“Are you ready for some football!”- Hank Williams Jr.
Football season has finally arrived and, if you’re like me, it’s one of the most exciting times of the year. Where I live, people have been talking about it, thinking about it, making predictions, and looking forward to it ever since the Boston Red Sox fell out of the pennant race. Football is the perfect sport for the American male, a whirlwind of activity, followed by seven days preparation before the next contest. Most men, even if they never put on pads or helmet, like to think of themselves as football players at heart. Some are, some were, and many remain in that mindset throughout their entire life. As Al Bundy said, “I didn’t go into the military, but I played high school football.”
During football season there is a tendency of a lot of males to identify with the athletes, the activity, the statistics,- everything football. Many are involved in fantasy football, vicariously managing their own little NFL franchises with draft picks, trades, statistics, and a lot of study and research making the season far more interesting. With seven days between games there’s a lot of time and build up towards the next weekends contests. During that time most men are extremely busy with work, family, and other obligations, but usually find the time to research and read about what’s going on in the NFL. Unfortunately, too many men forget to exercise, take care of their physical being, and remain physically active. Maybe fantasy football would be a little more healthy if more of us identified with the athletes themselves, rather than the coaches and general managers. A little more attention to physical preparation for that Sunday might make our lives a lot more healthy and richer.
Whether or not you’re involved in fantasy football, it is important to consider how your physical activity levels are likely to change during the fall months. It gets a little more difficult to remain active in most parts of the United States. Days get shorter, if you have a family, your kids are starting school, and if you’re a good parent-which I’m sure you are-your kids suck up a lot of your time. Something has to go, and usually it’s your exercise routine. Yeah, you may squeeze in a day or two at the gym here and there but if you’re honest and keeping track of things you’ll probably find that you are exercising a lot less than you probably should. There is a reason that many American males will put on approximately 5 to 10 pounds between the beginning of football season in the week after Super Bowl Sunday.
If you’re a typical guy, football brings out something very primal in you. It is a contest between two groups of guys who believe, on some level, that they are entering into battle together. The sport is filled with many militaristic analogies and you have to sacrifice a little blood and pain if you going to participate. It has, as many of us former players know, a physical cost attached to it. Most of us former players take a somewhat perverse pride in the aches, pains, pops, and crackles that we accumulated during our playing days. We write it off as the cost of participating in something that we loved and that we believe made us better men because of it. Too often, however, these aches and pains prevent us from getting enough exercise and participating in activities that would make us healthier.
If you don’t have an exercise routine right now, football season is a good time to start one. Start with the light stretching routine that you did when you were a player, and begin walking. Walking is your safest bet, along with some simple calisthenics or weight training if you’ve been out of action for a while. Once you build some muscle and consistency and have proven to yourself that you ready to get back into the routine of a regular exercise regimen, then you can consider joining a commercial gym. Joining a gym before you have shown yourself the resolve to stick with a program is a setup for failure, as not following through sets of a cycle of “I can’t,” and of course, the excuses will follow. Prove to yourself first that you are ready for a comeback. As my high school coach, “Scooch” Giagiari used to say, “You can’t fool the guy in the mirror.”
If you are currently exercising pretty regularly, then continuing with your routine is, of course, great idea. You may want to structure your week to coincide with the rhythms of a football game week. Lighter exercise early in the week, some pretty solid workouts midweek, with some serious challenges at least one day per week. These are days when you will push yourself a little bit more than usual, “game day” if you will. These are days where you will push yourself for some kind of max effort in whatever constitutes the basis of your exercise regime. For example, if you are walking or running as your main type of exercise, then go father or a little faster on those days. If you are doing calisthenics or weight training, then trying to increase the weight or the reps on these “game days.” Recording them is a must, as the goal is progress and improvement.
If you are not familiar with the latest in exercise science, this format makes sense. Research indicates, and common sense dictates that you can go hard all the time. Your body will do better by cycling “heavy days” and “light days.” Following a game week format allows you to recuperate between those game days. Your game day can be any day of the week, but you may want to consider a Saturday or Sunday, as you are unlikely to be able to fit it into your busy weekday schedule. For example, squeezing in a light workout on Wednesday because you are busy at work feels less defeating. Feeling a little flat on Monday is to be expected, so you just get in some kind of a light workout to stay active, maybe a brisk walk during your lunch hour, or 20 minutes of light stretching before you get into the shower in the morning. Following a game week format allows you to cycle hard and easy workouts in a way that will keep your body fresh and more capable of recuperation, something that is very important to all of us as we age. It also makes you less injury prone and allows you to work around some of those old injuries that occurred from your playing days. Hammering away at hard workouts day after day will cause those injuries to flare up and is a surefire way to derail the best laid plans of a former player to get back into shape. For an ex-football player, the name of the game is working around those bumps and bruises, sort of like intelligently “playing through” an injury.
“Athletes adjust.”- Coach Edward Buckley
If you are slightly injured or feel “questionable” before some of your scheduled workouts, still try to do something. Remember being injured as a player and having the coach require you to attend practice to watch anyway? Think of it that way. If your upper body is sore or injured, work your lower body with walking, weights,or biking – anything you can do without re-injuring yourself. Just get something in for continuity and consistency. This will build resilience and the metal toughness, doing wonders for your attitude and wellness. Remember when you were told football builds character? Well your actions can prove it to the man in the mirror.
“Just do your job!” – Bill Belichick
Yeah, I know, you’re a busy guy and can come up with a million excuses for skipping a workout. I bet you find hours on the weekend to watch games and spend a fair amount of time researching for your fantasy team, reviewing stats, and BSing with your buddies about this upcoming week’s games. Remember the Herschel Walker stories of 1000 push-up, 1000 sit-up workout routines while watching TV? A little want-to and gravity and you’re good to go. If you’re a gym goer, adjust. Do something wherever you are.
Commit to yourself that you’ll do this during the upcoming season. It’s a safer way to get into or maintain conditioning than haphazard or occasional workouts because of the hard and easy day style. And don’t forget:
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” – Vince Lombardi
Hope your team has a great season.
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