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2017 Year-End Advice

One of the occupational hazard of being an old man is the urge to provide unsolicited advice on any number of topics. This time, the topic is weight lifting.

Some years ago, I decided to start lifting weights. My body no longer tolerated running, so I had long since substituted various low-impact mechanical means of aerobic exercise. But there was growing evidence that higher muscle mass is a good thing as one ages, so I figured I should give it a try. This posting lists a couple of my mistakes, which could enable you to avoid them, which in turn could enable you to make brand-spanking new mistakes of your very own design!

The first mistake resulted in sporadic pains in my left palm and wrist, which appeared after many months of upper-body weight workouts. In my experience, at my age, any mention of this sort of thing to medical professionals will result in a tentative diagnosis of arthritis, with the only prescription being continued observation. This experience motivated me to do a bit of self-debugging beforehand, which led me to notice that the pain was only in my left wrist and only in the center of my left palm. This focused my attention on my two middle fingers, especially the one on which I have been wearing a wedding ring pretty much non-stop since late 1985. (Of course, those prone to making a certain impolite hand gesture might have reason to suspect their middle finger.)

So I tried removing my wedding ring. I was unable to do so, even after soaking my hand for some minutes in a bath of water, soap, and ice. This situation seemed like a very bad thing, regardless of what might be causing the pain. I therefore consulted my wife, who suggested a particular jewelry store. Shortly thereafter, I was sitting in a chair while a gentleman used a tiny but effective hand-cranked circular saw to cut through the ring and a couple pairs of pliers to open it up. The gentleman was surprised that it took more than ten turns of the saw to cut through the ring, in contrast to the usual three turns. Apparently wearing a ring for more than 30 years can cause it to work harden.

The next step was for me to go without a ring for a few weeks to allow my finger to decide what size it wanted to be, now that it had a choice. They gave me back the cut-open ring, which I carried in my pocket. Coincidence or not, during that time, the pains in my wrists and palms vanished. Later, jewelry store resized the ring.

I now remove my ring every night. If you take up any sort of weight lifting involving use of your hands, I recommend that you also remove any rings you might wear, just to verify that you still can.

My second mistake was to embark upon a haphazard weight-lifting regime. I felt that this was OK because I wasn't training for anything other than advanced age, so that any imbalances should be fairly easily addressed.

My body had other ideas, especially in connection with the bout of allergy/asthma/sinitus/brochitis/whatever that I have (knock on wood) mostly recovered from. This condition of course results in coughing, in which the muscles surrounding your chest work together to push air out of your lungs as abruptly and quickly as humanly possible. (Interestingly enough, the maximum velocity of cough-driven air seems to be subject to great dispute, perhaps because it is highly variable and because there are so many different places you could measure it.)

The maximum-effort nature of a cough is just fine if your various chest muscles are reasonably evenly matched. Unfortunately, I had not concerned myself with the effects of my weight-lifting regime on my ability to cough, so I learned the hard way that the weaker muscles might object to this treatment, and make their objections known by going into spasms. Spasms involving one's back can be surprisingly difficult to pin down, but for me, otherwise nonsensical shooting pains involving the neck and head are often due to something in my back. I started some simple and gentle back exercises, and also indulged in Warner Brothers therapy, which involves sitting in an easy chair watching Warner Brothers cartoons, assisted by a heating pad lent by my wife.

In summary, if you are starting weight training, (1) take an organized approach and (2) remove any rings you are wearing at least once a week.

Other than that, have a very happy new year!!!


Jan. 1st, 2018 04:58 am (UTC)
Re: Not that old
Well, that picture was taken more than seven years ago in very flattering lighting. As is your kind comment. ;-)
Jan. 1st, 2018 05:21 am (UTC)
Re: Not that old
Not only the picture. I've watched several your presentations (e.g., at CPPCON and some LinuxConf) and you look young, as least as young as my father, which is about 10 years younger than you.

I used to practice lifting wight, hoping to get stronger. Maybe I can add one more common mistake that some people don't notice: taking rest is as important as practicing, because that gives your body a chance to relax and refresh, and make you feel less tired so that you are more likely to go on with this practice.
Jan. 1st, 2018 04:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Not that old
Thank you for the diplomatic assessment, and glad you liked the presentations. ;-)

Good point on resting. Another important point as you get older is to lift the weight slowly: Five seconds up, five seconds back. This gets the benefit of the workout with much less muscle damage, damage that your body has increasing trouble repairing as it gets older.