This blog provides encouragement to people who are recovering from injury, losing fat and gaining muscle, and working towards fitness. This is my journey, and I write in this every day, which helps me. If it helps you, that would be wonderful.

How to build your calf muscles at home


Today is Friday, which means Lower Leg Day for me, and I'll be training calves. My goal will be time under tension under load.

For this I'll be using my walker, and a plastic stepper. I will be adding some (but not a lot) of weight to my body with a backpack, and in order to protect my lower back I'll be wearing my nylon weight-lifting belt.

Time under tension is nothing new to me, I've been doing it since high school gymnastics, and it simply means holding a position while your body is under load. If you've never tried it, you may be surprised at how difficult it is, and how well it builds muscle.

Start out easy. All this exercise is is flexing and stretching your calves. Start by using both feet, then switch to one foot at a time. Don't count reps, just go. I like to watch videos to keep my mind occupied. This takes some time for each set!

Now it's time to add weight. I like using a backpack, which I just fill up with weights. I'm always looking out for my lower back, so I use the belt, and strap it tightly. This is a calf workout, not a lower back workout!

You will need something to stand on that will allow your heel to extend below your toes. I have a simple plastic stepper, which a couple inches high, and that's plenty. Since I'm doing it weighted with one foot at a time I hold my balance gently on my walker, and tip the back of my weight bench up and use that, too. This is a calf exercise, not a balancing exercise. You need to put your mind into your calf muscle.

You should add enough weight so that it's challenging to get up into the full flexed position, but not impossible. If you can't get up on your tippy-toes, lower the amount of weight. And here's where it becomes challenging. Slowly lower your heel down until it almost touches the floor and hold it there. And hold. And hold. You can do some half-reps now.

So go train those calves!

Understanding being a Homo sapiens


Like all animals and plants here on planet earth, people are classified by genus and species. Genus is the wider category, and species specifically describes animals and plants that can reproduce with each other. Of course labels can get messy, because nature itself is messy, and doesn't always line up in neat categories. But for beginners like me, genus, species, and variety are enough.

You can think of it as a family tree, and the farther you go back in time the more relatives you find. My genera, that is, animals that are in my genus, includes all living human beings on the planet. Homo is Latin for "humankind". My species is sapiens, which means "intelligent". Other species of the genus Homo went extinct, such as Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo neanderthalensis to name just a few. The genus that precedes Homo is Australopithecus, which in spite of the name, has nothing to do with Australia - it just means "southern". The most famous of that genus is Australopithecus afarensis, which simply means southern Africa. The most famous fossil of that genus was discovered in 1974, and was named Lucy. I remember that, mostly because I thought it was funny that it had the same name as a character in Peanuts. Hey, I was a kid!

In my lifetime I've seen a lot of discovery, and a lot of changes. My interest began when I was a little kid reading about Louis Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, who discovered what is considered the oldest fossil of the genus Homo, which he called Homo habilis, because he also discovered what he saw as tools with the fossil bones, and he just called the species "handy men" - the first users of tools. Of course now we know that modern apes will often use tools, so that's not much of a name. Still, it sticks.

Species start with a genus and over time they become so different that they can't even reproduce with each other. Of course varieties can, as evidenced by the fact that a puppy can be born to a Great Dane sired by a dachshund, assuming they could, uh, get together. There's where varieties of dogs come from, but a dachshund isn't a different species from a Great Dane - they're both Canis lupus (genus and species).

When I was a kid, researchers were searching for "missing links" in human evolution, as if everything just went in orderly steps. But it turns out that evolution doesn't work that way. It's really best to not see the evolution of modern humans as a tree, or even a bush. The best way to see it is as a "braided river" flowing into a lake. Some rivulets become rivers, some continue, some don't, there are additions added drop by drop, and the final lake is us.

There is a very fine distinction between Australopithecus and Homo habilis, and I'm inclined to think that if either one of them showed up in front of me today I'd be unable to distinguish them. The best description I've heard is to imagine seeing one, or the other, on a football field. An Australopithecus would probably make you want to call a zoo, Homo habilis would probably have you calling for help for some type of wild person out there.

Science is always changing, that's the nature of science. New things are found, and old theories go away. This isn't the same as "de-bunking", which implies that an earlier theory was "bunk" or an outright lie. We replace what we thought we knew then with what we think we know now. That's the best we can do.

Working out in a space ship


Whenever I watch a science fiction movie that has people in space ships that are large enough to accommodate a gym, I like to imagine that the astronauts would be working out.

Of course, in a real-life space ship, like the International Space Station, there isn't room for that kind of stuff, but I'm imagining the kind of space ships that I first saw in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, or in Star Trek. You know, big enough that you can walk around, go into various rooms, that sort of thing.

I suppose that I'm just kinda claustrophobic. I understand the need of being inside of buildings, especially Phoenix in the summertime, but my mind rebels at confinement. Even planet earth can feel a bit too constricting for me sometimes. It is, of course a very big place, but really it's just a ship hurtling through the space, and I need to get away.

I've tried a lot of ways that people escape, including alcohol, but I really don't like those things. I like exercise. In the tiny confines of a gym, or my workout room, I can escape. And I often wonder how people can live without it?

As you can tell, I think about this a lot. I just saw the movie "Ant Man and the Wasp" which starts with the hero being confined by house arrest. He did a lot of things around the house, mostly playing the drums and on the weekends getting a visit from his daughter, but it struck me that he didn't have an exercise room. They never even showed him doing yoga. Of course he might have, and it may not have been important to the story, but I picture him doing the escape of physical confinement with the wonderful release of exercise.

Anyway, getting back to the space ship thing, my workout room is my escape pod. And I like knowing that it's right there, and all I have to do is to step into it, and it will take me away. My workouts last about 45 minutes, not much more, but it's what I need. Being fit is a side-effect.