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Sustainable Health &Fitness

John Matel and his bike on August 24, 2009Alex was making fun of my workout.   He said that I didn’t work out that long, I went too fast and my form was not good. He is right.   But I explained to him that he was missing the point.  My workout is SUSTAINABLE. I have been consistently working out w/o significant breaks since I was in 7th grade that is more than forty years.  So I figure have the right to pontificate about these things.

My weight workout consists of only eleven exercises three times a week.  I use the machines at Gold’s Gym and I can do the whole thing in less than ten minutes if nobody gets in my way. Of course, somebody usually does get in the way. Some people have the obnoxious habit or resting while sitting on the machines, but that is a subject for another post. 

The exercises are balanced to let one set of muscles rest while the others work.  I don’t know what the exercises are really called, so I will just name them what I think they are.  In order they are curls on the isolation pad, complete pull down to knees, sitting bench press, sitting rowing, flies, wing pull downs, inclined bench press, pull downs, bench press, dumbbell curls, military press.  Moderation in all things is important, so I don’t push the weights up too high.  My highest weight is the bench press where I use 240lbs. I have learned NOT to push too hard or add too much. 

I think warm up and stretching are overrated. I get warm up enough riding my bike over to the gym.   I also think hydration is overrated.  I never bother to drink during workouts, even when I run or ride my bike and am out for hours.  There is time enough to drink before and after. I drink from bubblers if I find one, but otherwise I go with Coke Zero.   I sometimes put ice in the glass. I also like to eat watermelon or pineapple when I am thirsty.  And I think water is overrated.   I spent a year in Iraq hydrating with Coca-Cola, BTW.  I don’t say everybody should follow my idiosyncratic habits, but it works for me.

I have been running regularly since 1973.  I started out of necessity. I used to like to be in the woods, but the woods near Stevens Point, Wisconsin (where I was an undergraduate) were so full of mosquitoes that I had to move at a trot to avoid being eaten alive. But it wasn’t really running for workout until 1978.  That was about the time they invented decent running shoes. I had some “waffle stompers” and used to run along the lake trails in Madison or through Warnimont and Grant Parks along Lake Michigan. 

My system for running is actually time, not distance based. You have to run at least twenty minutes to get a decent workout.   When I go to a new place, I run out for twenty minutes.   Usually I walk back, which is good exercise in itself.    Now I have several variations of the run. My favorite local runs are around the Mall in DC.   But I have run in some great places. In Norway, there was a run through a place called Bygdoy. It was a mix of forest and nice farm fields with crops and good looking cattle.  The King of Norway owned the farm.   He evidently didn’t need to make a profit, so it was beautifully maintained in a traditional form.   In Poland, I used to run in Las Wolski, among some of the most magnificent beech forests I have ever seen.  As I have written on several occasions, running is more than exercise, but it IS good exercise. 

I think it is nearly impossible to be truly fit w/o running, but I bet I log more total aerobic hours on my bike.   I ride for transportation and I almost never ride just for pleasure.   But it is a pleasure to ride.   My ride to work is seventeen miles, or it was to SA 44. It is around 15 minutes less to my new office, but I still have to ride to the old SA 44 Metro stop.  I just have to finish the ride after work. I am allowed bring my bike on the Metro after 7pm, but it is way too crowded by the time it gets to Foggy Bottom.  Oh yeah, I have compromised on the riding both ways.

BTW – You see the picture of my bike and me at the top.  Notice that I don’t have those silly lycra tight shorts.  Below are storm clouds gathering over the Potomac, seen from my office window.

Storm clouds over the Potomac on August 21, 2009 

I ride to work in the morning, when it is relatively cool, but I take the Metro home.  I think this actually means I ride MORE total miles because I do it almost every day and it extends the biking season.  I don’t like to ride in the dark or the twilight.  I work until 6pm or later and it takes around 1:20 to get home, so that means that if I need to ride home my biking season doesn’t start until April and is over in early September. The one-way trip buys at least another month on both sides of the season. I also admit that I am lazy about the ride home.  I used to do both ways, but I more often found good reasons not to use the bike.  I also used to get caught in afternoon thunder showers a lot.  Now I know if it is not raining when I take off in the morning, I am probably okay.  Besides, it is mostly up hill on the way home and often against the wind.  The Metro is a good choice.

I could ramble forever, so let me get to the bottom line. Every good exercise program must include both strength and aerobic training.   To be sustainable, it must be integrated into daily life and cannot be so hard that you will avoid doing it. That means that you sometimes have to compromise.  Sometimes it is good enough.   It is great to pursue excellence, but most of those people fall off the edge before they reach middle age.  It is also good to have something you can do cheaply and by yourself. It is hard to find any activity that is less expensive than running or walking.   You have to buy a new pair of shoes maybe once a year.   Biking is also cheap. I bought my bike in 1997 for around $700.   I have replaced a few tires and tubes and I had to replace a sprocket once. I expect to have the thing for several more years, so I figure it costs less than $100 a year.  If I figure in the gas and Metro fare saved, I bet I actually made money. 

The caption on one of my old running poster says it all about exercise in general, “the victory is not always to the swiftest or the contest to the strongest.  The winner is the one who keeps running.” 


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