More Midnight Musings of an Exercise Physiologist

More Midnight Musings of an Exercise Physiologist

Over the course of and long and varied career in sports, fitness and health, I’ve had time to muse over many things. Two-plus years ago I wrote a collection of quick tips and thoughts on health and fitness. It got some great responses. Here are a few more.

You are the Machine

I saw my first weight “machine” (a Universal Gym) 45 years ago as a freshman in high school. By convention, we call a device with a stack of weight plates a machine. Recently, a Premier Health & Fitness Center member, who’s an engineer, made this point, “Strictly speaking, these are not machines. A machine is a device that does work or reduces the energy required to do work.” By that definition, an automobile and a jack are machines, a weight device is not, because it increases the amount of energy required to do work. It’s an anti-machine.

Is there a point to this? Yes. You are the machine. As you train and get fitter and stronger you reduce the amount of energy required to do work. That ice chest that you once needed help to lift? You got it now. The yard work that used to take four hours? Now it’s done two-and-a-half. Do the work of making yourself a more efficient machine.

“I Can’t Do That”

Do you hold any version of the belief that there are things you can’t or shouldn’t do? A common version of this: People (usually women), who believe they had better not lift heavy weights. “I don’t want to bulk-up, I just want to tone.” (I’ve written elsewhere that “tone” is a noun, not a verb.) Lift weights heavy-enough to make you stronger. You won’t bulk-up. You will get stronger.

Another version of this is the antiquated belief that people with heart disease or high blood pressure must not do weight training. In 1981, when I began my first job in fitness, this was the common wisdom. Since then, research has demonstrated the safety and benefits of weight training for all but a tiny minority of people. (People with Marfan Syndrome and those with known aneurysms are notable exceptions.)

Let me be clear—I would never tell anyone to ignore the advice of a physician. (I work for a hospital.) I think most physicians now understand the safety and benefits of weight training. Avoid straining, clenching, and holding your breath when lifting to avoid a spike in blood pressure.

What’s the Work-Around?

There’s almost always a work-around or accommodation. There’s almost always a way to modify an exercise so it won’t hurt or harm. Overhead shoulder press is a good example. When done in a prone hand position (palms facing out), it can put a strain on the rotator cuff. The same exercise done in a neutral--or hammer-grip position (palms facing each other) reduces this strain and allows many to do the exercise safely and effectively. Reducing range of movement and weight are other possible accommodations. Again, I would not overrule your doctor or physical therapist. Still, you may be able to modify an exercise you thought you couldn’t do.

Walking the Dog

As part of an initial consultation with a new client, I ask, “How much exercise and other physical activity do you get regularly?” Frequently I hear, “I walk my dog every day.” The next question is, “How big is your dog?” If you have a dachshund, it will be the dog getting the exercise, not you.

I’ve written at length about volume of cardiorespiratory exercise. For most people, 30-minutes of moderate-intensity cardio-, on most days of the week is appropriate. The talk test is a simple way to gauge intensity. If you can speak normally, but not sing, while doing an activity, you’re likely working at a moderate level. The more the need to breath harder halts your speech, the more intensely you’re working. If your dog walking doesn’t get you the frequency, duration and intensity described above, you’ll need to meet your cardio needs some other way—or get a bigger dog.

Grandchildren are a Blessing—and a Potential Risk

Several years ago, I had a client (I’ll call her, “Betty”) who was so looking forward to a trip to the Midwest to see her adult children and grandchildren. As she walked past airport security, her 5-year-old granddaughter came running toward her, “GRAMMA, GRAMMA, GRAMMA!” Caught up in the excitement, Betty bent over and lifted the 45-pound girl. “I felt like someone stuck in the fanny with a knife. The pain went all the way to my calf.” She spent most of her visit in a recliner, taking pain killers and muscle relaxers. The bulging disk in her lumbar spine required months of recovery and rehabilitation.

What did Betty learn? Three things she already knew: First, grandchildren get heavier. If you don’t get stronger, at some point, forget trying to pick them up. (Obviously, at some point all children get too big to pick up.) Next, no matter how strong you are, poor mechanics will get you hurt. Unless you have a back trained to do so, avoid bending at the waist and lifting. I now actually teach clients how to lift their kids or grandkids. Squat down, with most of your weight on your heels, as close to the child as you can get. Wrap one arm around the child’s upper thighs, just below their bottom. Wrap the other are around their mid-back. Now, stand straight up, without leaning forward or back. If you can’t lift them straight up, they’re too heavy for you. You can still hold them on the floor, or sit in a chair, and let them climb on your lap. Then, get in the weight room, and work on squats, and dead lifts. If you’re new to these exercises, get some professional instruction. My colleagues at Premier Health & Fitness Center and I would be glad to help.

The Gist

  • Whether you use free weights, weight stack devices or a mix of both (my preference), do the work that gets you stronger and more functional.
  • Before assuming you can’t or shouldn’t do something, consult a professional for advice on risks and benefits, as well as accommodations.
  • Be sure you and your dog are getting appropriate exercise.
    As you get older, and your grandchildren get heavier, work at getting stronger.
  • Remember to use good lifting technique every time.
  • Know when a child is too heavy to lift.

As always, if I can be of help with this, or anything else, please contact me at the below.

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