Whoa! The Horse has Already Left the Barn

Horse_flight

Ohio began its process of “re-opening” in mid-May. The JCC where I work planned for a phased re-opening starting in June. At first, only personal training by appointment was allowed. Two weeks later, it was personal training by appointment and use of the Fitness Center without a trainer also by appointment with occupancy strictly regulated. Today, the pools opened as did the locker rooms.

And then…Gov. DeWine announced on Monday, June 29, that a number of public health orders surrounding COVID-19 that were due to expire on July 1 would be delayed by a week.

It seems like the timing is off–not just in Ohio but everywhere. At a point when cases are surging and it is clear that the curve was never really flattened, some places are continuing the process of opening up, others are taking a step back (Ohio), and still others are enforcing ever-stricter measures. The Federal Government has preferred to let states deal with the issue of how to re-open or not–which makes perfect sense as COVID-19 has definitely boned up on US geography and knows which states are which [sarcasm]. Why is there no national plan like in other countries?

I get that folks want to get the economy and our lives as we remember them rolling again, but at the current trajectory it looks like the process of re-opening in which we are now engaged will actually further delay those goals. Until the virus is under control, it will be impossible to get the economy under control.

I feel safe at the JCC right now. Lots of precautions have been put into place to keep the employees and members as safe as possible. As it becomes clear that the pandemic is not just disappearing but, in fact, getting worse, can any of us be sure that we are doing the right thing? Will it be possible to backtrack and tighten things up again? Can the fitness industry (in particular, gyms) even survive what is ahead if we need to close up again? So many questions and so little direction from the Federal Government.

The “Re-Open Horse” has already been let out of the barn. He is running around like crazy. Not sure if we can catch him if we need to. Even if we do, can we get him back in the barn?

We need leaders who can be honest about the sacrifices that we will need to make until the pandemic is under control. While Ohio’s governor has made good decisions so far (although I disagree with him on nearly every other policy issue), does he have the political will to “disappoint” the people of this state again with more restrictions?

At the very least, we all need leaders who are willing to admit that there is even a horse. Only then can we corral it and get it back in the barn. Until then, that horse/virus is going to keep on running…and it may be too late to catch him.

No Time to Work Out During the Pandemic

Stopwatch

I had a conversation with a friend the other day who I know used to be a regular user of the gym where I work; he even worked out regularly with one of the top personal trainers. I asked him whether he has been working out with his trainer and he told me that he has been too busy; I pushed him a little bit and reminded him that all of us trainers are working virtually via Zoom, which removes the commute time. I got a sort of shoulder shrug.

This wouldn’t be such a noteworthy conversation, except that I have had similar ones with more than a few friends/acquaintances (and clients). They have gotten used to not going to the gym–even though virtual sessions have been offered since early April–and now that we have re-opened (albeit in a modified fashion), they haven’t gotten back in the habit.

Many of my clients who worked with me virtually have returned to the gym in what I would say is an almost seamless process. There have been administrative glitches to be expected given the new realities, but from the physiological standpoint, coming back to the gym seems like the natural thing to do rather than an “obligation” that needs to be shoved back into the schedule. Other clients who legitimately do not feel comfortable coming in to the gym work with me virtually on a very consistent basis. BTW, it is amazing how tough a workout can be even without the fancy gym equipment. I have seriously challenged clients with props such as rolls of toilet paper, dish towels, throw pillows, and just their body weight.

It is important to note that many of my clients who have not returned to the gym and who are not training virtually make a point to tell me that they are walking a lot, gardening, etc.–the usual activities of summertime; when I ask them if they are checking their heart rate to see if it is elevated the response is always crickets chirping. When we eat, we often underestimate how many calories we are consuming…after all, what damage could a bowl of (healthy!) granola with milk possibly cause? (Check the label and you’ll be surprised). The same is true with exercise; we overestimate how many calories we burn; we think we are getting a workout, but a casual walk with the dog–constantly sniffing and marking territory–does not raise one’s heart rate significantly unless your dog is a greyhound! We need to get the heart pumping, the blood circulating, and the lungs expanded.

Folks who worked out with me consistently via Zoom before returning to the gym have found that the load (how much weight they can push, lift, pull, etc.) now is not where it was pre-pandemic. We are having to do some reconditioning. Can you imagine what the difference will be for the gardener and the dog-walker when (if) they return to the gym? Even those who did not get ill due to the pandemic will feel like they are recovering from a disease when they begin to work out in earnest again. Inertia plays a powerful role and can undo much of the progress and maintenance we have achieved.

We are still in a pandemic–this will go on for a while. There is so much that we still cannot do safely. This should free up time for us–time to re-connect with our fitness goals, with our gym memberships, with our personal training sessions–or even with a more rigorous home routine that raises our metabolic rates.

COVID-19 shouldn’t be an excuse to not stay fit–unless you have the virus and are battling illness. On the contrary, a regular exercise program together with proper nutrition, stress-reduction, and sufficient rest can boost the immune system. It is time to get those priorities straight and find the time you know is there to take care of yourself.

COVID-19 Silver Lining

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The current pandemic has been like a giant cloud hanging over the planet. No one quite knows when or if it will drift away. We don’t know where or how hard it will rain or storm. Even so, some have found silver linings in those clouds. For example, many older adults became proficient with technology that previously seemed too overwhelming. Others took the opportunity to make exercise and diet a priority. The aftermath of the killing of George Floyd has awakened in many a greater sensitivity to the suffering and injustice endured by those around them. People are trying to make sense out of all of this and find a positive along the way.

In Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, he argued that we cannot fully control what happens to us; there is a great deal of uncertainty and randomness in our world. What we can always strive to control is how we react to what happens. Even in places where it appears that we have very few choices (in his case, the Concentration Camps of the Holocaust of WWII), we can choose how to face adversity.

I have been thinking about the silver linings that have come out of this pandemic for me. There are more than a few for sure–some trivial and some more weighty. I had a chance to try making some baked goods; the dandelion rosemary shortbread was a win, the citrus carrot cake…not so much. I got to spend a lot more time with my wife–a big deal since we spent the first 10 years of our 12-year relationship living in different cities. I got to read some great books: In the Garden of Beasts, Unbroken, Letters to My Palestinian Friend, A Little Life; I got to watch some interesting movies and shows The Hunters, Citizen Kane, Pandemic.

The biggest win for me, was really upping my game in the realm of Personal Training. I got certified as a TRX coach (have been wanting to do that for 2 years). I completed a number of CEUs. I did personal research on a number of issues that my clients are facing. I learned how to use a new high-tech device that measures body fat in a sophisticated way that will help me guide my clients to live more healthfully. I started my own FB Group to do a daily online workout; I am hoping to restart that in some shape or form. I learned how to effectively train clients over Zoom. I created workouts day-in and day-out for clients who had no equipment at home at all–did you know that a couple of bottles of cabernet savignon are quite effective for doing Triceps Kickbacks?

I feel like I’ve had a chance to really “hone my craft,” and I look forward to using what I have learned to ensure that my clients see the results they want and deserve. I feel more confident about my skills. As someone relatively new to the Fitness Industry, I feel like I have “arrived.”

From a financial standpoint, having the JCC close just as my business was really beginning to build was a real setback. I did feel sorry for myself for a few days. Then I realized, I cannot control what this virus will do…what I can do is control what I want to do with the extra time I have available. I feel like I am coming out of the pandemic better than when I went in. I have found my silver lining. I hope we can all do the same.

Personal Training in an Operating Room

The Operating Room

That’s kind of what it feels like.

The Mandel JCC “opened up” on Monday. I put that in quotes because it is just Phase I and it is not really open. The only thing that is available right now is personal training by-appointment-only during limited hours (less than half the pre-COVID-19 schedule).

The first time I came in on Monday morning it was more like walking into a morgue than an OR. The place was eerily quiet: no one at the front desk, no folks milling about, the Subway sandwich shop is closed. Just one security guard. The hallways are all but empty; some maintenance employees are here and there.

Downstairs in the fitness center, the bright lights (like in an OR) are on and the room is flooded with the whiteness of the sunshine and the floor tiles. The machines are distanced from each other adding an airiness that did not exist before. All the trainers and other employees are in masks and gloves. Only the clients are unmasked (not all of them). It really felt more medical than fitness-oriented.

Add to this that we have to carry a bottle of spray disinfectant with us at all times as well as a towel to wipe down equipment (there are also disinfectant wipes in various locations), and it is purely antiseptic. Only the music seems louder than usual.

It takes some getting used to, but now on my third day it is not really that big of an adjustment. It’s actually a pleasure to not have to wait for a machine to become available. I am not grossed out by sweaty folks who get up and don’t wipe down their equipment. There are no lunkheads crowded in front of the mirrors checking themselves out.

I could get used to this, but I recognize this is not a viable business model. More people will need to use the facility and pay their membership dues for this to make economic sense. As a first step, though, I am impressed with my gym for all the steps that have been taken. I feel a lot of things when I’m at work, but fear isn’t one of them.

I know other gyms just threw their doors open. I cannot imagine the public health hazard that creates. I am glad we are taking it one step at a time. Let’s hope we do more good than harm in the long run.

Aging and the Immune System

Diane Francis: Treating aging like a disease is the next big thing ...

The most recent issue of AARP Bulletin had an article about aging and how it can affect the immune system. The entire issue highlighted COVID-19 and its impact on the older adult population and it is worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy. Here is the link to the article: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/coronavirus-immunity-age-risk.html

The article points out that how our immune system can become more vulnerable as we age, and how important it is to do what we can to keep it strong.

How does growing older affect immunity?

  1. Our bodies produce less immune cells, particularly B and T cells that fight viruses.
  2. Our bodies develop chronic low-grade inflammation. Inflammation is when a part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot and/or painful, which is how our bodies fight germs and heal injuries. When inflammation is constant (inflammation should only be a temporary condition), the immune system becomes degraded.

The author, Mike Zimmerman, points out that there are things we can do to boost our immunity (see my blog post of May 18 on this topic).

  1. Keep moving–regular workouts increase immune function and lowers inflammation.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight; visceral fat releases inflammatory cytokines into the body; it becomes a spiral where more inflammation leads to weight gain which leads to inflammation… Avoid this by eating properly.
  3. Get to know your health situation better. Track your endurance and ability to do activities of daily living. Use digital devices to track heart rate, calories burned, etc. Note when there are significant changes and let your doctor know.
  4. Eat smart. There are certain vitamins and minerals that help our immune system (A, B, C, D, and E; folic acid, iron, selenium and zinc); look for foods that contain these nutrients
  5. Chill. Find ways to reduce stress like yoga, meditation, exercise, or a good movie, favorite song, etc. This is tough during sheltering at home, but it is essential to reduce stress.
  6. Vaccinate! Although as we age, vaccinations can be less effective, they still work and even if you do get sick it will most likely be a milder case.
  7. Meds. Some medications do lower the immune system’s ability to fight illness. Do your research; if a medication you are on does this, talk with your doctor and see if there are alternatives.

It is important to approach COVID-19 sensibly. Take all the appropriate precautions for sure, but be pro-active as well. Just because we are getting older doesn’t mean we are sitting ducks for this virus. Take action and stay healthy!

Overcoming the Fear of Virtual Training

Eat garbage, then work it off

Does this picture make you think of what online or virtual training is like? It is true that there is no shortage of online workouts that a person can do featuring people who don’t look like they actually need the workout…and who happen to be shirtless or in a bare midriff. I get why folks would be a little put off by these workouts. The people on the screen look nothing like most of us. Is that why so many of us are afraid of online workouts?

Even so, we are at the point where “waiting out the pandemic” before going back to the gym may not really be an option. Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine announced yesterday that gyms in the state can re-open after Memorial Day Weekend (not sure what’s magic about that date); on the same day, the Mandel JCC where I work as a Personal Trainer informed us that we would not go back to one-on-one in-person by-appointment-only training at the gym on May 18 as previously hoped. In fact, leadership reported that it could be June before we do this. And, even if a gym re-opens, what does that mean? I’ve blogged about this before; it won’t be the same old gym that you remember from early March.

It is time to get over the fear of virtual workouts. Many personal trainers are depending on their clients (current and future) to do just that since our livelihoods depend on it (no less that other local businesses depend on us). Some people just feel that virtual training is just not the same and they are correct; but post COVID-19, is anything the same?

Guess what? There are some advantages to virtual training.

First, no one else can see you (unless you are in a Zoom group workout) so if you mess up or poop out, no one will judge you…except maybe your dog. In my daily online workouts, I always give modifications so that folks will feel that they can build up to the more difficult exercises. No one knows if your doing the modifications or only 8 reps instead of 12. The downside, of course, is that if your form is off or you’re just plain doing it wrong, there is no way for the instructor to know…and you could end up injuring yourself, which leads me to my next point.

Second, if you are working with a trainer one-on-one, we are well-versed in how to do exercises correctly as well as giving you the kinds of workouts that will help you to reach your fitness goals whatever stage of life you are in. Does a 70-year-old retiree need to do a 30-minute butt blaster? Probably not, but would exercises aimed at balance, mobility and fighting the loss of muscle mass be helpful? You bet. A trainer can provide that–even online–tailored especially to your needs and wants.

Third, you have more equipment to work with than you realize. You may look around the house and think, “I don’t even have a jump rope!” Trainers are able to provide effective workouts even if you have ZERO equipment. I have done workouts using dish towels, canned goods, and rolls of toilet paper, and they were tough! Most can rely on our own body weight…although one of my clients who has no dumbbells used a bottle of Cabernet Savignon and a bottle of Merlot instead of weights–brilliant! I never thought that I’d say the line: “while doing those overhead triceps extensions you may want to have the cork facing up….”

Fourth, when you work one-on-one over a platform like Zoom or FB Live, the distractions are minimized. There aren’t other people in the gym to distract you. You don’t have to wait to get on a piece of equipment and lose your momentum. It is hombre a hombre and it can be a very effective way to get things done.

Fifth, the technology is not as difficult as you think. If you have a tablet or laptop, you most likely have a camera and speakers built right in. If you only have a desktop, there are a number of good and relatively inexpensive webcams for purchase online. The programs are designed to make it so that even a Technorsaurus Rex like myself can make it work. I have clients in their 80s who are using Zoom all the time. Your trainer can talk you through it…and then you can “visit” with friends and family too.

Of course, if you want, you can wait it out. By then, however, how much muscle tone will you have lost? How much will your stamina have decreased? How much weight will you have put on? How will all this affect your mood, your sleep, and your energy levels?

What are you afraid of?

Missing that Touch

Free Hugs

This morning I had the opportunity to watch a webcast sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic for clergy. There was a panel of religious leaders who reflected on what COVID-19 has meant for the work they do and for their congregants/members/parishioner. A big focus was on what it means for those of us who provide for the spiritual needs of others.

One of the pastors talked about how difficult it has been since he is a “hugger.” I will admit that I am somewhat of a hugger as well, but it’s not an essential part of my rabbinate. Another pastor talked about how challenging it is to comfort those in pain or in mourning when we cannot be physically close; how do you embrace those who are ill or in mourning when that very act is hazardous and possibly fatal?

The term we all use these days is “social distancing.” I’ve stopped using that term and instead starting using the term “physical distancing.” We human beings are social animals. We are not meant to live alone and on our own. Like bees and ants (and many other animals), we can only survive and thrive in community. That is part of why this experience is so difficult for us. It’s in our make-up as humans to connect with others. We may be physically distant, but we can never really be socially distant. Luckily, we have technology today that can help us to some degree.

As hard as this is for me as a rabbi, there is an added level being in the fitness industry as well. The experience of going to the gym is an inherently social one…especially if we work out with a personal trainer. Think about it: we could all work out at home–and there are many who do so successfully; it is a solitary experience. Most who join gyms or JCCs or YMCAs want the personal connection as well. The chatting, hanging out in the schvitz (sauna or steam room), and seeing friends are an integral part of the visit to the gym. As a personal trainer, I know that one of the most important aspects of my training is building a personal relationship with my clients; when I was client, it wasn’t just about the exercises, but also about my trust in my trainer and my sense that s/he really cared about me. COVID-19 has put a huge kink in that dynamic. I can see my clients via Zoom or Facebook Live, but the personal “touch” is missing. The real or proverbial hug is now dangerous.

None of us knows how long this pandemic will be around, how much longer is will disrupt our lives. In the meantime, we need to continue to reach out to others so that they know that we are there…even if we are not physically present. We know that feeling, that sense that someone is with us even when they are far away (or perhaps even no longer living). How do we capture that? How do we recreate that? How do we recover that touch we miss? Then, how do we share it?

I don’t know the answers, but as a rabbi and a personal trainer, these tasks will be front and center until the day when once again we can truly hug each other again…providing that personal touch.

Staying Away from the Dead

The Afterlight

Jewish tradition has placed a great deal of emphasis on purity and impurity–not in terms of hygiene, but more in a spiritual sense. There are lots of laws concerning what causes such an impurity, and what to do to contain that uncleanness.

The weekly Torah portion, Emor, addresses the Kohanim, the ancient priests and the specific laws that they were bidden to follow. Among them was that they were not to come into contact with a deceased person since this is something that imparts ritual impurity. The only exceptions were for the death of a parent, brother, unmarried sister or child. All other Israelites could tend to the bodies of the deceased within the community without concern; the Priests, however, had to be ritually pure to serve in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.

It is noteworthy that many of these ideas are on our minds today in the midst of COVID-19. We are very aware of the people with whom we come into contact. We want to know with whom they have been in contact. The questions that are asked when you enter a doctor’s office or even a supermarket parallel those that might have been asked of a priest: Are you pure? Is it safe for you to be in our midst?

The parallel isn’t exact, but the Torah demonstrates that our ancestors dealt with the same questions and uncertainty as we do today. In 2020 it is COVID-19. In ancient times, it was death in general…as well as certain skin diseases. We often read these sections of the Torah thinking how quaint their understanding of medicine was back then. How quaint will we look in a hundred years when our descendants see how we dealt with our current crisis?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Doors

That is the big question now in the United States. At the Federal Government’s urging (and to the dismay of many health experts) states are beginning to “open up” again. The last couple of months have been difficult, and everyone has faced different challenges. So we have this question: should I stay or should I go?

I have only gone out when there was something that I needed to accomplish that couldn’t be done online. Most everything that my family needs is delivered to the house. I teach an online workout every morning. My clients train with me via Zoom. I avoid contact with others when I am out–including appropriate physical distancing and always wearing a mask. As things open up, we all have to figure out what is the right thing to do.

Earlier this week, the local JCC where I work as a personal trainer announced that we will begin to open the facility in phases. Starting in about 10 days, the Fitness Center will be open by appointment only for personal training and Pilates only. It is not totally clear what any of this will look like, but we may train one-on-one with our clients in a separate designated area, wearing masks, no locker rooms or shower, etc.; in other words, nothing will look as it did before. This will be a huge adjustment for me and my clients.

We have to remember that one of the goals of any Fitness Center is to foster the good health and fitness of its users. What good is it to build up muscles and endurance if you end up exposing yourself to a debilitating and sometimes deadly virus? In a way, we personal trainers are like doctors in that we have to ensure that “first, [we] do no harm.” We cannot work on all the areas of fitness that our clients come to us for unless we can guarantee to a reasonable degree that they will be safe doing so.

Should we go or should we stay? Everyone will answer this their own way. Certainly those who have more than two of the categories that put you at risk should consider staying. Otherwise, we may want to think about all the steps that we can take to get back into the swing of things while staying safe and healthy.

For me, I think it will be like getting into a pool. I usually don’t just dive in, but rather put one toe in at first to test out the waters. Once it looks safe I slowly guide myself in.

I’ll keep you posted on how things play out when I’m back at the gym.

Staying on Track

3,000+ Free Railroad Tracks & Train Images - Pixabay

It has been about a month since I wrote about how many of us are “growing” during this time of sheltering in place–and I meant it in terms of our waistlines. I shared how I was having my own struggles with a house full of food and not as much activity as my body is used to.

My first attempt at trying to get on track was to try intermittent fasting. This was, as you may recall, not a success; it just didn’t fit with my schedule. I am also not convinced it is a long-term solution or a pattern of behavior that is sustainable in the long run.

My second attempt was to count those calories. I have had the assistance of My Fitness Pal (I do not get a kickback for mentioning them), and it is making a difference. I have used this app in the past and found that it makes me more aware of the food I am eating and when I am eating it. This was a theme of my Torah commentary a couple of weeks ago as well. Following MFP has not been as difficult as I expected. It has helped me to plan better and kept me cognizant of how often I have the craving to snack. (I am of Hungarian Jewish descent and I cannot say “no” to pastry; I come by it honestly!) Another plus is that I feel like I could do this for a while; the cravings are dissipating and I am drinking less alcohol as well.

My real downfall has been Shabbat when according to Jewish tradition we are to eat three fine meals. In many Jewish homes, the typical Friday Night dinner does not look that different than a Thanksgiving Dinner. The past couple of weeks, I have approached Shabbat with the same kind of planning that goes into the holidays. I was careful about what I ate; portion-control, avoiding seconds, limiting myself to two small glasses of wine, and not going crazy at dessert actually paid off. I have watched the weight slowly come off. I am a still a way off from pre-quarantine levels, but I am pleased with my progress.

The JCC where I work just purchased an InBody Assessment tool; it tracks body composition and is way better than the old equipment we’ve been using. All of the personal trainers had to take a 2-hour online course and pass a test before we could administer an assessment…and wait for the gym to re-open. What the training reiterated was that weight is only one number and it is a complicated one. I know that I’ve been working out more since COVID-19 and it is likely that I am building muscle which is denser than fat. I look forward to checking the other factors like body fat percentage to get a truer picture of how well I am taking care of myself.

In the meantime, I am making progress and this encourages me to stay on track. I am taking control of my fitness…and it feels great!

What gets you on track…and what keeps you there?