Am I Working Too Hard or Not Hard Enough – Part II

Harvest of barbells - Valinhos, SP

In my last post, I tackled the question of cardio exercise and how to know if we are overdoing it or underdoing it.

Now, we turn to resistance or weight training.

The truth is that this is really a trick question…or at least a really complicated one with not nearly as simple a formula as in the case of cardio.

Here are some factors to take into account:

  1. What are your goals in lifting weights?
  2. Are you looking to merely “tone up” or “bulk up?”
  3. Have you had injuries/illnesses that may affect your ability to do heavy lifting?
  4. Are you using the proper form (at any weight)?
  5. Related to the previous, are you in a safe environment where someone is able to spot you when necessary (i.e., be there in case you can’t get the weight back on the rack, or if you stumble, etc.)?
  6. How much time do you have, or how efficient do you need to be with your time? Can you get to the gym or your weight set only 1-2 times per week or 4-6?

This will sound self-serving, but except for those with extensive athletic/weight training experience, it makes sense to be in touch with a fitness professional. There are, of course, ways of determining the proper weight given the goals that are sought. Once a proper weight has been found, though, most programs integrate progression; progression basically means making the workout more challenging either by increasing weight, the number of reps, the number of sets, or adjusting the degree of difficulty in another way. No matter what one’s goals, progression is a core principle, so knowing where to start is simply that: a start.

From a personal standpoint, you may remember that I had bicep tendon surgery 6 weeks ago. The amount of weight that I am able to lift with my right arm is way below what one would typically expect; in PT, I am up to 2 pound dumbbells for certain exercises. If all I cared about was huge muscles, this would make me crazy; it is a little frustrating, but I know that eventually I will be able to get to higher weights that will allow me to reach my own personal fitness goals.

In the end, whether you are working too hard or not hard enough is a very personal question. It is not one-size-fits-all. For best results, consult a fitness professional. Personal trainers are a great bet. Don’t be afraid to reach out; you’ll be pleased that you did.

Am I Working Out Too Hard or Not Hard Enough

Resting Heart Rate

It can be confusing knowing just how much to work out and how hard to work out. Fitness professionals toss in words like cardio and resistance and acronyms like BMI and BPM and it’s enough to scare newcomers away from any kind of physical activity at all. How do we begin to think about this?

Workouts are roughly divided into two kinds of activity. Cardio (short for Cardiovascular) means exercises that are designed to get the heart pumping and the blood circulating. Cardio exercises include running, elliptical, cycling (stationary or real!), swimming, and brisk walking. It is true that each of these will also work your muscles, but their primary effect is to circulate rich oxygenated blood to the rest of the body while exercising the heart muscle. Resistance (or weight) exercises are primarily designed to maintain or build muscles. Examples are most activities that are done on weight machines or with barbells/dumbbells, etc. These include bicep curls, lat pulldowns, and leg presses. Again, there is often a cardio component to these exercises but that is not their primary purpose.

Ideally, any exercise program should include a mix of cardio and resistance. Overall, we should aim for a combined total of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week. Additionally, those who have never really been active and are considering upping their game should check with their physician to discuss possible limitations based on medical history.

Assuming all that checks out, how can we tell if our cardio exercise is really doing its job? A lot of folks tell me that they walk (the dog, on the treadmill, around the block); this is a good thing, but is it really cardio? Is it raising the heart rate and exercising the heart?

There is a simple formula to determine this. It is not exact but gives a good estimate. Take your age and subtract it from 220. That number is your maximum heart rate. For example if you are 60 years old, your maximum heart rate during exercise should be 160 BPM (beats per minute). This can be calculated by taking one’s pulse or by any number of devices worn on the arm that can track this. Of course, training at the max is great if you are an elite athlete, but what about the rest of us? Ideally, we should aim for a heart rate (BPM or beats/minute) of 65-85% of our maximum. For a 60-year-old person this would be 65-85% of 160–or 104 to 136 BPM.

Don’t be shocked if you measure your heart rate during what you consider to be cardio and find it to be well below the number for the ideal range. First, if you are on a blood pressure medication, your numbers will be “artificially” kept low. Second, this is an indicator that you may not be working hard enough. If you are on a piece of gym equipment, it is easy to check miles/hour, strokes/minute, etc., and then work to increase that. Many machines also allow you to adjust incline or resistance; this is another surefire way to increase the heart rate. If you are walking the dog and your dog enjoys a sustained vigorous pace, you may find you hit the range; if, however, your dog (like mine) likes to stop and sniff every few yards, it is unlikely you will get into the cardio zone. Another activity on top of the dog walk may be necessary to hit that 150 minutes per week

The advantages of paying attention to heart rate are many. It prevents us from working too hard and causing harm through overtraining, and also prevents us from not working hard enough and not getting the full benefit. When we do cardio on a regular basis, we help to strengthen our hearts (the most important muscle in the body), increase blood flow to the cells, and to the brain. Cardio exercise is the only clinically proven way to prevent or delay the onset of dementia since it assists in the proper “feeding” of the brain with oxygenated blood.

As for resistance training, how do we know if we are working too hard or too little? Watch for an upcoming blog post on that topic.

In the meantime, check your numbers. You may be pleasantly surprised…or find that the hard work is still ahead.

Fitness as the Leaves are Starting to Turn

Autumn

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in Cleveland, the leaves are just beginning to turn colors. The forecast for the next 14 days also shows a downward trend in daytime temperatures. Within 3 weeks, autumn will officially be here.

What does this have to do with fitness? Many of us use these warmer days to get exercise outside: running, swimming, biking, etc. As the weather gets cooler (and, yes, snowier), these activities will be affected. We just won’t be able to be active outside as we are during the summer months.

This is nothing new, but this year with COVID-19, there are added implications. Even though many gyms are open in some form or other, many folks (especially older adults) have stayed away. I have seen firsthand and heard/read about how lax or strict certain facilities are about mask usage and cleaning of equipment. Those who are in risk categories have every reason to be concerned. And now, the great outdoors–where the risk is very low–may not be as hospitable as it has been.

I have already begun training one client on her back patio and she has propane heaters for the coming months. [BTW, if you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s worth considering.] This is Cleveland, though, and eventually we’ll either have to go inside or switch to virtual.

Two things continually strike me about virtual training, and they are somewhat incompatible. First, a lot of people do not want to do online training because they think it’s not “real;” after all, how can you get a good workout over your computer? I have some clients who I haven’t trained since March and they are “waiting” for things to settle down with the Coronavirus epidemic to go back to the gym; virtual training doesn’t enter their realm of possibilities. As for things settling down soon, “don’t hold your breath.” Literally. Second, those who do train virtually to a person attest to the fact that the workouts are effective and not at all “fake.” I have several clients who tell my how amazed they are at the workouts–especially given the limited equipment they have. It is still possible to work hard and train every muscle group even without the fancy equipment at a gym. This is why you have certified personal trainers; this is what we do.

Autumn is nigh. Decisions will need to be made. Sitting on the couch and doing nothing until it warms up again is not a good option; the less we keep ourselves fit, the more vulnerable we are to infection and illness. There are options–and online training is certainly one of them for those who don’t feel comfortable/safe going into a gym.

How will you get through the cold months in fitness and in health? Start planning now; there will be a rush.

A New Venture!!!

I am thrilled to announce the opening of my new venture: At Home Senior Fitness, LLC.

At Home Senior Fitness offers at-home and on-line personal training and fitness guidance for older adults. Individual sessions and the overall fitness plan are personalized and focus on maintaining and increasing strength, mobility and balance. All workouts are conducted in a safe setting under the direction of Certified Personal Trainer, Functional Aging Specialist and Rabbi, me! AHSF is not a one-size-fits-all service, but rather meets clients where they are in terms of fitness, motivation, equipment available–and in their own homes within Cleveland’s east side suburbs or virtually. AHSF is the fitness solution for older adults seeking convenience, safety, excellent customer service, and results.

I look forward to working with you and receiving referrals you might have.

Visit my website for more details. http://www.athomeseniorfitness.net

Four Weeks after Bicep Tendon Surgery

20120309 Physical Therapy Equipment

Yesterday marked four weeks since my Bicep Tenodesis. The picture above pretty much sums up where I am: physical therapy and lots of it.

I have PT exercises I do twice daily (10-15 minutes) and actually go in for therapy twice weekly. Up until last week, almost all of the exercises were assisted in some way, but most of the exercises now are under my own power. For instance, I do an exercise where I slide my hand up the wall; I used to employ my good arm to push it up and now I no longer do that. This is progress.

I have noticed that my mobility has increased as well. I’m not near 100% yet, but it is a vast improvement over the first few weeks. There are some exercises that my therapist introduced that when I started caused me a lot of discomfort and my range of motion was very limited. Little by little, the ROM has increased and the pain has subsided.

The one thing that has surprised me the most is just how sore I still am, and its a pretty constant companion at this point. Some of it is a result of the PT exercises and pushing myself. I suspect that some of it is that as much as I try not to lift anything over 1 lb. with my right arm, that gets violated pretty often. Nothing over 5 lbs. for sure, but I do find myself not being as careful as I should. I wonder if the PT folks know that this happens in general and therefore give patients an untenable restriction with the hope that we might limit ourselves just enough–kind of like putting a 70 mph speed limit on a highway knowing full well that no one will observe that, but hoping that at least we’ll go under 80! In any case, I’m using a fair amount of acetaminophen.

My PT folks tell me that my I’m on track. I know that I am impatient. I’d like to get back to running and biking, and eventually doing resistance exercises. It is pretty boring to just walk briskly, or get on the bikes at the gym. I will just have to stick it out.

Earlier in the week, my therapist asked me if I felt the surgery was worth it. Good question. I hope to know the answer over the next month or so.

Body Image…According to Genesis

The creation of Adam

Society places a great deal of emphasis on body image. Advertising tells us that we must look a certain way. If we want to be appealing to a partner/spouse/lover, we have to be in great shape, have a perfect smile, beautiful hair, no wrinkles….

From the very beginning of the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the idea of body image is quite different. The first chapter of the Book of Genesis gives the biblical account of the creation of the world over the course of six days, including the creation of human beings on that final day.

The text is quite difficult in the original Hebrew…and it’s not much better in the English. Here are the verses from Genesis 1.

26 And God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ 
27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. 

First off, to whom is God speaking? What is the difference between image and likeness? In verse 26, it seems as if only one being is created but in 27 it is not so clear; the object goes from singular to plural. The classical commentators wrote many good interpretations to try to explain it all, but it still remains enigmatic that the very verses that describe our creation are so muddled.

One thing that is notable is that nowhere do the verses specify that this body was a physical specimen that had to look a certain way. All we know is that human beings were created in the Divine Image (whatever that means). What we can interpret from this is that our bodies (whatever shape they are in) are holy vessels given/created by God. As such, we can imply a responsibility to care for that gift; it is, according to many religious traditions, the container in which our souls are kept.

What does this have to do with fitness? Certainly, if we receive a valuable and unique gift from a beloved “friend,” it would behoove us to care for it. This gift–our bodies–is not just a trinket to put on a shelf either. Our bodies have a purpose; they allow us to do what it is that we are supposed to do in this world. Jewish mysticism–in particular, Kabbalah–tells us that the soul can only be perfected when it is inside a body. Our experiences in this world have an influence on the nature of our souls and we can use those experiences to rise to higher levels of holiness (kindness, understanding, love, too). Caring for our bodies is essential, for if it is broken or broken down, we cannot accomplish what it is that God has put us here to do.

By the way, there are those who are born with disabilities–mild to severe. Even so, those individuals have an obligation to keep their bodies in the best condition possible–or if they are unable to do so themselves, it is up to us to assist. Everyone has a role to play in God’s creation…and only by being healthy and strong (in its many forms and to the best of our abilities) can we do that well.

It’s not the body image we are told to project on TV, in magazines and in movies that is ultimately our concern. Our focus should be on maintaining and strengthening our bodies so that we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God [Micah].

Eating Differently in a Pandemic

April 13, 2018

The most recent issue of AARP Magazine (August/September 2020) featured an article by Ruth Reichl entitled “The Changing American Table.” In it she discusses how food tastes, the taste of food, shopping habits, and eating habits have changed over the last 50 years. It is a fascinating look at the major events and trends that helped to define American cuisine. Here is the link: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2020/changing-food-trends.html.

What was most intriguing was her take on the effect that the COVID-19 Pandemic has had in the last 6 months. The pandemic disrupted (and still does) our food chain. Packing plants became COVID-19 hot spots, restaurants shut down (some temporarily, others permanently), some food went to waste, and other food simply wasn’t produced. For many Americans, it was the first time that we actually began to fathom all the steps that take place from the farm or sea to our tables.

Americans (you should pardon the expression) are a little late coming to the table on this one. Judaism has always emphasized an appreciation of food–what we may or may not eat, how it is prepared, and how it must be sanctified through blessings before and after the meal. An observant Jew at each meal is reminded through all these steps exactly where the food came from…and the many miracles that accompany its journey to our stomachs.

Reichl noted that during this pandemic many people turned their attention back to the sources. People planted gardens and grew vegetables. Others began cooking and baking from scratch. Many in rural areas did what the norm was a half century ago and went straight to the farm to purchase produce and meat. If there may be one silver lining to COVID-19, it is that it reconnected us to an awareness of the sources of our food…and to the fragility of the system.

Personally, I have been a cook and bake from scratch kind of guy (although not exclusively) for a long time. There are still a lot of processed foods in my diet. Even so, during the last several months, I have found myself trying to go back to the basics. We even planted some basil, tomatoes, peppers, parsley and cilantro!

Whether COVID-19 will have a long term impact on how we view the food we eat is unknown. Certainly there are encouraging signs that we will think more about where our food comes from. On the other hand, we know that many of us have put on a few pounds, simply because we are sitting at home more surrounded by food and because our gyms and other ways in which we are active are not as accessible.

My hope is that our society will learn from the Jewish approach to food. It is a blessing and it is to be enjoyed–but always in the right context and as a way to fuel the human body (not destroy it). A good lesson for a pandemic…and afterwards too!

Two Weeks After Bicep Tendon Surgery

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Today was liberating. I got to ditch the sling and was also able to drive. Today was also my first day back at the gym training clients in person. Of course, it will be another 4-5 weeks before I can lift anything heavier than 1 pound with my right arm, but it feels great to be getting back to a normal routine.

It’s been 14 days since the Bicep Tenodesis surgery and I feel like we’ve made some good progress.

The last week was up and down. The stitches came out 2 days ago and I good a report from the doctor. The assistant showed me the pictures that the arthroscope took (they actually sent me home with a set but I really couldn’t interpret them). She explained what I was seeing, where the problem had been, and how it was corrected. The good news was that the rotator cuff is looking awesome and there didn’t seem to be any other issues. She did say that the area that was causing the discomfort that led me to PT and eventually surgery was not actually that bad, but that they could see where the issue was.

Was the surgery unnecessary then? No. This was not going to get better and would probably have gotten worse. Taking care of it now just means an easier recovery and less time dealing with the mobility and pain issues. It’s kind of like when your check engine light comes on; you can go right to the dealer/mechanic and it won’t usually be such a bad problem…or you can drive on it for another couple of months and then find out that you’ve got a serious repair that will cost a lot more. I’d rather be proactive.

There were times over the past seven days when my arm felt fairly pain-free and others when the it was a little more intense. One night it even woke me up in the middle of the night twice; I fell back asleep with an ice pack on. Yesterday at PT, the therapist told me that this is actually quite normal. She said to expect it to continue for a while; I may even want to ice each time I do my PT exercises at home and before bed. So far, that hasn’t been necessary but we’ll see how things proceed.

The actual process of PT is changing as well. For the first 10 days or so almost everything I did was passive or assisted. Now that we’re past the two-week mark, we will begin to build up the muscle while continuing to work on mobility. I am happy about this even though I know that I might experience some aches and pains. I looked in the mirror yesterday and saw that my right bicep is definitely looking sad compared to my other arm. The rebuilding process will be a long one, but I have lots of reasons to want to get myself back in tip-top shape.

Next report when we hit the one-month mark. In the meantime, it is great to be back to doing the things I enjoy…within limits!

That’s what You Get for Exercising

Emergency Sling Demonstration (AMM 721) National Museum of Health and Medicine

I was on a Zoom call on Thursday when someone noticed that I was wearing a sling. I explained that I had bicep surgery and she said something along the lines of “that’s what you get for exercising.” I politely (but firmly responded) that I had overdone it at some point which is probably how I got injured, but that I would take exercising regularly over sitting on the couch any day as a strategy for healthy living.

It amazes me the “excuses” people come up with for not taking better care of themselves. Can you imagine someone having accidentally burned the dinner they were preparing at home and then declaring, “that is why I always get fast food?” (Actually, I can.) Ruining a meal is bound to happen once in a while; we either misread a recipe or get distracted and forget that something is on the stove top or in the oven, etc. Most of us just chalk it up to a learning experience and figure out what to make instead. The alternative–eating out all the time (even pre-Covid-19)–is simply not healthy or sustainable.

The same is true with exercising. It is true that those who workout/run/bike do get the occasional injury, and that many of us more susceptible as we age. Even so, the alternative of becoming sedentary is not an acceptable option. Sports injuries are usually repairable. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other maladies associated with a sedentary lifestyle are much more difficult to correct. As we live longer, it is all the more important to not only have quantity of life, but quality of life as well.

A large part of my “business” as a personal trainer is working with older adults. These are often those who are most afraid of injury, and rightly so. My clients understand, however, that being active (cardio, resistance, and mobility training) is a recipe for more energy and greater independence. Being able to keep up with grandchildren, hiking the Galapagos Islands, and staying in their own homes are “what they get for exercising.”

Looking at my should in a sling, one could correctly state: “that’s what you get for exercising,” but that misses the point. The fact that I am 57 and am able to run, bike, hike, and pretty much engage in whatever physical activities I desire (once I am recovered from my surgery) is also “what I get for exercising.” I’ll take my calculated risks knowing that in the long run the payoff is worth it.

One Week after Bicep Tendon Surgery

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It’s been a whole week since my surgery. Here’s the update!

This surgery has been a lot less difficult than I feared. Last year, when I had foot/leg surgery it ended up being a much bigger deal than I expected. I haven’t taken any painkillers since Sunday…which isn’t to say that I haven’t had pain. Rather, it is not severe enough to warrant taking something that has an addiction risk.

A few annoyances that I can live with: It is hard to find a comfortable way to sleep while wearing a sling so my sleep patterns are off. The support hose I have to wear to prevent blood clots are not the least bit attractive; not going to be wearing any shorts for another week. The sling and restricted mobility in my arm are an inconvenience, making it hard to brush teeth, eat, write, use a keyboard, etc. These are all things that will go away (God willing) in a week and, in the meantime, are not life altering.

I started PT on Monday and have been doing a number of exercises twice daily: pendulum circles, assisted lateral arm extensions, assisted forward arm extensions, assisted eccentric lateral rotations, assisted forearm extensions and hand-pumps. The “assisted” means that it is either supported by my arm or a prop like a table or cane. Not too taxing and I definitely can tell the difference; things are not nearly as stiff as they were. I will be going to PT twice weekly for the next five weeks.

The big news was that I went back to Personal Training today–virtually. Just one client, but it is a good way to get back into it. Tomorrow, I’ve got two clients and then–after clearance from my doctor–I should be able to start in-person training with some limitations next week. I still cannot lift anything heavier than a coffee cup with my right arm, so any demonstrating I do will have to be with my left arm. (My client today kept starting single-arm exercises and I had to reminder that she needed to use both arms; in other words, do as I say, not as I do!).

The other encouraging news is that I’ve communicated with a few other people who had the same surgery and who were really pleased with the results. The are working out, have rebuilt the muscle, and have no limitations. I don’t pretend that I’ll be there in a couple of months, but it is good to know that there don’t seem to be any long-term negative effects.

Next week, I’ll go back to some regular posts, but we’ll also have a 14-day update. Thanks for all the good wishes in the meantime!