Thursday, October 27, 2011

Back to the Gym

The dismal gray days, dark mornings, and rain have driven me back to the gym.  After a four month leave of absence, I’ve returned to the treadmill and weights.  Up until a couple of years ago, I was anti-gym.  I scorned the treadmill as boring and scoffed at those who rotated through the Nautilus maze (brainless!).  Then I got hooked.  This is what I love about the gym:  from October 1 through April 15th, the gym is a warm bright environment in which to workout.  Here, there is no running through knee-deep slush on dark mornings, slipping on sheets of ice, and being blown off my feet by gales.

There are other benefits, too.  For example, the gym has mirrors and while at first, it’s disconcerting to have so much “face time” with yourself, eventually, you realize that by watching your body run, lift weights, spin, or even stretch, you can focus on and improve form and posture unlike doing these activities sans reflection.  After a few treadmill sessions in front of a full length mirror, I recognized that I had a shuffling gait.  I began watching my stride, foot placement, knee and hip alignment and over the winter improved both comfort and speed.

I have sympathy for those who feel the treadmill (and other cardio equipment such as the elliptical trainer or stationary bike) are just too boring.  For you I have one word:  Ipod.  Load up the player with upbeat music, rotate songs and playlists every week, and download podcasts and audio books to keep yourself entertained.

The key to maintaining a long-term relationship with the gym is variety.  This can be as simple as working with the speed and elevation settings on the treadmill or, more imaginatively, incorporating classes like spinning and yoga into a weekly program.  I mix it up by sticking with a running and weight lifting regimen from October through December, then, starting in January, substitute spinning classes for one or two running sessions each week.

Now, a word about weight lifting.  Some readers may have tried weight lifting in the past and others may have shunned the weight room altogether for any number of reasons.  It could be time now to say goodbye to the reasons why not and welcome in a host of good reasons why to.  If the weight room has felt in the past like the domain of muscle-bound Arnold Schwartzeneggers, think again.  For women, weight lifting is an effective method for increasing bone density and preventing osteoporosis.  For men and women of all ages, weight lifting can help increase speed and power for your primary sports such as cycling, skiing, and running.  And, if those aren’t good enough reasons, there’s no better way to tone up and tighten flabby abs, gluts, and thighs than weight lifting.

There’s no replacing the fresh air and beautiful scenery that the great outdoors offers as a backdrop for exercising, but the gym provides a dependable, focused environment in which to power through your workouts.  Give it a chance.

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