Dec 16, 2009

Dec 16 workout.... follow up to Dec. 4 blog entry

This is a follow up to post of Dec. 4... another example of a short workout.... please see post of Dec. 4 and add comments.... (here or there)

Dec 12, 2009

In Praise of Ballroom Dancing

My wife and I have been taking ballroom dancing lessons for about eight years. This is one of the best decisions we have ever made.

In an earlier post, I talked about being people who are spectators rather than performers and watching life go by rather than living it. Dancing (or not dancing) are prime examples of this.

First off, as a social activity, dancing will put you in contact with a lot of great people. Typically, great people have great relationships, and couples who fight all the time are unlikely to take ballroom dance lessons.

From the point of view of an activity as a couple, this truly qualifies as being "as a couple"... few things are truly done together..... if you go to some event with your spouse, you are often experiencing it individually, and in some social events, conversations are with many people other than your spouse, and you may only actually talk to each other at the end of the evening to ask whether you had a good time. In some cases, men watch the game while women converse among themselves.

Ballroom dancing on the other hand is, by definition done together, you will spend time enjoying each other, and that includes some good and bad times, because you have to work as a team in a coordinated fashion or it won't work, obviously! Yes, this can be challenging as well as rewarding.
Now, I have good news and bad news for the men. Ballroom dancing is the last bastion of male dominance left in our society. When you're the man, it is your job to lead and the woman's job to follow. That's the good news, but before you celebrate too much, I need to tell you the bad news. When you lead, you have a lot of responsibility. If you make a mistake with your steps, it's your fault, when your partner makes a mistake, well, .... it's still your fault, because you didn't lead right! I'm only half joking here. For the woman, if she has a strong lead, her part becomes much easier, but if she is not being led properly, it is virtually impossible for her to do well.

The woman is the beautiful painting, and the man is the frame. The woman is the guitar, the man is the player. A guitar, even the finest instrument, can't play itself. A good guitar player will tell you that a fine instrument is, in fact, a joy to play and actually easier to play, but the very best instrument will still sound terrible in the hands of a mediocre player, and a great player will do wonders with a department store child's guitar.

What guitar players are taught is to have a "light touch", where they have a certain firmness but not overly rigid. New drivers are taught something very similar when it comes to holding the wheel. So it is with leading in dance. In this case, though, the instrument is far more wondrous in her intricacies as well as inner and outer beauty.

What one discovers when they go from being a spectator to being a performer, when it comes to music, is that to play music, sing, or dance, gives one a feeling of harmony with the universe. (perhaps that is true of going from being a spectator to a participant in anything?) What I've said to my wife Lorraine, is that I think there is a reason dance has been a part of human culture even from the most primitive tribes. It just seems like something our bodies were meant to do.... (ok, not at first, but after you start to get the hang of it), and that feeling of harmony, (the only word I can use to describe it), especially when shared with someone you care about is a truly magical feeling. Incidentally, singles can dance with other singles, with whom they have platonic relationships and often do, and although this relationship may always be platonic, you will still care about each other because you will be sharing true joy together.

At this point, I should point out that yours truly is still mediocre as a dancer at this point.
There is a joke about going to the circus and seeing an animal act where a dog walks on his hind legs. You're not impressed that he does it well, you're impressed that he does it at all! That pretty much describes my dancing talent! :o)
I have however progressed to the point where I can start to see the potential and appreciate what it holds, enough that I want to continually improve and to dance for as long as my physical abilities allow.

Finally, the point that motivated me to make this entry. Dancing is heroic! Ayn Rand often refers to man's proper nature as a heroic being, and when one thinks of the concretization of what a hero would look like, it is embodied so well, in the proud stance of great ballroom dancers, who display, the grace, the strength, the pride of a hero, in a way that glorifies human beings and what they are capable of. One might refer to this as "bigger than life" but it isn't bigger really.... this is how we are meant to be, and this is within all of our reaches. The accompanying video is of professionals but even when going to local dances, when I see the dancers who have taken the time to practice and improve the finer points of poise, hand positions and grace, it is truly inspirational and it just seems right that people should do this.
Going back to my earlier post about watching life rather than living it.... if you want to take a real bite into truly experiencing one of the greatest things in life, I cannot recommend this highly enough!

Look forward to comments!!!

Dec 4, 2009

This morning's workout and follow up to post of Nov 14....

On, November 14, my post, "Exercise, A quick introduction of things to come", I promised that in future posts I would cover,

"-why 90% of what you hear about exercise is not only inaccurate but actually detrimental to your health and safety.

-why 95% of people will never look anything like the fitness models used in marketing no matter what they do.

-why the actual rewards of exercise while not as marketable are far more important.

-why overdoing exercise is something we get addicted to psychologically because we need to feel good about ourselves and impress other people, when most of what we do is unnecessary and detrimental.

-why so called "cardio" is based on inaccurate premises.

-why your exercise program should take less than an hour per week... (far less in most cases)

-why the continual achievement of goals in your exercise program will help build your character in ways that will cross over into every area of your life (your fitness program consisting of taking on and overcoming challenges and adversity is a miccrocosm of all of life)

-why health and fitness are NOT synonyms.

-why exercise per se is perceived by your body as a threat to its survival, and as such, your body seeks to protect you from this threat... so more is definitely not better.

-how proper exercise technology, like many technologies takes many years before it becomes mainstream, because of the resistance of existing misconceptions being so strong for so long. Most groundbreaking technologies from inception to mainstream, take as much as 20 years or more."

However, before doing so, I need to position why, I would have the audacity to be certain that my knowledge of proper exercise is more accurate than that of countless jocks, including professional athletes, coaches and even the vast majority of physicians and physiotherapists.

Well first off, I can simply recommend a book, which, arguably is the best book ever written on the topic, "Body by Science", co-authored by Doug McGuff M.D. and John Little. I would point out that many of the ideas in that book are certainly not new, as the authors acknowledge, with Arthur Jones, the inventor of Nautilus machines, citing many of the same principles in his writings of the early seventies, and even he did not claim to be the originator of many of those principles.

The point I want to make in this blog, however, is simply why the incredible confusion does exist in this field in the first place and why it is actually perfectly logical that it should.

First off, three words: Selection Bias and Genetics. Let me elaborate. In this case, I will be referring to the results from strength training, sometimes also referred to as bodybuilding or weight training. In later posts, I will show that proper strength training is by far the most beneficial of exercise modalities and, some would argue, the only modality that actually qualifies to be called exercise in the first place.

Right from the start, I know I've alienated the cardio crowd, and you will have to wait for why I believe my preceding statement for a future post.

For now, one of the other reasons I'm going to focus on strength training, is because results from this type of exercise can most easily be measured in terms of either appearance through actual increases in muscle size and/or through increases in strength as demonstrated by the ability to lift increasingly heavier poundages.

Consider that in the general population, the actual percentage of people who exercise consistently over time is very small. For my upcoming book, I will do some research to come up with some more reliable statistics, but I believe I can make some reasonable estimates which, even being conservative, will show my point.

By exercising consistently, over time, I don't mean people who will tell you, "I used to be in great shape in college" or "a few years back, I was going to the gym diligently and got in the best shape of my life"; I'm referring to people who actually have been exercising regularly for years and still are today.

Of that small group, let's say, generously, 10% of the population, you then eliminate the folks who engage in exercise modalities other than strength training such as jogging, pilates, yoga, stretching, swimming, aerobic dance etc. Let me suggest that you will be left with 2% of the population, maybe.

The point here is not whether my statistics are perfectly accurate or not, anyone will agree that it is a very small minority of the population that engages in strength training over time.

First off, why are there so few people consistently participating in an activity that is largely considered to be beneficial. The quick answer that many people will give is that people are lazy or undisciplined. While there may be a considerable amount of truth to this, it does not fully explain this.

Interestingly, women often avoid strength training, because they fear developing large muscles, and men most often don't stick to it, because they don't produce these large muscles quickly enough (or at all).

Another reason is that many people wind up injured when they attempt a fitness program. This is increasingly true with an aging baby boomer population who try to regain former youth, by trying to do what they did when they were younger (and lighter) and wind up injuring themselves.

This brings us back to selection bias and genetics.... the people who tend to stick to it over time, do so because there is a larger percentage of them who achieve results quickly. Positive feedback for their efforts, keeps people coming back.... lack thereof gets people to quit. This is habit formation 101.... reward positive behaviour and ignore or punish negative behaviours.

Many people simply believe that the reason some people have large muscles is because they have knowledge of and apply proper exercise. The facts however don't agree with this. The ability to develop unusually large muscles is largely genetic, and very few men possess this trait and even fewer women, (which is why their fear of this is unjustified). The truth is, that, of the 2% or so of the population who strength train over time, there is a far higher percentage of individuals whose genetics allow them to progress quickly than there is in the general population.

Nassim Taleb in his book, "The Black Swan", in pointing out the errors we make cognitively, points out that the books we haven't read are more important than those we've read. When someone achieves success in a given field, be it business or athletics, they may well share how they achieved that success in a book or on a speaking circuit, and people will be eager to pay to learn their "secret", which those individuals, making the same cognitive mistake as we are, may believe they can sincerely offer.

However, there are usually thousands of individuals who may have employed very similar, if not identical strategies, only to fall far short of that success, or, in the case of athletics, suffer career ending injuries as a direct result of those same strategies, but their names will never be known, as there is not a large market for books on how people failed!

An example of how much successful athletes may owe more of their success to winning a "genetic lottery" than from knowing what they're doing comes from the animal kingdom. Below are photos of a Belgian Blue, cattle that has been bred in such a way as to maximize large muscles and yield more meat per animal, and, of an overmuscled whippet. Note that the bull's exercise program consists of grazing and lazing around. This whippet is not a racing dog but just someone's pet with a genetic defect.

Everything most people think they know about exercise is based on the experience of the very small percentage of the population I cited above.

As a result, most of what people think they know is wrong and simply does not apply to the general population. Much of athletic success is achieved despite the modalities utilized and not because of them.

What most people think is that conventional exercise programs help people to be fit and healthy, because they make what seems to be the logical connection that world class athletes appear to be extremely healthy because they have achieved supranormal levels of fitness (note I said, appear to be healthy). So here are a couple of challenging questions:

Does conventional exercise make people healthier, or are healthy people simply more likely to engage in conventional exercise? (or as I've said above, genetically gifted people are far more likely to stick with inefficient, often dangerous programs because they are the only ones capable of progressing on them, and remaining injury free enough to continue?) (note I didn' t say injury free, but "injury free enough to continue" because if you talk to most jocks, if they are honest will tell you they are dealing with chronic injuries... this is especially true of the cardio crowd)

Genetics is a huge part, and without taking anything away from the dedication of world class athletes, the fact is that even the greatest coach/trainer in the world will not create a world class athlete from even the most dedicated person who simply does not have the genetics.

In high school, I ran a 100 yard dash, if memory serves, in about 14 seconds. No amount of practice or dedication would have even had me win the local high school track meet, much less, achieve any type of national or international prominence. Sorry folks, despite "Rocky type, cheer for the underdog" stories that we would love to believe in, it is what it is. World class athletes are 1 in 100,000 or less. (probably closer to 1 in a million.)

99% of professional athletes are in the top 1/10 of 1% of the genetic pool, and most people who stick to exercise over time are at least in the top 20%.

However, here is the good news... all of us can achieve great benefits from proper exercise, and we can do so in far less time than is normally believed. In fact, it is not that you can get away with doing less, but doing less is an actual requirement.

The stress put on the body by proper exercise is such that the body requires sufficient time to recover properly from this.

Below is my workout of Dec. 16. A similar workout is what I do on a weekly basis or less and I am aware of people making great progress on even less frequency.

This post is already pretty lengthy so I will end it here, but note that those whose curiosity I may have peaked can get more information at previously mentioned sources or the links on the side of my blog.

Look forward to your comments.