Fitness, fatigue, and fools


Fatigue makes fools of us all!
– Conrad Steele, Ohio State University lacrosse coach, 1967-73

Fitness, fatigue, and fools

Lacrosse provided several opportunities for me to play the fool, none more memorable than a full-length, all-out face plant in a scrimmage that cost my team a sure goal. As with many moments of humiliation, this one granted me a life lesson.

Playing crease attack, a rookie clad in a gray pinnie and helmet (no pads), I had outmaneuvered the defenseman and had an open shot on goal from two feet outside the crease, challenged only by an inexperienced goalie. With a deft switch of the stick from lefty to righty, I cocked my body for the shot and… tripped, stumbled and splatted full on my face, the ball jouncing out of the webbed pocket of the stick and rolling meekly past the goal.

I lay there, embarrassed and panting with exhaustion near the end of an hour-long practice session that had demanded constant movement and intensity. The coach stepped on the head of my stick (they were made of wood in those days), looked down at me with an expression of disgust, and loudly proclaimed, “Fatigue makes fools of us all!”

Ohio State University lacrosse coach Conrad Steele has probably gone on to the Great Penalty Box in lacrosse paradise by now, unforgiven by me for his abrasive coaching style and demeaning manner, but I owe him a debt of gratitude for that one maxim he implanted like a microchip in my brain: Fatigue makes fools of us all.

It is a universal truth, as valid for the outdoor sports as for the physically demanding games of lacrosse, football, basketball, hockey, and soccer. Neglecting health and fitness regimens, letting ourselves slide into poor physical condition, is the sure road to playing the fool when we go afield in the fall.

Ten or fifteen extra pounds of fat on my frame, muscles lacking in tone, joints with limited range of motion, sinews with little flexibility – these all hamper my ability to perform my best in the course of a day of bird hunting, and so of course they decrease my enjoyment of the hunt. Investing time and energy in a daily workout schedule is the cure, and working out has become even more important for me in the past several years as I observe that the downward curve of my physical prowess is increasing in both speed and gradient. In my forties the decline was noticeable but not worrisome. In my fifties it became a frequent nuisance. Now in my late sixties my body’s hourglass is draining ever more quickly, pouring me from the globe of the hunting fields into the sand pile of days afield remembered in an armchair.

I want to delay that day as long as possible.

February through April, I ashamedly admit, are months of total neglect of any fitness workouts. Maybe it’s a part of my psyche’s desire, at the end of the hunting seasons, to withdraw from the world and hibernate for a while. Maybe that’s also the reason I put on a layer of “bear fat.” But come late spring and summer, my aching muscles and joints remind me that I must work to get in shape for the games of autumn. And so I return to the torture chamber.

At this stage of life, I’m not likely to add any muscle fiber or mass, so my goal is to achieve the maximum flexibility, endurance, and strength for the “current edition” of my body. The exercises listed below have helped me attain that goal – if I do the complete regimen every day for two to three months.

Senior sportsmen: Do not overdo it. Start slowly. This is another truism painfully learned over the years. It was more valid in my fifties than my forties, and even more so in my sixties. Do one set of each exercise for a week, then two sets for two weeks, then three sets. If your muscles and joints ache in the morning, step back one set.

Decrease the weight of the dumbbells and workout bar, too. Yes, I know you used to bench press 240, but you no longer have the muscle mass and strength to do that, and any attempt to relive the glory of your football training days will end in the Mayo Clinic operating room where skilled surgeons will try to reconstruct your shoulder’s rotator cuff. They will not be completely successful.

Start the program with three-pound dumbbells, increase to five-pound bells after two weeks, and move up to ten-pound bells in another month or six weeks. A simple two-inch dowel rod, three feet in length, is all the weight bar you really need for this workout, but if you want to add some dead-lifts and shoulder shrugs to the regimen you can use, cautiously, a weight training bar and discs.

This workout regimen requires a floor pad for the supine and prone exercises. The full workout takes 30-45 minutes, depending on my mind’s level of enthusiasm and my body’s level of cooperation. I do 10 repetitions of each exercise. The final objective is 3 sets of 10 reps.

I caution that some of these exercises may not be suitable for your body. I advise a slow-and-easy approach to all of them. I accept no responsibility for any injury you sustain; use common sense in all exercise – if it hurts, STOP.

Here’s my daily program:

Flex-and-stretch exercises
Back lean
Front lean
Side leans
Leg-lift/knee grab
Head/neck flex (tilt head left, right, front, back; do NOT rotate head as this can cause injury)

Leg lifts
Knee lifts to chest
Crunches (half sit-ups; do NOT do full sit-ups)

Push ups
Back arch – down
Back arch – up

Dumbbell exercises
Curls (“underhand” grip on dumbbell)
Reverse curls (“overhand” grip on dumbbell)
Cross torso curls
Triceps lifts (raise dumbbell overhead, bend elbow to lower it behind shoulder; sets with right hand, then sets with left hand)
Trapezius lifts (use both hands to raise dumbbell overhead, bend elbows to lower it down center of back, repeat)
Deltoid lifts (also called T-lifts; hold dumbbells at sides, raise simultaneously to shoulder height)
Front lifts (same as deltoid lifts, except raise dumbbells forward to shoulder height)
Back lifts (same as deltoid lifts, except raise dumbbells backward as far as possible)

Weight bar exercises
Torso rotation (hold weight bar across middle back; rotate at the waist left and hold two seconds, then right and hold two seconds)
Other weight bar exercises can include dead lifts, shoulder shrugs, curls, upright row (chin lifts), inclined row. After back surgery, I eliminated these from my own workout regimen.

Muscle group-specific exercises
Draw compound bow 10-20 times
Mount shotgun: 10 left, 10  right, 10 straightaway

I add one other exercise: swing a baseball bat (gently) 10 times. If I had a lacrosse stick, I would probably make 10 “ghost shots” on goal; fortunately, I no longer have a lacrosse stick.

Hunting seasons will be upon us soon. Get to work!


More stories about wildlife, outdoor adventures, hunting, fishing, and life in the North Country are published in my three collections of essays, Crazy Old Coot, Old Coots Never Forget, and Coot Stews , and my novel, Hunting Birds. All are available in Kindle and paperback editions at, and in paperback edition through IndieBound independent bookstores.

About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
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5 Responses to Fitness, fatigue, and fools

  1. Mike Rainone says:

    The operative phrase is “if it hurts, stop!”. What if everything hurts? In fact, just thinking about this hurts, imagining exercising hurts. it give me anticipatory pain. I am just going to stop thinking about exercising. Back to the chair and the Rangers game. You would be wise to heed my words, I am a year older that you.

    • It’s not the years, it’s the mileage. And the collision damage. And the slipshod repair work. If my battered body can do this, yours can do this.
      The Rangers pitching staff is doing better than expected. That may not last. 🙂

  2. mrain1 says:

    Remember “Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse?” Thompson was the anti-hero of our generation. You would do well to heed his words: of course, he didn’t die young, or leave a good looking corpse. I guess neither will we… Pitching is still their weakness, maybe always will. Perhaps an air conditioned, billion dollar stadium paid for by the foolish citizens Arlington will help.

  3. Anonymous says:

    jerry, pretty sure you don’t remember me but played lacrosse from 1967 till 1970 for ohio state. somehow came across your article on fitness and saw your comments on conard Steele. I walked off the field during a game in 1971 as I could no longer take his poor coaching manner. thank goodness we had Paul caldwell helping and I remember we had a petition to sign to remove Steele from the coaching position. Too many years have gone by but I have enjoyed your articles on the outdoors. Been back a few times to OSU don’t even recognize the place. Anyway this is what I get for surfing the net. keep up the great writing

    • Yes, Conrad Steele had a coaching style that fell somewhere between a Marine drill sergeant and Vince Lombardi — without their warmth and compassion 😏 I lasted only part of one season. I was not a great player, and he had no use or respect for me. Did learn a life lesson from him, though: be kind to your players regardless of their abilities. Served me well when I coached high school baseball in West Texas and that team advanced to the final four in state tournament. So I guess I can thank coach Steele for his influence as a bad example 😊

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