Tag Archives: workout

The Workout of a Lifetime: Would Picasso Have Been Proud?

THE STORY GOES that Pablo Picasso was approached in a café one day by a woman who asked if he would do a drawing on her napkin. He agreed, made a quick sketch on it and said, “The cost will be 20,000 francs,” or some such enormous amount (some versions say $1 million).

“That much!” the lady exclaimed. “But it only took you five minutes!”

“No, my dear,” he replied. “It took me forty years.”

True or not, the story illustrates the lifetime of effort and experience it takes to be able to do something of quality while making it look easy.

Today’s workout at Body Specs brought Picasso’s napkin to mind. While hardly a work of art, completing it required drawing upon what I’ve learned and experienced since I began serious physical training fifteen years ago.

My workouts are assigned and supervised by trainers aware of my goals, and while the sessions range in intensity, occasionally one becomes a real test of what I thought were my limits. So it proved this afternoon.

This is from another session, but you get the idea.

Basically, I was given what the trainers call “supersets” consisting of a set of exercises performed in order, then “doubled” (repeated). For example, station 1 was monkey chin-ups, followed by ab exercises, followed by pushups. Repeat the three, then move on to station 2. I had a circuit of three stations in all, each with a set of doubled exercises. And I was to complete three full circuits.

After my first circuit I was spent. By the end of the second I needed to sit and rest after each exercise. My heart was pounding. I had nothing left. And I still had one to go.

Sure, I could have quit. All I needed to do was tell the trainers, “I’m done,” and head to the shower. It wasn’t a race, just a training session. And yet it had become, for me, more than that.

Because, for whatever reason, I’m an ultrarunner. And I’ve committed to the most aggressive race season ever, with the first race (50 miles) next month. Completing an ultramarathon requires mental and emotional discipline in addition to physical fitness. Patience, persistence, and dogged determination are needed to accept the continual discomfort and push through the inevitable low points. The mental muscles must be exercised, or they will fail you in a race as surely as undertrained legs.

So as I began the third circuit I called upon some principles I’ve learned and applied over the years.

  • From Aikido: breath control. Replace fast, shallow breathing with deep, slower breaths. This also relaxes the body. I did this after each exercise, establishing control before starting the next one.
  • From Aikido and ultrarunning: focus on where you are, not how much you have left. Do each rep with the best form you can. Then do another. “Remember,” Sensei said, “you can always do one more.”
  • From ultrarunning: pace. Take the time you need to complete the exercise. Don’t go too fast to show off. No one cares.

And, finally, I’d been here before, two-thirds through an extreme challenge, physically and emotionally spent, and ready to quit. Namely, the 65-mile mark at last year’s Lighthouse 100 (you can read my recap here). And somehow I’d found the strength to go on, and finish.

I slowly ground my way through the final circuit. One station, one exercise, one rep, at a time. My 30-minute session lasted well over an hour, and my muscles were shaking, but I completed it. Test passed. Until next time, of course.

So how did I reward myself? Like any health-conscious fitness nut would do:

Okay, it was really just the ice cream. (Peppermint Bark Moose Tracks, my new go-to treat.)

I also had a glass of tart cherry juice with my (healthy and nutritious) dinner. It’s supposed to help ease sore muscles. We’ll see if I can get out of bed in the morning. I hope so, cuz I should get a run in.

Publisher’s note: This post is available for sale for $1,000,000.00. Or best offer.

The Body Specs Cure


I woke up yesterday morning feeling kind of iffy. Sniffles, lower energy, a little achy all over. Just part of winter? Maybe. I’d also had a vigorous Monday session at Body Specs followed by a tempo run on Tuesday, so feeling a bit run down wasn’t surprising. Still, I worried I might be coming down with something.

I debated about my noon workout, finally deciding to go. If I really wasn’t up for it, I could end the session early. But I thought it would be appropriate to give my trainers a heads-up.

I got there, changed, and began loosening up. One of the trainers nodded at me as I worked with the body blade. “Hi, Jeff, how are you?” she said. But before I could reply, she turned away to watch someone else. I should have taken this as a sign; I was just fine, of course. What other answer was there?

It's tougher than it looks.

It’s tougher than it looks.

I went over to the high bars to stretch out my arms and shoulders. As my upper body was still a bit stiff, I did a pull-up just to check things out. It went well, so I knocked out a few more. I admit at this point I was feeling rather pleased with myself.

Unfortunately, Skip, the head trainer, was watching. “You might want to save yourself,” he said. “I’ve got something special planned for you today.”


“Well,” I replied, “I’m only feeling about 75 to 80 percent.”

“That’s all right,” he said enthusiastically, “because I’m feeling 120 to 125 percent!”

Great, he had energy to spare. Notably, however, he did not offer to do 25 percent of my workout.

This is one of the conundrums (conumdrae?) of this gym. They want to know if you’re injured or sick, but wimpiness will earn you no sympathy whatever. If you’re there, you’re ready to go at it! So at it I went. While it wasn’t as brutal as some sessions I’ve had, it was an energetic one. And as promised, Skip gave me something special.

“Since you can do pull-ups,” he said, “you can do the advanced version.” This meant alternating grip (one hand under, one hand over), and switching hands at the top of the pull-up. “Quickly. You’ll drop fast.” He demonstrated. Naturally, he made it look pretty easy. Let’s just say I wasn’t as graceful. Add to that some deadlifts and rows, medicine ball tosses, abs work, weighted rope jumping, and more. Rinse and repeat.

I think this was officially number 41.

I think this was officially number 41.

Somehow I got through it all, and as I did my cooldown routine I noticed I was feeling pretty good. My Aikido instructor once joked (I think) that the cure for everything that ailed you was breakfalls. I think you can add Body Specs to the list.

“Well,” I said to Skip as I was leaving, “whatever bug I had this morning is dead.”

Skip smiled. “We killed it,” he said.