Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Diary of a Mad House-Blogger

My avatar:
Nasty Canasta, the ill-tempered frontier mesomorph who tormented Daffy Duck in two cowboy-themed cartoons before running into the Bugs Bunny buzz-saw in Alaska.

5:45 a.m. -- As consciousness dawns I find myself splayed out on the downstairs sofa, where I was sitting when sleep came to claim me sometime late last evening.

Apparently I was watching the J.J. Abrams version of Star Trek (a nice little distraction, but under-written and thoroughly Deutero-canonical, in my opinion) when I succumbed to exhaustion's irrepressible seduction. That explains why one of the characters in my dream was speaking in Zachary Quinto's voice, I suppose.

Time to get the blood circulating again....

6:30 -- After taking a few minutes to check my e-mail and update the main blog (and to spend some time with my fingers on a fretboard -- it would be nice to find a gig to bring in some money), it's time to give Katrina a bath.

6:50 -- Isaiah and Jefferson are awake and wanting to watch a movie, preferably via the family internet connection. William is always the last to get up; some previously undiscovered Newtonian law dictates that he would sleep forever unless compelled to get out of bed. I can't imagine how someone with my genetics could be a slug-a-bed....

7:00 -- William demanded a cold lunch. Hmmm -- we're low on essentials again, but we have a smattering of deli-style turkey. I'll make him a sandwich and fill out the lunch by stopping at a store en route to school....

7:20 -- Well, we don't have cereal, eggs, or breakfast meat. I'll make the kids some cinnamon toast and pick up something else while getting the peripherals for William's lunch....

7:30 -- We're at the local Jackson's to pick up chips and some toxic soft drink for William. I pick up a couple of breakfast sandwiches for the four school-bound Grigglings (William, Isaiah, Jefferson, and Katrina). I'm also mentally composing the blog essay I'll publish later today on Pro Libertate....

8:10 -- With the kids now in the temporary care of the local mind-laundry (oh, how I earnestly wish we could still home-school them), I sit down for some breakfast while reading the Idaho Statesman. Like practically every news-sheet in that dying industry, the Statesman has become downright anorexic. I'm confident that newspapers could survive if they would actually commit acts of local journalism, rather than acting as retail outlets for national news services and press agencies for local politicians.

The fair Korrin, in avatar form.

There's nothing in the employment section of the classifieds, natch. I notice that Ted Haggard is making a comeback in Colorado....

8:30 -- Once again at my station in front of the computer I reply to some important correspondence and take a moment or two to browse the headlines. I print out a few research items for today's Pro Libertate essay. I take just a second to visit the website of my erstwhile employer to check for reaction to a comment I had posted in response to a news item. Ah, yes -- nothing but negative reactions, but no rebuttal....

9:00 -- I get a phone call from the district health office reminding me that Korrin has an appointment for an injection. As I hang up, Sophia makes her first appearance, and she needs a bath. We repair upstairs to the distaff wash room and Sophia enjoys a brief bubble-bath. Well, "enjoys" is a bit of an over-statement: She still caterwauls every time I anoint her head with baby shampoo, purely out of reflex....

9:20 -- Time to make breakfast for Sophia and Korrin (the latter of whom is still in bed, through absolutely no fault of her own). We have some macadamia nut pancake batter. I add a touch of butter and cinnamon and -- voila! -- we have a passable imitation of a gourmet-caliber breakfast item. Well, Sophia seems to think so, anyhow.

Korrin and Justus are awake. Justus is cheerful but not particularly eager to eat. Korrin is severely symptomatic; I can tell from her unfocused gaze, the visible trembling of her hands as she feeds Justus, and the tell-tale slurring of her speech.

9:45 -- I'll get to the dishes later. I need to spend some time in actual writing. Somehow I manage to grind out a few hundred words, while searching for the appropriate photos to illustrate my outrage (the essay deals with a long train of criminal abuses committed by police in Portland, Oregon, and the police union's unconditional demand for impunity). What's amazing to me is how quickly time is devoured when I'm actually putting fingers to the keyboard in productive effort.

The Trickster: Inspired by the mischievous Loki, Bugs Bunny is William Wallace's cyber-doppleganger.

Sometime in the late morning I receive a phone call from the district health office suggesting that we re-schedule Korrin's injection for Thursday, when she has a scheduled checkup with Dr. Banta. That will work out just fine -- at least, I hope so....

12:15 PM -- Lunch time has stealthily overtaken me. We don't have the makings of a major meal in the fridge, and I've got no time to shop or cook. We have the increasingly forlorn remains of a tossed salad. To supplement the salad I make some soup and cook some garlic bread. Sophia is delighted.

I force myself to do a couple of sets of pushups before lunch. I do 60 reps in the first set. That's encouraging, sort of: After my recent hospitalization I couldn't do five without collapsing. Ah, but I used to do sets of 100 or more. In fact, as recently as a couple of years ago I used to start my day with two sets of 100 -- one done Hindu-style, the other in standard style. Ah, time, the subtle thief of youth....

12:45 -- Korrin and Justus take a moment to eat. Korrin is very symptomatic; in fact, she's downright suicidal. I leave Justus on the floor while I gather the dishes and clean the kitchen counters and try to get Korrin to focus on something -- anything -- that will distract her from the demonic delusions created by her "command voice." She seems to stabilize enough for me to finish my work for the afternoon....

1:15 -- With a little good fortune and a strong wind at my back, I should be able to finish the essay this afternoon.

There goes that pestilential telephone again. Oh, hey -- it's Scott Horton, who wants to know what I think of the idea of moving his indispensable Antiwar Radio program to the Liberty News Radio Network. Ernest Hancock seems to think it's a great idea; Scott's a little worried about some of the other personalities.

I give him my standard assessment: I think LNR is a great enterprise, despite some severe disagreements with at least a couple of the hosts. I'm not of the opinion that I'm tainted by being part of the same network with someone whose views I don't share. It could be worse, after all; I could be sharing a syndicator with Sean Hannity or someone of that wretched ilk....

Cute, but nobody's fool: Isaiah's cartoon stand-in, Tweety.

2:10 -- Ah, nuts: I'm almost finished, and probably will be this close (holding my fingers a centimeter apart) when I have to go pick up Jefferson and Katrina from school....

2:30 -- Yep, I'm just about finished, but I'll have to wrap things up when I get home....

3:10 -- We're back, and I'm about ready to put the essay to bed. This one is particularly infuriating: It describes the death, by police beating, of a hapless 145 lb. guy who suffered from schizophrenia, and another incident in which riot-thugs from the same police force pepper-sprayed an innocent family -- taking special care to douse an 11-month-old baby -- during a peaceful protest.

Don't make him muss ya up: Jefferson Leonidas Grigg, as played by Henery Hawk.

My wife suffers from Schizophrenia, and we have an 11-month-old son. I'm slightly nauseated as I imagine what I would do to a tax-feeder who mistreated either of them in any way....

4:00 -- The blog is posted and linked on Facebook. Hey -- we got a check in the mail! I'll have to run to the bank. Korrin is stable enough now for me to risk leaving for a few minutes. There's a craft-centered Christmas party at the church tonight; I hope she'll go....

4:45 -- Maybe I'll have time to catch a nap. Ha. Ha. Ha. Wow, I haven't laughed that hard all day.

Korrin just called her friend Wanda to beg off of going to the Christmas party. I suggest that she should go; she'll be able to eat there, and I'll take care of the kids. She needs to be among friends, and to get out of the house for a while. To my relief, she agrees.

I'm able to read a little bit in the Martin Luther biography I checked out a few days ago while the boys take temporary control of the computer....

5:35 -- I banish the boys from my office and start my show prep. William insists that I just have to see some hilarious YouTube video. At the risk of offending my firstborn, I decline....

Beautiful Boo: Pixar must have had my Katrina in mind when they created this computer-generated cutie.

6:05 -- The Pro Libertate Radio Show begins on an odd note when I find myself going off on a lengthy digression about the evils of multi-level marketing. Well, this wasn't entirely off-topic. I wonder how this will go over with the sponsors.

For the next fifty minutes I talk about the CIA, the Federal Reserve, Blackwater, the "prosperity gospel," the authoritarian wing of the Christian Right (if I'm part of the Christian Right, I belong among its small but growing individualist contingent), Get Smart, nuclear energy, the NFL and NBA, eminent domain, and the congealed idiocy that is the editorial board of National Review.

During commercial breaks I amuse myself by doing small sets of pushups -- 20-30 reps a set, trying to avoid exertion of sufficient magnitude to make me sound on-air as if I were carrying out an obscene phone call. Yesterday I spent the breaks getting my John Petrucci freak on, playing pointless shredding runs on my guitar.

Hey, this sort of thing just begs for the "Ditto-cam" treatment. I wonder if there would be any money in this...?

7:10 -- Justus is asleep, so we can't go out to a burger joint, as I had planned. I give William the Con as Daddy ex officio and leave the homestead in search of Chinese take-out....

Baby Lamb: Sophia as rendered in needle-point.

8:00 -- Everyone else is eating. I'm tending Justus, who -- with the mischievous timing all infants display -- woke up just as I was headed home. He was crying hysterically when I arrived. I settle him down by crooning a tranquil version of "Whiskey in the Jar."

About fifteen minutes into dinner I'm finally rewarded with a taste of the delightful comestibles provided by "Jimbo's" restaurant in downtown Payette. Just a taste, mind you: I still have to tend to Justus.

9:00 -- The Kidz are planted in front of the tube watching "Night At the Museum II." Seized by a sudden inspiration, I decide to record today's events for cyber-posterity.

Korrin comes home at about 9:30, and -- God be praised -- she is visibly better for the time spent with friends at the church party. Jefferson is clamoring for my attention, holding in his hands what appears to be a reproduction of Luther's 95 theses. No, wait -- that's his Christmas wish list....

Newborn Baby Justus:
Why try to paint the lily? He's already so cute that no cartoon can do him, ah, Justice.

Cartoon Bonus

Nasty Canasta's film debut, "Drip-Along Daffy"

Monday, May 25, 2009


A western Idaho oasis: This lovely little waterfall, with a small but inviting lagoon, rewards those who take a short but vigorous hike in Jump Creek Canyon.

If every day -- or even every third day -- could be like this year's Memorial Day, things would change, in a hurry, for the better.

As with most days I've recently suffered through, Memorial Day began at an obscenely early hour for me -- roughly 4:30 a.m. This time the culprit wasn't any of my half-dozen sleeping disorders; it was the kitten we obtained a couple of days ago, a Siamese mix with electric blue eyes that rival those of Megan Fox or Daniel Craig.

Scooped off the streets and nurtured to health by a neighbor, Sparkle (as we've named her in honor of a cat we briefly owned in 2005) is a temperamental little feline whose insistent mewling snaps me right out of my slumber. But then again, practically anything will.

Accordingly, when Sparkle very thoughtfully roused me on the wrong side of five o'clock, I decided to stay up and get some work done. I managed to finish most of today's "serious" blog essay before seven a.m. Even after the involuntary nap I took, I was left with some time to go to the gym, since I didn't have to worry about getting the kids to school.

Once at the gym I did my now-standard 20 minute sprint circuit on the elliptical trainer, which is quickly becoming my favorite piece of workout gear. I then followed a piece of advice from "Underground Strength Guru" Zach Even-Esh: I combined floor presses and front squats into a mass-generating workout.

Yes, the floor press is a variation on the lift about which I'm obsessed, the bench press. It differs in several significant ways:

*If done with flat legs (my preferred approach), the floor press emphasizes the upper body exclusively, since it's almost impossible to recruit the lower "core" or the legs in doing the lift -- and it's interesting to note how much that assistance is missed when one moves from the bench to the floor.

*The limited range of motion forces the lifter to concentrate on a dead stop, and to power out of the bottom position without the use of "elastic energy."

*That same limited range of motion helps the lifter avoid over-use of the anterior deltoid muscles, which tend to be overtrained when one focuses on the flat bench and traditional supplemental exercises (such as dumbbell flyes and presses).

The front squat is an exercise I've come to love. I hate doing conventional barbell squats; they tend to mess up my back, no matter how hard I try to maintain strict form. A decade ago I got heavily into the twenty-rep squat protocol, which actually minimized the damage because it was built around a single "work" set. I think sometime in the future I might try a variation on that approach with front squats.

My workout also included a rather dubious attempt at some inverted rows, which are an exercise to which I'm going to devote some time.

After the workout our family packed up and drove out to Jump Creek Canyon. A very brief but invigorating hike took us to a lovely waterfall, and made me regret that we had neglected to bring swimming attire. Poor little Sophia was given an unpleasantly instructive introduction to stinging nettles, and so we had to cut our trip just a little short.

The only thing missing from the day's activities was an opportunity to do some calisthenics and some hill sprints. But spending most of the day in vigorous, enjoyable exercise was a terrific and badly overdue change of pace.

Tomorrow I plan on doing some deadlifts, power cleans, push press, and some bodyweight routines. Hopefully, Memorial Day will represent a badly needed change of direction, and help me gain some useful momentum toward getting back in decent shape.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ad Astra Per Aspera

Paying the price: My friend, Bud Jefferies, perhaps the world's most impressive (drug- and chemical enhancement-free) strength athlete, steels himself to perform a 1,700-pound quarter-squat.

Time seems to accelerate as the years accumulate.

Compounding this cosmic injustice is the fact that progress in physical conditioning slows to a pace that makes continental drift appear downright sprightly by comparison.

Any gains that occur seem to disappear immediately unless extraordinary measures are taken to preserve them -- which, given the unfavorable gradient of middle age, means constantly improving one's performance against a background of general decline.

There comes a point at which -- as a character lamented in the last Indiana Jones film -- life stops giving and starts taking away, beginning, I guess, with the gift of vitality itself.

As I've noted previously in this space, my grudging and uneven descent into middle age has been marked by a number of anomalies. My weight remains a significant cause of concern. I've been plagued by a number of sleep disorders and generalized fatigue. There have been times that my joints have left me all but immobilized.

However, my measurable strength, in terms of one-rep maximums and high-rep power calisthenics, is not abating and may actually be increasing.

Take tonight's Workout of the Week, for instance:

Cardio -- Elliptical Trainer Sprint Sequences

20 minutes alternating -- in one-minute sets -- between 65-70% effort and full-out sprints

Lifting -- Bench Press

Warmup -- 45-lb. plate toss (literally tossing a plate in the air and catching it, then using it in various stretching exercises to loosen my shoulders and elbows)

135X12 -- close-grip






Now, I've commented quite a bit on the Bench Press in previous posts. I admit to being nearly monomaniacal about this marginally functional exercise, which is sort of a vanity lift.

I enjoy other lifts -- particularly front squats, power cleans, dumbbell snatches, and push-presses. But the bench press offers me a good measure of where I am in terms of raw lifting power and general fitness.

This is odd-object lifting: Yours Truly uprooting and felling a dead tree about a year ago.

It would be wonderful to resume a full-spectrum training program -- calisthenics, sprinting, odd object lifting (barrels/kegs, sandbags, stones, tires), weight lifting, martial conditioning (judo, wrestling, boxing, fencing -- all of which I've done in the past).

But with an ailing wife and six kids, not to mention growing concern over my employment situation, I don't have time for everything I would like to do, or even everything I think I need to do. But when I at least take the time to do something that makes me sweat and ache in useful ways, and gets my heart rate up for a sustained period of time, I'm offsetting some of the accumulating risk factors that tend to feed my anxiety and thus multiply their damaging impact.

I'm beginning to appreciate just how important sleep is, not only in the recovery cycle of a conditioning program but simply for sustaining one's health and mental acuity.

One training mantra of ironheads like myself is: "Lift big, eat big, sleep big." I've never had any trouble with the first two (the workout description above illustrates the first, the unflattering profile in the photo immediately above attests eloquently to the second), but the third has always caused me more than my share of trouble.

Even as a child my sleep was uneven; as a school-age kid I tended to be nocturnal, a trait I also see in my 11-year-old William Wallace. Before meeting Korrin I was a chronic insomniac. Now I my sleep schedule is hopelessly confused, and I'm grateful if I get five or six hours' worth of cumulative sleep, let alone a solid bloc of deep REM sleep.

I honestly think that if I could somehow solve my sleeping disorders, I could drop 40-60 pounds in a very short time frame, and nail a 500 lb. bench press within a year. Ah, if only....

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Is A Puzzlement!" (Second update, May 10)

Here's what I can't figure out: How could a guy my age, in the shape I'm presently in, put up respectable numbers in the bench press when he's working out maybe once a week?

Quid conjuratio est? Is this a perfectly random incident, or is it possible, with appropriate effort, nutrition, and (please, Lord) rest, to reach a new strength plateau as I head into the latter part of my fifth decade?

As I noted in my last entry, which was published an eon ago, I'm settling ambivalently into middle age. On my most recent birthday -- an event I no longer celebrate, of course -- I had completed 46 circuits around the Sun.

My personal circumstances, as described earlier, are dramatically sub-optimal. My wife is chronically ill; we have six small children (the most recent arrived the day before my birthday, which gives me something wonderful to celebrate) requiring parental attention, which I alone can provide, given my wife's condition; I work out of my home as a freelance writer, which is the most precarious occupation one can imagine in our present economic circumstances.

I'm suffering from intermittent sleep disorders, and early last year, for the first time I can recall, I had panic attacks (no fewer than three, no more than a half-dozen, but they were vividly unpleasant experiences). I'm happy to say that with the help of some homeopathic supplements, I seem to have overcome my acid reflux.

This sedentary, stress-suffused lifestyle has left me perpetually tired and in horrible shape. Owing to my wife's illness (she suffers from an acute form of schizophrenia), I can't leave her alone with our children for very long. She's largely bed-ridden, which means I have to take care of the kids during working hours for the most part. We have a three-month-old newborn who must be fed and otherwise, ah, maintained at all hours of the day and night. So finding even an hour a day to exercise has been all but impossible.

Sure, it only takes about five minutes to do a set of 100 Hindu pushups, and 15 minutes to do 500 Hindu squats. But here's the problem: Once I've taken care of the kids, and gotten my work done, I'm always so tired that I simply can't motivate myself to work out.

So despite the fact that my typical work day begins sometime around 5:30 a.m., I end up deferring exercise until I get just one more thing done -- and, ere long, evening is upon me, and in my weariness I simply resign myself to yet another day without exercise.

To all of that we must add the not-infrequent problems associated with sickness. This past week I was up at odd hours tending to sick kids; this included a post-midnight hospital run with Isaiah, who was delirious with fever and showing symptoms of what was either bronchitis (bad enough) or meningitis (catastrophic); fortunately, it was the former, and a very mild case. And I've been grappling with my annual bronchial bout myself.

In sum, by the time today (Saturday April 18) rolled around, I was in very bad shape in every conceivable way. Not only have I retained and expanded on the distressingly ovoid form I acquired during Korrin's last hospital stay -- my legs, once as thick and solid as the trunk of an oak tree, are beginning to resemble pudding pops; my stomach is mushrooming over my belt -- but my unfortunate habit of falling asleep every time I sat still for more than five minutes at a time persisted.

Given all of this
, I find myself incurably puzzled by what happened in the gym this afternoon.

Since Time Immemorial (well, 1994 or thereabouts), Saturday has been bench press day for me, at least when I've been regularly attending the gym. There was a time, before I wed, when I would spend hours in the gym. That was back when I used to warm up with 225 or 250 pounds before maxing out somewhere around 450. (Once, just for the heck of it, I warmed up with a set of 8 reps at 315 pounds.)

So even though I've been attending the gym with roughly the same frequency that the typical political attends church in a non-election year, today was my bench press day.

Here's what I did, following my cardio time on the treadmill:

Set One

Warm-up: 135X12, including a couple of one-handed reps (don't try these at home, kids), followed by 3-4 close-grip reps (I can't remember the exact number);

Set Two

NFL Combine "strength test" set: 225X40.

Yes, that was forty reps at 225 pounds.

Set Three


Set Four


Set Five


In the interest of complete disclosure, the 405 rep may not have gotten three white cards at a powerlifting meet. It was a controlled rep with a very light touch to my chest -- no bounce, but no real pause, either.

But, c'mon, give me a bleedin' break here: This was 405 pounds after doing an NFL Combine-style set of forty reps. And I am 46 years old.

To put this in perspective:

At the 2007 NFL Combine, the highest rep total (which I think was the all-time record through that year) was 42. That performance was turned in by the fearsome DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler, a behemoth defensive tackle from North Carolina State who currently plays with the Kansas City Chiefs.

As it happens, Mr. Tyler's birthday is Valentine's Day, ten days after my own. He was born in 1985. At the time he set his Combine record he was less than half my present age.

My life is not barren of consolations. I have a beautiful wife and six incredibly wonderful children. People who know of my family's plight -- one very generous individual, an angelic personage who could have stepped from the pages of Dickens, in particular -- have helped us keep body and soul together. We live near my parents, who are the most wonderful people I know. I'm blessed to be able to continue my writing, which is clearly what I was made to do.

Having said that, I must also say this:

There is an elemental need in at least some men, myself among them, to distinguish ourselves physically. Yes, it's a species of vanity, but one of a practical variety, if only because it motivates us to practice at least some discipline in the maintenance of our physical selves.

The elements of my family's misfortune are intangible, and the people once regarded as friends whose betrayal did much to create our circumstances reside safely beyond my immediate reach (to them I say: If you value a lifestyle characterized by unaided mobility, you would be wise to ensure that this remains the case for the foreseeable future). So there is something wholesome and cathartic about being able to make large amounts of impersonal iron obey my will in defiance of gravity's implacable grip.

Is it possible that I could add the muscle mass, and develop the kind of conditioning, that would permit me to cross the 500 pound bench press plateau sometime in the future? Who knows? Granted, the actuarial tables make this a dubious proposition. Heavy lifters usually peak somewhere around age 31, which is about when I started to lift weights seriously.

Heavy lifting beyond age 40 is dangerous to the joints and generally frowned upon, which is why about five years ago I got heavily into high-rep calisthenics and sprinting (which I intend to resume, as well).

Still ... how does one explain a day like today? If I had been going to the gym regularly for the past three or four months, it wouldn't be so peculiar. As things stand, it's downright anomalous -- a freak disturbance in The Force, perhaps, or the product of something that infiltrated our water supply.

Sure, there are plenty of guys, of all ages and a variety of sizes, who lift more than I did today, both in reps and one-rep max. I would imagine, however, that all of them spend a lot more time in the gym than I do, and that not many of them are dealing with the kind of trouble that perpetually besets me as I try to keep my family fed, housed, and whole. And within that fact resides something I'm going to describe as my own little victory.

UPDATE, April 28: The Puzzlement Continues

After roughly a week of drab, listless enervation -- irregular sleep (I'm waking up at 3:00 in the morning unprompted now, and can't go back to sleep until much later), a lingering bronchial cough, no energy, no time to exercise, and growing self-disgust -- I finally dragged myself to the gym again this evening in the hope of doing something: Cardio, calisthenics, weights, something.

I was sick of dragging my increasingly gelatinous form around the house, and passing out on the nearest flat surface. So I finally propelled myself in the direction of the gym hoping that something good would come of it.

I warmed up with a pretty decent twenty minutes on the bike and another very brisk twenty on the elliptical trainer. (Oh, how I wish there were a rowing machine here; I'd put Miklos Rozsa on the mp3 player, get my Judah Ben Hur-as-Number 41 freak on, and spend hours on that bad boy.)

After forty minutes of cardio, I decided to go back to the bench press, since more than a week had elapsed since my last session. It seemed like a good idea to mix things up just a bit, since -- as common workout wisdom dictates -- if you do what you always do, you get what you always get by way of results, only a little less of it each time.

Accordingly, my workout went like this:

Set 1


Set 2 -- modified NFL strength test set

250X30 (!)

Set 3


Set 4


The final set was two pretty solid reps, the second one actually better than the first. My all-time best set at that weight was five reps (that's from more than a decade ago, when my one-rep max was in the neighborhood of 450).

Rather than stacking 45 lb. plates on the bar -- which certainly looks impressive -- I used a set of 100s (plus a pair of tiny 2.5 lb. plates) for the 250 lb. set, then added a pair of 45s for the 335 set. I then added two 35 lb. plates for the final set.

The last two workouts have been very encouraging, albeit entirely mystifying to me. I shouldn't be lifting amounts this large in the shape I'm in. Granted, I need to be disciplined and reasonable in building on my present strength levels. I'm curious to find out if I can integrate this into my more important goals that involve weight loss.

Building muscle mass is an important component of any conditioning program, of course, and my weightlifting -- both powerlifting-type exercises like the bench press and front squat (which I love), and Olympic-style lifts like power cleans -- will help work off my lard. But I have to get back to more natural workout modes as well, and this means more high-rep calisthenics (especially the Hindu squats and Hindu pushups), hill sprints, and walking.

In the meantime, in honor of my mid-life fitness renaissance, I offer the following selection from the soundtrack to The Incredibles -- "Life's Incredible Again," which accompanied a montage showing another portly middle-aged guy trying to get back into shape.


So here I was on May 7, stoked over the prospect of seeing Star Trek with my older boyz (it's a terrific film, incidentally -- a little light on the Roddenberryian philosophy of peaceful cooperation and exploration that defined the Original Series, but still a lot of fun). I managed to find an empty hour and used it to go to the gym.

After a very vigorous 20 minutes of staggered sprint training on the elliptical machine, I hit the bench. This time, in my eager haste to get things done, I inadvertently practiced the principle of "muscle confusion." After my warm-up I put what I thought was 250 lbs. on the bar. Imagine my surprise when I found myself gassing very quickly, doing a total of only 7 reps when a week before I'd done 30.

"Wow," thought I, "this is disappointing."

Imagine my surprise, once again, as I examined the bar a bit more closely and discovered that I had miscalculated the weight by ninety pounds. I was actually doing 340 lbs, not 250.

So I followed up with sets of 385X3 and a max of 415 (missing an attempted second rep).

Maybe the key to "muscle confusion" is simple mental confusion. If so, maybe an occasional "senior moment" of this kind will help be bust through some of my plateaus.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Time, the Subtle Thief of Youth...

... and children, the not-so-subtle thieves of time.

Well, they're not thieves, exactly: God gave them to me so that I could give my life to them.

The paradox deepens when one appreciates the fact that I have to keep myself healthy in order to give more time to my children -- but the present demands they make detract from the time I need to work out, maintain and improve my health, and enlarge the allotment of days I will spend with my family.

The point I'm warily circling, and approaching with muffled, timid tread, is this: I've gotten waaaaaay behind in my anticipated progress where weight loss and general fitness are concerned.

Yes, I'm still exercising, in however desultory a fashion. But I've not had time or, to be candid, the energy, to work out with the intensity and consistency I need. When the opportunity presents itself, I seize it -- but there are always complications.

Take yesterday (August 6), for example.

I had a long day at my desk and on the phone -- writing, researching, doing a radio interview. Household and other domestic matters nibbled at what was left of my time, until about 3:30 in the afternoon. In anticipation of a radio interview at 4:00, I forced myself to do the one brief workout I should be able to fit in anywhere, anytime: 500 Hindu Squats. This takes a little less than fifteen minutes. I found that it not only rejuvenated me, it cleared my head and made my interview go exceptionally well.

An hour and a half later, I had softball practice with our local league team, which was a mixture of frustration (owing to the conflict between memory of youthful performance and present realities) and petty satisfaction (we had a local high school coach come to offer pointers on hitting technique, and he was very impressed with my swing: "You've played a lot of hardball, I see -- your hand-speed is terrific").

The biggest source of frustration is my lack of lateral movement, owing to a badly arthritic right foot and two sore ankles. Both of these conditions testify to my need to drop quite a bit of weight. As it stands right now, as an infielder -- they have me playing third and first -- I'm as hobbled as poor Bill Buckner was when Mookie Wilson's accursed ground ball slipped through his wicket. (Mr. Buckner, incidentally, now lives nearby here in Idaho, and he hasn't visibly aged a day since his retirement.)

I had to leave practice early owing to a promise to take my kids to the pool. We spent an hour at the pool, and I used most of the time to do short sprints across the width of the pool (an incompetent Australian Crawl, keeping my head underwater).

When we came home, I answered some correspondence and then clipped on my iPod and took an hour-long walk. Significantly, neither my foot nor my ankles bothered me during the jaunt, which covered several miles and various kinds of terrain.

That was a good day, activity-wise. And it was an increasingly uncommon one. If my entire Summer had been filled with days like this, I'd be in much better shape.

I can usually find time for brief but fairly intense rounds of calisthenics -- a set of 500 squats, a set of 100 pushups (either conventional or Hindu-style), that kind of thing. I have a rotating membership in a local 24-hour gym, and use it when I can. As demonstrated above, where cracks appear in my schedule I try to fill them with exercise. But radical improvements in my condition require a greater commitment.

Granted, any 45-year-old man could offer the same complaint. I do confront some additional complications. Although I've alluded to them before, I'll describe them here candidly for the first time.

My wife Korrin, the most wonderful person I know, suffers from a disorder that is close kindred to schizophrenia. She was first diagnosed with that condition in Spring 2006. We had little warning, and no time to prepare, when her sickness erupted over a two-week period.

Up until that time we had been home-schooling our children. That's not possible now. Her condition drags her, and the rest of us, through frenzies of paranoia and into pits of suicidal despair. She can be her normal, familiar self -- sweet, caring, talented, loquacious, insightful, optimistic -- one moment, and then, without warning, be tormented beyond endurance by a voice or voices she can't suppress or resist. If you've seen A Beautiful Mind, you'll have a serviceable idea of what Korrin has to live with.

I'm her primary caregiver. And, owing to her condition, I cannot leave her for more than a couple of hours at a stretch. At present, she's receiving treatment that mitigates her symptoms somewhat. But one thing I've concluded from reading the relevant literature and consulting with many, many people with relevant experience (such as my pastor, who works with a local outreach program for women with psychological challenges) is that when everything seems OK, I cannot assume that things will remain that way. A corollary is that tragedy can ensue very quickly if things get really bad -- and Korrin can't always tell me how things are really going for her.

Until very recently, I was responsible for both earning a living and doing nearly all of the domestic work -- shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, bathing the kids, mowing the lawn, and so forth. Thankfully, Korrin's health has improved to the point that she's able to cook and clean, at least some of the time. But I still have a lot of days that start at about 5:30 and end after midnight.

An additional complication: I was fired, for no defensible reason, from my old job as a writer and senior editor with The New American in October 2006. This happened a few months after Korrin's health crisis began, and the people responsible for that decision knew very well that they were throwing my family to the wolves. One would think I had earned some consideration after writing for that publication for over 15 years, and being on staff for more than a decade. One would think so -- and one would be wrong.

Since that time I've been scratching out a living as a freelancer, working out of my living room while tending to a chronically sick wife (she has been hospitalized six times, most recently for nearly seven months) and trying to raise five small kids.

My situation is such that I cannot get a "normal" job outside the home, unless and until we can afford to pay someone to be with Korrin during work hours. We have no health insurance and are trying to pay off about $30,000 in medical bills as the means become available.

As one can see, I'm a pretty good candidate for a heart attack or a stroke, or some other stress-related disaster unless I get into very good shape. And it's the very conditions that imperil my health that pilfer the time I need to work out.

We've been tremendously blessed. To this day I have no idea how we survived last year: Between May and October, I had no money coming in. We lived off my savings and tax refund check until an exceptionally generous man I'd never met made a substantial donation. He continues to be a good and amazingly generous friend to our family (our children call him "The Angel"). I firmly believe the God has provided for us in a fashion akin to causing water to spring from a stone. I think that's the only reason I haven't succumbed to stress and despair.

For me, exercise -- particularly competitive sports of some kind, whether Judo, wrestling, or, more recently, softball -- has always been therapeutic. As I grow older and the unwelcome stigmata of age start to display themselves, it's becoming both a practical necessity and a duty I owe to the wife and children who need me. It's a pleasant enough duty: I enjoy a good, honestly earned sweat; I love forcing my body to submit to my will as I do high-repetition calisthenics, or compelling iron to do my sovereign bidding in a weight room.

Alas, time is not to be conquered....

P.S. -- In case anybody is wondering, "Dino" in the title of this blog has a dual meaning. The first, of course, is from this. The second is from this.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"."...we both know I'm training to become a cage fighter"

I'm not really training to become a cage fighter. But I wouldn't be disinclined to give cage fighting at least one shot -- assuming I had a few months to train and the right opponent to motivate me.

Oh, and assurances that trained medical personnel would be cage-side with oxygen and a cardiac kit, just in case....

And yes, as far as potential opponents go, I have a couple of people in mind.

But despite the fact that neither ring nor cage nor Octagon looms anywhere in my foreseeable future, using the fanciful prospect of a mixed martial arts throw-down as a training tool works as well as anything else I can conjure up. Apart, that is, from the mortal dread prompted by outliving my warranty....

You see, I'm 45 years old. That's middle age, by any rational reckoning. It's been more than a quarter-century since I was a solid, if unremarkable, starting fullback on our state championship football team, and even longer since I faced a live pitcher in a baseball game.

It's been eight years since I last took part in actual competitive grappling, competing in a Judo tournament in Appleton, Wisconsin (in which I won my bracket) and a wrestling tournament in a nearby town (in which I placed third out of either six or seven competitors -- one of them didn't finish the round-robin event).

My occupation is sedentary, the domestic demands on my time incessant and non-negotiable. My appetite is roughly the same as it was when I was a teenager. My metabolism, of course, is not. And so it's not difficult to run the math and conclude that I'm larger than I need to be and would be better off were I to slough off a considerable amount of weight.

That being said, this must be said also:

For someone who weighs something on the distant side of 275 lbs. (in the interest of morale, I'm not eager to find out how far on the distant shore I reside), I'm in pretty decent shape. But I would be much better off if I weighed, say, 245 or even 225. According to the collectivist ectomorphs who devised the Body Mass Index, I would still be seriously obese were I to weigh 225 lbs. at 5'11". But my body type is such that such a weight would be very healthy for me.

Committing myself to a long-term weight-reduction program is a good idea, but -- once again -- I need some gimmick, conceit, or Jedi mind trick to provide me with a sense of incremental accomplishment as I work toward a distant goal.

So -- I decided to use the idea of preparing for a cage fight as a narrative. And I decided to create a blog to record my training methods -- and, hopefully, to document my progress.

My goal is to weigh no more than 225 pounds by my 46th birthday, February 4, 2009. At that weight I should have a 34" waist, something I've not experienced since I was 21.

I also want to be able to bench-press 500 pounds by that date. My all-time personal best is about 445 lbs. Two weeks ago, after a couple of weeks back at the gym following a long layoff, I benched 410. I missed twice at 415 last Saturday, but they were strong misses.

To achieve the weight-lifting goal, I need to be substantially stronger, but not necessarily any bigger. If my weight loss is consistent but gradual, it shouldn't undermine my bench press program. But I'll happily trade a big bench press max for a 34" inch waist and enhanced life expectancy.

Besides, a big bench wouldn't necessarily help me prepare for the cage fight.

Which brings us to the Workout Of The Week.

In this case, it's a routine I plan to do at least three times a week. It's a cardio/muscular endurance circuit routine organized in five-minute rounds and inspired, somewhat, by the program used by NCAA Heavyweight Wrestling Champion and UFC contender Brock Lesnar.

Lesnar is a little more than half my age. He's also a professional athlete. He does five rounds; I do three. His routine uses some exotic odd objects, as well as weight and cardio machines. I have access to a gym, but to do this routine I focus on bodyweight calisthenics and dumbbell lifts.

My program will change as I get in better shape and start adding some additional exercises -- and probably two additional rounds, as well. And for the summer, my trainer is my nine-year-old son Isaiah.

Each five-minute round is divided into one-minute stations; the idea is to go from each station with no (or very little) rest, and then take a one-minute rest between rounds.

Here's the routine:


Hindu pushups -- 1 set of 100 reps

(two minute recovery period)

Hindu jumper squats -- 1 set of 100 reps

(two minute recovery period)

Round 1

Pushups (standard) -- 1 minute
Leg raises -- 1 minute
Hindu pushups -- 1 minute
Rope skipping -- 1 minute
Squat-jumps -- 1 minute

(one minute recovery)

Round 2

Hindu squats
40 lb. DB curls
Mountain climbers
Takedown lunges

(one minute recovery)

Round 3

Pushup/dumbbell row
Jump squats
Dumbbell curl & press
Leg lifts