Pays au dela

"As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling [wobbling] in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate." Montaigne-"On the Education of Children"

My domain name, "Pais au dela," is the original French translated here as "extent of land before me." My goal for this page will be to explore, in an ambling way at times, the great land before me hoping to find clarity as I advance. I will focus centrally though not exclusively on mental health issues in my stumbling march forward.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Concerning Automoblies

A tribute through form to an old dead white dude from France who shared beautiful, hilarious insight into human folly and weakness...

Though I'm not a car guy really, I do very much love my 2004 Jetta. 1.8 L turbo. Tight and sensitive steering. 30 mpg highway. It's fun to drive and hasn't ever caused me any problems (je touche du bois). It is particularly thrilling to downshift (of course it's a five speed!) and zip by clunkier heavier cars going up a hill. On my way to my gym there is a fairly long and steep incline where I sometimes indulge the traces of Alabama car driving machismo that I couldn't help but incorporate growing up here.

I was driving over that hill a few days ago thinking about how much approaches to exercise have changed in the past fifteen years or so since I first learned to lift weights for football in high school. Back then nobody talked about metabolic confusion, functional movements, mixing cardio and strength training, or elevating your heart rate when you lift weights so that you burn fat and calories more quickly and efficiently. Cross fit didn't exist, and I don't think the core did either. Sometimes we did sit ups or crunches, but we didn't have any concept of getting gut, back, and upper leg muscles to work strong together. At least I didn't. Bench press was king, and we--okay I--fantasized about hitting the 300 lb max. My best was sadly 15 lbs short.

Back in the good old days when we lifted, we did a fixed number of sets of a fixed number of reps for each exercise (3x10 and 5x5 were common) and then moved on to the next exercise. There's nothing wrong with this approach and you can get stronger doing it. But kids these days have it so much easier because trainers and coaches have found so many adaptations and tweaks for getting into top shape fast.

One of these new techniques that interests me for both psychological and physical reasons is something trainers call "going to failure." On the last set of an exercise now, athletes often have no fixed number of reps that they are going for. They go to failure, meaning that they simply push until their muscles give out and they can no longer lift the weight they are working with. I like this approach, especially the name "going to failure."

It does, however, take some mental work to get used to the idea. It's scary facing that last set when you're used to having a specific goal for the number of reps you want to do. You know that it will hurt for a little while at the end of the set. You know also that you might not hit the number of reps you have in mind as being a good result. Sometimes I'd rather not do one of these types of sets because the possibility of a letdown performance disturbs me. I'm afraid that I'll feel like shit for failing when it's over while my arms burn from working to physical exhaustion.

Of course you can't push yourself this hard all the time. If you do, you'll likely get injured or burned out or both. But it's good for us, I think, to expose ourselves to the fear of finding out just where our physical limitations are. Americans are obsessed with success and terrified of failure. It's easy to slip into patterns of avoiding all difficulty because the thought of not winning is too overwhelming. And it's also easy to drive yourself nuts thinking that you always have to succeed balls out 110% of the time in everything you take on.  Going to failure every once in a while promotes a much more realistic attitude. Maybe I'm beginning to stretch now, but I think that experience from the weight room can make us healthier and stronger mentally beyond the gym doors. We have limits. We can't do everything, but there's rarely anything all that catastrophically wrong when our efforts aren't quite enough. The muscle burn cools off quickly, and the angst of wondering if you'll do enough pull-ups to satisfy your image of the ideal strong man you hope to be is gone before you leave the gym. You're left knowing that you did all you could and bolstered for your next attempt, where after proper rest, you will doubtless fail better.

I thought about all this driving my Jetta over that hill the other day. The heated seats are a dream and if you have the means I highly recommend picking one up.