Get Fit, Not Ripped

Round is a ShapeI very much appreciate a recent article by Dr. Michael Gleiber–that’s M.D., and not a mere Ph.D.–in which he argues that we do not need to look ripped in order to be properly fit. He goes on to describe four aspects of activity by which we can measure our fitness. For example, he suggests this push-up test for strength and endurance:

Push-ups are a great way to test your strength and endurance. When testing yourself, make sure you are keeping proper form. Lie facedown on the floor, elbows bent with your palms next to your shoulders. Keep your back straight, and push up until your arms are fully extended, then return to the starting position. Each time you return to that starting position, it counts as one push-up. If you can only do a few pushups before you need to rest, you may need to work more on your strength and endurance.

I like the idea of focusing on outcomes rather than muscle definition, but did you notice the problem with Dr. Gleiber’s prescription? “If you can only do a few pushups”? How many is a few? I have a former Marine friend who would probably say that 25 is a few. And how many is a lot?

He also suggests measuring aerobic fitness by walking a mile “briskly,” measuring flexibility with a sit and reach test, and measuring body fat through BMI (ugh!). Only in the case of BMI does he give a benchmark against which to measure fitness, but he fouls that up by saying that BMI “indicates your percentage of body fat.” As we’ve seen elsewhere–and as he surely knows–BMI does no such thing.

This guy is a spinal surgeon, so I’m guessing he’s busy. But is he really too busy to give us some actual standards by which to measure our fitness? Is it any wonder, absent those standards, that people simply look in the mirror and use the “ripped” test that Dr. Gleiber condemns?

Time Is Running Out to Exercise

old guy runningThere’s an older gentleman at my gym who plods along on the treadmill several times a week. He usually wears one of several hats that identify him as a World War II veteran. Assuming that he was at least 18 in 1944, that would make this fellow at least 89 this year. He could, of course, be several years older.

I mention this because I admire this man for continuing to move. A recent study, from Norway, suggests that by hitting that treadmill, even at a slow pace, this man is shifting the odds in his favor. The study looked at a cadre of men in their 70s and 80s, following them for 12 years.

The more time spent participating in vigorous physical activity, the lower the risk seemed to be. Men who regularly took part in moderate to physical activity lived an average of five years longer than participants who classified their leisure time as sedentary.

When looking at all the numbers, researchers determined that 30 minutes of physical activity, whether light, moderate, or vigorous, six days a week, was associated with a 40 percent reduction in risk of death from any cause.

My father-in-law is 75 and spends way too much time in doctors’ offices or talking to hospital personnel. Sometimes that can’t be avoided, but sometimes it can, as this study suggests.

Let me be abundantly clear that I am not yet in my 70s or 80s–or even my 60s or mid-to-late 50s–but I do hope to continue with as much activity as I can muster to squeeze at least that extra five years out of life and to get the most of the other years as well.

Keep Your Eyes Where They Belong

2015 Rock the ParkwayTwice on Wednesday, I was told, “You’re looking really great” by two widely separated women. One of them has been a friend for many years. The is someone from my church whose husband I know much better. In neither case did I think they were suggesting anything beyond a simple and sincere compliment, but these comments got me thinking.

Perhaps you were not aware of this, but taking care of your body will typically make it look better. It’s true. And whether you like it or not, somebody who sees you working out might just see something in you that you’d not intended. It’s pretty hard to be around a bunch of fit people and not notice their bodies, right?

An article by Jonathan Angelilli takes on this problem in a big way. He points to what he calls the “pornification” of fitness, in which the fitness instructor becomes less an instructor and more an object of desire.

Your fitness can never be outsourced to a hot trainer, doctor, or pill. It’s you that must do it, from the inside out. It’s the very nature of the beast. That is why “the source of all power comes from within” is one of the core principles of TrainDeep. Saying “you do it for me, I’ll pay extra” just doesn’t work when it comes to organic systems and nature. Here we can experience the definitive limits of trying to monetize the natural and spiritual realms.

Certainly not everything in Angelilli’s article is something I can support, but he raises a great point. My work at improving or maintaining my body should be about making myself more fit for service and, as an added bonus, making me more appealing to my spouse. That’s really it.

So if you run into me at the gym or out on the street, just keep your eyes to yourself. I can’t help it if I’m looking really good.

The Cheapest Home Gym

I love the idea of effectively multitasking. A lot of supposed multitasking just involves task shifting. But there are things we can do while performing some mindless task. I’ve been contemplating a “Standing Desk Workout” for some time. Now along comes Kyle James with “10 Ways to Get a Good Workout…Even with Kids.”

My favorite of these ten ways is dropping to do push-ups while giving the kids a bath. Seriously!

While the kids are in the bath, grab 10 quick push-ups on the bathroom floor. When I first started doing this, I had a hard time doing more than five so I modified the exercise by doing push-ups from my knees. After a couple weeks, I was able to throw in some standard push-ups as well. Once you are able to do more of them, switch to “sets” of push-ups. Three sets of 10, several times a week, will quickly strengthen your abs, backs, triceps, and core all while your child splashes in the tub.

If you don’t mind the general oddness of that, I’m pretty sure that you can manage to do a set of push-ups while simultaneously making sure the kids don’t drown. That’s multitasking and a good stewardship of your time.

Do I Really Want to Be Shredded?

Muscle BoyI recently ran across an article in Men’s Fitness that promised to show me ways to “Stay Shredded All Season Long.” While the article, which was cobbled together as answers to single questions asked of five different fitness experts–leftovers from five different interviews perhaps?–seemed to have some useful advice, I had to question the overall premise. Do I really want to be “shredded”?

One of the questions asks for the best exercises for training the abs. The expert says, in part:

The best way to keep your abs conditioned all year round is to follow a healthy diet with a close eye on slightly restricting your starchy carb intake like breads, pastas, etc.

Do you notice a problem there? This guy doesn’t mention any exercises here. To be fair, he goes on to talk about exercises, but the fact that he starts out talking about starchy food suggests that he’s more interested in appearance than in actual strength. Does a layer of belly fat really have anything to do with the strength of your abdominal muscles? Can’t you have incredible strong abs while maintaining a few extra pounds of flab around the middle? And is that really a great burden to fitness.

The question here is what we supposed to be fit for. Is fitness a purely cosmetic thing? Does the fit person need to look like a Greek statue? Or is fitness found in the ability to do the things that we want to do?

Frankly, I don’t need to be shredded.


Another Exercise Excuse Squashed

DumbbellDo you need to spend as much time as Hans and Franz in the gym in order to experience good outcomes–specifically weight loss? Absolutely not. How do I know this? That greatest of all sources, said so!

This article shares some common sense facts for the person who thinks that since they cannot spend eight hours a week pumping iron or spinning bike pedals or somesuch, then they might as well stay on the couch and accept their flabby sentence.

The article also pointed out something that I’ve let slide from my own routine: the value of strength training.

While cardio may not yield the highest ROI [return on investment] when it comes to exercising for weight loss, strength training is the opposite. Strength training allows you to add additional lean body mass, which burns calories at rest.

I don’t want to look like Hans and Franz, but I’m pretty sure that a few sets with weights each week will make a difference in several areas of my life.

Standing on the Promise

How's that standing desk thing working out for you?
How’s that standing desk thing working out for you?

Recently, I shared my simple process for building a standing desk at work. As a college professor, I can arrange my office in pretty much any way I want, but I do believe that similar approaches could work for many people either at home or at work.

So how did the use of the standing desk work out for me. My typical work day involves about 90 minutes at the top of the day, two hours in class, and then several hours of office work after class. Over the first several days with the computer in its new location, I assumed that I would do all my computer work standing and then sit for anything else: reading, hand writing, lunch, and so forth. I even went to a garage sale and bought a bar stool so that I could sit at the computer when I needed to.

What I discovered was that I almost never sat down either at the desk or on the bar stool. I would sit to read for long periods, but mostly I do that at home. I sit when a student comes in for more than a brief question, but otherwise, I’m on my feet. I even eat standing up, as if it were Passover ever day.

What does this mean? According to a calculator at, by standing rather than sitting, we burn .23 extra calories per pound of body weight per hour of standing. With me weighing about 190 pounds, I’m burning  an extra 44 calories per hour. If I average five hours a day standing at my desk, that’s 220 bonus calories burned, the equivalent of running about a mile and a half.

And I’m getting paid for it.

Why is this worthy of my comment or your attention since we’re supposedly talking about the Christian body? Jesus isn’t interested in you getting to eat another Snickers bar, after all.

My time, just like yours, is finite. If I can make use of my time to accomplish two things without having one of them suffer, then that’s fantastic stewardship. We’re not talking about texting and driving. Standing while doing computer work makes good sense. It uses the time and body that God gave me in a sensible manner. And if I can get that extra Snickers bar, so much the better.

Taking a Stand

Somewhere in the spring of last year, I noticed a problem. Putting in long hours in my office, staring at the computer and slouched in a desk chair, I would rise and feel awful. Yes, I was running 30-plus miles a week. Yes, I weighed 50 pounds less than I had a year earlier. Why did I feel so crummy? Only later did I realize that sitting is the new smoking!

Standing Desk 1
My new workspace cost nothing out of pocket, using a piece of plywood from the garage and a couple of bolts from my parts bin.

Even without all the recent hubbub about sitting, I wondered what standing through part of my day could be like. With a large bookcase at the perfect height already lining one wall of my office, I had the perfect platform. I started out by doing some pen-and-paper grading on the top of that bookcase. (The pen and paper were on top of the bookcase; not me.) When this worked out, I wondered how I could get my employer to buy me a standing desk.

That’s when I had my eureka moment. I brought a slab of 3/4-inch plywood to school. This board had been cut to fit the space available on top of the bookcase. It had already been used as a desktop in our home, so Penny had finished it and applying some edging to it.

Besides the wood, I carried along a couple of nut and bolt combos–just spares I had sitting at home–along with four washers. Also I brought a drill, bits, and wrenches.

A hole drilled partway through the plywood allows the bolt and washer to be countersunk.
A hole drilled partway through the plywood allows the bolt and washer to be countersunk.

I drilled a couple of 3/8-inch holes in the plywood and then drilled larger holes part of the way through the wood. These larger holes were big enough to hold the washers I would use and just deep enough to allow the washer and bolt head to sit below the surface of the wood.

Next, I drilled a 3/8-inch hole through the top of the bookcase and lined up with the ones in the plywood. From there it was simple to push through the bolts and tighten them down. In just a couple of minutes I had a very sturdy surface extending from the top of my bookcase.

It took longer to move my computer to its new home, but that wasn’t terribly difficult. From there, I started doing my office work standing. My desk still sat to my left, ready for me to plop down in the chair. It would have only taken a few minutes to put the computer back there.

In short, the only thing I had done that could not be reversed easily was those holes in the top of a bookcase. Yes, that piece of furniture does belong to my employer, but they won’t complain.


Dying to Exercise

old guy runningA recent article in JAMA Internal Medicine (admittedly not a journal I regularly read) indicated that exercise is good for us. This groundbreaking conclusion actually brought some joy to the hearts of serious runners who have been getting smacked with occasional studies suggesting that excessive exercise increases mortality. This much-larger study found the following decreases in mortality over the 14-year duration of the study. (I’ve expressed them in running terms, but the study did not restrict itself to running.)

  • 5 miles a week=a 20% decrease in mortality chances.
  • 10 miles a week=a 31% decrease.
  • 15 miles a week=37% decrease.
  • Up to 50 miles a week=39% decrease.
  • Over 50 miles a week=31% decrease.

Clearly any sensible person will avoid running over 50 miles per week, right? For me it will be 49.9 miles and not one step farther! But seriously, do people who run in excess of 50 miles a week do it just to prolong their lives?

Since I’m interested in the stewardship of the Christian body, it occurred to me that a bit of math might be possible. Let’s assume that our runner is doing 8-minute miles and that the reduction in mortality adds years to your life. For the purposes of my decidedly non-scientific study, I’ve assumed that average life expectancy is 80 years and that a 20% reduction in mortality adds 2 years to that. A 31% reduction thus adds 3.1 years and so forth. How did I arrive at those numbers? Honestly, I just plucked them out of the air, but humor me.

If you run 5 miles a week at 8 minutes a mile, you’ll spend just under 35 hours running each year. If that 20% reduction in mortality gains you 2 additional years of life, you’ll gain 17,520 hours of life minus 70 hours of running for a net gain of 17,450 hours or 1.99 years.

Running 35 miles a week, right in the middle of that optimal range, you’d spend a whopping 242 hours a year on the road, but your 39% reduction in mortality would earn you an additional 3.79 years of life.

Some very attentive reader will note that I have not accounted for the hours that must be run between now and when you hit your “extra time” over 80. So let’s assume that our light runner is 20 years old. Those 35 hours a year over 60 years will mount up to 2,100 hours or roughly 3 months. The net gain is still considerable.

Granted, my math is vaporous stuff but the basic premise is sound. When we invest our time in exercise–running or swimming or whatever–we’ll not just spend time. We’ll gain an increase of time on this earth. That’s time for mission trips, family events, community service, or just to make your retirement providers pay out more.

Even if exercise does not reduce stress, improve self-image, or anything else positive, the longevity issue ought to seal the deal. Exercise, the numbers insist, is good stewardship.