August 10, 2007

Cavemen on Exercise Bikes

The experts agree: everyone needs to exercise. Regular readers of Cranky Fitness, feel free at this point to exclaim "Duh!" (Out loud, while at work--why not?) There are about 87,502 reasons why exercise is good for you, or, put another way, why people who don't exercise are totally screwed. And while every little bit of movement helps, more is better. Regular vigorous aerobic exercise (with some anaerobic intervals, strength training, and stretching thrown in too) is what you really need for optimal health.

Yet most people don't do it. Especially not the intense sweaty heavy-breathing kind. Why not? Because for the majority of people, despite what all the cheerful books and magazines and TV programs say about it, it's hard. It doesn't feel good, especially at first.

And Crabby has a theory: this inertia is entirely natural! Humans evolved to conserve our calories, which were hard to come by back when you had to hunt down and kill your protein, and roam the countrysides for miles in order to scrounge up enough carbs to keep from starving. So unless something with sharp teeth and claws was chasing after you at a fast clip, it made no sense to break into a run for no reason. Cavemen and cavewomen did better to sit on their butts and stuff themselves with calories when they got the chance. They would have just laughed at our silly elliptical trainers and exercise bikes! Inertia was their friend.

Now of course many readers of Cranky Fitness just love to do aerobic exercise. They look forward to it! They would still keep doing their triathlons even if all the studies suddenly reversed themselves and started saying whoops, looks like exercise actually causes cancer and heart disease--so sorry, we're afraid we had that backwards all these years! They'd go, oh, that's a shame, and go out for a fifteen mile run the next day anyway.

But there are others of us who must battle our "cavewoman" brains, and break through a stubborn wall of inertia almost every damn time we lace up our running shoes. Even if we actually enjoy our workouts much of the time. We do it anyway, day after day. Hooray for us! But we do it reluctantly nonetheless. It's not inherently appealing in the way a nice mid-day nap is.

So how do those of us who don't "naturally" like to do hard exercise come to find ourselves not only keeping up with it, but sometimes enjoying it? Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but there seem to be two main strategies.

1. Distraction.

Putting a television or a magazine rack in front of a treadmill, listening to books on tape, outlining your next novel, composing symphonies or writing cranky letters to the editor in your head--whatever your method, the idea is simple: Disconnect your brain! It would just be unhappy about what's going on down beneath it anyway, so protect it from the unpleasant physical sensations by keeping it occupied with more interesting things.

Crabby recently saw an article somewhere that said no, don't do this! The theory was that you'll be lazy and slow down if you're not paying enough attention. But Crabby says, screw that, go right ahead! Especially if you're on a treadmill--just set it for whatever pace you want to keep, and if you get too distracted you'll go flying off the back--THWACK--into the wall or the machine behind you. If you don't kill yourself or break anything, you'll eventually learn to keep your legs pumping even if your brain is miles away!

Note: Crabby doesn't use the distraction method herself. Her brain seems to be built to do only one thing at at time. So unless it's an easy walk (which she enjoys anyway) all she can think is This Sucks This Sucks This Sucks. So to make it Not Suck, she has to use this next method:

2. Enhancement.

This method Crabby thinks of as the "Rock out with it" strategy. Accept the fact that you are exercising and make it, to the extent possible, fun! We all probably have different ways of doing this, but for Crabby, there are three essential requirements: Great Music, A Large Dose of Caffeine, and Rhythmic Motion in time to the music. (Beautiful scenery is nice too, but is strangely enough, not as crucial). With these in place, it is possible for Crabby to achieve an altered state in which exertion is transformed into exhilaration, or at least becomes way less miserable.

For optimal altered states, a certain amount of bouncy up-and-down motion seems to be helpful. (And she does not mean this in a dirty way! Please!) An elliptical trainer works best for Crabby, because she pretty much abuses it: she launches herself up unnecessarily high with each step, so that it becomes more like a "ride" than a piece of exercise equipment. Dancey aerobic classes are also great for this--the music and leaping are all part of the package. Running is also not bad, especially outside where it's pretty.

Unfortunately, race-walking is a way down on the list for Crabby. But it's what she mostly does because of her knees. She misses her old step aerobics classes and her morning runs, and has to be careful when she has access to elliptical machines not to overuse them. Crabby wonders if perhaps a mini trampoline or a pogo stick may be in her future?

So what about you folks: Are you "natural" aerobic exercisers who love it no matter what? Do you avoid it entirely? Are you a "Distractor" or an "Enhancer" or some combination? Or are there other cool strategies Crabby is completely overlooking?


  1. If only caffeine didn't fuck me up so bad, I'd have to try that. Ha! (I get all jittery and buzzed and then the ensuing crash leaves me fuzzy and cranky for hours. Sugar does the same thing.)

    I'm a distractor. If I'm on the treadmill, I watch TV. If I'm outside, I listen to music. I was going to do that anyway, so I might as well exercise too, right?

  2. I have tried to use my exercise bike and my elliptical, and I do have to watch tv while doing it or I get so bord there's no way I'll stay on the machine.

    I did try reading while on the bike but holy crow, how do people do that?

    Unfortunately, because of my joint issues, my hips do not like my bike and I can't do that any longer. My elliptical, well, I could do that, if I could find it in my jungle of a room...

  3. I'm more of an Enhancer. I tried to read once on the elliptical, it just made me miserable. If my mind is meant to wander on some ideas while I'm exercising, it's okay, but I prefer remain focused on what I'm doing anyway. The only thing I usually bring with me is my MP3 player, but since I listen to music almost all the time, it's more a habit, and way less a means to make things more interesting.

    On the other hand, I don't think it sucks, so this helps. I actually *love* biking to work every day--it beats sitting in the smelly tramway, especially on rainy day when everything stinks of wet hair and clothes. :p And I can't keep my butt on a chair for more than half a hour, else I become all antsy-pantsy. Inertia is nice to some extent, but all day long, I'd find this a torture.

  4. Chicken Girl,
    Yeah, good point, caffeine isn't everyone's friend!

    Another distractor--and I'm with you on being impressed/amazed that people can read while biking!

    An enhancer! Though you sound like a bit of a "natural" too, especially if it doesn't suck even without music.

    I only actually like biking when it's not even close to aerobic--an nice mellow flat or downhill stretch of road is pleasant but when it gets uphill and bumpy? Sucks sucks sucks. Sigh.

  5. Walking partners. I've not had the opportunity to regularly walk or bike with an equally enthusiastic partner in quite a while but that worked well for me. When you have someone else, you don't have that internal discussion about whether or not you'll press for the full distance or time. It's already understood and beyond negotiation. Conversation keeps you entertained and before you know it, you're done. I've also learned that choosing a walking buddy who is significantly shorter or longer-legged makes coordination a bit difficult and leaves one of us puffing harder than the other.

    More recently, if I want to move quickly, my ever-entertaining iPod comes along, and I'll simply move ahead to the next song if one comes up that's less than motivating. I keep meaning to set up specific play lists so that every song is just right. I'm considering audio books as a means of distraction as well.

    I'm also going to have to start leaving my camera at home. It's counter-productive for fitness as there are just too many interesting distractions to capture, and I'm very easily distra... hey your caveman looks like he's got a yo-yo!

  6. When I first read your post I thought I was an enhancer because I love working out to great music and it really keeps me going. Then I thought about it, and really for me the music is a huge distraction. I focus on the music and try to forget that I am exercising. I once took a weight training class with an instructor that apparently considered the music to be a noise in the background because she would count out reps for us and it would not be to the beat of the music. It about drove me insane!!!

    I am not a good exerciser for many reasons: lack of discipline, lack of coordination, I despise team sports and jocks, etc.

    However, I had one successful run at it that lasted about two years. I was taking step aerobics classes and LOVED it. It was a total distraction for me. I could focus on the moves and the music and when I was done I was always amazed that if I calculated it out I had just accomplished about 5000 leg lifts without really thinking about it too much. I don’t know why I ever let that habit go, but now I could kick myself in my huge flabby but (except that I can’t reach it with my foot anymore!)

    Ironically, I find it difficult to stay motivated to do something as mundane as my Physical Therapy exercises. There is no sweat involved, just mild pain and some stretching, but setting time aside 3x daily for 15 minutes is a challenge. I always feel great after I do any exercise. I wish I could figure out how to use that fact to motivate myself to get started. Maybe a sign around my neck that says “EXERCISE MAKES ME FEEL GREAT!” would help!

  7. Great post! I'm an Enhancement type, too. If I don't have music blaring into my ears, I can't do it! It has to be a certain kind of beat and relatively new music so I don't get bored with it. (By new I mean "different"; I can't listen to the same stuff over and over again.)

    If I don't put my imagination to work, my mind goes down a negative path repeating phrases or checking the time and distance compulsively, especially when I'm on the treadmill. This is going to sound really stupid, but if I imagine running a race and barely winning it I do better.

  8. Both distractor and enhancer-- yay multitasking! I started doing intervals on the treadmill since you made that post a while back, which I LOVE (thanks, Crabby!). Sometimes, if it's a great song, I find myself freakin' *bounding* on the treadmill, running into that front bar part. I am many things, but a bounder (is that a word?) I am not. It's so weird.

    But other times, like when I'm doing that minute-running-as-fast-as-I-can part of the intervals, it's an active distraction. I'll run and to prevent me from looking down at that timer, being disappointed that only ten seconds has passed, I'll say, "Okay, I'll look down at the timer when the chorus has finished because then I know at least 45 seconds has passed and I can gasp through that last fifteen seconds, staring at the timer." Then I enjoy the chorus, and if I've got the energy, feel even better if I don't look for a bar or two after the chorus, then look down and woo! Five seconds left.

    And holly-- I have a sign on the back of my door that says "You feel awesome after going to the gym, even if you felt like crap before." Then I signed it, and ended it with "P.S. You wrote this after going to the gym while on your period on 7/24/2007!!" It totally helps.:)

    Wow, this was really long.

  9. Distraction works for me. I let my mind wander. Often it goes somewhere irritating so I use the irritation in the exercise. The exception is, briefly, on the stationary bike when I add in the chakra sounds. Once they're done I set my mind free once more.

  10. Jeepers Crabby, you got me huffing and puffing just from reading!

    So, this elliptical trainer you bounce on, doesn't s/he get a little ticked off?

  11. I don't really do machines... mostly I run. I do take a PiYo class and an ab class weekly... but other than that, I run the track or I run outside.

    The weight area of the gym terrifies me so even though I want to go, I don't. :)

  12. "So, this elliptical trainer you bounce on, doesn't s/he get a little ticked off?"

    Hahaha! FTW*.

    *"For The Win".

  13. I'm not even sure if I even enjoy exercise. But I'm addicted to the enorphins and shrinking effects. My most effective times are with a great teacher in a class or working out with a friend. Either way, I feel like someone's dragging my butt.

  14. I definitely need to find a new strategy. Back in my last 2 years of high school I lost 50+ pounds while eating cheeseburgers and ice cream because I was working out 7+ times per week. How did I manage to do what I hated so often!? I had tons of people doing it with me! I'd go to the gym with one friend at least 4 times per week, we'd push each other, hate it and laugh at ourselves. I was commanding officer of the NJROTC unit at my school and we'd work out during class sometimes just to avoid doing actual schoolwork. Then, sometimes we'd work out after school as a unit together. Not always the funnest workouts, but it's much better to do it with 10 of your closest buds. Then, I graduated and moved away for college and live with my now-husband who would prefer to eat pasta every night. So, all of the weight came back and my running shoes have only seen walking. I definitely don't have the willpower to do it alone, and I don't have much in the way of friends in this area.
    Maybe that should be my next goal.
    Make friends.
    Workout with said friends.

  15. sorry. hit publish too soon. THe exception to my last comment is the satanic tread/stair/climber. great workout, short amount of time. I love it because I hate it. Don't need external forces to push me to get a good workout.

  16. I ran track in college as well as beginning my Martial Arts training in my senior year. A few years later, as I was not paying much attention at the time, I was at a karate class and my instructor politely said, "J. YOU ARE GETTING FAT!!" HaHa!! Subtle..
    I started paying attention and took control. I have been working out ever since with running as the foundation of a well rounded work out(cardio, sports, weights, etc.). In the beginning, it was hard to do it. Over time as I got fitter, it was easier. Now it's getting harder again. After all these years of running, I don't expect it to be easy, I just expect myself to do it. I don't know what will get me through it tomorrow(I just finished a 7 miler today), but I'll find something. Hopefully, so will all of you :-)

  17. It depends on how good of shape I'm in, hehe.

    When I'm just starting to workout again (usually running), I have to keep a positive internal dialog going, as silly as that sounds. I have to tell myself things like my husband will be so proud of me and I will get better at this, etc. Music at this point can throw off my rhythm too easily.

    When I'm in better shape, I tend to zone out while listening to music during a run.

    For other exercises (sit-ups, push-ups and the like), I'd just take five minutes and do a couple of sets, go back to whatever I was doing for a bit, and then take another five minutes. Great to do if you spend a lot of time at the computer. :)

  18. I think I actually love getting all sweaty because I think I have then accomplished something. Due to this I used to hate pilates and yoga, but have recently figured out how great they are.

    Music is the all time best to pump up any cardio though.. and on bad days I can plod through a 10 minute mile on the treadmill while reading the latest gossip on Paris and Lindsey to help pass the time.

    OH I miss my caffeine right now though.. in the middle of my own Nutritionathon and have given up the diet soda.

  19. Hilary--
    Company! Now that's a good one. Whether walking partners or running buddies or whatever. But you're right, getting a compatible one, both in terms of fitness and companionship is sometimes challenging.

    So I think I'd want to strangle an instructor who put on music, then had you do reps that didn't go with the beat!

    But sounds like you miss it--and yep, once you get motivated and do it, you feel great! Hope you get through the boring rehab part and get to start doing the (relatively) fun stuff again.

    Soap Box Girl--
    Totally with you on the tunes, and that they have to be 'fresh'. Which becomes a huge chore in itself, finding good music with the right beats.

    And imagining you're running and winning a race doesn't sound silly at all, that sounds like what Expensive Experts would totally recommend for motivation!

    Sarah--hooray for freakin' bounding! And that's so awesome that you're doing intervals. So far I'm sticking with them too--on interval days, I seem to have way more energy after my workouts.

    Back in a little bit...

  20. Crabby, you're so right that the whole exercise thingy is just unnatural these days. I keep remembering that scene in Back to the Future III where Christopher Lloyd is telling the guys in the saloon that someday people will just go running for recreational purposes, and they think he's crazy.

    I prefer housecleaning vigorously, or as I posted before, doing the heavy lifting and punching associated with archiving files at work. I also formed an email Pact with a group of friends that worked really well for a while, until tragedy struck several of them and then it seemed stupid to email them all about fitness and weight loss, so it sort of petered out.

    I got a pretty good walk yesterday: I'm at Annandale-on-Hudson right now at the Bard Festival, and we have a really long walk from our dorm to the cafeteria. So last night at dinner a friend and I were talking and realized we didn't have any wine and that the wine store in Rhinebeck closes at 7:00. So we jumped up and hightailed it back to his car at the dorm. We made very good time, and I got a Verdicchio and some Spanish wine I've already forgotten the name of. Good. And I only had ONE glass.

    And the scenery is great here too.

  21. Leah,
    It seems so like you to embrace your irritation and put it to good use!

    Smart-ass! :)

    Good for you--running seems much more natural than doing machines.

    But do not Fear the Weight Room! (I used to, too). More and more research seems to be saying it's Way good for you. Plus it makes you look and feel great. A library book or a personal training session might be an idea if you're ever tempted. And then you'll find out half the people in there who look so intimidating actually have no clue what they're doing.

    Don't encourage him! (Actually, yeah, do, we like him).

    I so admire you tackling the Satan machine. I just checked out a nearby gym today and they have them! But they also have ellipticals and I haven't had a gym membership in awhile, so am in serious Elliptical deprivation mode. (I blasted my Tunes and had a Fantastic, Amazing, Exhilarating Elliptical Workout and am still buzzing.) But maybe, once I work up the nerve, I'll brave the Sulfur fumes and venture over and check 'ol Satan out.

    That's too bad about not having workout buddies any more. But sounds like two good goals, more friends, and more working out!

    Hey Dr. J,
    That's pretty inspirational! And kudos for keeping going even when its getting harder again.

    Hi Lisa,
    Great strategies!

    And when I'm home, I use your break-it-up idea for weight training too. We've got a machine thingy and some free weights downstairs, so I'll just do one or two exercises for a computer break, then come back down again in an hour or so. (Doesn't work too well at the gym!)

    I definitely need to do some sweaty stuff too! And sorry about the missing caffeine, I'd be lost without my morning giganto-mug of java!

    Good for you for the long walk! And too bad about the email group--having support and checkins is a really great resource for getting healthy habits going.

    And the Bard Festival sounds like a blast, have a good time!

  22. Have you tried bike riding Crabby? It gives you the pretty outdoor scenery, thrill of exploration and is VERY easy on the knees.

    It's my favorite from of exercise. :)

  23. Sera,
    That's a good idea--I haven't done it in a long time and really should think about starting again!

    Okay, I'm heading off for a while on various DC adventures, and will be back later to read any further comments there might be. thanks everyone!

  24. 87,502 huh? Did you actually count all these "reasons" or take a blind guess? Also, wouldn't caffeine enhancements be considered not healthy additions to your workout system. Believe me I'm not stopping the coffee flow; just curious. I read on my exercise bike but it makes me dizzy. I still do it though. It's the only time I get to read so it's like an exercise reward. During exercise, I'm sad to admit is the time I drink the most H2O -- I know I should drink it all the day long. But frankly coffee always sounds better. One of my goals is to drink more water. How to motivate that though is a whole other question.

    Glad your move went well. And glad to see that you're working on that shorter posting business ;)

  25. I know the usual responses to this are actually related to what you wrote, but I just had to tell you that the caveman drawing blocked my brain from comprehending anything and I had to start over twice after realizing I got to the end and never really read anything. I'm sorry, but I don't see a caveman on an exercise bike, I see more of a perverted image of something along the lines of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" with an erection making that poor little dog/reindeer pull his cart with his brand new wheel invention. (I always felt sorry for the dog in the cartoon, and I'm thinking this dog's life was probably worse since his owner was horney AND mean!) Just to let you know, though, I need music while I walk too.

  26. Definitely natural exerciser, although I gotta admit, having the MP3 player makes it better.

  27. Carrie, I totally see the Grinch, the dog AND the erection!!!

    Sarah, thanks for the advice. Next time I get full of endorphins from exercising, I am making a sign!!! (I will probably exclude the period part as my three men -11,12, and 50 would probably be mortified!)

  28. The image of a Crab bouncing on an elliptical trainer with a Superman cape billowing behind has got me giggling too much to exercise!

    (Someone gave you a Superman cape yesterday.)

  29. Jennifer,
    Yep counted every reason!

    And the research on coffee keeps turning up more positives than negatives unless you have particular sensitivities or health conditions that I can't recall. It's especially useful before exercise because it decreases perceived exertion and increases performance. So guzzle away!

    I was wondering who the first person would be to notice and comment on the erection! I was almost going to call this post "Cavewomen and exercise bikes" until I saw it there in all its, um, glory.

    A natural! Congratulations. But you're right, music makes pretty much everything better.

    Go endorphins! And it sounds like the sign thing actually works for some people, so go for it--maybe something wild with glitter.

    Hi Dawn!
    Actually, I worked out on my beloved elliptical yesterday and I looked probably at least as silly as if I were wearing the cape. Was not just bouncing but sort of dancing on the thing and lip syncing when the music got good. Looked like an a--hole but had a great time!

  30. Hi Crabby,

    I am not a natural exercise fiend. I am a natural kick-back-the-recliner and read fiend.

    I do like to walk in any weather that is not hot and humid.

    I go to the gym because: 1. It is across the street from my house and 2. I work there part-time.

    I wish I loved all things physical, but alas, I do not, so I must admit that exercise is the only thing in my life that I do because I should, not because I want to.


  31. That's a great post, and I think you've got something with your theory!

    If I exercise indoors, I'm a distractor: I'll watch a good movie on TV, DVD, what have you. If I exercise outdoors, I'm an enhancer -- I want great music. And if I'm on an exercise bike, I can read, but I sure as heck can't read when I'm fast-walking or when I'm ellipticizing.

    Here's another thing I do on my outdoor walks, in the absence of music: plot /brainstorm my novels! I've had some of my best ideas pop into my brain on my walks.

  32. I do like this post. In fact, I like this blog. I usually lurk, but I'm trying to break out of that shell, so here goes.

    The hardest part about biking to work in the morning is the part where I actually get on the bike and push off down the street. I have to shut down the brain and go on automatic pilot or I'll find 1001 excuses not to set off.

    Once I'm pedaling, it's easier to enjoy the road and the day. Even a lousy day weather-wise is better than the frustration of being stuck in traffic with nothing to do but feel your blood pressure rise.

    And I just signed up for a 36 mile ride tomorrow morning. I haven't ridden more than 10 miles at a time in a year. This should be interesting. (gulp) But you have to stretch yourself at least a little.

  33. I'm a Distractor and Enhancer LOL

    I listen to my MP3 player while (pick one):
    a) reading a book/magazine
    b)watching videos on the gym TV's
    c)watching hot guys exercise/lift weights

    Usually it's A with a bit of B and C thrown in ;)

  34. Terrie,
    I think that's entirely normal, and good for you for walking a lot and making yourself go to the gym against your will! I think exercise counts double when you don't feel like it.

    Thomma Lyn,
    Ha! I'm trying to picture reading while fast-walking and you're right--that would so NOT work!

    I love it when ideas pop into my brain while exercising--sounds like you really take advantage of this phenomenon. Perhaps that's why you're such a disciplined productive writer!

    Mary, welcome to the comment section!

    I can so relate to that "hate to get started" thing. Why don't we ever learn that we don't hate it once we get going? But I've been exercising for decades and I have to do that same automatic pilot thing where I pretend there's no particular reason I'm strapping on my heart rate monitor, because if I thought about it too much I might change my mind.

    And wow, good for you for signing up for the bike ride! Sounds like quite a stretch though, to go more than triple your normal distance--don't be afraid to bail if something seriously hurts, as injuries totally suck! (I had a friend whose knee went out in mile 12 of a 100 mile ride, and being a macho guy, he figured he had to finish the ride anyway. Totally messed him up.) But I'm sure you'll probably be fine, just sore!

    Great combo strategy--Music, info-tainment, and eye candy!

  35. I'm an enhancer, preferring my aerobics class with lashings of the cheesiest disco music available, whereas my husband is from the third not mentioned group, the rewarders. He does whole triathlons just so that he can have beer (reward is not a strategy to be recommended though, seems like you have to go through an awful lot just for a couple of beers)

  36. Hi Sophie,
    Hooray for cheesy disco music! (It's Raining Men, I have to confess, is just one of the "classics" that appear on my iPod).

    And I agree, that seems like a hell of a lot of exercise to go through for a couple of beers, but good for your husband! "Rewarders" are another great category.

  37. I usually exercise just when Star Trek: The Next Generation comes on Spike TV.

    It's gotten to the point where I hum that "duhhh duhh dah duhhh duh dah dahhh!" theme song as I clamber onto the treadmill.

    Make it so, Number One.

  38. Hi Jim,

    That actually sounds pretty damn inspiring! A space adventure might be a nice change from stupid CNN headline news which my usual visual. (Audio is of course trashy iPod tunes).

  39. Have lots and lots of sex it really burns up the calories. When you are finished have more sex. It will keep you trim and slim.


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