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Pathetic Exercises for Pathetic People

May 28th, 2017

How I Narrowly Avoid Having to Buy a Mobility Cart

The other day a wonderful thought occurred to me, and I felt I should share it: “There is no exercise in heaven.”

Think about that. Imagine never having to work out again. That, all by itself, makes it heaven.

I am not in heaven, and for a few months I’ve been doing regular cardiovascular exercise to keep me from collapsing in a heap of Jell-O. I found out about a type of exercise that didn’t sound too bad, so I decided to try it, and I’ve stuck with it. It’s called “HIT” or “HIIT,” and I forget exactly what those things stand for. “High Intensity Training,” or something.

The idea is that instead of suffering mildly for 40 minutes, you try to kill yourself for about 5 minutes, including breaks. For example, you sprint as hard as possible for 20 seconds, and then you rest for 10. Then you sprint again. Supposedly you get most of the benefit of long workouts for a small percentage of the pain.

It has worked for me. I don’t know if I’m in good cardiovascular shape, but everything is toned up, and I have lots of energy.

I was thinking about it this week. Who looks better? Sprinters or marathon runners? Easy question. Marathon runners are weak and spindly, with tiny muscles. They look like malnutrition victims. Sprinters are full of bulgy, springy muscle. It makes sense that intense workouts give better results.

I also thought about the demands daily life places on the body. Have you ever, in your entire life, had to exert yourself moderately for 40 minutes, with your pulse at 75% of maximum? Of course not. That only happens when you work out. But how many times have you had to exert yourself intensely for two to three minutes? Thousands, right? Moving a couch. Carrying things up stairs because an elevator has gone out. Moving something heavy across your garage when there is no one to help. What good is a stringy, wobbly marathon runner when you have to dig up a stump with a mattock?

Most people who do cardiovascular exercise are training for something that will never happen. In order to use that type of fitness, you have to enter a race, which is a contrived event. We have to make up challenges that use that kind of endurance.

HIT is supposed to be a heart thing, but it does other stuff for you. As you maintain your workout schedule, you get stronger, so you have to jack up the resistance. That means bigger muscles, without weights.

Another interesting thing: the fact that you work out for 40 minutes at a time doesn’t mean much when you really have to push it. When you work out at a low level of intensity, increasing the speed or effort a little bit will tire you out in a hurry. What if you’re used to brief periods of extreme intensity? What if you go through that five or six times a week? Obviously, your body will be ready the next time life throws you a tough job.

It all makes sense to me. If you want your body to try to repair and improve itself, you have to put it under stress. Piddling around with your pulse at 120 doesn’t tell your body to shape up. It says, “This is only a drill. Relax and have more pound cake.” My body suffers horrible abuse four to six times a week, so it’s always expecting the worst and trying to prepare.

I still hate exercise, but I hate it for much shorter periods, so it’s a win.

When you get old, you quit deluding yourself about 18″ biceps, 5% body fat, and a resting pulse rate of 50. You know from experience that you won’t work out more than a few minutes per day for more than six months. You start looking for moderately effective exercises you will actually do instead of crazy-effective exercises you will give up as soon as they start working.

Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger. He quit working out and grew moobs and a gut. His arms shriveled away. For a long time, I was able to say I had a better body than the Terminator. He started exercising again, but he’ll quit eventually. If he can’t keep it up his whole life, what chance do normal people have?

I use a recumbent exercise bike and an upright bike. The upright bike is for my upper body. I put my chest on it and push the pedals with my arms. Sounds funny, right? Try it and see if it’s still funny. Most cardiovascular exercises do almost nothing for the upper body. It’s startling when you find something that actually puts it to work.

You can have good endurance in one part of your body and be a creampuff in other parts. That’s what happens to runners. Big thighs combined with chicken drumette T-rex arms. The bikes make everything work hard.

I’m still a flubbery old man, but my old-man exercises are preventing me from falling completely apart.

Something to think about, if you hate exercise as much as I do.

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5 Responses to “Pathetic Exercises for Pathetic People”

  1. Juan Paxety Says:

    High Intensity Interval Training. Find an old Schwinn Airdyne at a thrift store or yard sale – mine cost $12. Air bikes are great for HIIT because you can always increase resistance by going faster and do both upper and lower body. Just remember, the air bike always wins.

  2. Stephen McAteer Says:

    I’m tempted by HIIT but the allure is somewhat tempered by the fact that a prominent newsreader here – Andrew Marr – had a stroke whilst doing it on a rower. (He was a smoker though.)

  3. lauraw Says:

    The guy who ran the first marathon dropped dead when he finished. Yeah, let’s copy.

  4. Steve H. Says:

    Stephen, I hate to argue with a good solid excuse.

  5. Stephen McAteer Says:

    Any old excuse will do me.