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