July 8, 2013

MY COMMENTS on exercise engendered some interest in my workout routine, but I have to say that I don’t think there’s a whole lot to learn from what I do, which — like my financial approach — is designed to produce results that are good-enough without a lot of fiddling. My training focuses mostly on weights — I do traditional iron-pumping exercises, for the most part, in a split system with shoulders and arms one day, chest and back another, and legs on a third. I generally go to the gym 4 times a week, though sometimes it’ll be 3 or 5 depending on my schedule. I stretch quite a bit after each session, and once a week I do an assisted-stretching session for half an hour with a trainer. This is essential to control the damage that the computer does to my back. The single best exercise for me? Deep squats. Since I took Mark Rippetoe’s advice to heart, I’ve gotten much better at those, and they really help my knees and lower back.

For cardio I walk with Helen a few times a week, and do intervals — 90 seconds of running the stairs — in between sets at the gym on non-leg days. The result? A degree of physical fitness that’s “not bad, for a law professor!” (Hey, I’m no Tom W. Bell.) But my chief goals are modest: (1) Don’t get fat; (2) Be reasonably muscular; (3) Guard against computer-related neck & back problems; and (4) Don’t get injured. With these priorities, I’ll never be bodybuilder-huge, but that’s not really what I’m aiming for.

I have, occasionally, detoured into other stuff — I spent a year or two a while back focusing on balance and core strength, which meant I spent a lot of time doing planks and performing dumbbell squats while standing on a stability ball. I still do that occasionally to stay tuned-up. I always had great balance as a kid, but it’s a use-it-or-lose-it kind of thing; when you first start working on this, you can literally feel your nervous system tuning up, or at least I could. I highly recommend this. As a kid you do a lot of that kind of thing, but as an adult, you naturally focus on things that don’t require balance. I think that’s one reason why old people fall more.

Rippetoe’s answer to “core stability” training is “Why don’t you just squat?” And he’s got a pretty good point, but I do think there’s value to some of the other techniques — though when I was doing the core stuff, I kinda kept thinking the same thing.

Meanwhile, my diet is a sort of watered-down Gary Taubes approach. I try to avoid carbs — especially refined wheat — but I’m not trying to go into ketosis or anything. (Remember, I’m not trying to lose weight.) I’ll have a piece of pie or a beer when the mood strikes, but not that often. It works for me; it might or might not work for you.

UPDATE: Reader Neil Blaney writes:

I have mostly the same pattern as you – a lot of time at a computer and about 4 days of lifting a week. About a year ago I got this inversion table.

And its the best thing I could have done for my back and neck. If I tweak my back at the gym, or get a crick in my neck from straining at a screen, 5 minutes upside down usually leaves me feeling like a new man. My posture gets better, I’m decompressed, I feel like I stretched, and I swear I think I even walk with better form.

Huh. I do hanging stretches at the gym sometimes, but I’ve never tried one of those.

ANOTHER UPDATE: An email from the man himself! Mark Rippetoe emails: “The problem with these things is that the knees do not do well in traction. Great for the spine, hard on the meniscii. Hanging in the rack from the armpit straps is comfortable, safe for the knees, and a helluva lot cheaper.”

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