Planks vs Push Ups

It seems that for a while now there is a great deal of buzz on the Interwebs about “planks”.  I recently read a Tweet or FB post from Ryan Hall commenting on how long he could hold a plank.  Even I got onto the plank bandwagon a month or two ago as just something extra to add to my Winter routine.  However, in my own opinion, I think I will stick with the old standby of push ups.

First, I will describe a plank.  It is similar to a push up.  You are prone on the floor, then you raise yourself on your elbows, straighten your body and hold it rigid (while breathing) for as long as possible.  This is not as easy as it looks.  After doing them for a week (four planks in all), I timed my next one and discovered I could not quite hold the plank for a full minute.

The planks benefits are in strengthening one’s core, which includes shoulders, chest, back, glutes, and quads.  Yes, I am sure a real anatomy aficionado would get more detailed, but that is what I saw from one illustration.  Runners and cyclists both need strong core muscles.  The core is what helps hold us firm in the saddle and on the road.

So, I am not against planks to improve one’s core.  The plank is an effective method, I think, for strengthening the core.  My difficulty just came from the length of the plank versus the level of improvement.  I know that I spend a longer length of time doing as many push ups as I can than when doing a plank alone.  Probably, if I had stuck with planks longer, I would have seen the same results as I have with push ups, it just would have taken longer.

Push ups, are just what your junior high or high school phys ed instructor or that ornery drill instructor from the military taught you.  Same prone position at the start, however, you use your upper body strength (your arms and shoulders) to lift your whole body off the floor.

To do push ups correctly, one should maintain that same rigidity of the whole body as you do during a plank.  Second, one is also supposed to go all the way down and all the way up.  If you looked at your arms in the down position, they would be close to a 90 degree bend at the elbow.  When you are all the way up, your back should be straight and not curved and your arms are straight.  This isn’t a yoga move.

After doing planks for about three weeks, I switched to push ups.  At first, I couldn’t do more than about 20 and not even all 20 at one time.  But, I stuck with it and over the next several weeks, I improved to my current 60 or so each day.  I got to a higher level for a week or so, but it’s gone back down since I took more time doing them correctly.  I still can’t do the whole 60 at one time, but I have improved to 30 on the first set.

I noticed the improvement a couple of weeks ago on a long run of about 8 miles.  Often, as I run longer, I just seem to get tired and really have to work at holding myself in the correct posture for running.  However, this particular Saturday, I didn’t.  I noticed a definite lack of effort in keeping my upper body straight and correct, even near the end of the run. That was a good feeling.

That good feeling has continued.  I believe that planks gave me a nice start, but I improved my core strength much quicker after the switch to push ups.  I only did planks for about three weeks and have been doing pushups for over a month, so I don’t really think the planks were the improvement.  I still hold with the push ups as the major reason my core improved.

Regardless of whether one does planks or pushups, I recommend core work for runners and cyclists.  I am a believer in core work after seeing the improvement in my running just from this short time of working my core.  I expect to see even more improvement over the Spring as I can get out for longer runs and rides. So, I’ll say that push ups are better than planks for core work, if you wish to improve a little quicker than planks alone would accomplish. Additionally, I think that push ups give the upper body more work than doing planks.  Happy running!


BikeIrving Earn-a-Bike Event

Not too long ago, I wrote about how I had observed kids at one of our bike rodeo events that were really having trouble with their bike skills.    So, when our fearless leader of BikeIrving was talking to someone about what we could do for bicycling in Irving, she ended up talking with someone at Bear Creek Community Church.  It seems they were also interested in doing something along the lines of helping with cycling.  About that time, I was also talking with our fearless leader about how I would like to do something that teaches folks how to maintain their bikes.  This all led to BikeIrving partnering with Bear Creek Community Church to have our first Earn-a-Bike event this coming March 1st at the church.

Our plan is to hold the event with Bear Creek across two Saturdays, this coming Saturday, the 1st from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM and March 15th from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM.  Volunteers at Bear Creek have been taking donations of older bikes.  We have quite a few in kids sizes, but could still use more in the adult sizes.  Parents can come with their children to pick out a bike and then some of us “experts” will be on hand to help them fix up and make the bike safe and ready to ride.

We really want to make this something that gets parents and kids out on bikes together, riding.  As you recall, my soapbox moment was that kids should be out riding.  The skills learned and the adventures shared are priceless.

When we were learning to become League Cycling Instructors, the teacher asked us all why we rode bikes as a kid.  Almost to the person, the one answer was ‘freedom’.  Riding bikes gave us freedom to go where we wished and to see places that we couldn’t reach by walking.  I remember in my neighborhood how we would ride around to find cola bottles to return for deposits and earn money for more cokes and candy.  Made a good Summer living that way.

But, I digress.  We want to give other parents and kids that same taste of freedom we shared.  We also hope to have more folks out cycling for their benefit and the benefit of the community.  Yet, we understand that even inexpensive bikes are often out of reach for many kids, and if you include adults, it gets more difficult.  The amount of donations of bikes so far show us that there are enough bikes out there if we can get them and put them back into circulation.

That’s where you come in.  We need help.  Lots of help.  If you live in the Irving area, please consider being a volunteer at one of the event days, March 1st or March 15th.  You do not have to be an “expert” at cycling or at fixing bikes.  I have already read “Zen and the Art of Bike Maintenance” for both of us.  If you have a few tools, great!  If not, no problem. Come on anyway.

We also need supplies.  We need tubes in 16″, 20″ and 24″ sizes.  We do have some help from a local bike shop, but we may need much more as well.  In addition, we need helmets.  We do not yet have a sponsor or someone to donate helmets and we would really like to hand those out with each bike. And, if you have an old bike, especially adult size, we can use those as well.

If you wish to drop off a donation at Bear Creek, please contact me via e-mail at bigmanrunning@gmail.com and I will put you in touch with the volunteers there.  You can click on my e-mail address or the e-mail link on this blog.  If you wish to volunteer, please be at Bear Creek Community Church on Findley Drive thirty minutes before start time (7:30 AM this Saturday or 12:30 PM on the 15th).

Growing up, I think many of us took riding around on bikes for granted.  Yes, I know all the stats on safety and bikes and kids.  Part of what we are doing is encouraging each parent and child that receives a bike to be part of a Smart Cycling class to be held on a Saturday in April.  There we will teach both children and their parents how to ride safely and defensively.

It is my belief that we should do what we can so that all kids (even a few big kids) can share what we have learned about riding our bikes.  BikeIrving’s Earn-a-Bike event seeks to  help with that.  But, we can’t do it alone.  We need your help.  In addition, if you or anyone you know of could benefit from this event, please pass the word along.  Since you are reading this on either Twitter, Facebook, or WordPress, that is really easy.  Click a share choice below and happy cycling!

A Reply to Home Depot

The reason that I haven’t blogged as much lately is because my running and biking is fairly stable.  If you call this particular winter in North Texas a stable one.  I am working on my second week with no weekday runs because of either uber-cold, precipitation or both.  As such, on those mornings, I am relegated to my bike on the trainer, a plank, and as many push ups as I can tolerate.  It’s a decent workout, but it is not the same as running.

This workout usually leaves a little time for Facebook or checking and deleting the plethora of useless e-mails I receive.  This morning was e-mails.  I stopped when I saw I had  received one for Home Depot, not an address I see often, and read the e-mail.

Expecting a sales pitch or some weekend sale on lumber, I was surprised when it was about my application with them while I was out of work year before last.  It seems they are short on help and wanting to know if I would like to update my application and start the process over again.  Or, if I wasn’t interested they were ready to delete my information since it had been a year since I applied.

Really, Home Depot?  After my experience with your organization during the one and only interview I obtained with my local Home Depot, why would I want to work for you all?

I applied for Home Depot because I was out of work and trying to see if I could work for myself, and I also realized that even if I got another job, I might still need the extra income.  The store in Valley Ranch called one day and asked if I was interested in a weekend bilingual position with them.  I was interested and we set up an interview with the team leader for whom I would be working.

My interview ended up being short and not sweet.  The team leader was curt and not overly interested in anything I had to say.  She asked if I had any retail experience.  No, I hadn’t.  However, I knew almost every product in their store and how to use it.  After 30 years of trades and craft experience, my goal was to be the kind of person that folks would come in and get answers for their needs.  Second, when it came to working hours, she informed me that all part time employees were REQUIRED to be available for the entire weekend.  Nope, not happening.  The interview was over.

So, Home Depot.  Because you don’t train your leaders very well in the skill of trying to find out what kind of person they are and what they can bring to your company, you missed an opportunity to hire a highly skilled craftsman with the desire to help your customers succeed.  Because your team leader was more interested in filling a slot than discovering the potential sitting in front of her, you lost someone who could not only make sales, but make return customers.

Am I bragging-possibly, but as Will Rogers said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”  My résumé speaks for itself.  I notice often that folks working at Home Depot, though they are well-meaning and probably hard workers, it would be best to also hire folks that actually know what to do with all those products you would like to sell.  Someone that cares about the customer being able to go home and successfully complete the projects and repairs they want to accomplish.  It does bother me no matter what the marketing of any company projects, it seems they only care about selling more products than actually making happy customers.  So, Home Depot, I probably do not want to come and work for your organization, even though I could still use that extra income.

I guess in the end, I will just have to stick to spending my Saturday mornings out on the road running, and hopefully soon, during the week as well.  Happy running!

And Another Year Speeds By…

I was talking this morning on the phone with an insurance lady that remarked how her grandmother told her that when she was older that the years would just fly by.  Now in her 30’s, the lady was realizing her grandmother was telling the truth.  This year, I turned 53 and time is moving quickly enough that I may soon have to have a conversation with Mr. Einstein about relativity.

Yes, we have come to another end of year.  However, please don’t look forward to my resolutions.  I resolve not to resolve.  After several mistakes as a younger person who said he would never do such and such, just to find out that later he very much was going to do such and such, I no longer try to test God‘s patience, nor my own.  I have a rough idea of the path I should be upon, only enough to see just a few steps in front of me, and there I will go.

No, instead, I am going to reflect a little on this past year and how it has and will shape my new year.  I am learning many new things and realizing that I am not that younger person any more (and my sweetie most likely says, “Thank the Lord!”).  I still haven’t become the person I wish to be, but as the apostle says, “I am daily straining forward to earn the prize”, or something very close to that any way.

This year marked seven years of cycling and five years of running.  Though I was only able to participate in one organized ride and my half marathon this month was cancelled due to the weather, I still ran and biked (and swam) for most of the year.  The discipline I have learned from both is invaluable.  No matter what may occur in daily life, I know I can get up most mornings and either run or ride off the dross (hope I used that word correctly).

In addition, the patience and sometimes just plain fearlessness learned from running helped me to do something I never thought I would be able to do.  I play in a band now.  OK, it’s a church band and I play bass, but it’s music and it’s worship, so there.  In response to a felt need, I started working at the first of the year to put my lackluster efforts at learning guitar into playing bass instead.

I worked with the band leader at our church, who was the bass player also.  I borrowed my daughter’s bass and started to relearn my scales and try to put those to good use in keeping rhythm.  I had the mistaken belief that this was simple since I had less strings and less complexity (4 instead of 6, and country bass).  I did not know what I was thinking. There is so much more to playing bass than just personal proficiency.  Yet, I did not quit.  Learned that one from running.

About May, the band leader said I needed to get ready because in the Fall he would be out some and I should prepare for an audition.  OK.  No problem.  I just needed to get serious.  In September, I started sitting with the band during their Wednesday practice to work on live playing (they played, I struggled to keep up).  I kept my bass unplugged and sat in a pew and followed along.  After a few weeks of this, it was time to put things to the test.

The band leader asked me to plug in and play with them.  It wasn’t the greatest of beginnings, but it began.  The band leader loaned me his bass since it had better tone.  I do think my daughter’s Dean Metalman V-shaped bass still had a little to do with that decision, but I’ll just say it was tone.  The next Sunday, I played for real, on the stage, plugged in, and everything. Very scary, but I survived the audition. My band leader said I could fill in the next Sunday when he was out.

While I survived the next Sunday with the band leader out, I brought back his bass to practice ready to be just the backup bass player.  Nope, not happening.  The band leader had his banjo out and ready to work.  I was in another week, and then another, and then another.  By now it was time to start working on Christmas music.  After a meeting and answering some serious questions, I was accepted.  I became the new bass player. Now, every Sunday it is my responsibility to keep the beat and help with the rhythm so that others can worship as well.

However, I was still playing on a borrowed bass.  Affording a new one was pretty much out of the question for some time.  I wasn’t sure just how to accomplish obtaining a bass that I could call my own.  But, following God and learning to be a runner and a cyclist taught me to rely on God, and determine what was really important.

I had two good six-string electric guitars.  One was a mid-1980’s Fender Stratocaster.  After a lot of thought and more than a little prayer, I sat down one Wednesday after Thanksgiving and put both of them on Craigslist in offer of a trade for a bass.  Within an hour or so, I had an offer of a trade on what looked like a great bass.  I called the guy up and we arranged to meet at my church before starting time.  He looked over both my guitars and even though the Fender had a little cosmetic damage, he was happy to trade.  The bass he traded hadn’t seen play in a year.  I now owned a bass.

Christmas concerts are over.  Candle light services are over.  But, every Sunday comes and I have to be ready to anchor my spot and know my music.  It takes work, like running.  It takes patience, like running.  It takes struggle and endurance, like running.  It takes making mistakes, like running. It takes learning new things and being fearless, like running (and learning to embrace the lycra in cycling).

I have a great year coming in 2014.  I get to get up every morning I wish to and run.  When it warms up, I will get up on Sunday mornings and ride, ride, ride.  I will continue to learn, and practice, and train so that I will be able to “take hold of the prize” as the apostle says.  It’s all a work in progress.  Happy New Year, and Happy Running!


I AM…Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving and I am sitting on the couch at my wife’s parent’s house enjoying being around everyone.  Our kids and grandkids will be here later to enjoy food and family.  Yes, this is a cliché Thanksgiving post.

Not everyone is here though.  There has been loss and there is also separation. So, it is not always as easy as it seems, but then for many, holidays are never as Hallmark-y as they make it out to be.

In our bible class at church we are studying John’s gospel.  He’s that “other” guy in the group.  The one that didn’t write like all the rest.  One of John’s repeated motifs is the “I AM” statements from Jesus.  “I AM the Light that has come into the world,” Jesus says.  “I AM the Bread…”, “I AM the Good Shepherd“, and “I AM the Resurrection and the Life”, are also statements of Jesus.  I suppose these hearken back to when Moses was at the burning bush asking God what His name was so that the Hebrews would know whom it is that Moses is talking to them about.  God’s only answer was, “I AM THAT I AM“.  He needed nothing more.

I think that at this time of year, it is good that we see that same simple statement in ourselves and the kind of spiritual power those small words have.  I am…

I am…thankful.  That is the biggest thing for this year.  It has not been easy for me or my family.  Since losing my former job in 2012, I was finally hired after five months of searching by a nearby hospital.  I am thankful for being able to keep a roof over our heads and food upon the table.  My new situation doesn’t allow for much more than that, but we have still been blessed and cared for every day of this past year.  Regardless of how little we had in our pockets, God provided for us all year.  I am thankful for these blessings because I know that others have even less and are still thankful.

I am…a runner.  Didn’t think I would stick that in here, did you?  No matter what has happened this year in other ways, I am still a runner.  I still get up twice during the week to run before the sun is up, and every Saturday I still go out for my long run.  My only race of the year will be in a week at the Dallas Marathon, where I am running the half.  I was fortunate to register back in the Summer and I am looking forward to the race. Yes, I am still a runner.

I am…a cyclist.  Well, we have to keep it going don’t we?  Cycling  is an expensive sport.  However, it can also be simple.  I managed one organized ride in May, but I have still been riding.  I have friends that have gotten up early on Sundays to ride a few miles and when they aren’t available, I realized I could still get up early and ride for myself.  While I don’t ride as many miles as in past years, I still ride and have made a few good routes around town.

I am…a triathlete.  Well, this one is just on faith.  I stopped swimming about a month ago just because it got very boring.  I did manage to make my distance up to a mile a week for a while this year from mid-Summer until Fall.  However, 1800 yards in a 20 yard pool can get very old.  So, I will just sit out for a while until I just have to go back.

I am…still in ministry.  I thought that when we started over at a new church that I would just be “around”.  That isn’t the plan I see.  There have been opportunities all year for ways that I can serve and I have been glad of the opportunities.

Yep, it’s been quite a good year after all.  And, just think: Christmas is just around the corner and many new adventures await.  Happy running, and happy thanksgiving!


Get ’em on a Bike!

Mid-July.  That’s a long time in blog years to be off the Interwebs.  Truth is, I haven’t been able to think of too much too write about since then.  However, something recently happened that finally moved it’s way up my nervous system to become important enough to write about.  Bicycling.

A few weeks ago, I helped another LCI (League Cycling Instructor) in a nearby city with an event.  He was putting on a Bike Safety Town at his city’s Ecofest event.  Bicycling is green you know.

This was the first Safety Town type of event I had worked as an LCI.  The city of Arlington did most of the set up for us and provided the bicycles for the kids to ride.  Our job was to teach kids safety skills and then put them out on the course and have them practice those skills.  For the most part, all of that went as expected.  What got my attention was not the kids attention to safety, but many of them had real problems with the most important skill, bike control.

From my experience as a cyclist and my training as an LCI, I know that the first and most important skill in being safe on the road is simply to be able to control my bike well.  That includes riding in a straight line, making proper and controlled turns, being able to look behind and see dangers, and stopping.  While we teach these skills to riders of all ages, much of the skill comes simply from riding bikes often enough and long enough to become proficient in controlling your bike.

What I observed at this Safety Town was what I considered a high quantity of kids that could barely ride a bike.  I’m not talking about four and five-year-olds just starting out, but nine and ten-year-olds.  The most common comment I got from the kids was that they just hadn’t been on a bike very much.

I remember what it was like when I learned to ride a bike the first time.  It was scary.  It took me a year before I could completely ride without my feet touching the ground (we didn’t use training wheels).  I was seven at the time and I was a good bit behind my peers on learning to ride.  However, as soon as I could pick it up well, my riding advanced well.  Primarily because of the time we spent outside on bikes.

Bikes were major in my crowd at least until I was about thirteen or fourteen.  We rode everywhere in our neighborhoods.  While we had to work up from riding on our block to fully around the block and on to other streets, we covered a lot of ground.  Riding gave us access to our school friends and to places like parks and stores near us.  From about sixth grade to junior high, we rode the neighborhoods picking up soft drink bottles to turn in for their deposits.  We made a good bit of money this way that kept us in drinks and snacks all Summer long.

I am fairly certain that the lack of time kids spend on riding these days is primarily due to safety.  Though I know my streets as a kid were no more safer than today, the appearance of safety was different back then.  Blame it on media or whatever, parents are afraid of their kids being outside.  The rest of the problem may be too many video games, but mostly I think it’s the perception of safety that keeps kids off of bikes.

Regardless, my recommendation would still be — Get ’em on their bikes!  Yes, there are dangers outside.  Teach your kids how to ride safely.  Take them to Safety Towns run by LCI’s and let us teach them.  Put them in the proper safety gear (a helmet) and then watch them.  Make your neighborhoods safe.  Get together with neighbors and share watching over the kids while they are out riding.  Plant yourself at city hall with other parents and demand more paths and trails that actually, honest to God connect with places kids want to ride to, like school even.  Get the kids to ride in groups when they go out to keep them safe.

Trust me. Riding a bike is too important for your kids and mine to miss out on during growing up.  I probably didn’t get mine out enough, but I do know that they can ride. Riding is freedom and it’s responsibility.  Two things our kids need and need to practice.  Just because times change and things seem different is not a good enough reason to shy away from the real kinds of things that help kids grow up well. Get ’em on a bike…a lot.

Because It’s Saturday

Tonight it’s Friday evening, but I am ready for Saturday morning. My shorts and socks are laid out. My shoes are at hand. My water bottle is freezing to death in the fridge. The weather is irrelevant, but rain would be nice. I am ready.

Why? There is no race tomorrow. My distance is not special. There is no one waiting to run with, just myself. Why all the prep? Why the ritual? Because it’s Saturday. It’s my long run day.

Saturdays are important to me as a runner. It’s the day to run long. The day to run slow. It’s the day to run and see everything wake up. It reminds me of why I run. It maintains the idea that I am just a little insane.

Not every runner runs long on Saturdays. Some run long on other days and at other times. Long is relevant only to each individual runner. Our distance may even change over time and season.

I run long on Saturdays not to race others. I only have three people that I have to do my best to beat, me, myself, and I. Tomorrow is Saturday again and those three will be running. I better be also. Happy Running.