Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Building a Diamond Edge

When I was in high school, my grades were always best during wrestling season. Afternoon workouts five days a week, followed by meets on weekends, not only forced me to organize my time, minimizing potential study procrastination, but the regular exercise provided a rush of energy that fueled my focus and motivation for my schoolwork.

Amateur wrestling is one of the most balanced total workouts because rather than building a specific muscle or skill set, equal emphasis was placed on endurance, flexibility, and strength. While I was never able to build up enough real offseason discipline to become a powerhouse, champion wrestler (I also blame my twiggy wrists), I did value the energy and mental rush I gained from these workouts and tried to build a similar regimen when I first entered college. Intermittent attempts at Tae Kwon Do, dance, and intramural sports helped me stay in shape, but it didn't recreate the intensity, structure and competition that kept me motivated through high school.

I feel a major problem with adult fitness is the lack of choice once you leave your undergraduate university. Recreational sports are often difficult to find due to distance, scheduling and structure issues, and a large portion of rec sports are low-intensity, like softball or kickball. Gyms, for many, are limiting - costs are high, there are also time and distance issues, the actual setting can be uncomfortable, and you have to pay extra for structure, in the form of a personal trainer. Running is often the sole option, and no one enjoys running. Runners may values its benefits, but actual running is a miserable experience.

The other problem with adult fitness is of course, adult life. Most people's work days, including commute, account for about 12 hours of the day, with 6-8 hours reserved for sleeping. If you work in marketing or the entertainment industry, like I have, those numbers go up. If you don't make enough money at your office job to eat healthy, you rely on "office freebies" to eat - usually deli sandwiches or pizza. Aging complicates these problems as well. I got through full-contact youth sports relatively injury-free, but I still have a thyroid condition, a chronic lower back problem thanks to a particularly harsh Oom Yung Doe instructor in high school, and knee pain and instability that apparently has no actual cause.

I'm fast approaching 30 (I figure reminding myself often enough will lessen the psychological blow when it actually happens) and in a quest to retain my boyish good looks and body shape I spent several months searching for a workout that would improve my cardio health and keep my weight controlled while minimizing impact to my joints, time and wallet. I found the answer, as I seemingly always do, within pro wrestling.

Diamond Dallas Page was one of the most memorable wrestlers from my youth, first as a sleazy heel World Television champion accompanied by his bombshell valet Kimberly, but later as arguably the most disciplined main event talent in World Championship Wrestling. A meticulous match planner with relentless energy, Page had many of the best matches of the late 1990s with Randy Savage, Bill Goldberg, and Sting. Page's story is even more impressive due to the fact that he didn't even start competing in the ring until he was 35, proving that age does not necessarily inhibit athletic ambition.

Following his retirement from the ring, Page developed his own workout regimen, a modified form of isometric yoga called DDP Yoga. I initially dismissed this workout as another fad, until I came across an article on Deadspin which detailed Page's work to rehabilitate notorious backsliders Scott Hall and Jake Roberts with their drug and alcohol addictions. I was shocked at the progress both Hall and Roberts had made upon reading the article, having understood them as lost causes in the decade plus I've followed their stories through the wrestling media. Further testimonials on the DDP Yoga site have shown the program had significantly improved the health of people with significant physical disabilities, including war veterans, using a fitness program which emphasized minimal joint stress. I knew then there was no excuse not to attempt the program.

I purchased the most basic package (Pack 1) for $70 (far less than recurring gym payments, obviously), which included a poster featuring the different movements, a DVD with six different workouts, and a program guide which provided additional nutritional information. Following the introductory "Diamond Dozen," which demonstrates the proper common movements in the workout programs, and a breathing demonstration, there are four different workouts on the DVD, each focusing on a specific target - energy building, weight loss, abdominals, and the gluteal muscles.

None of the workouts is longer than 30 minutes, which immediately fit my criteria of getting results from a minimal time commitment. The key to performing all the workouts properly is maximizing your "dynamic resistance" - clenching and tensing the proper muscle groups and working through the various yoga/tai chi-style movements as if you are holding invisible weights. The most striking element of the Energy and Fat Burner workouts is how deceptively simple they appear. I passed through both of my first respective attempts with minimal strain, besides the pushups (again, damn you stick wrists)! However, the more often you perform the workouts (sticking to the plan outlined in the program guide) the more you "feel" the activity, both through your heart rate and sweat production. The only workout program on the video that I would deem "advanced" is the abdominal workout, which requires an intensity and increased flexibility I have not attained yet. However, it is also the shortest workout on the video at less than fifteen minutes.

The element of the program I most appreciated was having one of the video participants demonstrate the "modified" positions, which allowed me to move to a position that placed less pressure on sensitive joints and muscles while still being able to work through the various movements effectively. I was also pleasantly surprised that many of the cool down exercises were actually the same core exercises prescribed to me by my physical therapist when my back problem first arose, making me continue an activity I had previously ignored for years.

Thanks to the DDP Yoga program, combined with healthy eating (provided by my fiancé's grocery organization and prodigious cooking), and vitamins, I lost 13 pounds in the first month and a half of the program. My focus and energy levels during the day also returned during this time. I will admit I have lapsed in the past two months, only performing this workout sporadically, and while I haven't regained most of the weight, I have been noticeably more lethargic in speed of motion and thought. I plan on returning to DDP Yoga very shortly, with the clock ticking down to both my 30th birthday and wedding, and also to gain the mental sharpness I need to undertake some large personal projects, which I will also be detailing in this blog soon.

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