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Saki

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Last updated August 25, 2016

 

 

 

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Introduction | Energy | Bodybuilding | Strength training | Injuries | Cardio | Plyometrics | Flexibility | Aging | Elder Training | Links | Books



While I have a sedentary job, outside of the office, I lead a very active life.  I enjoy many physical activities: kayaking, hiking, weight training, martial arts, running, group aerobics, and bicycling.  I suppose you can say I'm a cross trainer.

The purpose of this page is to share some of my views, insights, and opinions on training.  If anything I describe helps you with your training, fantastic!  If not, try something else.  What works for one person won't work for everyone and you just have to find out what works for you.

"The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war."
-said by many Marines


 
Introduction

Old school fitness people say one should stretch out prior to exercise. The more modern view is that the body should be warmed up with light cardio (about 5 minutes). Very light stretching just to get the joints loosed up can then be done prior to the main part of the workout but serious stretching should be saved until after the cooldown portion of the workout. Hence, if we were to map out the stages of exercise, it might resemble the following:

Warm up (5 minutes)
Any of the following:
Slow run
Bicyling
Skipping rope
Jumping jacks

Loosening joints/light stretch (3-5 minutes)
Most of these I learned studying Kenpo Karate or Jeet Kune Do.
Neck rotation: Side to side ("no") and up/down ("yes").
Shoulder shrugs.
Large arm circles: Palms up, circle arms upward. Palms down, circle arms downward.
Elbows: Keep upper arm fixed out to side (crucifix stance) and move forearms in circles, inward then outward.
Wrist rotations: Keeping arms out to side, rotate wrists inward then outward.
Fingers: Flick fingers outward as if trying to flick water from fingertips without moving the wrists.
Lower back: Twist from side to side with arms extended and loose.
Hips: While standing with feet spread, put hands on hips and move hips in circular motion, clockwise then counterclockwise.
Hips/knees: Knee lifts.
Knees: Bend at knees and hips, placing hands on knees. Rotate knees clockwise then counterclockwise.
Ankle rotation: Clockwise then counterclockwise.

Main part of workout (generally 45-90 minutes)
Skills (e.g. boxing), plyometrics, and heavy compound lifts for strength training should be done early in the workout.
Isolation exercises should be done later in the workout.
Cardio should be saved for last.

Cool down (3-5 minutes)
Heart rate should return to normal gradually. Don't just sit down after finishing a workout. This should be like the warm up.

Stretch (at least 5 minutes)
See flexibility.


 
Energy

If you are serious about training, you need to understand how your body taps into its various energy sources.

Energy systems:

  • Adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate (ATP-CP): This in an anaerobic system where your muscles are used at maximum intensity (balls to the walls) for not more than 15 seconds (8 seconds for an untrained person). Many plyometric exercises tap this energy source. It takes 2-3 weeks to condition this energy system but it is also lost quickly through disuse. If the goal is to develop the ATP-CP system, one might train all out for 15 seconds followed by 2-3 minute periods of rest.
  • Lactic acid: This is another anaerobic system where the muscles are used at high intensity for up to 180 seconds. Lactic acid is produced as a by-product. Many bodybuilding exercises use this system. One must train 6-8 weeks for 3-4 times a week to develop this system. Training 1-2 times a week is sufficient for maintenance. Glycogen is the fuel used by the lactic acid system. Initial reserves last about 80 minutes. To enhance this system, train at a submaximal level for 30-90 seconds, followed by 2-5 minutes of rest.
  • Aerobic: In this system, the muscles use oxygen as the energy source and operate at lower intensities for over 180 seconds. This system requires at least 3-4 months for 4-6 time a week to develop. After development, maintenance requires training 2-3 times a week. Fat and glycogen are the primary fuel sources used by the aerobic system. For aerobic conditioning, train with 8 minutes of high intensity intervals followed by 2 minutes of rest.

Source: The Barton Mold
This ain't one of those "feel good" workout books that give subjective answers to specific questions. This is based on science and written for athletes striving to be Olympic champions.



Bodybuilding
 
Although I've been training with weights off and on since high school, I never considered competing in bodybuilding until various people at my gym began encouraging me to compete.  Normally, I wouldn't take people seriously but some of the encouragement was coming from local champions, which made me think twice.

Ghaniyy

Ghaniyy
For my first contest, I sought the help of Ghaniyy in June 2001.  Ghaniyy played professional football in Canada and trained the Maryland Muscle Machine, Kevin Levrone, who placed as high as second in the Mr. Olympia contest and as of March 2005 is the world record holder for most professional wins in International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) history.  Ghaniyy taught me the proper way to train, diet, and pose.  Kevin Levrone also gave me a couple of pointers that came in handy.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.

On August 25, 2001, I competed in the United States Bodybuilding Federation (USBF) 2001 Natural Nationals and American Cup Novice contests in Baltimore, Maryland.  These are drug free, all natural competitions where contestants are tested for a variety of anabolic steroids.  Considering this was my first contest, I did pretty good.

USBF American Cup Novice Men's Lightweight Division First Place
This division is open to any men who have not won a bodybuilding contest and weight less than 165 pounds.  On the day of the contest, I weighed in at 144. My normal weight was 153.

USBF Nationals Men's Lightweight Division First Place
This division is open to any men under 155 pounds, regardless of previous victories or losses.

USBF American Cup Novice Best Poser
This award was presented to the best novice poser.  It was a reflection on how well the various bodybuilding poses were executed along with the choreography and execution of the individual routine.  My individual routine drew upon some of my gymnastics and martial art skills set to the music of White Zombie.  I chose their "I Zombie" (Europe in the Raw Mix) from their "Supersexy Swinging Sounds" CD.

USBF American Cup Novice Men's Overall Champion
This award was presented to the best men's overall novice competitor.  The winners of each men's novice weight division compete against each other for the title of Mr. USBF American Cup Men's Novice 2001.  I had to beat the middleweight and heavyweight winners to earn this honor.

I did lose the USBF Nationals Men's Overall Champion title to Hugo Frazier, who eventually won the Mr. Virginia competition.

Ghaniyy, Dad, and Saki, August 26, 2001

August 26, 2001
It is important to me to give recognition where it is due.  Ghaniyy guided me through my training and dieting.  Dad inspired me since I was a young boy.  I remember watching him lift the old concrete weights in the garage and tell me about the old days when he knew guys like Bill Pearl.
Left to right: Ghaniyy (yes, he really is that big), Dad, and me.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.


April 27, 2002
On the morning of my second contest, I weighted in at 142 pounds, 12 pounds less than my off-season weight.  I felt lean and mean...well, at least lean.  I wanted to prove to myself that I had the self-discipline to do what I did in 2001...but this time by myself.

That afternoon, in Baltimore, Maryland, I demonstrated that I still had what it took to win by winning first place in the USBF Silver Cup Men's Lightweight Division.

I choreographed my posing routine to the music of Marilyn Manson.  I chose "The Horrible People" from the "Remix & Repent" CD.  I won my weight class but lost the overall title to Hugo again.


 
Strength training
 
While bodybuilding sculpts the body, primarily through weight training and dieting, strength training conditions the body for strength development.  Often the two goals have similar paths but they are quite different.  For those who train vigorously with weights, the disciplines are typically divided up into power lifting, Olympic lifting, and bodybuilding.  In addition to having different goals, the exercises, the number of repetitions per set, and the number of sets per exercise are often quite different.  I have never competed or trained seriously in power lifting or Olympic lifting, but I have a great deal of respect for both.

My weight training schedule is typically divided up into three workouts:

  • Chest, shoulders, and triceps
  • Legs
  • Back and biceps


These workouts are logically set up so that the secondary muscle used in the compound lifts will be worked on the same day as the primary muscle.  This enables more time for recovery.  For example, bench or dumbbell presses are compound movements (versus isolation movements) that work the chest, shoulders, and triceps.  Additionally, pullups or lat pulldowns work the lats as the primary muscle and the biceps as the secondary muscle.  Do these workouts with maximum intensity then give yourself plenty of time to recover.

I will often lift two days in a row and use the third day as a non-lifting day.  This doesn't necessarily mean I rest.  I may do cardio on that third day, depending on intensity of the previous day's workout.

Ideally, my weight training workouts are formatted as follows:

  • 5 minute warmup, typically riding the recumbent stationary bicycle at low intensity
  • Pyramid set of compound and/or power movement (e.g. power cleans, squats, dumbbell press)
  • Other compound movements to hit the larger/core muscles
  • Isolation exercises to hit the smaller muscles
  • Miscellaneous exercises (e.g. abdominals, neck bridges)
  • Stretch/cooldown


2006: I'll usually accomplish 18-27 sets of the non-miscellaneous exercises in 60-75 minutes (only counting lifting time).  I typically prefer bodyweight exercises such as pullups to their weightlifting counterparts (lat pulldowns).  I generally try to keep the number of repetitions in the 6-10 range though sometimes I'll do drop sets or super sets which increases the number of reps significantly. Speaking of bodyweight exercises, check out this video of someone (not me) doing one arm pushups without leg support.


Home gym


Home gym


Home gym


Home Gym
In late 2007, I injured my left knee doing one-legged squats and running. I decided to take some time off from weightlifting after it failed to heal. From May to November 2008, I stayed away from weight training. But I did take the time to do lots of pullups, pushups, and outdoor activities. After a cortisone shot, the inflammation in my knee went down and I began to resume training. In the autumn of 2008, I began putting together a home gym. This gym took up about a third of my basement in my townhouse. It is comprised of a pullup bar, bardip station (with fold-up handles), handstand pushup station, dumbbell pairs ranging from 10 to 60 pounds in 5 pound increments, an adjustable bench, leg extension/curl aparatus, sissy squat machine, and about 275 pounds of Olympic plates. I made handstand pushup risers and an attachment so I can use the bench as a back hyperextension station. This all sits on a 2 centimeter thick 8 x 12 foot mat or 3/4 inch plywood. Much of the equipment was purchased used from Craig's List - Maryland. The total cost for equipment and setup was about $1500. See first and second photos.

In December 2009, I moved out of my townhouse and into a single family home. So my gym was moved into the garage of this house. The garage is unheated and uninsulated so in the winter, I put on thermal coveralls and warm up for a long time before lifting. In the summer, I just deal with the heat though I tend to spend more time doing stuff outside and less time lifting when it is warm. I made myself a free-standing heavy bag stand and installed gymnastics rings. I did away with the sissy squat machine because I hardly ever used it. Instead, I put my 75 pound heavy bag over one shoulder and do lunges. I prefer that over squats as it is easier on my knees. Check our my garage gym in the third photo.

I've been pretty fortunate with the equipment I purchased. I didn't pay a lot for anything but there is one thing that I should have paid more for. I had foam mats that I purchased from Dick's. They fit together like a puzzle. After about 3 years, they started to deform and didn't fit together so well. In 2013, I bought some replacements and planned to just get rid of the worst pieces. But the new mats didn't fit together at all with the old ones. The old ones had flattened out. Rather than buy new foam mats that I would have to replace again in a few years, I bought dense rubber mats. These are 3/8 inch thick and also fit together like a puzzle. I bought enough to fill in my 10 foot by 10 foot workout space. It cost me $362.52 at Gym Source but hopefully, I will never need to replace them.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

155 pound snatch


175 pound snatch


Olympic Lifts
On May 8, 2012, I snatched more than my own bodyweight. This has been a goal of mine for some time. Although lots of folk can snatch considerably more than their own bodyweight, I have to modify the lift significantly because I've encountered knee problems when I get into a deep squat. Hence, I need to life the weight very high then lower my hips by dropping into a straddle stance rather than a deep squat. In the first video, I am lifting 155 pounds. My weight is 151 pounds.

In the second video, shot that same day, I am doing a 175 pound clean and jerk. Once again, notice that my knees don't bend very far.
Click videos to enlarge.

Muskratified Saki


Handstand pushups
On March 20, 2013 (the first day of spring), a co-worker and I had a handstand pushup contest. These are pushups done from the handstand position with feet leaning against a wall. I challenged him about 3 months prior after finding out he was a serious gymnast in high school. Every gymnast I've ever known included handstand pushups in their training regiment. It is something I learned when taking gymnastics classes in school. But unlike my co-worker (AJ), I was not a serious gymnast. I only took it for a couple of years as a physical education class in the 11th and 12th grades. Our teacher was a regular gym teacher without much gymnastics training. Most of the male students were martial artists, wrestlers, football players, drug dealers, or gang members. We spent a good bit of our time trying to do what we saw the previous weekend on kung-fu theater. Anyway, AJ and I did our contest and I won with 24 handstand pushups against his 23. With me victorious, he had to buy donuts for our office.

Kevin B., another co-worker of mine, commemorized the event with a muskrat drawing.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.


 
Injuries
 
In 2003-2006, I was working on incorporating more dumbbell power lifts using kettlebell exercises.  Kettlebells are an old Russian weight lifting apparatus that develop power and core strength.  I included these exercises near the beginning of my workout. The exercises I practice include the clean and jerk, bent arm snatch, straight arm snatch, and squat with weight held directly overhead by a straight arm. Keep in mind that these exercises develop power which is a function of both strength and time.

Since then, I've had numerous lower back and left hip flexor injuries from the straight arm dumbbell snatches. I no longer do this exercise and don't recommend it. But the other exercises I find highly beneficial as long as strict form and is practiced.

The fellow who taught me kettlebell exercises also told me something very interesting. When asked if he had any knee problems, he answered, "Not since I've been doing one legged squats." One legged squats are done without weights, done slowly, and NOT done to exhaustion. My guess is that it is like doing dumbell presses instead of bench presses. By doing squats one leg at a time, there is an extra plane of resistance. You must use your lateral stabilizer muscles around the knee to perform this exercise. This muscle does not get used during traditional weight lifing exercises and is often the weak link that leads to injury in sports activities. Hence, by targetting these lateral stabilizer muscles, you reduce your chances for knee injury. But I would NOT recommend this exercise if you have any knee problems. Additionally, this exercise should be done in moderation.

Around December 2007, I injured my left knee doing this exercise as a deep squat. I don't believe it was so much the fact that I was doing this exercise but rather the fact that I was doing it as a deep squat that caused the injury. When I say "deep," I mean butt to ankle. I know this is better for muscle development but it is definitely harder on the knees. At the time, I was 40 and my body was feeling the effects of hard training for the last several years. Some damage to my knee was done that resulted in pain when it was bent at a sharp angle. I've since been to an orthopaedic doctor several times.

2009: Lifting heavy weight is good for developing strength but it is naturally hard on the body and can make one more prone to injury. But one can, nonetheless, be very strong while lifting weights that are more easily controlled. The question is, how much is sufficient? In Weightlifting, Olympic Style by Tommy Kono, he says 8-12 reps is good for training. Now that I am a little older, less testosterone driven, and wiser, I try to keep my reps in this range.

In November 2015, I was working the heavy bag and hyperextended my left shoulder. If I were younger, this would have healed up over time but this did not. It wasn't a new injury...it was one that was re-aggravated. It first started in my 20s when I did wide left hooks. But after recovery, it got better. I would do other things that would re-injure it but with rest and sometimes training modification, I recovered. After going to the latest orthopedic doctor, he reviewed my MRI and said I have injuries that are typical of men my age. I'm making additional training program modifications including limited range of motion for pushups and pushup-like exercises. I've also stopped doing handstand pushups. Kayaking has become difficult which is unacceptable.


 
Cardio
 
The Marines taught me the importance of running.  It is great for the cardiovascular system and burns fat better than almost anything else.  However, I also saw many infantry Marines and, as a civilian, marathon runners, who ended up having knee problems.  The Marines taught me to train hard but university physical education classes taught me to train smart.  Running with a heavy backpack may make your muscles, heart, and lungs strong, but it will eventually wreak havoc on your connective tissue.  For the conditioned athlete, the mind is often stronger than the body that houses it.   Know your body and its limitations.

How do you know how hard to train for running and cardiovascular activities in general? There are a few different methods but knowing your maximum heart rate (MHR) in beats per minute is a good start.
     For men: 220 - (your age)
     For women: 226 - (your age)
When training for cardiovascular conditioning, make sure the activity is continuous (preferrably 20-60 minutes) and gets your heart rate up to 60-85% (some books say 65-85%) of your MHR. This is your target heart rate. Training so that your heart rate exceeds 85% will shift the focus from aerobic to anerobic training. This dividing line is called the steady state. Similarly, the point at which a further increase in effort will cause more lactic acid to accumulate than can be eliminated is called the anaerobic threshold. Training beyond the anaerobic threshold for an extended and continuous period of time will enable one to reach what I call the puke threshold...no, you won't find that in any references. It is recommended to perform aerobic conditioning 3-5 times per week (but not at the puke threshold level of intensity) [1] [2] [3].

The following terms are also of importance:
Predicted maximum heart rate: The maximum number of times a person's heart should beat per minute during "all out" (balls to the walls) cardiovascular training.
Recovery heart rate: The cool down process should bring your heart rate down below 120 beats per minute (110 if you are over 50).
Resting heart rate: The number of times a person's heart beats per minute while resting. Ideally, this can be determined by someone who takes your pulse while you are sleeping and not having active dreams.
Anaerobic threshold: The heart rate at which your body transitions from burning primarily fat to using primarily carbohydrates for energy. When your body kicks into carbohydrate burning gear, lactic acid begins to accumulate in the bloodstream faster than you can use it. This level of intensity is difficult to maintain for long. You can determine your individual anaerobic threshold (AT) using step 1 of heart rate training chart [3] [4].

Cardiovascular training can be divided into 5 zones:
Zone 1: Warm up and cool down; 60-70% of AT.
Zone 2: Aerobic development; 70-90% of AT.
Zone 3: Aerobic endurance conditioning; 90-100% of AT. Pushes your cardiovascular system and results in emproved endurance and cardiovascular efficiency.
Zone 4: Anaerobic endurance; 100-110% of AT. Raises tolerance to lactic acid. Carbohydrates are primarily burned.
Zone 5: Short intervals of effort and intensity that don't last more than a few seconds [4].

You've probably heard that having a high metabolic rate helps one burn fat more quickly. At the cellular level, this is done by the mitochondria, the "cellular power plants." Regular exercise, especially training at zones 2, 3, and 4, helps increase the mitochondrial count [4].

Training under ideal conditions is great. But it takes time for your body to adapt to hot weather.
Your health, age, and activity level determine how quickly you adjust to heat.
Fit, healthy people acclimitize best and fastest. Those who gradually work up to 60 to 90 minutes per day exercising or working hard in the heat should be fully acclimitized in 14 days.
[5]

Running
If running is your preferred choice of cardiovascular training, as it is mine, then make sure your shoes are well cared for. It is recommended that you change your running shoes at least every 500 miles since this is the amount of time it takes for almost all running shoes to lose about a third of their cushioning [3].

While I still enjoy running, I don't enjoy it as much as when I was living in California.  I loved running in the warm, dry, sunny Sacramento climate.  Even though it may be too hot in the middle of a summer day for running, if you time things just right, you can run in perfect 80 degree weather just before dusk when things cool off.

I've run several races between 5k and a half marathon.  I have no desire to run a marathon.

Army Ten-Miler, October 12, 1997
This was without a doubt, my best running race.  I completed it in 1:13:14, averaging 7:19 per mile for 10 miles.

Run for Alex Mack, July 30, 2011
After a 14 year break from running races, I decided to do a small fundraiser 5k in Pasadena, Maryland. I completed the race in 22:50, averaging 7:31 per mile. Not too bad for an old man.

Race against Wahab, June 19, 2012
Wahab is a co-worker of mine. We've run together quite a few times and of everyone that I've run with, he is closest to my equal in terms of speed over at least a half mile. So early in 2012, I challenged him to a race. I hoped this would make me train harder and really work on my running speed. It did not. I pretty much trained how I normally would. The upcoming race did not affect Wahab's training either. The race was originally scheduled to be on summer solstice (June 20, 2012) but due to hot temperatures, we moved it a day prior. The route was Patapsco Valley State Park between Lost Lake and the Swinging Bridge, and a little on Soapstone Branch to make for an even 3 miles (up and back). We started running on the Soapstone Branch in the Glen Artney Area around 1730. It was a humid 87 degrees. He took the lead from the start, maintaining a very good pace. I did my best to stay close. I thought to myself, "If he keeps this up, I will lose for sure." But after about a half mile, we were equal. Then I took the lead. He stayed on my tail for quite sometime. Then I gradually pulled ahead. My eyes weren't focusing properly. This often happens when I run hard. I don't know why and neither does my opthalmologist but everthing is fine soon after I stop running. Wahab and I turned around at the Swinging Bridge. My lead increased. Turning left onto Soapstone Branch, I started running uphill towards the finish. I was giving it everything I had. I dry heaved twice before crossing the finish line then three times more after. My time was 21:36. Wahab was about 12 seconds behind me. I averaged 7:12 per mile! My goal was to finish in under 22 minutes or finish not more than 10 seconds behind Wahab. I really thought he would beat me. I rehydrated and stretched out before leaving. On the drive home, I had a hard time remembering where to go. My concentration sometimes gets flustered after exerting myself so hard. Getting out of my car, my thighs were screaming. Walking up the stairs in my house, my calves started to cramp. Physically, I felt like crap, but mentally, I was on top of the world. I can't imagine pushing myself this hard more than once every 6 months. Did I say that Wahab is almost 19 years younger than me and ran track in high school? Running with him got me to push myself harder than I ever would have alone, or running in a big race. So for that, I thank you Wahab. Did we have a bet? Yes. Loser buys donuts for the winner's office. I went into that race feeling quite certain that I would lose...so much so that a few hour prior, I wrote a reminder to myself on a sticky note to buy donuts for Wahab's office. Thus, that thing I ate the next day wasn't just a glazed pastry...it was the sweet taste of victory!

I rarely run beyond five miles at a time now.  I love running fast but only if I have someone to race.  No incentive to sprint against myself.

River Valley Ranch 10k Trail Run, August 11, 2012
On August 11, 2012, I ran the River Valley Ranch 10k Trail Run. This was a last minute decision. My co-worker, Jim C. signed up to run this a long time ago. He is a hardcore runner. He convinced Ted, my cubemate, into running the day prior. With the two of them running, I became interested. I had considered spending this day out on my stand up paddleboard but it was supposed to be a little windy so I figured a run would be better. Ted and I met Jim C. at his house at 0530. From there, we carpooled to the race where we met Stephen W., another co-worker. The race began at 0800. I started with those claiming to maintain an 8.5 minute mile pace but I soon found that most of them overestimated themselves as I ended up passing many. It was a hilly run on dirt roads and narrow trails. There were lots of rocks, at least one fallen tree, and a shallow stream to cross. I hadn't run a 10k or more non-stop since perhaps 1998 and I probably haven't done any real trail running for almost as long so I didn't push myself too hard for fear of injury. I ended up finishing 92nd our of 647 people. This put me in the top 15%. For my age group, I finished 22nd out of 70. My time was 53:42. That certainly doesn't sound fast but with trail runs being highly variable, I don't think the time matters much. Where one places is what is important (and having fun). I would have liked to have placed in the top 10%. In terms of running effort/intensity, I'd say I put forth an 8 out of 10. When I raced Wahab on June 19, 2012, my effort was a 10. I couldn't have run harder if you held a gun to my head. If I had run at an effort level of 9, I think I could have done it in 52 minutes. But at least I didn't get hurt. My left knee was sore but for that distance, I am not surprised. It was a fun run that was very well organized and staffed. My co-workers and I had fun and that is what matters most.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.

Savage 7k, October 14, 2012
On October 14, 2012, I ran the first annual Savage 7k. This event was organized by my neighbor, Sara V. The route was mostly uphill in the first half and downhill in the second half. It was extremely well organized. Money raised from this event went to help fix up the Carroll Baldwin Hall.
Carroll Baldwin Hall, a lovely old Richardsonian Romanesque building constructed of stone from the nearby Patuxent River, was built for the residents of Savage as their Community Hall. The center of gatherings movies and stages performances, The building formerly housed a bowling alley in the basement and was once home to the Savage branch of the Howard County Library. It was built in the early 1920's as a memorial to Carroll Baldwin, former president of the manufacturing company. The Baldwins managed the company from 1859 to 1911.
- from Savage, Maryland

A total of 65 people competed for this event. I placed 11th with a time of 32:30, averaging 7:28 per mile. I got beat by one chick (humiliating). The fastest runner maintained a pace of 5:28 per mile. I would have been happy if I averaged 7:20 per mile. It was a sunny day with temperatures around 50 degrees and somewhat windy. 10 to 20 degrees warmer would have been better for me.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.

Circuit course
I've never been one to believe in subjective evaluations of physical conditioning.  Similarly, I feel that one needs to be able to measure progress to know one has made progress.  It is never enough to say that you feel stronger.  Additionally, it is often the case that one may make improvements in one area while growing weaker in another.  Hence, some type of balance in one's physical training must be obtained.

For me, the circuit course is the best single measure of fitness.  The course is clearly defined.  Progress in it means growth in strength, endurance, and speed.

Over the years, I've put together three circuit courses: the Friendship Annex (FANX) 1.6 mile course, the Hanover (Villages of Dorchester) 2.5 mile course, and the Savage 2.1 mile Course.

FANX Circuit Course
In 2003-2006, I used to do a course where I'd begin at
     900 Elkridge Landing Road
     Linthicum, Maryland 21090-2924
This location has three sets of pullup bars.  One tenth of a mile uphill are three sets of pushup bars.  Another tenth of a mile uphill are parallel bars.

At the pullup station, do 10 pullups using a palms facing away shoulder width grip.  They don't have to be of perfect form but your chin must reach above the bar in the up position and your arms must be straight in the bottom position.  Of course doing these quickly will naturally introduce some swinging of the body but this should be minimized.

Run uphill to the pushup station.

At the pushup station, do 20 pushups on the lowest bar.  Use as wide of a grip as the bar will allow and make sure your chest touches the bar each time in the down position.  In the up position, your arms should be straight.

Run uphill to the parallel bars.

At the parallel bars, do 10 bar dips.  You'll have to bend your legs to keep from touching the ground.  In the down position, your upper arm and forearms should form a 90 degree angle.  In the up position, your arms should be straight.

Run back to the pushup station and repeat doing 20 pushups.

Run back to the pullup station.

That completes one set.  Do four sets as fast as possible with no rest.  Try not to puke.  On the fourth set, switch your pullup grip so that your palms are facing you with a narrow grip.

By the time you finish, you will have run 1.6 miles, done 40 pullups, 160 pushups, and 40 bar dips.

Don't bother going all out on this unless you are sure you can complete the course without stopping or walking.  In the summertime, you might want to wear bug spray.  I've gotten a tick on me once, probably at the pushup station.  This area can have quite a bit of traffic early in the morning and you'll need to cross over two areas where parking lots connect to Elkridge Landing Road.  Running late in the day during daylight savings time on weekdays or anytime on the weekend seems to work best.

It is a great test of overall fitness but it is easy to push yourself to the point where you want to quit after the second set.

My best time on the circuit course is 17:02, done in July 2011.

In Hanover, Maryland, I did a similar route where I run up and down Dorchester Boulevard. There are two playgrounds. Each time I come to the playground, I do 20 pullups and 40 pushups without rest (or at least try to). By the time I'm done, I've run 3 miles and done 100 pullups and 200 pushups. I have to hit one of the playgrounds twice and the other three times to get in the full workout. It really kicks my ass and I can't always complete it but I make a desperate attempt to do so. In 2014, I modified the course so that I run about 2.5 miles and do a total of 100 pullups, 200 pushups, and 25 handstand pushups. On June 5, 2015, I did this in 37:40.

Arbutus course one
In downtown Arbutus, begin where Carville Avenue meets Sulphur Springs Road, just across from the Rite Aid.
Run west on Sulphur Springs Road.
Turn left (south) on Dolores Avenue.
Make a slight right onto Oakland Terrace. This is a good sized hill that then makes a steep downhill.
Turn right (south) on Oakland Road. Run under highway 95. Pass a church on your left and run through the neighborhood of Wynnewood.
Oakland Road veers right and turns into Cedar Avenue which heads west. This goes uphill for quite awhile. Cross over highway 195. Now you are in historic Relay
Turn right (north) onto Rolling Road. Notice the house with the huge yard on your right. Aren't the trees nice?
Turn right (northeast) onto Francis Avenue. Cross under highway 195. The sidewalk can get pretty muddy under highway 195. You might want to stay on the street. Another big uphill followed by a big downhill. Pass the 7-11 on your right and a church on your left.*
Turn left (north) on Carville Avenue. Run under highway 95. Pass the movie theater on your right. Finish where you started, right by the ice cream stand...hmmm...tempting.
That is a 4.35 mile course that hits many of the big hills in Arbutus. I call it Arbutus course one. My best time on this course is 33 minutes and 20 seconds which averages out to a pace of 7 minutes and 40 seconds per mile. That was run on May 23, 2005 while carrying a Walkman.

Arbutus course two
Arbutus course two is almost the same thing as Arbutus course one except after you pass the 7-11 on Francis Avenue (see asterisk in Arbutus course one description), keep heading east.
Francis Avenue turns into Ridge Avenue and crosses over Washington Boulevard (route 1). Run uphill again. Keep running until Ridge Avenue ends at route 1 alternate. There will be a gas station there.
Turn around and run back to where Francis Avenue meets Carville Avenue.
Turn right (north) on Carville Avenue. Run under highway 95. Pass the movie theater on your right. Finish where you started.
That is a 5.65 mile course that hits even more of the big hills in Arbutus. I call it Arbutus course two.

Villages of Dorchester
One short running route I've put together since moving to Hanover is the Villages of Dorchester Trail.

Miscellaneous running notes and tips
Jogging on flat terrain can create a force equal to 3 times your body weight while running downhill can double that impact [3].

Got bad knees? Given them a break and instead do some brisk walking (at least 3.5 mph). This offers almost the same aerobic conditioning benefits as jogging though it burns 10-20% fewer calories [3].

Don't run 2 hours before running because blood needed to flush our lactic acid built up in the muscles will instead be used for digestion [3].

Swimming
In February 2006, I began swimming on a regular basis. Swimming is gentle to the body in the sense that it has no impact. However, it can be tough on individuals with tendonitis or rotator cuff problems.

In a 25 meter long pool (~82 feet), 20 laps (one lap is up and back) equals 1000 meters (a little under 2/3 of a mile) while a mile is 32.2 laps. In a 25 yard long pool, a mile is 35.2 laps. Standard public pools are either 25 yards to 25 meters long. The Villages of Dorchester community pool in Hanover, Maryland is a 25 meter long pool. Yes, I did measure it. On September 4, 2015, I swam it in 32:29 though that was 66 lengths rather than 64.4. Interpolating, my one mile time would have really been 31:42. I wore a swim cap which takes about a minute off my time. That year, I really put a lot of effort into making my stroke more efficient. Here are some things I found that seem to help:

  • Push off hard from the side about 1-2 feet below the water line. I should surface before my speed slows down less than my stroke speed.
  • When pushing off, have one hand on top of the other and reach out in front of me with my arms straight and toes pointed. I really need to reach out to make my body as long and narrow as possible.
  • Breathe on the right side every fourth stroke.
  • When breathing, open my mouth wide and take in as much air as I can quickly. Fill my lungs as much as possible. It should feel like I am taking a deep breath to stay under water a long time.
  • Start to exhale on the second stroke. Doing so earlier will deplete my body of good air that I need. This is very important. I might be able to wait until the third stroke but I also need to make sure I get as much air out of my lungs before I take a breath.
  • When my arm is out of the water, I should try to get my entire shoulder out of the water to make myself more streamlined.
  • During the stroke, reach out in front of my as much as possible, angling my shoulder girdle to get an extra couple of inches in the stroke.
  • Continue the stroke until my fingers touch the thigh on the same side of my body.

  • An extensive collection of swimwear and accessories can be purchased year round at
         Cy's of Catonsville
         719 Frederick Road (route 144) just west of Bloomsbury Avenue and Ingleside Avenue
         Catonsville, Maryland 21228
         Phone: 410-747-8760
    The store also sells corrective lense goggles.

    Good indoor pools are hard to find. Check out
         North Arundel Aquatics Center
         7888 Crain Highway
         Glen Burnie, Maryland 21061
         Phone: 410-222-0090

    Duel in the Pool
    They say that 90% of the outcome of a race is determined before it even takes place. In other words, it is more about the training than the actual race. That was certainly the case for "Duel in the Pool" which occurred on September 9, 2015. This was a one mile swim race in a pool between me and my co-worker Mike D. Mike is about 22 or 23 years younger than me and is also the youngest guy in my office. He was a competitive swimmer in high school and also played water polo. In the spring of 2015, we spoke about swimming and when I mentioned a one mile race, he said he would accept a challenge. So in April or May (I forget exactly when), I threw a glove down at his feet (a symbolic gauntlet). He looked down and said, "You lost your glove." I issued the challenge with witnesses present and he accepted. It was the usual office bet where the loser would have to buy donuts. We sit at opposite ends of the office so each side was rooting for their swimmer. Because of his experience on the swim team, most people were putting their money (not literally) on Mike. But my friend Janie was extremely confident that I would win. I was not so confident. Had I been, I would not have issued the challenge. I like a competition that could go either way so that we will both be encouraged to train.

    Mike joined "LA Fitness" in Gambrills so he could swim and lift weights. But he soon found weight lifting taking priority and found himself getting stronger, which encouraged him to lift more. I started swimming when the pool at my townhouse opened on Memorial Day weekend. About twice a week, I swam a mile at the pool and then did my 2.5 mile circuit course run afterwards. Each time I swam, I pushed myself to be faster. Prior to 2015, my best one mile swim time was around 36 minutes. My best time prior to August was 32:30. That was wearing a swim cap and form-fitting swim trunks. I always timed myself and wrote down notes as to how I could improve my time. I also spoke to Mike who gave me pointers on my technique. In return, I gave him advice on weight lifting. But while I was swimming and running, I was not lifting or practicing my martial arts. By mid-August, my times were getting better and more consistent. On my final training swim, on September 4, I set my personal best of 31:42. I felt ready. Mike did not. He hadn't even swum a complete mile though his half mile time was much faster than I could ever do.

    Over the next few days before the race, I did not train. I slept a lot and relaxed at my sister-in-law's farm, helping out with some light chores. I was around a lot of kids so I feared getting sick but I did not. For race day, I had a playlist on my iPod called "Race Music" that contained aggressive music to get me in in the proper mindset. It had "Bodies" by Drowning Pool, "Blind Man" by Blackstone Cherry, "Come On Get Up" by Adrenaline Mob, "Absolute Zero" by Stone Sour, and other similar music. On the drive out to the race, I listened to it all. The last song I heard was "Bawitaba" by Kid Rock. That song brought back memories of a really intense mixed martial arts seminar weekend I did back when I was studying Muay Thai. If that song couldn't get me in the right mindset, I don't know what would.

    I arrived at Mike's gym a little early. I weighed myself on their properly calibrated medical-grade scale. I came in at 149.5 pounds which is pretty low for me...a result of not lifting weights. Mike walked in right on time. He graciously paid for my day pass. His girlfriend, Haley, who was also there, would count laps. He had asked the gym staff the length of the pool and they said 25 meters. So Haley would time us for 64.4 lengths. Mike and I shook hands and commenced the race at Haley's command. From the start, Mike set a pace that I could not maintain. Though our body types are similar, his technique and short distance conditioning is obviously better. I tried not to let that intimidate me. I hoped to catch up with him in the long run. I maintained a steady pace, trying to do exactly like I had done in training. Then, near the halfway point, I saw him switch from freestyle to the breast stroke, which is slower. At first, I thought he was trying to let me catch up but I soon realized that he was tired. A little later, I saw him standing. I caught up and he told me he was done. It was like the second fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran where Duran quit in the eighth round, telling the referee "No Mas." Mike asked me if I wanted to continue swimming and I said I did. Mike swam a little more but at that point, the race was over. I was hoping to make good time but I did not have the "Eye of the Tiger" and I was certain my time would not be great. I was actually feeling a little weak. Perhaps it was because I was swimming in a place I had never been. Maybe it was because it was an indoor pool and my polarized goggles made everything dark. After awhile, Haley signaled to me that I was done. She told me my time was 28:20 which seemed ludicrous. I brought a tape measure so Mike and I got out and measured the pool. I was actually 25 yards, not 25 meters. So if it took me 28:20 to swim 65 lengths, then assuming I had kept up that pace (yes, I could have), then it would have taken me 30:41 to swim 70.4 laps which is one mile in that pool. I certainly didn't think I was swimming quite so fast although I suppose not wearing a watch (I always swam with a watch during training) might have shaved off some time. Also, I guess being able to push off from the side more frequently in a shorter pool would have made me a little faster. But since it wasn't an actual mile, I'm not recording this as an official personal best.

    Like the true gentleman he is, Mike congratulated me. He also commented that my technique is good, which, coming from a seasoned swimmer like him, meant a lot to me. Had we swam a half mile, I am confident he would have won. I am also sure he would have won had he trained even half as much as I did. As I pondered my win, I thought about the donuts he would bring in the next day. I don't usually have much of a sweet tooth but nothing satisfies my appetite like the taste of a victory donut.

    During the winter of 2015-2016, I upped my training distance to 1.5 miles. During the non-summer months, I swim at the North Arundel Aquatics Center. It has 25 yard lanes so it takes me 70 length to swim a mile or 106 to swim 1.5 miles. On March 21, 2016, I swam one mile in 34:10 and then kept swimming to complete 1.5 miles in 50:33. I was really kicking hard, to the point where if I had kicked any harder, it would have been tough for me to get enough oxygen.

    Saki Challenge 2016
    Since 2006, I have been doing what I call an annual "Saki Challenge." This is a physical accomplishment that I find personally challenging. On April 24, 2016, Carmen and I did a century ride. At first, I figured that would be my challenge for the year but to tell the truth, it wasn't very challenging. I really enjoyed the ride and was glad that Carmen joined me but I could have easily gone further or faster.

    On August 17, 2016, I swam 2.5 miles. That's really far for me...perhaps a personal record. But I knew I could do a little more.

    Summer was coming to an end and on Labor Day, the Villages of Dorchester pool would close. I was wanting to get in enough swimming so that there would be no regrets when it did close. I hate the idea of looking back and thinking, "Dang it, I should have swam more during the summer."

    There are certain things that motivate me and get me to push myself hard. One thing that usually works is seeing great fighters. I admire how hard they train, the way they move, the power they harness, and their determination to go the extra mile despite exhaustion and pain. Folks like that inspire me. I suppose one could say that athletes in many sports display these characteristics but with all my martial art training, I can relate to fighting better than other activites.

    In mid-August, I learned about Jérôme Pina of France. He has a truly inspiring video called Beast Mode Activated. I don't know if he is a competitive fighter. Maybe he's a just guy with some gymnastics training, some fight training, and the ability to push himself to the limit. But his video inspired me.

    On August 23, 2016, I watched part of the "Beast Mode Activated" video before my swim. It was sunny, the water was cool, and I had the entire lap lane to myself. Slightly cool water is good for swimming laps rather than warm water. Everything was right and I was in the zone. I swam 200 lengths (up and back 100 times) in the 25 meter pool. This equates to just over 3.1 miles. It took me 2 hours, zero minutes, and 40 seconds. I never stopped. After 2.5 miles, my form was really suffering but I just stuck it out. I had lifted weights with my legs the day prior so I made sure not to push off from the side too hard for fear of cramping up. I paced myself and when I felt tired, I forced myself to take deeper breaths, filling my lungs with as much oxygen as I could.

    Swimming that far is really boring. I don't think I will do that again. But I'm glad I did. I'll probably never be as good a swimmer as my friend Stacy but for me, this was a feat worthy of a Saki Challenge.

    Bicycling
    If you live in Elkridge, you are a very short distance from the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Trail, a nice paved path for bicycling.
    Directions: From Old Washington Road (route 477) and Hanover Road in Elkridge, Howard County, take Hanover Road southeast to the end.
    Turn right (south) on Ridge Road.
    Turn left (east) on Stoney Run Road.
    Turn right (south) on Aviation Boulevard (route 170).
    Access the trail on the east side of the road near the route 170 and Dorsey Road (route 176) intersection.

    Sources
    [1] "Step Training, A Manual for Instructors" by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, 1997.
    [2] "Muscle and Fitness," September 2004.
    [3] "Orienteering: The Sport of Navigation with Map and Compass" by Steven Boga. Published by Stackpole Books in 1997.
    [4] "A Better Way to Train" by Sheila Mulrooney Eldred in the Lifetime Fitness magazine Experience Life. January/February 2007.
    [5] "How Bodies Beat the Heat" from the "Health and Science" section of the Washington Post, Tuesday, May 29, 2012. By Bonnie Berkowitz and Aberto Cuadra.


     
    Plyometrics
     
    Plyometrics are exercises to develop explosive strength.  This type of training is particularly useful for sports that involve jumping, throwing, punching, or kicking.

    Plyometric exercises develop power and speed by training the muscles' stretch-shortening cycle. These exercises target the eccentric (negative) movements that occur as a muscle puts on its "brakes" [1].

    This type of training is considered an advanced fitness program that is meant to augment other forms of training. You should be in good condition before starting such a program. One should allow at least 48 hours between plyometric workouts [1].

    In addition to several years in the martial arts, I took a couple years of gymnastics in high school where I realized just how important this type of training was for certain activities.

    Clapping pushup, 2002

    Clapping pushups
    This photo appeared in the Winter 2001, Volume 5 issue of the Thai Boxing Association of the U.S.A.  It was submitted along with an article titled "Plyometrics and Interval Training for Muay Thai."  Plyometric pushups are a great way to develop explosive strength, so essential for power punching.  Various degrees of difficulty include hopping pushups, clapping pushups, double clapping pushups, clapping behind the back pushups, and one arm slapping pushups (slapping your hand against your chest in the air).  Not sure if I can do one arm slappers.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.


    Stick jumps
    Like many guys my age, I spent many of my days in high school watching Kung Fu Theater.  I was always impressed by the fancy jumps and flips those guys could do.  High school gymnastics was usually where we would see if we could match their skills (usually we couldn't).  One thing I remember seeing Jackie Chan and a few others do was to stand on one foot, grab the other foot, then jump over your ankle without losing your grip or your balance.  I was always able to do that...and still can.  This is an example of a plyometric exercise, though one that could be made a bit safer.  Later, I started doing stick jumps.  First, find a lightweight stick, at least as long as your shoulder width.  Grip the stick with both hands at each end so that the stick rests horizontally in front of your crotch with your arms straight.  Hold onto the stick lightly with just your fingertips.  Now jump over the stick without letting go with either hand.  Land on your feet and repeat.  You could jump over the stick backwards to end up where you started but I've found this to be awkward to the point it takes away from the point of the exercise.  Stick jumps require you to jump high, pull your knees to your chest, and do it all very quickly.  You can do this for a certain number of repetitions but I've found it best to do as many as you can in a fixed amount of time.


    Stallone jumps
    I read about a great exercise that the now 58 year old (as of 2004) Sylvester Stallone does. First, he finds a pullup bar at least 8 feet high. He then jumps up to the bar, does a pullup, drops back down, and repeats. I modified the original exercise to make it more of a whole body plyometric workout. If you can find an adjustable pullup bar (are there such things?), set it so that it is 1/3 higher than your height. Hence, if you are 6 feet tall, the bar would be 6 + 6 * (1/3) = 8 feet high. This will help normalize height differences if you want to get competitive. If you can't find an adjustable pullup bar, just use one high enough so that with your arms stretched over your head, you still have to jump to reach it. Now that you have the equipment, start the exercise.

    Jump up and grab the pullup bar. That's the plyometric part for your legs.

    Now do a fast pullup. Don't worry about concentration. Use the upward momentum from the jump to help you get your chin over the bar. That's the plyometric part for your back and biceps.

    Next, drop to your feet and do an 8 count clapping bodybuilder. This is how my modification differs from Stallone's exercise. An 8 count bodybuilder is a military exercise that resembles the bend and thrust. Bend your knees and put your hands on the ground. Extend your legs so that you are in a pushup position. Now do a shoulder width clapping pushup. This is the plyometric part for your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Stand back up, resuming the starting position. This exercise with a regular pushup (not clapping) is an 8 count bodybuilder. Make it a clapping pushup and it become an 8 count clapping bodybuilder...at least that's what I call it.

    This comprises one rep. I recommend either doing a fixed number of reps as fast as you can (timing yourself for progress), or doing as many reps as you can in a fixed amount of time (say one minute). Remember to focus on explosive movements.


    Splitting firewood

    Splitting firewood, November 4, 2006
    Splitting firewood is a great way to develop power. Dumbell pullovers are similar in that they simulate the motion. However, unlike splitting firewood, pullovers are non-plyometric and don't provide resistance at the same position. When I split firewood, I bend my legs and drop my hips as I lower the ax. This increases the force of the swing. It is based on Ed Parker's marriage of gravity principle which incorporates one's body weight dropping with a strike on a vertical plane to increase the force of the blow. I've found this technique most effective for swinging a hammer to ring the bell at the state fair.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    Source
    [1] "Elastic Energy" by Kermit Pattison in the Lifetime Fitness magazine Experience Life. June 2007.



    Flexibility

    Only when you are extremely soft and pliable can you be extremely hard and strong.
    - Zen proverb

    When to stretch
    In the past two decades, study after study has shown that so-called static stretching, in which you hold a stretch for 30 seconds or more, doesn't prepare muscles for activity; in fact, it can do the opposite. Those toe touches will inhibit the activation of muscles, making them weaker, for about half an hour. On the other hand, evidence shows that dynamic stretching, or moving your body through a range of motions, leaves your muscles and joints much better prepared.
    - from the April 29, 2012 issue of Parade Magazine

    Miscellaneous Information
    If you don't think you can have size, strength, and flexibility, look at the legs of Tom Platz. Known for having two of the biggest legs in bodybuilding, Platz is also capable of doing the splits.

    Too much flexibility in some parts of the body can be detrimental to your sports performance or just unhealthy [1].

    Isometric stretching is the fastest and most efficient method of increasing static passive range of motion [1].

    To some extent, flexibility is genetic, "...it's a function of body structure...some people seem to naturally possess more flexibility than others [2]."

    While flat feet usually aren't considered a good trait, it is often associated with unusual flexibility of other joints [3].

    Stretching Tips
    Relax into the stretch. If you find yourself tightening the muscles you're trying to stretch to maintain the position, modify your stretch.

    Use a small towel to assist with some stretches. This will help keep the body properly aligned.

    When doing stretches that involve bending the torso to the knee, concentrate on leading with the sternum, not the nose.

    Keep the muscles warm.

    Try to slow down your metabolism when stretching. Concentrate on slowing your breathing.

    Exhaling slowly will help you stretch further.

    Stretches should be slow and controlled, not bouncy.

    Many sources recommend holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds. Yogis hold for a certain number of breaths.

    Don't stretch to pain.

    Standing straddle

    Stretches
    Fitness is more than strength. It is a balance amongst strength, endurance, power, speed, balance, and flexibility. Each person needs to determine the appropriate combination and level of each. In the photo at left, I demonstrate how flexibility, strength, and balance are put together in a single pose.

    Most of the below stretches I learned from studying gymnastics, dance, running, or martial arts. A few were learned from a yoga instructor.

    Different disciplines stretch differently depending on the purpose. For example, dancers and gymnasts frequently do leg stretches with the toes pointed whereas runners stretch with the toes pulled back. I recommend doing both. The ones I show are some of my favorites.

    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    Shoulder stretch 1


    Shoulder stretch 2


    Shoulder stretch 3

    Shoulder stretches
    These are particularly good at preventing rotator cuff problems, an overuse injury common to weightlifters who don't maintain a balanced training routine. I've suffered such problems but after seeing an orthopedic doctor, a physical therapist, modifying my training routine, and incorporating some new exercises and stretches, I'm fully recovered without the need for surgery. See how to stretch shoulders.

    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Wrist stretch 1


    Wrist stretch B

    Wrist stretches
    These stretches can prevent tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome. Also see stretching the wrists and hands.

    Many of the stetches I do (such as these) are a little different from the conventional in that I prefer to use body position or gravity to permit me to stretch further. I like this over using some other muscle to assist with the stretch, which might prevent me from achieving more thorough relaxation.

    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    The plow

    Lower back stretches
    My favorite lower back stretch is the plow, a popular yoga position. While yogis have been doing it for hundreds of years, many gyms do not recommend it, claiming it isn't suitable for those with lower back problems. It's effective but if it hurts, just don't do it.

    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    The cobra stretch

    Abdominal stretches
    You work your abs hard so don't ignore stretching them. My favorite abdominal stretch is the yoga pose called the cobra. A similar position, called upward dog, differs only in that your toes are turned under so you're supporting your weight on them. If you're serious about stretching your lower back, abdominal, and other core muscles, try a yoga class.

    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    Muay Thai stretch


    Dance hip stretch

    Hip flexors
    I often find my hip flexors feeling tight from kayaking. These stretches seem to help keep them loose.

    The first stretch was learned from Muay Thai kickboxing master Surachai "Chai" Sirisute. Squat down so that the left shin is on the floor. The other leg should have the right foot on the ground with the knee up. Bend at the torso to plant both forearms on the floor, thumbs touching, and index fingers touching. Left elbow should be near left knee and right elbow should be near right big toe. Forearms, left shin, and right foot should form a square on the ground. Hold, rock gently back and forth, then repeat on other side.

    The second stretch was learned from a dance instructor. Place the right leg behind, almost straight. Bend the left leg, placing the shin perpendicular to the rear leg. Bend at the hips, maintaining an upright posture, stretching the right hip flexor. Use the hands to gently push back the torso, increasing the stretch.

    Keeping the hip joints loose is essential for any martial art that involves a significant amount of kicking.

    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Butterfly stretch


    Inverted butterfly stretch


    Butterfly stretch modification 1


    Butterfly stretch modification 2


    Straddle stretch right


    Straddle stretch center


    Hurdlers stretch


    Standing double leg stretch

    Leg and groin stretches
    One of my favorite groin muscle stetches is the Butterfly stretch. Grab the ankles and push the knees down with the elbows to increase the stretch. See first photo at left.

    I learned an inverted version of the butterfly stretch from a Brazilian Jujitsu instructor that uses gravity to stretch rather than pressing with the elbows. Lie face down with legs in butterfly stretch position. Increase the stretch by arching the back as in the cobra pose. See second photo at left.

    A second modification of the butterfly stretch requires one to place the feet forward of the hips then bend at the hips. When doing such stretches that involve bending the torso toward the floor, concentrate on leading with the sternum, not the nose. See third photo at left.

    A third modification taught to me by a dance instructor places the feet forward of the hips with the feet about a foot apart. See fourth photo at left.

    When I took gymnastics classes in high school, I stretched for long periods of time to achieve the Chinese (straddle) splits. This involved stretching right (see fifth photo at left), then left, then center (see sixth photo at left). I'd do half the stretches with my toes pulled back and the other half with my toes pointed. After each cycle, I'd spread my legs wider and repeat. Before I graduated, I could do the Chinese splits and place my torso flat on the floor. Later, I was able to combine this flexibility with stretch to support my weight on risers in the straddle splits position. See seventh photo.

    Also see Working towards the splits.

    Hamstring injuries are extremely painful and debilitating. But they can also be avoided. Two of my favorite stretches to prevent such injuries are the hurdlers stretch and touching the hands to the floor.

    I've seen the hurdlers stretch done with the rear leg bend behind the hips rather than in front. I find that variation more difficult to achieve proper alignment and relaxation. If you can't reach your foot easily, use a towel to help reach your sternum towards your knee. See seventh photo at left.

    Touching the hands to the floor with straight legs is a common and easy stretch. Relax at the waist and let gravity pull your upper body to the floor. Try and touch your fingertips to the floor. If you can do this, touch your knuckles to the floor. Now try putting your hands flat on the floor. See eighth photo at left. Finally, try touching your face to your legs without straining your neck (reach with the sternum). Remember to exhale into the stretch.

    Hamstrings are sometimes tight to compensate for weakness or instability elsewhere in the body. Specifically, tight hamstrings are often an indication of weak lower-abdominal muscles and/or weak lower-back muscles [2].
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Sources:
    [1] "Stretching Scientifically: A Guide to Flexiblity Training" by Thomas Kurz. Published by Stadion, 1987.

    [2] "Loosening Tight Strings" by Matt Fitzgerald, Experience Life, December 2006.

    [3] Learning About Health and Fitness (original link no longer exists)



    Aging

    ...I ain't as good as I once was
    But I'm as good once as I ever was
    I used to be hell on wheels
    Back when I was younger man
    Now my body says, "You can't do this boy"
    But my pride says, "Oh, yes you can"
    I ain't as good as I once was
    That's just the cold hard truth
    I still throw a few back, talk a little smack
    When I'm feelin bullet proof
    So don't double dog dare me now
    'Cause I'd have to call your bluff
    I ain't as good as I once was
    But I'm as good once as I ever was
    Maybe not be good as I once was
    But I'm as good once as I ever was
    - from "As Good As I Once Was" by Toby Keith

    Supposedly, with age comes wisdom. Unfortunately, for many of us, it comes too late. When it comes to training, we don't always learn how to protect our bodies until we've damaged it. I know I'm luckier than many in that I've learned from the mistakes of others and gone to see the doctor about minor issues before they become major ones. I don't generally work through an injury. I try to give it a reasonable amount of time to recover and if it doesn't, then I seek medical help.

    As we age, our fast twitch muscles make the transition to becoming slow. I don't quite understand the process but I accept it. Lifting heavy weights is pretty hard of my body now. I still lift but now I'm focusing more on lighter weights, heavier repetitions, and perfect form. I'm not out to get stronger or bigger but I would like to maintain the strength that I have. I'm at that age now where men naturally start losing muscle mass.

    My tendons are somewhat prone to tendinitis and I want to protect my cartilege. So I do very few plyometric exercises now and avoid high impact exercises. Swimming and circuit course runs with pullups and pushups are my primary focus. I avoid training in very cold weather and if I do, I try to warm up really good first. I put more time into stretching though probably not as much as I should.

    Physical training is important at every age but as we get older, we have to listen to our bodies and train smarter.



    Elder Training

    It is important to remain physically active throughout our lives to ensure a good quality of life. But how we train is just as important as taking the time to train. An 80 year old person might not reap the same benefits as a younger person and could easily put themselves at risk if they engage in heavy lifting, sprints, or high impact activities. Instead, elderly people should engage in activities to reduce injury. I am not a fitness or medical professional but in my opinion, healthy senior citizens who find that their bodies are not responding as they would like to everyday tasks (e.g. walking) should focus on the following:

  • Stability: As we age, our bodies become brittle. One fall can result in a broken hip and leave a person wheelchair bound for the rest of their life. Preventing such injuries can start by avoiding the fall in the first place. This can be done by improving one's sense of balance. Tai Chi is a great activity for developing balance. Walking with walking sticks is a great way to improve one's stability when out for a stroll.
  • Posture: All too often, I see senior citizens that hunch forward. This affects one's stability and can affect one's muscle development and lead to pain on various parts of the body. Make sure to sit, stand, walk, and run with an upright posture. Look at a ballet dancer. Such people typically have excellent posture. They move with their head up, shoulders back, and spine kept perpendicular to the ground.
  • Muscle balance: Many problems are a result of muscle imbalance. I've heard that shin splints are partly caused by having strong calf muscles and weak shin muscles (tibialis anterior). At least since the 1990s, the focus has been on having strong abdominal muscles. This is indeed important. But what happens if you abs are strong but your lower back is weak? Such an imbalance around the spine is not good. That is why more recently, trainers have been talking about training one's "core" muscles. Doing so helps ensure more functional muscle development and balance.
  • Range of motion: Taking tiny steps while walking is often a result of having a limited range of motion. If your exercises require you to move your muscles only a short distance, than you might be guilty of this. But having too much range of motion can also be bad. If your knees aren't strong, then doing deep squats can make things worse. It is important to know the right balance for you that gives maximum benefit with minimal risk. I highly recommend riding a stationary bike. This forces your legs to move in a way that works them over a good range of motion. If this is hard on your knees or lower back, then consider a recumbent bike. Elliptical machines are also good but require more balance.
  • Flexibility: One might say this falls under the "range of motion" category but I tend to think of flexibility as more a result of stretching rather than training with a fuller range of motion, though the two are certainly related. A lot of older people stretch the way they were taught when they were young. Times have changed. Bouncing while stretching is no longer taught. Proper body alignment, exhaling into the stretch, and slow, controlled movements are now emphasized along with holding the stretch for several (~30 seconds). Fitness professionals, particularly yoga instructors, can help with this. Do a good stretch at the end of your workout, not at the beginning.
  • Increasing bone density: In the event that one does fall, you'll want your bones to be strong. A good diet with sufficient calcium and vitamin D will help with this but maintaining a good strength training program is also essential. Cardiovascular training by itself may not be sufficient. I don't recommend heavy lifting. Instead, light to moderate resistance is best. Medium to high repetitions (10-20) working over a good range of motion is ideal. Free weights are very good for developing strength but they also pose a greater risk for an elderly person. For safety's sake, I recommend strength training machines...especially those that target the large and/or core muscle groups. Don't work the same muscle groups on consecutive days. A good routine might include chest press, shoulder press, lat pulls, seated row, and crunches one one day. On the next day, work leg extensions, leg curls, back hyperextensions, chair squats, and stationary lunges. For leg extensions and leg curls, do high reps (15-20). The most important thing for elder strength training is to never lift more than you can control.



  • Chair squats
    I've always said that bodyweight exercises are the best and I believe this to be true even in the golden years. Your own weight is the one thing you have to be able to handle throughout your entire life. It doesn't matter if you can squat twice your own weight if you can't walk down the street without stumbling or get out of a car without assistance.

    Chair squats are a very basic, easy, and practical exercise.

    There are two big problems I find when older people do squats. First, they limit their range of motion too much. This results in less flexibility. The second (and opposite) problem is squatting too deeply, which can create problems for the knees or lower back. Chair squats solve both issues.

    The motion for a chair squat is the same as a regular squat. The difference is that you squat until your buttocks touch the chair. You don't want to sit back and put your weight on the chair. It is only there to ensure you achieve your full range of motion. As soon as your butt touches the chair, stand up and repeat. Having the chair to stop you ensures you do not squat too deeply.

    Position the chair, bench, box, etc. so that only the end of your butt will touch it when you squat. It is only there to let you know how deeply to squat and to protect you if you fall backwards. Look slightly upward to help maintain good posture. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. Movements should be slow and controlled. Curling the toes up when squatting will help protect your knees.

    Try to do at least 10 repetitions. If you find that you can do 20 repetitions fairly easily, consider holding light dumbbells to increase resistance.

    Click thumbnail to enlarge.



    Stationary lunges
    Lunges have always been one of my favorite exercises. But stepping forward or back could be difficult for a lot of seniors and increase their chance of injury. So instead, I propose stationary lunges.

    First, position yourself next to something you can grab onto for support. A chair or table will do. Stand so that you can bend your arm slightly at the elbow to grab onto this support which should be at your right or left side. For now, let's assume it is at your right side.

    Next, position your feet so that your left foot is forward and slightly to the left of the right foot. Just how far forward depends on your height and level of flexibility. Planting your feet so that your left heel is 14 inches in front of the toes of your right foot is a good place to start for someone that is 5'4". Adjust to what feels comfortable after the first few reps. Both feet should be facing forward.

    Position your right hand on the support so that it to the right side of your left heel or slightly further back. Keep your body erect. Adjust your body around your support (or move your support) rather than lean towards it.

    Now you're ready for the exercise. Look straight ahead, keep your back perpendicular to the ground, and bend your knees to lower your torso slowly so that your right knee approaches the ground. Go only as far as you can control. Then straighten your legs and repeat. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. Keep your hand on the support for balance but avoid using it to help lift your weight. It is there just to make sure you don't fall.

    If you have a very good range of motion, you can lower your right knee so that it touches the ground lightly. But don't put your weight on it. Again, only go as far as you can control.

    Be sure to work the opposite side (right leg forward). Just follow the above instructions but substitute right for left and left for right.

    The angle between your calf and thigh should never be less than 90 degrees. If it is, then you are putting too much strain on your knees. To fix this, increase the distance between your legs.

    Try to do at least 10 repetitions. If you find that you can do 20 repetitions fairly easily, increase your range of motion so that your right knee is closer to the floor. If you can do 20 repetitions easily with the right knee touching the floor, then try holding a light dumbbell in your left hand.

    Click thumbnails to enlarge.



    Walking with sticks
    I suggest trying to walk with a cane, hiking pole, or walking sticks if any of the following apply.

  • You feel that you might fall or if others are worried that you might fall.
  • Your sense of balance is not good.
  • You have bad posture. If in doubt, have someone take photos or a video of you when you walk.
  • You take very short steps.
  • You find yourself getting out of breath easily.

  • When we walk, we have 2 points of contact with the ground. With a walking stick (or sticks), we have 3 or 4 points of contact, which make us considerably more stable. It is prety intuitive to use a single stick. When using 2 sticks, try to move like you are cross country skiing...that is, your right pole is on the ground when you step forward with your left foot and vice versa. You should generally not have both poles off the ground at the same time when you walk.

    Walking is one of the first skills we develop. But as we age, this skill starts to diminish. Using a walking stick or sticks helps us retain this skill. Though it may seem like a thoughtless process, older people should keep the following in mind when they walk:
  • Maintain good posture. That means your back should be perpendicular to the ground.
  • If you are on smooth, even terrain with good lighting, you shouldn't have your head bent down.
  • Swing your arms if they are not holding onto walking sticks. This will help lengthen your stride.
  • Breathe naturally. Don't hold your breath. Maintain a pace that gets your heart pumping and your lungs working without forcing you to get out of breath. You should be able to carry on a conversation while you walk.
  • Walk only as fast as you can control. If you (or others) feel like you are not in total control, then slow down or take a rest. Since you can't see yourself when you walk, rely on the observations of others.

  • Walk frequently and try to keep your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes for good cardiovascular workout. If you can't do that, then do what you can.

    Hiking poles are typically made for walking in the woods. Thus, they have pointy tips so they can grip onto slick surfaces. But walking in a more urban or suburban environment may cause these pointy tips to get caught in sidewalk cracks. If this describes your hiking poles, then you may want to consider getting rubber walking tips.

    Walking is one of the first skills we learn. It should also be one of the last to go.

    Click thumbnails to enlarge.




    Good workout practices apply for elders as much as anyone else. You'll want to do a good warm up at the beginning and do a cool down followed by a stretch at the end. If a particular muscle group is sore, then give it time to recover before working it again.

    I don't recommend high intensity workouts for most seniors. There are just too many risks associated with this. When in doubt, play it safe.

    I feel that some of the best workouts for folks in their golden years include Tai Chi, swimming, low intensity group fitness classes (especially those specifically for seniors), walking, and dance. As with any long-term exercise program, it is important to find what motivates you. Exercise should be something you enjoy and look forward to.

    If you feel pain when exercising, stop, go to a doctor and get the problem fixed. Don't just quit exercising unless the doctor tells you to do so. Even then, I would get a second opinion since there aren't many conditions where one should simply not exercise. More often than not, one's exercise program just needs some modification. Physical therapists are great for suggesting exercise options.

    People are living longer thanks to things like modern medicine. But living into the golden years doesn't mean much if you have a poor quality of life. Regular visits to the doctor/dentist and maintaining a proper diet are essential to staying healthy. So is a good exercise program. Stay healthy and stay fit for life!


     
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    Books

    The Barton Mold: A Study in Sprint Kayaking by William T. Endicott. Published by the U.S. Canoe and Kayak Team, 1995. Though this book is primarily oriented towards kayak racing, it is one of the best books I have found at explaining race physiology and training.

    Clubbell Training for Circular Strength: An Ancient Tool for the Modern Athlete by Scott Sonnon; Published by AARMACS, 2002.

    Explosive Power and Strength by Donald A. Chu, Ph.D. Published by Human Kinetics, 1996.

    Hardcore Bodybuilding: A Scientific Approach by Frederick C. Hatfield, Ph.D.  Published by Contemporary Books, 1993.

    Jumping into Plyometrics by Donald A. Chu, Ph.D. Published by Human Kinetics, 1998.

    Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline; Published by Dragon Door Publications, 2000.

    Periodization Training for Sports by Tudor O. Bompa, Ph.D. Published by Human Kinetics, 1999.

    Sports Injury Handbook by Allan M. Levy, M.D. and Mark L. Fuerst. Published by John Wiley and Sons, Incorporated, 1993.

    Stretching by Bob Anderson.  Published by Shelter Publications, 1988.

    Stretching Scientifically: A Guide to Flexiblity Training by Thomas Kurz. Published by Stadion, 1987.

    Weightlifting, Olympic Style by Tommy Kono.  Published by Hawaii Kono Company (HKC), 2001.