by Russ Ebbets
There comes a point in your parents’ lives when gift giving becomes a problem. The standard necktie or kitchen utensil is no longer “new,” useful or welcomed. Potential choices morph to a gift card that covers the bases but has the warmth of an ice cube.
Further complicating this dilemma would be trying to find something functional that would last longer than flowers. A plant might do the trick. My mother always appreciated flowers but even a low maintenance plant that required watering, eventually I’d hear about that.
As my father aged more and more of his time was spent camped out in front of the television in an overstuffed chair watching the Golf Channel. There was no movement, a fixed position and the continual complaint about how stiff he was when it came time to move. If movement is life, he was moving in the wrong direction.
With a wedding anniversary looming the pressure was on. Dinner for two was so old that even I was thinking, “Again?” I wanted to give them something useful, something meaningful, maybe even something that would make them fondly think of me.
The fleeting idea of a rocking chair seemed to fill the bill. A rocking chair checked all the boxes. It was useful, meaningful, functional and could be used forever. So that is what I got them.
This was not some $20 deal from a garage sale. This was a sturdy, high end, ergonomically designed, aesthetically sleek wood masterpiece. When you saw it, you wanted to try it and when you tried it you said, “Wow!”
With the parents in their late 80s a surprise can have a mixed effect, so I got them both in the living room, told them to watch the dog and went to get the rocking chair from my truck. I returned with the rocking chair, placed it in the center of the living room and awaited the flood of compliments I was sure would follow.
I was wrong.
There was a momentary silence broken by my mother’s, “What is that?” She knew sure well what “that” was. What she meant was, “Why is that here?” Things got worse, rapidly worse, like 0 to 60 worse in seconds. Next thing I know I’m getting bombarded with pointless questions and snide remarks that were worse than if the dog pooped on the new carpet.
I tried to explain. Motion, movement, gentle exercise. My feeble comments were gas on the fire. The capper was my mother’s exclamation, “We’ve had rocking chairs!”
I looked at her in disbelief. “When?” was all I could ask.
“Your grandmother had one in the kitchen!” she blurted.
She was right. I remembered that. I was five years old and Eisenhower was president. My grandmother spent the last months of her life in that rocking chair. Slowly the light went on for me. A rocking chair is where you went when you were going to die.
Happy anniversary it wasn’t. Dejected and rejected I packed the rocking chair and the dog in the truck. I think the chair wound up permanently stored with an old girlfriend.
Movement is life. One needs to accept that fact for all this to make sense. You know this. A rolling stone gathers no moss. Any lack of movement in the body leads to “moss” and a series of escalating problems (i.e. – soft tissue shortening, tissue fibrosis and even joint ankylosis) that can accelerate the aging process, reduce one’s quality of life and hasten the approach of the Grim Reaper.
A rocking chair is a form of active rest. Active rest is one of those oxymoronic terms (juxtaposition of opposites) that is common in sport. Other examples would include dynamic stability (ability to hold a static posture while running, jumping or throwing) or invisible training (training efforts that might not exhibit physical characteristics) like ligament strength or sports psychology.
Traditional rest, as in sleeping, is relatively motionless. Admittedly there may be some tossing and turning during bedtime but for the most part the goal of sleep is to rest without movement.
Active rest includes movements used in the rest or recovery phase of a daily training cycle. Yakolev’s Model details the three-phases of the daily training cycle – stress, rest and adaptation.
Most athletes, with any experience, know that low-key movements following competition, or a workout helps dissipate the activity’s waste products, may help mitigate muscle soreness, facilitate tissue oxygenation and generally help initiate recovery and normalization of function.
So, what role can a rocking chair play in this process? Imagine the actions involved in the simple rocking action for a moment. There is flexion and extension of the joints of the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, spine, shoulders and elbows. Rocking in a rocking chair is essentially a full body activity.
A rocking chair also challenges, however slightly, the muscles of the core. While periodic activation of the body’s core musculature is a critical concern for the performance-based athlete, it remains a functional concern throughout one’s life. Afterall, it is the tone of one’s core that allows one to rollover in bed or get up off the floor.
The implications of these full body movements are profound. Remember, movement is life. The lack of movement of the typical recliner promotes a series of problems that include fascial shortening and a decrease in tissue elasticity that combine for the feeling of joint stiffness. Joint stiffness and the loss of joint elasticity and mobility in the athlete can predispose one to soft tissue injuries associated with the sport. Poor tissue elasticity can also dictate the speed of one’s daily recovery.
The lack of joint movement also affects one’s balance and proprioception. Inflexible joints combined with loss of the balance sense may increase the incidence of overuse injuries. Loss of the balance sense in an aging Baby Boomer can predispose falls which can have catastrophic effects on the remainder of one’s life.
For the “hard drivers” the restorative effects of using a rocking chair may seem ludicrous or at best, a waste of time. But again, I would reiterate the goal here is to facilitate recovery, not achieve some dramatic training effect. Of course, one could easily make this time spent another “have to do” with all the enjoyment of drudgery, but sometimes you need to give it a rest.
Some sources credit Ben Franklin with the invention of the rocking chair. Whether that historical tidbit is true or part of America’s mythology we can all be thankful that the novelty of the invention has led to a piece of functional furniture all can benefit from throughout life. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your parents just get it wrong.
Ben Franklin with rocking chair with pedal to operate fan. He also invented a chair that contained steps to reach books high on the shelf.
Off The Road Archive
Russ Ebbets, DC is a USATF Level 3 Coach and lectures nationally on sport and health related topics. He serves as editor of Track Coach, the technical journal for USATF. He is author of the novel Supernova on the famed running program at Villanova University and the sequel Time and Chance. His most recent book, A Runner’s Guide, a collection of training tips and running ideas has been nominated for the Track and Field Writers of America Book of the Year 2019. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.