Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Workout Experiment: Days 2-4

When we last left our brave heroine, she'd done 1.5 minutes on her exciting new (well, new to her) elliptical machine. There was much cheerleading and many motivational comments were made. And then you didn't hear from her for 3 days. Heh. I don't think it's realistic for me to post every day on this, so I'll do summaries whenever the mood strikes.

Day 2 (Monday) - Went to my parents' old house to pick up odds and ends of my leftover stuffs that had been buried in the attic. Physical labor up and down the stairs, and emotional labor sorting 3-4 boxes of childhood teenagehood papers and momentos. Got home late, ate dinner late, gave myself a pass on the elliptical.

Day 3 (Tuesday) - Had a 1.5-hour meeting with a wedding vendor directly after work, then to a late dinner, making it home about bedtime. Didn't end up going to bed anything like bedtime, but I was worn out from a long day nonetheless. I'm not willing to call this a fail, because I was thinking of getting on the elliptical but was literally falling asleep in my chair instead. Can't explain why, but it feels like an acceptable 'pass' so I'm giving it to myself.

Day 4 (Wednesday) - Was damn well gonna get on the elliptical today. But... the child I mentor on Wednesday nights looked at me with hopeful eyes and informed me that Christmas In The Park was up, and could we go, please? So we walked around browsing nomadic carnival rides and nostalgic-with-a-side-of-creepy animatronic displays. I carried with us the folding chair I always keep in the car, and took lots of breaks. Send her on a ride, sit and rest. Let her play a carnival game, sit and rest. Make her watch the perpetual motion machine in front of The Tech Museum for way longer than she wanted to because a) it's awesome and I wasn't done, and b) sit and rest. It was frustrating to need so many breaks, and painful even with the amount of breaks I took. I prolly didn't get my heart rate up enough for long enough, but I did move my body. And I broke a sweat. (Tho that could've been the pain more than the exertion. Not totally sure. But I digress....) It totally counts as exercise, and yet on the ride home I felt more motivated to get on the elliptical than I did yesterday or the day before! I didn't let myself, though, because my back is not happy from our outing this evening and I want to make sure to give it rest.

A commenter on my Day 1 post suggested the "Don't Break the Chain" model for momentum and motivation, and it definitely appeals. I want to be forming the habit of thinking every day, "have I moved my body today?" HOWEVER, the answer to that question is sometimes going to be "no" or "not in the manner I had planned" -- and that HAS TO BE OK. There are just gonna be days when life gets in the way and I give myself a pass, and/or I do some other activity that "counts" instead.

I may have some thinking to do about what, if any, ground rules I should lay for myself in terms of how many passes, in what circumstances, and/or what alternative activities "count." But on the other hand, that sounds like work. Besides, so far I'm feeling like I'm aimed in the right direction, so I think I'll continue just letting my gut guide me, at least for now. If in a few weeks the momentum is gone, I'll look at taking a less organic and improvisational / more structured and rules-y approach. the meantime, I need to print out a calendar for the month of December so I can start giving myself big red X's (or perhaps shiny gold stars, cause... stickers are totally motivational!).

If you have a workout/exercise/movement routine or goal, how do you decide how many chores, how much walking at the mall, how much pickup soccer with your kids at the park, etc. is a reasonable substitution for your regularly scheduled exercise activity? Would you recommend your approach for a baby beginner exerciser, or modify it in some way?


  1. Hey there.

    What worked for me when I started exercising: starting twice a week, for however long I could stand it in one session (I think it was fifteen minutes at the time, not sure), on low settings.
    The key was to very gradually build my way up (I've heard increasing by 10% either in length or intensity a week is a maximum).
    I need actual scheduled "fitness" time, that counts as "me" time. I don't know about substituting and I don't think it'd work for me, so I can't help you there. The rule I heard of for activity to count as cardio is it's got to elevate your heart rate (to more than 60% of your maximum heart rate - there are calculators for that on the 'net) for ten minutes or more.

    If you can at all I'd highly recommend getting one or two sessions with a professional coach or trainer. They will be able to tell you the real thing and help you tailor a program to your needs, and then you can take it from there.

    But beware... Once you start working out, you never believe it at first but you become addicted very quick! :)

    1. Thanks for the insights. I need to learn from people who have already formed the habit so I can try to create those patterns of thought for myself!

  2. I totally get this and have the same frustrations. For those of us who never considered incorporating exercise into our daily routine and give it the same priority as a shower or brushing teeth, it is hard change overnight. It is a gradual process. Being mindful of it, knowing you need to do it, is a big step. Making time is the next challenge, but it will come. I admire you so much for not only doing this, but sharing your thoughts with us. Its EPIC. Seriously.

    1. Thanks for your support and your attention, Sabrina. Knowing folks are following my journey and cheering me on is really wonderful and motivational!

  3. When I first started getting active, I really loved the Couch to 5k program (

    It's an interval running program that starts out slowly and builds up to 30 minutes of uninterrupted running.

    What I found most useful about it was that I didn't have to think about what I was supposed to be doing -- I ran when the accompanying podcasts said to run and walked when they said to walk. I didn't have to feel bad about walking, because it was right in the program. And it kept me from going out too fast, then being unable to finish the workout.

    I also found it helped to have a workout buddy, because it helped me be more reliable about actually doing a workout. Of course, that works less well when you're using a workout machine at home :-)

    1. Maria, thanks for the insights. My guess is that even the Couch to 5k program would move faster than my body can... I am not just dealing with no activity to activity, but also with chronic pain, old injuries, and other complicating factors. I am scared that if I attempted a fixed "program" I would either push myself too fast and injure myself, or need to modify the program and not know how, or need to modify the program and feel crappy/inadequate - all of which would leave to giving up, feeling crappy, etc. I'm working on letting my body lead, going at its pace not the pace of a program or of the voices in my head saying I should be doing more/faster/sweatier.

    2. There's a similar program by Jeff Galloway that emphasizes resting when your body needs to rest. It's pretty fantastic. It's like C25K, but you pick the intervals that work for your body. And it's not strict intervaling, like 30 sec on, 30 sec off. It teaches you to pace your activity, work when you feel good, and rest when you're just starting to get tired.

    3. Oh! Also, you could totally use a similar scheme for ANY kind of exercise, not just running. So, if you want to start walking more, you could use an interval approach and, instead of walking during your rest sets, sit down or stretch or lean against a tree or whatever.

    4. Shoshie - good thoughts. I think I'm not ready for that stuff yet, but it's good to know the resources exist. :)

  4. The only thing that really works for me is to work out in the morning. I also am too phsyically and mentally drained to do anything in the few hours I have between getting home and going to bed, and I usually reserve that time for trying to cook myself something to eat. I think for a short workout in your own house it is really ideal. Working out first thing in the morning really helps me to get the blood flowing and actually have more energy and less stiffness throughout the day. I mostly stand at a lab bench, sit at a biosafety hood, or sit at a computer analyzing data all day which all are sedentary and lead to fatigue and soreness for me. I always am more fatigued phsyically and mentally and more sore with sedentary jobs than days where I can move throughout the day (like days off where I catch up on errands and housework). So it totally makes sense to me that on your most active day you felt most ready to work out a little.

    Maybe a little walk on your elliptical in the morning before hopping into the shower might be a good way to give yourself a nice wake-up routine and get off to a less painful day. It might be worth giving a try on a weekend just to make sure it doesn't make your chronic pain issues act up and end up in a horrible day of work or missed work.

    1. I want to apologize for not replying sooner. I thought I had!

      I do like the idea of exercising at the beginning of the day but I am SO NOT a morning person that this is a challenge I'm gonna have to work up to... still, keep suggesting it because I do think it might really work in the long run. It might even help me be more of a morning person if I got that blood flowing early!

  5. Hi, (part 1)

    Guest commenter here, but I thought maybe my experience with my current training program might be useful. Full disclosure: I am a long time casual long-distance runner and I frequently struggle with maintaining my motivation. I have recently found that the thing that keeps me going is 1) having a specific long term distance goal; and 2) sticking to a specific schedule to reach that goal.

    My current goal is to run a full marathon for the first time and I'm taking an entire year to train for it. By going slowly, I am reducing my risk of injury. So first I want to tell you about my schedule and then I'll try to explain ways it can be adapted for other things.

    I started this schedule after taking about 2 years away from running. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I run for 30 minutes on each day. It doesn't matter how far I get. It could be one mile it could be five miles. No matter what, I stop at 30 minutes. On Sundays I run for a prescribed distance. I started with a short Sunday distance and have progressively gotten longer. When I first started, I struggled to run a mile but I have slowly built up to a maximum distance of 11 miles (so far). The key is sloooooow progress.

    One way to adapt this for the elliptical is to write a schedule for yourself so that on Tuesdays and Thursdays you use the elliptical for x number of minutes and on Sundays you use it for x-distance.(I'm assuming your machine measures distance). If you're feeling yucky on a Tues/Thurs, go as slow as you want to complete your time.

    If I miss a scheduled run, I switch it for an off day.

    One important thing to remember is the value of rest and recovery. If you have knee or back pain after moving around, those parts of your body might need a day or two before you work them again. If you're feeling the urge to move on a "off" day, you could try moving a different part of your body. Hand weights and strechy bands are a great way to work arms, shoulders and upper back while giving your knees and lower back a chance to recover.

  6. Hi (part 2)

    My comment was long, here's the rest:

    ...If you want a goal or event to be the think you’re working for, there are a lot of charity walks out there that would love to have you participate and can be a nice heartwarming light at the end of the tunnel. Plus, most charity fitness events (walks and runs) are pretty fun. They come with a finisher’s medal (everybody gets one), they often have live music and a sort of carnival event at the end. There are a lot of great opportunities like the MS walk, the NAMI walk, the Susan G. Komen walk, etc. It can be pretty exciting to have people cheering you on too.
    I’ve found that the prospect of an event in my future makes me want to train to be ready for it. I’m never trying to be first, I just want to be trained enough to enjoy it and have a good time.
    The last thing I want to say is that I really admire your enthusiasm for being on your fitness journey. I too hated elementary school P.E. I was the slowest and least coordinated kid and nobody wanted me on their team…ever…I still can’t catch well. It took me until adulthood to find a sport I enjoy. I like being a distance runner because it’s not about being fast, it’s about getting outside so I can feel the wind on my face (even if it’s a slow little breeze).
    Great job and keep it up! :0)

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts! Even though my specific activities/goals are different, it's so helpful hearing your thoughts and how you strategize to make sure you keep up on your program. I really appreciate it!!

  7. @Anon I can't speak for anybody else, but your suggestion about alternating distance and time is a good one! It brings in variety, which is good.

  8. For me personally, the best thing I ever did was buy a pedometer, which shows how much you're walking. (I read somewhere you're supposed to do 10,000 steps a day, which I was certain I was doing... only to discover I was doing about 2,000).

    You clip it on and it tells you how many steps you've done. So if you only manage a few hundred a day, if you do an extra hundred the next day - progress! And the next day, another hundred (less than five minutes of walking) - progress! These days I go to the gym as well, which I once wouldn't have thought possible, but I still keep my trust pedometer on because it's fun to see what I can accomplish.

    I also learned that Christmas shopping is a better workout sometime than the gym.

    The other thing is, any exercise program needs some sort of external monitor, whether it's a buddy to cheer you along, or a goal, or something that's measuring progress. If you relay on doing it when you feel ready, it's very hard to keep up motivation. N

    1. Hi Amanda, Slow and steady is the key here as many others have said. I would like to also confirm what another poster suggested--that exercise science suggests that you not increase your exercise more than 10% per week. At least initially, 10% is way less than you think. So if you exercised for 1.5 minutes on 3 days this week, then you can extend the duration to 1.65 minutes on 3 days next week.

      I think it's helpful to remember that the 10% doesn't increase in a straight line. It increases in a swoop shape. The more you do, the bigger that 10 percent becomes. (It's kinda link compound interest...) I've seen a number of my students start out really small, maybe just walking from their car to the dance room at first, progress all the way to doing several hours of exercise per week. They made this transition safely and joyfully, but oh so slowly.

      I agree that a step counter is a wonderful motivational tool. This would allow you to gradually (remember 10%) increase your general daily activity outside of "planned exercise sessions".

      Like some others mentioned, I like to do my exercise first thing in the morning before life has a chance to get too crazy. Then I can take my bath or shower afterwards and get on with my day.

      I agree stickers ARE motivational, but only if they are sparkly. Go with the raddest, baddest, glitteriest ones you can find.

      And GO you!


    2. @Anonymous... I was with you right up until you said:

      "The other thing is, any exercise program needs some sort of external monitor, whether it's a buddy to cheer you along, or a goal, or something that's measuring progress. If you relay on doing it when you feel ready, it's very hard to keep up motivation."

      I have sort of a loose goal, of getting on the treadmill about every other day... and for me blogging about it is a way to keep myself motivated. But anything stricter would, for me personally, be off-putting and make me feel rebellious. So I think it's important to really be reflective and thoughtful, and be gentle with ourselves about what will truly be motivational vs. what will feel punitive. For me, many traditional "motivational" strategies feel punitive/bring back feelings from school P.E. experiences, etc. and are actually more likely to cause me to fail/lose interested/have trouble motivating myself to continue.

    3. @Jeannette:

      So many helpful things packed into one short comment! Where to begin?

      Love the 10% guideline... It's really helpful to have some idea of how fast to increase -- mostly because my "you're not doing enough" voice would likely push me to increase faster than that, so it's good to have an "expert" voice to hold in counterpoint!

      Also really appreciate your reminder about the fact that 10% of a bigger number is an increasingly bigger number, so progress will happen faster over time. Even though I would've been able to realize that had I stopped to do the math, it wasn't instantly obvious and is an important point for feeling hopeful that progress will be quick enough to improve quality of life in a soon enough time to not get discouraged.

  9. Sigh. I wrote a much longer version of this yesterday but somehow failed to post it. I know it started with a GIANT DISCLAIMER that this is just what works for me and I would never presume to say it would work for anyone else. So, disclaimer.

    I think I had two points. One was an explanation of the very weird thing that motivates me to exercise. Because I HATE exercise. I would much rather be on the couch with a book or the remote and a crochet hook. So why do I make myself do it? To get all my damn doctors off my back. I have a bunch of chronic conditions and ALL those bastards want to know if I'm exercising. Well, yes, I am...pretty much just to keep them from focusing on "gee, you need to exercise" and redirect them to treating my conditions. Do I think that exercise is making those conditions better? Meh, not so much. My back hurts the same whether I exercise or not. My blood pressure and cholesterol didn't budge with diet and exercise but they're good with judiciously small amounts of well-tolerated medications. I'm willing to accept that maybe the exercise is keeping them from getting worse. But really, the reason I'm exercising is just to keep the damn medical establishment off my back about it. It's worth it to me to suck it up three to five times a week just so they don't give me any crap about.

    Now, I know that exercising to spite your doctors isn't the GOOD kind of motivation, so I AM IN NO WAY RECOMMENDING IT. I'm just sharing my curmudgeonly viewpoint on why the hell I keep getting on an elliptical.

    I think my second point is probably obviated by the lovely and wonderful Cinder who is far more knowledgeable about exercise than I am. It was something like this: Good lord, of course you got wiped out at Christmas at the Park--that is a TON of walking around downtown, and you haven't built up to that yet. (But do give yourself a big happy sticker on the calendar since that was totally exercise.) You might consider using a pedometer--but for the first week or two, DON'T TRY TO INCREASE YOUR STEPS. Just get a baseline idea of how much you walk every day. Then, very slowly and very incrementally increase by a few steps each week. Very small increases spread out over time.

    Disclaimer again: Obviously, I don't know jack.

    1. EKM - I love your curmudgeonlyness. Never change! And you're totally right that Xmas in the Park was too much... but how could I resist that 8-year-old face looking up at me with the magic of Christmas in her eyes??

      I'm taking a pass on the pedometer suggestions because walking hurts and I don't want to focus on walking right now... just on getting on the elliptical 3 days/week.

  10. JennyRose - Christmas in the Park type events can be more tiring than regular walking. I call this "museum walking." It can happen at the mall or anywhere you walk slowly with a lot of starting and stopping. The museum walk can be tiring because it involves walking on a hard surface such as marble or concrete then standing on the hard surface, usually locking the knees and looking at the art. You walk more slowly than usual at an uneven pace which is controlled by the amount of people, distance of the art etc. Maybe I am the only one who notices this but at the end of the day I can be rather sore and tired.

    1. You are so right!! You are not the first one of my fitness mentors to tell me that walking and pausing is way harder than just walking steadily. I need to keep being told this until it sticks. :)