Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Argue For Your Limitations

Two days ago I was at the gym working on my increasingly kyphotic spine when the resident chronic cardio junkie (a very pleasant woman but one with the typical zero muscle mass physique of the chronic cardio exerciser) asked what I was doing. When I explained the exercise, her immediate and, at least it seemed to me, unthinking reply was "Oh, I couldn't do that, I have a problem with my shoulder." I have heard this sentiment, in one form or another, so many times since moving back home to Australia that I have almost come to believe the entire population, drugged as they are on too many carbohydrate laden pies and cakes, has taken the dictum "argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours" (Richard Bach) as their national motto. 

 Passing Lemon Rock near the Freycinet Peninsula

From the guy who told me the reason he got fat was because he hurt his back and could no longer run (note to everyone looking to use this as an excuse, exercise has never been shown to be an effective weight control strategy) to my friend who replaced all his outdoor gear with the lightest possible (insert most expensive) gear on the market because he "wasn't getting any younger," we all seem way too eager to accept what we perceive as our "eventual" decline in physical functioning. 

 Perhaps climbers stay more flexible and balanced,
Steve L. does crow pose in the Adamant Range, BC, Canada

Well, it will probably come as no surprise to my regular readers (do I have regular readers?), but I don't buy it. I'm pretty sure this whole-hearted embracing of limitations has more to do with opting for the path of least resistance than it does with inevitable physical decline. You may be in bad shape with crappy knees, a bad back, an insulin resistant gut, and, etc., etc., and, it may seem now that there are no choices but, you always had a choice and you still have a choice. 

Hamish M. on the first ascent of Kerouac Crack,
still climbing after 50 years, no excuses 

The problem with our wealthy modern societies is that everything is easy, quick, convenient and offers instant gratification. The idea of actually working slowly and steadily towards some end goal has become an anathema. Food like substances that are cheap, ubiquitous, highly palatable and offer astronomical food reward make up the bulk of most people's daily diet. We want to go to the gym, lift a few free weights, or operate a bunch of machines and have that one hour of the day (if we even set aside one hour) undo the other 23 hours of crappy living. Our health information arrives via Twitter feed or other dubious formats and we never bother to set aside any time to think about whether what the latest talking head is peddling really makes any sense. God forbid, we might actually go research something for ourselves. In short, we have completely forgotten the dominant lesson of kindergarten - the ability to delay gratification is the harbinger of success (no matter how you define success, which might be dirt-bagging it around the worlds' most famous climbing areas). 

 Choosing a good line,
Hayes Creek, NT, Australia

At the gym today, one of the semi-regulars came in, the kind of guy you walk past on every street corner in Australia, overweight, insulin resistant, spine curved like a pretzel, no visible musculature. He proceeded to do his "workout" which consisted of using a few machines with the most truncated range of motion I have ever seen - and I believe I've seen a lot. His "push-ups" involved him fluttering up and down perhaps a distance of two centimetres at a rapid pace (note to all, your nose should touch the floor and your spine should be so straight you can lay a broom handle along it), and while planking, his butt was pushed so far up into the air that, had I not known better, I would have assumed he was just doing a poor semblance of downward dog. 

 Stay active, don't get broken
Doug on the summit of King William, Tasmania

Frankly, it was heart breaking. The guy is broken, so, so broken, and, he is trying, but nothing he is doing is making anything better. His workout is shortening up an already shockingly limited range of motion, his core strength of which he is undoubtedly somewhat proud is virtually nil, and he didn't do 15 push-ups, he didn't actually do a single push-up. Pulling back to level appropriate to his current level of functioning would be devastatingly demoralising as he would literally have to start his push-ups standing up and using the wall the way 80 year old ladies do. Perhaps even that would be inappropriate if he does not have adequate shoulder mobility. 

Might as well try, Sartori, Portero Chico, Mexico

But, he still has a choice. We have at our fingertips more high quality information than ever before. Sure, it takes some thought and research to sort out the excellent information from the drivel (here's a free tip, don't take any advice from anyone who is peddling anything, no matter how "organic"), but, it is possible. Real, whole food is just as cheap (cheaper if you consider the consequences) as food-like substances and anyone can learn to cook. We can all park the car and walk instead of drive. We can stand instead of sit. We can take the long view and begin a life-long quest with what is left of our lives to be as healthy and functional as possible. But, we have to learn to delay gratification and to take the harder, longer road, not the short easy drive. 

 RIP Magic Ed, Portero Chico will never be the same

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