Monday, February 18, 2008

New Routine

If you really want to lose weight, cut fat, slim down, and enhance your cardiovascular fitness, there is really nothing better and nothing easier than running. Better than swimming, better than stair climber, and better than those radial things the housewives always use that the gym. I say this out of experience, not because I read it in the literature.

That's why its such a shame to live in this paved city. Not even the parks have unpaved running paths, and the longterm impact that all that pounding has on your knees, hips, and lower back probably more than makes up for the shortterm cardiovascular benefit you'll get by running here.

At the end of last year, with my sedentary job and somewhat careless eating habits, my waistline was getting out of control. In high school I stayed steady with a 30 inch waist. It moved up to 31 inches in college, and after several years of computer terminal jobs, I'm now at 32 inches. My pants have been steadily "shrinking" this year, bringing me close to 33 inches in November, so I had no choice but to put my foot down.

I had been maintaining a solid strength-weight routine for over a half year as of January and registered modest, incrimental strength gains becuase of it, but it did nothing to improve my heart health or slim me down. A super cardio/diet routine was in order, and running was out of the question because of the hard pavement, crowded sidewalks, and start-stop traffic lights around my house. I also counted out the treadmill becuase it's so horribly boring, and it is also bad for your hips. Swimming would have been a good backup option if there was a pool nearby--and there is not.

My only remaining recourse was/is the torturous stair climber. No doubt, it is an effective contraption and it can deliver a solid concentration of exercise. But in my opinion, you spend more energy wearing out your legs on the stair climber than you do increasing your heart rate, which makes it feel more like a strength routine than a cardiovascular one. Also, it hurts a lot, and it feels like you suffer twice as much to burn the same number of calories as you would running.

Mentally, any kind of machine is punishing. Unlike running outside or swimming laps, you cannot tailor your pace to your mood. You lock yourself in for a certain time and a certain difficulty, and you can't deviate from it. It is boring too, and there is little to distract your from your work other than the crap news or thinking about how much your legs hurt, yikes.

Flash back to six years ago: I was in pretty bad shape. I didn't exercise and was pretty reckless with my diet. On a whim, I decided to start running in the morning on a dirt track near my apartment. Within two months, all of the fat just melted off my body, and the whole process just seemed effortless. Unlike now, there was never a sense of forboding or dread when I started to run. I just did it. When I felt tired, I backed off, and I turned it on when I felt great. It was easy to add variety to the routine by running up stairs and doing sprints. Also, when I ran, I could zone out, look around, plan my day, and otherwise distract myself, and the workouts would always seem shorter than they actually were.

I guess there is nothing really left to say other than I wish there was more dirt in the city, more running surfaces than the concrete sidewalks, and more grass. It would be a lot easier for me to stay healthy if there were.


Mike said...

Jonny - it's a bit of a trek for you but if your looking for a soft surface track, Central Park is your best bet.

While you're there, you can get some road running in too...

Geoff Klock said...

How much running have you found is the right amount for you? Also -- any good music recomendations for running?

Chengora said...

I just joined a gym last month, and I pretty much only do the stair machine and weights. And you're right: it does feel like you're doing a lot more to burn the same amount of calories as you would if you're running. Maybe this means I should switch to something else?

Anyway, to cope with the boredom, I read a magazine while exercising (I'm also a big fan of walking while reading). The stair master's probably a lot better for that, as you're a lot steadier.

Jonny America said...

Mike: Yeah, unfortunately Central Park is pretty far away. All the paths there are paved there too aren't they? I'm somewhat afraid of hurting my knees with the impact of running on concrete or tar to a lesser extent

Geoff: It depends on where you are now. Are you just starting to run? If so, then I can't overemphasise how much the pounding effects your legs. You need to start slow, maybe a mile and a half several days a week, to let your body adjust. Otherwise, expect shin splints and knee pain. Also, wear REAL running shoes. No music recommendations from me, unfortunately. I feel uncomfortable wearing headhones and exercising at the same time.

Chengora: I wouldn't know what to suggest switching too. Those radial machines don't work very well. Treadmills suck. Do you have a large gym? Maybe switch to swimming if there is a pool. Otherwise, you could try out aerobics classes if there are any.

As far as reading on the stairs, I think I just sweat too much. I would ruin anything I touch.

HoBs said...

npr podcasts man. my secret for exercise. feel very productive. catch up on news. some good bbc stuff too if the npr wears out. (In Our Times by BBC is good) but I mostly do NPR Most-emailed, this American Life, on the Media and Spelndid Table. As good as magazine without the motion sickness.

Also, yeah, I like running too, but hard to do here (cold), plus easy to be lazy. So my new thing is exercise videos (I must admit they work). Almost as good as the aerobics classes, but free and in the comfort of your room, with infinite choice on On Demand cable.

I find I get a much better workout (per hour) than jogging. Though I will likely go back when the weather improves. "Gorgeous" up here in Ithaca. Hate the pun, but it really is.

I replied to your comment by the way on my blog.

Jonny America said...

Exercise videos? I hadn't thought of that. Any that you find work particularly well? I know that Tae Bo was popular a few years ago.

Also, how are you able to keep earphones on your head when you're bouncing around?

HoBs said...

ah, the benefit of doing it at home. I just play stuff off itunes on my computer over the computer speakers. i turn the tv sound fairly low. once you've done it once or twice, you don't need to hear them talk anyway.

Tae Bo's not bad. Have to pick and choose. The majority take it easy, and I don't sweat much. But once you find ones you like, I definitely feel like I get more of a work out than running. A couple of 5 pound weights and a yoga mat help. I often add the weights to work outs that don't call for it.

So I feel I can combine a cardio workout with some weight training.

So Tae Bo I turn to ocassionally. My cable network rotates what's available for free every month or so, so I do some searching.

I tend to like cardio ones that use weights. Or kick boxing type programs. Dance ones sometimes for fun. KBC is one show I like. And Budokon sometims. But really, whatever's free.

If you don't have Exercise on Demand, you can try DVRing some and trying them that way.

Mike said...

OK, I'm a bit late in replying again, but yup, the paths mostly black top in Central Park, but there are a few dirt tracks too. I've got no idea about how long they are, but there's one around the reservoir, and some bridle paths around too.

As a side note, I've taken up cycling lately... you've got to go a lot farther to get the same work out in, but you probably do it in the same amount of time. Plus there are a few places closer to home where you can get non-car infested roads to get some miles in (the promenade along the Belt Pkwy here in Bay Ridge, and Prospect Park).