Saturday, March 29, 2008

Squat Thrusts

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Again from high in the Austrian Alps, daughter Jennifer demonstrates the exercise of the month, Squat Thrusts.

Squat Thrusts are a total body exercise that can really get your heart pounding and lungs gasping. Sound like torture? Nah, just a heck of a good workout. Still, if you're unfamiliar with this one, enter with some measure of caution. Senior beginners should wait until they've built a reasonable fitness base. Or do just a few reps to see what they're like. For more advanced trainees -- accept the challenge!

First, Jennifer shows a few plain vanilla Squat Thrusts (tough enough!). Then she demonstrates a few that include a push-up. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hiking: An Ounce of Prevention, Part 2.

In part 1 of this post, I wrote about the young woman who was assaulted and then killed while hiking on a mountain trail in Georgia. I gave my thoughts about hiking alone and mentioned having personal knowledge of tragedies that occurred to people simply on a hike or walk.

I will briefly mention three.

1. My great aunt, a widow in her mid-eighties, was out for walk near her apartment in a nice area of San Francisco. It was mid-day when three young men attacked her for her purse. They knocked her down, kicked her repeatedly, and broke her hip. She lived for few months afterward and then died as result of her injuries.

2. A serial killer known as the Trailside Killer stalked hikers in the Bay Area’s Mt. Tamalpais State Park and at the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. He would hide near popular hiking trails and attack unwary hikers. He killed one of my daughter’s high school classmates.

3. A young reporter for a newspaper I published went out for walk with her husband. A van stopped on a busy San Francisco street and at gunpoint men forced them into the vehicle. With a machete, they hacked to death Quita Hague and thought they had killed her husband. They dumped both bodies in a remote part of the city. Her murder and others they committed was the subject of the book, Zebra: The true account of the 179 days of terror in San Francisco.

Were these victims careless? Could they have fought off their attackers and survived? In the case of my great aunt, of course that is highly unlikely. With the others there is no way of knowing. It is possible to do all the right things and still lose your life. According to police authorities in Georgia, the young woman hiker nearly succeeded in fighting off her attacker.

A life lived in fear certainly is not the answer. But common sense approaches to walking, hiking, or running alone certainly make people less of a target. Being aware should be rule one. Walking down a street listening to an iPod, for example, diminishes your awareness — and it makes you look like prey. Not hiking alone in wilderness or countryside or remote parts of cities should be rule two.

Training in a practical form of self-defense always helps. That along with a strong will to prevail in an assault can put the odds of survival in your favor. A final thought: when an attacker wants to take his victim from the crime scene to somewhere else, it usually means he intends to kill the victim. Same if someone wants to tie you up. Fight like a wild animal on the spot. Those are your best odds.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hiking: An Ounce of Prevention

A terrible headline in the paper caught my eye: “Killer Tells How Victim Fought Him.” The victim, a young woman out hiking, used her wits and martial arts training when she was attacked in the Georgia mountains. “She did everything she could to stay alive,” according to the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. But eventually her attacker killed and decapitated her.

What does this have to do with fitness? Walking and hiking are the most common kinds of exercise that people do, and for good reason. They require little preparation and can be done almost anywhere. And yes, they are relatively safe activities; but to assume there are no dangers at all can get people in trouble, especially women.

Years ago, I wrote a travel newsletter called Creative Drifting News. I often wrote about personal wilderness hiking experiences. I did quite a bit of it and it always surprised me to see a woman hiking or backpacking alone in the Sierra high country. This occurred more often than you might think. In my newsletter, I always advised against it. Not everyone agreed with me. And I know that some people reading this now will say the chances of being attacked are so small that we shouldn’t be concerned.

All I can say to them is that I know personally of too many instances of assaults and even murders of people who were simply out for a walk in a city or hiking in the woods. I used to say to people who were concerned about bears or mountain lion attacks that it’s the creatures that walk on two legs that present the greater danger.

Please walk, and hike, and run, and swim. Do it all. But be smart about it. If you walk alone, do it where people can see you — all of the time. If you walk in unfamiliar areas of cities, or back-country anywhere, hike with friends. There is safety in numbers. And always tell people where you are going and when you expect to return.

Yes, most people you will encounter are wonderful. But also recognize that the world includes sociopaths, just as that poor young woman in Georgia found out and lost her life just as it was beginning.

Read the full story: "Killer Tells How Victim Fought Him"

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In Search of a Six-Pack

t’s a myth that doesn’t die easily: "You gotta isolate those abs and go for the burn!"

You’ve heard it. We all have. The thing is, "spot reducing" does not exist — except in the fantasy world of some infomercials.

Don't fall for it.

Here are some facts:

  • Fact: Fat is distributed throughout your body, with some areas storing more of it than others. Where is determined mostly by genetics.
  • Fact: The first place that fat accumulates on your body is the last place it leaves as you reduce.
  • Fact: Doing thousands of reps will build muscular endurance, but to reduce body fat requires taking in fewer calories than needed for present maintenance requirements.

  • Fact: Exercises that strengthen underlying abdominal muscles are essential in a balanced fitness program, but assigning them special significance as "fat burners" is nonsense. That burn you feel after doing the umpteenth set of crunch/sit-up type movements is lactic acid buildup -- not fat cells miraculously melting away. As fat burners, isolation movements do very little. Let me say it again: As fat burners, isolation movements do very little.

Here's an item culled from Men's Health magazine that puts fat loss in perspective: "If your abs are covered with fat, cut 250 to 500 calories a day from your diet (or 10 to 20 percent of the calories it takes to maintain your current weight). Focus on eliminating refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta. Don't bother working your abs more often [Emphasis is mine. --LF]. It takes 250,000 crunches to burn 1 pound of fat -- that's about 100 crunches a day for 7 years."

Here is a far better strategy:

  • Do mostly big, compound muscle building exercises. The itsy-bitsy crunches won't get it done.
  • Include some specific abs work. But forget the endless reps. Treat core exercise reps about the same as other movements.
  • Include cardiovascular work. Short but intense is usually better than long, slow distance. A ratio of 2 days of short but intense intervals to 1 day of moderate distance can work well.
  • Eat more often but smaller portions. Portion control is the most important element in body weight/fat reduction.
  • Stop eating sugar foods and drinks and all refined carbohydrates.
  • But don't go to extremes, such as eating less than 1500 calories per day. Your body may go into a “starvation mode,” meaning a slower metabolism.
  • Balance your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat). Most overweight people eat too many carbohydrates, and especially the wrong kinds. However, programs that practically eliminate all carbs, or any one of the three macronutrients, are not sustainable and may be unhealthy.

You don't need diet pills and some are dangerous.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Our Greatest Fears (for men only)

If you are reading this now you are 1) already physically fit, or 2) in the process of getting fit, or 3) you are not fit but know that you should be. Probably you are at mid-life or a senior. Most likely you are not a subscriber to Men’s Health, a magazine geared mostly to younger men. Yet much of its information and articles have relevance at any age.

The April edition of MH has a page called “On the Minds of Men.” Over 2,400 of their readers were asked the following: What scares you most about aging?

Here is how they answered:

  • Feeling old physically: 32%
  • Declining in mental health, 15%
  • Outliving savings, 12%
  • Nothing, 11%
  • Being closer to death, 10%
  • Seeing my loved ones go before me: 8%
  • Losing looks, 8%
  • Losing my sex drive, 4%

My guess is that the top three fears of mid-life men and seniors would be about the same as younger men's. Some of the other fears might move up or down as we age. But feeling old physically would still top the list.

The dictate to “Use it or lose it” becomes more relevant with each passing year.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sex is Good for What Ails You

Gray Iron read an article from an NBC connected web site in which the writer covers several neat things about sex, things that people aren’t necessarily mulling over when they get the urge. As compelling as they are, Gray Iron doubts that the writer is talking about indiscriminate risky sex, which can be dangerous health-wise (or career-wise, as one big-state governor learned recently). But don’t take my word for it. Let the writer Melissa Walker convince you that sex really is good for you, should you need convincing.

Read the full story: “Was It Good for You?”

Friday, March 07, 2008

Mummies, Dive Bombers, and Tyra Banks

I did my annual photo-shoot in Patty’s classroom. Her 6th graders study ancient Egypt and make life size mummies to culminate the Egyptian history section. My job is to photograph each student and mummy. The pictures go to their parents.

When the photo-shoot is finished, Patty assigns the class to interview me. I sit on a stool in front of them and they raise a hand to ask a question. After answering, I'm allowed to ask a question back. They are well mannered but at that age they can be pretty blunt.

First question: “Mr. Franklin, I’m Joey Smith (not his real name). How old are you?”

“I’m 71," I answered. A pause followed . . . I could almost hear their youthful minds working: Whoa, this guy’s older than Methuselah.

Remember when you were 12? Anyone over 35 was OLD! Imagine what 71 sounds like. One student asked what I did with my time. I said that I had written two fitness books. Another hand went up. “How many have you sold?” I could imagine the next question might be about my annual income. Barack Obama gets off much easier.

When the interview was finished, I showed them an exercise to develop upper-body strength. I must say that they seem impressed that this guy their grandparents’ age could knock out a set of Dive Bombers. I asked some of them to come forward and try a few. They did pretty well, and there is always a gymnast or two (usually girls) who have no trouble at all.

Then, it was time for their P.E. period. I followed them out to the playing fields. I got my dog Tyra out of the truck and gave the kids a short demonstration of fetch. Tyra is quite a performer. She doesn’t just go after the ball and bring it back. She has the ability to catch it over-the-shoulder at full speed, before it ever hits the ground. We named her Tyra after Tyra Banks, because she is brown and beautiful. It's suits her, but so would have the name Jerry, after Jerry Rice.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

When Working Out is Too Much of a Good Thing

On the other side of the couch potato coin is the person who regularly exercises to the point of mental or physical exhaustion, and sometimes to overuse injury. A column in the New York Times addressed this recently and how top athletes must walk a narrow line that divides not enough training to reach peak performance from the risk of "overtraining syndrome." The article is worth reading.

That said, most seniors are not training for a spot on a national team, though some may still compete in age level competitions. So knowing when enough training is enough is just as important to them as it is to the young elite athlete. But for most of us who simply want to be strong and fit, knowing that we have not overdone it does not have to be such an exact science. A few practical guidelines will work just fine.

My own measure depends mostly on how I feel after a good night’s sleep. A few sore muscles now and then only means that I’ve changed a routine or pushed a little harder than usual, which is normal and to be expected. But a feeling of real fatigue after 7 or 8 hours of sleep on a good mattress usually means that I’ve been training too much or too hard. And should my fatigue last into a second day, a little time off is in order along with a reevaluation of my workout structure.

In other words, the cliche “listen to your body” happens to make a heck of a lot of sense

Read the NY Times article here.