Saturday, July 10, 2010

My New Fitness Regime

As a writer/computer geek, aerobic activity has never come naturally to me, but I've long recognized its value in compensating for the things that do come naturally to me…like cookies, brownies, and cake.

I've spent years searching for the ideal fitness program and (fingers crossed)—I may've found it. But before I get into that, here's a summary of the other activities I've tried and my lame excuses for abandoning them all.

It's easy to understand why so many people run—it's cheap, it's effective, and it fills you with a wonderful sense of superiority over everyone who doesn't run. I experimented with running briefly during college, and I immediately saw how I might've become addicted to it, if not for the fact that actually I hated it with every fiber of my being.

I really want to like running, but frankly, running makes itself pretty hard to like, what with all the sweating, and muscle-cramping, and traffic-dodging, plus the incessant pounding on your joints, and even worse, my incessant whining about being tired and wanting to quit. (OMG, the whining…)

Nevertheless, I still have great respect for running as a means to get someplace quickly on foot. If I'm in a hurry, I'll power through my own protests and run like the pigeon-toed wind. And if I happen to be late for something like school or a piano lesson, I might even throw a 55-pound child on my back, just for the challenge.

But when I'm running for running's sake, my motivation evaporates. Try as I might, I've never been able to fool myself into thinking that I'm late for something important. I know exactly where I'm going: home. So why not just turn around now? Or better yet—just never leave?

It's fun to swim at the…Y-M-C-A!
When I was in my mid-twenties, I often swam laps at the YMCA after work. I've always loved swimming, that feeling of cutting weightlessly through the water, almost as if flying. There's something so meditative about it, a kind of quiet I find nowhere else.

But our local YMCA had a smallish pool, and if enough people showed up, we were forced to share lanes. This might work if everyone swam at the same pace, but there was always one person in the water who was more of a "floater" than a "swimmer," someone who also managed to remain oblivious to the fact that the rest of us were constantly fighting to pass them (preferably without colliding or getting kicked in the head), which I guess made the whole experience more exciting, but far less meditative.

I'm sure the floaters were lovely people in other areas of their lives, but I invariably despised them by the end of my swim, and I just as invariably ended up showering beside them, at which point they would talk my ears off in their slow and steady way, because floaters are also notoriously chatty, particularly once you get them naked (which I really don't recommend).

Looking back, I think my YMCA experience just delivered more sharing and togetherness than I was prepared for. Plus, I always left the building with that infernal song stuck in my head.

You know how it goes, right? Sing it with me! (Or just click the picture above to watch the video.)

It's fun to stay at the
Y- M-C-A!
It's fun to stay at the
Y - M - C – A!
They have everything for young men to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys!

(In my experience, it takes 23 hours and 55 minutes to rid yourself of "YMCA" once it's lodged in your brain...but let me know how it goes for you.)

As a kid, I always thought tennis was something of a sissy sport. Then around the time I turned 30, I finally realized that I myself was something of a sissy, and I gave tennis a try.

And I loved it. Apparently I was a Labrador retriever in a previous life because, despite my aversion to running, I would happily chase one bouncing ball after another in all kinds of weather until I collapsed from exhaustion. For a brief, magical period—this was post-YMCA and pre-parenthood—I belonged to a tennis club and played there four times a week.

I only had one quibble with the club: their "tennis whites" dress code, which required that every article of clothing worn on the court be at least 50% white (to ensure that we all looked uniformly ridiculous I assume).

I'll never forget the day my partner got hassled by wardrobe security on the way out to play: he'd really pushed the envelope by wearing a striped shirt, and the black stripes appeared to be wider than the white ones. After some passive-aggressive sniping from both sides, he was finally allowed to play in the offending sportswear, and to everyone's surprise, the Earth continued rotating on its axis just as before.

But honestly, the club's dress code wasn't a big deal for me—I derived so much enjoyment from tennis, I would've played in lederhosen if they asked nicely (or even just hinted around a bit). In fact, I have every intention of re-joining the club as soon as possible, which is to say: the very moment that Congress finally extends days to 27 hours and money starts growing on trees.

And Speaking of Trees...
Whew—This is a long post, eh? Congratulations on sticking with me this far!

I'm pleased to say that you've reached the big payoff, where I reveal the fitness regime that has changed my life and given me the (marginally improved) body I have today: staring at lumber in my basement.

Yes, it sounded strange to me too, but you simply cannot argue with the results: improved cardiovascular performance, mood elevation, weight loss, slight hearing loss, and a few minor scrapes and bruises.

I'm not sure if the type of lumber is important—it our case, it's a collection of flooring scraps and decorative molding abandoned in our basement by our house's previous owners (see photo below).

Now, I don't think it's essential that you stand on an elliptical machine and flail all of your limbs as fast as you can while doing your lumber-staring, but that's my personal routine, mostly because our basement is completely packed with crap and the elliptical machine blocks the view of the lumber.

And I'm certain that you don't need to do this in a dim, damp basement so low-ceilinged that, while standing on said elliptical machine, your head just barely fits up between the floor joists, scarcely avoiding the plumbing, wiring, spider webs, and rusty nail-heads. (Not everybody will be lucky enough to make that work, so just do the best you can.)

But for me, the one absolutely essential element of the whole activity is finding some good music on my iPod and cranking it up so loud that it drowns out the sound of my own ragged breathing, the creaking and cracking of my 40-year-old joints, and the voices in my head that scream the whole time, "STOP IT RIGHT NOW I MEAN IT STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT!!!!"

Note: If you do try this with the elliptical machine, do not bend down to scratch your knee while in motion, no matter how much it itches. Those handles may be padded, but you'll still feel it when they hit you in the face, and you'll feel it again when you fall backward off the machine. Just trust me on this.

But wait—there's more!
I know what you're probably thinking—there's no way you could improve on the experience of staring at lumber in your basement. Well, I thought the same thing…until I got an iPad.

With the iPad, I'm no longer forced to stare at lumber in my basement. Now I can stare at absolutely anything—art by my favorite authors, Twinkies, or even bunnies in high chairs. But of course I still choose to stare at lumber because I like it, and because it's the right thing to do.

And the iPad allows me to take the lumber with me everywhere I go. To the beach! To a restaurant! To the theater! Just imagine: lumber lumber lumber 24/7, but without any of the bulkiness or splinters!

Best of all, I can finally share my lumber with everyone I know. For example, our dog Hugo refuses to visit the lumber because he assumes, based on the distressing sounds I emit while exercising, that our basement is some kind of CIA enhanced interrogation / pet grooming area. But now even Hugo can enjoy the benefits of lumber-staring from the safety and comfort of his own crate. Doesn't he look like he's having a fantastic time?

Oh, whatever...

Don't mind Hugo—he's just in a snit about that Labrador retriever crack. Or maybe it was the tennis whites thing?


  1. Derek, I also have tried sticking to a workout regime, but it didn't turn out nearly as successful as yours did. We have Wii Fit at our house, and that was fun for a while... but I eventually began to "forget" to do my daily exercises. Maybe I should get a pile lumber for our basement as well?

  2. Yes! In fact, you can have ours! Even swap for that utterly useless Wii Fit?

  3. I got some good exercise just reading this post. Few blogs make me laugh as much as yours.

    As I read, I was thinking to tell you how on the wall before my treadmill I got posters of the Rockies, with wildflower hills and crystal clear lakes, when I glanced at the next photo and thought, That is not an iPad...

    It was. Just brilliant. And you thoughtfully shared your special view with all you know.

    P.S. Hugo – you’re beautiful. And I’m so glad Derek busted his knuckles to get you air conditioning.

  4. Glad you enjoyed it, Steve! I hope you'll forgive me if I don't pass your compliments along to Hugo—frankly, his head is big enough already.

  5. Just letting you know that it's been three days and six hours and I finally got "YMCA" out of my... oh, damn.

  6. Personally, I found "Physical" even harder to shake, perhaps because I've heard it less often and thus haven't developed the necessary antibodies.