Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fitness Around the World

B & P Gym in Kumasi
I've been living in Ghana over the last year so I've had to work with my clients back home over the internet. I've not been as busy with training as I'd like to be so I was grateful for a new opportunity that recently came up. We just moved to a different home in Kumasi and shortly after doing so, a new gym opened up in one of the nearby neighboring buildings. I was excited to be near a gym again even though I still can't do much upper body work due to my shoulder injuries. It is called B & P Gym and I was impressed with the facility.

While running on the treadmill there recently, I met a trainer and the owner of they gym. When they found out I was a personal trainer they started asking me questions. At the end of our conversation I offered to teach some brief classes for their clients and they took me up on it.

It has been fun to share fitness with people here. I did a class last week and one this morning. I've learned that some aspects about fitness are the same here but other things feel quite different.

The Differences:

Gyms are not as plentiful here and memberships can be cost prohibitive. Aside from the money issue, many people are so busy working morning to night that they don't even consider exercising. Generally speaking, people here are active and do more walking than most Americans but I've seen fewer people out exercising than back home. I've gotten many strange looks from people while I am out running and I'm sure they are just wondering why I'd be running if I didn't have to. There are no road races to run here either. Soccer is the only organized sport to speak of.

The food challenges are a little different here. Fast food and junk food are not available to the extent they are back home. More people cook from scratch here but their food choices are more limited to what is grown locally. They are not spoiled by having a Costco or Walmart when they go shopping. There are some supermarkets and malls here but they are much more expensive so most people get their food at small food stands or the large outdoor central market.

When talking to people about the importance of rest and recovery I told that that getting enough sleep makes a big difference. When I asked if they got 8 hours of sleep each night most of them laughed and said much less than that.

The Similarities:

Many of the questions they asked were similar to what I hear back home. They asked if it is possible to spot reduce fat from problem areas. I was the bearer of bad news and let them know that the last place the fat comes off of is typically the problem areas they are concerned with and that nutrition is the key, not just doing 300 sit ups per day.

Several of the gym patrons wanted to know what supplements they should take. I pointed out that they should only be worried about supplements once they are eating right, working out regularly, and getting sufficient rest. Even then I told them that they had to be careful since so many supplements are not even proven effective. I've seen miracle pills being sold at the mall that claim to cure everything. There is no FDA here looking over people's shoulder or making them substantiate claims.

As usual, the guys want to know how to get bigger muscles and the women want to know what exercises will help them slim down the fastest. The women here also expressed some concerns about getting bulky if they lift weights.

People here want to improve their health, take better care of themselves, and feel better. I applauded their efforts in coming out to a gym on a rainy Saturday morning and encouraged them to keep it up and stay consistent.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Customizing Your Fitness

The more I observe people trying to stick to a fitness program, the more I realize how important it is to customize a program to one's level of commitment, fitness level, age, budget, and available time. 

I get a kick out of the saying "you are unique... just like everybody else", but it is true that we all are unique in that we all have different goals, abilities, and preferences. Unless we take these differences into consideration when developing a fitness program, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

I compare fitness to a color wheel where we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking there are only about 10 colors to choose from when there are actually thousands of variations.

If Bruce Lee could make up his own martial art of Jeet Kune Do which was a hybrid of other marital arts based on his personal philosophies, then we should be able to do the same with our fitness too. I don't have as cool a name for mine; I just call it customized fitness.

When it comes to nutrition, there are many many different eating styles and some of them are in direct conflict with each other yet there are people who have had good results doing each of them. I can see advantages and disadvantages to following traditional, raw, keto, paleo, or vegetarian diets. I've adopted aspects of various nutritional philosophies that sometimes contradict one another and I've applied them in a customized way that works best for me. What works for one person may not work for another. There are multiple ways to get to a desired destination.

I follow this same concept when it comes to exercise. I enjoy traditional sports but also appreciate aspects of Crossfit training as well as lifting weights in a traditional body building type of program. I've cut back on my long distance running due to injuries and prefer shorter 5K races that don't take such a toll on me. I love playing basketball, and I could easily play a couple hours every day if I had that much free time. Since basketball is my favorite activity, it is at the center of my work outs, and I schedule other cardio and resistance training activities around it throughout the week.

Is there a specific sport or activity you really enjoy? Even if it is not recognized as the greatest all around work out, I'd still encourage you to stay active by doing what you love and then trying to incorporate other conditioning aspects you may be missing into your routine. I still think someone who gets out and walks with friends everyday will have greater success in the long run than someone who attempts a more comprehensive program if it is going to be too difficult or complicated for them to stick with over time.

There are many different philosophies out there when it comes to exercise, nutrition, and fitness. I try to incorporate as much truth from each one of the various disciplines that I can. I adapt them to my personal circumstances and make modifications when necessary. If you are concerned about starting a particular program because you don't think you will be able to stick with it, then it is important for you to customize it to your unique circumstances in order to persist and get long term results.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Great Physical Therapy Youtube Channel

I frequently watch Youtube videos about exercise, proper form, and injury recovery. I recently came across a channel called "Physical Therapy Video" which is hosted by physical therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck. I watched several of their videos and found them informative and interesting. If you are looking to heal up quicker from an injury you may want to research some of their videos for some good information about recovery and prevention.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Age Should Not Be An Excuse

Ron Ortiz- Masters Crossfit champ
When I was a teenager I would occasionally see a bunch of old men playing basketball. Old to me back then were guys between 40 and 50. I was a cocky kid at the time and I was disgusted by their pale skin, fat stomachs, love handles, hairy backs, and balding heads. I remember discussing with my friends how we would never let ourselves go like that. I can now check 4 of those 5 categories off for myself and have learned my lesson about judging.

Aging has been a cause of anxiety for me. I still feel like a teenager when it comes to my mental maturity so it has been hard to see my body get older, slower, and more injury prone. This last year was particularly difficult for me.  I experienced a bicep injury that kept me from being able to do most upper body work for close to 6 months. My Crossfit workouts were modified down and then eventually turned into just stretching and doing light cardio. Around this time I developed a bad case of plantar fasciitis and could hardly put weight on my foot. I hobbled around on the side of my foot whenever I tried to play basketball. When it finally appeared to have healed at the end of July, I got a severe ankle sprain that kept me grounded for a couple more months. 

Since that time I have moved to Africa. There is no basketball, no running races, and no gyms in my area. I haven't played basketball for 4 months now which is the longest I've gone without playing since 1989. The last race I ran was the St. George marathon a little over a year ago. In 2017 I have not run a single race. Despite having such a disappointing year, I have been forced to rest up and heal from many injuries. I've also been able to drop some extra weight since I started living in a third world country. 

I've met many guys my age and much younger who have given up completely on sports and exercise as they gradually get out of shape or get injuries. Knee braces and a history of surgeries are much more common in my group of friends these days. I can see how easy it would be to give up on fitness as aging impacts one's life. Despite decreased athletic ability, I still admire my friends my age who stay active doing activities they love. I don't care how many injuries I get, I will always keep playing pickup basketball because it makes me feel good.

Over the last 5 years each time I ran a 5K or half marathon I'd look for my placing in my age category after the race and I'd always see a couple names that would finish in first or second place and considerably faster than everyone else. Those names were Curtis Eppley and David Taylor. These guys are both in the 50+ age bracket but run 5Ks between 15-16 minutes, half marathons from 1:08-1:17, and full marathons between 2:35 to 2:40. As a guy who will be turning 50 within a year, I am not looking forward to competing in their age category again but I thank them for showing everyone what is possible and for showing you can stay very fit as you age.

I know of many other older athletes (men and women from a variety of different sports) who are inspiring and great examples of staying fit regardless of the aging process. My hat is also off to anyone who stays active, even if their abilities or performance is not what it used to be.

Since I was a teenager, one of my fitness goals was to dunk a basketball at age 50. It has been a year since I pulled off a dunk in a game but I know I can do it. Some people might think I'm experiencing a mid life crisis. Actually, this is probably my 5th or 6th one, but on the bright side, trying to get back in shape is much cheaper than buying a new sports car. I'm looking forward to the upcoming year and making the most of things as my body continues to get more experienced and wiser. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

My Least Favorite Spartan Race Obstacles

Spartan races offer many different challenges but their 3 main races include the Sprint, Super, and Beast. The Sprint is the shortest obstacle race and is from 3-5 miles. The Super races are usually around 9 miles and the longer Beast race is around 13-14 miles. If you run all three races in one year you also earn what they call a Trifecta medal.

I've run 3 beasts, a couple Supers and just one Sprint in the past and I have really enjoyed them. They are difficult but I like how they are not as monotonous as running a marathon since you break up your activity with a variety of challenges. This year I had a horrible case of plantar fasciitis as well as a torn bicep injury that kept me out of being able to compete in any races. (I sheepishly say this since I just saw a video of a guy with no legs complete a Spartan, but if I don't let my injuries heal, they will just continue to get worse)

I have been on the sidelines during all of 2017 and it has been very frustrating watching the 5K, half marathons, marathons, and obstacle races I usually do come and go. Since I have not been able to participate in a Spartan race this year I will reminisce about some of  my least favorite parts to those races. Hopefully I will burn a few calories as I do so.

Hills- Running up and down hills is always tough. Many of these races take place at ski resorts or at other hilly terrain so if you train running on a flat street you will be in for a rude awakening. I've seen many strong participants who easily handle the strength challenges, but they are not conditioned for trail running so they ended up walking a good portion of the race. I don't mind trail running but some of the slopes they send you on can be very challenging. I remember one very long slope in Montana that was so steep that runners were essentially crawling up it with their hands on the ground in front of them.

Monkey bars- This also includes rings, cargo nets, or any other hanging challenge that requires a lot of upper body strength. These were so easy as a little kid but they have become my Achilles heel now. Maybe the fact that I've gained 150 pounds since third grade has something to do with it. It's not so much an issue of arm strength, or that I'm super heavy, but my weak grip strength gives way to the muddy slippery bars almost every time before I can get across.

Barb wire crawls- These aren't usually bad if you just roll downhill, especially if the ground is nice and muddy, but it gets old fast if you are on a dry and rocky surface. The worst crawl I've had to do was at the Boise Sprint. The one thing that made this one different was that the muddy area we had to crawl through was completely covered with goat head thorns. I'm not sure if it was intentional or just bad luck, but I've never heard so much swearing from the participants in a section of a Spartan race as I did there.

Burpees- These always just suck. They are especially difficult when you are exhausted. I dislike them the most in a dry, dirty terrain as you get a face full of dust each time you go down to the ground. The best part about successfully completing an obstacle is knowing you can skip the burpees and keep moving without slowing your time down even further.

I have only experienced a few water obstacles where you are briefly immersed in cold water. Usually it is just wading through mud pits so they are not so bad. I'm just grateful I've never had to do one that required swimming or featured ice water and claustrophobia-like conditions that I've seen featured in a couple Tough Mudders.

It has been hard sitting out this year but I have had to let my body heal. I feel conflicted about saying this but I'm looking forward to be able to do these horrible challenges again soon.