This blog provides encouragement to people who are beginning training, returning to training, going through physical therapy, or recovering from injury. I'm not selling anything here, I just like giving, and getting, encouragement!

Training the muscles of your upper back - lats

Back muscles are often neglected in an exercise program. The reason for that is obvious: out of sight, out of mind. When guys look in the mirror, they see their chest, and their biceps. So guys know how to train chest and biceps. Go to any gym and ask how to train chest and biceps and you'll get a quick and accurate answer: presses and curls.

But asking most guys at the gym about training back muscles will usually just get a confused look from them. Most of the people that I talk to just know that they should never, ever, "lift and twist". If anything, most guys live in fear of hurting their back, and they never train it. So it gets weaker and weaker, and, you guessed it, it goes out. Ouch!

Of course, if you already have a very strong back, you can swing through the jungle, do pull-ups, that sort of thing. If you've never trained back, or if you're in the condition I'm in today, with a back that's recovering from an injury, you will need to modify your ape-man training. But you will still need to pull.

Resistance bands on a pull-up bar for beginning back training. Instead of doing a pull-up, you're doing a pull-down, in exactly the same plane of movement.

You can do this at home. What you will need will be a pull-up bar and some light resistance bands.

No, you're not doing pull-ups today - that will would put way too much stress on your back - you're doing pull-downs, with resistance bands. If you don't have these things, don't panic, they're cheap and you can get them at Target, or Walmart.

I like to do this seated. I hold a resistance band, sit myself down and then gently pull. I don't count reps. I'm interested in feeling the tension in my lats, which are the muscles that attach at your armpits, spine, and back of your hips.

I face into my workout room and watch something on my TV, just about anything will do, I will be pulling the bands for several minutes for each set.

I train back twice a week, with what I call "High Pull" (which I'm doing today) and "Low Pull". Just because I can't see my back doesn't mean it's not there.

Living with vertigo

I developed vertigo about fifteen years ago, because of brain damage from a stroke. I use the word "vertigo" because it's as close as I can come to describing the feeling, which always feeling off-balance. The world really isn't spinning for me, or anything that dramatic. It's annoying, what my neurologist described as one of my "nuisance problems". It means that I have difficulty walking, not because my legs are weak, but because that fine motor control that we take for granted is gone for me. It won't be back. I'll have to live with it.

Or rather, I'll have to accommodate it, work around it. My vertigo is just a small limitation, and although it's a strange one, it's really no different from any other physical limitation that people have. I often look at short people and wonder how they deal with it? But they do, and some of them can be damned cool, like Peter Dinklage. As a person with a disability I've become sensitive to seeing (if you'll excuse the expression) shortcomings in people. And yes, that includes people in wheelchairs who are working out, but it also means that there are people who are playing piano with arthritic fingers, and people who are bending down to pet dogs with damaged knees (I mean the person's knees, not the dog's, although that could happen, too).

If you use your imagination, you can find reasons why you can't do stuff. You may be too old, too young, too tall, too short. Your legs may be bowed, someone may have told you that you spine is kinda twisty. Give yourself a minute to think about your limitations. I'll wait.

Unless you've got a big "S" on your chest, I'm sure you can think of a lot of things that are wrong with you, and why you can't do stuff. You can think of a lot of reasons why you should have that parking spot right up next to the front of a building, why you can't go the gym, why you'll never be able to get fit and trim. I understand. Whoa! That's quite a list of limitations you have there! OK, you can stop now.

These types of limitations are part of the human condition. We are mortals, we can get injured, we can die - we are not gods. If you're waiting to be a god before you attempt things, you are going to be waiting all of your life, and then you will die. I am not a god, I am a man. My feet may be of clay, but they move. This is the body that God gave me, and this is the time that I have. I will make the most of it, and I recommend that you do, too.

The embarrassment of walking, and riding the bus

Now that the weather here in the Phoenix area is beautiful, I'm ready to get started on doing more walking. I have a dentist's appointment this afternoon about six miles away, and it's a great excuse for me to get out there and walk a bit.

Of course I'm not going to walk six miles, not even close to that. I'm going to walk about a quarter of a mile to the bus stop, then stand at the next bus stop, then walk across the street, stand at another bus stop, and then walk about two blocks to my dentist. Not exactly what anyone would call a lot of hiking, but I'm recovering from back injury, and my right ankle always hurts. It's a mild amount of walking.

The forecast for today is 79 and there isn't a cloud in the sky. And I'm looking forward to getting out there. And part of me is embarrassed.

If you're tempted to get back to some basic fitness like this, I encourage you. There won't be any cheering crowds, but you'll spend a lot of time on your feet. You'll get away from the couch, away from your desk, and away from sitting in your car. It costs nothing to walk and stand, you don't need a gym for it, and taking the bus somewhere is much cheaper than taking a car, or Uber (that's why poor people do it). And that leads me to the embarrassing part - standing at a bus stop.

If you haven't stood at a bus stop since you were a kid, or since you absolutely had to because you had not choice, believe me, it's awful to see all of those important people in cars whizzing by. I often wonder if they even give me a glance and it they do if they wonder why I'm there? Did I lose my license? Is my car in the shop? Did someone fail to give me a ride as promised? I can't imagine that very many people can guess that this is part of my physical therapy, which I invented because I get bored doing stuff at the gym.

I also noticed that when I need to change buses, I'll be at the bus stop near the County Probation Office. If you don't want to stand at a bus stop next to the County Probation Office, I can't blame you. I mean, it's not exactly as if you were standing at the beach.

If I lived on the beach, I'd walk along the strand. But I don't live on the beach, I live in suburbia. And it's all designed for cars, and cars make you feel very small and vulnerable. And that's a bad feeling. But it's a gorgeous day, and my back and ankles need to do a bit of moving, so that's the plan. When it's over I'll take a look at the number of steps recorded on my phone app, and it will be a whole lot more than the number recorded as I sit here in front of the computer.

The longest journey begins with a single step. Sometimes it's embarrassing.