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The Point: Recovery

by Bill Handrin

"Before you try anything else in the way of attempting to improve your results from exercise, try doing ‘less’ exercise; not more, less. If and when that simple point worms itself into your brain, then I have probably taught you the most important thing that you will ever learn about exercise.".......Arthur Jones

Last month's seminar notes by Mr. Zak Zaklad reminded me of something I learned a few years back; movement, not exercise is the key to feeling well. I can honestly say I have never once felt better after a workout.  Relieved I have finished perhaps.  Pleased I did not back away from the hard work.  But better?  Never.  Slamming a few hundred full power kicks into a heavy bag will make me feel well?  Placing a crushing weight across my shoulders and squatting rock bottom will energize me?  I used to jog three miles every morning and if you have ever experienced an Illinois winter you will appreciate the dedication it took.  And despite visions of Rocky Balboa as I plodded along, the "benefits" of running never quite happened.  Hard exercise wasn't what the doctor ordered.

Dr. Mel Siff was a world renowned sports scientist and author of Supertraining and Facts and Fallacies of Fitness.  He wrote exercise has never been proven to make a person live longer.  To prove his point, he died fairly young.  Jim Fixx, noted author on running, didn't live long enough to collect his first Social Security check. Yet, most of us exercise because it is supposed to make us healthier.  We somehow ignore the wrecked spines, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees we gather along the road of well-being through exercise.
     
About four years ago I was at an all-time physical low.  One day, after playing with my granddaughter on a large exercise mat we bought for her, I felt better.  Much like a trained circus bear, she had me lying, sitting, reaching and fetching as we played. I had an epiphany; the movement was therapeutic not strenuous.  No bone jarring punches and kicks, no cardiovascular meltdowns, no stroke inducing barbell exercises.  Afterward, I felt something I rarely felt - healthy.  I had missed a key point in my training - exercise improves capacity, but movement aids recovery.
     
Don't misunderstand.  Without heavy strength training muscle will be lost.  Without hitting a heavy bag, power will diminish. Without breathing hard fitness will go down.  But, none of these will make you say to yourself, "wow, that felt good."  It is just like banging your head against a wall - it only feels better when you stop.
     
People misuse the term "stretching" when they sort of extend their limbs and contract as you might do when you first wake up or after sitting for an extended period of time.  A more apt term may be "squishing." It is a natural action to help push blood in and out of the muscles. There isn't really any stretching involved, just a total body, pleasurable contraction. It feels good. It wakes up the muscles and energizes them.  It is an "aahh" feeling rather than an "aargh."  Try doing Sanchin at about a third power and notice how it feels energizing rather than tiring.  I sometimes do this when I take a break from my computer.  The goal isn't to strain.  The goal is to move blood around the body.  It's like squishing a submerged sponge in a bucket of water - the contraction forces water out and the relaxation draws water back in.  Last year, during a hospital procedure, the doctor had me fitted with leg wraps which inflated and released every couple of minutes to move leg blood.
     
I'm guessing there is nothing magical about Tai Chi.  It makes one feel better because it isn't strenuous.  Movement is light and relaxed.  But, I suppose light housekeeping or working in a vegetable garden would accomplish the same thing. As long as the activity has varied movement without strain, all three will produce the same result - a feeling of well being.
     
In the eighties, I started to rethink my training, mostly due to a man named Arthur Jones.  He wrote about recovery being finite rather than infinite.  He was referring to strength training when he wrote a reduction in training is the key to overcoming plateaus.  As we get stronger and lift heavier, we tap further into our ability to recover.  Most weight trainees respond to a plateau by adding more exercises - the exact opposite of what is needed. In his example, as one lifted heavier and heavier weights, recovery time lengthened. Either add more recovery days between workouts, reduce the number of exercises, alternate heavy workouts with lighter ones or some combination of the three.
     
But, the main point is simple movement rather than additional exercise may be better at increasing your athleticism and well-being because it helps recovery. If, for example you are now hitting a heavy bag with twice the punching power you started with, it may be too much to do it every day.  Rather than add more bag work to build greater power, alternating training with days of simple movement may bring greater results.
     
If you train very hard, you must allow adequate recovery. Exercise does not build the body, it tears it down. Recovery is when the re-building takes place.  There is a fine line between exercise improving the quality of life and having a chiropractor on speed-dial.
    
And few things help recovery and improve the quality of life as much as simple movement..especially with a granddaughter.