Wednesday musings, 6/15/16 and 6/22/16: Practice and moderation

Wednesday musings:
Many people exercise because it makes them feel strong and healthy. While nothing stops the aging process, exercise at least comes close to slowing it down.* There are a handful for whom exercise turns into a hobby. Many of these individuals were athletic in high school and had a strong foundation in different sports. These individuals often post feats of strength and mobility on social media. Most will look at these posts and think, “that’s crazy. I could never do that,” and move on with their lives. A select few will look on in curiosity. They will wonder, “how did he learn to do that?” They might research a specific trick or skill, only to find several blogs promising to fast track the learning process. A few failed attempts will lead to frustration, ultimately turning the pursuit of learning into the conclusion that “I am too old/not athletic enough/not strong enough/not flexible enough to ever do that.”

When you look at a basic skill, even something simple like a squat, there are many components involved to allow the skill to take place. There is simply understanding how to do the skill, or the motor control aspect, and then there are all the necessary strength and mobility components that must take place in order for the hips to descend down towards the floor. If you are lacking in any of those areas, no amount of reading “5 steps to master the squat” will replace dealing with the weak link.

I have practiced yoga for over a decade. I always assumed my heels couldn’t hit the ground in downdog. I never questioned why, and though I studied with different teaches and different styles, my heels remained stubbornly up. Downdog stretches the calf muscle; it wasn’t until I actively worked on strengthening the muscle opposing the calf in a dynamic way that my ability to press the heels towards the ground improved, eventually allowing the heels to press all of the way down. The next time you are curious about learning a skill or movement, either hire someone to break the components down for you and give you the pieces you need to work on, or video yourself and see if you can recognize the areas where you struggle. Very few skills are impossible if you are willing to put in the practice.

*https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/09/108886/lifestyle-changes-may-lengthen-telomeres-measure-cell-aging

Wednesday musings, 6/22/16
In the conclusion of the book “Grit,” Angela Duckworth discusses the inverted U phenomenon that can be applied to most traits. For instance, you can have too much courage, logic, and self-control; by the same token, too little of these traits aren’t good either. Somewhere in the middle of two extremes lies a sweet spot.

This same concept can be seen in physical feats. Too little exercise puts a person at higher risk for developing chronic low back pain; so does too much exercise. Runners that run the highest risk of injury are brand new runners (too little running), and runners that are running high mileage (the last time I checked, this was defined as greater than 30 miles/week, but it’s been a while) and/or doing large amounts of speed work. Too much running. Too little cortisol (the stress hormone) in the system leads to symptoms of depression, too much, anxiety. Maybe optimal health and wellness can be thought of as finding that place of moderation where there is a sense of balance, both physically and emotionally. Or maybe that would be too boring. “All things in moderation, including moderation," Mark Twain.