My knees never used to hurt.
It all started when I was a child. I’d innocently wondered why grown-ups always bent down to pick things up. “Why bend in the like that?”, they were leaving themselves open to being pushed, or a swift kick in the backside. Little kids like me almost always bent their knees and dropped to a squat. It was easier and just made sense. Maybe there was more ‘slapstick‘ on TV in the 70’s. Maybe I just wanted to kick grownups.
The question idled in the back of my mind when, years later I realised I was doing it too. I was leaning forwards, my arse sticking out as counterbalance, ready for a new generation of kids wanting to kick it.
The reason? It hurt. It hurt to squat, bend down or make sudden moves. My knees hurt, and since I’m on the subject, my legs hurt too. They didn’t feel bouncy anymore. With the exception of my stomach, no part of my body was bouncy. This loss of ‘bounce’ was driven home a few weeks ago. A kid in one of my classes placed his hands down on a desk and casually ‘bounced’ over it with barely any effort or break in stride as he headed his way out the door. I watched him leave with mixed feelings, mostly “Why don’t I move like that?”
I recalled this bouncing exit as I was re-reading Christopher McDougall’s excellent book “Born to Run”. I’d read it years before, not long after it came out and, like many others I became a wannabe. I experimented with a minimalist running shoe, got into yoga and tried paleo and ancestral eating habits. I should be pretty healthy.
Healthy except I’d managed to tear both my knee meniscus showing off in the ski park. Old soccer injuries were lining up to bug me. My feet were beat up and the problems were now creeping up to my calves and knees. I was experiencing increasing pain and discomfort.
Once I’d been far more active teaching 4 or 5 gym classes every day. Now I was stuck in a classroom and exercise was moving between desks. Age, medications, work fatigue and beer had caused me to slowly gain extra weight. Getting out for a morning run or an early workout at the gym was becoming more difficult.
Then a funny thing happened. I was reading Christopher McDougall’s new work “Natural Born Heroes” and a few things clicked into place.
The first ‘click’ was learning about the diet of the Cretan people. The Mediterranean diet has long been considered pretty healthy. It avoids processed carbohydrates and prompts a fat-burning metabolism. It was a dead simple diet I figured I could follow. It reminded me of the ancestral or paleo approach to nutrition, but a whole lot easier prepare.
The second was the work of Phil Maffetone and endurance training. I’d come across his work before but was ready this time. Maffetone teaches endurance athletes to enhance their fat-burning abilities by zone two training. Putting it very simply, and athlete starts with the number 180 and subtracts their age. This new number gives a maximum heart rate. In theory, staying below this number develops our fat-burning mechanisms.
The final piece was rediscovering the work of physical education teacher Georges Hébert, and his “Natural method”. I’d leaned about Hébert many, many years before when studying for my own physical education degree. No, he hadn’t taught me.
I’d been intrigued with his methods and had started ‘working out’, by climbing and messing around on the playground equipment close to the university. I’d was climbing and vaulting over the coastal defences as I ran along the beach. It’s biggest benefit was helping me impress women. I once scaled a 12 ft chain-link fence in just seconds, seriously impressing the girl I was with. Another time I used a “Mantle Shelf” technique to access the roof window of a friend who’d lost her house keys.
Putting it altogether:
- I’m slowing things down (zone 2 seems to be working for me).
- The music has been turned off while running. Instead I focus on feel and feedback from my feet and legs.
- I’m seeking out fun and challenging terrain found in and around the city.
So, I hope you’ll enjoy reading as I share what I learn. Maybe some of you can make use in your own journey to health and fitness.
My thoughts, observations and conclusions may inspire you to change or adjust your life, or perhaps impose them on the unsuspecting. Please remember I do not pretend these are absolute medical facts. Rather, they are a snapshot of my growing wisdom. I’m not a doctor nor a nutritionist. I don’t claim to possess medical insights into the workings of the human body. What I share is based upon the easily available facts, and information I’ve gleaned during a few unfortunate accidents.
Before you begin any physical or nutritional lifestyle change, please consult with a registered medical practitioner and make sure you are healthy and fit to begin. Remember, the goal is to enjoy the journey and avoid the road to disaster, which is littered with pitfalls and paved with good intentions.