We’ve heard it a thousand times.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well it’s sage advice, but what if your back is stronger than your legs? Can you do it then? Is there no exception to this rule? I mean, even the “I before E except after C” rule has four hundred thousand caveats to it; surely you can lift with your back SOMETIMES. All rules are supposedly meant to be broken, and you of course can’t go through life being rule by platitudes and cliched nursery rhymes. In this case, however, the old wives’ tale is right: lift with your goddamn legs. Especially when it’s a full keg of beer, which can weigh in at over one hundred and sixty pounds untapped.
Now that I’m about to officially enter my mid-thirties (which, I’m told are NOT the new mid-twenties,) I’m more aware of my own mortality and how vital body maintenance is. Ideally speaking, we all should have been taking care of our bodies the entire time leading up to this point, rather than trying to retroactively repair ourselves after years of chemical and dietary abuse. Unfortunately for me, I succumb to the trappings of going to one of the more reputable party colleges in North Carolina and was unable to resist the temptation of $5 wings and $1.40 bottles of Old English. I’m human, after all.
This inevitable trudge into older age that we all make becomes apparent at different times, but my life has been a microcosm of the ageing cycle; I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at eight; have had kidney problems virtually since birth, and at thirty-three was told that I have ischemic cardiomyopathy and hypertension. This would not be surprising for a fifty-six year-old obese smoker who enjoyed the occasional Philly cheesesteak with his morning cup of Bourbon. These, of course, were not my dietary and lifestyle accomplishments, but being saddled with the conditions at a young age and in otherwise excellent shape have proven to be a challenge and yet another reminder that from here on out, it’s going to take a bit more effort than buying Clearasil and doing ten morning pushups before class.
No…this will be a new phase of my life which will require more diligence as far as treating my body with a bit more care, exercising with intention and focus and doing the thing that for years I thought was unnecessary and a waste of time: stretching. To me, stretching was always something professional athletes and ballet dancers did to limber up and avoid pulling muscles. I, in my inimitable wisdom, thought this was a great idea for them, but didn’t think it was anything I ever had to worry about. I mean, let’s face it: I would never be rushing the ball through the Broncos’ defensive line, cutting back-and-forth to avoid the juggernaut that is Von Miller. And I would never be in the middle of performing Swan Lake at Carnegie Hall, so I figured that time I spent stretching was time I could be working out my vanity muscles so that when we went bar hopping that weekend, I would stand out from the rest of the tools at my school who did the exact same thing.
The daily back pain I wake up with I now treat as a reminder and a warning, as opposed to the annoyance and temporary inconvenience that I initially did when it first made its entree into my life. It’s there to tell me that, at least for the forseeable future, this is the body I have to carry me around, to carry the things I need to carry, and to hug the people I want to hug. It will most likely be a while before I embrace the people I love with my robot arms and put my groceries away in one trip without fatigue setting in.
This stiffness is a handy little Post-it that reminds me that my body is a machine, and a machine requires maintenance. It needs fuel. Not shitty garbage fuel, but nutrient-rich, energy-sustaining food. It needs its parts to move smoothly, and that means my joints need to be “lubricated” and free from stiffness. It needs to be mentally aware and to maintain its acuity for as long as possible. When your computer gets bogged down with programs, spyware, and viruses, it needs cleaning or else it doesn’t run properly (it’s funny how there are so many analogies provided by cars and computers for the human body…or maybe it’s the other way around.)
If you are skeptical on the need to maintain your body via stretching, take a look at this Men’s Health article about a man who stretch for ten minutes a day for a month. The reaction from his girlfriend alone will immediately make you want to follow suit. If you don’t think think stretching is a man’s thing and that tough guys don’t do it, check out this piece from AskMen.com that focuses on the necessity and benefits of stretching for body builders and those wanting to add muscle mass.