Zombies' Guide to Keeping your Broken Body Ticking
Zombie Guides: Volume 4
Lots of things I see over the years stick with me, or just make some small difference to the way I think. I had one of those wake-up moments reading a Terry Pratchett story, 'Moving Pictures' in which an epically lazy character confessed to keeping fit but only because being fit was actually easier than being unfit.
We think sitting on the couch eating pie forever is easy. Honestly, pie is great. Why not eat pie? You should eat pie. Just not every day. Eating pie every day and then taking the stairs? Huff...huff...huff...because at some point we all have to move (well, unless we're talking stair lifts and firemen).
As a late teen, and maybe up to my early twenties, I was pretty fit. I ran, cycled, or walked everywhere, and often that was on the way to a martial arts class or the gym. I was pretty slim.
Then I got some new hobbies. Mr. Drugs and Mr. Drink paid me a visit. Two guys in immaculate suits with necks like tractor tires and a charming smile but coal-black eyes. If I could smoke, swallow, or gargle it, I did. Those nice chaps showed me how bleak and pointless existence was, and all that shit I used to enjoy was really just a panacea - a veil to hide the fundamental joke. I understood the universe!
'Hey, dude...roll us another, eh? Let's watch Newsnight. It'll be fun.'
Since then we've parted ways due to creative differences. I think life's working out better since I had the sigil tattoos and began summoning demons. Meh. Everyone needs a hobby.
Whatever, though, right?
I was unfit by then, but not especially overweight because I spent all my money on drugs and drink instead of donuts. You can eat and do things when you're young you wouldn't dream of doing in your forties and fifties. Oh...wait...I hit 30. I crashed. I'd always been around 15 stone and then I wasn't. I had become 19 stone of UNIT!
But, you know...a chubby one.
I got ill, had all these electrodes stuck to my head and heard the siren song of the MRI scanner up close. After sitting my wife down gently with a stupid careful face on (me, not her - she's pretty cute), but really thinking, 'Ah, it's fine', I got to that point where I knew I should make some changes.
I'm around 14 and a half stone again now and have been for a couple of years. I try to make more sensible choices. I smoke. I like coffee. That's about it. I'm a man who needs some kind of vice, I think (or, obsession, maybe). Writing helps. Cigarettes help me to not kill people. I'm pretty honest about these things. After all, this isn't a job interview - it's a book about trying to stay alive a while longer and I don't think you can pass an interview on that.
I use weights because that's what I like. Man, I used to love running in the rain. Now? No way. My back's shot and my hearing's going so I can't hear the rain on a waterproof jacket's hood any longer or know where a car's coming from if I can't see it. But that's the thing. Everyone's got something that doesn't work quite right. Maybe not when you're twenty. But I'm 43. How many 43-year olds get up without at least something aching, or hurting?
Ron Burgundy, feeling the burn.
Wait, what? Scroll back a bit (Yeah, I don't really know how a Kindle works). You say you keep fit and smoke? Yes, yes I do, and one of the reasons I try to keep fit is because I smoke. It's not a deal breaker, because this is about workarounds (with added stupid pictures). Making do with what you've got - physically, financially, mentally - whatever. I can't run because I've got a bad back. I can't perform brain surgery or do simple maths, either...but it doesn't mean I can't do anything at all. Same rules apply, don't they?
I still remember that idea, though - the one in 'Moving Pictures'. If you move around for maybe thirty or forty minutes, around four or five times a week: everything is easier.
And what a load of old horse shit that is.
This isn't a list, like there are things more important that all the others. Apart from the first.
I don't mean willpower. I just mean you have to want to do it. You might not have time to do all the things you want to do...but if you want to do it, then you have time.
So, that told you, didn't it? Moving on.
#1: The Prequel!
I kind of forgot. You also need a body.*
*If you're an amorphous astrological entity, you probably don't have a body, or any need of a six-pack.
It helps to have some clue what you're doing. Some, sure, will be trial and error, but to save some time and money and hopefully avoid death - knowledge.
Your friends? Google, YouTube, the Library.
I'd love to say 'Library' first and foremost, but I think it's easier to see it in action on YouTube than to understand from a picture in a book. There are a few channels I watch regularly on YouTube. One is Buff Dudes. Another is ATHLEAN-X(TM). I like watching the lady yoga ones, but that's a different thing entirely.
When I was nipper I had a bodybuilder's Encyclopaedia. It might have been an Arnold Schwarzenegger one. The current one, I think, is The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. I don't have it, but the one I did have was a great primer and learning how the body works as a teen didn't hurt at all. It was learning all the other stuff (like how to roll a joint really quickly) that did most of the damage.
As a teenager boulder shoulders seemed important. Now, I'm married and my wife seems happy enough when I put shelves up. This might be a mistake on my part, but boulder shoulders and a six-pack just aren't on my radar.
Although she watches Luther and anything with Jason Statham in it all the time and I'm locked in the shed.
If you don't know what you're aiming for, then how are you going to know if you succeed?
I read this on a picture of a monk sitting by a stream somewhere serene. Probably Majorca.
Food, Drink, Sleep/Rest
Those are essential. Whatever your goal, you need these three things. Yes, if you're trying to lose weight you still need to eat. Diet is what you eat, not something you do. Diets prey on people's insecurities. If you're happy, you don't need to lose weight, but you do still need to move. What is overweight anyway? Above the norm? Everyone's different. Comparing yourself to other people doesn't seem healthy at all.
Junk is cheap and gyms and personal trainers are expensive and we're told we should be ashamed for being overweight, or out of shape. But we're tricked into comparing ourselves to people we see in magazines and movies (Oh, so-and-so got FAT. Oh, now so-and-so is just too SKINNY), and we buy into it.
Hugh Jackman: Not me. He's Hugh Jackman.
You're not them. I'm not them. That doesn't matter at all. It's no more essential to look like the Wolverine or Kate Beckinsale than it is to go on a diet.
'Dieting' is a culture, a business, and one fuelled by media and enforced by body shaming. People should be able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath, and they shouldn't ever be ridiculed for any damn thing at all. Bodies are supposed to move, protect the important bits inside us, digest food, breath, think, and a million other things besides. Lord Business might think of your body as another avenue for profit but you don't have to.
Fuck, I hate diets.
A body is the absolute bare minimum. All of the parts don't need to move, and you might be missing a couple of those parts, but for the purposes of this short book I'm going to go ahead and assume you have all your arms and legs and are not a porcupine.
A Zombie: Note how he is streamlined, his physic ideally suited for jogging.
I've got weights, a pair of spotters, bars and dumbbells, and a resistance band. I don't use all of these things every time, and I didn't buy them all at once. I have a few other bits - mostly workarounds to fit the space I have. I don't have a ton of space to exercise, but I manage anyway, just like Nic Cage in 'Con Air'...because everyone needs a hero.
Nic Cage in a Cage:
Here we see Nic keeping fit despite the heat in the film 'Air-Con'. Or, something.
Weights and equipment really aren't essential. I use them because I pretend I'm Conan, but when he's older with gammy hips.
A Resistance Band
These are wonderful. Like a big, heavy duty elastic band and they're cheap and come in different strengths, too, and you can fire really big pencils with them.*
*If you have hands the size of King Kong.
I used to love the gym. I went to lots of gyms I liked (those that smelled of sweat and grunting) and some I didn't (those that smelled of bleached arse and Calvin Klein Y-Fronts - or whatever). If you're seriously trying squat a 1000lbs, go to a gym, or be really fucking superhero about it.
Really. We're not meant to live our whole lives in a cubicle under the glare of fluorescent lighting.
The end...of that bit.
I did think about putting specific exercises in, but there are so many it becomes futile to do so. I think it's more important to know how your body is supposed to work. Like, arms are not detachable and knees should not move 360°.
If you get out of breath and your heart is beating faster than it's 'resting' rate, it's going to count as 'aerobic' exercise and should be fantastically boring. That's the general idea, anyway, and after sweating a bit you feel good about drinking beer. Beer is electrolytes and alcohol and therefore better for you than health drinks. Because it's got alcohol in it.
Also, aerobic exercise is boring.
You see those adverts where a nice lady goes running in her whitest shorts, possibly because of Tampax™? Here's a picture of reality.
Single barrel. Boom.
We don't tend to look great under exertion.
I'm older, carrying a ton of old injuries, so with anaerobic exercises* I can watch what I'm doing and concentrate on avoiding wibbly-wobbly movements that put stress on my joints. For me, exercise is as much about avoiding injury as it is about keeping fit. Every time I pick up a weight, I'm basically waiting to see if my arms or legs fall off.
*Double-handed sword wielding is mostly 'anaerobic' because there is iron involved.
Women often say they don't want big muscles so won't use weights. That's not entirely true - you can still use resistance training and not end up Fatima Whitbread if you don't want to (although, personally, I don't see why people 'shame' female fitness. If someone's passionate about something, taking the piss is kind of a dick move).
Are my references outdated?
Sally Gunnell, then?
This is other stuff. Honestly, the idea of doing Cross Fit, squats in the mud with bullets and bombs flying? Seems really stressful.
How your Body is Supposed to Work
We're all different. Shorter legs and longer legs put weight in a different place. Each movement is not the same for every body. If it hurts at a joint, or if it's uncomfortable, you might want to rethink your position.
The body is made of opposites. Your bicep pulls your forearm in, your triceps push your forearm out. This is contraction and flexion. Some muscles (like the shoulder) support a wider range of movement and the complicated bits are brilliant but easy to hurt.
Also, everything inside you is made of Latin. Anterior, Lateral, Posterior.
PICTURED: Melania Trump's arse.
This is also known as your diet. I don't mean that thing people do when they stop eating for a week so they know they really don't enjoy being hungry. We covered that. Much of what you eat depends on what you want (your goal) and what you do (your exercises) but also, you.
Personally, I like beer and bacon and cigarettes, but I'm basically a lost cause. Don't listen to me.
Hydration. They use water to make beer.
I've called this Sleep/Rest, because they're different and sometimes the same. I suck at sleep, but I know you can't go on forever. Not exercising is called 'a rest'. You don't have to be catatonic to not exercise. At all.
I saw a program years ago in Japan which suggested vinegar makes you wake earlier and easier in the morning. My nan, who had the most God-awful arthritis I've ever seen, swore by cider vinegar and honey. She was still a mess, but while I don't necessarily trust what I've seen on Japanese TV, old ladies are cool.
If you lifted for an hour, or chopped your entire wood store ready for winter, or just spent fifteen hours straight playing Fallout 4...you probably need to sleep longer than if you had a doing not a lot at all day. Day doing not a lot. A day...fuck it.
One of the pros of exercise? Having muscles able to support joints and a heart able to pump blood will stop many injuries, or help them heal quicker. One of the cons of exercise? You're going to get injured.
Stop exercising. Seriously. It's really dangerous.
No? Alright. We've come this far, I guess.
I can't do chin ups because I've dislocated my right shoulder three times. I can't do heavy shrugs because I've had concussion and whiplash more times than a dislocated shoulder and I've my neck hurts like Dwayne Johnson just sat on my head. I can't do heavy squats because of a bad back that's never going to get better. I can do plenty besides.
Warm up. Sounds daft. Do it. Warming down's good, keeping joints flexible with stretching is good. Apparently. I don't do it, because it's really boring and looks stupid. I hurt all the time, but at least I'm cool.
Heat for muscular pain, cold for rheumatic (joint) pain. I mix 'em up sometimes, but beer's a really good painkiller and you'll probably get morphine if you snap a tendon doing heavy alternate curls.
Walk it off (or, exercising with an injury)
Unless you're Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, you will ache or be carrying some kind of injury, small or horrific. It's unavoidable, but unless it's a heart attack, you can work around it.
Simple fact is, though, at some point your body will need to be given a break. Don't sweat that. Unless you've taken five years off for a sprained wrist. That is cheating.
It really does help if you know what bits you have, what they're supposed to do, and which ways they're supposed to move. For example, if your foot is coming out of your ear, you have sustained AN INJURY.
Muscles push and pull. Some joints (like the shoulder) have a wide range of movement, so they're more susceptible to injury. Your back takes a lot of strain all day long. Big muscles are stronger than little muscles (your thighs, for example, have a lot of muscles and are a large muscle group, your arm muscles are fewer and smaller. This is why you can't walk from Land's End to John O'Groats on your hands).
Some parts of this are immutable. Some are not. Cybernetic augmentation, for example, can drastically improve your ability to punch submarines and fall from great heights.
ARCHER'S Barry and Katya.
Cybernetics? Sure, why not?
Some people are just born with better reactions, or faster legs, or stronger physically than you (or I) are likely to be even if we try really hard. It's the way it is. You do what you can with what you've got, same as living on a budget, or your career - it's all just making the best of what you have, isn't it?
People say Arnie doesn't look great anymore. He's 69 years old, at the time of writing, and does a hell of a lot more than the gym all day. I hope I've got something better to do than spend 10 hours a day working on my physique if I reach anything like that age. I don't want to be overly optimistic here.
It's a hard, cold lesson, but as you get older, your body will become less efficient. Your metabolism slows down so you don't process food like a teenager. Keeping weight off is harder. Putting muscle on is harder. Getting your ticker going is harder. You will ache more, and more often. Your lung capacity will diminish over time. You will die.
That all sounds rather dreadful, doesn't it?
But you're not dead yet, and if you exercise you are more likely to stay that way.
Until you die.
Your body naturally works better at certain times. For me, that's sometime between 3p.m. and 3a.m. If I try to work out at 5 or 6a.m. I'm utterly useless, because that's just not the way I'm built.
If you exercise at roughly the same time, though, your body expects it.
How you exercise
Same as the point above, if you always exercise in the same way your body comes to expect it. This is great - it's like muscle memory, but also the reason people often say they've reach some kind of plateau and can't progress. If you always do the same thing your body will be quite happy to do that. That's why those more serious about keeping fit do different exercises, to make sure the muscle doesn't get complacent, basically.
Watch a Rocky montage, and you're away.
How long you exercise
This is a trick question. The answer I hope I'd give is 'for the rest of my life'. It really is a marathon. I didn't especially try to lose weight when I was 19 stone. I just knew I had to change; move more and eat less shit (I eat more, by the way, just different things). The weight loss happened as a side effect of exercise. It wasn't the goal.
Honestly, I doubt I'll be weight training if I live to be seventy, or probably sixty. But I'll do something, because it's a damn sight easier than not, not matter how flippant I am.
A gym membership. People who say 'You Can't Do That'. An expensive class or course. Top of the line gear. An iPod.
This is a GOOD IDEA.
But, as with anything else...if you can make it, great. But make it safe. You don't need an Olympic standard bench and rack (and no, not that kind of rack, and there aren't Olympics for that) for what you're going to be doing. A simple, plain bench and separate spotter stands will prove far more versatile (and easier to store). If you're five feet six and don't intend to ever lift more than around 100lbs, you'll probably be fine with some crap from Argos. I don't fit on any of those things and I weight more than the minimum safe weight without any weights.
You don't want to buy crap but some things are just silly. Don't go running in slippers. This is not a GOOD IDEA. You don't need to buy top of the line Asiics for £100 to start out running, though. You might hate what you're doing and just waste a ton of money.
Gyms, classes, courses, swimming pool fees, club fees...these things add up but you don't have to pay for any of that just to keep/get fitter - you really only need to be a scared of dying because you get faint from walking to the toilet at thirty years of age.
Sometimes you can't face moving around. Maybe you've just had a Caesarean section, a broken leg, a bereavement, moved house, got the flu...but you know what? Give yourself a break. It's a long term thing. The God of Keep Fit doesn't give a shit if you take a day off, or a week off. It's a drop in the ocean, and it's not a run-and-eat-nothing-but-soup fix that lasts a month.
Same as with any advice, guide, criticism, suggestion; if it makes sense to you, if it feels right...then it's probably a good thing. If it's just not practical or doesn't sound like the right thing for you? A physiotherapist told me once that running was absolutely fine, despite my rubbish back. She was wrong. Just because it's someone's job to be right, it doesn't mean they will be.*
Good luck and Godspeed.
*P.S. Being right is almost the total opposite of my job. Just...you know... I thought I should put that in there now you've got to the end. Oh, you're stuck under that huge weight? And you're left arm is numb?