Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Joy of Warming Up

It's been over two weeks now that I've been thoroughly warming up before I engage in any physical activity such as barefoot running or kung fu.  It has made a big difference in both my ability to perform these activities, and my enjoyment of them as well.

I posted last week that I was using a very simple, non-flashy, beginner routine that is posted by Paul Zaichik on a youtube channel, "Project Elastic Steel."  The video of his I had posted last week was the first part of  "Episode 2."

I have now progressed to Episode 4 of his little series.

There is much to say about this little series of humble videos.

First, some people who checked the video out may wonder why -- if I am already engaged in working out with somewhat advanced activities that are in kung fu and running -- why does Barefoot Fresca think that she has to do such exercises for not only beginners, but a routine recommended for people who might even have very limited mobility at this point and are looking to get back into exercise?

Well, the sad truth is, that Barefoot Fresca jumped into these more advanced activities sooner than might have been recommended had anyone known what was going on.

Sometimes when an inactive person desires to get active, she might choose an activity or sport that looks fun to her.  Not knowing that years of inactivity has most likely affected her joint mobility, flexibility, strength, overall range of motion in many areas of the body, she may not realize that more developed tasks of movement are not going to come easy and it might be unwise or even unsafe to go full out before some basic physical tasks, ones taken for granted while young, are restored to her.

This is kind of what happened to Barefoot Fresca.  As she learned this awesome kung fu stuff and went out to run, she didn't realize what time and inactivity had done to stiffen her up and rob her of the ability to participate in movement activities.

Okay, enough talking in the third person, I'm going to switch back to talking about myself directly again because it's hard to keep that up.

There are a few limitations that have been hampering my ability to progress with my chosen activities.  Here are some limitations:
  • spinal rotation (unable to perform the simple task of putting my hand on the back of the passenger seat and twisting around to look behind me while backing up while driving)
  • limited overhead reach (having trouble putting heavy frying pan away in the cabinet above the refrigerator)
  • weak knees (unable to do squats and do the back-saving and protective action of bending at the knees to pick stuff up off the floor)
  • lack of strength to get up from the floor (if someone knocked me over in a fight, it would be won because I cannot spring back up off the floor.  I'm the last one up in the kung fu class when we finish our crunches and have to stand back up)
  • deficient strength with kung fu stances that are done with most or all of the weight on one leg -- crane stance, empty stance, etc...
  • difficulty balancing on one leg
 and the list goes on and on.

What I should do, is go back to the beginning and start all over again and perform the routines on Project Elastic Steel -- or something similar -- which contain the seed form of more advanced movements.  But I'm not going to go all the way back to the beginning.  I'm going to continue to enjoy and work on the more advanced stuff I've been learning, while humbly working on these elementary routines.  After all, doing the advanced stuff has gradually strengthened me, improved my flexibility and range of motion.  I modified the advanced stuff to my abilities as I went along and these movements have served to develop me.  It's just that I feel the need to fill in the gaps. By using this routine as the warmup for my other stuff, I believe I can do that -- progressing along with the warmup as I continue to maintain the gains I have made in running and kung fu.

In addition, because I am heavier, I need to build extra strength to manage my body weight.  If I'm not ready to reduce the amount of food I'm eating and lose weight -- which I'm not, for a number of reasons -- then it would be smart develop the strength to bear the weight I do have.  One or the other (or both) is advisable if one desires to experience freedom of movement.

In this beginner routine -- which also makes an excellent warmup for non-beginners -- the task of standing on one leg will build strength in my standing leg that will later form a foundation for better kung fu kicks.

What I like about the Project Elastic Steel videos:
  1. Mr. Zaichik explains the physiology of each movement very thoroughly.  The way he works it is that he goes through the routine the long way first, with detailed explanation -- such as in episodes 1 and 3 -- and then once you know what you are doing, he gives the fast version
  2. His workouts contain all the elements of what they recommend for warmups now -- joint mobility warmup (fantastic!), cardiovascular warmup, muscle action warmup (lower and upper body), dynamic stretches, and -- lastly, when the body is completely warmed -- static stretches.
  3. All the movements in the videos are kind of a seed form that develops over a period of weeks throughout the episodes and become more challenging and more advanced.  This gradually develops a person for more advanced physical tasks.
  4. He is very organized and methodical (something I like).  I even like the way you can keep track of each Episode because he has thought to wear a different color T-shirt for each one.
  5. The videos and routines are very simple and humble, produced at a low cost, apparently -- maybe even right in his home -- and yet containing way more valuable knowledge, information and insight into human movement than a lot more flashily produced videos.
  6. The routines use one's own body weight with a minimum of equipment.
  7. The routines take up very little space (I've been doing them right in the kitchen in front of my computer)
  8. Mr. Zaichik patiently explains what one should do if one has trouble or difficulty with even this basic level of stretching or movement.  He is very reassuring in the way he lets a beginner know that it is okay not be be able to perform a movement or to perform it on a lesser level.  He makes it very clear.
  9. As I said before, I admire the humility and patience of a very advanced athlete to count through these simple movements and exercises with a beginning kind of student.  He has stated in the comment section on his channel that he has an interest in helping people who have been cut off from movement find their way into the wonderful world of physical activity again.
  10. The routines are constructed so that if they are followed faithfully, they will improve a person's physical abilities and enjoyment of body and movement.
I am not a fan of using any kind of equipment for fitness.  I am not saying that anyone who does like equipment is wrong or anything. I am merely speaking that my personal preference has always been for natural ways to improve one's physical capabilities using one's own body weight.  I think this part of my personality and preference and philosophical outlook is part of what gets so tickled about barefoot running and the way I get to ditch that piece of equipment that seemed so essential -- the modern running shoe.

However, there is one piece of equipment I've decided to invest in.  I think it's really important to add some pullup action to my routines, and these videos from Project Elastic Steel include some pullup action.  I've been doing pushups for a while now in kung fu, and I've read and heard that it is wise to train the antagonistic motion of pulling up as well.

In the videos, Mr. Zaichik mentions at the beginning that one could use two chairs and a broom stick for the pull ups.  That's what I've been doing so far.  But my chairs were so low that it was hard to get in the proper position for the pullups.

Then I saw another Paul Zaichik video where he mentioned that you would have to use books on the chair to get the broomstick to the height that is needed. So, I did that, and it was better, but the broomstick kind of bows (guess I don't have a very strong broom) and I really like the contraption he is using in the videos. It is a simple stand and it is very portable and just looks so useful for a variety of things.

I went over to the Elastic Steel web site and found that this piece of equipment is not sold there.  I also read through all the forums and found that this piece of equipment is not mentioned or discussed anywhere.

I searched all over the internet and I found this:

I showed it to my husband and he said to go ahead and get it (even though it cost a pretty penny).  However, based on the way I like to work out, I have a feeling this is a good investment.  I will let you know how I like it once it gets here.

Disclaimer:  I solely have pointed to these videos and products to discuss them from the point of view of sharing what is interesting and useful to me.  I have no connection whatsoever with the people who produce or sell any of these things and get nothing for writing about it.  These people don't even know I exist. Just sharing my personal journey -- discoveries, thoughts, and explorations -- with all of you, dear blog-reading friends..

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