I know not posting to a blog is not the same as, say, falling off the face of the Earth. Yet I almost feel like I did. Over the past few months I identified that the steps I was taking to deal with a nearly lifelong problem with anxiety were not enough. Rather than just interfering with select portions of my life, it had begun to interfere with my work. So I did something I had long resisted doing: sought a recommendation of a helping professional from my primary care physician and started taking medication for the problem for the first time in my life.
About 5 weeks in and past most of the bothersome start-up issues I think it was a good idea. In addition to the meds I am reading a book that’s designed to help one with disordered and dysfunctional thinking: “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David Burns, M.D. . It’s long been one of my quips that I feel responsible when it rains. Apparently this is a problem.
I am pleased to say that I’ve actually lost 15 pounds over the last year and that the meds I am taking don’t seem prone to screw that up as I move forward in my quest for better health and fitness.
English: By Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Over the course of my working life I’ve had insurance with most of the major health insurance companies; sometimes twice. We had a stint with one of them last year that ended in July, but during my time with them I learned something new about myself.
The company offered financial incentives to take part in wellness activities. The first thing I did was take a health assessment which I believe earned me a $50 gift card. Score! As a result of my responses to this health assessment I received a phone call asking me if I wanted to participate in wellness coaching. Now I don’t get many phone calls and somehow the first reach-out caught me at a bad time. So I said no. But son of a gun, they persisted and called me again. The second time I decided what the heck. So I said yes.
My coaching consisted of periodic phone conversations with a wellness coach; a nurse, I think. We set goals together for me–with a big emphasis on making them achievable. My goals included fat loss, increasing the number of times per week I exercised and increasing the amount of water I drank.
What I found surprising as the months went on is that having this little conversation scheduled gave me permission to take more time for myself. So when it was 5:20PM and I hadn’t hit the workout room at work yet, rather than saying to myself that I had to rush home to be timely for dinner I would jump into my workout clothes and text my spouse that I was working out.
I got reasonable results on this program –not to mention $175 worth of goodies–and was disappointed when we switched health insurance companies that I had to let that go. I am now looking into getting it started with our current company. The major lesson I learned from the experience of wellness coaching is that the little boost in accountability to someone other than myself really helps me to make the extra push whether it’s pushing myself into the weight room, swigging more water or letting myself claim a few minutes here and there just for me and my health.
Sample Image from Leopard Book
Recently I watched the 2004 movie “Primer, ” a science-fiction thriller about some engineers who figure out how to achieve time travel. The movie, according to one analysis, has nine different timelines going in it at one time. Recently also I acquired Dr. Kelly Starrett’s book “Becoming a Supple Leopard” which is an amazing reference and resource on treating chronic pain, stiffness and bodily dysfunction in general. I have always thought of weightlifting and other fitness pursuits as being like a fountain of youth. Having been working with the exercises in this book for about a week I think this book is more like a time machine.
Starrett is the brains behind the website mobilitywod. I understand that his initial push to bring his wisdom to the masses was to post a video each day on a different topic for 365 days. His website is divided into information by subscription for professional trainers and practitioners and free stuff for the lay public.
I have been using the exercises shown and described in the book to work on particular body parts that are either themselves giving me problems or resulting in my moving in weird ways to compensate for them. An example of this is my ankles. They are tight enough that my squatting motion is restricted–and has been for years–making me most comfortable turning my feet out slightly or elevating my heels on a board. If I don’t do this my body will just tip over backwards. Starrett includes a number of tests like this to help one assess one’s own priority areas of physical dysfunction. Working on my tight ankles is going to take some time. Some other areas such as the low back, it’s helpful to have guidance on how much effort is needed to effect change in these areas. Let me say that “smash” is a word Starrett uses frequently in this text and I think he’s onto something. Some of the work I’ve been doing has resulted in parts that are immediately feeling better and more mobile. I am less stiff when I get up from sitting. Hence the time machine analogy.
I’ve been going at this for the past week for about 30 minutes a day. I’ve curtailed some of my other activities to fit it in but I honestly believe that by allowing body parts to function properly I may have built more strength and power in the last week without additional lifting than I would have bringing my years of built-up tightness to my weightlifting workouts.
A few months ago my health insurance company reached out to me to ask if I’d like to take advantage of Wellness Coaching. Well actually it began a step before that. My health insurance company offers subscribers financial incentives to get healthy. The first one was taking on on-line health assessment for which they gave me a $25 gift certificate. There are activities one can complete for another $75 and the actual periodic chats with a wellness coach will get you another $75. I have a very nice general practitioner who has expressed to me a weight goal for me. Does it go without saying that I don’t see much of my general practitioner? As of this winter that goal had receded to being 15 pounds away and it dawned on me that I needed to reverse that trend pretty darned quick before it receded any further.
So when my health insurer made this offer I agreed to work with a coach. My coach calls me once every few weeks. We set particular goals and then discuss how I am doing to meet them. These have mainly included getting my amount of exercise up and drinking more water. Since I started working on this program I have lost 6 pounds and and inch and a half off my waist. The program has lots of on-line motivational tools and exercises with cute little tracker bars to tell you how you’re doing on them.
I’m not doing everything the program would like to see me do. The main thing I am not doing is tracking all my food daily. I probably should. I have a few excuses for not doing so including that I mainly eat the same set of things day in and day out. I think my plan is to keep that arrow in my quiver so that if I stop making progress I can start tracking and be able to keep going.
For me there was a fair amount of low hanging fruit with respect to my habits. So first off measuring certain foods was a place to begin. Cutting back on splurge meals and evening snacking was another place. Drinking more water was another. Actually I am not really pushing hard enough on that. It sure would help if it weren’t so darned cold out this spring.
One of the main benefits of coaching for me is accountability. While I am plenty smart and know a lot about health and fitness, I do tend to b.s. myself and make excuses about why I don’t do things. (Um, like it’s too cold out this spring to drink enough water…) To make changes I have to be more honest with myself. And yes, while I don’t believe in low-calorie dieting and I do lift weights, it is also true that I have been over-fat for a long time and that only changes in my behavior will change that. Period. And they are changes that I will have to stick with by and large for a long, long time.
Recently I’ve found myself plagued by “golfer’s elbow.” This is like tennis elbow but on the inside of the arm instead of the outside. If you’ve ever had either you know what a pain it is. Being me of course I am self-treating it with trigger point therapy.
The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies, Amber Davies and David G. Simon is amazing for finding out the cause of what ails you and treating it. The basic concept is that there are little bundles of muscle tissue become contracted into tiny hypersensitive areas that may not hurt themselves but can send pain to other places. They map that all out for you with helpful pictures. I’ve had this problem before with referred pain. To me it makes complete sense that the place that’s hurting may be a symptom and not the cause. I’ve experienced this with for example leg pain that actually emanates from a “crunchy” place in my lower back. I am still grateful to the first person that figured out that one for me, a massage therapist. To treat these crunchy places I use a combination of tools.
One of my favorites is a little orange ball with nubs on it called the Stress Buster Massage Ball. If you are looking for one know that it has to be fairly firm to actually make a difference. A tennis ball also works some but I really like the nubbiness for getting to those little knots. You can roll the ball on your back against a wall and get a pretty nice massage on tense areas. For my arm that I am working on lately I use the kitchen counter.
The book makes the point that most health professionals don’t think of pain in this way. The ones who do are typically people who understand the body and won’t suggest you medicate away the symptom but rather figure out its source and start working on it. Masssage therapists that practice myofascial release will understand this. What’s best about the book is that it is written with the goal of self treatment in mind. How many of us really have both the time and the money to get a series of massages when something hurts? I know I don’t.
Franco Columbu (courtesy Wikipedia)
I’ve done my first six workouts using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 as a guide and it’s beginning to make sense. The basic framework is workouts built around four lifts: squat, deadlift, shoulder press and bench press with a different exercise as the main focus of each workout. The framework includes doing 3 sets of 5 reps of that exercise plus a PR set each workout in stage 1. Stage 2 is 3 sets of 3 reps plus the PR set. The workouts also include a warm up and assistance exercises. According to the author, one should be able to be in and out of the weight room in 30 to 35 minutes. The workout can be structured for 2, 3 or 4 days per week. The basic set is followed by one PR set where you go for as many reps as you can. Following this are assistance exercises. I’ve been adding three different exercises for three sets but I suspect that I should be doing about 5 of these exercises. Also this plan calls for maintaining some level of aerobic fitness outside of the weight room. Both the New Rules of Lifting for Women and the Female Body Breakthrough were more designed to use the resistance exercise as Interval Training and counseled against maintaining an aerobic regime in addition to the lifting.
I will need someone to spot my bench presses eventually which makes this less convenient for me as someone who typically works out alone or I will have to modify the routines to incorporate some other kind of chest workout. And while I like the freedom to do the assistance exercises I feel like doing in a particular workout I am also concerned that it may not force me outside of my comfort zone. In New Rules of Lifting there were some exercises I really didn’t like. Of course typically I don’t like an exercise because I don’t do it very well which is because I need to work harder at it. So my challenge with 5/3/1 will be choosing assistance exercises other than my favorites.
A Trabant 601 Limousine. Trabants were manufactured in East Germany between 1957 and 1991, and exported throughout the Eastern Bloc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One thing the field of sports is good at is taking perfectly good English words and giving them new, obscure meanings. When I started considering following Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 strength training program I jumped on Wikipedia to see what “periodization” meant. It’s defined as: “the attempt to categorize Universal History or divide time into named blocks.” So in this context it means giving names to time periods such as the “Late Middle Ages.” Thank goodness there was also definition on Wikipedia for “Sports Periodization” which is “an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period.”
This monograph by Frederick Claro tells us that periodized sports training was developed in the 1960’s by the Eastern bloc countries. “Periodization of training,” says Claro “had much to do with the superiority of eastern athletes over their western counterparts for more than two and half decades and in numerous sport activities.” (sic) It sounds pretty good to me.
It seems to me that the workout programs I’ve been doing for the past couple of years—New Rules of Lifting for Women with workout by Alwyn Cosgrove and Female Body Breakthrough by Rachel Cosgrove—take this concept into consideration in their design but don’t trouble the reader with thinking about it very much. My 5/3/1 book arrived just two days ago and I have only scratched the surface. I like the idea that pursuing the goal of getting stronger in the four major lifts and the work that it takes to do that will address the ancillary objectives I have for my health and appearance. It’s nice to have something simple, though of course not easy, to work on.