In my sports and fitness life, I have some regrets. I spent too much time in activities that turned out to be worthless or worse, unhealthy. I missed some opportunities to learn new skills and have more fun. Looking back, I would change several aspects of my fitness life.
Growing up, I had some great coaches—Dad, Coach Sharpe, Coach Boulus, Coach Ross–Thank you. However, some of my coaches were horrible. They had no idea what they were doing or how they should interact with young kids. They usually had a child on the team and this was their true motivation for coaching. They smoked, obviously did not practice what they preached in regards to exercise, and were poor role models. I was taught not to quit on a team, but looking back, I should have opted out. The drills we performed were often punitive. They denied us water, gave us salt pills, and made us participate in ridiculous training exercises. Unfortunately, many of my friends dropped completely out of organized sports at early ages because of these coaches. I think this is still happening today.
Too Much Team and Not Enough Solo Sports
From grade school to high school, I played team sports–baseball, football, and basketball. In retrospect, I should have tried more solo athletic activities. I did not start playing golf until my mid forties and I really enjoy it. I did not try snow skiing until I was in my twenties. You can participate in these sports through an entire life span. My big wish is to be able to play golf, tennis, or frisbee with my grandchildren.
When Arthur Jones came out with the incredibly intricate “cam gear” driven Nautilus machines in 1977, I jumped in head first. They were big, shiny, and complicated, so they had to be good for me. The Nautilus sales pitch was that 30 minutes of intense training twice a week would turn you into a physical super hero. I bought a membership at a Nautilus equipped gym, and spent two years wedging my body into all sixteen of these mammoth machines. I got better at moving a lot more plates on each of the machines, but I saw no improvement in my vertical leap or performance on the basketball court. During that two year period, I became more and more physically limited. When my shoulders started to ache at night, I had to give up the pullover machine. When I developed tendonitis in my knee, I had to give up the leg curl and “squat” machine. I suffered an abdominal strain working on the “torso trainer”. I ended my Nautilus Era limited to only six of the sixteen machines. I learned the hard way that seated, strapped in, muscle isolation resistance training is a waste of time.
My body is not made to swim—I am too dense (no jokes please). I don’t float–my body sinks like a stone. In my early twenties, I spent six months trying to learn how to be a proficient swimmer. I never became any better at moving horizontally through the water—just vertically. I had great coaching, but the harder I tried, the more my shoulders hurt and my neck ached. The sensory isolation of looking down at the line in the pool was more than I could psychologically bear. In the future, I will spend less time on trying to master an activity that physically is inappropriate for my body type.
Road Running Era
I spent three years distance running. My goal was to run a sub forty minute ten kilometer race time. I liked being outside and enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow runners. In three years of running, my body composition changed from 195 pounds at 12% bodyfat to 175 pounds and 16% bodyfat—I got smaller and fatter. I went from ten pull ups to three, sixty push ups to twenty two, and my strength in the weight room plummeted. My vertical leap went down and I got pushed all over the basketball court. I did get faster in the ten kilometer run, but the running left we weak, tight., and slow. It took me two years to fully recover.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Good or bad, you are the sum of the influences in your life. When I read the latest and greatest research on motor control development in children and listen to the experts on sports performance and injury prevention, I realize I was very fortunate. Some of my story may help you in fostering an optimal environment for your children.
My Dad was a high school teacher who also coached basketball and football. We always had barbells, medicine balls, and jump ropes in the house. We had a ladder nailed to the ceiling in the basement to climb on and a balance beam in the back yard that was three feet off the ground. We had a swimming pool, swing sets, ropes to climb, and heavy bags to tackle and hit. I was encouraged to play everything from football to badminton. When I read the latest research on the development of motor control in children, I realize I was provided the ideal environment.
The Felician Sisters
In grade school, following recess, the sisters would line us up in the parking lot–no one was permitted to opt out. They brought out a big box that Sister Ludmilla or Sister Euphrasia would stand on while using a bullhorn to lead us in calisthenics. Six hundred kids did 20 minutes of jumping jacks, push ups, squat jumps, and lunges. I always liked it because it was the one portion of the school day that you did not get into trouble for moving around. As a third grader, I became pretty good at push ups and jump squats. I do not know of a single guy or gal that grew up doing the Felician Sister Fitness program who tore an ACL or destroyed their shoulder playing sports in high school. I have always wondered if that was coincidence, early training of neuromuscular control, or just divine intervention.
Minimal Equipment and Maximal Coaching
My high school weight room was small and poorly equipped. In my basement were some dumbbells and a barbell. My strength training options were limited. As I look back, this was an enormous blessing in disguise. It made me concentrate on the basics of strength training. No wasted effort on decline bench press, lat pull downs, or preacher curls. I did squats, lunges, overhead press (no bench for bench press), chin ups, push ups, and cleans. What I did have was consistent coaching that kept me safe and motivated. Despite all of the sports I played, I never had a major injury. The last twenty years of sports performance research has reinforced the importance of basic movement patterns performed extremely well. If an athlete is strong and moves efficiently, he or she is far less likely to be injured.
My Friend Frank
I met Frank when I was in pre physical therapy college classes. Frank was an incredibly well read student of fitness and human performance. He had been a physical education teacher, army fitness instructor, and former professional boxer. He was nearly seventy years old when I met him and his advice was priceless. He pulled me out of bodybuilding type training and taught me the essential components of being athletic and moving efficiently. Now as a physical therapist listening to presentations on the latest research in strength and conditioning, I often laugh because Frank told me the same things more than thirty years ago.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Year 56 Fitness Goals
Reinforcing the mental motivation to stay consistent with exercise is important. Keeping an exercise log and writing down achievable fitness goals helps to keep me motivated. I focus primarily on process goals. I want to remain injury free, metabolically healthy, fight off postural deterioration, and keep a consistent exercise habit. I have found that if I reach all process goals, the performance goals–stronger, leaner, faster, all tend to follow. Year to year, many of my goals are the same, but some years I emphasis one specific challenge. These are my year 56 fitness goals. I encourage you to write some of your own.
My goal is 200 training sessions a year. That is about 17 sessions a month. All the big benefits of exercise occur with long term, habitual performance of an exercise regimen. Consistency is king, everything else is details.
No Dings, Dents, or Medications
I want to move well and remain pain free for a lifetime. My fitness program will focus on injury prevention and a strong awareness of the risk to reward ratio involved in all exercise selection. I plan on spending more time on movement preparation drills and soft tissue regeneration activities. I want to be able to handle a fall and absorb impact without an injury. I will keep my blood pressure readings normal, and my blood sugar and lipid numbers in a healthy range. I do not take any medications and I want to keep it that way for another year.
Colonoscopy Number Three
My father was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 45 and died from the disease at the age of 49. Because of my family history, I started early with this test. This will be colonoscopy number three and all prior tests have gone well. The preparation is no fun, but the test itself is an IV and a short nap. There were about 143,000 new cases of colon cancer and 52,000 deaths in the United States last year. Colon cancer is extremely treatable when caught early and most people are cured. If you are over fifty you should get a colonoscopy.
Move More Efficiently
I need to achieve a level of mastery in unilateral exercises. In life and athletics, it is all about single leg or single arm. I will work on more step ups, skater squats, Turkish get ups, slider push ups, and land mine presses. I used to be able to do one arm push ups and I would like to reclaim that ability. Strength is a skill that is more neurological than muscular, so practice is important. See the video.
My favorite “cardio” is putting on my boots, throwing on the backpack, and hiking up and down some steep terrain. I believe the best gym cardio is high (15%) incline walking. It is low impact, and it improves your posture by training the muscles most likely to shrivel as we age—the gluteals and hamstrings. My favorite vacations involve long mountain hikes. After a hike, I feel mentally and physically recharged. Last year, I got in twenty-five solid, long hikes. This year I am aiming for forty.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., O.C.S., C.S.C.S.
Year 55 Scorecard
Fitness is a motivational mind game. Setting achievable goals provides the ongoing positive reinforcement needed to keep at the fitness habit. I no longer set as many performance goals. As I get older (55), it is more difficult to get stronger, run faster, or jump higher. I try to set attainable process goals. I want to stay injury free, metabolically healthy, fight off postural deterioration, and train consistently throughout the year. If I happen to lose some fat, get stronger or faster, it is a happy by product. Every birthday, I do a fitness goal review and this is my year 55 fitness scorecard.
Two Hundred Training Sessions a Year
My goal is to get in 200 training sessions in a year. I managed to fit in 212 sessions for the past year. Setting specific attendance goals is critical. In fitness, all of the significant long-term benefits happen when you show up on a consistent basis.
Maintain Proper Movement
This is how the downward spiral starts. You lose some mobility in your lunge, squat, or overhead reach. Limited mobility means you no longer can work the muscles through a full functional range of motion. The muscles move less, atrophy takes hold, and the metabolism slows. You gain fat more readily, and because you are weaker and heavier, you move less. Less total movement activity leads to even less mobility. Less muscle mass leads to far less stored glycogen and insulin sensitivity suffers. Insulin sensitivity problems lead to diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome……. You get the idea. Mobility is a key component to remaining injury free and staying metabolically healthy. This past year finds me better in all lunge patterns, and my sprint strides no longer look like Barry Sanders on one side and Colonel Sanders on the other.
Better Single Leg Motor Control
This has been the biggest challenge and the biggest change. My single leg balance is better and the strength in my hips and lower back has improved. Single leg training becomes more important as you get older or have a history of injuries. I enjoy the variety that single leg programming brings to my training.
In 2012, I did much more power type training. In athletics and daily survival, power is more important than strength. As we get older, the ability to fire muscles rapidly recedes. The last decade of research studies have shown that this trend is reversible. My scores in the medicine ball throw and the standing long jump both improved. I believe the drills that helped the most were the hurdle jumps and kettlebell swings. I became more proficient in both of these exercises. My vertical leap did not get any better, but it did not get any worse.
I started with a sore shoulder, but some dedicated mobility work and rehab training set that straight. I made it through the rest of the year with no dings or dents.
This is a goal of mine every year. I consider it a fitness victory if I am able to go another year and not have to take a blood pressure pill, statin drug, or an anti-inflammatory. I can think of no better fitness goal than being able to eliminate medications because your health is better.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., O.C.S., C.S.C.S.