fitness for bibliophiles: the any old book will do

never-half-ass-two-things-whole-ass-one-thing

I disagree.

I mean, yeah, of course. That is a true thing that Ron Swanson has said there. If I took that advice more often, I would already have about five novels published and be in much better shape in my career. But sometimes you don’t have the energy to whole-ass anything, and so you may as well half-ass at least a thing or two. If it’s a question of half-assing two things or doing nothing at all, pick the former.

You’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking“? Research is showing that even if you are an active person, you’re probably still going to die young. I bought a Jawbone tracker a few months ago and have definitely noticed that even if I exercise 60-120 minutes a day, which I generally do, I still have trouble remembering to get up and walk around. Last year, when I worked in a library, I was at least standing up and sitting down pretty regularly. Now, though? I have my step counter set to an 8000-step-a-day goal (I figure that with the amount of exercise I do on machines like stationary bikes, that’s a sufficient goal rather than the usual 10,000), and I only meet it about half the time. Sure, the thing is not perfect–it regularly tells me I’m being idle if I’m standing and walking around my kitchen cooking, just because I’m not swinging my arms enough, I guess, but it’s a decent approximation.

I would like to not die young. One of my biggest exercise motivators, besides needing to make rent, is not wanting to die ever. Also, because group fitness is my main area of activity, even if I’m not always the teacher, sometimes I just need me time. Off the couch. I get a lot of me time because I live alone. But it’s not the same, you know? Anyway.

When I was in grad school, I always had a ton of reading to do. I have more to do now, given that it’s my main area of employment and I’m on a literary award committee. And I’m going back to grad school in August, so that will add even more. Reading is necessarily a stationary activity…

…or is it?

Only somewhat.

When I came to the realization that my $19 a month Boston gym membership was still costing me real money, I realized that if I took my reading to the gym, I could at least give my body a slight boost. So I hopped on the T (or walked, when the weather was nice) and went to GymIt, parked myself on a recumbent bike or elliptical, turned up the resistance a little, and read my book.

Was I working super hard? No. Was I increasing my cardiovascular fitness? Probably not. I wasn’t trying to do anything but make my legs move and get my reading done. I’m going to say that a recumbent bike serves the same purpose as standing and walking around when you’re just trying to counteract the stationary nature of your life.  Not that I have a degree in physiology, but it seems logical.

I’m prone to vertigo, so I was not going to sprint on the elliptical. I was not, for many reasons, going to run on the elliptical. However, so long as I took the occasional break to look around the room and take a sip of water, I was able to read without any problem while still making my legs work and burning a few calories. It’s easy to hold a paperback while on a recumbent bike, but I recommend magazines or Kindles when you’re standing, as taking one hand off an elliptical handle to turn a page can make you dizzy.

This is a good way to start a fitness regime, too, especially if you’ve previously been doing nothing at all.

So now if it’s a day I’m not teaching and that I have low energy, I try to force myself to do exercise of this ilk, nothing else. It gets me out of the house, it keeps me from the distractions of Netflix that keep me from reading at home sometimes, it will likely not contribute to the overuse injuries that fitness instructors are prone to, and it makes me think that maybe I won’t die young.

That’s it. Give it a try.

fitness for bibliophiles: the henry and clare

“I won’t ever leave you,” she says. “Even though you’re always leaving me.”
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The driving tension of The Time Traveler’s Wife is the alternating POV chapters – which don’t just alternate POV but also times. Henry and Clare, destined to be soulmates, are always meeting when she’s too young, then Henry is disappearing whenever they’re trying to work on their marriage, and then the babies Clare is pregnant with time travel out of her body and she miscarries, and now I’m just making you sad, but you see my point? They’re always in each other’s lives, but they’re never in the right place at the right time.

So. Let’s say you are the type of person who needs accountability and companionship to commit to going to the gym. Or, alternatively, you have already committed but you also happen to like having a gym buddy. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you want to get ideas for workouts, so here is how you’re going to get your fitness on, Henry and Clare-style.

Scope out the floor of your gym and identify some machines or free items that you want, like kettlebells or various weight machines, as well as a little bit of space for body weight exercises. Discuss ahead of time what specific activities you’re going to do, and pick at least four (so, for example, bicep-curl-to-press with dumbbells, the adductor/abductor machines, wall sit, kettlebell deadlift – and we’re going to call them “stations”). Have your eye on the clock or get a watch or use your fancy pocket telephone computer, whatever. Just be able to regularly see 60 seconds passing.

Now (you already warmed up in this scenario). One of you starts at a station, and the other stays near enough that you can converse and encourage each other. At the start of the minute, one of you does the station, the other does a cardio interval. If it’s convenient to you, you might try hopping on an elliptical or treadmill, but otherwise you can run in place or do jumping jacks. Grab a jumprope, maybe. Just get your heart rate up.

At the end of the minute, switch places. No break.

Then you switch again, but on station 2. One minute, one minute. Move on, no break.

Lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve gotten through each of your stations (that is, each person has done each station and each corresponding cardio interval). With four stations, that’s eight minutes. After you’ve finished, get a sip of water, towel off, and then do it again. Another sip of water, wipe the sweat off your brow, and then do it one more time. That will take you to around 30 minutes, including your warmup and cooldown/stretches, obviously more if you’ve worked in more stations. Even if you only do it twice, it’s high intensity interval training, which means you’re working hard, improving your cardiovascular function, and getting stronger. Congratulations: you win! Henry and Clare did not, but that’s their problem, not yours.

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fitness for bibliophiles: the every day

The body is the easiest thing to adjust to, if you’re used to waking up in a new one each morning. It’s the life, the context of the body, that can be hard to grasp.

Every day I am someone else. I am myself–I know I am myself–but I am also someone else.

Every Day, by David Levithan

After being out of shape and out of any fitness habits at all, it was amazing when I discovered that indoor cycling, especially with hand weights and tap backs and other things to make me forget I was exercising, was the thing for me. So I started doing it frequently, because that’s what you should do with exercise, and it was great because it felt fun and that made it easier to make it a part of my life.

But after awhile I felt myself plateauing, and I had to admit to myself – because I am always reading books about exercise science and because I could feel it in my body – that you really don’t get stronger or lower your body fat percentage or work your bone density if you don’t strength train. So I added in another class, GRIT, even though I didn’t much like it, into my routine once a week or so. And it did help me keep my body reshaping (in the two years since I started exercising again, I have essentially kept off no pounds and still weigh the exact same, but I don’t care because I’m stronger and my clothes fit differently and I’m better at avoiding or fighting colds and other things, and that’s far more important).

Please find a type of fitness that works for you and that you enjoy. It’s life changing, really. But once you find yourself committed to it, please also find another type that you can do. Find something that is different, which means you might have to look around for awhile (this is why Groupon, LivingSocial, and Gilt were invented – so you can be a gym slut. Or you can do ClassPass if you live in certain cities.)

Women especially have this ridiculous idea that strength training will bulk them up, and that’s not how science works. You have to do a lot of additional things, like drink 10 protein shakes a day, to look like a body builder. And strength training is what instigates things like EPOC*/after-burn, which are what help you lose weight if that’s your goal, and which keeps your metabolism working properly.

So: alternate types of exercise day to day, whether that’s every day or just one cardio workout and one a week. Whatever. But don’t let your body get used to one thing, or it will start phoning it in.

*excess post-exercise oxygen consumption


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fitness for bibliophiles: the elya yelnats

Every day Elya carried the little piglet up the mountain and sang to it as it drank from the stream. As the pig grew fatter, Elya grew stronger.

Holes, by Louis Sachar

One of the classes I teach is a strength training class. You choose dumbbells, and unless you want to leave the fitness room and go dig something up on the main floor, your choices are 2.5-, 5-, and 7-lb weights. Not all that heavy. That’s because the class is a low weight, high rep class where I make you do the same movement 20-40 times. What that does is work your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which give you muscular endurance.

That’s awesome. It teaches your body and muscles not to get fatigued too easily.

It’s not a strength building class, though. You’re not really working your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the ones that kick in if all of a sudden you’re hit with a huge load of weight. So you need to do both. And even with the low weight, high rep class, at some point you’re probably going to want to go up a weight, or at least have a slightly heavier one for when we do lower body work and you’re just letting your weights hang out on your trapezius. (I only ever use 2.5-pounders, but that’s because if I did something heavier, I’d be paying attention to my workout, and it’s the class I’m supposed to be giving my attention to. I do other strength work on my own time.)

So, to build muscular strength you need to find weight that you can only hold for a maximum of about five times before you reach failure. If you’re at a gym, this will take you a little while to look around and test things out, and it’s likely that with whatever type of lifestyle you have or activities you already do, you will find that you need much heavier weights when working some muscles than others. Just make sure you test them out, and as you get stronger, don’t get complacent. Keep using gradually heavier weights and then you’ll always have a challenge, rather than a plateau.

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fitness for bibliophiles: the nick and norah

I am the one who takes this thing called music and lines it up with this thing called time. I am the ticking, I am the pulsing, I am underneath every part of this moment.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Sometimes you need a very particular playlist. Indoor cycling classes, for example, need “choreography,” and that means devising and listening to songs with rhythms and lyrics that inspire or lend themselves well to hills, jumps, and sprints. Other times, though, you’re grudgingly plugging away on an elliptical because you know working out is healthy, and you’d rather be anywhere but there.

Enter the infinite playlist.

I hope you still have an iPod, or maybe you understand the cloud better than I do. I have an iPod because I like to know that my music will be around even when there’s no 3G. Anyway. My iPod has 15000-something tracks on it, and they run the gamut, as just about everyone’s music library does. If that’s the case, because you can put your varied music tastes to good use by using them to inspire your workouts.

I have an ever-growing playlist on my iTunes, and it’s the only playlist where I abide disorganization. It’s simply a dumping ground for every type of workout-appropriate song you can imagine: 80s one-hit wonders. 90s boy band and girl pop classics. Hardcore rap. Club music. Even a little metal. Everything that’s even a bit loud or good mood inducing or silly or embarrassing outside of earbuds or Top 40 or totally dirty and sexy, because you never know what type of mood you’re in.

So when I’m just working out to work out and don’t have much direction or motivation, that’s when I click onto that playlist, put it on shuffle, and press play. You’d be surprised how quickly you can be swept up and have a song automatically urge you onto sprinting or keeping a rhythm or changing your intensity. All of a sudden, you have a workout that actually keeps your interest, and because it’s so long (mine’s about 1000 tracks at this point), you’ll be surprised every time.

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