Cardio has been the centerpiece of a “healthy” lifestyle promoted by Conventional Wisdom.
As long as you walk, jog, cycle, swim, or trudge on an elliptical or treadmill, etc you’re doing plenty for your heart, lungs and overall well being.
You’re just fine.
But, that’s only partly true.
Yes, “cardio” can help your heart and lungs but it comes at a price and if that’s all you have time for in your busy week, well, you need to rethink what you’re doing.
Some of you know my story but for those of you who don’t, let me share a couple of things to help you understand my viewpoint and why I am so concerned about using cardio as your only means of staying fit.
A few years ago, I considered myself in “pretty good” shape. I “exercised”- went to the gym, lifted some weights – or jogged, or played some basketball, cycled. Waterskiied. I did plenty of “cardio”.
I thought because I was “active” and my belly wasn’t hiding my shoes, I was doing okay for my age.
But, I had a few instances where I stumbled upon how little I could really do.
One time, in my office we had to install some cabinets up on the wall. To do this, a couple of us had to hold the cabinet up so it would be flush against the ceiling while someone else could secure it to the wall.
Now, these cabinets were not all that big or heavy – three total – and you would think, with two people doing the work, it wouldn’t be too tough.
But, after about 30 or 45 seconds, I could feel the strength draining from my shoulders and arms. They started quivering and I though I might drop my end of the cabinet.
I had to speak up. I had to say I couldn’t hold up my end and I had to switch out with someone else.
I was embarrassed. I felt weak, old, frail.
So, I did what most people would do.
I didn’t do a single thing to remedy the situation, to make myself stronger and more capable and you know why?
Because, I said to myself. “How often do I need to hold up a cabinet? I mean, come on, be reasonable! You don’t do this. It doesn’t matter.”
And life went on.
Then, one Christmas, I could not assemble the tree (yes, we have an artificial tree). It normally took 34-4 hours and required a lot of bending, stooping, lifting. Nothing too heavy really but enough that my body, my whole body, just ran out of energy. I was exhausted, legs were kind of quivery (I think that’s a word) and I had to quit. It took me three sessions to finish it.
I ignored that too.
Then, I got hurt snow skiing. My injury was more to an error in judgment than from conditioning but the injury sent me deep into the land of Disabled. I got an up close and personal view of what it means to find simple things impossible to do.
Like put on your shoes.
Tough to ignore that one.
One of my friends said, after I had recovered, that he knew I was getting better when he saw I no longer wore slippers.
I decided then that I had to change. My injury was a wake up call. It was time to take my own health and well-being much more seriously or I would be “old” and frail forever.
So, one of the things I did early on was test my strength. I had research studies that compared your strength to others of the same gender. Well, my upper body strength was very low. I had the strength of someone close to 70 (and I was in my early 50’s).
And, not only did I have data to compare myself to, I also knew that strength and longevity were highly correlated.
Stronger men live longer. ((Ruiz, J. R., X. Sui, et al. (2008). “Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study.” BMJ 337: a439.))
And then I remembered the cabinet fiasco
Knowing something is one thing. But using that knowledge; actually installing it in your life, that’s something else altogether.
I couldn’t ignore the weakness anymore. Weakness was me.
I needed joint and spine friendly drills and a way to progress myself without trashing myself.
But, I wanted to feel like I had really worked. I wanted to be tired, to feel fatigued, and know I had made a substantial investment in myself. I wanted something that would challenge me, not trash my joints, and as I got stronger, the program would get harder.
What was out there though – on the web, books, magazines – were the typical weight machines, or free weight programs with “no pain – no gain” approaches. Routines thrown together as if someone had torn pages of exercises from a few fitness magazines, tossed them down a flight of stairs and then picked up the first five or six. There’s your program.
So, I had to invent a way to train that fit me because it didn’t exist.
The training methodology I created, with its emphasis on discovering and documenting your own abilities, using joint and spine friendly drills that incorporate natural body movements is radically different than Conventional Wisdom’s view of “strength training”.
See, CW says you should use heavy weight, do 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions, focus on different body parts on different days. Monday is chest, Tuesday core and legs, Wednesday is the back, etc
And don’t forget some good, long cardio too.
Strength building is a key component to aging well. And yes, you have many options on how to do it.
But the thing is, you want whatever you do to be as low risk as possible while returning a high yield on strength gains.
If you don’t know your strength starting out, don’t know what drills may be too risky, your chances of injuring yourself are much higher.
And injuries can age you. Injuries take you out of your life; the things you enjoy doing, and slow you down.
The great news is that you CAN improve your strength. You’re not destined to a life of frailty.
Strong men live longer (and women too).
So, how about you? How strong are you?