When I was nine years old I would jog with my father. He was an avid jogger who even finished a marathon back when we lived in Cincinnati. I never went great distances with him, and I’m sure I slowed him down, but the peak of my jogging experience was running with him in an actual race down by Riverfront Stadium. He swears it was a 5k though I remember it as being a slightly-shorter 2.5 miles. What I do remember is that it was raining like hell, and that my division was “14 and under”, so all those boys on the brink of puberty flat smoked me.
I don’t know that I loved doing it so much as it was a way to spend time with my Dad. I remember one time he tried to play Nintendo with me, too, set let it not be said we didn’t try to find common ground.
That was effectively my last experience with jogging outside of gym class in middle school. Once in my mid-20′s I had this idea that I was going to stop at a local high school and run laps before heading to work – I went twice and after jogging one quarter-mile lap felt so terrible I walked the rest of the mile. Between that and my sore knee, my confidence that I could do this at all was pretty much zero.
But a few months back, I took a gamble and successfully jogged a mile on the treadmill. And then 1.5 miles. Suddenly it was becoming a viable alternative to the stair climber, and “I can run a mile!” was one of those sentences I could carry around in the back of my brain for reassurance that I wasn’t completely failing at Life.
Still, the fact that 9-year-old me could not only run further but faster than adult me does nag. I know that jogging has incredible benefits, but at incredible costs; the brutality of its impact is the reason I have stuck to ellipticals, climbers, and bikes for all my cardio work. I would like, though, to run a real 5k as a grown-up; it is shimmering into view on my Bucket List. I’m sure I couldn’t do it today, but I can make progress.
Last week, I challenged myself to two miles, and I made it. It was a slow two miles – I won’t lie, it took 19 minutes – but my pace was steady all the way through. It was easily the furthest I’ve run continuously as an adult, and that 5k felt more within reach.
One great benefit of exercise is that you become much better at making a physical self-inventory; you can feel what’s going right and wrong in your body. From a pure impact standpoint I could tell that I wouldn’t have wanted to go much further than those two miles in my present condition; especially since a decent numbing endorphin rush was stubbornly out of reach. My heartrate was also higher than I’d like – a sign of me pushing my own limits. But my wind was good, and my muscles, while sore, had more fight in them. Even that old bad knee was cooperating.
So even though Thanksgiving weekend was given over to turkey and sloth, and even though I have struggled to make a gym routine around this latest job, I had real confidence that I could keep courting this ambition…as soon as I got around to exercising again.
Now those are some dangerous words.
Last night I forced myself to the gym without a lot of real enthusiasm; just frustration that I kept not going for so many boring, surmountable reasons. Again the stair climbers were all occupied, and so I decided to go be all ambitious and test myself on the treadmill again.
Bad times ensued. Within the first few steps I could feel that the impact pains in my ankles were still there from the jog six days ago. Yes, I’m weak. For awhile I gritted through it. But things got critical around .8 miles – I felt my whole core cramping up, and my breath was getting shallow. I had no idea what was going wrong, but things that had never stopped me from jogging this year were stopping me from jogging. I muscled my way to a mile then stopped, and felt like a big, aching pile of useless.
I went on to do my complement of strength exercises, then made up some of the calories I intended to burn while jogging on the exercise bike; but I found myself morosely reviewing the feedback from my body, trying to figure out just why today was so much harder than other days. That my joints weren’t recovered was obviously a factor; and maybe a sign that that 5k will be more difficult than I imagined, because I have to train my body not just to do it, but to recover from doing it quickly enough to countenance doing it again in a few days.
Was it the food I ate two hours before? Was the temperature in the gym just a little higher? Is my metabolism wobbling from my reduced exercise load of the last month? Maybe all, maybe none; and this is the breakthrough obsessives like me sometimes need – maybe it just wasn’t my day. And the fact that it wasn’t my day can’t stop me from going back.
My weight has been effectively stable since about August. At the peak of performing in Odd Couple and Dracula, the sweat-off had me down a pound or two. During the holidays, the gorging and travel had me up a pound or two. But I keep landing back at almost exactly 30 pounds off last year’s peak.
I feel really good at this weight – can’t be confused for athletic but I feel healthy, able to indulge in food occasionally and with an energy and flexibility I truly appreciate, remembering what it feels like when I was in worse shape. My thought this year has been that I will try to knock off another 6-8 pounds while adding a little muscle; but honestly, if all I do is maintain the shape I’m in, it’s going to be pretty good.
I’ve worried that without that “stop being so fat and ugly” whip at my back, I might not be able to make progress. After all, these pounds will be much more difficult to lose than the early ones, and so I’ll have to get my motivation from somewhere else. I find myself really enjoying physical activity in a way I can’t ever remember, except maybe as a kid at recess. I’m curious to see if that enjoyment can be channeled towards the gym habit.
I’m managing two visits a week right now rather than three, but has more to do with illness and a spell of back pain. I had to face that what I had been doing at the gym had obviously done all it could for me in terms of improving my state, so I’ve changed up the routine. I’m going after work instead of before – without having to worry about clocking in, I’m able to rest more between activities, and add more weight exercises. Before, the cardio/sweating took up 80% of my time there. The split’s closer to 60/40 now, and I think I’d like to make it dead even.
And I’ve left my beloved elliptical behind in favor of the stair climber. I burn a few less calories, but from the first time I felt the fatigue it put in my legs, and the core work that was happening, it felt like the right trade. I still haven’t managed to do it three times in a week – twice a week has those muscles complaining plenty, but I’m sticking with it.
This morning, after a few weeks’ worth of these changes, I had a breakthrough – my weight had dropped a couple of pounds below that equilibrium, to a number I hadn’t seen since the Dracula days. Any single-day result could be an outlier, but this feels like a promising sign that my body has responded to my new expectations for it and is starting to adjust. As I’ve said, it’s not far to my goal; but I did need a slight course change to be sure I’d get there.
Visited the gym today for the first time in over three months. I didn’t actually exercise, just used their whirlpool and then their steam room. It left me with a good, cleansed, relaxed feeling – a little respite from all the stage aches. There’s something going on with my elbow that’s either a deep bruise or a muscle strain; can’t sort out which yet.
Despite the fact that I didn’t work out, I’m really glad I made it. I want it re-introduced as a regular destination on my circuit – I did my cafe writing, my walk around the park, more writing at the library…adding that stop at the gym is a statement. There’s a broader purpose than exercise – it’s the place where I tend to my health, and it’s crucial to keep that in the mix.
Nine shows down, nine to go.
I thought about going to the gym this morning. The last time I went was the 4th of July. I haven’t gained any weight, although I think what little conditioning had developed in my arms and upper body has slipped. My legs are more solid than ever though, for the same reason I eventually ruled out the gym.
This play is the most merciless one yet, physically. I got many more bruises on Much Ado, and worked up more of a sweat on The Odd Couple, but I am better at protecting myself now, and there are no 94-degree matinee performances. Plus, Renfield’s bits tend to be very compact, with rest in-between.
But the intensity and physicality I need when I AM on is brutal. On Sunday night, I was on the couch, catching up on TV after dinner, and got up to head out and meet Heather for dessert and a movie. And when I got to my feet I nearly called to cancel the date. It’s not pain – it’s exhaustion. Four consecutive days of performing leave me so physically tired that all I want to do is lay around, either sleeping or in a warm tub. I haven’t even done WiiFit yoga for two weeks.
By Wednesdays, though, I’m close to human again; and last night I was settled in bed early enough that I could have moved up the alarm by an hour and gone out before work this morning. I am sure it would have felt good to be sweating again.
But given how many months have passed, I quailed at the thought of carrying ANY post-workout soreness into the weekend. I just don’t think I can afford it. I know it doesn’t speak well for my overall fitness that I need three days to recover from four days of performing, but after Sunday I was prowling for some prescription painkillers to borrow, and I know it’s going to be just as rough this Sunday; and the next Sunday.
I should give myself credit that this is also due to having to fit this activity around a full-time job, and that even though I have shed all other exercise, I am still taking my twice-daily walks. I have even extended their length. But it still worried me, when I talked myself out of a return to the elliptical, that there was the slightest chance that the old, sloth-y me was the one ultimately winning the argument.
My weight from January 15th to today. Graph made on skinnyr.com
I was getting to be fat. I wasn’t just a guy with an average build plus a belly anymore, or a guy finding his extra chin in his 30’s, I was right on the brink of fat. Like, if I was in an army movie made in the 1940’s, with the way people were so skinny back then, I would have been the fat guy in the platoon. Like, not obscene fat. Just a guy that, if you word-clouded the first impressions of people asked to describe him physically, the word “overweight”, in that cloud, would be pretty fat.
I have never been a jock, but I wasn’t always overweight. In fact, until I graduated from college, I was a pretty thin dude. But my love for food grew, and my love for exercise didn’t, and that has consequences.
I returned to the gym this morning, and none of my limbs have fallen into disrepair during the couple of weeks away. Even while I was away I didn’t stop losing weight, thanks to sticking (for the most part) to the good eating habits, and the calories burned by the show. But the pace had slowed – it’ll be nice to push back up to tempo as I zap – wow, it’s sinking in as I type it – those last 3-ish pounds to reach the goal I set in January. Going beyond this goal now seems all-but-inevitable, and I’m excited about that.
This morning I was trying to get into my locker, but a guy had his stuff spread out on the bench in front of it. He excused himself and slid it out of the way, and I thanked him, and that courtesy (as so often happens) was all the permission he needed to start babbling.
“My liniment oil smell strong enough for you?” he started – which is one of those panicked pardon-me courtesies that, once spoken, can’t be left naked out there, like the person who said it. So he had to explain: “I normally don’t put on so much, but I need it. Playing golf today. Got to keep up with these kids and their fancy new drivers…”
Oh God, I’m thinking, the naked man wants to talk about golf. I have never played any version of golf that didn’t involve pixels or windmills, so I am at a loss to contribute to the conversation. I only need a few seconds to drop my toilet kit in the locker and grab my towel so I can skedaddle to the elliptical, but I’m going to have to say something.
Thankfully, he gave me time by going on at length about how young people put all their energy and money into sending monster shots down the fairway. Since he was obviously insecure about their greater relative strength, yet still fancied himself a savvier player, I figured that if I could come up with something that sounded vaguely-wise enough, and just said it with that tone of “executive confidence” I used to hear people use on phone calls all the time in my limo driving days, that even if it didn’t make sense, if it were sufficiently golf-ish it would pass muster.
So, with my towel in hand, I let him finish a phrase, and then flattered his years: “Well, the real work happens on the green.”
He brightened: “That’s right! I try and tell these boys that, and…”
All social obligations fulfilled, I walked swiftly away from his speech.
I think, when I’m at a loss for what to say, I’m just going to start saying “Well, the real work happens on the green“, and see how far that gets me.
I don’t think I could sell a book called Math Can Help You Lose Weight, but the fact remains that my use of math in planning the pursuit of this goal has been essential. I know that one pound of human = roughly 3,500 calories; I know how to calculate the daily calorie intake required to maintain my weight for both sedentary metabolism and regular exercise; and I’ve even been tracking my weight on a handy chart generated by this site. Hey, I may even share that chart with you someday.
It’s also taught me to account for the range of possible deviation brought on by weighing yourself regularly. Your true mass is a moving target, and can vary a couple of pounds in either direction on any given day; mostly due to water and waste. So you have to step back, study longer trends, and not let one-day results freak you out. If you step on the scale on Monday, and then on Tuesday you measure one pound heavier; it is incredibly unlikely that you have actually gained a full pound. In order to do that, you would have had to eat everything you normally eat, PLUS an entire extra-large Domino’s hand-tossed with pepperoni and sausage. Did you do that? Probably not. More likely, you have simply retained more water, or something else has happened within the margin of error.
So if my weight suddenly plunges by a couple of pounds, I don’t celebrate prematurely, because I know that at least a partial rebound is likely only days away.
But something is happening now that’s a little outside of expectations. On Saturday I saw a significant drop – two full pounds less than Thursday’s measurement. Since I didn’t recall spending those two days in a sweat lodge, I figured that I had simply gone from an above-the-mark outlier to a below-the-mark outlier, my real weight was somewhere in-between, and future measurements would stabilize things. I know – from my math – that I should only be dropping between 0.2 and 0.3 pounds per day.
But then Sunday, my weight was still down. And on Tuesday, it was down another pound. I would have bet cash money that today the number would finally have corrected upwards. Instead, it has dropped yet another pound.
I know that my plan rests on some imprecise numerical assumptions, but this seems well outside the margin of error. Basically, for the last week, I’ve been losing twice as much weight as I should be, which puts me in an unhealthy range. Either my metabolism has kicked into a substantially higher gear, or my body has abruptly reformulated the amount of water it elects to carry around, or some combination of these. Or I’ve just had a lucky couple of days on the scale and reality is hiding in the next alley to mug me.
Either way, it’s the first time in this whole process that I’ve found myself thinking – hmmm, might have to start eating more. I know just how sorry you feel for me about that, Jimmy.
I remember during my initial orientation session at the gym, the trainer kept emphasizing that cardio alone was not going to help me meet my needs; he assured me that results would come too slowly, that I wouldn’t build enough muscle/core strength for better health, and that I would get frustrated and quit. Nice trick – calling someone who you’ve known for three minutes and hasn’t signed up yet a quitter. But he stressed that I needed a robust routine of weights and cables; weights and cables, weights and cables. He kept repeating the phrase, painting it as the only way to truly reach my goals. And he always pivoted off this point to the gym’s “offer” to sell me a package of sessions with a professional trainer to design an ideal weights and cables routine, as well as go over my diet.
I’ve been reading random articles on-line as well, just trying to familiarize myself with the lingo and the conventional wisdom of losing weight at the gym. You get the usual buzzwords – interval training, post-workout burn, that sort of thing – and once in awhile I find in another article that same borderline hostility towards cardio equipment. This one trainer (who didn’t neglect to mention HIS marvelous training system, available for purchase) vaguely cited a “CBS News Report” claiming that the calorie meters on cardio equipment could be over-estimating calorie burn by as much as 20%, and that it was all risky anyway since you could negate the whole workout by eating a doughnut. There’s no reason that you couldn’t eat a doughnut and equally spoil a workout with weights and cables, weights and cables; but I digress.
I’ll admit it has influenced me, and I always turn to strength exercises after my time on the elliptical. But I found myself thinking – if cardio equipment is truly as inaccurate and ineffective as these people are saying, why is it everywhere you look in gyms?
Well, unless gym owners of America feel like saying with one voice “we just buy that stuff to trick ignorant fat people into thinking they’re making progress”, then the vehemence of this attitude is probably not purely-science based. The machines work if you’re willing to push yourself – I’m already losing weight so I know they do. And I do believe that adding the strength component has helped; I’ll happily acknowledge that. But what incentivizes the outright antipathy I’m noticing from select folks?
I think it comes back to sales. If a guy comes into your establishment and knows what he needs, he’s going to buy it and not buy anything else. So the first thing many salesmen will do is try to make you feel completely out of your depth; to the point where the customer is all but begging to give you more money so you’ll take that sense of fear and confusion away. I got good at this trick back in my luggage-selling days – I remember someone walking in the door, thinking they were going to spend $100 on a bag. By the time I’d finished quizzing them on their travel plans, and hinting in worried tones about all the contingencies they should be prepared for and the durability they were going to want out of their luggage, it became a $700 sale.
Cardio equipment – all those programmed “routines” aside – is fairly easy to understand. You pick a thing, get on the thing, you run/pedal/climb/whatever, you sweat, and you can track how hard you’ve worked in multiple ways.
But strength training is inherently more mysterious; just because there are so many highly-specialized options, all of which look like they could injure you. Which muscle groups? How much weight? How many reps? How many sets? I’ve cobbled together my own routine by applying the general wisdom of making sure each major part of the body – arms, legs, back, abs – hurts relatively equally by the time I’m done. But I don’t know that everyone thinks that way. Once they peer into that room full of contraptions, and start believing that the ideas with which they walked in the door are naive and doomed to failure, their brain is going to change tunes from “I know what I’m doing” to “I need help! Please, sir, let me buy some help from you!”
Like I said, I think the ideas are based in sound science, and I’ve adjusted my workout accordingly. But I’m starting to believe that the irrational emphasis I encounter here and there is a sign of the profit motive doing its thing.
By Crackey, I made it. Every gym visit I have made my routine a little bit harder, and so far I like how I’m pacing myself out. I want to work hard enough to feel sore and accomplished, like I’ve used the hour well. What I don’t want is to spend three mornings a week in that primal-scream/I-want-to-die chrysalis agony those maniac trainers on The Biggest Loser suggest.
Today was a real treat, because those colorful geezers I overheard on my first day took up residence at the elliptical next to mine and started into their repartee:
“Who do you like in the game?”
“Right now I’m liking Green Bay.”
“You better stay away from me and Colleen. We’re from Pittsburgh.”
“Well I’m not picking this far out. That Rodgers could run out in practice and blow a knee, or go across the street and get hit by a car.”
“You see the way he tackled that Urlacher? If it were Favre playing, he wouldn’t have caught him.”
“You see that interception the other guy threw? How do you not see a guy that big in a white jersey on a green field?”
“Big as you.”
“How do you miss him?”
“You know they still play at that Soldier Field from when I was younger?”
“They didn’t build a new one?”
“I thought they built a new one but I guess they didn’t.”
“They built a new baseball team. I think that’s what they did. Shows what happens when I start thinking!”
I smiled and settled in, ready for this to go on for the rest of my workout and wishing for all the world that I had perfect conversational recall. And then two blonde ladies settled in on the other side of me, and one start blabbing in a frequency that neutralized the other conversation like white noise.
“He’s kind of like a Trekkie? Like, a little bit like a Trekkie? And he says, like, you’re looking to settle down and get married to someone and like, all that, and I’m like, because that’s what he does, you know?, like, I’ve learned that about him, he’ll like, say something about what I’m thinking? But it’s really about something that he’s thinking? Like, I think he really wants it to work? But I think he’s worried about, like, if it doesn’t, and so….”
I had the urge to tell them to stop their babbling so I could listen to these weird old men babble instead. But I thought that would probably just confuse everyone.
(So I joined a gym. Costco had a hell of a deal going. I realize I’m not alone joining a gym after New Year’s. But I’ve been a cliche before and I’m sure I’ll be a cliche again.)
I read an article on-line that said I should count the use of the gym’s hot water for my showers as part of getting my money’s worth from my gym membership. It also recommended I use the toilets there as often as possible. I suspect this is one of those “articles” for which the writer got paid $10 to slap together a mixture of 50% Google, 50% B.S.
I just got to the office after my first workout. For the record, it was a hair over 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer, followed by three brief strength exercises. At that point, I got hit with a wave of nausea, which I interpreted as my body telling me “this is a good stopping place”.
I discovered that I absolutely could not focus on anything having to do with writing while I was exercising. At first this concerned me, since the opportunity to wander around in my brain during these workouts had occurred to me as a possible benefit. But maybe the opposite is actually better – I think about writing problems all day, and it hasn’t made me successful yet.
The only other guy in the showers was wearing shorts. Maybe he’s a never-nude! I didn’t ask. I thought it might be awkward.
In the locker room after, I heard this conversation between two sixty-somethings sauntering in.
“I’m not old, you’re old! You’re old-fashioned; I’m push-button modern high-tech!”
“Yeah, you look high-tech.”
“Well you look like horse-and-buggy.”
“Least I never been hit by no car.”
“You look like you’ve been kicked by a horse. Right between the lookie-lookies.”
“Anybody got a gun? I got one already but I need one to put on him after I shoot him!”
“I must be getting old. Watch a whole damn football game and don’t drink but four beers and eat half a pizza. I must be getting old. Hey, look – I weigh 246! I lost some weight!”
“Didn’t you weigh 240?”
“Yeah, but that was a long time ago.”
Since I could never write anything that good, that’s how I know I’m getting my money’s worth already.