After a while doing fitness training you start to recognize The Next Thing You Need To Do.
And it's pretty much never the cool stuff, which you took to right away. It's the stuff you're bad at, the stuff that makes you nervous.
I don't work out in a gym, but if I did, it would be the stuff I'd be embarrassed to do there because, if I could do it at all, it would be with a ludicrously low load. And people would be hiding smiles behind their hands. ("Oh my God, that old man deadlifting twenty pounds! Isn't he adorable?")
I knew from the moment I tried them that I hated and would always hate lunges.
Now, a lunge is not an obscure movement pattern. You take a step and sink down until the knee you've left behind touches the floor, and then you come up again. That's pretty basic. There must have been a time, in my remote youth, when this was an ordinary and nonthreatening thing to do. But I grimace when I even think of it, now.
I don't have a lot of groin flexibility, for one thing. Just the stride makes me anxious -- I'm opening up too far, I worry about pulling an adductor. And then -- since it's a movement I avoid -- I don't have the balancing instincts. There's a real risk that I'll simply fall over sideways.
In other words, it's exactly the thing I need to work on. Okay. So they go into my routine, as one of the Big Six. Lunges, holding dumbbells. Work up those quads. Develop the balance muscles and the motor skills. We do this thing.
But a new worry came along. I added them to the end of an already tiring sequence (my "lift" day). When I finished the simple set of lunges -- eight lunges on each side, twice over -- I felt lightheaded, like I might just keel over. Syncope. Not good. Was I over-stressing my heart? Was this fitness thing just a brief Indian summer before my inevitable cardiac collapse? Was I rushing to my doom? I stopped the progressive load, but I kept them in the routine. I didn't want to give up but I didn't want to kill myself.
I was intimidated enough by the exercise that I wasn't really thinking clearly. I was working hard when I did the lunges, but certainly not harder than when I did, say, squats. Why would these be harder on my heart than anything else? That just doesn't make sense.
Well, the penny dropped this morning. It was totally silly and obvious. I was focusing my attention on my balance, really paying attention to what I was doing, doing the movement mindfully... and holding my breath. If you do this sort of exercise, even lightly loaded, and you don't breathe, you run out of oxygen. It was neither mysterious nor sinister.
So now, I breathe. Which actually helps the focus, rather than impeding it. And I did another set, unloaded, just for the hell of it, which was totally easy, and I didn't keel over, and I'm not too old to lift, and the dogwood tree is really, really beautiful this morning.