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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