Tricking ourselves into getting in shape

I was sitting in The Shoppe, a cupcake and cereal place in Denver, with my pal Nick last week, and we started having this conversation:

Nick: You know, the last time I was here — you know that gym next door?

Me: Yeah, the place where they do the spin classes or whatever?

Nick: Yeah. They apparently do a lot of stuff there. Well, we were leaving, and they have a bunch of people out on the sidewalk in front of the gym flipping a tractor tire.

Me: Just flipping it on the sidewalk? On Colfax Avenue? Like on World’s Strongest Man?

Nick: Yeah.

Me: That’s got to be illegal, doesn’t it? You can’t even ride a bike on the sidewalk on Colfax.

Nick: Maybe. Anyway, after they got done flipping the tire, they get out a sledgehammer, and just start whaling away on the tractor tire with it.

Me: Just hitting a tractor tire with a sledgehammer, on Colfax.

Nick: Yeah.

I don’t keep up on fitness trends. I am aware of new things like P90X, kettlebells, and Jazzercize, but only marginally. I do not have a gym membership — since Denver’s weather is so nice year-round, I pretty much try to avoid exercising indoors. I understand people take kickboxing classes, go to Bikram Yoga sessions where they contort themselves into pretzels in 110-degree heat and 80 percent humidity, and pay people to yell at them as if they really were in boot camp, all in order to stay, or get in shape.

And then sometimes, we roll tractor tires around on the sidewalk and hit them with sledgehammers. We left our hard jobs in the farm fields to work in offices, then created all kinds of high-tech machines to simulate a workout, and now we’re going back to manual labor to get us in shape. But fake manual labor. Something about the whole thing reminds me of the training montage from Rocky IV, in which, well, this YouTube commenter put it best:

“i feel sorry for? the Russians spending 25million on a gym and losing to a guy that chopped wood…”

I have done some crazy shit in my life to get in better shape for outdoor pursuits  — including trying to eat less that two pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream per week. I’ve also hiked up the same mountain 12 times in 12 weeks to get in shape to climb another mountain, done pull-ups on door frames, and filled backpacks with climbing gear for extra weight while I went on a dayhike.

I used to run the stairs in an apartment building where I lived, with a good 25 pounds in a backpack on my back. It was a 6-story  building, so I had to rip off quite a few laps in the stairwell to get in a good workout.  By the end of it, I’d be dripping sweat, and the humidity level in the stairwell would have jumped by about 50 percent. I never saw anyone coming up the stairs when I was doing this, and I was always paranoid someone would start up the stairwell and catch me in the middle of a workout. And of course, they would think I was crazy for running up and down the stairs over and over again.

But, if I were in 24 Hour Fitness, slaving away on a stairmaster, next to someone riding a bicycle to nowhere, would that be crazier? No, that’s normal for us. We have machines that replicate terrain for running, cycling, skiing, walking up stairs, rowing, and whatever the elliptical machine is replicating — running on the moon? We’re a society that thinks a stationary bicycle is a better invention than a real bicycle, or you’d assume we thought that way, based on usage . We have shoes with rounded bottoms that are supposed to firm up our asses. The Shake Weight is pretty much in its own category, but is still just the latest Great New Workout Product That Will Change Your Life to be featured on an infomercial. All these products and infomercials don’t motivate you to get up and get in shape — they motivate you to buy stupid shit like Shake Weights, which are still sitting on the floor next to your couch six months later when another infomercial for a different product comes on, and you almost put down your Doritos and pick up your phone to order it.

What are we doing? Just trying to trick ourselves into exercising, right? Think about the time you were in the best shape of your life. Mine was probably my senior high school football season, lifting weights and constantly conditioning myself because I thought our next game really mattered to the world. I probably would have run through a wall if my coach had told me it would help us have an undefeated season. Talk about tricking yourself into exercising. But it worked. Now what do I do? I look at photos of big mountains, and get scared that I’m too fat and slow to climb them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go on this totally contrived trail run I dreamed up while sitting on my ass at a computer.


Tags from the story
4 replies on “Tricking ourselves into getting in shape”
  1. says: Will

    I’ve often mused that if only we could find something physically demanding, relatively safe and useful to society towards which we could channel our penchant for working out, we’d actually do something constructive with all our calories. Problem is, even something like stacking bricks, or deconstructing a derelict building is dusty and dangerous. Chopping wood, maybe, but for that you need a marshaling yard and some sort of supervision so no one loses fingers or toes.

    When I lived in LA, one of my favorite “workouts” was to go to Sunset beach or Palos Verdes which both have areas with big melon sized round rocks, pick up said rocks and hurl them as far as I could. It was tremendously satisfying, especially when the rock would shatter. I guess I was just helping to accelerate the natural erosion process, but hey, beaches need new sand.

  2. says: David H

    “Find something you like to do and do LOTS of it.”

    To me it’s understood that the activity is outside and involves movement.

  3. says: Christa

    I was reading a great article just yesterday by a Brillant biomechanist Katy Bowman about functional fitness. There are some who would argue that tire flipping is ‘functional fitness.’ but as she points out, we didn’t evolve in the plains of Africa flipping tires. We walked long distances carrying heavy things. Her argument is that better fitness routine would be walking to the grocery store and then walking back, carrying our food. But anyone who’s tried this will tell you, it’s hard work. And if you orient your life around living this way, it’s hard work for many hours everyday. So her speculation was that one of the reasons we prefer to go to the gym to workout is that we can fit all that hard work into just one hour, 3-5 times a week, and go on sitting around and being lazy the other 99% of our lives.

  4. says: Lindsay

    I recently caved in and got a gym membership since it’s been so difficult to keep in shape with a desk job. Ever since moving to California I rarely run either due to the heat or refusing to run alone in the dark around my neighborhood. Even walking to and from the stores is almost impossible with how the newer developments are set up with limited sidewalks to get to the strip malls. I have to drive at least 45 minutes to be active in the outdoors and am further limited as to where I can bring my dog. The closest indoor climbing gym is 30 minutes away and is only open 26 hr./wk.

    I miss being back in Oregon where I was able to trail run 15 minutes away from where I lived, regularily found time to climb in and outdoors year round, hiking with my dog and constantly planning a new weekend adventures with friends. So for now I just keep active around the yard and house but go to the gym early morning and late at night to help keep me ready to go back outdoors, which is only about 4-6 times a year now.

Comments are closed.