By Andy Vaughn
This morning my legs were transformed into pure jelly. I was too tired to take the time to find out if it was the strawberry or grape variety, but I’m certain they were jelly. How did this magical metamorphosis take place, you ask? Simple – 8 evil flights of stairs.
As an avid runner, my legs are used to carrying me through long distances. Those legs that gobble up mile after mile met a new and heinous villain today. Gravity. All the muscles I use in running are fluent in the nuances of chugging me along city streets and trails. They can pick up the pace, or settle into a perfect rhythm for the long haul. But in the language of gravity, it’s all Greek to me, and I ended up staggering up those flights of stairs with the grace of a wounded gorilla.
Part of what made this stair running excursion such a ruthless exercise is the demand it put on my aerobic and anaerobic systems. My leg muscles were screaming for oxygen because of the demands placed on them. But my heart and lungs were already on overdrive because of the pace of the climb. It’s a great exercise for anyone – and a particularly humbling one at that. With the possible exception of NASA, gravity is undefeated.
This was a very different exercise for me to take part in, and as such it was a much more efficient use of my time. Although my legs are pretty sturdy, there were entire muscle groups that haven’t climbed like that in years. Demanding them to get me up and down those stairs was both a horrific and beautiful experience at the same time. Having plateaued a bit in my running, this shock to the system burned more calories and promises to deliver large amounts of lactic acid buildup tomorrow.
When doing any exercise routine, it’s always a great idea to mix things up from time to time. In fact, that’s a great lesson for life as well. Stay out of ruts, even good ones. Just because I consistently log runs of 10+ miles throughout the week doesn’t mean that I’m fit in all aspects of life. As Josh is fond of saying, “Specialization is for insects1.”
Part of the reason we tend to specialize is that we simply dislike failing. When you do something over the course of time, you get better form and learn how to become more efficient. This is excellent for performance, but wretched for the root purpose of fitness. We need to wean ourselves off of the success of our past and focus on trying something new. Chances are pretty good that the thrill of doing something new will surprise you, and allow the exercise to be a raging success.
An incredibly easy way to get out of your ruts is to meet your friends in their areas of expertise. A good friend of mine2 runs those malicious stairs on a weekly basis, and posted his PR recently on Facebook. I was curious, so I invited myself along for the workout, although if I believed I was in for the jellying3 of my legs, I might not have been so forward. A particularly excellent strategy to utilize is to find something that allows you to use your strengths to your advantage. For me, it was a perfect scenario, because my cardio is fairly strong, as are my legs. If my primary discipline was doing 500 pull ups a day, I would have had a much harder time enjoying my adventure climbing those kaba-jillion4 stairs.
When in a rut, it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’re stronger than we truly are, because we’re cruising on a plateau. The difficulty with hitting a plateau is that you’re usually on one for some time until you realize it. If you find yourself in a rut, call up a friend and invite yourself over for an upcoming workout. Chances are that you’ll probably hurt in a way that’s entirely foreign to you, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Today I gained a new appreciation for a new discipline and am excited to tackle those stairs again soon. In the meantime, I’ll be needing some toast and butter to go with these legs.
1. Here’s the full quote, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects” Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love
2. We’ll call him “Nathan”. Primarily because that’s his name.
3. Jelleying – the unexplainable phenomena involving body parts that have been worked out to utter exhaustion and in the process turning into varying flavors of jelly. See also marmaladeing.
4. All figures approximate.