Recently my mother-in-law sent me an article entitled; “Heart attacks of the mega-fit: how safe is extreme sport?” with the sub-heading of: “We don’t just go for a jog any more – we train for a marathon, following in the footsteps of the greats. But when top athletes collapse from heart failure, we start to wonder: how safe is this growing culture of extreme sport?”.
The catalyst of this suggestive headline was the early and tragic death of Dean Mercer, a triathlete and winner of the World Oceanman series and the Coolangatta Gold. Mercer had suffered an acute cardiac arrest on his way home from an early morning training session at a local surf club.
I am always bemused that when someone dies running a marathon it makes the news, but the overweight, stressed-out alcoholic who has a heart attack at home is nothing to be concerned about. The comments from the article range from those using Mercer’s death as an excuse to be lazy (at least that's the way I read their ideas but I'm a cynic), to the undertone of; "good god we must protect these endurance athletes from themselves,”. The most interesting concept discussed was that Mercer was completing endurance events as a health based activity compared to the performance based ritual of self-gratification. The myopic "health-based" view of aerobic/endurance activity is always amusing.
I will bypass discussing the enlarged athlete's heart since, for most of us, there's nothing to be done about it now: too late. But I immediately seize the idea that athletes do their sport or train for it with health as the objective. I submit that many people do sport or train to tame demons, to measure themselves against their fellow man or to compare their current and former selves, to prove what is possible when one doesn't get crushed beneath the wheel of somnolence and routine and the status quo, etc etc.
I digress, the article did completely turn its viewpoint around when they brought in an actual expert, Dr Andre La Gerche, the leader of sports cardiology at the Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute; who expressed that he has no idea what had happened to Mercer, or what specific factors were at play in his "cardiac event". No one does.
My mother-in-law’s response to this; “I guess my takeaway is that people should get themselves checked by a doctor before undertaking those sorts of activities?”
My response: I am more concerned with testing the overweight/works stressful job/too many hours/hypertensive/smoker/poor diet/high cholesterol/inactive individual(s). All of which have been proven multiple times by different peer reviewed research to be major risk factors to cardiovascular health – and all are gradual processes; much like training for an endurance event.
I imagine Mercer had been training and competing in endurance events for years, potentially decades. He didn’t (and couldn’t) just wake up one day and decide to complete a triathlon.
If Mercer had smoked, or was overweight and sedentary (or did any of the above mentioned things that do cause heart disease/failure) they would most likely have been accepted as the reason as to why he died and no one would be questioning whether or not he should have been tested before smoking/eating terribly/over working/not exercising as these are lifestyle choices… much like training for an endurance event.
The heart is like any other muscle and the more we work it positively (exercise) the stronger and more efficient at pumping blood around our bodies it becomes. A stronger heart has to beat less to pump blood (stronger pump = more blood per beat) therefore less stress is placed on the heart every moment of our lives (See: Eustress Vs. Distress).
Mercer may have had an underlying heart condition that could have been his cause of death. Where if he smoked or drank excessively or was overweight no one would have bat an eye when he died.
Here is a list of things that have been proven to prevent heart disease/failure:
In summary; exercise, don't smoke, drink responsibly, don't eat processed foods, limit stressors in the workplace and at home etc etc.
It is a terrible tragedy that Mercer died so young, but more so it’s a tragedy that we are more concerned with the wellbeing of endurance athlete’s health and not the thousands of inactive overweight people who are truly at risk of heart disease and/or failure.
The strongest of teams all have one thing in common, and its something that cannot be brought, given or forced. Only earnt.
TRUST... it can is defined as the 'firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.'
Trust is the key component to any successful team, you need to be able to have the confidence that the people around you will not only have your back but are capable of doing the tasks they are supposed to, to allow you to effectively complete your responsibilities. There are always going to be situations where personalities clash, people may not get along but it is essential that they trust that everyone will hold up their end for the "machine" to keep working.
Just like a muscle in order for trust to be built it needs to be worked at regularly and when it is broken it can take a long time to repair.
For this reason team building activities have become big business as they can be great for helping your sport team, workplace or community group become more cohesive, develop deeper bonds, enhance culture & of course build trust.
There are numerous ways to expose your team to this, but the best methods will always be activities that require the individuals in your team to (as mentioned in the definition above) test the reliability of those around them. For that reason these need to be tasks that cannot be completed alone; that place pressure and reliance on your team to contribute and get things completed for the benefit of someone other than themselves. The best of these will often involve making your job more difficult to ease the pressure on another member of your team. As well as helping individuals realise that it is easier to accomplish more with the assistance of others.
The gym can be a great place to help foster this environment, work outs like team relays & partnered workouts place an emphasis on everyone contributing to the best of their abilities. It requires you to rely on people to put the effort in, in a low stakes environment which can then be transferred to the real world. Even people who are generally uninterested in fitness related pursuits will try harder as they know that the person next to them is relying on them to finish.
This helps to flex the trust muscles between members of your group and like any other muscle the more the often muscles are worked the bigger and stronger they will grow.
Some of our favourite team building workouts/exercises we use in the gym include:
5000m - 10000m Ski Erg Relay
In teams of 3-5 choose a set distance of between 5000m-10000m to compete as fast as possible, the person on the ski will change every time another member of the team completes a 15m sled push. Continue rotating through this until the set distance has been completed
30 - 10sec Squat & Hold
As a team of 2-100. Complete 30 seconds of squats immediately followed a 30 second squat hold, then 25 seconds of squats & a 25 second squat hold, continue this pattern down to 10 squats & 10 a second hold. If any one stands during the hold portion the exercise starts again. The emphasis should be placed on a high level of communication, encouragement & motivation between the group.
(3 - 15 minutes)
In teams of 2; complete 3 rounds each of a 250m Row + Kettlebell rack hold. P1 - Row as fast as possible, P2 - hold 2 x kettlebells in the rack position in front of their chest. P2 should not place the kettlebells down until P1 has finished the whole 250m. Change until both people have completed 3 rounds of both exercises.
(6 - 10 minutes)
These types of situations are also great for establishing who the leaders amongst the group are. The people who are selfless, encouraging, motivating and solve any problems that may arise.
Get in touch for more information on hoe to implement team building sessions for your workplace or sports team.