Archive for the ‘fitness’ Category

Stretching and relaxing

August 2nd, 2012 No comments

I can touch my toes now. With straight legs.

This is a bit of a big deal for me, having had stiff (or short) hamstrings since youth. However, in recent years, I’ve slowly stretched, bit by bit, until I could touch my toes with slightly bent legs. (yes, I know that stretching is the point, not toe-touching) But then I had a revelation: shift my weight slightly to my heels.

Why? I’ve found that I need to stretch with relaxed muscles. If I’m stretching something, it doesn’t make sense to tense it at the same time, so stretching the same stuff I’m using to hold myself up (by tensing) is counterproductive, isn’t it? Specifically, if I had my weight on the balls of my feet, I’d be using my calf muscles to hold me up more than I would if I had my weight towards my heels, so releasing the calf muscles should make them more flexible, or less resistant.

(While doing Zhan Zhuang, I found the role of the thighs and calves in the weight shift. It may be obvious to students of body mechanics, but not to schlubs like me.)

So. When touching my toes, I shift the weight more towards my heels, my calves relax, and the whole superficial back line (SBL) is relaxed just a bit more, and I can get a bit more length out of myself and get a better stretch. When the legs are straight, the entire SBL gets stretched, and not just the back, according to Myers (the author of Anatomy Trains).

More stretching? More stretching.


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Falling off the wagon

July 1st, 2012 1 comment

Well, after all my talk, or writing, I’m just like everybody else. Or most people. In the last year, I’ve gained back ten pounds.

I was sitting quite nicely at 162, but now I’m back up to 172. How did it happen? No surprise:
– I went to the gym much less frequently.
– I ate out more.

Basically, that’s it. Because I’ve become busier due to my courses (teaching and taking), I’ve felt that I didn’t have the time or physical/cognitive resources to also go to the gym. No time — got to study. Well, all of us know those people WITH KIDS who make it happen. They have the resources. So suck it up, Steve. As for the eating, I’ve found that the more I eat out, the more I gain weight. Portions are bigger and I tend to eat stuff that makes me feel good. This may be normal or odd, but I’d rather eat a salad at home than at a restaurant … unless it’s a great Cobb salad,, such as the one at Prohibition on Queen. But I digress.

So, let’s see how it goes. We’re going back to the gym for the usual mix of cardio, stretching and weights: nothing new, no P90X, no plyometrics, just running, squash and mostly body-weight exercises. Of course, we’ll still do Zhan Zhuang, since that helps us sense what’s going on inside pretty well. As for the food, no fancy diets, except for this: less bread, brown-bag when at school, and “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. We want this to be sustainable.

The motivator is to study Chen style Tai Chi at the end of July. Sure, we could sign up now and start classes (instant gratification?), but we don’t want to feel we have to stay with a routine because we paid for it — that hasn’t worked in the past. Instead, since we want to do Chen, we’re treating it as a reward for staying with a routine, rather than a motivation to create one.

We’ll let you know.

Categories: fitness, weight loss Tags:

No thanks, I’ll stand.

September 6th, 2011 No comments

Standing at a deskIt seems that standing at your desk has become fashionable, according to The Wall Street Journal. RnR is mildly chuffed. Not that we had anything to do with this.

Standing Desks Are on the Rise

Here’s my original post on the matter.

Categories: fitness, modern life Tags:

Big day at the Globe

August 29th, 2011 No comments

A number of articles caught my eye in The Globe and Mail today:

Here’s a good piece by Sarah Hampson on the way people handle the last days of life. It’s neither schmaltzy nor grim.

This article on kids and boxing remind me of a friend of mine who practices Shotokan karate. Like many who practice (or dabble in, as is my case) martial arts, we wonder about the realism of it all: contact, no contact, headgear, no headgear …? In the case of my friend, head shots are winners in competitions, and although he won the competition, I have to wonder about the poor fellow he stunned with a solid head shot — with no padding, no headgear. In the end, the more I read about concussions, the more I realize how fragile we are.

Here’s a review of some post-workout drinks. We should keep in mind two things if we consider partaking: (1) the goal of business is to make money, and the world of the consume is filled with unnecessary products designed to make money, and (2) though a product may have a unique name and appear “indie”, it’s probably owned by a giant conglomerate such as Coke or Pepsico.

I’ve often found that a concept can be sharpened in the mind by studying its opposite as well. Here’s a little piece on The Six Habits of Highly Ineffective People. Better get off the computer ….

(No, the Globe doesn’t pay me to write this. I just get the paper. It’s not perfect, and it isn’t immune to the current tendency of the mainstream media to accept the way politicians and pundits frame the issues … but it’ll do for now.)

(Mental note: look up “article” in the Thesaurus.)

What do Walter Murch and Winston Churchill have in common?

May 16th, 2011 3 comments

So who’s Walter Murch? Well, he’s an author, award-winning film (and sound) editor and Very Clever Fellow. When you get a chance, check out his books In the Blink of an Eye and The Conversations (with Michael Ondaatje, another Very Clever Fellow). And Winston Churchill was a Very Productive Guy, and of course, Very Clever Fellow. He did some stuff, if you’ll recall.

But to answer the question, they both worked standing up.

According to this article in the Globe and Mail, sitting down all day just isn’t very healthy. We have to move, not just through exercise, but as a normal part of the day’s activities, and these two gents worked standing up. Murch edited from a high table, and Churchill wrote from a podium, to which the Globe attributes his longevity despite his well-known smoking and drinking.

For my small part, I’ve raised my working table to a standing height, and that may have contributed to my maintaining my weight loss in the face of an admittedly-reduced exercise regime. The change wasn’t expensive — based on an article on the web, I bought some 3-inch plastic (ABS) pipes and used them to extend the legs of my Ikea desk. The top and bottom half of the Ikea legs don’t connect directly, but the pipes act as splints, keeping everything together. With an extra leg to support a long span of desk, it seems to work nicely. I don’t work standing up all the time since I find it easier to write sitting down, but I’ve been able to do my motion graphics work standing up at least.

(Here’s another option if you’re not into the pipe thing.)

Not everyone can change their work environment, but if you can do it, I recommend it. Not only does it help while working, but it encourages more movement and standing in general, which is better than sitting around. Oh — when you stand, don’t lock your knees. (Thought I’d get that in.)

Inflammation good, ICE bad?

November 24th, 2010 2 comments

The Globe just ran an article citing a study that suggests that inflammation may be the body’s way of healing an injury and we shouldn’t mess with it.

Upon reflection, I’d have to say I agree. If the body wants to do something in order to heal itself, I say let it do it. Most of what we humans do in such a situation is done so we can get back to a desired activity, whether it’s work or the next game in the tournament. Does a therapy really help the healing process, or just alleviate the symptoms so we can get back in the game?

Standard disclaimer: I’m not any kind of medical practitioner, nor am I a fitness professional. I’m just a guy on the internet with an opinion who hopes that people start asking questions and finding the most natural way to do things with their bodies, whether it goes with or against established practice.

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“I just wanted to try something different.”

November 15th, 2010 5 comments

Breaking news: The End of Pilates as We Know It?

According to The Globe and Mail, Pilates is no longer on the Hot List of workout routines. To most of us, this isn’t a big deal, as Pilates is just another workout fad to most people … just like Step Aerobics, Jazzercise and Tae Bo.

So what does RnR have to say about this? Let’s use point form, because I’m in a hurry!

  • People who advocate slow, careful, introspective fitness correction are like mechanics who insist that people know how their car works, whereas most folks just want to drive the damn thing. (This analogy has less power in these days of computerized cars, of course) Don’t tell me how to find my center, I just want to feel the burn, baby!
  • The hotness of an exercise routine has less to do with its value than its appeal. In other words, it only has to do enough good to satisfy a basic feel-good factor. After that, it has to give people what they want at that slice in time. If their wants change, they move on.
  • An important factor in making a routine “hot” is how people feel when telling their friends about what they do. Trust me, I don’t tell people I’m doing Yiquan or Mizongyi when they ask what I’m up to — “tai chi” will do, and that’s acceptable only because I’m over forty.
  • Some fads may do a lot of good, while routines viewed as “old school” and “normal” may not be optimal.
  • As long as people have short attention spans, serious “refine and repeat” fitness routines that require patience and introspection will never be popular.


Categories: fitness, modern life, news, physical health Tags:

Pound for pound …

October 30th, 2010 2 comments

The other day, I had the pleasure of the company of one of the most charming babies ever. Apparently, she took a liking to me as well, or at least my hand, which must have looked quite tasty. When little Avery reached for my hand, I felt this strong tug. I knew it was Avery doing the pulling, but I thought I’d try looking the other way and see what this sensation felt like without the visual cues.

It felt very odd, even before the gumming. Sure, the pulling came from a small area, but it felt as if an adult were pulling me in. The pull was insistent and strong, and could have been mistaken for an adult’s pull.

Now we’ve all heard about strong baby grips, but this was quite something. Internal martial artists try to recover that natural, full-body strength, but what if we had maintained that natural strength all through childhood and it only grew as we matured? How naturally strong and healthy would we be? I have to ask …

… at what point in a child’s life does that strength diminish? What went wrong? Are children told they’re small and weak? Do they become self-conscious? Are they told that things are more difficult than they really are? Or does it have something to do with bad physical training, or a complete lack thereof?

… or can little Avery buck the odds and keep her natural, non-self-conscious, strong way of interacting with the world?

Girly weights exonerated!

September 27th, 2010 No comments

I’m going to try to access full-body strength with lighter weights in the gym this week. How convenient that someone pointed out this study from Science Daily.

Basically, the study found that you don’t have to use heavy weights to build muscle — light weights will do, but you have to fatigue yourself. Maybe that’s why the low-weight-high-reps technique hasn’t built muscle in the past: people haven’t done enough reps to get to fatigue …?

I also like the idea that weaker people can build muscle by lifting weights that they can handle.

Now, for you Tai Chi folks in the crowd, I view muscle as an invaluable part of the body structure — an equal partner with bones, tendons and fascia. I don’t want to focus on muscles in isolation, but I don’t want them to atrophy. By the way, when a Tai Chi teacher says “don’t use muscles”, he or she means “don’t use muscles exclusively” or “don’t use isolated muscles”. Cool?

Categories: East meets West, fitness, Tai Chi Tags:

“If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”

September 20th, 2010 No comments

As anyone who has ever done anything around the house knows, it pays to be able to crawl under stuff, lift stuff, step over stuff, get into awkward positions and most importantly, get out of them.

If I want to keep crawling, lifting, stepping and extricating, I have to stay healthy and in shape.

I’m sure Red Green, famous Canadian handyman, would agree.