Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

I fell down the other day. I was doing a sort of basic kind of thing, leaning over with too much in my hands to pick up something I’d dropped. I lost my balance and fell right over.

Me. The woman who exercises 8 hours a week. I fell down like a sack of potatoes.

Yeah, my legs are strong, and loaded with plenty of muscle, but they don’t actually work as well as they used to. They’re not as agile. Or they don’t talk to my brain as easily. Or something.

I’ve always had great big muscles in my thighs and calves. But I learned that being muscular, having strength, and being able, or coordinated are all nearly unrelated things. What a rude surprise that was. I learned all about that when I studied tai chi. Kind of wish I’d kept it up.

I studied for years with a fantastic master of a Shaolin style form. This tai chi is performed fairly low to the ground. I learned to hold and move my body in a slight crouch, my legs (in theory) ready to spring or twirl, kick or hop anywhere they needed to, with ease and grace. That was the idea. I aimed for ease, grace, strength, softness. Longevity, youth. Think of the way a praying mantis or a grasshopper rests with its legs folded, ready to spring. Though they are at rest, they are ready to spring.

It’s tricky stuff, learning to relax in, basically, a squat. That takes some serious unraveling and reknitting in the old brain pan.

In my first months of study, practicing this form of tai chi with my big body, my legs shook and trembled. I could barely walk out of class. By the end of three years’ study, I had steel legs. Not big legs. Not bulky legs. But strong legs, secure knees and ankles. Fluid hips.

As I hang out with my parents and as I grow older myself, the Chinese admonition to keep our legs strong to stay young makes more and more sense to me. It means more every day. Your legs are your go-sticks, baby. If you’re lucky enough to have functioning ones, you want to keep them under you and working well as much as possible for as long as possible.

It makes an awful lot of sense to me to work not only on leg strength and balance, but on agility, on “functional exercises” that help my brain and body work together. I want to continuously challenge my center of gravity, do things that help me move my body through space with confidence. Walking, sure, but jumping, leaping, side-stepping, balancing. Doing things on my toes and heels, balancing every which way.

All of the martial arts are great for this. Tai Chi and yoga and dance are all good. The new “functional fitness” classes, too. All of these help you stay on your feet, challenge those neurons, help your whole body do a better job of keeping you upright. If you live most of your life in a chair, you’d be surprised at all the places you might be getting soft.

So, yes, do strength work to build major muscles. We need that, of course. But to really keep your legs working well for the long run, challenge not just how much work they can do, but challenge all the ways they can possibly work. Be agile, friends. I will if you will.

Functional Fitness, from webmd.com

Tai Chi on Wikipedia.org

My Own Sifu

5 thoughts on “Strong Legs

  1. Megan says:

    Thanks for the reminder that there are three things we need exercise for: strength, agility (aka flexibility), and cardiovascular health.

    Strong Women Stay Young also has some great simple exercises that improve balance. I started with those because the idea of going to a martial arts class is still too intimidating. The chair stand really does get easier, and it’s satisfying to get better at the toe lift.

  2. Debbi says:

    I locked myself out of my house two nights ago. My house key was in my car, in my locked garage. My boyfriend was four hours away, and waiting for me to call him. No one else has a key to our house. Remember that line from an old song that goes “She came in through the bathroom window …”? Well, that was me. Our guest bathroom window has never shut properly and was the only unlocked opening in the house. I had to shove a small table up to it, tug it open and maneuver my way in. And all the while I was thinking, “Thank goodness for yoga. Thank goodness for yoga.” Sometimes it really does pay to be flexible!

  3. ladymisstree says:

    It’s why I’m doing a blend of weights, pilates and walking. That gives me strength, flexibility and cardio. Besides, I’m enjoying it!

  4. Rain says:

    Totally agree with martial arts and yoga. It does wonders not just for your body, but for your mind as well.
    And amazingly you might find yourself discovering your body’s abilities to do things that you never thought you could!
    From little things like improved flexibility (which does wonders for other things like ahem, bedroom gymnastics! *grin*), to improved coordination and reflexes, to endurance and strength…
    It took me years of dabbling in various martial arts before I found one that I could really connect with…
    And one day I found that I could even do side-splits! Which was something I never thought I could do… (and makes for a cool party trick hahaha)… and other stuff like getting into headstands, etc.
    In a world where I’m constantly surrounded by plastic Barbie-chicks (hello, tv-land), knowing that I can not only kick-ass, but do things that these girls can’t possibly even dream of doing, helps me accept and embrace my athleticism – rather than dwell on the fact that I’m not as “perfect” as they are.

  5. marlene says:

    I too value strong legs..and arms, and body! I love it when I pick up a couple bags of groceries and trot them to the house without staggering or getting out of breath. I started hiking for an hour 3-4 times a week about 4 years ago..it has changed my body awesomely! I am fortunate to live close by a perfect hiking trail that is quite steep. I hike up for 35 minutes then back down. Since I started doing this instead of going to the gym, I have lost more weight, and I hardly ever get sick. I think you pick up lots of bugs in the gym? Anyway, I also carry at least 15 lbs in a pack once or twice a week. It is the perfect leg workout, and also tones your abs. I am stronger than when I used to do high impact aerobics and then do a full body workout in the weight room every week.
    So if you live where there is opportunity for hiking, it is wonderful cross training. Even walking fast on level ground with a pack on is a great leg workout. Remember…muscle burns fat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: