Wednesday, December 31, 2008

See you next year

Here are some New Year's Eve words of wisdom I found surfing the internet:

"Youth is when you're allowed to stay up late on New Year's Eve. Middle age is when you're forced to." ~Bill Vaughn

"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves." ~Bill Vaughan

"New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights." ~Hamilton Wright Mabie

On this New Year's Eve, the 366th day of the year 2008 A.D., please accept my prayers and thoughts for you and your family's good faith, fitness, fortune and health. See you next year.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The oldest man in America

Yesterday I read that the oldest man in America died last Saturday at the grand old age of 112 years. I read about it in the local newspaper obituaries because he lived in my city.

George Rene Francis was born on June 6, 1896 in New Orleans, Louisiana and died at the convalescent home where he resided about 8 miles from where I live. He lived through 19 presidents and saw baseball legend Babe Ruth hit a home run.

Mr. Francis was 33 years old during the economic depression of 1929 and certainly could have given all of us some financial food for thought. I would have loved to listen to him bend my ear and soak up his words of wisdom. The best I've done lately are periodic conversations with a 96-year young man I know.

Mr. Francis smoked cigars until age 75 and got by on six hours of sleep a night. He broke all the rules of healthy eating with a diet heavy on dairy and eggs and some lard sandwiches. He also loved hot links and pizza.

Several weeks ago Mr. Francis refused to eat or drink anything and was hospitalized with pneumonia and just gradually faded away until his death after 112 years and 204 days of life.

Always up for a challenge and numerically oriented, I did a little math to figure out what it would take for me to outperform Mr. Francis in the life longevity department. I need to live at least one day longer than he did to do it - 112 years and 205 days - or until September 12, 2067. That's a long way to go - 58 years and 256 days to be exact - longer than the life I've lived thus far. That assumes, however, that someone doesn't raise the bar by living longer!

I better take good care of myself with plenty of exercise and diet. Or maybe I should do as Mr. Francis did and smoke cigars and eat lard sandwiches. Rest in peace Mr. Francis and thanks for the motivation. I'm on your heels in my long-term goal to be the oldest man in America.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Monday, December 29, 2008

High blood pressure surprises

I could never explain blood pressure in my own words so I recently consulted the American Heart Association website. Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries.

Blood pressure results from two forces. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.

In America, these blood pressure numbers are written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic number, such as 120/80 mmHG (the mmHG is millimeters of mercury – the units used to measure blood pressure).

Blood pressure below 120 over 80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) is considered optimal for adults. A systolic pressure of 120 to 139 mmHg or a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 mmHg is considered "prehypertension" and needs to be watched carefully. A blood pressure reading of 140 over 90 or higher is considered elevated (high).

For the last five years, I’ve kept a simple journal of my blood pressure every time it’s been checked. I don’t regularly check my blood pressure so my journal only has thirteen entries from August 22, 2003 to December 23, 2008.

How am I doing?
Here are my blood pressure readings recorded in my journal:

August 22, 2003 – 116/70

September 15, 2005 – 121/74

October 5, 2005 – 127/73

October 7, 2005 – 118/75

August 23, 2006 – 127/73

November 17, 2006 – 113/69

October 22, 2007 – 118/63

January 10, 2008 – 117/63

August 21, 2008 – 125/70

September 15, 2008 – 111/78

December 1, 2008 – 127/78

December 15, 2008 – 129/75

December 23, 2008 – 116/75

My current bodyweight is 10 to 15 pounds higher than 5 years ago and I now train in the Olympic lifts using heavier weights for low repetitions rather than bodyweight-only exercises for higher repetitions. I’ve also reduced my running and other cardiovascular training. Genetics aside, I would expect higher blood pressure readings now than 5 years ago but that hasn’t been the case.

That's fine with me because I wouldn't like high blood pressure surprises.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The last Sunday of 2008

Pierini Fitness is closed today. I’m exhausted from the physical do-nothingness of this past Christmas week and bordering on being zealously lethargic, the title of yesterday’s blogflection.

Visit me tomorrow for another blogflection about a topic yet to be determined but guaranteed to be both original and middle-age manish in reflective thought.

Until then, I’m enjoying today , the last Sunday of 2008.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Zealously lethargic

After a conversation with someone, I’ll often wish them good faith, fitness, fortune and health. I put this expression in the same category as “have a good day” and other blindly-expressed and robotic utterances that sound more cliché than “see you later” or "good-bye".

What exactly does it mean to have good faith, fitness, fortune and health? How do we measure the quality of these attributes? How do we go about our daily lives pursuing them? Do we do it deliberately and with focus, or haphazardly without clarity? And finally, how bad do we want good faith, fitness, fortune and health? Do we want it only if served to us on a silver platter, or do we want it bad enough that we eat, breathe and sleep it in our day-to-day activities?

It’s honest to say that we all want it and that we want it bad - I do that’s for sure – but are we always willing to do the hard work required? As the calendar year comes to a close and I think about setting goals and resolutions for the new year, now is a good time for me to reflect on how I spent my time this year pursuing good faith, fitness, fortune and health. Did I do so with youthful passion and purpose or like a middle-age man zealously lethargic?

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Friday, December 26, 2008

Memories of Christmas far from home

At this point in my life, I prefer to be home during the Christmas season. Just like Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz movie as she clapped her shiny red shoes, there’s no place like home. There were four times in which that was not the case, each of which provided pleasant memories of Christmas far from home.

My first pleasant memory was Christmas 1974 when I was in the U.S. Army stationed at Osan Air Force Base in South Korea. While missing my family, I remember enjoying the adventure of being a young, wild and crazy guy in another country and in the company of other young, wild and crazy guys who were my fellow soldiers, one who is still a good friend.

My second pleasant memory was Christmas 1990, the time my wife, daughter, son and I went to Maui, Hawaii for a week vacation. We had a great time. I remember the excitement on our children’s faces when they opened their Christmas presents early and learned we were going to Hawaii for Christmas. It felt so good to be at the beach enjoying warmer December weather knowing how cold it was back home.

My third pleasant memory was Christmas 1992 when my wife and I took our children to England and Scotland for an 8-day vacation. It was our first time crossing the Atlantic. We departed on Christmas Day and spent December 26th roaming all over London on foot before heading as far north as Edinburgh, Scotland a few days later. We returned to London on New Year’s Eve and attended a theatre performance of Les Miserables. Afterwards, we hung out at Trafalgar Square as the clock struck 12:00 midnight to ring in the new year. We have lots of photos to rekindle pleasant memories.

My fourth pleasant memory was Christmas 1994 when my wife and I took our children to England and several other European countries for a 14-day Christmas vacation. We attended Midnight Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II on Christmas Day in the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican. The next day, 14 years ago to this day, we walked all over Rome and visited all the popular tourist sites. The weather was great that day. A few days later we ended up in London on New Year’s Eve and found our way to Big Ben as the clock struck 12:00 midnight to ring in the new year. It was very cold that night. Again, we have lots of photos of pleasant memories.

Now that our children are adults living their own lives, it’s not easy to take those types of family vacations. I’m so glad that we did when they were young because of the pleasant memories of Christmas far from home.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas in the language of my ancestors:

Buon Natale - Italian
Feliz Natal - Portuguese
Feliz Navidad - Spanish

And in the language of the countries I have visited:

Joyeux Noel - French

Frohe Weihnachten – German

Saehae Bok Mani baduseyo – Korean

Iyi Seneler – Turkish

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tamales at midnight

Last week I wrote that my wife and I were cooking homemade tamales on Christmas Eve, ready to be eaten hot off the steamer at midnight. Here’s my blogflection if you missed it: Tamales for Christmas

Well the big day has arrived as today is Christmas Eve. Starting this afternoon, we’ll begin spreading the masa on the corn husks, and then filling them with shredded pork cooked in an ancho chili sauce prepared from scratch. These will be healthier tamales if there is such a thing, because the masa was prepared with corn oil rather than the standard lard.

After prepared, the tamales will cook in a large steaming pot over the stovetop for a couple hours. I’ll lift the steamer lid every now and then to see if they are ready. These periodic inspections are reminders that, as a middle-age man, I’m impatient when it comes to food, as if doing this speeds up the cooking time.

Bets are that I’ll eat eight tamales at midnight.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Willing to dig ditches?

Bad economic news continues to be reported by all the news media. Whether we get our news from the internet, newspaper, radio, television or word of mouth, the message is the same – the economy continues heading south with falling real estate prices, new home foreclosures, rising unemployment and corporate red ink. Reading this dismal news during the Christmas season reminds me of the Dr. Seuss classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!".

As a middle-age man, I’ve witnessed three decades of our economy's highs and lows in action and inaction. People from a generation or two before me have a greater perspective as many experienced the stock market crash of 1929 and major depression that followed. I don’t believe we will experience anything like that this time but time will tell and may prove me wrong.

Personally, I don’t know many people who are unemployed. Those I do know still manage to put food on their family table. I live in a gentrified neighborhood adjacent to downtown with a large homeless community. My homeless neighbors still appear to eat as they did when the economy was better.

What would the unemployed do if their jobs never came back and their unemployment benefits expired? Would they ever be hungry with no money for food? That’s a question lingering in my mind. What would a person do in that situation?

How long would you be hungry before willing to dig ditches to put food on your family table? That’s a question I asked my 82-year Dad the other day. I also asked several of my fitness brothers and sisters. My Dad said it would take about two days of hunger before he’d be willing to dig ditches. Thank God he’s in good health, strong and agile enough to do that work if necessary.

A couple fitness brothers and sisters responded they would start digging ditches before their hunger began. That's a response I wasn't expecting. Overall, the average response was two days.

I'm so well fed that it’s incomprehensible of starving for food and I thank God for my blessings, knowing that I could dig ditches to earn money for food if that was the only job available. So the question I asked others is now one I ask myself - how hungry would I have to be before willing to dig ditches?

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Monday, December 22, 2008

Perfecting the burpee/pullup combo

Last Friday I tried for the first time a bodyweight-only exercise called the burpee/pullup combo. I haven't done burpees since March 2007 because of a love/hate relationship with them - I love the cardiovascular benefits they provide but hate doing them.

Here’s a video of my first attempt performing 10 reps of the burpee/pullup combo:

I wasn’t satisfied with my form because I collasped my core and bumped the floor to bounce up faster, rather than maintain a solid core, while performing the pushup part of the burpee. I also hesitated before jumping up to grab the pullup bar to perform the pullup rather than jumping up and grabbing the pullup bar for one continuous movement.

I’ll try again in about a week and expect that my next video will demonstrate better form. Check back and watch my next attempt at perfecting the burpee/pullup combo.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday before Christmas Day 2008

Today is Sunday and Pierini Fitness is closed. Come back tomorrow for another original blogflection, about something not yet known but guaranteed to be an original middle-age man reflection.

The photo is of the Christmas tree on the west side of the State Capitol in Sacrameto, California, one mile from where I live. Enjoy your Sunday before Christmas Day 2008.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday before Christmas shopping

Hello sports fans, this is an important announcement. Normally open for business on Saturday, Pierini Fitness is closed today.

The chief executive blogger is busy with some Saturday before Christmas shopping.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Friday, December 19, 2008

A dozen random acts of kindness

Shopping for my wife's Christmas gift has never been easy because I'm not a shopper. I remember many Christmas Eves walking aimlessly at a shopping mall late in the evening, in the company of other middle-age men stool pigeons, as we scrambled to find last minute and obligatory gifts for our spouses.

It's easier these days because my wife has made it clear that all she wants for Christmas are masses celebrated for her special intention by our church priest. Roman Catholic priests celebrate mass daily with a special intention of a donor. The donation is generally a token cost such as $10 per mass.

So her gift this year - the same as it was last year - is a dozen masses celebrated for her special intention by our church priest, or one mass a month. It's exactly the gift she wants, it makes her happy, and if she's happy then I am too.

Normally I don't buy myself a Christmas gift because I buy my middle-age man toys and trinkets as needed throughout the year. This year, however, I've decided to buy a gift that will bring great joy. I'm buying a random act of kindness.

A random act of kindness is an act performed by a person wishing to assist or cheer up an individual or in some cases even an animal, generally done for no reason other than to make people smile or be happier.

We've all learned that there's joy in giving as well as receiving. This Christmas, I'll be on the receiving end of holiday joy as I give to others a dozen random acts of kindness.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Private Pierini

Thirty-six years ago on December 18, 1972, a young 17-year old high school dropout joined the U.S. Army.

The cumulative toll of running around with the wrong crowd, the negative impact of his parents' divorce, and the era's rebellious times were straws that broke this young camel’s back. Always told he was smart and had lots of potential, the soon-to-be man believed it, but wasn’t motivated to put those gifts from God to good use. He reckoned that signing up to serve in the U.S. Army was a good solution to stop his downward spiral to nothingness.

Turns out it wasn’t a bad idea.

The 8 weeks of basic training learning how to be a soldier, under the direction of tough-as-nails drill sergeants bellowing out commands and orders one after the other, and learning how to survive in the company of stranger fellow soldiers from all over the country did the young buck good. Still attracted to the dark side, he met and befriended several new acquaintances from that dark side. But he also met others from a brighter side, many of who would be positive role models on his outlook of life and future.

Military discipline and structure motivated the young soldier to save money so he could resume his education when discharged. Tours of duty in San Francisco and the Republic of South Korea gave him a more "worldly" perspective of life than the south Sacramento neighborhood he identified as home.

Three years of military service seemed like eternity but time did pass and the young soldier eventually became a “two-digit midget”, a term used by fellow soldiers to describe someone who has less than 100 days remaining until discharge. With enduring perseverance, he then became a “single-digit midget” with nine days of active duty remaining.

Shy of his 21st birthday, the still young but more mature soldier was discharged from the Army in December 1975. More motivated than three years earlier, he enrolled in college and studied diligently while working at various jobs to support himself. Along the way he met a wonderful woman who would become his wife. He eventually graduated from college with honors, began a professional career, and with his wife became the parents of two children.

It seems so long ago - 36 years to this day - that this person turned a new page in his life, joined the U.S. Army, and became Private Pierini.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Monkey makers

Yesterday morning at the gym I tried something new - a bodyweight-only combination exercise of the standard grip pullup immediately followed by the hanging knees-to-elbow exercise for one repetition. I call this exercise "monkey makers".

The standard grip pullup grips the bar about shoulder width with palms facing away as you pull yourself over the bar and back down to the bottom hang starting position. The hanging knees-to-elbow exercise starts at the pullup bottom hang starting and ending position, then you lift your knees upward until they touch your elbows and return to the starting hang position.

Here's a video of me performing 6 repetitions:

My strength endurance is less than what it use to be because I am concentrating on the Olympic lifts. Currently, I'm guessing I could complete 7 repetitions of this combo exercise or about 50 percent of my current standard grip pullup set maximum of 14 repetitions.

My short-term goal is to perform 10 repetitions of this combo exercise, expecting that it will improve my standard grip pullup single set rep max.

If you can perform at least 10 repetitions of pullups, you are a candidate for this exercise. Give it a try and tell me what you think. Have fun doing monkey makers.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tamales for Christmas

Well it's official - my wife and I will cook tamales for Christmas and I'm looking forward to it. Homemade tamales cooked in the evening on Christmas Eve and ready for consumption at midnight on Christmas Day. Tamales for Christmas is a taste of family and a tribute to the rich Mexican heritage of our ancestors.

Join me for a delicious Christmas dinner of homemade tamales. Need help? Click here: a recipe for making homemade tamales

Follow the instructions, be patient and get ready for a delicious and mouth-watering Christmas meal.

Right now my taste buds are salivating with excitement because we will be eating tamales for Christmas.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not so fast

Done for both health and spiritual reasons, fasting is a period of abstinence from all food or specific items. A health reason for fasting is detoxification, the normal body process of eliminating or neutralizing toxins through the colon, liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph glands, and skin. A spiritual reason for fasting is expression of interior penance in imitation of the fast of Jesus for forty days in the desert.

I have fasted for both health and spiritual reasons in the past. Yesterday morning I began a 30-hour fast required for a Monday afternoon medical examination. My fast began on Sunday around 10:00 a.m. and will end at 4:00 p.m. today.

Like most Americans, I am well fed – actually overfed - so a fast is good because it gives my digestive system a long-deserved rest. It also gives me an opportunity to experience the discomfort of real hunger and perhaps a dose of starvation rather than boredom hunger in my day-to-day relationship with food.

Something I read yesterday about fasting caught my attention. Fasting technically begins within the first 12 to 24 hours of the fast. It does not chemically begin until the carbohydrate stores in the body begin to be used as an energy source. The fast will continue as long as fat and carbohydrate stores are used for energy, as opposed to protein stores. Once protein stores begin to be depleted for energy (resulting in loss of muscle mass) a person is technically starving.

There’s no doubt that an episode of real hunger and starvation will do me good. Despite that good, my natural response on Sunday morning as the time was approaching to begin my fast was to look at the clock and tell it “not so fast”.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Sunday, December 14, 2008

santa domenica

Today is another santa domenica (Holy Sunday) and, as usual, Pierini Fitness is closed. Come back tomorrow for a blogflection yet to be written but guaranteed to be original.

This photo is of the main altar of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (Italian: Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura). It is one of four churches considered to be the great ancient basilicas of Rome, founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. This photo was taken in April 2007 when my wife and I spent an entire 17-day vacation in Rome.

Have a blessed Sunday.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why is it so hard?

It's true that charity begins at home and I am no exception. Most of us are not that generous when it comes to voluntarily sharing our wealth outside of home, using charitable giving as a measure of our effort. Wealthy people are no exception, often echoing that they do enough with the taxes they pay. While it's true they do pay more tax, it's open for discussion whether they do enough. That's for them to answer; my time is better spent focusing on me.

This self-talk is because the calendar year is coming to an end and I'm reviewing our family finances and charitable giving. My wife and I do most of our charitable giving check writing in December so there's work to do this month.

This week I spent time studying our charitable giving for the past five years using amounts reported on prior year tax returns. True charity is much broader than tax deductible charitable contributions; such as random acts of kindness to people in need, giving or loaning money to family and friends, and working as a volunteer. Tax-deductible charitable contributions, however, do provide clues at how good a job we are doing at being charitable.

My analysis is that we haven't done as good a job in the last two years compared to five years ago. Here's a five-year analysis of our family tax-deductible charitable contributions as a percentage of total income:

2007 - 4%

2006 - 5%

2005 - 10%

2004 - 8%

2003 - 27%

Our 2003 charitable contributions were significantly higher thanks to my wife's demand that we make a significant contribution to support a local organization that provides prenatal services to pregnant women. Fighting hard and telling her why we couldn't or shouldn't do it, she prevailed. I remember feeling numb and weak for at least one week after the big check was written. In hindsight, I'm glad we did it and we should do it again soon, but will we?

Our planned 2008 charitable giving should be about 6% of total income. That's better than the last two years but far from the homerun we hit in 2003. I may need to get down on my knees pleading to God to make me brave this month with my charitable giving, while asking myself, "why is it so hard?"

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Friday, December 12, 2008

Discovering my new maximum heart rate

For years I ran several days a week and became a heart rate monitor junkie in my goal of becoming a better runner. I always wore my heart rate monitor when I ran and afterwards recorded my average heart rate and highest heart rate statistics in my training journal. I don't run as often as before but I'm still curious about my heart rate training effort.

Heart rate monitor training is a great way to objectively measure and improve your cardiovascular fitness. It's all based on training at a certain percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR) depending on your fitness goals. I've learned that my MHR varies from fitness activity to activity and that my MHR for lower-body fitness activities is about 10-13 bpm higher than upper-body fitness activities.

The most basic MHR calculation method I know suggests that your MHR is 226 minus your age for women and 220 minus your age for men. This method is suggested for beginning runners who have been leading a sedentary lifestyle. Using this method gives me a MHR of 167 beats per minute (bpm).

There's another calculation method that is very similar but preferable for those who are already quite active. For this formula, simply subtract half of your age from the number 205. Using this method gives me a MHR of 178 bpm.

A third calculation method subtracts 80% of your age from the number 214 for men and 70% of your age from the number 209 for women. Using this method gives me a MHR of 177 bpm. There are other calculation methods I've read about. They generally take into account age, resting heart rate and sex. I'll not describe them here.

The best way to get closer to your MHR truth is by conducting an actual test of your MHR through physical exertion while wearing a heart rate monitor. You can give yourself a personal test or pay and have one administered to you in a laboratory setting. I've determined mine through a personal test and discovered that my MHR is higher than the than all three of the above calculation methods.

A good personal test to determine your MHR is to sprint up a hill for 20 to 30 seconds at maximum effort and note your MHR at the end of the sprint. Jog back to the starting point and repeat 6 to 8 times. Your highest recorded MHR during this test is a good measure of your actual MHR. Lately, I've ran one mile as fast as I can and noted my highest heart rate, considering that to be a good measure of my MHR.

For years I have considered 185 bpm to be my MHR based on several past maximum-effort running workouts. Yesterday in the gym, while running one mile on the treadmill as fast as I could, my MHR was 191 bpm.

At this point, I don't know if I am ready to consider the 191 bpm my new MHR truth or merely a heart rate monitor anomaly for the day. I'll continue testing myself in an effort of discovering my new maximum heart rate.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two weeks until Christmas Day

Monday evening I was sitting in a restaurant by myself waiting for my food to arrive. My day hadn't gone the way I liked it so I was slightly agitated and lacking my normal calm. The following song was on the radio:

That song melted the hardness that was residing in my heart. It also reminded me of my grandmother who I was very close to and miss very much. She passed away in 1975 and liked Dean Martin.

Enjoy this song and begin your countdown because it's only two weeks until Christmas Day.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A middle-age man plan to lose 50 pounds

Last Saturday I received a telephone call from my cousin asking for advice on getting fit and losing 50 pounds. He's a middle-age man like me and will turn age 52 the end of next April.

Sounding frustrated, he told me he's been training hard and eating healthy for 5 weeks but has gained 3 pounds. I told him that those 3 pounds could be muscle, which is good, and that a better test is how his clothes are fitting. This made he feel better because his clothes are fitting looser.

He then shared his current eating and exercise plan with me; it's a classic example of newbie zeal of doing too many exercises too often, not eating as clean as he thinks he is, and wasting his time taking creatine and protein supplements.

A fitness friend of mine who lost over 40 pounds the past year provided the specific eating plan. I provided the initial exercise plan. What follows are the specific eating and exercise recommendations we made:

Eating Plan

Follow the No-S diet, a very simple eating approach that can be summed up as follows:

No - S (no seconds, sweets or snacks) except (sometimes) on days beginning with S (Saturday and Sunday). A friend of mine followed this simple eating plan and lost 40 pounds in the past year. You can read up about it here: The No-S Diet.

Add an additional strictness to it with by avoiding the forbidden 7 C foods, which I wrote about in my blog here: My seven forbidden C foods

Get rid of the creatine and protein supplements, as they are not necessary.

Plan on a slow and steady weight loss of no more than 2 pounds a week. Weigh yourself the same time each day and record it in a journal.

Maintain a food journal, writing down everything you eat, and then regularly sharing it with someone. This helps create rigorous honesty and over time it will change your behavior. You can maintain this food journal on the internet. Here's one that I've used in the past:
A free food journal website

Exercise Plan

Exercise less but with more intensity because rest and recovery are your friends. Favor compound exercises that work your entire body rather than isolation exercises. Continue using the 10-minute abs workout plan you purchased. Here's a suggested workout:

Monday - Perform a combination exercise of a front squat then overhead press for one repetition using a challenging weight that requires your best effort using good form for 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Rest 2 minutes between sets. Then do the 10-minute abs workout. Wrap up your training with 30 minutes of easy-intensity cardio with a target heart rate training zone of 65 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Wednesday – Perform a superset of the deadlift for 10 repetitions followed by the bench press for 10 repetitions using a challenging weight that requires your best effort using good form. Perform 3 of these supersets resting 2 minutes between supersets. Then do the 10-minute abs workout. Wrap up your training with 20 minutes of medium-intensity cardio with a target heart rate training zone of 75 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Friday – Perform a superset of a maximum effort set pushups followed by a maximum effort set of walking lunges. Perform 3 of these supersets resting 2 minutes between supersets. Then do the 10-minute abs workout. Wrap up your training with 10 minutes of high-intensity cardio with a target heart rate training zone of 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Go for an easy 30-minute outdoor walk on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Rest on Sunday.

Well I haven't heard from my cousin since I sent him a middle-age man plan to lose 50 pounds.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wide grip behind-the-neck pullups

Overhead presses, behind-the-neck overhead presses, and wide grip behind-the-neck pullups are exercises the "fitness experts" frequently warn are dangerous and make us more prone to injuries.

If the us is us with poor shoulder flexibility, then I agree. But if the us is us with good shoulder flexibility, then they are challenging and great exercises to periodically include in our training.

I seldom perform traditional overhead presses, although I do a lot of other overhead exercises. Because I do a lot of shoulder flexibility drills, my shoulders feel great and normally I have no problem with overhead exercises. I do not perform behind-the-neck overhead presses but would have no problems if I did.

With my current training, I seldom perform pullups or chinups. Last Friday, however, I decided to do a set of wide grip behind-the-neck pullups, after reading several posts on a fitness discussion forum stating it was a dangerous exercise and thus should be avoided.

Here's me banging out 10 reps:

Watching the video, I see that my bottom range of motion could have been better, as well as my form. My strength endurance is not what it use to be, and I felt like a weak middle-age man that day, so the 10 reps was a maximum effort.

It’s my opinion that there are no bad or dangerous exercises, but only people with bad judgment and poor flexibility using bad form to perform exercises unsafely.

It's an exercise I don't perform that often but in my opinion, there's nothing dangerous about wide grip behind-the-neck pullups.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Monday, December 8, 2008

Introduction to Mullets 1A

Everyone who went to college remembers the predictable numbering schemes of college courses with most introductory courses numbered as 1A. I remember my English 1A and Financial Accounting 1A courses and the C grades I received for my substandard efforts.

If there was an introductory college course on how to grow and wear a mullet, it would make sense to call it Introduction to Mullets 1A. To learn the subject well, you'd need a reference textook with plenty of good photos, like the above photo taken of me twelve years ago when I was age 41, entering middle-age manhood.

Since learning is a lifelong experience, I think all men about to enter the kingdom of middle-age manhood should be required to take the class Introduction to Mullets 1A.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ave Maria

Today is Sunday and Pierini Fitness is closed so the chief executive blogger can spend the day in worship, rest and relaxation, and get ready for a week of jury duty beginning tomorrow.

But do return tomorrow for a great blogflection, one I know you will really enjoy. It might even make you laugh.

Until then, enjoy the following:

It's a wonderful song with beautiful imagery titled Ave Maria.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thanks for the memory O.J.

Yesterday's news of former NFL football legend O.J. Simpson's prison sentence for a Las Vegas motel armed robbery was a bittersweet moment for me because I remember a different O.J from a brief encounter over 24 years ago.

My wife and I were walking on Martin Luther King Boulevard towards the Los Angeles Coliseum to watch the track & field competition during the 1984 Olympics. Catching a glimpse of someone I recognized ahead of me, I looked at my wife and said to her, "look, it's O.J. Simpson!" My wife replied with a "who is that?" response.

I told her, "It's O.J. Simpson and he's a well-known former professional football player and now sports announcer. He's probably going to the same place we are to cover the track & field event. Let's see if we can get him to autograph our ticket and maybe take a photo with you."

So I approached him and asked if he would autograph our ticket and be in a photo with my wife. "Sure" he replied with a friendly smile. With the stroke of a pen in hand, he autographed our ticket. Then, with a photogenic smile he posed for a couple camera shots of my wife and him. "Thank you O.J." was my response as the three of us proceeded in the same direction along our merry way.

That was then and this is now.

The tragedy that has been part of his life is sad and unfortunate. It's not my job to judge whether he was innocent or guilty of the crimes he was charged. That was the job of our criminal justice system, and in one case he was found innocent and in the other case he was found guilty. But it is my job to have empathy for him as a human being and child of God and for those other human beings and children of God who were victims of these crimes.

His prison sentence is a very long time and not how he contemplated spending the senior citizen years of his life. It's really so sad but also a stark reminder of how our lives can change so drastically and so suddenly from the visions we have for them.

Thanks for this valuable lesson and thanks for the memory O.J.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lessons learned when turning 100

Pierini Fitness was "born" 100 days ago and today marks its 100th consecutive blogflection. For me, it’s a day to be grateful that God has given me an ability to express myself with the cyberspace written word. It’s also a reminder that it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, there’s nothing new under the sun, and there’s always something new to learn.

A case in point is learning the origin of the word “blogflection”. It’s a word I frequently use to describe my daily cyberspace utterances. With a false sense of cleverness, I thought it was an original word I created, and told so to several friends and acquaintances.

Turns out I was wrong – not once, not twice, but at least three times.

Blogflection was used in the Under The Southern Cross blog on September 19, 2006 when the blogger wrote:

“a blogflection based on a few transient emotions occurring in a heart beat. Blogs are immediate, but appear reflective, and thus allow regurgitation of notions, synapse flashes and semi-thoughts under the guise of reflection. A blogflection.”

Eureka, strike one!

Blogflection was also used in the PSoDT blog on August 19, 2007, excerpted in part as follows:

“Blogflection - . . . one of the beauties of blogging is that a writer's work can be treated as a reflection of how he or she thinks, and some analysis can be made of how they come to conclusions. One of the weaknesses of newspapers is that they treat a writer's work much more as a transitory experience. This is a major flaw in the editorial room, and it allows for writers to continue writing - and being clearly wrongheaded - for years and years and years, because each written exercise in boneheadedness is seen separately and not as part of a flotilla of feebleism”.

Eureka, strike two!

Finally, it was used in the title of ilovecerts' blog on May 16, 2008 "Post Webquest Blogflection”.

Eureka, street three!

It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, there’s nothing new under the sun, and there’s always something new to learn. These are lessons learned when turning 100.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The cat has got my tongue

Normally, I have no trouble getting an idea for my daily blogflection. Some days the idea comes quicker than others. Every once in a while, I draw a big blank. Today is one of those days. There's an idiom for this condition, one that I'm sure most of you have heard before.

So bear with my blogflection dryness today and enjoy this substitute video of me yesterday in the gym, during my 5th set of an 8 set workout performing 3 reps of split jerks from the rack. My goal was to increase the weight each set until getting to my 3-rep max, and then perform multiple sets with this weight. I managed 2 sets of 3 reps and 2 sets of 2 reps with this weight.

Here's the video:

Visit me tomorrow for my daily blogflection. I just couldn't write one today because the cat has got my tongue.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You'll shoot your eye out

Well it's fair to say that the 2008 Christmas Season has arrived. With each upcoming holiday activity is a pleasant memory of one from the past.

One of my favorite memories was the annual viewing of the classic movie "A Christmas Story". My daughter, son, wife and I would watch this fun movie at least once each Christmas season. We never got tired of it.

There are so many favorite scenes for me that it's hard to narrow down the one I like the best, and my favorite constantly changes the more I reflect. One of them is definitely the scene where Ralphie tells his mother that he wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, to which she replies that he can't have one because he'll shoot his eye out.

Enjoy that scene with this trip down memory lane:

One Christmas, my wife and I bought our son a Red Ryder BB gun and I had fun playing with it. Our son is now an adult living on his own, but in the bowels of my basement is his Red Rider BB gun.

This weekend I'll go down to the basement and secretly play with it. I don't want my wife to know because she might tell me, "you'll shoot your eye out".

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Turning 100 this Friday

Guess who is turning 100 this week? Pierini Fitness is with its 100th blogflection scheduled for Friday.

I started Pierini Fitness on August 28th with this introductory blogflection:

Welcome to Pierini Fitness, a middle-age man's cyberspace
chronicle of his journey down the superfitness highway in the fast lane.

For the past four years, I have maintained a training journal on two different fitness forum websites. I've created this new blog to continue my cyberspace training journal, and to record anything else I have on my mind for my archival benefit and for the benefit or disadvantage of anyone else who happens to stumble across Pierini Fitness.

Read at your own risk. I make no guarantees and I do not profess myself to be an expert at anything other than my own pursuit of my own destiny.

The cyberspace training journal never happened, but I sure have expressed myself about this and that on my mind.

As I got into writing daily blogflections, I learned something new about me - I enjoy reflective and introspective writing and, quite frankly, find it relaxing and refreshing from the business correspondence writing I do in my profession.

Little did I know that I would get fired up about political issues and the Presidential election and cough up some related strong opinions and thoughts in my daily blogflections. I also didn’t plan that Sunday would be a predictable blogflection day of rest or that I would share little tidbits of information about my Catholic faith.

Overall, I'm having fun and hope that, in a small way, I've given you some food for thought about the things that matter the most in life. Hopefully, I've also given you at least one idea or thought about fitness and health.

You are invited to a cyberspace birthday party later this week as Pierini Fitness is turning 100 this Friday.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Monday, December 1, 2008

Enjoying the challenge of 8x3

Lately, I’ve had more structure with my squat training and it's doing me good. I’m focusing on front squats but I also do back squats. Both are assistance training exercises for the Olympic lifts, thus I concentrate on very low squat depth and very upright upper body uprightness.

This month my goal is to do squats three times a week, alternating between heavy, light and medium training days. Since I have no hypertrophy goals, I perform many sets of low reps. After much trial and error and wise counsel from others, I’ve settled into a progressive resistance cadence of 8 sets of 3 reps with plenty of recovery between sets.

Sometimes I’ll do a squat workout but first perform 3 reps of another exercise such as the overhead press or the split jerk, done one after the other like a superset.

Here’s a planning template I generally follow for a heavy training day, consisting of 3 reps of the split jerk followed by a quick rest then 3 reps of the front squat for one superset with a longer rest between supersets (all percentages are of my one rep max):

Set #1 – 50%

Set #2 – 60%

Set #3 – 70%

Set #4 – 80%

Set #5 – 90%

Set #6 – 90%

Set #7 – 90%

Set #8 – 90%

This workout is slowly but surely giving me additional strength. While it’s tough, done only once a week, I am enjoying the challenge of 8x3.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Sunday

Today is Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, and the beginning of the Christian year for Roman Catholics. It’s a time of reflection, self-examination, and repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ; a time to reflect and prepare for Christmas similarly to how Lent is in preparation for Easter.

A common Advent tradition is that of the Advent wreath. The wreath is made of evergreen branches with four candleholders and candles. Since in Advent we're waiting for the Christ child, there needs to be a ceremonial way to mark the time and make us aware of the wait. Lighting a candle reminds us of Christ as light of the world.

Enjoy your Sunday and check back tomorrow for another original Pierini Fitness blogflection. I’m resting today and celebrating Advent Sunday.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's time to see my doctor

Like many middle-age men, I don’t have a close relationship with my medical doctor. Quite frankly, I don’t even know his or her name. I did several years ago but that doctor retired to enter a more noble profession of being a full-time mom. I was assigned a new doctor whom I’ve yet to meet or visit for an exam.

Since turning age 50, I continue to be blessed with good health with only an occasional cold and fitness-related minor aches and pains. But after constant reminders that I’m past due for a colonoscopy exam, and because of planned changes to my health insurance coverage, I’ve scheduled a doctor’s appointment for next Monday.

As a self-employed person, I pay for my own health insurance that now costs a whopping $858 per month for my wife and me. This plan will probably cost over $1,000 per month next year. That’s unacceptable to me so I’m changing plan coverage by converting to a Health Savings Account (HSA) high-deductible plan. This type of plan will save me over $400 a month. In exchange for the lower premium, I’ll be responsible for up to $10,500 per year of medical costs for my wife and me. That’s a lot of financial risk but one I’m prepared to assume.

First, however, I’ll have a medical exam and get my past-due middle-age man colonoscopy exam, just to confirm that my “all-is-fine” health self-assessment is correct. So after years of procrastination, next Monday it’s time to see my doctor.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Friday, November 28, 2008

Keep squatting Mom

For the past three years, my 77-year young Mom has had fitness fever and it has paid her big health dividends.

Mom began her fitness journey with me as her backseat driver coach by joining a gym. She lifted weights, swam and briskly walked on the treadmill. She also changed old eating behaviors, and managed her food serving sizes and carbohydrates consumption. With hard work and patience, she lost 20 pounds and no longer needed prescription medicine for high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

Fast forward to the present - she still no longer takes prescription medicine for diabetes but her medical doctor has instructed her to resume a low-dosage of blood pressure and cholesterol medicine. I've seen her lab reports and believe she doesn't need the medicine but I'm not her medical doctor.

A couple weeks ago I challenged her to raise her fitness bar by doing bodyweight squats and demonstrated how to do them. It's a tough exercise for anyone, and it was very tough for Mom as she tried to do a single repetition with her hands holding on a chair for balance and support. I gave her a prescription to do them for the next 30 days, suggesting that she perform 10 sets of a single repetition, concentrating on good form and holding the bottom position briefly before returning to a standing starting position.

Yesterday I asked her how she was doing with the squat assignment. She replied that she's doing them but that they are still difficult. She also shared that some Dr. Oz character who was on the Opray Winfrey Show talked about how good squatting is, and that she now believes me. I needed Dr. Oz to "seal the deal".

I told Mom to continue with the squat work and guaranteed her that by New Years Day she would be thanking me for her newfound flexibility, functionality and strength. I'll continue to check in on her effort, and give her words of encouragement by shouting out "keep squatting Mom".

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Enoy this Thanksgiving Day Greeting

Thanksgiving was originally a religious observance for all the members of the community to give thanks to God for a common purpose.

In his 1789 Proclamation, President George Washington gave many noble reasons for a national Thanksgiving, including “for the civil and religious liberty,” for “useful knowledge,” and for God’s “kind care” and "his providence."

Please accept my prayers, thoughts and wishes that you and your family have a great Thanksgiving Day and are enjoying good faith, fitness, fortune and health.

Enjoy this Thanksgiving Day Greeting

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I have an umbrella

Every year for the past five years I've entered a 10k fun run on Thanksgiving Day called "Run To Feed The Hungry", an annual holiday tradition for countless Sacramento-area families.

Beginning in 1994 with only 800 runners, it is now a very large Thanksgiving Day fun run and fundraising event. Last year, about 23,000 participants attended and raised over $600,000 for the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, a community nonprofit organization.

Here are my 10k fun run performances the past five years:

2007 - 49:08 or a 7:55/mile pace at age 52

2006 - 45:13 or a 7:17/mile pace at age 51

2005 - 45:33 or a 7:21/mile pace at age 50

2004 - 45:39 or a 7:21/mile pace at age 49

2003 - 44:54 or a 7:13/mile page at age 48

My lackluster performance last year was due to insufficient training as I had been concentrating on my new interest with the Olympic lifts. It was the hardest of the five fun runs I completed. I remember asking myself as I struggled to finish if it would be my last.

Well it was because I am officially retired from the fun run lifestyle, a wonderful era in my fitness journey lasting many years and contributing greatly to my fitness and health.

I live nearby the mid-point of the 10k fun run course so I'll be there this year as the runners pass to cheer them. I'll rekindle pleasant memories from my past and know firsthand how hard they are working as they try their best. Being a cheerleader rather than a runner will be a fun experience. Just like I tried to be the best runner I could on that day, I'll be the best cheerleader I can, shouting words of encouragement like "great job, you're doing great, keep it up".

And afterwards, I'll go on a 10k walk in my neighborhood to keep the Thanksgiving Day 10k tradition alive for me. Unlike the brisk walks I normally take, I'll go slower and enjoy the tree-lined streets and quietness of an early Thanksgiving Day morning.

I've checked the weather reports and it should be a great day for a long walk. There shouldn't be problem as no rain is forecasted. If it is raining I'll still take the walk because I have an umbrella.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scrabble and un-scrabble

This came from one of the funniest e-mails I've received in a while. Maybe you have already seen it. Someone out there is deadly at Scrabble. Wait till you see the last one!

DORMITORY: when you rearrange the letters becomes DIRTY ROOM.

PRESBYTERIAN: when you rearrange the letters becomes BEST IN PRAYER.

ASTRONOMER: when you rearrange the letters becomes MOON STARER.

DESPERATION: when you rearrange the letters becomes A ROPE ENDS IT.

THE EYES: when you rearrange the letters becomes THEY SEE.

GEORGE BUSH: when you rearrange the letters becomes HE BUGS GORE.

THE MORSE CODE : when you rearrange the letters becomes HERE COME DOTS.

SLOT MACHINES: when you rearrange the letters becomes CASH LOST IN ME.

ANIMOSITY: when you rearrange the letters becomes IS NO AMITY.

ELECTION RESULTS: when you rearrange the letters becomes LIES - LET'S RECOUNT.

SNOOZE ALARMS: when you rearrange the letters becomes ALAS! NO MORE Z 'S.

A DECIMAL POINT: when you rearrange the letters becomes I'M A DOT IN PLACE.

THE EARTHQUAKES: when you rearrange the letters becomes THAT QUEER SHAKE.

ELEVEN PLUS TWO: when you rearrange the letters becomes TWELVE PLUS ONE.


MOTHER-IN-LAW: when you rearrange the letters becomes WOMAN HITLER.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Monday, November 24, 2008

Holiday gluttony

The dictionary defines gluttony as the act or habit of eating to excess. Gluttony is an unregulated love for food or drink, an appetite out of order by which we abuse the legitimate pleasure God has attached to eating and drinking. It is sometimes said that gluttony makes one “like an animal” though animals seldom overeat or drink too much.

The holiday gluttony season begins later this week with an American Thanksgiving Day celebration on Thursday, soon to be followed by Christmas Day with all the festive parties in the home and workplace that precede it, then concludes with New Years Eve and New Years Day celebrations. My count of the days on a calendar is that this holiday gluttony season spans a 36-day period.

Gluttony has existed as long as man and his food. The great philosopher St. Augustine devoted an entire chapter to excess in eating and drinking in his classic The Confessions of St. Augustine. I spent some time this past weekend reading this classic, and was reminded that my own challenges with gluttony aren’t much different than what St. Augustine experienced over one thousand six hundred years ago.

St. Augustine wrote that by eating and drinking we repair the daily decays of the body. This necessity of eating and drinking was sweet to him, but he fought not to be taken captive by it.

Hunger and thirst were his pains and, like a fever, they burned until aided by the medicine of nourishment necessary for good health. He wrote, “thus, whereas health is the cause of eating and drinking, yet a dangerous delight accompanies those activities and for the most part endeavors to take precedence so that I may do for its sake what I pretend and desire to do for health’s sake.”

St. Augustine described that he became uncertain whether it was the necessary care of his body asking for sustenance or the voluptuous deceit of greediness that proffered its services.

Will we face the same challenges with gluttony this holiday season that St. Augustine battled in the fourth century? Will we be eating eight or nine days of food in seven days this Thanksgiving Day week? How much more nourishment does a dozen Christmas cookies give than one? How often will we eat during this holiday season because food and drink is abundantly available rather than real physical hunger? Finally, is it really physical hunger we experience or something deeper residing in our spirit, never to be satisfied by any amount of food and drink?

These are questions I’ll be asking while standing guard to protect myself from my own predisposition to holiday gluttony.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Enjoy your Sunday

Today is Sunday and I am resting, but I'll be back tomorrow so visit me then.

The photo to the left is me standing in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Italian: Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano) in Rome, Italy.

As the cathedral of Rome, it is the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome who is the Pope; and it is the oldest and ranks first (being the cathedral of Rome) among the four major basilicas of Rome.

This April 2007 photo was taken during a 17 day vacation to Rome in which my wife and I visited all the major sites and "off the beaten path" spots of this wonderful eternal city.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Pax Domini sit semper vobsicum

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Watching my teacher cry

Ask older people what they were doing when they learned that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 and they'll have a quick answer. I was in the third grade at Fruitridge Elementary School on the playground during recess on a Friday afternoon when hearing the news.

As a third grader more concerned with recess playing time, I might have blinked an eye upon hearing the news at best. After recess, I remember sitting in my classroom desk watching my teacher crying in front of the classroom telling us again that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

I also remember watching the non-stop television coverage of this terrible moment in American history on the black and white television we owned. Every channel covered this tragic event nonstop and all regular television programs were cancelled for days.

This was a period in my life when every Saturday morning I would wake up early and watch the Original Superman show on television. I remember that Friday night being concerned that it might not be on the following morning because of the nonstop television coverage. Superman was pretty high on my priority list in those days.

I remember waking up early the next morning and anxiously waiting for the time that the Superman show aired; much to my expected disappointment it didn't. I still have vivid memories watching President Kennedy's casket, covered with an American flag, being transported by a horse-drawn carriage in a procession down a street. It may have been Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. but I'm not sure.

It's amazing how taking a moment to reflect on days like this gives me an appreciation for the life I have lived and memories of my childhood. I still like Superman and on days like this I like to pause and say a prayer for the departed soul of President John F. Kennedy, wondering if he is in Heaven looking down on our great nation that entrusted him with the highest honor of serving his country as President.

I'll always remember November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated, sitting in my classroom desk and watching my teacher cry.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Friday, November 21, 2008

A mullet for my birthday

Well after much procrastination, I finally visited my barber on Tuesday for a long-overdue haircut. The way I see it, the longer I go between haircuts is money saved and a way to be frugal in a tough economy.

While I feel better with shorter hair, I actually miss my longer locks left on the barbershop floor but I know they will grow back soon.

I prefer wearing my hair longer rather than shorter. I have no desire to have a butch haircut; in fact, I don't believe I have the correct head shape for a butch. I had one a couple times as a kid and when I entered the U.S. Army for basic training, but not since then.

At various times I've sported mullet-style hair lengths; the last time was at age 50 when I had a photo taken for my driver license renewal. After that I remember getting a haircut, as I had grown weary of my longer hair. I have some great photos evidencing my mullet prowess (that's not me in the photo above). Maybe one day I'll have then scanned to share here.

Since I prefer longer hair, maybe I'll let mine grow longer again so next February I'll have a mullet for my birthday.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Tommy Kono Bodyweight Squat

Squats are one of the best whole-body exercises you can perform, with or without weights. It's one of the most widely discussed exercises in articles written by the "experts" from all fitness disciplines. Everyone has his or her opinion about squats.

There are those who swear that squats are better than homemade apple pie for fitness and strength. Then there are those who warn that they are dangerous and will wreck havoc on your knees and spine and, therefore, should be avoided. I've been in both camps at one time or another in my fitness journey. Currently I swear that squats are better than homemade apple pie for fitness and strength, but only if your body is flexible to safely perform them with correct form.

I'll not discuss the various ways in which you can perform squats or suggest a squat workout. Instead, I'll describe and demonstrate an exercise I learned from Olympic weightlifting legend Tommy Kono to improve my flexibility to safely perform Olympic style squats. I call it the Tommy Kono bodyweight squat.

Here's how you do it

Stand with the center of your back slightly touching the corner of a wall, feet spaced as you normally would to perform a squat. The back of your head, most of your back and your glutes should be touching the wall corner. Keep a strong lower back arch and expand your chest to set yourself in a very upright starting position. In this position, the area of your arched lower back is not touching the wall corner.

Now perform a squat descending as low as you can while maintaining contact with the wall corner. You can pause at the bottom to check your form and contact. Rise back to the starting position to complete one repetition. Perform additional repetitions only as long as you are able to maintain good form. It's a very challenging exercise for me and exposes my flexibility weaknesses.

Here's a short video demonstration of the exercise

You'll notice I fail to keep my head touching the wall corner as I rise from the bottom position. Some days are better than others and this obviously was not one of my better days.

Give this exercise a try and let me know what you think. I guarantee it will improve your whole body flexibility and squat performance. Have fun doing the Tommy Kono Bodyweight Squat.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A young sailor meets Charles Atlas

The young 19-year old man arrived in New York City hitchhiking from the U.S. Naval Frontier Base in Charleston, South Carolina one early morning in 1946. World War II had recently ended, and the horrific memories of this terrible war were fresh in the minds of all Americans. People were very grateful to the soldiers and sailors who had served their country, so the young man wearing his U.S. Navy sailor uniform found it easy to get several rides during his hitchhike journey.

The young sailor had 30-day delayed orders before reporting to his next assignment at Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, California. Rather than spend his travel allowance to purchase a bus or train ticket, he decided to save the money and hitchhike across the United States, and visit a few places he might never see again. One such place was New York City where he went to seek out one person he always wanted to meet, the legendary Charles Atlas.

This is a true story of my Dad's personal account of meeting Charles Atlas in his New York City office over 60 years ago.

"I arrived in New York City for what ended up being a three day visit. I stayed all three days at the Penn Central Station. Lodging was available there for soldiers and sailors at the bargain price of 25 cents a night.

I visited all the popular tourist attractions while there and wore my sailor uniform the entire time. Most soldiers and sailors wore their uniforms because a grateful public was quick to offer assistance and praise. I was offered a few free meals at some restaurants, and hitchhiking was easy.

I asked for directions to Charles Atlas' office at 115 East 23rd Street. I had memorized this address that appeared in comic book ads of his Dynamic Tension course. Most of my friends knew the address too as it became embedded in our memories from reading the ads over and over, the ones about Mac the 97-pound weakling. We all had a special affection for Mac because of occasional experiences of being bullied a time or two by bigger and older kids.

I took the elevator to Mr. Atlas' office and entered. I remember seeing two framed photographs on the reception area wall. One was of Mr. Atlas holding Bing Crosby and Bob Hope who were sitting in his arms. The other was of Mr. Atlas pulling a streetcar with a long cable.

The receptionist greeted me as I entered the reception area, and asked if she could help me. I told her that I was here to see Mr. Atlas. She asked if I had an appointment to which I replied that no I didn't.

She responded that she was sorry but Mr. Atlas only sees visitors who have an appointment. I told her that I was a sailor returning home to Sacramento but came to New York City to see Mr. Atlas whom I had read about in comic books and always wanted to meet. She was adamant that Mr. Atlas only saw visitors by appointment.

Then I heard a voice say 'send the sailor in'. It was Mr. Atlas who had overheard the conversation from his office. The receptionist directed me to Mr. Atlas' office down the hallway.

Mr. Atlas reached out and shook my hand and greeted me, instructing me to have a seat. I noticed a small tattoo on the inside of his wrist as I shook his hand. He was dressed in a traditional business suit so it was not possible to see his muscles as they appeared in the comic book ads. Recognizing my Italian surname, Mr. Atlas told me that his name was Angelo Siciliano and that he was born in Sicily.

He asked me how old I was and I told him 19, to which he replied that he was old enough to be my father. Looking on his desk, I saw a framed photograph of a young man who was wearing bodybuilding trunks and flexing his muscles. Mr. Atlas saw me looking at the photo and proudly shared that the person in the photo was his son.

As a teenager growing up, my exposure to physical fitness was limited to school gym classes but I was curious about weightlifting and the Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension training method. My interest in weightlifting came from reading the two weightlifting magazines of the time: Bob Hoffman's Strength & Health and Joe Weider's Your Physique. My interest in Dynamic Tension came from reading the comic book ads.

This was an era when weightlifting was not popular, in fact it was strongly discouraged and we were told that it would make you muscle-bound. The only people who lifted weights were strong men in the circus and vaudeville acts, and professional wrestlers. I remember my high school coach telling me that I would get muscle bound if I lifted weights and would not be able to wipe my behind after going to the bathroom. I believed him, as did most other kids, so I was very apprehensive about weightlifting even though very curious.

So I wanted to know what Mr. Atlas thought about weightlifting and asked him. He replied that his Dynamic Tension course was better because it would not make me muscle bound and slow like weightlifting would. I did not ask Mr. Atlas if he lifted weights although I had read that he did in Strength & Health magazine articles. Mr. Atlas told me that he trained at the New York Athletic Club.

Mr. Atlas then told me a story about how one time he was riding a streetcar and there were three teenager boys sitting in the back smoking cigarettes. He approached the three boys and told them that smoking wasn't good for them. Two of the boys responded with disrespectful wisecracks but the other boy recognized Charles Atlas from the comic book ads. After telling his two disrespectful friends whom the man was telling them not to smoke, they ceased their disrespectful wisecracks and all three boys promised Mr. Atlas they would no longer smoke cigarettes.

Mr. Atlas asked me if I had any interest in purchasing his Dynamic Tension Course. I told him that I was teetering between weightlifting and Dynamic Tension, hoping to make up my mind soon. He wrote my name on a piece of paper and told me he would give me a discount if I ever ordered his course.

We spoke a while longer during my visit that lasted about 20 minutes. Mr. Atlas shook my hand as I left and wished me well.

Not that long after I was discharged from the U.S. Navy, I decided to order the Dynamic Tension Course. I wrote Mr. Atlas a letter asking if he remembered me, and the discount he promised, as I wanted to purchase his course. He replied that he remembered meeting me and that his discount offer was still good. I don't remember how much I paid for the course but I do remember that he gave me a generous discount, and was very flexible in allowing me to make payments.

So I started receiving the course in weekly lessons, starting with lesson one and continuing to lesson twelve over a three-month period. I followed the instructions and did all the exercises as prescribed. One of the first exercises I remember was the Atlas chair dip, a pushup done between two chairs. The final lesson was called the perpetual lesson; it included exercises I was to continue performing having completed the course.

I improved my fitness and added some muscle doing the exercises in the Dynamic Tension course, while continuing to read each issue of Strength & Health and Your Physique magazines from front to cover. While I made muscle gains with the Dynamic Tension Course, I wanted bigger muscles like the kind I saw in the magazine photos. I was young and what you could call a 'gain hog'.

There was a photo of a bodybuilder named John Grimek in one issue that showed him standing straight-legged and bent forward touching the palms of his hands on the floor. I remember looking at that photo and marveling his muscular development and extreme flexibility. He had the muscular development that I wanted. It was that photo that ended my teetering between Dynamic Tension and weightlifting. It was my call to the iron.

I abandoned Dynamic Tension training and joined the local YMCA and began weightlifting. I lent the course to a friend who never returned it to me, learning an important lesson of never loan a valuable book to anyone.

I made great strength gains and built big muscles lifting heavy weights, training hard for several years until I got married and had to temper the intensity of my training. It was a wonderful lifestyle and I had opportunities to meet or train with many of the early pioneers of American bodybuilding and weightlifting. People like Tommy Kono and Bill Pearl, both of whom lived in Sacramento at the time.

And I was fortunate to meet Steve Reeves, Clancy Ross, Jack Delinger and Roy Hilligenn - all former Mr. America winners - at Ed Yarick's Gym in Oakland. I met Jack LaLanne who also had a gym in Oakland. And through my friendship with Tommy Kono, I also met Bob Hoffman, John Grimek, Paul Anderson, John Davis, and Doug Hepburn.

My weightlifting experiences were wonderful. I still lift weights two or three days a week, although the weights I lift are very light compared to the old days."

So that's the story of a young sailor meets Charles Atlas.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum