Saturday, May 15, 2010

Paleolithic Fitness

In my quest to find something to replace running as my primary fitness activity, i've come across material on the idea of paleolithic (and its cousin primal) fitness. The idea here is roughly that our early ancestors were (we assume) pretty fit even though they did not exercise in any methodical way. Rather, fitness was the consequence of needing to hunt for sustenance, being limited to only natural (often raw) food, and having little in the way of sedentary pastimes. It seems the case for this approach is often made on evolutionary grounds-- that the best exercise and food mimic the patterns of the earliest humans because those are the patterns that allowed us to survive when conditions were the most harsh for our species. I get the impression though that there's a bit of the Noble Savage mixed in too.

Most of the gurus eschew long-duration cardio exercise in favor of interval-like training, presumably to simulate chasing after prey (or being chased after by predators). That's a little strange to me, since it's fairly well established now that humans have evolved lungs and hearts that are remarkably good systems for endurance, but we didn't end up with a structure that's all that good for speed. On the other hand, i do believe in the benefits of interval training. When i was running, i found intervals to be the best way to get faster. There seems to be a lot of similarity between the paleo/primal approach and the functional fitness movement. Not much equipment, simplicity of exercises, more focus on full motion and less isolation. Strength training is mixed with endurance training and flexibility, and they avoid strict schedules and prescribed exercises. I think that's probably a great approach for general, base fitness; but i also suspect that it's insufficient for any specific sport.

Another aspect of the paleo approach is a tendency toward more protein and less carbs (that is to say, meat). At least one program i found completely eliminates grains, and discourages legumes (beans and stuff). That might explain why they don't care for endurance sports. I honestly don't know if cavemen really had meat-rich diets; or if that's a bias formed from things like the Lascaux cave paintings and the Flintstones. I suspect cavemen ate whatever did not kill them and they could digest. Again, i think this dietary approach works backwards from an idea of fitness that prefers to build muscle, get lean, and not do too much endurance exercise. I think it would probably be disastrous for Michael Phelps or the average Kenyan marathoner. Plus, to be honest, i'd rather have spaghetti than six-pack abs.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

My Hip At Three Months

Today is three months since my hip replacement. I am probably a bit further in my recovery than average, but i'm not where i wish i were. I've been biking for a few weeks now without any pain, and i've been doing tai chi for the last two weeks. In general, regular motions are not too bad, but any sort of eccentric motion is both difficult and sometimes painful (twists, lateral steps). My left leg is still very weak compared to my right, and i find that i sometimes use my quads and calves to compensate for weak glutes and hip flexors, which puts pressure on my knee.

After a year of physical deterioration, i feel very impatient to get back into some sort of shape. I'm about 20 pounds heavier than i was when i was running regularly, and since i still have limited mobility i feel... old. I tried to come to terms with the things that i would not be able to do after the surgery, but i'm not quite over the psychological impact of going from being somebody who was in abnormally good shape to somebody who pretty much meets people's expectation of a 46 year-old man.

The only goal i have set at this point is to ride the Tour de Poway Century ride in early October. However, i also hope to get back to my normal weight by the end of summer, and get the strength back in my left leg. I'm trying to do Tabata-style training to compensate for the lack of hard cardio , but i find i'm not quite fit enough at the moment to get through the full sets for exercises like push-ups and pull-ups. I can do squats, however, i'm not sure that i'm working both legs equally.

At this point i'm still stubbornly convinced that i can get back to some physical level that will make both me and other people forget that i am an invalid. As i approach 50 i realize that most people's expectations will be lower, but i've spent the the last decade among people who were 50, 60, or 70 and still pushing the envelope. There will probably be a day when playing golf or taking walks will seem adequate, but i hope that day does not come soon.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


I've been re-reading a lot of old books, in part to save money and in part because i've begun to realize how poorly i can recall books that i remember liking the first time. It's a strange feeling to read a book that you read twenty years earlier and to find how little of the plot seems familiar. For example, i've been re-reading Saul Bellow's novel Humboldt's Gift. I remember most of the characters, even the names, but the plot is completely fresh. I'm about half way through and i honestly don't know how it's going to unfold (ironically, memory was a common theme in Bellow's later works).

What's even stranger is that i have a vivid memory of the circumstances surrounding my purchase of this book. While still in college my wife (then girlfriend) and i made a trip to Chicago while visiting my family in Indiana. We went to Stuart Brent's bookstore on Michigan Avenue and i picked up a pamphlet that listed 100 books that Brent considered essential. One was Humboldt's Gift. I had not even heard of Bellow at that point, but there was something about the title that appealed to me. I ended up buying it in mass-market paperback form at a chain bookstore in the mall in Fort Wayne, near where my parents lived.

I know that i liked the book and i ended up reading most of Bellow's novels at various points through my life. On re-reading it, it seems much more appropriate for someone my current age. The main character, Charlie Citrine, is a 50-something author in the middle of a nasty divorce and with a couple of young daughters. He is clinging to illusions of youth, what's left of his money and fame, and what dreams a middle-aged man can have. To my 20-ish self he must have seemed almost foreign; but now i see a character who, although he has had more success than most, has problems familiar to most middle-aged men.

That, i guess, is the benefit of re-reading. It's a bit like sampling a case of wine as it ages in that it's a different experience each time, but you're never sure until you're done with it which point was the best.