Pumping Irony

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

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Experience Life Magazine

Muscle Repair Shop

It’s primary election day today, so I’m skipping the gym to go exercise my political franchise. I did cycle into the office this morning, as usual, enjoying the gorgeous  autumnal weather. And I spent a fun-filled 40 minutes or so on Saturday morning doing my Dr. Oz pushups, some planks (so there, JS!), crunches, cobras and other punishing stretchy kinds of things.

The point being: I don’t feel at all guilty about missing a couple of gym workouts. I’ll be back at it downstairs tomorrow night. But, all this has me wondering something about my aging body (57 years, one week and two days): Are old muscles, tendons, ligaments and such fundamentally different from young ones?

So, I consulted the pages of Technology Review (where else?), where I discovered that, just as I had suspected, exercise damages muscle cells — old and young — which are eventually replaced by new cells. Here’s how the TR folks put it:

“When we exert ourselves, like going to the gym or running after the bus, we always damage muscles which are being replaced over time [by] muscle stem cells,” says Irina Conboy, assistant professor of bioengineering and an investigator at the Berkeley Stem Cell Center. “But when we get older, cell death is faster than cell replacement.”

So there’s the rub: My cells are dying off faster than I can replace them, so it takes longer to repair my aching muscles.  I’m not interested in “miracle” muscle growth supplements, but I’d like to know that what I’m doing in my ongoing fitness regimen might have some mitigating effect.

 Big Al Fortney, over at Criticalbench.com, gives me some hope. He says getting sufficient protein can help to repair muscle damage — and I’m not one to disagree with a guy whose biceps are as large as my thighs, you know? (How does this guy even fit through doors?)

Thus armed (sorry), I’m off to devour some protein. Tomorrow, back to the sweat-a-thon.

Experience Life Magazine

A Plan?

reverse_crunch_2.gifWhy not try something painfully new?

No intervals on Tuesday’s stationary bike ride (you really have to be in a certain mood), but I did a little over 5 miles in about 20 minutes — average heart rate of 110 — so I wasn’t slacking. And I upped the poundage slightly over on the resistance machinery during my 25-minute lifting session. We’ll see if I can maintain the momentum tonight.

My real conundrum these days is figuring out how to shift from my fairly random cardio/strength training  routines into something a bit more strategic. It’s not that I’m bored or anything; I always feel better after my workout than before. It’s just that I think it would be interesting to move on to something a bit less “creative.” Maybe work on specific muscle groups. Maybe focus a bit more on increasing my flexibility.

So, I’m thinking that tonight I’ll do a brief (10 minutes?) cardio warm-up before moving on to the mats for some stretching (quads, hammies, lower back) and ab work (check out these painful-looking reverse crunches!). Then maybe 20 minutes on the machines (lower body?).

At least it’s a plan. I’ll report back if I’m not in the hospital.

Experience Life Magazine

Energy Crisis

The buff guy last night (is he at the gym every night?!?) had a T-shirt with arrows pointing to his biceps! Very subtle. . . . Of course, when you’ve built a body like this guy has, why not advertise? I’m actually surprised by how little muscle flaunting goes on downstairs, given all the ripped bodies that populate the place.

Anyway, I wasn’t doing any posturing last night. I cranked out six 30-second intervals (with a minute between them) on the bike, while watching the Twins eke out a win against the Mariners on one TV screen and Democratic Party delegates nominate Barack Obama on another one. Sweating through history at an average heart rate of 110.

Maybe that all took too much out of me, or something, but when I shuffled over to the resistance machinery, I just didn’t have much juice left. Usually I’ll run through a 30-minute lifting routine, but last night I felt like a real wuss. I did a few reps here and there, but I was still sore from Monday’s workout and my energy level was really low, so I retreated to the locker room after only about 15 minutes.

My Friday workout will include canoeing on Lake Hiawatha, so I won’t  be back at the gym until Monday. Maybe that’s a good thing.

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

If the Shoe Fits . . .

My goal this morning was to walk into work (I’d left my bike in the office due to yesterday’s thunderstorm) wearing my sneakers and schlepping my workout gear and computer in my backpack. But then I noticed how dorky my sneakers looked with these khakis (you can imagine, no?) and slipped on my regular brown office shoes, one of which (the left foot) is about a half-size too big.

The last time I wore these walking to work, the shoe produced a nasty blister on the back of my foot. It also tends to roll my sock around inside the shoe, which is very annoying.
Anyway, I’m tromping awkwardly over the Intercity Bridge, admiring how the river has nearly inundated the small island below the Ford Dam, when I notice the Crapmobile zipping past me, heading east. I waved, but my lovely wife was oblivious, and for a moment I wondered whether she’d notice my shuffling gait and take pity on me by pulling over and transporting me the last half mile to the office, but, no, she just continued on. Which, of course, made me wonder whether I’d committed some domestic faux pas this morning that had left her peeved (even after 28 years of marriage, you sometimes never know . . .  especially if you’re as oblivious as I am), so I flipped open my cell phone and gave her a call and learned that she had indeed seen me on the bridge and had thought about stopping, but there was no shoulder on which to safely pause and, besides, she was anxious to get to the co-op and get some potting soil before the washing machine repair guy showed up.
Relieved that I had not somehow offended her earlier, and happy to notice that the sock on my left foot had made one complete revolution, I walked on up the hill.
No treadmill tonight.

Experience Life Magazine

No Time Like the Present

River Styx
Maybe I should take up rowing.

The great thing about Minnesota is that the weather is always pretty reliable. It’ll be mercilessly frigid for three months every winter and then insufferably sweltering (with mosquitoes) for two months every summer. It’s never a surprise — just an inexorable drifting across our meteorological River Styx (above, with apologies to Dante, et al.). But we love it here.

I’m a little obsessed with the weather today because our annual mid-March blizzard dumped 3 inches of slushy snow on the city last night, and the commute this morning was pretty slick underfoot and periodically wet from above. The trees were already shedding their snow cover from last night, and my usual arboreal bliss became more of a blitzkrieg, as great lumps of the wet stuff kept thwacking me about the head and shoulders as I walked. Plus, some doofus in a Pontiac hit a puddle just as I was passing by and gave me a refreshing slush shower. Yum.

All this misfortune, however, cannot dampen my joy at getting back to the gym last night after a week’s hiatus (yeah, yeah . . . whatever). It was the first really mindful workout I’ve done in a while — five-minute warm-up, 15 minutes of sweaty spinning on the bike (avg. heart rate: 122), five-minute cool-down, and then 25 minutes of upper-body work with the resistance machinery.

And I’m not at all sore today (we’ll see about tomorrow and DOMS). I pushed myself a little on the lifting stuff, but not too much, and felt great afterward.
(One odd and totally irrelevant curiosity: I’ve run into my local Hennepin County commissioner three times in the past four days. Friday night in the park while walking home from work, Saturday night at a local bistro, and last night at the gym. Weird. I could never get in touch with this guy when I was covering politics.)

Anyway, this all once again has me thinking about the amount of time one needs to really get a decent workout. Part of the challenge for me is that I won’t even bother to go to the gym unless I can carve out at least an hour, because it’s become apparent to me that I can’t do what I think I need to do in less time than that. But that just might be me: I always like to combine cardio with strength training and each takes at least 25 minutes. And if I want to do the kind of stretching and flexibility work I need to do, I’d need another half hour (the extra five minutes is how long I need to get up off the floor).

In my not-so-exhaustive research, fitness experts like Greg Landry recommend 30-60 minutes a day. I’m getting at least that much — if you include my rather leisurely commute — but they tend to emphasize that any amount of time moving your body is time well spent. The point being: Don’t abandon your regimen simply because you can only carve out 30 minutes at the gym. (There is that 14-minute Tabata workout, which frankly scares me.)

Anyway, I guess that’s a lesson I need to embrace. Maybe I can’t do the whole cardio-lifting-stretching (ha ha) thing every time. So, get off your butt (he told himself) and just do one of the three. Sheesh!