Saturday, August 16, 2008

Active, Fit or Athletic?

August 16, 2008
The Olympics are going on, maybe you noticed. Right now I've got the TV on and the women marathoners are plowing their way through chewy Beijing air.

I'm reminded as I watch these amazing athletes run, of an interview I heard on NPR's "Fresh Air" years ago with an Olympic swimmer (not Michael Phelps) and Terry Gross made some comment like, "You must be really health."

The swimmer grunted or snorted and said, "Uh, there's nothing terribly healthy about exercising at the level needed for the Olympics."

They push themselves well beyond fitness. Most professional athletes do. The key is to push yourself to that balance point between peek performance and injury. Pushing yourself to that level wears down your immune system, among other things.

For those of us who are just trying to maintain our weight and stay fit, what world level athletes do isn't even on the radar. But what should we do?

I propose that prior to joining the gym and beginning to lift weights I was sort of "active." That is, I'd walk a couple times a day. I could be convinced to play some tennis with my kids, play in the pool. On a vacation I'd think nothing of a several mile hike. I don't think I was terribly "fit" and it didn't do much to keep the weight off or keep my cholesterol levels down, and once I hit my forties it became very clear that my overall fitness was fading, despite my so-called "active" lifestyle.

I wasn't fit. I wasn't quite to the level of the "weekend warrior." Still, I was probably a little better than the couch potato whose only exercise was picking up the TV remote.

Once I started at the gym and began lifting weights 3 days a week, I moved toward the outer spectrum of "active" and into the very wide realm of "fit." Then I added "Cardio," biking or running or using the elliptical. And in karate, I added some flexibility and range of motion and the occasional power move.

But am I athletic?

On some days I suspect I'm edging out of "fit" and into "athletic." But I have to be very careful about that, I think, so I stay healthy without injuring myself. That the urge to bike 10 to 20 miles, 3 or 4 days a week doesn't become an urge to compete in 50 mile races. 

Unless I want to.

Any thoughts? When does active become fit When does fit become athletic? When does athletic become crazy?

Mark Terry

Saturday, July 26, 2008


July 26, 2008
It was a pretty straightforward week in terms of exercise. I lifted weights Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The woman I have hired as a personal trainer for the last two years--I hired her every 3 or 4 months to work up a new routine and teach me how to use different weight machines, etc.--quit the gym. It's unlikely I'll hire any of the others and it's not clear to me that I would need to. I can easily mix-and-match old routines, look up new ones online or, as I've been doing this week, saying, "Okay, today I want to work on bis and tris, what exercises do you know for that? Oh yeah, curls, dips, let's use that machine and that machine, then that one, then do some free weights, then off to the cardio room to do some ball work for the abs because, well, you always gotta work your core."

I had a Tuesday night workout with Sanchin-Ryu, and I had a hard Sunday bike ride, low-key and short Tuesday bike ride, then a fast 10-mile ride on Thursday. I didn't go running Wednesday because I took my oldest son to see "The Dark Knight."

But Friday, when I wasn't really in the mood to run, I went out anyway. And I had a good run. Until... twang.

Yep, that gastrocnemius/soleus muscle at the back of my left calf came calling again. Very frustrating. At least this time I didn't mess around see if it would go away. I stopped running as soon as I felt it start to go. Walked the rest of the way home and put ice on it.

It felt so-so this morning. I needed to attend a Sensei Class for sanchin-ryu. In order to get promoted past purple belt (I'm a 1st degree brown; my next belt level is black) in this style, you need to be seen by the District Master at a Sensei Class. Same goes for my sons and my wife. So off we went. The stretching was a problem, but the workout was okay on my leg except for the point at which I stood on my left leg for a very long time with my right leg cocked so the District Master could double-check that our knees were high enough, that we'd strike with the balls of our feet, etc. That was a bitch.


Yes. I've been stretching and taking it easy and I bought new shoes, hoping that part of the problem was instability (I do have wobbly feet), that causes the calf muscles to overcompensate. They probably do. But the big issue is really that my poor calf muscles have to work overtime to push my extra weight around. Catch-22--can't run until you lose weight, can't lose weight without running. At least in theory.

So, ice, take ibuprofin, let it rest for a while, baby it...

And try it again when I'm ready.

Mark Terry

Monday, July 21, 2008

Man's Best Friend

July 21, 2008
Perhaps I should say: Middle-Aged Man's Best Friend. (I'm 44, is that middle-aged? Hmmm....)

A few months ago I and a couple other Men-Of-A-Certain-Age (actually, I may have been the youngest in the bunch) at the gym were in the locker room changing and talking about our aches and pains. One of the men, who lifts weights and runs on the treadmill, who I'm guessing is closing in on 60, laughed and said, "Forget a dog. A man's best friend is ice."

Alas, gone are the days when I can exercise regularly without suffering some ache or pain that is not, you know, a NORMAL ache and pain. Yeah, if I run or lift weights or whatever, I'm going to have some muscle soreness and that's normal. As my wife likes to say, mimicking the local football team: Pain Is Fear Leaving Your Body.

Well, although I think that's an OK thought, you have to use some common sense. When I hit my forties (sound like an old codger, unfortunately), I did notice that not only was it more difficult to get in shape--gone were the days of six months of inactivity followed up by a hey-I-think-I'll-go-running and go out and jog three miles--but my recovery from exercise was longer and more prone to not-so-normal aches and pains.

For example:

I developed tennis elbow, or tendinitis, in my left elbow from lifting weights. I've now got one of those straps I wear when I lift and it seems to work, plus I'm very attentive to proper mechanics now. I've mentioned my strained calf muscles (probably the gastrocnemius or possibly the soleus) from running. I have the occasional mechanical elbow problem (right elbow) that I haven't figured out yet. And weirdly, I've occasionally got soreness on the tops of my feet after running or biking. This apparently is inflammation related to having my shoes tied too tight.

The treatment for most of these? Ice and rest, by and large. Take some ibuprofin, too. But ice may very well be the miracle treatment for a variety of aches and pains.

The key is learning which ones are regular exercise muscle soreness, something that can be treated with ice and rest, and the ones that are more mechanical in nature. I would also add that I apparently have a touch of arthritis or something in my right hip. It doesn't seem to be affected by biking or running, but karate, oh boy. That can be an issue. It's not entirely clear if it is arthritis. It may just be a very stiff and oversensitive tendon and ligament and it does seem to improve with proper stretches.

Now, for any non-exercisers reading this who say, "See, this is why I don't exercise. All these aches and pains aren't normal."

I know, I know, the couch potato women my wife works with say this all the time. I always ask her, "Don't they constantly complain about their aches and pains?" And Leanne will run off a litany of Bridgette's back, Kathy's chest and shoulders, Mary's...

After a certain age--35? 40? 50? 60?--a certain amount of aches and pains seems to come with the territory. As the expression goes, "The thing about life is none of us gets out alive." And none of us gets out without a certain amount of discomfort. But I do find that exercising regularly changes my views of the various aches and pains.

I wouldn't necessarily take the adage that pain is just fear leaving your body, but I might suggest that a certain amount of discomfort just means your body is responding to stress by getting stronger.

And of course, if it's a really weird or specific type of pain, get thee to a doctor quickly.

Mark Terry

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Baby Steps

July 19, 2008
In addition to my regular workouts of biking and lifting weights and sanchin-ryu karate, I've recently added running... again. You see, for the last two years or so I've added running only to end up with strained calf muscles--or whatever it is. Then I give up.

In fact, it was my frustration with this that led to biking, which I absolutely love. So in that respect, I'm grateful. I often wish I lived in the south so I could bike year-round.

This time (again) I'm determined to build up slowly, treat any strains, coddle my calf muscles, stretch a lot before I run, and hope for the best.

I went running with my wife, Leanne, at the beginning of the week. She's been running pretty regularly for years and her biggest problem is finding the time. Although she lifts weights and studies sanchin-ryu, I think she defines herself as a "runner."

That may be a key to finding some activity that you can stick with. If asked, I'm pretty sure I'd say "biker." I might say weight lifter, but I wouldn't say bodybuilder, because my goals have more to do with fitness than bulk. I've got more bulk than I want as it is.

I was in to the doctor recently discussing my test results (cholesterol was 143, thank you very much) and I commented that I'd added running, and threw in my caveats about injuries, etc. She said, "Why do you want to run?"

I hesitated. It's not an unreasonable question, particularly for someone who's already involved in a dozen hours of activity a week. And no, I'm NOT interested in triathlons. (I can swim and used to a lot, but my sinuses are too finicky to enjoy it much any more). I'm not interested in running a full marathon, though I have somewhat half-assed thoughts of the Disney World Half-Marathon at some point.

I said, "It's the best way to keep the weight down."

That's true. In terms of calories burned per time invested, running is just about the best way to lose weight. Part of the problem though, is that if you're overweight, running puts a lot of strain on joints and tendons and ligaments. The risk of injury is pretty high. Something of a Catch-22.

Anyway, while we were running, me huffing and puffing and, okay, let's call it lumbering rather than running (or perhaps "waddling" if you're a John Bingham fan) and my wife was pacing me, light on her feet, I grumbled something about what a slow-ass I was and how I couldn't go longer than a half mile or three quarters of a mile before I had to stop. She said, "Baby steps, honey. Take baby steps."

Which is true. If I push too hard, I'll just end up lame again and that'll affect my biking, where there's no issue of only being able to go a half mile or three quarters of a mile. 

It's good advice for anyone starting an exercise program--take baby steps. What's your hurry? The point is a lifelong exercise program, not instant physical fitness (which isn't likely past the age of 16 anyway).

Mark Terry

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sanchin-Ryu karate

July 12, 2008
We got up and visited a karate class today. All four of us study Sanchin-Ryu karate, although my youngest son, who holds the rank of 2nd degree brown belt, isn't studying any more. He's 10 and we hope he'll get back into it, but meanwhile he's more interested in basketball and wrestling.

It only costs a $1 to visit a class if you're signed up for other classes and we typically study on Tuesday nights locally, but we like the Sensei at the Saturday class, Sensei Lisa. I've known her since I started four years ago.

So today was a two-hour workout.

Most people have an idea that a martial art is a very vigorous workout--and I would say, yes, it can be. In college I studied the American Karate System for a year and those workouts were tough. It's a style that closely resembles Tae Kwon Do in many ways and we did a lot of drills and AKS competes in tournaments.

Sanchin-Ryu has a different philosophy, is only offered through public parks and rec programs, the costs are kept low and it's very family oriented. We do not compete. I think I understand the rationale for that, but I don't think it's really my place to defend the style's decisions in a public forum. Let me say this, from having studied a different style--I don't think Sanchin-Ryu would lend itself well to the type of tournament sparring I took part of in AKS, where contact to the head, body or groin are tagged on a point system, where one tag is a point (i.e, if you make contact, it's a point).

Sanchin-Ryu--in my experience with it, I'm a first-degree brown belt, next belt level is first-degree black--is an "inside" style, which is to say, you get very up-close and personal and make a lot of contact. Sometimes we refer to it as SOS--skin on skin. That is to say, our strikes and kicks, etc., are often done within a bended arm's reach. 

Anyway, this blog is about fitness. Was it a hard workout? Not particularly. Most dojo time is spent on instruction, refining techniques, exploring various applications for different techniques. Yes, we start with a warm-up and stretching and a few push-ups, but most of the 2-hour time is spent learning. Still, for a couch potato society, anything that gets your body moving--even walking the dog--is a good thing, and Sanchin-Ryu does that.

So would I recommend Sanchin-Ryu for people interested in fitness? Well, like many things, you get out what you put in. In the dojo, you may or may not burn a lot of calories depending on who your instructor is and what you're studying at the time. My own instructor, Sensei Chris Miottke, sometimes puts us through our paces, but overall, I get more of a physical workout at the gym, biking or running. But on my own, I often work up a sweat and get the heart pumping. (I just don't do it often enough).

For people who are out of shape or not interested in competing or getting beat up, I recommend Sanchin-Ryu as an excellent family activity that will increase your flexibility, range of motion, balance, self-confidence and ability to defend yourself. If you pursue it long enough and diligently enough, you'll learn to fight well enough to survive being mugged or attacked on the street (and hopefully learn how to avoid the situation in the first place). If you really pursue it as an exercise, yeah, you'll be in great shape. But that's up to you, really, and how much you put into it. But then again, that's true of most physical activities.

Mark Terry

Friday, July 11, 2008

From Fat To Fit--Hello!

July 11, 2008
This is a seriously stripped down blog at the moment. Let me introduce myself. This is me.

My name is Mark Terry. I'm a professional freelance writer, editor and novelist. I am 44 years old, married with two sons. I have struggled with my weight my entire life and probably will until the day I die. In high school I ran cross-country one year. I played tennis a lot with friends. Swam a lot. Rode my bike a lot.

In college, where I earned a degree in microbiology and public health, I gained about 10 pounds a year, no matter how much I exercised.

About three years ago I joined a gym and started lifting weights. I'm still doing that today, working with a personal trainer every couple months to develop a new routine. I lift weights three days a week. About a year after that I began adding cardio three days a week to it, typically a mix of stationary bicycle, running on the treadmill and occasionally a stepclimber and/or elliptical.

Somewhere in there I decided to get serious about running again, but every time I got my mileage up past 2 miles or so, I pulled or strained a muscle in the back of either calf. That's when I got more serious about bicycling, and when the weather's appropriate (I live in Michigan), I take my Trek mountain bike out for anywhere from 8 to 20 miles three to four days a week.

I also am a first-degree brown belt in Sanchin-Ryu karate.

I recently started running again.

I don't want anyone reading this to think I'm some sort of svelte jock. I'm not. I'm about five-feet eight and today's weight was 236.5 pounds. My weight has been on the increase lately, despite having lost around 25 pounds 2 or 3 years ago. I fight to keep the pounds off. I fight to keep the cholesterol down and more frightening, the insulin levels down.

That's why I've added running again.

My goals?

I'd love to get my weight down to 200 pounds. 

I'd love to be able to run 5 miles without stopping.

I'd love to get off the various medications I'm on to control cholesterol and blood sugar.

So this is my blog about exercise and eating and fighting the weight. I hope you'll join me in this journey.

Mark Terry