Thursday, September 29, 2016

Exercise is taking off, but will commitment follow?

 #ThrowbackThursday: Originally published January 4, 2006, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

Pick up any magazine or newspaper and you’re bound to find a story touting exercise. It used to be that 30 minutes three or four times a week would do the trick. Now the experts are saying daily exercise is best. Well, maybe you can take a day off every now and then, but you better have a really good reason.

Thirty minutes doesn’t seem too onerous, considering it takes me two hours to complete my gym workouts. Okay, 90 minutes, if I cut out the chit-chat, although that’s the charm of going to the gym. With Power Yoga, we’re still getting warmed up after 30 minutes. We’ve barely touched on the balance poses and abdominal work. It’s a 75-minute workout on a short night.

It’s hard to justify jogging, or even aqua-jogging, for only 30 minutes. It doesn’t seem worth the effort of changing clothes, showering and the load of laundry that follows. It’s a good thing I have a flexible schedule, or I’d have to give up my day job to fit everything in. For those who actually have to be somewhere 40 hours a week, it may be tough to find time to exercise. But it’s not impossible.

One of the hottest franchises around is the express workout, typically a single-gender facility with a circuit of machines. It’s the exercise equivalent of musical chairs, only no one gets kicked out when it’s time to switch. In 30 minutes or less, you’ve got yourself a complete workout.

If you can’t make even that much of a time commitment, there’s something else you can try. It’s called a Range of Motion machine, or ROM. It promises a complete workout in only four minutes. Honest. All it takes is a willingness to both suspend disbelief and pay the incredible sum of $14,615.

A ROM looks more like a time-machine chassis than any Nautilus, Cybex, NordicTrack or StairMaster equipment you might stumble over at your local health club. It has pedals and handles and who knows what else, because you really can’t figure out how it works by the picture. It appears to be a purely mechanical device, but it magically adapts its resistance every single second to match your ability. I guess when you’ve only got four minutes, every second counts.

Does it work? I won’t even guess. The company makes the amazing claim that 97% of all rentals become sales. But just as amazing to me is where it chooses to advertise. In Scientific American. How is it that scientists have gotten to be a target audience for this sales pitch? Are they too busy thinking great thoughts to spend anything but the minimal amount of time exercising? Do brainiacs have such deep pockets that they’d spend for a workout machine about what it costs to buy a new PT Cruiser, Ford Focus or Mazda 3 sedan? I guess scientists are used to thinking outside the box; who knew they also think outside the budget.

When it comes to exercise, it doesn’t matter whether you go to a gym, buy a machine or strap on a pair of sneaks. If you can squeeze in 30 minutes of walking, biking, kick-boxing, whatever, that’s great. If you have the time and inclination to extend your workouts, you can extend the benefits, too.  

If you only have four minutes and beaucoup bucks to spare, there’s a solution out there waiting for you. I only hope you don’t spend $15k for a high-tech clothing rack, which is the fate of too many home exercise machines.

It doesn’t take money or equipment to become fit. It takes commitment. Find an activity you can stick with and make it a regular part of your day. Every day.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ta-da! moments work against ruts

#ThrowbackThursday: Originally published May 3, 2006, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

Exercise is all about repetition. Doing something over and over again to get faster, better, stronger. To build stamina. To stay in shape.

Think about runners putting in their miles. Swimmers doing laps. Weight lifters pumping iron. Yoga students practicing poses. Why else do batting cages and driving ranges exist? Repetition is the way to perfect your form and improve your game.

All this repetition takes time, and to make sure it gets done, you have to establish a routine. I know someone who sets his alarm clock for 4:20 every morning so he can get a full workout in before his paying workday starts.

I know many others who devote certain days to specific exercises—or to exercising specific parts of the body. If it’s Monday, it must be upper body weights; Tuesday, speed work on the track, and so on.

Some people carve their routines in stone, they’re that inflexible with their schedules. They’re like Billy Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, doing the same things in an endless loop.

That’s one of the dangers of routines; it doesn’t take much for them to turn into ruts. Then you find yourself becoming bored, losing momentum, hitting a plateau.

Routines, by their very nature, are hard to change. That’s why they’re called routines. For those who can’t, or won’t, change their routines, it helps to find new ways to inject fun into workouts. I do it by imagining Ta-da! moments.

These are the small breakthroughs that let you know you’re making progress. They can come when you truly get lost in what you’re doing or when you visualize a positive outcome and it happens. Batters who are hitting well often say the ball looks bigger. So do tennis players. Basketball players say the hoop seems so big, they can’t miss. It’s a mental phenomenon with an impact on reality.

Ta-da! moments are intrinsically motivating. I don’t even have to say the word aloud to smile and feel the energy. Think of the finale of every magic trick ever done. The woman who had been sawed in half moments earlier climbs out of the box in one piece, and Ta-da! The only thing left to do is bow.

I started thinking about “Ta-da” moments after visiting the chiropractor. Like a magician, most of his work is staging. You’re brought into a room, you answer questions about how you’re feeling, you climb onto the table, maybe get a heating pad while you relax and wait. Then, at the right moment, the doc sweeps into the room for the main event. He performs a few quick, expert moves and— Ta-da!—you’re back in alignment.

Once I applied the Ta-da! concept to exercise, I began noticing moments everywhere. Keeping up with the boys on a weekday run. Finally being able to balance my entire weight on two hands in a squatting yoga pose. Finding that my aqua jogging has improved my road running. Moving up in weights at the gym. All Ta-da! moments.

Repetition gives you the discipline you need to make progress. It can also dig a rut so deep you begin to feel stale. To keep things fresh and interesting, it helps to find a new perspective.

For most of us, no matter how hard or long we exercise, there will never be any first-place finishes or gold medals. But there are always Ta-da! moments to be found. You just have to start looking for them.
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