If you’ve ever met me in person (or seen a full-body photograph of me), then you know that I’m more than a touch convex. The life of a sysadmin doesn’t really include enough of the right type of exercise to keep a body trim and slim, and the life of a technical writer is even less physically demanding. Now, many of my peers and co-workers have the discipline to maintain some sort of physical fitness regime, but I never really have.
The two times in my life when I was in the best physical shape were my junior year of high school, when I had spent a year and a half of cycling around a very hilly town on a beat-up ten speed (I had great legs then — Cassandra Guiwitz told me so, and I don’t think she was just being nice — even if they were pale), and during boot camp, when this smart mouth of mine helped ensure a regular flow of pushups, situps, eight-count body builders, and other fun activities.
Last week, when I was away for business travel, I had one of those moments when I basically decided that I was done sitting around like a lump on a log.
To pull back for a moment: several months ago just before Lent, during one of my assorted Web searches, I happened to run across a physical fitness program called Combat Conditioning, offered by a wrestler named Matt Furey. It doesn’t take much Googling to figure out that there is a lot of controversy surrounding Matt and his programs. The core of his argument is that if you’re looking to build maximum usable strength, endurance, and flexibility, weight training may be hurting you more than it helps you. Sure, it helps bulk up the muscles and gives you a bigger bench press, but can those muscles keep putting out their peak effort for a long period of time? Matt doesn’t think so; he thinks that using your own body weight is all the load you need to get and stay fit. His Combat Conditioning program centers around what he calls his “Royal Court” of exercises: the Hindu squat, the Hindu pushup, and the back bridging exercise. Do these three exercises long enough to get proficient, he advises, then start slowly adding additional exercises to help stretch and target other muscles, and you’ll be more fit than you’ve ever been before.
Now, few if any of his detractors complain about the squat and pushup exercises (although they are a bit snippy that he’s renamed them), but they go wild over the bridging. “It’s dangerous!” they cry. “You could hurt yourself badly!” Well, yes, which is why all of Matt’s advice tells you to never start a new exercise plan without the advice of your doctor, and why he tells you over and over how to do the bridging safely. He even gives several alternatives, including the use of one of those big exercise balls.
By the time I’d finished reading, I was intrigued enough to want to give some of his claims a try, despite the take-no-prisoners marketing spiel he uses. (I’ve written some marketing material of my own for various projects, so I was impressed by how sensible his claims really are when you strip away the adverbs. Unlike most personal fitness trainers, he’s not promising you the moon.) For the first week of Lent, I managed to do the Hindu squats and pushups and began to notice a significant improvement in how I felt. Sure, my legs were a touch sore, but I was starting to have energy that didn’t come from the bottom of the Coke can. I was also starting to sleep better at night and by the end of the first week, all those little aches and pains I’ve come to accept as a part of my life were missing or muted. I forget what happened, but I fell off the exercise routine for the rest of Lent, and soon moved back into the Land of Feeling Like Poo.
Back to last week. I was in the San Francisco airport, waiting to catch my final flight home, and decided I needed to get something to eat. I finally found a Burger King and grabbed a meal, which I began eating as I headed back for my gate to join the boarding for my flight. I got to the gate (most of the passengers had boarded by this time), into my seat, and was finishing my tasty chicken burger when I had a mild esophageal spasm. As I’ve gained weight through the years, I’ve had more and more problems with this ailment; in a nutshell, every now and then something happens to disrupt my esophagus from moving food down to my stomach in an orderly fashion. The food gets stuck, which causes varying amounts of discomfort or pain, and it can often require several minutes to get everything working again.
I’ll spare you the unpleasant details — suffice it to say that I thought I was going to prevent the plane from taking off on time, and I had the flight attendants scared for a couple of minutes there — but the thing I remember most clearly is sitting back in my seat and thinking, “I never had this trouble when I was healthy and not carrying all these extra pounds. I do not want to live like this anymore.” We’d ordered the Combat Conditioning DVD and book set the previous week, and they’d arrived the Monday I was on my way down to San Diego. At that point, I made the commitment to restarting the exercises.
So, for this last week I’ve been trying to build the habit of physical fitness. We picked up an exercise ball over the weekend, so both Steph and I have been using it to supplement the bridging exercise. Wow — what a difference the bridging makes to the rest of them. I’ve already passed the first hurdle — my legs ached for a day or two, making it difficult to walk — and I’m starting to feel good again.
I’m tired of being fat and feeling old. This time, though, I’m doing something about it.