February 17, 2009

Darwin in the gym

Darwin is the name most associated with the concept of evolution, so I'm using his name, symbolic like, to indicate that this post deals with evolution. In the gym.

No, I'm not talking about people on the monkey bars starting to walk upright or anything like that.

I'm talking about Punctuated Equilibrium. Which has nothing to do with someone balancing on one leg trying to think about punctuation.

Punctuated equilibrium is one of those terms evolutionary biologists like to talk about: great bursts of change followed by long periods of slacktitude.

(Yes, I know that a) that's a major generalization of the theory, b) Darwin didn't write about punctuated equilibrium, and c) neither Darwin nor any other evolutionary theorist has ever used the word 'slacktitude' in his writings.)


What's that got to do with the gym?

My exercise routine also follows this pattern. I get all motivated, fired up with great bursts of enthusiasm. I do great for awhile, coast on my momentum for awhile, then... start... to ... slow... down...

The past week month or so I have been majorly uninspired to work out -- at all -- ever -- I mean we're talking time-to-hang-up-those-running-shoes-and-put-on-those-slippers, I need to re-bond with my couch and the remote.
[Photo credit: Pat Hawks]

Only one thing to do in a situation like that -- go shopping.
[Photo credit: MarkHillary]

No, not that kind of shopping. I got another damn exercise DVD.

Last time this happened, I followed the couch to 5k schedule. Before that it was swinging kettlebells. (Crabby's right, they don't ring. For that matter, who has a kettle shaped like that? Or that weighs that much? I vote we change the name officially to something else.)

The trouble is that I want exercise to be a habit without its becoming a bore. So I try all these different methods to keep the relationship between me and my exercise routine fresh and exciting. I want to stay in the sweetheart dating stage of exercising and avoid the responsible, adult, settling-down-and-raising-the-kids stuff.

Damn. Don't you hate it when a blogger switches metaphors in mid-post like that? Is exercise like evolution or like a relationship? Hell, maybe it's both.

From what I can tell from the comments, all of you are responsible, hard-working, and in a committed relationship with your exercise routine. Do you have any secrets for success? That you can share, I mean. Darwin and I would love to hear them.


46 comments:

  1. I have no secret to the workout evolution/relatinship, other than I do see a trainer twice a month and he yells at me when I get stuck in a boring workout rut and the results stop.

    I also try to change my workout, like for 3 months i ran very little, and now I'm starting up again, with new routes and sexy new gear. :) so perhaps shopping is the answer. Once I bought the new outdoor running kit I couldn't wait to try it out.

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  2. Right now I'm totally into pilates. Trying to perfect the moves on the equipment so I can be one of those folks in the pictures doing the splits and such. I am trying to see the transformations it can bring out in my body. More of an experiment really :)

    ~rupal

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  3. The only thing that is currently keeping me committed to any of my fitness goals is my financial investment. I abhor wasting money (especially when it can go to buying plane tickets!) so I sign up for races to keep me running and I pay a gym membership which makes me go to the gym. But only for the classes. It helps having someone yell at me and tell me what to do. Takes all the thinking right out of it. :)

    And if I could afford it, I'd probably get a trainer for one or two days a week.

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  4. "Responsible, hardworking, and in a committed relationship with my exercise routine" - um, not quite. More like we pass occasionally on the street and make eye contact, but rarely stop to chat.

    What has kept me going as far as I have? Running partner.

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  5. In a good way what keeps me going is fear.
    I will be 55 when my Toddler graduates from HS and I do not wanna be the old mom.

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  6. Several things keep me going, these are in no particular order and similar to several already posted.
    I train with a trainer every other week.
    Money: Joined a website that just tells me what to do and I just do it. I also pay the gym and the trainer. I may end up broke but I will be fit.
    I read this blog which is quite entertaining by the way but whose name embodies my workout attitude of cranky fitness.
    I read something about working out every day besides this blog.
    Fear: I get on the scale every day. It does not frequently change but it just another little reminder. I also fear old age and not being able to move (my mother). Remind me to tell you the story of my 87 year old mother falling to the ground with her 93 year old boyfriend (no injuries). Pretty funny actually, even she thinks so.

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  7. The term "success" is probably giving (me, at least) too much credit. I can say that variety and goals are the best way to keep me interested.

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  8. mm...yeah. I don't have much of a healthy relationship with exercise. more like a dislike/loath relationship. my only trick for motivation at this point is gold stars on the calander when i DO use my rowing machine, and guilt when it's been a week since the last star!

    Can I still use my 5 month old as an excuse for slacking? :)

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  9. Darwin's "Species" is in a prominent position on my bookshelf! He just had a birthday. Same as Old Abe Lincoln, who knew?
    My training in undergrad. was evolution, ecologic niche oriented, and it's shaped my clinical thinking ever since, with I believe, positive effects.

    One bit of advice on working out: Liking it has nothing to do with doing it. If you want to be one of the surviving fittest, concentrate on enjoying being finished with your exercise. Oh, yeah, and wear cool shoes :-)

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  10. Mine motivator is similar to MizFit's, though I don't have a child. I notice that I feel better when I'm exercising regularly and I'm afraid of what will happen if I stop. Plus, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment/satisfaction. Which is not to say that I don't go through the odd slump - this winter has been hard - but I never give up entirely.

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  11. I sign up for races and my goal is always to beat my time from a previous race. Each race brings new challenges so I'm always working to make myself a better runner and I know that if I slack I won't be able to meet my goals.

    Plus, I thrive on routine. That helps a lot.

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  12. It's really cool that people have so many different answers to this question. There is no One Answer!

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  13. "Punctuated Equilibrium" describes my patterns exactly. I find that too many days of slackitude in a row motivate me to get my ass to the gym; I start feeling too cranky and guilty to put it off any longer.

    But conversely, a few weeks or months in a row of being really "good" seems to shift me back into temporary avoidance mode.

    I'm finding the other comments really interesting--a lot of sheer will power, rather than "oh I just love exercise!"

    I have to follow Dr. J's advice and concentrate on how good I'll feel afterwards!

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  14. I'm getting married in a year and a half, and want to do the gradual getting stronger, toned-er, sleeker instead of waiting until I've got 2 months left and crash dieting/doing unrealistically maintainable exercises.

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  15. Heh..."slacktitude" describes my workouts as of late. Other than bellydance I've been really uninspired.
    i too have ordered a new workout DVD to give me a kickstart. I can't wait for it to get here-cardio fusion dance moves and yoga muscle dance conditioning. I'm hoping it gives me a kick in the ass to get back at things so I am up for running once the snow melts.

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  16. honestly working out is just something that i have come to terms with the fact that I don't like it, but I like how I feel when I am done. I have to switch things all the time, or I talk myself out of it. The other side of the story is to remember to not work yourself out to death...take a day off...just use it as a motivating factor.

    Like Jillian Michaels says alot "Don't phone this one in", there are going to be days when working out isn't that fun and you just have to suck it up and do it anyway.

    Keep fighting the good fight:)

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  17. honestly working out is just something that i have come to terms with the fact that I don't like it, but I like how I feel when I am done. I have to switch things all the time, or I talk myself out of it. The other side of the story is to remember to not work yourself out to death...take a day off...just use it as a motivating factor.

    Like Jillian Michaels says alot "Don't phone this one in", there are going to be days when working out isn't that fun and you just have to suck it up and do it anyway.

    Keep fighting the good fight:)

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  18. I really like pushing myself - and actually look forward to the satisfaction I'll feel after an especially punishing workout.

    That said, routine is the enemy. Constant variety keeps things interesting. Have you looked at Crossfit at all? I no longer follow their workouts, since I've moved on to training more specific to my sport, but it's a great general conditioning program.


    The posted workouts look rather crazy at first (and I'd strongly suggest NOT jumping right into them), but they have versions scaled to all ability levels from "buttercup" to "fire breather".

    My girlfriend and I actually get excited about whatever we'll be doing the gym on a given night....
    Well, more a mixture of excitement and dread.

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  19. Well, it helps that I HAVE to be at the gym because I teach class. There are some days where I'm entirely unmotivated to work out, but I have to go teach, and I leave feeling so much better.

    It's my own workouts that get shortchanged sometimes. I've just started running, but I need to get new sneakers, so that might put off my workout a little bit (I don't want my old foot injury to come back). Usually, working out with friends will help me keep on track.

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  20. Hey Leth R., maybe you should go visit Half Fast and make nice to Vanilla. He's giving away a pair of Pearl Izumis. (New ones, I mean. Not giving away old shoes, which is not something to make nice about.)

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  21. Workouts are like marriages.

    Some people get bored eventually with the same thing. So, they'll need to shake things up.

    Others like the stability and predictability of a routine and respond well to that.

    And still others are polygamists. I'm not sure how that translates to workouts, though.

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  22. I would say the variety of the classes I go too keep me very interested. I had gotten bored with working out at home about a year ago, too many distractions at home so by finding this "unique" gym that offers strictly classes I've found the perfect place for me.

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  23. Hmm...scratching my head for the one concept I can remember from science class-- that's it, inertia! I tend to find one activity I like and just keep on doing it. Day after day. Year after year. I guess I don't mind the monotony/monogamy thing. But I think it's you folks who are constantly switching things up who are probably the most fit-- my body never has to adapt to any new kind of activity, y'know?

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  24. Wow, timely post for me ^_^ I'm suffering from the same slackitude. I'm currently trying to just power through it, having given myself the weekend off, I'm hoping that returning to the gym this week will re-motivate me.

    -Meg

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  25. Aw Merry, a girl after my own heart when it comes to the gym. I also fall into the slackitude slump. (I think we should make that viral...)

    I tend to stick to what I know works (too much time on the treadmill) but add in days of variety. Tae-bo one week, Ron Matthews the next, Yoda for a month if I'm feeling the need to be more stretchy. I don't feel like I advance very far, but I also don't feel like I fall behind. And that keeps me pacified most of the time.

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  26. I sometimes get caught in a rut and don't want to move but each movement you make gets you closer to better health. Don't you care about health?

    Plus if you have machines sometimes they have grueling workouts like the one I did this morning, Pike's Peak.
    And how else would I get to ellip up Pike's Peak in this life time?
    I always feel better afterward too. Knowing that I am working towards better health.

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  27. I don't have much of a secret- my secret is to get an instructor to keep me working out. Or writing about it on my blog so that you lot all keep me accountable. I'm sneaky like that. Hehehe.

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  28. no great ahas, but what works for me ..is to kick the challenge up a notch occasionally, so it's a stretch (pardon the pun) but wont scare me s***tless... but for me the BIGGIE.. is i know how much better i'll feel better AFTER ...

    happy trails all
    gp

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  29. My key to success was martial-arts style classes. My favorite one was getting to beat up a bag. I got to get out my aggression, practice technique and not get battered myself. There are certain factors I believe are necessary to keep motivated: 1) find something you enjoy doing; 2) set goals that are meaningful to you (NOT lose 30 lbs!) like do a marathon or stave off depression; 3) do something that involves skill so that you're growing and advancing and distracted from how hard you're breathing.

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  30. My not-so-secret? OCD! The evolutionary theorists should have a heyday with that one:)

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  31. Like most of my relationships, my relationship with my workouts is very dysfunctional. I never want to start my workouts, no matter what is scheduled. Once I force myself to begin I love whatever I'm doing, whether running, cycling, swimming, following some tape or lifting weights. Correction: I never love lifting weights. I enjoy doing the same workout over and over again, once I convince myself to start.

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  32. I love walking. I hate cold. Which one will win is a toss-up every day. (I hate treadmills even more than cold, and I can't afford an elliptical. That's why I have the exercise bike, which I also hate but not as much.) To me, boring is not the same as hard. Or easy, either.

    When I was in a place where I could walk easily, I just did it. Now I fight all the obstacles of time and place and obligation, and I'm tired before I even get out.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  34. I do what I like to do, it's much easier to stick at it that way. When the slackitude hits I think long and hard about what I want, how much I want it and how I'm going to get it. That usually drags me away from my torrid affair with the couch and back into the arms of my adoring and nurturing exercise relationship.

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  35. I run around in a park near my house, I have run a 5K race there before and I run the same loop often. I like playing racquetball. If I could afford a personal trainer I would have one.

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  36. I have to agree with Chris, give CrossFit a go! Every day is a brand new workout and the schedule is three days on, one day off.
    Yesterday it was squat cleans, today it is pull ups, tomorrow will be something completely different.
    Also, there are scaled workouts so don't be freaked out if you can't do the ones that are on the main page.

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  37. I'm just coming out of a rut that lasted approximately 3 months. I can't say what prompted me to get back to working out except the snugness of my pants. Getting into a routine and then just sticking with it no matter what is what keeps me going, but apparently that doesn't work because eventually it peeters out and I'm left wondering when and why I stopped exercising.

    This time around I'm trying something new. I'm not forcing myself to do activities I hate and I'm adding in some activities I really like (yoga, for example). I've always been so obsessed with burning a certain number of calories, and this time around I'm trying to focus more on enjoying what I'm doing instead of suffering through it all the time. Sure, a hard workout on the elliptical isn't a cake walk, but about 10 minutes in, I realize I like how it feels to be moving.

    By the way, I've given you an award. Thanks for always having the attitude to get me going and a healthy dose of gratitude that inspires me.

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  38. I find that the other end of the rainbow stuff works for me now. You always feel better after than before. Plenty of slackitude before the age of 50 now starts to put things in perspective that the end of this ride is closer that you think. Making sure I fit in the regular sized coffin is the final goal.

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  39. I have to confess I didn't read all the comments, so sorry if this was already said. I'm going to put on my 'lecture' hat and point out that two steps forward and one step back is generally the 'normal' way of change. And I assume that we're talking about change because few of us were born with the elliptical, kettlebells, whatever as a part of our lifestyle. That brings me to the second point, if it doesn't feel good, then it probably won't lead to permanent change. So the issue is finding what feels good, or as Crabby mentioned, learning when our bodies start yelling it's time to move, then doing it. My favorite exercise of the moment? Snowshoeing. It's so invigorating -- work hard in the wonderful winter air -- that I actually look forward to it most days! It helps to have snow, though.

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  40. One more thing: It may seem like a month of not doing any physical activity is more than one step back, but in the long run, it doesn't have to be more than that. It helps to keep a long-term perspective.

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  41. Hi Merry,

    I want to tell you again how much I love your posts. And I'll tell you what I do when I exercise. I focus, almost meditate, on the wonder of what my body is doing, of the experience of doing it. Like if I'm on the bench press, the feeling of moving that weight, of pressing it away from me, of learning that my body can do this, can do something strong, and the feeling in my muscles of doing an action that is difficult, pushing through/past that pressure, that load. If I'm doing yoga I pay attention to how the stretch feels, the parts that involve some pain and the parts that have an exhiliration to them. I watch with glee when I find that I'm getting more flexible and fall lower into a stretch than before, and feel the physical pleasure of being in that position (when a muscle gets to realliy stretch out). I give myself lots of room and permission for it to be okay if I'm stiffer on a given day than before and can't go as far. Running/jogging/other cardio: I watch with interest how my body responds to the aerobic demands, when I have the energy to do little sprints, how long they lasts, what it feels like when that energy ends, what happens if I try to push through, and how longer, less demanding stretches of regular exertion feel. Bike riding is my favorite, btw, and I do the rollers (thank you again) when the weather's bad. (I have to interrupt myself to say how incredible I find riding to be. The wind, being on wheels(!) handling turns and the terrain of the roads or woods, negotiating traffic, the feeling of being so engaged with existence, feeling so vibrant, is almost overwhelming.) I listen as my body presents me with evidence that I'm alive, and I marvel at this, at having a body that works in many ways, and just encourage myself to be awed by the whole experience.

    I don't know if this is of any use, if you can get yourself into this headspace. On the upside, I think it can be applied to pretty much anything.

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  42. I love Cranky Fitness, but why are you writing about the Obama Economic Stimulus Plan? "great bursts of change followed by long periods of slacktitude."

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  43. I don't know whether I'm doing it wrong or what, but I've never gotten the "runner's high" or the endorphin rush one is supposed to get when exercising. I find most exercise boring as hell - I listen to audiobooks when I work out (2-3 times a week) to keep from being bored silly. And I don't necessarily feel better afterwards, except in the sense of having gotten an unpleasant task over with.

    I exercise because I know I have to as part of my battle against depression. but I don't like it, never have. For me, the immediate reward is sitting in the hot tub in the gym afterward.

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  44. Well, speaking as one who just slacked totally for over two months... I was back in the gym today and it felt good. Kinda. Well, I'm getting real sore. OK, so it felt good mentally and pretty crappy physically.

    Why do I keep coming back? My 51 year old body moves better if I exercise regularly than if I don't. Oh, and if I don't... the pants get tighter. Thank god I actually FIT in my old swimsuit today!

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  45. In the Tank for CompetitionFebruary 20, 2009 at 10:12 AM

    I've never sustained a habit of a trip to the gym to "workout". I play racquetball an hour a week and power-walk the dog every day.

    I've played R-ball every week for over 18 years with the same opponent. Our biggest gap was three weeks and I don't think we've missed more than 5 weeks in any one year. The competition never lets it get boring. I've been losing more than winning for the past 4 years, but last week was the first time he's beat me all three games we get in for the hour in a long time; so, I'm churning in my shoes to "take it to him" today.

    Then the dog, he wakes me up three or four times at night to be let out unless he's walked at least twice a day and we try to get three half milers in each day. I'm 6'6", my wife says my "walk" is about a 5 mph jog on her tread mill at the Gym about half the time we walk together at her pace closer to 3 mph. I go to her club occasionally I'll go pay the guest fee as her guest about once every six weeks just to hit some other muscles.

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