Saturday, August 26, 2023

Never Quit

I have a confession to make. I've been out of work for seven months (courtesy of some health issues I've previously discussed, but I go back at the end of September), and I'm not happy with the way I look. This morning on a doctor's scale I weighed a whopping 205 lbs., way up from my sparring heyday of 178. (I used to be 5 ft 10; I'm currently 5 ft 9. I have a medium frame.) A lot of this is just due to my inactivity, but also, to my defense, it's age related. I turn 63 in October, and my body just doesn't do what it used to do. Not just willful physical activity, whether it's performing job duties or exercising in my basement gym/dojo, but also trying to keep my weight down, recover from minor injuries, and incentive to do otherwise menial tasks. I find myself actually having to push myself to go on my daily one-mile walk. My strength and stamina in the gym over the years has diminished significantly, and when I confided this to a friend, he replied, "why bother pumping iron if you just keep getting weaker?"

"Alright," I replied. "What do you suppose would happen if I just completely stopped working out?"

Stopping my workouts is not an option for me. Perish the thought! But naturally I have to modify a routine to accommodate my pre-existing injuries. And as of late I need serious motivationfortunately fate came to the rescue. The other day a co-worker texted me a bodybuilding routine Bruce Lee created in 1965, before he became a star cinematically (although by this time Lee was an in-demand martial arts instructor). This flow chart, I'm assuming, is a catalog of exercises to be performed in a single session. It's a list of mostly upper body/arm exercises, but I really like how the first item is squats. Never skip leg day. I'm glad Lee knew his priorities.

As Lee's status as a star rose he continued his self created bodybuilding routine that emphasized both strength and muscular endurance. At  5 ft 7 12 and 140 lbs, Lee was not not an overtly formidable presence. But his devotion to fitness paid off. Chuck Norris once said that Lee was, pound for pound, the strongest human being he has ever trained with.

While Lee was making gains in the gym, he began to adjust his diet and cardio exercises that accelerated his body's ability to burn fat. In the 1965 photo above, I would guess his body fat percentage to be about 12. The pic below taken from Enter The Dragon (1973) depicts a much leaner version of Lee, evident with a marked increase in muscular definition and striations. I'd put his body fat here at about 7 percent. Understand that this level of body fat is quite low, even for an athlete, and is very difficult to achieve without resorting to sports enhancing drugs. (There is no respectable evidence that Lee used steroids or the like to achieve his physique. I'm also fairly confident this photo has not been enhanced.)

In the 1960s, bodybuilding routines were considered taboo for some sports, especially boxing. There are traditional exercises in karate that emphasize grip strength and isometric tension, but little else that bear any semblance to a modern muscle building regimen. 

As a martial artist Lee was ahead of his time in a few ways (e.g., he loathed the concept of styles as he saw them as inherently dogmatic), and embraced modernity, innovation, and common sense. However, several years later, Lee was training with weights and endured a serious back injury that incapacitated him for some time. (A detailed account of this can be found in this article.) Lee was about 30 when this happened, and somehow plowed through this and continued with his movie career until his untimely death from an allergic reaction to a pain killer (for a headache) just a few years later. I sustained a similar, albeit less severe injury to my back performing barbell squats when I was 36. At the time, I was working for the same company I'm at now, didn't see a doctor, and didn't miss a single day of work. I was lucky, the problem eventually resolved itself. Youth has its advantages. An injury like that now would likely put me out on permanent disability. 

These days I still train when I'm up to it, but I don't do barbell squats or heavy lifting anymore. And definitely no sparring with someone I don't know. With age comes wisdom.

Labels: , , , ,