The Balancing Act
On Monday, September 7th, 2020 I stepped into my garage gym and knocked out the first workout of a new series in 35 minutes. My goals were very ambitious and ranged from holding a handstand for a full minute to increasing my volume of pull-ups. Four months later, on Friday, January 15th, I hit my goal. I post a lot about exercise on this blog and it's because regular, intense activity is the one way to fight Parkinson's Disease that I have the most control over. I consider factors such as balance and building the muscles and reflexes to handle a fall when I design my workouts. This is the story of my journey from a short 35-minute workout to the 50 minutes of pure pain and nausea I experienced closing out the set.
Here is the goal I ended up achieving:
4 x 90 second = 6 minutes of plank hold
50 squats with 20# dumbbells
30 strict form dead hang pull-ups
1 minute handstand hold
20 one-legged squats per leg
10 one-armed push-ups per arm
50 back extensions
What follows is a breakdown of various exercises and rationale for the goal.
The first pillar of my workout program was protection from falling. I integrated three exercises.
🟢 Start: 4x25 = 100
🟥 End: 4x30 = 120
There is no better exercise in my opinion to prepare for falls than burpees. The exercise is nothing more than a controlled fall. It works your entire body and doing high volume sets builds stamina as well. I started out with 4 sets of 25 burpees (100 total) and worked my way up to 4 sets of 30 for 120 total burpees per workout. The burpees were the hardest part and the exercise I loved to hate. If I ever woke up and thought, "I don't want to train today" it was because of these. I also believe that consistently doing burpees for almost a year now is responsible for me achieving the best level of fitness I've had in years.
🟢 Start: 4x60s = 4 minutes
🟥 End: 4x90s = 6 minutes
The plank is like a push-up that you hold. I do straight arm planks (there is a variation that involves using your forearms) and my rule is simple: only hand and foot contact. Sometimes I'll do variations like upward dog or downward dog or shift to one-armed planks to relieve my muscles but I stay "in the air" the entire time. I pushed to improve my "hang time" by 50%. My arms are ready to catch me when I fall.
🟢 Start: 1 per arm
🟥 End: 10 per arm
One-armed push-ups are deceptively tough. In addition to loading your arm with extra weight, your core has to work extra hard to stabilize your body as you move through the range of motion. I took a very conservative approach to increasing reps over the course of my training. By the end, I can do six (6) consecutive one-armed push-ups through a full range of motion (chest and hips almost touching the ground at the bottom) in a single set and did multiple sets to hit 10.
Here are some one-armed push-ups.
The next tier I focused on is balance. Although it's important to be ready to take a fall, it's even better not to fall in the first place. My two goals were to increase my volume of one-legged squats and work up to a minute-long handstand (starting with a headstand).
🟢 Start: 5 per leg
🟥 End: 20 per leg
One-legged squats place extra load on your legs. They improve flexibility as you increase your range of motion and of course encourage balance and coordination. Balancing through the range of motion engages your core. I worked from barely being able to finish 5 per leg to knocking out a set of 12 and 8 to total 20 reps per leg.
Here's some one-legged squats.
🟢 Start: 5-second headstand
🟥 End: 1-minute handstand
I've always wanted the combination of strength and agility required to be able to maintain a handstand and ultimately walk on my hands. For this training phase, I set the simple goal of maintaining a handstand for one minute. Although I planned to do it free-standing, it was quickly evident I'd need some assistance so the final numbers are based on remaining inverted with arms fully stretched while allowing one of my feet to rest against the weight machine for balance. I'll target free-standing handstands in the next training phase.
The workout itself elevates my heart rate quite a bit. Here's a graph of my last workout showing how often it was over 140 bpm.
A few exercises I added specifically challenged my stamina. I've always had muscular legs so I don't train legs for mass. Instead, I take advantage of the massive calorie burn to work on stamina while also improving my range of motion by stretching through the exercises. I targeted quadriceps with squats and hamstrings with lunges and did both exercises without rest as much as possible.
🟢 Start: 50 body weight
🟥 End: 50 with 20# dumbbell
I've always enjoyed squats. I focus on a full range of motion, sinking back and down as far as my flexibility allows, keeping knees over my feet (as opposed to letting them bend forward in front). Once I was able to do 50 nonstop squats, I started adding weight until I reached 20 pounds.
🟢 Start: 50 body weight per leg
🟥 End: 50 body weight per leg
Lunges always generate a good calorie burn and can be painful over time. I was doing lunges to and from standing. A rep is a big step forward, sinking until the back knee lightly touches the ground, then returning to standing. Like squats, my goal was to add weight once I could finish the lunges without rest. I only reached that level in the last few workouts so I never added extra weight.
The two exercises I incorporated for pure strength were pull-ups and push-ups. I already tackled several variations of push-ups in prior workouts, but I realized I was missing back exercises. The pull-up is the perfect exercise for back strength so I added it to my routine,
🟢 Start: 30
🟥 End: 50
I already did several varieties of push-ups in previous workouts, so for this round I chose to work on traditional, standard push-ups and focused on doing as many at once as possible. I started out able to do about 10 push-ups without taking a break. By my last workout I was able to knock out the first 25 without rest, then needed a few more sets to finish.
🟢 Start: 1
🟥 End: 30
I started this training cycle barely able to finish a single pull-up. My goal was to slowly add pull-ups over time until I could knock out 12 total with rest. As my training progressed, I realized that I was mastering pull-ups faster than I expected, so I decided to work them in as multiple sets to increase the volume. By the last workout I was doing 5 sets of 6 pull-ups (without rest). My pull-ups were dead hang, strict form, wide grip with chin reaching the bar.
This is me pulling up to pull through.
Any solid workout should address the core muscles. Although my core is engaged by many of the other exercises, I wanted to have a balanced set of focused exercises. I opted for back extensions and crunches this round.
🟢 Start: 25
🟥 End: 50
🟢 Start: 30
🟥 End: 50
This week I will be putting together a new plan. I am going to try out various exercises to see where I'm at, set a goal that feels challenging, and work backwards. I'll keep you posted!
When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. It was the only other job that fascinated me other than programming computers. Although I doubt I'll go into space, I can certainly be an observer. I used to own a 10" Celestron dobsonian telescope that captured Jupiter's bands, Saturn's rings, and the moons of both. I decided that this year I would rekindle my passion for space and dabble in astrophotography. Here are my first three photographs. Conditions were not great and I did not have long exposure times so I'm looking forward to some clear nights to revisit these.
And I'll call that a wrap for this round of exercise and star-gazing. Thanks for reading!