Friday, September 29, 2023

Health And Action

 One of the rather largish events that occurred during my hike last month to Mt. Goddard was the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness (or Altitude Sickness) in which my body simply refused to function the way I wanted or needed it to.  This was alarming on two levels:  not just that that we were on a hike and this substantially slowed myself and everyone else down, but that this was the first time my body has completely failed me.

Certainly I have challenged myself over the years and there have been things that were too heavy or distances that were too long.  And one simply becomes more injury prone (at least it seems so) as one grows older, at least without an increase warm up period.  And yet never once has body said to me "I am out" and went on strike.

It was shocking.  And ponder inducing.

In reality as I thought about it, this was really an internal discussion that has been going on for a year.

Back last year - almost a year ago precisely - I sustained an injury at a Highland Game (which, to be fair, was my own doing).  It was significant enough that I entered rehabilitation for 3 months and had an impact on my training.  It was pretty clear at that time I would not throw again.

I still went to the gym and worked out and still continued to walk.  And then, in March of 2023, I got laid off.

The lay off did not have a direct impact on my training - other than the fact that one starts looking at expenses and a monthly gym payment is probably not going to be on the list.  And so I canceled my gym.  The good news was that my Municipal Utility District has a recreational arm that has a gym and that it was 1/12th the cost of my current gym (and an annual fee at that).  The not so great news was the equipment was more limited. Sufficient for a program, but there would be no Olympic lifts going forward.

This actually is part of a larger internal discussion I had been having with myself and my coach, The Berserker.

At some point - really before the injury - I had asked him about the fact that I seemed to be making very little progress.  Yes, I was maintaining what I was lifting, but it did not seem to be improving at all.  His response was "You may have just hit your limit."  Hard words, especially in a society that thinks there are no boundaries to what you can do.  Turns out there are.

To be fair, just before the Mt. Goddard Hike I was at the heaviest I have been in my life (note that hiking miles a day with minimal eating has a great weight loss side effect) and that is one thing my reading suggested might help with those pesky triglyceride levels.

Are there amazing benefits from lifting weights?  Certainly, and it is not something I intend to stop.  At the same time, I wondered, what am I really training for?

Amongst my readings, I found a reference on a site called the Bioneer on a theoretical training program like the Spartans might have followed ("might have" being the operative phrase; we really do not know).  The article quotes a phrase from Plutarch's Life Philopoemen (A Greek General of the Achaean League):

  "They told him (and it was the truth) that the habit of body and mode of life for athlete and warrior were totally different, and particularly that their diet and training were not the same, since one required much sleep, surfeit of food, and fixed periods of activity and repose, in order to preserve or improve their condition, which the slightest influence or least departure from routine is apt to change for the worst; whereas the solider ought to be conversant with all sorts of irregularity and all sorts of inequality, and above all should accustom himself to endure lack of food easily, and as easily as the lack of sleep.

On hearing this, Philopoemen not only shunned athletics himself and derided them, but also in later times as commander he banished from the army all forms of them, with every possible mark of reproach and dishonor on the ground that they rendered men useless for the inevitable struggle of battle men who otherwise would be most serviceable."

Now, I would never argue against anyone doing athletics, nor am I inherently training to join the military or become a Soldier of Fortune.  But it does raise a really good question, at least in my mind:  Is my training actually resulting in practical uses?

That is real point, at least to me.  In some cases yes:  between spending time at the gym and on Produce (A)Isle, I suffered no inability in my abilities on the Mt. Goddard Hike related to strength or endurance; in fact, I felt great every morning.  That is the sort of practical application I am looking for.  And should be strong, or at least strong enough to complete tasks that involve work around the house or (eventually) around The Ranch.  But if my strength is completely based on my ability to have the perfect conditions to do that, it will perish when those conditions are gone and likely just when I would need them most.

Will I still work out at the gym?  Absolutely, and I am trying to find ways to supplement my lack of "heavy" lifting.  But inherent strength improvements are no longer my primary goal.  Instead, I am looking for the kinds of improvements that are sustainable over various conditions.

I already think next year is going to have a lot of challenges.  The last thing I am looking for is a physical failure because I have to change my program or my gym - again.


  1. I'd say the self-discipline alone is a huge benefit. That, and sedentary people usually suffer from more health problems. As far as progress, it seems we humans all suffer from "bigger-bigger-more-more" syndrome, where progress, growth, increase, etc., are expected as norms. Real life just doesn't seem to work like that, at least not without artificial interventions.

    1. Leigh, self discipline is one of the greatest benefits (and one I continue to struggle with. I have come to understand with such things that any time my mind says "no, because it is early/late/exhausting" I should just do it as those are excuses).

      In Iai, there is every reason to expect I can continue to improve - it just may be in small ways that are almost invisible to anyone but me. I wonder if part of our concern with "bigger-better-more" is not just the expectation, but the expectation that the results will be readily visible.

  2. Anonymous4:38 AM

    I don't run or jog, but do walk the dog about a mile an a half at least 4 times a week. I work out at the gym three times a week, focusing on upper body strength maintenance and crunches.

    My goal is keeping fit enough to complete the occasional 'heavy lifting' that Life sometimes dictates is needed. Not trying to impress any one with body image. Basically trying to keep myself from getting hurt and reduce soreness when it happens.

    This Sunday my Brother and I are going to our ranch to clear out roadside plants from interfering with the traffic. May be some holes in road requiring filling - you can never tell.

    1. That sounds very similar to the sort of thing I do and am doing, with the addition of training in Iaijutsu at least 30 minutes a day and 90 minutes on training days. While I have not found my final rhythm in terms of scheduling, it is a very maintainable schedule.

  3. Nylon125:06 AM

    With increasing age (if you're lucky) comes the realization that changes happen to the body, without your consent. As you discovered TB, those changes can be adjusted for somewhat. Perhaps a bit of luck for you in "discovering" a wakeup call..... :)

    1. Nylon12, one thing I have commented on in the past about many of my throwing friends is that their bodies had already sustained damage through weight lifting or power lifting. A torn bicep or back issue was not thought uncommon and part of the price of competition. I started late in life, so not overly surprising it has shown up now.

      One of the great attractions of Iaijutsu is the fact that one can continue to train into one's 80's and 90's.

      Perhaps not everything happens for a reason, but I suspect lots of things do.

  4. I’m convinced that diet plays a much larger part on health and longevity than exercise. Japan has one of the longest life expectancies but you don’t see the exercise like here. They are active but in low impact ways. Closer to home, all the farm wives outlived their hard working husbands by decades. I think a lot of that was from not abusing their bodies with hard labor on a daily basis. Of course this isn’t black or white and there are lots of other factors at play but my goal is to do mostly low impact exercise and try to focus on my diet more.

    1. Ed, someone you might check out is Mark Sisson ( He has some interesting thoughts training and nutrition (I say interesting - they are actually very thought provoking and the upselling is not much).

      I am neither a nutritionist nor a gerontologist, but I think they play different parts of the same role. Diet without exercise and exercise without diet are equally bad, a least in my thinking. My paternal great-grandmother lived to 99 years of age and had (I suspect) a fairly typical Southern diet - but was active is small ways right up to the end (she repainted her living room at 94).

      Stress is a factor as well, a factor I wonder if there is a great deal of research around. Reading the Blue Zone Diet book, one thing that is also clear from the "Blue Zone" regions chosen is that the people there live low-stress lives. Our society almost demands we live a high stress one.

    2. I should clarify a bit. When I say exercise, I'm referring to lots of it like hours spent in a gym or running. I think walking or just doing daily things around the house other than sitting on the couch are quite good though calling them exercise by today's standards is probably a stretch.

    3. Anonymous4:38 PM

      So much of your blog resonates with me !

      My wife & I are in preparation for a walking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela next year. We have been physically preparing for three months already, and have another six months or so to prepare. We've liaised with our physicians (recommended the Blue Zone to us too), seen exercise physiologists for stretches and specialised exercises to address our imbalances. We're training with the clothes, packs & shoes we'll be using.

      We've discovered issues we didn't know we had and its surprising how many things we used to be able to do readily & without thought, now need a warm up and strict attention to form.

      The other aspect is our spiritual preparation. The medical shenanigans brought me back to my faith. My wife is discovering Christianity for the first time in her life. And we are about to undertake one of the three great Christian pilgrimages. Smiling from ear-to-ear. Finding a church is a major challenge though. At the moment, I am starting to wonder if I need someone to interpret the word of God for me, or if we just read our bibles and talk to God directly.

      Best wishes and thank you for sharing your thoughts on this blog.

    4. Ed - One of the points that Sisson made that somewhat resonates with me is the concept that super intense activities like long runs or long workouts in the gym create inflammation, which he maintains is not a good thing. To that extent, perhaps we could use the phrase "active lifestyle" - with lots of activity, though not necessarily intense physical activity.

    5. Anonymous - That is wonderful! The Santiago de Compostela is on The Outdoorsman's and my list as well, although some years in the future. Sounds like you are already well on your way; I wish you nothing but the best of luck on your journey. Where are you starting?

      That is wonderful news about your wife discovering Christianity (and your rediscovering it as well). God works in some pretty unusual ways to get our attention; the fact that he used a pilgrimage is not surprising to me at all.

      If you have been reading, then you know my own struggles with finding a church. I would say find something that both draws you to God and challenges you - for me, I think that is likely in the context of a body of believers although I am sure that is not true for everyone. In terms of a "church", I have probably become a lot less hung up with what denomination one attends; go where the word of God is preached, you feel edified and challenged, and you find meaningful worship. Within those confines, I suspect God is not as concerned about where we are going.

      Best of luck!

  5. It is disconcerting to have your body quit on you. 10 years ago, I roofed this house. I had to strip old tin and older wood shingles. It's nearly a 6/12 pitch. I had been able to grunt work 10 hours a day. I could barely get 6 a day at that time. The body said, this far and no farther. It really shocked me. Now, after my dance with death, getting a good two hours a day is about the limit. And that has to be spread out over the whole day. Cycles of 15 to 20 minute of work, then an hour or more of resting. It's maddening if I dwell on it. Accepting limitations and working within them...

    1. STxAR - I know you have struggled a great deal the last two years; honestly your honest discussion helped me in my own thoughts - not that I have nearly the challenges you are heroically overcoming, but your willingness to face the situation head on instead of pretending it does not exist.

  6. Weren't the problems you experienced from high altitude? I am not sure what exercise prepares you for that, TB. There are cans of "sport oxygen" sold at places like Walmart and Academy Sports (though finding cans with complete seals is difficult. I would order from online); and taking a can or two of that might be of more use, if they can be used at altitude.
    I did not research that part as I used them for hubby before we got an oxygen machine.

    How much do bags of mulch, fertilizer, dirt and rabbit food weigh? Not to mention the boxes of fruits and vegetables you probably lift at work.
    Perhaps you can exchange the former for gym weights. Or two 5 gallon buckets on opposite ends of a sturdy handle of some sort, with dirt or rocks added for weight.
    Sorry. Just thinking out loud. :)

    Progress is what makes you happy, I think. If you are happy with what you are doing, that is progress. :)

    1. Linda, the sport oxygen cans were something The Ravishing Mrs. TB had mentioned as well; perhaps more conditioning on my part would have also assisted.

      I am regularly lifting 40-50 lbs between the rabbit shelter, produce boxes, and other items around the house. The max dumb bells the gym has are 60 lbs, which are honestly probably enough. I needs to be creative in using them.

      Indeed, one of the great points of Iaijutsu is that we can continue to make progress - even if small - no matter how long we train if we have the right attitude.

  7. TB, I'm completely out of my element with this blog post, but I do appreciate your thoughts about making progress. I wanted you to let you know that, and that you sparked thoughts for a blog post on my end. Time will tell if I have the courage to post it. :)

    1. Becki, a writer is always glad when their words spark thought or even writing in others. I do hope you will post it.


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