The body's great and abiding gift to us is the gift that keeps giving: muscle
Joel, my physical therapist, pointed me towards a treatment room. As I rolled by on my knee scooter, I looked hard at him. His polo shirt didn't fit any more.
"You've been lifting. Your shirt doesn't fit across the pecs and your delts are bigger."
He grinned. Takes one to know one, I guess. I probably couldn't have paid him a better compliment.
Joel told me that, much like me, it's been since 2019 since he's hit the gym hard. My regular-like-clockwork gym workouts had been taking a hit, from multiple injuries, surgeries, a big move, a car crash. Too many big hits for me to stay on track. My body shows it, too.
For Joel it was an infant, and all the demands of new fatherhood. Either way, both of us have been unable to maintain any kind of serious steady schedule. Like my bodybuilding coach reminds me, what we do consistently pays off. Don't work out regularly, muscle shrink.
But it doesn't disappear.
That's the gift that keeps giving.
I'm recovering from nine major surgeries in five years and more serious accidents and Big Life Events in six years than I can even recall. Any one of them would have been a lifetime's worth of stress for the average guy but I didn't sign up for an average life. That said, the sheer wear and tear on my body and soul, the cortisol levels that have been flooding my system have left me looking like it's been a minute since my best gym days.
However. Recently when I was upright, moving and had the use of at least one hand for a while, I started slamming my upper body. In just a few weeks during that marvelous month, my delts started to pop again, just like Joel's pecs were pushing his polo shirt.
The muscles come back, and with it all the benefits of conditioning.
This great truth of the body's inherent ability to come back even after decades is just one reason I bang the workout drum so steadily. Even with all the surgeries, I've been doing my level best to keep my body at some level of fitness, putting dumbbells at strategic locations all around my house.
For example, in my closet, where I go frequently during the day, there is a set of dumbbells on the floor. Every time I roll in there I have to do a set or two: overhead press, bicep, tricep, side delt lifts, front delt lifts. Pick and choose. My arms get the message. It's a game, it's fun, and it pays off.
While the truth is that my normal beast routine is history for now, as it has to be so that my poor busted-up body can heal. Then and only then can I put myself back on the kind of regular routine I love.
Here's a good way to understand how all this works:
Research also shows that as we age, while muscle loss or sarcopenia to some extent is inevitable, you and I, as I love to repeat, can significantly reduce the swiftness by which this happens.
I wrote recently that since last July I've been able to watch first hand how this works. Beginning with surgery on my left hand and then all the other extremities until the final foot surgery three weeks ago, I've had a front-row seat to see how the body responds.
Each limb underwent major reconstructive surgery. In order to recover I have had to completely isolate that limb, do nothing until bones and nerves recovered, which takes time. Because both surgeries involved bone, that's about eight months for full healing. Even then workouts were strictly limited because pretty soon yet another body part underwent surgery. Both hands, both feet.
I watch, not without a little bit of horror because it's my own body, how the muscles shrank, the limb withered and I got wrinkles on top of my wrinkles.
Look, I knew it was coming but still, it was no fun to be witness to it. The stress of the constant pain was another issue entirely but let's just say that the decision to get it all over with was a considered one. It really put me into self-study mode.
That said, like Joel, who is less than half my age, my body at 70 is keen as kibble to return to top fitness.
Here's what this 77-year-old New York Times writer had to say about it:
Kindly, this is less about body beautiful than it is about overall fitness and conditioning. Fitness and conditioning give us options, most especially as we age.
This is why: yesterday I rode my local ADA bus to the Veteran's Administration for an appointment. Another woman was already on the bus, someone close to my age. We were taking her to a fitness center.
I celebrate that because of what I witnessed. When we stopped and the bus driver waited for her to get off the bus, she struggled mightily to get up. The great long muscles of her thighs simply wouldn't support her.
It took her six attempts. Finally the bus driver came over and nearly pulled her to her feet, after which she shuffled slowly to the door and struggled down the steps.
I don't know her story, but I've seen that everywhere: people who age in their easy chairs and couches literally cripple themselves. The great thigh muscles are the strongest in the body. When we sit and sit and sit, our quads can no longer get us up.
However, if this woman, and all of us, would walk, go up and down stairs (barring disability), and work on practicing getting up and down, do squats at the gym, that will not likely happen to us.
The body loves work. It LOVES work. It repays us for work with longevity, strong muscles and mobility.
Don't believe me? See this:
You can do this. I want my muscles back. Happily, they want to come back to me as well. I just need to allow my body to fully heal.
Then my muscles and I are gonna have a reunion party.
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