My 8-year-old brother faced off against my 7-year-old sister -- one on each side of the monkey bars, hands on the rods inserted into the wooden beams. Every house we lived in as children, our father built a set of monkey bars with a tree house.
Tom and Terressa stared each other down, ready to speed across the bars. Our dad stood on the side lines announcing: "3, 2, 1 GOOOO!" Another monkey bar relay race was about to happen. The key was to pass your opponent on the bars, tag the end and then cross back again to your starting point. And the rules are that you do not skip any rods. In competitive bouts, someone may be using their legs to deter the other from crossing. In the best matches, it would be my dad against my oldest brother, Jason. Dad would use his legs to wrap around the passing opponent (my brother) and try to tear his grip from the monkey bars. Who would let go first? Jason later used this technique against his siblings to often reign champion of the relay. With so many of us, we would play this game for hours.
Sometimes, you see an person move with ease and strength. And I hear so often, "it must be their genetics." But have you ever thought that a strong playing part is how they grew up in their childhood experiences, where every single day was an adventure ... or survival of the fittest?
Several years ago, I read an article in National Geographic stating the one strength to maintain that would someday possibly save your life is "grip strength" -- being able to grab, hold onto, or catch yourself from a fall or accident. Think about your hands and all their abilities. From core to extremity, they are working all day long. And you can make them stronger by gripping and holding instruments, weights or bars to increase that strength.
Your age is a factor to loss of strength as explained by the definition of sarcopenia. "Sarcopenia is a type of muscle loss (muscle atrophy) that occurs with aging and/or immobility. It is characterized by the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality and strength. The rate of muscle loss is dependent on exercise level, co- morbidities, nutrition and other factors."
Exercise is the No. 1 defying factor of sarcopenia. Have you heard the phrase: "If you don't move it, you lose it"? There is a lot of truth to this statement. Imagine two dynamic joints in our bodies, the shoulders and the hips. They are the only two ball and socket joints we have. You are meant to be able to put them through a full range of motion -- circular, up and down; reach, grab and throw; kick, step, run and leap. Have you ever seen a young toddler or adolescent sit down in a squat and hold it while they play with something on the ground for hours? Or how about the child who hangs and climbs across the monkey bars?
Over time, adolescents and adults tend to lose that range of motion because they stop moving the surrounding muscles and tendons around the joint. Therefore, they stop stretching and strengthening in those ranges and then become so tight they lose that motion. Do you know anyone who sits in a chair all day at work or school? When that same person attempts to move full range again when not having done it in days, weeks or months, they can actually injure themselves by pushing too hard, too fast. You can't expect to gain full range of motion over night or after one week of exercise when it possibly took you days and months to lose it. The key is to come back slow and build it back over time just like the time it took to lose it. Because quickly learned -- we have all been there as an adult -- we injure ourselves pushing too fast.
What can you do to get back on track? It's called functional fitness -- CrossFit, actually. By definition, "CrossFit is a strength, conditioning, and overall fitness program consisting mainly of a mix of aerobic exercise, calisthenics (bodyweight exercises), and Olympic weightlifting." The No. 1 goal is to build movement in strength and ranges in correct patterns. This type of training reduces risk of injury and trains you for life! Intensity is a great way to build cardiovascular ability and strength, but first, start small with body weight exercise in full range of motion then add weight to build. I say this phrase very often: "No one ever says, I am just too darn strong."
With the start of a new year and in a society where one in three are likely going to be diagnosed with a chronic disease this year, find a way to get back into fitness. Join a community that has years of training experience and knowledge to share with you, one that puts nutrition as a foundation to your health, and offers a supportive community and passionate leadership to see you succeed and make your best, better. Every person has history unique to their movement and abilities. Remember to start small and go from there. There are fitness communities all over Jefferson City waiting for you to walk through their doors. Find the home that pushes you to succeed and yearn for more.
Look forward to the day you are sitting in a squat playing with your children or grandchildren or cheering on the person beside you "training for life" just like you. Maybe, just maybe, one day, I hope to find you out on the playground with your children hanging from the monkey bars or off a pullup ring at Jefferson City CrossFit saying "3, 2, 1 ... GOOO!"
Maria Holee is a retirement specialist at County Employees' Retirement Fund. She and her husband, Jake Holee, own Jefferson City CrossFit, established in 2012. She is a Level 2 CrossFit Trainer, has conducted multiple seminars in weightlifting, was nominated for Zonta Women of Achievement in 2018, was fifth in nation in the 2016 U.S. Strongman, and is trained in CrossFit Gymnastics.