supposed to. Other than that, I’m pretty much a yoga master.

Still, I’m all about trying new stuff (ha ha), so off we went Sunday morning to Nokomis Yoga, where we met the instructor, Solveig Corbin, and three other neophyte yogis. Solveig got us all situated on our backs with our legs up on a pile of rugs so we could do a little meditation before we got around to the stretchy stuff. This is the part of yoga I really like — the relaxing part. Next, she showed us a couple of poses we could do while seated in a chair, then a lunging pose and one that had us on our backs with our legs to one side and then the other (not so much, in my case). Then more meditation (whew!) and that was it.

This particular kind of yoga (I forget the name, of course), Solveig explained, emphasizes holding the poses for a long time — a discipline that didn’t bother me too much, since I can’t get into the poses very well anyway, but it didn’t sit too well with MLW. On our way home after the session, she said she’d probably stick with her current teacher and her style, which doesn’t tax her bum knee so much. Besides, she’s been working on the Sun Salutation pose, which, once mastered and practiced every day, will allow you to live forever (or so the story goes).

I’m not angling for immortality, just a bit more flexibility, but I might actually try this stuff, in one form or another, more than occasionally. It can’t hurt, right? 

Experience Life Magazine

Hoop Dreams

Rabbit grabs the rebound but then can’t move with it, his body weighs a ton, his feet have lost their connection to his head. Tiger knifes in between him and the basket, leans right in his face with a violet snarl, then eases back a little so Rabbit feels a gap, a moment’s slackness in the other in which to turn the corner; he takes one slam of a dribble, carrying his foe on his side like a bumping sack of coal, and leaps up for the peeper. The hoop fills his circle of vision, it descends to kiss his lips, he can’t miss.”    

I was reminded last night of that scene in Updike’s novel Rabbit at Rest  where the sixtysomething Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, former high school basketball star, goes one-on-one with a young buck on a dirt court in Florida. He sinks the winner just as a massive heart attack levels him.

My return to the hardwood last night after a long, self-imposed exile was not quite that dramatic (no myocardial infarction), but it did remind me how much I love the game — and what a great workout it is. To review: For more than 15 years, I played once a week with a bunch of guys at a local school gym. The two-hour session was, along with my bicycle commute, the only real exercise I did. Then, in 1998, I blew out my right knee. I came back several months later and played (tentatively) until 2002, when I figured I’d pretty much outlived my usefulness as a teammate.

Recently, though, my knees have been feeling pretty OK, and in an effort to add some variety to my workout regimen I started thinking about getting back on the court again — just some casual shooting, maybe a game of HORSE, or something. And when my son, Martin, 18, who spends way too much time indoors, indicated an interest in the climbing wall at a suburban Life Time club, I figured it was a good time to take the leap (so to speak).

So, last night after dinner, we climbed into the Crapmobile and headed to the Eagan club, where the basketball courts and climbing wall share a high ceiling. We grabbed a ball and started clanging shots off the backboard and rim when we weren’t throwing up airballs. (I’m stronger in the upper body than I was a couple of years ago, when I last did this, and my range was all off.) Eventually, though, we started to get the hang of it — Martin started to drain 3-pointers and I managed to rattle in a few short-range jumpers. It felt good.

Martin went off to scale the Eagan version of el Capitan. I demurred, content to continue the search for my old shooting form, until three fresh-faced twentysomethings approached, looking for a game. “You wanna play?” they inquired.

I looked around to locate whoever they might be talking to, but there was nobody but me in the vicinity. It’s really what any serious player wants to have happen — a little friendly competition to get the juices flowing — and though I haven’t played in years, I couldn’t resist.

“You’ll take it easy on the old guy, right?” I asked, jokingly, but not really joking. “No posting up, right?”

They thought that was pretty funny.

Two other guys joined us and we shot for teams — first three to sink a shot from behind the arc would be on one team. The three twentysomethings each calmly buried a three. Hmmm, I thought.

That put me on a team with a large, muscular fellow who I’ll call Shaq and a younger, more angular dude who seemed to model his game after Kobe. Our opponents were quick, but not tall, so I figured maybe Shaq would give us an edge inside, until I discovered he didn’t jump much, and every time I lobbed him the ball he kicked it back outside to Kobe, who would do a little shaking and baking but didn’t really know how to pass the ball.

The young guys did know how to pass and set picks and drive and spot up for threes, plus they could rebound — especially when Shaq and Kobe neglected to block them off the boards. So we soon found ourselves on the short end of a 9-5 score.

They were not great defenders, though, so Kobe eventually found his way into the lane for easy layups and even I was able to pick up a couple of easy assists on drive-and-dishes around the basket. Shaq hit a couple of threes and a layup, I turned a couple of steals into easy baskets, and we closed the gap.

I wasn’t exactly channeling Magic Johnson out on the point, but I was distributing the ball and forcing some turnovers. Then, with us down by two, I lobbed it into Shaq on the left block. He kicked it back out to me. I gave my guy a little ball fake to get him up in the air, drove the lane, and shoveled it up off the glass and in. No big deal.

Down 14-13, I inbounded to Shaq behind the arc, but his shot rattled out. They rebounded and hit an open jumper to win 15-13. I was sucking fumes, but my knees held out. I looked over at Martin, who had conquered the walls and had been watching the game for the past few minutes. He smiled in a way that might have been construed as a momentary sign of respect for his old man’s game, but I know him better than that.

This morning, I awoke with a blister on my left big toe and some excellent stiffness in an impressive variety of muscle groups and joints. In other words, I’ve never felt better.

Experience Life Magazine

Best-Laid Plans

I’m thinking this morning about that old saying about the best-laid plans often going astray. Yesterday afternoon, I was working on a story filled with great tips about how to properly warm up before a workout (everything from jumping jacks and modified push-ups to squats and lunges), and I headed downstairs to the gym fully intending to try a few of these out before climbing on the EDM and cranking into my routine. Of course, all the colorful green mats set up for that purpose on the starboard side of the cardio room were occupied (as is often the case), so I shrugged and wandered over to the elliptical and got after it without a proper warm up (although the EDM also is known for its warm-up qualities).

I was a bit relieved, to be perfectly candid:  Would I have actually peformed a set of jumping jacks? Push-ups? (I’m recalling junior high phy-ed classes; it’s not a fond memory.) The closest thing to a warm-up routine I’ve ever actually done at the gym involved a hasty set of knee-to-chest moves, which seem less dorky than any of the other warm ups I’ve read about. I’ve done planks and some futile stretching on the mats, but it always feels a litte too public — a little inappropriate.

Anyway, I did a happily anonymous 40 minutes on the EDM, burning off a bit more than 500 calories. I intended to do my usual 45-minute routine, but I got started a little later than usual (more unintentional consequences) and wanted to get in a half-hour of lifting before I had to head for home. I stayed away from The Pit and made the rounds among the friendlier machines, starting at the lower end of my lifting ability and upping the poundage with each successive set. I actually handled a 10-rep set at 130 lbs. for the first time on the clapping-hands-together machine!

Down in The Pit, guys who beat their personal best on the bench press or some other maneuver tend to whoop it up a little with their spotter. And, because I had not planned to push myself very much last night, I was kind of surprised to have topped any previous best. So, I’d like to report that I stood up and pumped my fist, raised my hands over my head and did a little Rocky Balboa victory dance, but you know that would be a big fat lie.

Experience Life Magazine

Weekend Workout

The holiday weekend lacked fireworks, though our neighbor outfitted his front yard with a red, white and blue light show featuring the music of John Phillip Sousa, Bruce Springsteen and Ray Charles (the latter singing his own stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful”), which debuted the evening of July 3 with much fanfare and, perhaps owing to a visit or two from less patriotic neighbors, did not favor us with an Independence Day encore. 

I declared my independence from the gym these past three days, which is not to say I hung out in a hammock (wish I had one) sucking on a succession of ice cold Budweisers (I prefer Grain Belt). Nope. There were errands to run, and when there are errands to run, My Lovely Wife and I run them on our bicycles. That meant about 10 miles in the St. Paul hill country (actually 5 miles up, 5 miles down) on Friday, a short ride (2 miles) to downtown Nokomis on Saturday (after a glorious rain shower) and another 8 miles or so to a vacationing friend’s house to feed her cats this afternoon.

Between all the cycling (and sore hamstrings, glutes, etc.), there was gardening, gardening and a bit more gardening. Lots of bending, squatting and other moves that remind me of my age and the relative appeal of yoga. Plus, I dragged out the extension ladder and cleaned out the gutters without succumbing to heat stroke and toppling to a tragic death. All in all, a pretty active three days, even though I never got around to strapping on my heart-rate monitor.

Experience Life Magazine

Tasting Retirement

My eldest sibling likes to remind those of us who envy his retirement lifestyle that the one big problem with life after work is that “every day is a Saturday,” which is to say a day in which you tend to go shopping, have lunch or dinner out and generally open your wallet on more occasions than you might otherwise do so. I was reminded of this concept last week, as My Lovely Wife and I sampled the fare at several of our favorite local bistros and happily drained our checking account.

Still, if my week away from work was any indication of how we’ll spend our retirement years, I’m thinking I’m going to be OK with that next chapter. Sure, we ate out like we were on vacation, but we also hit the gym one morning, put 25 miles on our bicycles one sweltering Saturday afternoon, enjoyed a good long swim in Lake Nokomis, visited St. Paul’s legendary Swede Hollow for a 3-mile hike, did a 45-minute yoga session at a new studio in the neighborhood — I even played 18 holes of golf.  So, despite all the fine dining, when I weighed in at the gym this past Tuesday, I was pleased to discover I was holding steady at 159.5.

(I mention this to MLW, who suggests that I’m acting like a woman. This might be a compliment.) 

I’ve been spending long, and not especially grueling, stints on the EDM for the past several weeks — typically 45 minutes at steadily increasing resistance levels — and I’m finding that it’s a pretty reliable fat-burning regimen (the machine informs me that I’m burning a little more than 600 calories during these sessions). But, last night, I decided to shake things up a little and climb on the stationary bike for some intervals. After an easy five-minute warm-up, I cranked up the resistance on the machine and did six 30-second sprints (about 105 RPM) interspersed with 60-second rest periods. It’s a nasty workout, but there’s nothing like it for getting the heart pumping and ridding your body of a quart or two of perspiration.

A little, mostly clueless, stretching (how do you get those hammies to loosen up?) and I was ready to descend into The Pit. It had been awhile since I’d run through Marty Gallagher’s “purposefully primitive” lifting routine — barbell squats, bench press, dead lift, biceps curls, overhead lift, and tricep extensions — and, one set into the routine, I remembered why. Barbell squats are just killers. With only 110 lbs. on my back, I managed three sets of eight, but it was not pretty. I was off balance and rushed and, if the bar hadn’t been secured in a sliding rack, I suspect I might have created a bit of a scene (think old guy stumbling backward with barbell flying toward unsuspecting victim).

So, I back off a bit on the dead lift (80 lbs.), which is probably a good idea, since I’m having some difficulty keeping my chest out and back straight while bringing the bar up past my fragile knees. I  avoid the barbell-oriented bench press in favor of pressing two 30-lbs. dumbells. That works pretty well, which is to say nobody got hurt. And I breeze through my curls and extensions with no further damage to my dignity.

I’m feeling it all over this morning. But, hey: It’s the start of a long weekend, so who’s complaining?