Setting a BHAG: The Importance of Rest and Fun in Your Training Program
Last Sunday I committed to climbing Mt. Kenya this coming November, and in typical fashion, threw myself into that program with the kind of enthusiasm normally seen in kids under the Christmas tree. The first thing I did was add some 1200 steps to my normal stair running routine, then upped the daily workouts ante.
Of course, now I hurt all over. Holy mother of God.
Two days ago I reinstated my kickboxing program, with mixed results. It’s been more than a year since I’d been able to do it, from having broken my back in August last year while riding in Kazakhstan. I’d previously been kicked silly by a horse in Turkey, so to say the least, I’ve spent a fair bit of time rehabbing just to climb back in the saddle. I mention kickboxing, which for me is a royal joke. My version is the equivalent of a camel who stuck his nose in the tent’s booze supply and inhaled the whole thing. It’s endlessly amusing to the neighbors and I am lucky to remain upright. But it’s exercise, it’s fun, I will do it consistently, and that’s all that matters.
It isn’t about looking like an expert, it’s about simply getting out there moving. If I worried about how I looked (especially wearing neon leotards at 65) I wouldn’t do a damned thing in public. After I’ve run 3600 steps on a hundred degree weekend I look like a wet orangutan who’s had a very, very bad day.
Add to that rotator cuff surgery seven weeks ago and you can see the challenge. Parts are sore, parts haven’t been worked lately. They get annoyed before they start to respond to the demand.
However, here’s the thing. One of the primary reasons for the BHAG (Big Hairy Ass Goal) was to regain the level of fitness I’d prior to this litany of injuries and bodily offenses. It’s not going to happen overnight. However, regular running, gym work and other disciplines have served to ensure that I haven’t slid backwards entirely.
Okay well,that’s not entirely true. You shove a 65-year-old shoulder- no matter how muscular and fit- into a sling, put it through surgery and forbid it from doing exercise for four months and it will turn to mush. I can attest. My right arm now has the beginnings of my mother’s famous arm wings. I can only flap one side so aerial maneuvers aren’t in my immediate future. Good news, my gun will come back. Not fast, but it will return.
At 65, hard-core training is a wholly different endeavor. Five years ago when I trained for Kilimanjaro, I worked out up to four hours a day, almost six days a week and sometimes seven. Such was my enthusiasm. Some would argue, not without justification, stupidity. Without adequate rest, I injured periodically and suffered occasionally from overuse problems. While the training paid off eventually not only in a pretty easy ascent as well as superb fitness thereafter, the lessons stuck. This time around when the body demands it, I rest. I have no interest in sidelining myself out of foolish over-enthusiasm. Not only are those drill sergeant days long gone, but I can’t afford to injure myself getting ready for yet another big climb. I want this time around to be a lot more enjoyable. Um, fun, please.
In the article Why Rest Days are Just as Important as Working Out, author Katie Rosenbrock explores some of the typical issues our all-or-nothing society encounters when we decide to get in shape, or take on a big project. (https://www.theactivetimes.com/why-rest-days-are-just-important-working-out).
Part of it is that we feel guilty, having once begun a program, if we skip a day. However if we don’t, the tissues, bones and all our various bits and pieces have no time to recuperate. Weight work makes tiny tears in the muscles to get them to fill in with more muscle. They need rest to be able to do that. Working the same body part day after day results in painful injuries and exhaustion at the very least, which are huge de-motivators. People who train for marathons don’t run 26 miles every single day. That would be insane. Or let’s just say if they do, their running career is likely to be abbreviated.
As in all things, it’s about balance. At my 24-Hour gym, there are all kinds of posters encouraging people to push til they collapse. Well, look. Maybe on game day. Maybe on race day. However I’d have a hard time justifying that kind of extreme effort every single day, and besides, the body isn’t made for it. We do our best when we work hard, go past a comfort level, and give the old muscle sack a day or more of rest, or at least significant variety.
Like great sex, for example. But I digress.
For example, next week I return to the local Olympic pool. I love running laps while listening to comedians and classical music. First of all it’s hot as Hades around here and there are few sweeter places than the shallow end, up to my clavicle, and running laps. Not swim, run. The water acts as a buoy as well as resistance, I get plenty of cardio work, and it gives everything a bit of a rest while making a different set of demands. What this does is provide an opportunity for a great deal more gentle work to the joints, it still makes you work. And by the way, it’s fun.
That is except for the day that the lifeguard told me to move into one of the swim lanes because my poor timing had me in the way of all the kiddie classes. At that point the water was well over my face, so running consisted of sink-push-breathe-splutter- sink-push-breathe-splutter. For an hour. It was funny as crap. Next time I checked the schedule first.
The Critical Element of Fun
This piece is key. I’ve always had a problem with the term “workout” if for no other reason than the word “work.” When we’re kids, we exercise because our bodies want to play, run, move, jump, and climb. By definition, that’s play. I’ve no idea how or where this notion of the joy of movement for the sake of enjoying our physical selves morphed into work. The modern method of up to 14 hours a day on our collective asses looking at our devices is not how we’re designed. However, call movement “work,” and if you’re like most of us, it doesn’t exactly sound like a party. That’s why it’s critically important to choose something you genuinely enjoy (and puhleeze, plopping your patootie on a golf cart does NOT count. Walking the entire course does), that you WILL do consistently, because it gives you pleasure.
An old boyfriend of mine was- and still is- a competitive ballroom dancer. That man will never set foot in a gym. But boy does he get a workout because dancing is his passion. That’s not work. That’s pure joy. That’s the whole point. In an ideal world he’d add more variety, but let’s be fair- far too many of us do nothing at all, so choosing a joy is a whole lot better than nada.
Real Simple puts forth a few good tips in their article on how to make workouts a lot more enjoyable https://www.realsimple.com/health/fitness-exercise/scientific-ways-make-working-out-fun. I agree with the tunes, with a proviso. First, if you’re like me and have to run a neighborhood that has some busy streets, do so early enough to avoid exhaust. New studies show that this exhaust can be extremely damaging to our health (https://www.healthguidance.org/entry/14639/1/dangers-of-exhaust-fumes.html), it stinks (ya think?) and that’s not exactly the best way to treat the lungs. Second, make sure you wear headphones that deliver sound to the ear bone in front of the ear rather than in your ear. Why? Because you can go deaf far sooner than you think, and most certainly sooner than you want- like never- by turning up the tunes too loudly. Deafness is on the rise far earlier than ever because of the combination of ear buds and blasting tunes (https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/generation-deaf-doctors-warn-dangers-ear-buds-n360041. It’s bad enough that we hardly pay attention to each other in the first place. Now we can hardly hear each other either because we’ve exploded our eardrums with Highway to Hell twelve thousand times.
The other obvious reason is pedestrian deaths. People can’t hear cars, their music is too loud. BAM. Oops. I use AfterShokz (www.Aftershokz.com) headphones which makes both a wired and Bluetooth version, and have been very happy with both. I can hear traffic, conversations, am safer, and can enjoy my tunes without tuning out critically important sounds that could save my life. I can also hear the neighborhood Rottweiler sneaking up on before he removes half my butt cheek. Let’s be clear- there are a great many very stupid people out there texting while driving and they don’t give a flying shit about you or me. Until of course after they have committed vehicular homicide. Let’s be smarter than they are. Given the availability of these headphones that’s one less reason not to go out and walk, and hike the neighborhoods.
Third, pick a playlist that really gets you moving. I have two favorites: the soundtrack from the classic football movie Rudy, which I play every year in September. I never ever get tired of that music, and it recalls one of my favorite themes: effort pays off. The other is Enya. For some reason their music allows me to run tirelessly. What music energizes you? Makes you feel like real effort even if it’s for ten or twenty steps? Fire it up!
Love That Body
The other essential piece is body work. By this I mean massage. My BF happens to be stupid lucky because I’m a trained masseuse and I’m armed with a real table. Unfortunately every time he tries to return the favor we get…uh…distracted. So I have to pay for my massages. Thai-style and deep tissue massage went a very long way towards helping me stay in tip top shape while training for Kilimanjaro. I stayed limber and relaxed, and the injuries were reduced through body work. Besides, it’s fun. You can reduce the cost by going to a local massage school and getting worked on by students, who often charge a fraction of what you might otherwise pay a graduated pro. That’s how I do it when I need a lot of them. For example, I might pay $25 for what might otherwise cost close to $100. Is there mixed quality? Yes. But your feedback to these students is priceless to them, and besides, they really want to do a good job.
What this does is ensure that the muscles and tendons and fibers and ligaments and all those pieces we’re trying to strengthen get an off day, a variety day, a fun day, and a big time rest day. The other night, after feeling right sore after the first kickboxing session in more than a year, I slept twelve hours. That’s what the body demanded and that’s what it got. I took the next day off.(I had to; I could hardly get out of bed in the first place) This isn’t for everyone by any means. It has a great deal to do with whether or not you’ve trained before, your age, your flexibility, and most especially what your goal is and how much time you’ve allowed yourself to reach it.
OMG THAT HURTS
If you’re new to a training program (and this includes just about any new exercise but most particularly gym work), you may not realize that it can take up to 48 hours for your body to register the work that you’ve done. As in holy SHIT, SHE RAN 3600 STEPS ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? The real work is after the workout, as the body rests, recuperates and rebuilds after your effort. So especially for those just beginning a program, the need for rest is at least two days in-between, as the soreness doesn’t even register at first. When it does, it can be a genuine surprise for the uninitiated. The day after a big first run and you are feeling FINE. However the next day your partner needs to get you out of bed with a crow bar and the promise of a dozen hot Krispy Kremes.
Actually that’s a terrific idea.
Even Super Heroes Gotta Train
Look. Even Mr. Incredible got fat and out of shape. A great many of us, after having had slim and tight bodies as kids and teens (okay maybe YOU did but I didn’t), find a fat roll or a great deal more just like our Superhero once he quit chest pressing railroad cars. When he got back to it, he also was finally happy with his waist measurement. I adored that movie for a lot of reasons, but probably most because in a sly, and often hilarious way, it reminds us that even Super Heroes throw their backs out, age and have to put work into staying strong. They get sore, too.
For that I highly recommend CBD creams, depending on the laws of your state. Hemp-based CBD oils and creams are usually legal everywhere. There are all kinds of products but the idea is to massage them into your sore muscles. Not only is this a kindness, but it’s also showing our bodies the love they deserve. We can’t just beat the crap out of them and then expect them to love us back. I take daily mineral salts baths combined with lotsa bubbles. It’s wonderful fun, feels good, and helps me integrate all that hard work.
Oh, and it’s fun.
The Problem with the Gym
Each of us is vastly different in terms of what we need and how we train. What I see, most especially in January when the gym fills up with wanna-bes, is folks who 1) have no clue how to use the equipment; 2) use poor form which is an invitation to severe injury: 3) are pushing WAY too hard for beginners, which cannot possibly be maintained, and 4) they mostly disappear in three months never to be seen again. It usually stopped being fun, got too hard to maintain, they began to resent it (so would I) and their bodies revolted through injury or other very direct messaging. Hospitalization has a way of putting a damper on our enthusiasm.
Too many of us who spend far too much time watching Marvel movies are influenced by the extreme bodies of the heroes, which leads to illnesses like Bigorexia (an anorexia like disease for lifters who keep trying for vastly larger muscles) or we have this sneaking belief that there just has to be a shot or a pill that can turn us into Captain America overnight. Given our addiction to devices and television, that doesn’t surprise me in the least. The problem is that anything that is genuinely worth having, is worth having to work hard to achieve. If you question this, simply take a look at how many uber-rich, uber-famous people live horrifically unhappy lives. We treasure what we’ve earned.
Although if someone offered me a cool mil or two, I wouldn’t turn it away on the basis of moral superiority.
Sleep, Baby, Sleep
Any workout program, whether you’re 25 or 45 or 65 like me, must allow for time for everything to regroup. The body thanks us by becoming stronger, more powerful, with increased endurance. The old adage of “if a little is good, lots more is better” isn’t necessarily true when it comes to workouts. ( I might disagree about sex.) While I don’t use age as an excuse to slow down, I do respect the need for greater flexibility. Many if not most injuries in older athletes have to do with not taking time to stretch, and ease those parts of us into the effort. According to an article by the National Institutes of Health, lower extremities tend to get the worst of it, and muscle injuries are far more common among those of us with a little wear and tear on us. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7481278) That argues hard for stretching, and a deeper mindfulness about how our bodies are changing. This doesn’t say don’t exercise. What it does say is take your time, ramp up, and respect your body. If you don’t it will curse you, and it has a very broad and deep vocabulary, rather like Shakespearean insults.
The real benefit of flexibility isn’t just balance, or greater body awareness. I love this article which is focused more towards practitioners, but it will give you a really good argument as to when, how and how often we need to work on our flexibility http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/the-importance-and-purpose-of-flexibility.
Better to be a Gumby Doll
For my part, that flexibility has saved my life multiple times. Not every harebrained 65-year-old does adventure travel (OK OK my hand is up) but since I do, I’d better be ready to tumble. Being limber has prevented certain accidents from killing or crippling me, and being in shape ensured that not only did I get well swiftly but with far less pain. When I take a fall I’m so loose that the impact doesn’t tend to break things. I bruise all right, but I’m not horrifically damaged, as so many people are when thrown from a horse, falling down stairs (yep, that was really fun) or whatever might next befall my physical form. The damage I suffer is far more to whatever shredded ego I may still have left, of which there isn’t much, but enough to continue to do stupid shit at this age.
The other place where this piece shows up is that when I am on an adventure, my ability to participate in what’s available is far greater. For example, when on a sailing ship in Indonesia this past May, we stopped at a tiny island in that massive archipelago. After a hike following the village kids, we were led to a waterfall which spilled into a deep, cool pool surrounded by massive trees. You can see what’s coming: a big fat rope swing. Of our group, in which most of us were in our sixties and older, only three of us used that swing- myself and two other men. It was superb fun. The other women stood around, dithered, worried, held back, and completely and utterly missed out. Being in shape allows to you participate in what life has to offer at any age. And that’s the whole point, whether it’s better sex or better sports or sheer joyous ridiculous fun. I would hate like hell to expire just before arching into a terrific orgasm (To the Grim Reaper: WILL YOU KINDLY WAIT FOR 45 SECONDS GOD DAMMIT). That would be cruel and unusual punishment. Hence, I stay in shape. I like being around for the fun stuff.
Why Set a BHAG Anyway?
I don’t do adventure travel to impress anyone. It just happens to give me enormous joy, as well as a great deal of motivation to keep in superb shape. It’s my thing, and has been now for going on nine years. I’ll quit when I can’t do it anymore. But riding horses, kayaking, climbing big ass-mountains, hiking, cycling, air sports- they all get my full attention. Because some of them entail high risk/high reward, I have to be ready for a mishap. That’s what motivates to me to work hard. That and the fact that I happen to harbor a handsome BF 17 years my junior in the house, and frankly, if I plan to keep him interested, it serves to stay in shape.
When we chose a goal, ideally it’s something challenging but also not so foolhardy that the chances of survival are downright slim to none. Many a good athlete has been lost on such endeavors. Call me old, or call me aging-quarterback wise- I know what I can’t do. I remember watching a no-longer- agile Dan Marino with braces on both knees, utilizing what he knew about patterns and defense to avoid tackles without asking his busted legs to sprint. He couldn’t. Nor did he want a 350-lb lineman crushing those knees. We get smarter as we age.
At least one hopes we do. I haven’t noticed that in our current Administration, but then, I digress.
Getting in shape and staying in shape don’t have to be dreaded chores. If they are we will find any excuse to avoid it. “Honey, I have a hangnail. I just can’t run today.” “Honey, I have a pimple on my nose. I just can’t hit the gym today.” “Honey, England lost the soccer game. I just can’t swim today. I’m in mourning.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, the truth is that we hate it if it’s perceived and felt as a chore. That’s why rest, recuperation, and recreation are so important. (Just in case you’re wondering I do include sex in the recreation department).
On a final note, that last word. Recreation. Re-creation. Let’s look at this:
recreare (Latin) To create again, renew
recreation (Late Middle English) Mental or spiritual consolation
“activity done when one is not working” (bold added)
You see where I’m going. Every time we play, we re-create. Renew our bodies, minds and spirits. When it’s joyful, every single part of us responds with energy and enthusiasm, just as we did when we were first finding out what our legs could do. That kind of explosive joy fills us with endorphins, which is the body’s natural drug (https://www.cnn.com/2016/01/13/health/endorphins-exercise-cause-happiness/index.html) That’s why I dislike the term “workout.” By definition it doesn’t sound fun, or playful, or enjoyable, especially for those just starting or trying to climb back up the ladder after having descended. For my dollar, I’d rather see moving our bodies, pushing ourselves, learning new sports and skills as pure, unadulterated fun. Take rest breaks. Have a deep appreciation for, and a sense of humor with, our physical forms. Get body work, which feels like luxury. Laugh a lot. That’s most especially when you and I have set a BHAG. Truth is, nobody really cares how hard we work except our own bodies, and perhaps, just perhaps, those who love us the most.
So pick a goal that sounds like fun. Pick something that invites the body to do more than usual. If you pick a BHAG, good for you. Whatever you do, celebrate the small steps. That’s what loving ourselves looks like. Mind what your body tells you. It’s very eloquent. It’s also very, very willing to live up to our expectations as best it can.
Now let’s go PLAY.