alexliffick

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I am here

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, and for the most part I haven’t had much to say. I took a small break from working on health and fitness, and have been busy enjoying other aspects of life instead. But earlier today I found myself listening to The Beatles, reading through the myriad of insanity that makes up social media and found a gem in the rough. There was what the casual reader would consider “yet another” article on the late Anthony Bourdain, a man who for a long time, to me, was a hero to look up to; he transformed his life by speaking what was on his mind about his chosen profession (one that I once shared), and that ultimately led to the most interesting life of travel and food that anyone could imagine. This article brought a tear, and then many more, because it touched on several elements to the man that people don’t see when watching him on television. He said things that showed how he truly was sad and longed for meaning and connection, screaming out that life demanded little but love and friendship and the occasional well-made drink. And at the end of whatever strange place he had visited, he would reminisce about new friends that he had made after sharing something that to him was intimate; a meal or drink accented with fun and laughter. That’s something that resonated with me.

Parts Known

After finding the need to swipe away the liquids pouring from my eyes while reading quietly from the audience at my son’s karate practice, I decided that the evening would require some alcohol and a viewing of my favorite show hosted by the late Bourdain, “Parts Unknown”. It was at the end of his visit to Myanmar that he said it, what really hit home and made that connection that I had originally missed: “We can go home, our lives will go on” when talking about government oppression and the fear that some residents of the country had about speaking on camera to the film crew. And this wasn’t the first time he had made that realization, having been witness to the war that broke out in Lebanon in 2006 which forever changed him.

Those words, that sentiment; it’s what truly spoke to the soul of the man. It was more than just travel or food, and said the sadness aloud that ultimately led to what transpired in early June of this year. It’s something that is felt by first responders, soldiers, war correspondents, hospital staff, and many other professionals around the world that see first-hand what happens in the worst of times, even if they also get a glimpse of the best of times mixed in. It’s what they have to leave behind, knowing that it was often devastating and traumatic to those that experienced it. That trauma happens to parents struggling through abuse-driven divorce, children that grow up in the shadow of bullies, and anyone that’s made to fear who they really are. And though the damage affects everyone differently, no person can leave the situation untouched.

At the end of the day, there are so many souls that are torn apart by what they’ve seen and experienced, having a front row seat to the carnage that is human existence. Many of whom have to put on a show to provide comfort to their own families and friends, or to the rest of the world whether they want to or not. But sometimes, under the worst of circumstances, they lose the battle and give in to what many others may endure silently. Their light is extinguished with the harsh label that many perceive as weakness, despite how hard they fought to prevent it. After that event, a common question is “why when they had so much to live for”, but not enough people are asking why these troubled souls had so much that they felt the need to die for. It’s a question that should be asked well before the “right” time to ask it, and it’s on all of us to do so.

Be alert, be a friend, be there

I’ve had friends that felt the need to move on, and some that still do but have managed to find just enough good to outlast the growing evil. But not everyone finds that on their own. Reach out to your people, anyone that may have once struggled, or could be now struggling, with their demons or wrestling with the idea that somehow things could be better if they so simply acted rather than sat silently in pain, in the darkness. And while it took far too many words to get to the point that we all need to help each other, sometimes it takes too many words to say what just a few can do; perhaps we should all lead with “I am here”.

The Dreaded I

3 weeks ago I was rushing down the city sidewalk to my Jeep, running a tad behind to pick my son up from school, when I stepped on the mother of all uneven surfaces. My foot went left and my body went right and a moment later I was in excruciating pain. I’ve twisted this ankle before, even broken it, which means it’s weaker and more prone to future injury.  The trick now was to let it heal…

Time off is important

Everyone has a recovery time frame that varies with age or severity of the injury. Its important to recognize that the injury needs to heal and that no one can simply “work through it”. Workouts either need to halt or be adjusted to have adequate time for recovery.

I took 2 weeks off from the gym routine and lifted weights at home on the same mornings I would have gone to the gym. But, I also spent more time and energy doing hefty housework like landscaping.  I may not have been able to run but I could lift bags of mulch and pull weeds.

Even though i adjusted, I still have a problem with pushing hard and wanting results immediately. It was tough sitting with ice on my ankle; it felt like I was losing time that should otherwise have been productive. The problem with that logic is that had I been pushing through the injury it would have caused more damage that would in turn cause less productivity with my workouts. Ankle injuries can cause knee and back injuries if they don’t heal properly.

This happens with every facet of life. If you work too much and don’t take (or get) enough time off, proper time off, then it can lead to burnout and severe loss of satisfaction in your career and life. Slow down and you’ll be happier for it.

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Something that experts seem to agree on is that your diet is more important than the workout schedule. This is very apparent when you’re working on losing weight, where most experts agree that diet is up to 70% of weight loss. It’s also just as important when you’re trying to maintain that weight, and an overall healthy lifestyle.

Diet vs A Diet

Something that I had a hard time realizing is that going on a “diet” is worse for your body than most people realize. Medical professionals advise against the yo-yo diet, where you eat differently for short spans and then go back to what you used to eat. Not only is it unhealthy but you’ll never keep any weight off that is lost during the process, thus the yo-yo.

What does this mean? Well, for starters you need to change your diet long term rather than go on a fad diet. It also means that fitness has more components than just going to the gym or going on a diet.

A Holistic Approach

Just like a computer needs the appropriate amount of memory,  a CPU that can process the tasks you give it, and a motherboard that can utilize all of it properly, our bodies need a good diet, exercise, and the understanding of how to make them work together.

The problem is that there are so many different opinions about what constitutes a healthy diet. Bodybuilders ingest lots of protein and use carbs for certain days and goals while yoga practitioners may choose a more plant-based diet to stay lean for better movement. It’s all about what works for your goals, but what really matters is that it’s a long term strategy rather than a short term fad. Personally I try to keep everything in a fairly moderate and equivalent amount. I’m not trying to body build or be purely lean, but rather somewhere in between.

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One of my favorite shows for a long time was (and still technically is) Mythbusters. There’s also been one very poignant quote that has stuck with me for years: “Failure is always an option”. To be honest, I had hated failure until I realized while watching that show that we learn more from failure than we do from success.

I’ve recently been reminded of this as an issue came up at my job where things didn’t work as expected. I didn’t understand the mechanics behind this particular topic because it was just “supposed” to work. When it didn’t, it definitely felt like I had failed. But, was that so bad?

The logic of failure

When we succeed, all we get is the gratification that we did something right. Basically we already knew the answer and acted on that, or we thought something was right and found that belief to be true. Nothing is gained, and we continue on in the same state as when we began.

Failure teaches us that we did something wrong and forces us to consider alternatives, to dig deeper. We gain some insight and often times there is an opportunity to try again, allowing us to learn not only how to complete something successfully, but why it was successful.

If failure breeds understanding, how is this so bad?

The biology of failure

I recently saw a video on Facebook where actor Will Smith is talking about how when we work our muscles during exercise, the idea is that muscle failure occurs (mostly on small scale, unless you’re bodybuilding and pushing specifically for that failure) and our muscles are forced to get stronger to compensate. In other words our muscles adapt; they almost learn by being forced to fail.

Beyond simple adaptation, it is ingrained in our genes from evolution. For millions of years our mammalian ancestors evolved to where we can, as humans, have conversations about our failures. Early ancestral failures led to our bodies adapting to walk upright, helped us to know and avoid large predators, and eventually to speak. We were forced to find another way of doing things to have successes that led to our vast human civilization.

We can see this on a very small scale with a great example of something I learned a bit about many years ago: viticulture. Growing grapes for wine requires the grower to cause failure in specific bundles of grapes that in turn causes the vine to adapt and strengthen the grapes that are still there. The fruit is sweeter, plumper, and has the ability to produce much better tasting wine in the end.

Accepting it all

So this week’s thoughts have been about how our mental fitness requires failure. Failures are what allow us to grow and make us who we are. We learn, do things differently, and often in the end we’re far better for it. So I say “failure is always an option” for me because I know that I can accept having learned something. I am better for it; and perhaps you will be to, if you can accept it.

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I only recently started to get serious about climbing, and it sure does make me feel my age (about to hit 40 this summer). I use to go to a local indoor climbing gym perhaps 2 or 3 times a year and always enjoyed it, but spent most of my leisure time mountain biking instead. In 2015, I setup a guided climbing trip in Colorado Springs and instantly fell in love with the sport. My intention was to work hard training at indoor gyms and to find local guides or groups of crag climbers that could get me out on the side of a cliff or mountain safely as often as possible. Life circumstances kept me from getting as serious as I had wanted, until recently.

Making the Time

Several months into the 5am gym routine I realized that I was the only one keeping me from climbing more, so I decided it was time to cut it out. I made plans to meet my cousin monthly at one of the many local indoor climbing gyms in Central PA, and in between those trips I boulder at one of the 3 gyms within a 30 minute drive of my house (2 of which are a few miles down the road in opposite directions). But, being that I am about to be old, it really hurt. Getting serious about a sport over age 30 is hard enough, but this is one that requires strength, will, and the knowledge to avoid injury.

It didn’t take long before realizing that I wasn’t as flexible as I used to be when practicing martial arts, so with the help of Google, I found a few yoga stretches that helped. Since a little yoga seemed to help a little, I thought “a lot must help me be able to do so much more” and started searching out online courses and instructional videos; I even researched local studios that have private lessons (since being a single parent means I have an odd schedule). But there was a YouTube channel that rose above all of the options I found. That’s when I really found yoga…

Finding what feels Good

The channel is called “Yoga with Adriene” and her guidance was just what I needed to feel comfortable actually trying to do yoga; and of course anyone that has tried it but isn’t a regular practitioner knows that it’s much easier said than done. But regardless of how horrible my downward-facing dog may look, I actually feel great after a half hour of yoga. I’ve been practicing several times a week and noticed that it has done more than just help ease the pain of getting pumped arms (pumped as in the climbing term, not as is “do you even lift, bro?”), but I feel an overwhelming, and satisfying sense of calm at the end of a session.

Part of what I enjoy the most of Adriene’s videos is that she encourages free movement during warm ups to find “what feels good”. Plus, there are portions of the practice that may be more difficult for newer practitioners so she’ll make several suggestions on what one could do instead. Each time, things get easier and I feel better after.

I can definitely say that without yoga, I wouldn’t be able to get serious about climbing at my age. But the most important take away is that it’s not just a great training aide, but a great life aide. I can see why it’s persisted over a couple thousand years and spread to all corners of the globe. Maybe it can help you too?

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I’ve been asked a few times what my workout consists of, but I figured instead of sharing the specific workout first it may be more effective to share what I’ve learned about having a fit lifestyle. Like any undertaking, fitness requires both Plans and Goals. It’s also important to distinguish the two, since the plan is how to achieve the goal.

When I first started my journey to get back into shape, I decided I wanted to do a winter climb at Mt Washington in NH (I am actually, finally, planning for the trip next winter). The problem was that I was so far out of shape that I needed to train hard; an even bigger problem was that I had no interim goals and therefore I couldn’t plan accordingly.

Initially I figured “oh, I’ll get to the gym a couple times a week and that will get me in shape”. The problem with that was I ended up putting off those couple times until weeks had gone by and I hadn’t been there at all.

Planning for Short Term Goals

After coming to the realization that I was doing it all wrong, I started over with a fresh, new perspective. No one can go into this process as Chris Pratt from Parks and Rec and come out Christ Pratt from Guardians of the Galaxy without a solid plan on how to get there. Of course, having his income and the time to train would certainly help…

Pick a few short term goals and then plan on how to achieve them. If you’d like to start with something simple like “lose 5 pounds”, then figure out what would help you achieve that. If it includes changing your diet and exercising 3 times a week, that’s a start. Try to create a timeline for when you hope to achieve that goal. Seems simple enough, but having a rough outline doesn’t cut it; the details matter.

Plan your week

Pick the days and times that you plan on doing specific activities and put them on the calendar. I use Gmail so it’s easy to have a single source for that organization, but you’ll need to find what works for you; then do it.

My schedule starts at 5 am with 30 minutes on the elliptical, then 30 minutes of targeted weights, 5 days a week. The other 2 days I’ll either do yoga or cardio at home. At first, the only goal I had for this part of the plan was to actually get up and go! It took a few weeks until I started to enjoy getting up before 5. Once the fog had lifted and I was a regular in the 5 am crowd at Planet Fitness, I made a new goal and started to plan for it.

Also, if you exercise in the morning, it’s best to do so on an empty stomach and eat after. This helps jump-start your metabolism, but it also keeps you from getting sick. I personally only have coffee on the way to the gym, drink water or a BCAA mix while there, then make a smoothie with whey protein when I get home (more on supplements in another post).

Moving the goal-line

After a few weeks/months attacking a goal you may find your workout has gotten stale and may move your goals around; don’t do that. Finish a goal before moving the goal-line. Think of it like a first down: hit a small goal and move the line out further as you make your way down the field.

If the workout itself is stale, change it up. If you bike once a week and are tired of it, go for a hike instead. Changing scenery can help too. For example, I like to take my dogs for a hike once a month and I change the location each time.

What works for you

You’ll need to experiment and find what works for you. That may include a dietary change, but it should include a solid exercise routine if you truly want to get fit and live a healthy lifestyle. Keep in mind that there is never and “end” to getting healthy and fit, and I’m no expert on how to be a fit you; I’m not even sure I have it down on how to be a fit me, but until I actually sat and ironed this all out I hadn’t really even started on becoming a fit me.

Part of my own planning required that I give up a few things for a short time. I stopped drinking beer, gave up fast-food (probably permanently), haven’t had a milkshake in over a year, and I eat pizza quite a bit less. My lunches are planned and packed in advance, and most of the time they’re low calorie, healthy “steamed” microwavable meals. I’ll have a smoothie after workouts and only occasionally on non-workout days, but they always contain some sort of green. I also don’t park in the closest spot and take the stairs instead of elevators and escalators whenever possible.

For specific workout ideas, checkout the celebrity routines at PopWorkouts.com or find general ideas at BodyBuilding.com.

So I started a blog…

Everyone starts these for different reasons; I suppose I did so for a lot of those same reasons combined.

I spent too many years in an emotionally destructive relationship that led to weight gain and a constant sick feeling all the time; I ultimately ended up losing interest in a lot of the activities I enjoyed. When that period was over and the healing could begin, I didn’t know where to start with getting back into shape and back to the activities I used to love. It took a few years but I finally got it dialed in.

This is my chance to share what I’ve learned along the way…

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