Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

Photo of Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

Rochester Free Phys Ed

In a post last September colleagues from the University of Kansas highlighted a free exercise program in Lawrence, Kansas known as “Red Dog’s Dog Days”.   I have been studying exercise in the lab since I was 19 years old, and that got me thinking that it was time to get out of the Ivory Tower and try something similar in Rochester, Minnesota during 2013.     My wife Teri was enthusiastic and so was Wes Emmert, an experienced strength and conditioning expert.  Wes has forgotten more types of calisthenics, body weight strength exercises, and agility drills than most of us have ever heard of.    He also knows how to stop people mid position during push-ups for a 5 second hold to make things more “enjoyable”!

The initial plan was to pilot the program on Saturday mornings with friends this winter and then open things up to the community in April.   However, the local paper reported on one of our earliest sessions and things have accelerated from there.   We now have a Facebook page and during the first month more than 50 different people have participated in our Saturday morning workout –10:30 at Soldiers Field track, EVERYONE IS WELCOME!  The youngest participant has been less than 10 and the oldest around 70.  Most people seem pretty fit to start with but it is also clear we have some beginners and folks perhaps looking to lose a little weight or get back in shape.  The goal is to make the program welcoming to people of all ages and fitness levels and provide everyone a workout they can calibrate to meet their own goals.

All of this has happened outdoors which makes it even more impressive considering how cold and windy it is in January in Minnesota.   Here is a sample of what we did a couple of weeks ago:

  •  Stationary Warm-up  (neck circles, jumping jacks, etc)
  • Moving Warm-up (over/under hurdles, knee to chest walk)
  • Push ups for 60 seconds – lunge to first pole and jog back
  • Mountain climbers for 60 seconds – high knees to second pole and walk back
  • Squats for 60 seconds – butt kicks to third pole and walk back
  • Planks for 60 seconds – skip to fourth pole and walk back
  • Sit ups for 60 seconds – run to fifth pole and walk back
  • Split squats for 60 seconds – jog to fourth and walk back
  • Abs of choice for 60 seconds – side shuffle to third pole and walk back
  • Back extensions for 60 seconds –  grapevine to second pole and walk back
  • Burpees for 60 seconds – walk to first pole and back
  • Cool down – (yoga)
  • Optional 2 mile run


So, what have I learned so far?   I have learned that burpees (squat thrusts), planks, lunges, and mountain climbers are much harder than I remember them being in about 1975.   I have been sore for a couple of days after doing them on Saturdays and am now incorporating these movements into my training during the week.  I have also learned that it is pretty easy to stick with what you know and what you are good at.  Endurance sports have always come easy to me and my approach has typically been when in doubt go for a run, get on the bike or hit the pool.   The data shows that as we get older staying strong is really important and my struggles with these simple body weight maneuvers has been an eye opener.  Our ability to literally get up off the floor as we age is a pretty good predictor of healthy aging and even longevity.  Doing challenging old-school calisthenics would seem like an easy way to address this issue.  I am also thinking about starting to jump rope again (remember high school basketball practice?) to improve my footwork and general coordination.

The other thing I have re-learned is that working out with a group is fun and so is using a bull horn and a coach’s whistle.   If the program grows, we may have to invest in an air horn!


2 Responses to “Rochester Free Phys Ed”

  1. February 5th, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Sheila Ray says:

    Mike, you’ve pretty much described a typical boot camp I hold 3 nights/week. Those exercises are oldies, but goodies and they work! My boot campers love it! I love to hear you are doing this for Rochester!

  2. February 20th, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Alison Brown says:

    I stumbled onto your site today from Nicholas Thompson’s New Yorker article about Bernard Lagat. What a surprise to find an article mentioning my college town! Thanks for this and the other great information on your site.

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