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Getting Stronger to Recover from a Stroke: My Story II

I wrote in Part One about how I used the barbell back squat to get stronger and accelerate my recovery from my stroke. But a stroke typically affects one side of one’s entire body, at least from shoulder to foot. Obviously, more than the squat is needed for getting stronger.

But not much more. In fact, besides squatting on non-consecutive days, you can get as strong as you need with only three or four other lifts.

The program I recommend is the Starting Strength plan, though I got introduced to it through a slightly easier variant called Stronglifts.

Of course, general fitness recommendations and my personal experience in recovering from an ischemic stroke do not constitute medical advice. I have no medical training. Nevertheless, I have some opinions:

Getting Stronger Requires Whole Body Workouts

You will see a lot on the internet about “leg day” and “chest and triceps day.” Dividing up your workouts between different body parts, however, is not optimal for most people, including stroke survivors. You want your whole body to grow stronger with both sides working together.

So each day you lift, you always begin with a squat. A squat uses the largest amount of muscle mass and, thus, is excellent for getting stronger.

Then you alternate your other lifts. For workout “one” you follow the squat with a bench press.

The bench press probably utilizes less muscle mass than the other lifts. But it allows you to rest up for the next exercise, the deadlift.

The deadlift is as simple as picking a barbell off of the floor and standing up with it in your hands. Don’t let the simplicity fool you. Using most of the muscles in your body, it too is excellent for getting stronger.

So that gives you one day’s exercise routine. It is just made up of three lifts for three sets of five repetitions—squat, bench press, and deadlift.

So after at least one day of rest you come back for workout “two.” Once again you squat and then you do an overhead press.

Finally, according to the Starting Strength program, you perform a power clean. But the power clean is rather difficult to learn without a coach. That is why the Stronglifts program recommends a barbell row.

The barbell row (or Pendlay row) begins at 20:47

You could also do some other exercise like a cable pulldown or chin-up. Here are some suggestions.

If you prefer, you could do only two lifts—squats and overhead presses—and go home and rest. You will probably find that is enough for getting stronger.

And, as far as I can tell, getting stronger was the best thing I could do to recover from my stroke.

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Getting Stronger to Recover from a Stroke: My Story I

If you have to recover from a stroke and are still wheel-chair bound, you won’t be able to follow my exact steps (though you might still learn some principle for your situation). But if you have some amount of mobility, my recipe for recovering from a stroke may help you as well.

I am not a doctor nor a therapist of any kind. I am just a person who had to recover from a stroke.

I am sharing my story in case you might find it useful, but it does not constitute medical advice.

So what do I recommend as a non-specialist who had an ischemic stroke?

To recover from a stroke, you have to lift gradually heavier weights.

Lifting weights doesn’t just make your muscles themselves stronger; it also trains your nervous system to allow your body to handle greater weight. This is exactly what us stroke survivors need.

When I was in rehab and then out-patient therapy, the physical therapists did help me improve, but they couldn’t do much with tiny dumbbells or elastic bands. I don’t think it was necessarily useless, but I don’t believe those are the best tools to use to recover from a stroke.

The first time I walked any real distance without my cane, I did so to walk to my local gym down the road. I still felt I needed my cane but I didn’t want the gym staff asking me questions. When I got inside, the many full-length mirrors showed me that my gait was somewhat lop-sided.

I went to the squat rack and put a barbell on the back of my shoulders. I squatted down, so that the crease of my hip was just below my knee, and stood back up five times. I rested, and then I did another set of five. Then I did one more set. I entered into my log that I had squatted 45 pounds for three sets of five.

I did some other exercises as well, but for now let’s just focus on the squat.

Two days later, giving myself two nights sleep and one day of rest, I returned to the gym. I went to the squat rack and this time, before I put it on my shoulders, I put a five-pound weights on each end of the bar. I squatted 55 pounds for three sets of five.

Two days later I did the same thing with 65 pounds.

What if I had found I wasn’t strong enough to squat just the 45-pound bar on the first day? I would have worked up to it using a leg press. What if I had failed at some point to do three sets of five at a new weight? After several tries I would have lowered the weight on the bar ten to fifteen percent and started the process again.

Eventually the weight got heavy enough that I started only increasing the weight by five pounds instead of ten pounds (2.5 pounds on each end of the barbell). About two months after my first post-stroke trip to the gym I squatted with a barbell that weighed more than I did.

That is why I remain convinced that the best way to recover from a stroke is to get stronger.

By that time, I hadn’t touched my walking cane in weeks. If there were any irregularities in my gait, I couldn’t see them. Neither could anyone around me. Friends who hadn’t seen me since before my stroke couldn’t tell that I ever had one.

I’m not saying that I have no deficits from the stroke. Maybe I do. But they are miniscule now.

And I attribute much of my recovery to lifting three times a week.


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Getting Stronger: Go Read “The Most Valuable Missing Ingredient in Your Fitness Routine” by Michael Hyatt

I’ve been meaning to write a follow-up post to my last one on strength training for some time. Sadly, my job and other things have really blocked my time.

But see this post!–

The Most Valuable Missing Ingredient in Your Fitness Routine – Michael Hyatt.

It is a great read (and a short one). His five reason are good. I also think that “bulking up” should not be discounted for people because, as they get older, what it really means is that they don’t shrink and lose muscle mass as fast, if at all.

But I want to add one other thing:

The primary benefit of strength training is that it makes you get stronger.

There simply is no need for any further justification for a living human being, especially since it takes so little time. If you have hands and feet, arms and legs, then you have a calling to stand up and lift things. It is what you are for–not everything, but a definite part of your calling as a creature.

So get stronger because you should be stronger. You should at least take the very small amount of time required to get the “low-hanging fruit” of your potential strength.

And then you will also reduce muscle mass loss and gain those benefits that Michael lists in his excellent post.

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Lifting Weights for Getting Stronger

If you don’t want to read my post, or even if you do, watch this:

Sometime in December, after my last birthday but before Christmas, I started the no contract $10+ gym “membership” (the + is because of an annual fee you pay to keep the $10 from changing). Later, I changed locations before realizing that the closer newer gym had much more restricted hours for the cheap non-membership so I ended up springing for the $20/month 1-yr obligation. (Supposedly I get to go month to month afterwards, but I’m sure some fine print will suddenly spring out at me then).

If you’re worried about how you look (lean and all that) I’m not going to have much to say to you. I have thinned out in places that I hadn’t noticed could thin out, but the stuff I notice in the mirror that reminds me I’m not a teenager any more is not changing noticeably. I think it shows weakness of soul that I am even aware of this.

But if you are wondering if you can feel better and do more and perhaps sleep better and be more comfortable “in your skin”–as the cliche goes–I may have a few things to say that are helpful.

Since I never ever go to the doctor, I can’t tell you anything about health in any objective sense. I feel stupid I did not begin by getting my blood pressure checked at one of those cuff machines in grocery stores… but I didn’t think of it at the time.

Also, I changed up my eating at about the same time I started visiting the gym, so I have not tracked independent variables. I’m somewhere between paleo and low-carb. The differences between now and past low-carb attempts are 2, as far as I can tell. 1: I purposefully pursue vast quantities of fat, especially in the morning (butter and coconut oil in my coffee). 2: I never look at processed “low net carb” snack bars or anything that keeps me using wheat. Again, I don’t have a physique that allows me to write in a testimonial to Mark’s Daily Apple or I started doing this and within a month realized I never wanted to eat any other way ever again. It doesn’t feel like a diet. It feels like I kicked a drug addiction. I don’t think a day goes by that I am not grateful to have discovered this and managed to try it long enough to reach the point that I noticed a change. I feel like a god, no longer subject to the cravings for snacks that I thought were normal mortal existence.

I should add that for awhile I tried the “Bulletproof Diet” plan for losing weight by fasting (other than the coffee) until 2pm. I quit for gym reasons but haven’t noticed any change in weight.

barbell stand

So… about the gym.

I started going and not being sure what to do. Eventually I decided the point was to spend as little time there as possible but to make progress. I wasted more time on youtube trying to learn what to do both in terms of technique and strategies than I did at the gym. For awhile I only went two days a week, but now I’m going three just to make my progress a bit better.

When I started I also went for stress release. I think the gym will help you with that, but I’ve had second thoughts about making physical activity a stress reliever for specific stressors in your life. It seems like just another “addiction” waiting to happen. Wine is good too, but I don’t think you should use it that way either.

(Yeah, wine: not 100% paleo–if butter in my coffee didn’t clue you in already [And did I mention the irony that I don’t believe in evolution?])

So I’ll skip a bit and tell you some of the later developments.

I am in the gym to make sure I can do some basic things:

1. pick stuff off the ground.

2. lift stuff, even over my head.

3. get off the toilet

If God wills, I would like to be able to do this stuff as long as possible. I don’t have degenerative health issues but, from what I see of common life in the 21st century, we can sometimes produce such results without meaning to. So this is all preventative. And it translates into three things:

1. Deadlifts

2. Standing overhead press

3. Barbell back squats

I eventually found and adopted most of it. Stonglifts along with some stuff from Mark Rippetoe of Starting Strength taught me that I didn’t need to have deadlift day separate from squat day and that I could do squats every day. (I’ve since changed back some; see below). Stronglifts also introduced me to the Pendlay barbell row which I think I like a lot though it is tricky to keep your lower back from hurting. (You hold your torso parallel to the floor and lift a barbell up to your chest with just your shoulders, back, and arms).

I never did bench press. It would be good if I wanted to do “accessory movements” to improve my overhead press. But I never had anyone to spot me and was too shy to ask for help from strangers. I also don’t see much value. If I was worried about escaping from a coffin, I could justify floor presses. But how often are you going to have free range of motion in the elbows. Also, as I sit here at my keyboard, I am constantly stretching out my back muscles and tightening my chest muscles. It is much more important to most of us to strengthen the back and pull the shoulders back.

So, for the most part, especially since late summer, I have been going to the gym and squatting with a barbell balanced on my back (resting on the shelf formed by contracting my shoulder blades together), lifting a barbell from about collarbone level to over my head with my elbows locked and my shoulders pulled up toward my ears as high as I can go, and then alternating: either deadlifting or rowing a barbell. So I had an ABA week followed by a BAB week once I started going three times.

Three exercises and then I went home. wants you to go 5×5 (Sorry: 5 sets of 5 repetitions of the lift). Eventually the weight got intense enough for me that I had to rest several minutes between each set. My gym time was exceeding and hour and a half. Hated that. Did some research and found out that the original 5×5 programs involved two warm ups at a lesser weight and then three for your max. So I changed to a 3×5. But as the weight got heavier, I still hated how much time this was taking. So now I’ve gone back to never doing squats and deadlifts on the same day.

I also think I have reached the end of how much I can try to add five pounds to the bar everytime I overhead press. I’ve “deloaded” several times (take off about 20 percent of the weight and try again each workout session to add five pounds in the hope that you will surpass plateau you could not previously exceed after two workouts trying). But even that stopped working. So I’m now trying something different with the overhead press.

Here’s the current workout:

Week A

Day 1: Squat (3×5), Overhead Press (3 sets: raise weight when able to do 20 reps or more total), Negative Pullups x 10

Day 2: Deadlift (135# x 5; 60% x 5; 80% x 5, Personal record x 5), Barbell Row (Pendlay: 3×5), Dips (3 x as many as possible if my form is perfect)

Day 3: Squat, Overhead Press, Negative Pullups

Week B

Day 1: Squat, Barbell Row, Dips

Day 2: Deadlift, Overhead Press, Negative Pullups

Day 3: Squat, Barbell Row, Dips

(By the way, in case you didn’t realize it, these are never consecutive days; I typically do Monday/Wednesday/Friday.)

I am now getting in and out of the gym in an hour. Love that!

So what are the results? Well, I am pretty sure I am stronger than I have ever been in my life, including in high school when I meticulously did vanity workouts with lots of attention focused on chest, biceps, and triceps. It doesn’t help with sports like football, but I participated in a treetop obstacle/zipline course and didn’t even notice the effort as far as fatique or soreness afterward was concerned (also, the butter and coconut oil seem to have made my skin impervious to sunburn–no, I am not making this up).

Life is easier when everything gets lighter.

So the big challenge is mental. You have to go into the gym and adopt the fiction that all of life depends on a new level of effort, and then leave the delusion in the gym when you leave. After all, you can’t do linear progress forever. You adopt the fiction for the sake of the time you have to try your hardest. Then, you live your life and enjoy feeling better, stronger, than you can remember. But it is just a game…

In fact, it is really like a healthy arcade game. I remember feeding quarters into a machine in college–always questing for new “gains.” And what happened when I cleared off a level? I had to face a harder wave of hostile creatures. So the feeling of triumph would give way to “Oh crud, what do I have to do next?!”

And that is pretty much the feeling I get at the gym: “Oh crud, next time I have to add five pounds.”

Pretty soon I’ll reach my potential in all the lifts and have to try something different. I won’t do complicated schemes that require more time and attention to make further progress. I’ll do something simple that keeps me bumping against my ceiling. I want to make sure I lift to live, not live to lift.

And I also might pursue other methods. A little while ago my daughter challenged me to try a chin up. I shocked myself by getting up to eye level or higher. A year earlier I would have told you that would require a sprinkling of pixie dust and happy thoughts. I didn’t think a single chin-up would be a reasonable possibility unless I lost a lot more weight.

I don’t endorse bodybuilding (or condemn it), but if you need to know this, your body does change. I used to have a visible corner to my quadricep in high school and college, now I have two corners on either side of my leg. (If you are expecting a picture you don’t know me at all.) Everything gets harder.

Oh, and if you are really sore every time, you are doing it wrong as far as I can tell. I can see getting sore at the beginning or when you do something new for the first time. But mostly I just feel energized now.

My advice would be to do the program at for as long as it makes sense. Start at the 5×5 and then move to 3×5 when it starts to take too long. Just make sure you don’t take it too seriously once you leave the gym.

And don’t write a long blog post about what you have been doing. That’s just pathetic.


Postscript: I forgot to mention that I stopped my bulletproof fasting because I became concerned that it was slowing my progress. That’s the another thing that happened: priorities shifted. If I could gain weight to get stronger, I would. (I haven’t gained any, but just saying).

If the Great Commission isn’t about Politics then words don’t have meaning

Bottom line: let’s work for change where God calls us and gifts us, but let’s not forget that the Great Commission is go into the world and make disciples, not go into the world and build the kingdom.

The Great Commission:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Going, therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Kevin DeYoung Wants You to Know that Theonomy is Evil

Note: I wrote this response without realizing the post below is five years old. That might have change the tone. Maybe.

On the plus side for the two-kingdom approach… A bulwark against theonomy and reconstructionism

via Two Kingdom Theology and Neo-Kuyperians | TGC.

Joel McDurmon is right about the context of that statement:

Interestingly, this is the only solid conclusion DeYoung comes to. The rest is cloudy and unsure, bifurcated and bipolar. He writes, “I don’t like the ‘third rail’ folks who are always positioning themselves as the sane alternative between two extremes, but I have to admit that there are elements of both approaches–two kingdom theology and neo-Kuyperianism–that seem biblical and elements that seem dangerous.”

So let me just summarize DeYoung’s actual communication. It isn’t about neo-Kuyperianism. It isn’t about two-kingdoms. It is against God’s law. He wants you to know that ministers in good standing (in complete opposition to the actual statements in the Westminster Confession, if anyone cares) will be permitted all sorts of intellectual hobbies to root around in one or the other viewpoints. But theonomists are outside the pale. In fact, opposing theonomy doesn’t require an exegetical reason (or, for that matter, any church court ruling). You as a reader need to be taught what you must do, how you must conform, to be acceptable to DeYoung and his cool friends.

Reject Theonomy! Not with an argument. Not with an ecclesiastical verdict. But with prejudice. All other viewpoints can be measured by their utility in rejecting theonomy.

There is nothing else to learn from DeYoung’s piece. It is one piece of dogmatism nestled in a pile of mush. Notice that, as there is no argument, the hope seems to be that the reader will, in the midst of all the other verbiage, simply swallow the dogma without evidence or argument.

Rawls Forgot To Include Economic Cause-and-Effect Rationality

john rawlsIn 1971 John Rawls published “A Theory of Justice,” the most significant articulation and defense of political liberalism of the 20th century. Rawls proposed that the structure of a just society was the one that a group of rational actors would come up with if they were operating behind a “veil of ignorance” — that is, provided they had no prior knowledge what their gender, age, wealth, talents, ethnicity and education would be in the imagined society. Since no one would know in advance where in society they would end up, rational agents would select a society in which everyone was guaranteed basic rights, including equality of opportunity. Since genuine (rather than “on paper”) equality of opportunity requires substantial access to resources — shelter, medical care, education — Rawls’s rational actors would also make their society a redistributive one, ensuring a decent standard of life for everyone.

via Questions for Free-Market Moralists –

So if this is the right way to determine how a society can be a just society, how would a rational agent in Rawls’ book differ from a wise agent in the book of Proverbs?

Here is the problem:

In Rawls’ view, society is “just there” and its resources and wealth fall from the sky. They aren’t produced. It didn’t require hard work by motivated people to make those resources available They don’t run out. They don’t need to be conserved. There is simply an eternal unchanging mass of wealth that needs to be minimally distributed.

But Rawls is being irrational to believe this. If he were rational he would realize that wealth gets created and conserved. People act with greater or lesser efficiency.

If he had any Biblical perspective he would know that peoples and nations rise and fall according to the aggregate decisions the people make.

Rawls was only really asking what about people who know they are joining a society that has reached the point like the one in which he was writing. And he was further assuming that resources would not get used up by the society that he was advocating.

American wealth did not just happen. It got created by people who had none of the so-called “rights” that he advocated. They had to provide for themselves.

And American wealth did not increase under the application of Rawls’ vision. It has been dissipating. People get a “right” to a shrinking pie.

So if you are lucky enough to hit the welfare-state jackpot when it is first flush with cash, you will be happy with Rawlsian rationality. But if you come to it later, you will find a different situation.

If you include ignorance of when the rational agents will join this society, then they are going to want a market driven, free society so that, even if they don’t have equal access to resources, they still have a growing standard of living.

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Stop it! That has nothing to do with gluttony! re: In Praise of Fat Pastors.

In Praise of Fat Pastors was a great post at the Gospel Coalition. But then Jared Wilson had to go and ruin it for me. Last paragraph:

So no, I am not advocating gluttony here, just a Christward self-disregard, a godly un-self-consciousness…

No, you’re not advocating gluttony because nothing you are writing about has anything remotely to do with gluttony. The Bible never associates gluttony with fat but with profligate spending and thus the temptation to crime as a way to support oneself. It associates gluttony with the laziness of refusing to work for a living, not a refusal to use the gym.

Here is the data. Tell me where I’m wrong.

Since I’m posting on this anyway, I’ll make another comment about Jared’s post: It is simply a fact that fat or otherwise unattractive pastors are rarely going to be hired. If you want to get into ministry and are not young or hip or skinny or handsome you need to go into a denomination where you get assigned to a congregation by a bishop or some other authority. If you are relying on a congregation to call you, you are up against bad odds. Jared’s anecdote about the pastor who wore his pants too high is nice, but that’s an anomaly.

The people who cultivate the godly attitude, which Jared rightly commends, are people who don’t have calls and are working odd jobs to pay off money borrowed to pay for a useless seminary degree.

Nothing Jared said is wrong; but I’m telling you the way it is.

I suppose my advice would be to cultivate self-disregard and then cover it with a layer of savviness about acquiring gainful employment. I guess that means your example will be somewhat distorted. So you’ll have to decide what you think about the trade-offs in your quest for a church ministry.

And now I realize I am blogging again!


Surely I cannot be the first person to think of this, right?

Gordon Freeman and Edward Snowden–separated at birth?

gordon freeman edward snowden

Senator Elizabeth Warren Singing Praises To Her Idol

corporatocracySen. Warren on the Shutdown and Why Government Matters – YouTube.

Without the Federal Government businesses would sell pretend medicine pills that are really useless white powder. They would even sell poison as medicine that would kill babies.

Isn’t it great that all these homicidal fraudsters and stupidly vulnerable dupes can come together and form a government that is so competent and ethical that it can save us from all this stuff we would do to ourselves without it? We can be sure such homicidal plotters would combine their votes with the easy marks to get exactly the kind of government that would restrain the homicidal and protect the marks, but never one that would provide cover for the homicidal and false security to the marks.

Yes, that makes so much sense.