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Lighten Up and Fly High
April 22, 2003

Looking through bloodshot eyes and speaking in a scorched and breathless voice, I remind a co-trainer how grand it is to be lifting weights and that this is the best time of year for muscle-building progress. We stand before the dumbbell racks that line the mirrored wall running the length of the gym. She nods while leaning on a pair of 20s for support, her posture and expression belying her message of agreement.

The sun is strong this afternoon, the air warm and the shift in the clock to daylight-savings affords another hour to work and play. Time is freedom. Spirits rise, layers of clothes are removed and joints cooperate. Why then do I turn limp this time of the year and stagger in a mental, physical and attitude void, contradicting the obvious promise of the season?

Nobody said I’m alone. We expect to soar, instead we crash. Jimmy “Trees” walks past me as I precisely position an incline bench for some righteous abdominal work. He’s grumbling ‘cuz it’s hot and he’s sweaty and itchy and tired and it’s Monday. “Poor baby,” I offer my sympathy and encouragement, “This is the best time of year for muscle-building progress, Jim. Time is freedom!” He glares, sawdust from trimming redwoods still in his ponytail. He’ll be okay in a few sticky and bristling minutes… been there, done that.

Water’s a big seller at the juice bar and clear plastic bottles decorate the gym. Pint-sized towels pass over damp foreheads and drape the equipment. Sweatshirts and Ts are tossed in corners and tank tops and crop tops bob and weave about the benches, bars and racks. It’s wonderfully warm, but the creatures are gasping.

The perfect blend of ingredients is present for unparalleled workouts and muscle response. We worship the first wave of warm weather, we rejoice in the sun and find relief in the extended daytime hours. The long, cold and dreary winter is over and we are liberated. No more dampness and chills, fewer aches and pains, less bulky gym wear and more pump and burn. Here we come, tanned, toned and tapered.

Well, not exactly. The adaptable animal we are must adapt. The blood in our veins, the beat in our heart and the air in our lungs need to adjust. Our hormones and digestive system are responding to seasonal changes in diet and patterns of eating and sleeping and extents and intensities of activity. We go through stress changes -- a natural phase, AKA spring fever -- as the days lengthen and the temperatures rise and our habits alter, ever so slight as they may be.

What’s wrong? Unsuspected fatigue might be misinterpreted as a mystery illness or depression or ennui. Unfamiliar with the phase, we try to overcome or over-ride it with forced training tactics and grouchy days of insufferable workouts. “It’s spring and I feel sprung,” we say. Our appetite wanes, our muscles lose tone, we’re tired, weak and looking fat. Great, just great! What happened to the pre-summer revival we’ve all been anticipating? Discouragement mounts, confidence slips…

This year, get it right. Don’t panic and don’t despair. It’s spring, not the flu again or a triple by-pass or SARS or cooties. It’s spring; stop and smell the flowers. It’s spring; take a walk in the park, have an ice cream sandwich, go fishing or mow the lawn. It’s the springtime we thought six months ago would never come, the long days, the cool nights with only the summer ahead when flying is high and landings are soft and time drifts. Vacations and long weekends are in sight, barbecues and relaxed time with friends, no work, no responsibilities, lots of sleep and lots of food.

Of course then the dilemma becomes laziness, missed workouts, misplaced discipline, zero energy, extinct self-esteem, lost muscle and gained fat. The summer will end on time -- catching us off guard -- and the winter will pounce on us mercilessly as always and we will long for the spring when everything is good and hopeful and wonderful and you will hear me say, “This is the best time of year for muscle-building progress, Jim. Time is freedom!”

Stay cool, Bombers. Lighten up and fly right.

Vaya con Dios… DD


Spring fever: a temporary state of fatigue that attacks all the systems of the body simultaneously; any combination of low energy, almost lazy-like feelings where shoulders sag, motivation ebbs, spirits droop and procrastination replaces immediate action; an intolerable yet self-perpetuating condition of the mind and body that diminishes its victim unless intelligent precautions are taken.

This is what I do at the first signs of spring fever: I lie back on the closest bench and rejoice. Spring, here at last. Life is good.

I then proceed to load up on cool water, savoring its flavor and goodness. Life is sweet.

I allow 10 minutes of midsection exercise -- my favorite variety of the day -- to warm up and activate my self-charging neuro-muscular systems. No pressure, no demand, no stress… just downhill rhythm and motion and ever-increasing action, contraction, extension and momentum. Cruise control.

Rope tucks, hand-hanging leg-raises, hyperextensions – 3 supersets X25,15,15

During this fluid time I consider where I am and where I’ve been and where I want to go. I hope – I trust -- that by the end of my romp the remainder of my muscular pursuits will be evident, my all-knowing subconscious at work.

Presto, before me unfolds the ideal combination of basic and subtle movements best suited for my energy level, muscular ability, depth of focus and internal desire.

Nothing like a trustworthy, living and breathing computer to run the factory. The iron workload in response to the first day of delirious spring fever looks like this:

Combination #1

I grab a pair of comfortably moderate weight dumbbells, assume a sturdy shoulder-width stance and bend over at the waist and knees allowing the weighs to hang naturally, a posture resembling a deadlift. The stretch alone feels good. I pull the dumbbells upward and toward my torso and simultaneously stand up partially. The result of the movement is what appears to be an abbreviated dumbbell clean. The action is repeated in slow muscle-controlled thrusts and returns, deliberately accenting the contraction and extension.

The movement recruits a lot of muscle throughout the body, from the thighs, about the midsection and lower back, upward along the traps, upper back and rear delts, and not without a demand on the biceps, forearm and grip. Keep these muscle groups in mind as you work. The pump is seductive and exhilarating and the flow of blood and oxygen a strain, but restorative. Spring fever takes its first hit.

3-4x6-8-10 (your call) supersetted with

Let me guess, stiff-arm dumbbell pullovers? Nope. Bent-arm straight-bar pullovers and press. This sweeping movement, Smarty, is done with a light to moderate weight as we are seeking precise action, therapeutic stretch, focused muscle contraction and relief.

Movement: Bar overhead, down to chest, backward and over the head and downward to a sufficient bent arm stretch. Return following the initial path.

Here we engage the triceps, the pecs, front delts, the lats and abs.


Combination #2

Close under-grip pulldowns are performed to mimic your everyday chin-up. This action has a Spring-like flavor to it and I pretend I’m in the park at Huber Street Elementary School in Secaucus, New Jersey. I’m 10, without a care and nothing hurts.

Biceps pump, lats work, serratus contract and the grip is in action.

3-4x8-10 supersetted with

Machine Dips assuming a variety of positions (forward, backward, arched back, rounded back) to squeeze out the last repetition.

The triceps get their turn, lower pecs, mid back and some delts. Between the two the pump and burn is gratifying and hopeful -- a sprinkle of spring.

Combination #3

We’re going for the whole body. Leg presses are an agreeable movement cuz you get to sit down in what appears to be an easy chair. Three or four sets of 25 reps (with calf stretches between sets) is a grand way to pump blood, aerate, energize and penetrate the lower body. Do the reps in close segments, such as 15, 5 and 5.

Smile. You’re done.

I’m heading for Oakland to pick up a supply of precious Bomber Blend as soon as this document is on a disc and into Laree’s greedy little hands. She’ll stuff it in her computer, dot the i’s and cross the t’s, add her two cents and send it off to our beloved readers -- that’s you -- in a flash. I’ll grab a workout later today on my way home with a truck full of miracle powder. I am very responsible, ready for hijackers and other treacherous fiends. They’re out there but don’t have a prayer.

Watch your tail… DD

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