Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New exercise metric

Once upon a time, I would listen to books on tape while I exercised. It seemed like nice multitasking; I was "reading", and also getting a workout. But recently, I've begun to figure out that I can't really do both at once. Sure, I can walk on the treadmill and listen to a book on tape. But if I'm doing real exercise, and doing it hard enough, I can't listen to a book while I'm doing it. I can jog with an audiobook, but I can't sprint with one. If I'm trying to see how many push-ups I can do in five minutes, I might as well not bother listening to the book; I'll miss so much, I'll have to listen to it again when I'm done exercising. Exercise and audiobooks are two things I can't mix without shortchanging one or the other; I had previously been shortchanging the exercise, without realizing it. So this has been my new metric: if I can think about anything other than the exercise while I'm working out, I'm not pushing hard enough.

I'm finding that I need some sort of external measurement like this when I exercise. If I just go until I'm tired or until it feels like I should stop, I've noticed I'm short of my actual maximum by quite a bit. I figured this out at the grocery a few weeks ago, when I was carrying a 40-pound bag of cat litter to the Jeep. On the walk to the Jeep, with the bag in a pinch grip, I hit a point where I realized that if this was exercise instead of a goal-oriented task (the goal being, "get to the Jeep, without having to set the bag down in the snow"), I would've already set the bag down. But I made it another 50' to the Jeep. I've noticed this with stretching, too; I'll bend to touch my toes, but with my hands at my sides, until I feel like I'm getting a good stretch. Then I'll extend my arms and realize I'm still a bit short of the ground. So I'll push until I can put my palms on the floor. So I'm exercising with a different measuring system: either a fixed number of exercises in a fixed number of sets, or I'll do one particular exercise until I'm completely incapable of doing any more.

This led to a moment of dark comedy last night. I did barbell squats until I couldn't do any more, then traded the barbell for a pair of 25# dumbbells and did more squats until I couldn't do any more, then did unweighted squats until I couldn't do any more, then I used a towel thrown over my pull-up bar as an assist and did more squats until I couldn't do any more. Then I collapsed onto the basement floor to rest, because not only couldn't I crawl up the stairs, I couldn't even climb into a chair for a few minutes. And while I was lying on the floor, it occurred to me: this would be a good time for that book on tape.


NerfSmuggler said...

As I was reading this, my first thought was, "Ah, I know what kind of workout he's talking about."

There are a number of good arguments for resistance training over cardiovascular exercise for overall fitness, but there's still something to be said for building smooth muscle and extended exercise at a sustainable heart rate where an audio book would work well.

Music works well though since you can let it fade in and out of your consciousness without losing the thread as in a book. I was thinking about shorter pieces on audio, but what came to mind was Jim McMannus stories. They are both short and entertaining, but cracking up after hearing The Skunk Ladder in the middle of a free weight workout is probably counter productive if not outright dangerous.

Jeff Mountjoy said...

Right now I'm working on the CrossFit philosophy: if you're not kicking your own ass, you're not exercising hard enough. But they've got a wide variety of exercises in their Workouts of the Day. Today's: pull-ups. Yesterday's: heavy-weight squat cleans. The day before: 3 rounds, each round consisting of a 500 meter row, 21 burpees, and a 400 meter run. So it's a mix of endurance and heavy lifting and body-weight exercises. I can listen to music through anything; I've even got an iPod playlist called "Music To Kick My Own Ass To". But even with the running, I find I can't run as well with a book on tape. Either the book is distracting from the running, or the running is keeping me from paying attention to the book, depending on where I'm focusing....