Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Power Math

There is no doubt that a powerlifter has a lot of strength. He can lift a very heavy thing, when most other people can’t. Same thing with distance runners and endurance -- they can cover a lot of ground in less time than your average bus-rider, albeit not the bus itself. So, for the time and task allotted to them, they have a lot of power, which is work done over time.

And if life were like that, so predictable, where you just know the emergency that will occur will fit perfectly into the one thing you’ve trained for … well, you’re good to go. Go rescue that puppy trapped under that Buick, or go deliver the insulin to the stranded grandma in the hills 20 miles away after a gigantic electromagnetic pulse has taken out the world’s mechanical transportation devices, including, uh, all the bikes too. You’ll be a hero.

But that’s not how life is. It doesn’t ask one thing of you. It asks almost everything. Nature rewards the specialist by letting it live in undesirable places. Polar bears and alpine goats and camels in the caravansary. We should be good at everything. We should be capable of meeting what life throws at us. Competent over a broad spectrum. Suited to just about any task. Fit in the way that the fittest survive.

So being the strongest guy in the room is good. Being the strongest man in the world is a bit more than seems reasonable. Being able to help a buddy move his refrigerator down the stairs, and all those boxes of disco records he bought at a yardsale and never managed to sell on eBay -- without waking up the next morning feeling like you’ve been trampled by elephants -- this is a good thing, and a sign of robust fitness.

There are lots of good definitions of fitness. They all require being good at more than one thing. Generally, the idea centers around doing a lot of work in a little time. That’s the definition, the formula, for power. Power. P = f x d / t. Force times distance (that is, “work”) over time. Force here is the same as weight. So big power is doing a lot of work quickly, small power is doing some work slowly. The point?

The fitter you are, the more power you have -- you can do more, faster. To a certain extent, we can and do rely on our natural vitality, and can fake our way through a task. This cannot last. If you haven’t trained for actual fitness, you will hit the wall, harder than you thought you could. Happens all the time. High school and college athletes think they’re elite. No doubt they are, in their sport. It doesn’t transfer. Believe it. They want to quit. Sit down, start crying, vomit, and quit. I hit that wall, but I knew it was there.

It’s not that life demands more than is reasonable. It’s that what most folks think is good enough, is good enough only by a surprisingly low standard. The pork rind and soda pop standard that makes reality TV the gold standard of contemporary entertainment. Point is, it is an eye-opener. Real fitness is amazing. And by any reasonable standard, it’s not hard to get. Just work differently. If you’re spending time in the gym now, most likely there’s a tremendous amount of wasted time. See? Intensity is about time, and intensity is required. It’s the faster part of “more, faster”.

Ah well. Wouldn’t it nice to be powerful. If only there were some way such a fantastic dream could come true. And all the benefits that come with such untold power -- the beauty, the health, the desire engendered in the inward parts of the groovy chicks or happenin’ dudes.

It’s not hope, or enthusiasm, or anything relating to fantasy. Results. Emotions, then, are tools that we use to get them. No, certainly not at any price. “Trample the weak -- hurdle the dead! Grr.” Nope. That would be foolish, and most likely unethical. At a reasonable price, in effort and cost, but at a sufficient cost as well. Again, health is earned. You must, must, must do the work. There may be magic, but there’s no magic to getting fit. Exercise won’t whiten your teeth, but it will make you look and feel younger. That’s almost magic.

Does it matter? I’m tempted to get preachy. I know, shocking. You want your kids to study, for their future and for their personal excellence? Well? You’ve got your career. Is it just waiting to die then? You have your own sort of studying to do, by which we mean striving to gain a skill. You don’t stop being physical when you “settle down.” God doesn’t like it when you let the body he gave you get ruined. He entrusted it to you just the same as he entrusted those children into your care, if he did. In a way, you are one of those children that he entrusted into your care.

You don’t have to be me. But take a long brisk walk, eh? Regularly? And cut back on the fatburgers? It will make God smile.


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