July 02, 2009

How I Fixed a Depressing Workout



Yes, I know exercise is supposed to help fight depression. It doesn’t always. At least, not when I do it. This is one of those weird psychological things that I'm noting here in the hope someone else can make sense of it.

Lately I've been commuting by bicycle. I've been taking the straightest shortest bicycle route home. In theory, it seemed an ideal route: not too much traffic and a straight ride in. In practice, it was a mind-numbingly, bum-numbingly, hell-on-earth ride. I used to get reeeeally depressed just contemplating the ride home.




Merry’s recipe for a depressing workout




Ingredients:

- Take one Long Straight Road
- Add in one out-of-shape cyclist
- Throw in the mournful sound of the wind keening through the telephone wires
- Broil for one hour under a relentless overhead sun


Serves… well, serves me right, I suppose.

I tried jazzing it up with sprints or timing different sections to see if I could improve my time, but no matter what I tried, I arrived home tired, dispirited, and dreading the next day's ride.

I thought maybe I found this ride hard because I was so out of shape. Seemed a valid reason, what with developing asthma and not having done much riding for the past year. I figured that the cycling-dread phenomenon would go away as I got back into the habit.

Then one day, I had to run an errand, which meant I had to take the high road home. Literally. Instead of a few little hills, I went up three moderately sized and quite long hills, then flat along a busy road with lots of cars. It was a longer route as well as a hillier one. And I enjoyed myself a whole lot more. It’s amazing how much easier the ride was, even though the route was actually a mile or so longer.

Yeah, Merry, thrilling as this chronicle your daily life is, what’s the point?

Seems to me that what was killing me on these rides was the LSR syndrome, i.e. the Long, Straight Road.
It's a long way... to anywhere...



My Big Fat Greek Analogy



Always, I have a tendency to overthink my exercise routine. They say it’s good to visualize doing the exercise before you actually move the muscles. Not in my case. I’ve been known to visualize an entire exercise routine, but only as a Bad Thing. Just the idea of a workout can appear as a huge rock that I have to lift up a hill, only to watch it roll down once I get it to the top.
Mind you, it does help develop the muscles...

I tend to picture every possible thing that can go wrong, up to suddenly having a heart attack in the middle of a cardio routine. I can really depress myself by Looking Ahead. (Why I don’t ever use this talent to visualize myself as thin and fit and happy is another question.)

Taking the high road home made it much harder to look ahead. I went along a route that curved up and down and around, going past shopping malls and apartment complexes, shopping malls and parks, shopping malls and empty fields. And then a few more shopping malls. (The Portland suburbs apparently have a great need for lots of shopping malls.)

Even with the traffic and shoppers and whatnot, two things remained constant: there was always something different to look at and I never had to face a long straight vista ahead of me. For some reason that made a huge difference. (Note to self: never try to bicycle in the Midwest. I suppose this means I’ll never make it to RAGBRAI.)

I'm noting this here because hopefully someone who hates their exercise routine will try a different one instead of giving up on exercise itself. Okay, honestly, I’m noting it here also so that there’s a slight chance that I might remember this phenomenon the next time I run into an exercise routine that makes me feel depressed.

Have you ever found that making a small change makes a big difference? If so, why?



32 comments:

  1. Ack! Now I've got that Beatles song in my head.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My long runs are the same way. I hate the long stretches for a mile or more with little to see. Frequently-run routes can be the same way, especially if they're routes I've found grueling in the past.

    My best runs are nearly always in places that are completely new to me or have a lot of variety in the scenery.

    You're not alone!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think that's why I prefer trail running over the long, straight, boring Springwater trail....I like variety! And not being able to see what's around every corner.

    I even start to dread my shorter 3-6 mile routes if I don't switch them up every once in awhile. Variety truly is the spice of life, right? :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. It still surprises me that it makes such a difference. I mean, a little boredom, okay. But flat out depressed? Yikes.

    ReplyDelete
  5. sometimes even little switches like running my normal loop the other way can help. Yes the uphill section is a little steeper that way, but it is over fast and I don't suffer from the predictablility so much. On days when I have little more time I have taken to following unknown trails and paths just for the hell of it

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hooray for you! It seems so counter-intuitive that adding hills (yuck) and distance (yuck) would make such a big positive difference! But I can totally see why the new route would be much more interesting and worth a little bit of extra time.

    Sounds like a more varied workout too, which will not only fight boredom but probably build new muscles.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You've seen the sun? I forget what it looks like.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I try to keep my workouts as short as possible for that very reason, and part of the reason I stopped doing yoga was that I found myself watching the clock. Now that I tried a yoga session and it kicked my butt, I'm focusing on it more.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I definitely can relate.

    Most of my exercise right now comes from the physical therapist (Rehabbing my knee after ACL surgery). After the first 2 sessions each week, i start dreading going to PT b/c it's the same thing over and over again.

    Then, they introduce a new, challenging (i.e. painful) exercise and i actually seem to enjoy it.

    Whether it's a break in the monotony, or knowing that i'm using a new muscle, it makes me happy. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. It's true. Variety IS the spice of life.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Change is the only constant:) And you're right - you do not want to ride your bike out here in the Midwest!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Boredom is never a good thing in any endeavor. Mix it up! (Unless we're talking relationships, of course.)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Well, if the plural of mouse is mice, it follows that the plural of spouse... oh, never mind...

    ReplyDelete
  14. You mentioned RAGBRAI! Hooray! And while I haven't personally participated, I've heard nothing but what a good time it is---all the little towns get really into it and there is beer and festivities and a lot more than just flat biking. I think you'd like it. :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I think boredom is a huge factor. Whether it be the route you choose, music on your MP3 player, or watching something interesting on TV while you're on a cardio machine - you need to keep your mind busy so the time will fly by.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Oh, yeah. Long, flat...Yuk! I gotta have a hill or two to make things interesting. There's nothing like cussing your way up and enjoying the wind in your face on the way down.

    Anf failing a hill, I at least need to have some change of scenery along the way.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Yeah, I get bored so easily with the elliptical or the same workout over and over. Right now, I am tyring to make gardening and yardwork my workout. Your new route does sound harder, and way more fun!!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Actually, sometimes what apoears to be an easier ride is harder. I had a definite case of saddle soreness after being sweep on a longish ride recently. I had thought that wandering along with pleasant company at a conversational pace would be fun - and it was - but using the same muscles the same way for so long, never shifting that weight to the legs for a hill, well, it hurt. So it's not all that surprising that it could hurt your mind, too.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Awww don't rule out RAGBRAI. Sure, there is a lot of corn, but there are also lots of hills to keep it interesting (Iowa is not flat) and there are thousands of crazy people on bikes and in costumes to look at! It's a ton of fun.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Oh man. I have to ride up this huge hill to get home from work/the gym. There is no other way to get home. My apartment is up a hill. It's not so bad after I've been sitting all day at work, but after a leg workout. Yeesh. I have to get off and walk. Small children pass me riding their bikes up the hill. I hate that thing.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Actually, I feel more like Prometheus when I have to exercise....

    ReplyDelete
  22. SO TRUE. I think that's why I prefer outdoor exercising to the gym. With the terrain being a little different all the time it makes it more interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Claire Jackson umgdJuly 2, 2009 at 1:42 PM

    I found this playlist on Seventeen Magazine that always keeps me going. It has this new song by Tina Parol. http://www.seventeen.com/health-sex-fitness/all-access-fitness-blog/swap-workout-playlists-with-friends

    ReplyDelete
  24. The thing that makes the exercise better for me is the change. I make small changes all the time & larger changes every few months or so. It keeps it new & challenging. Some people say weight training is boring & I always tell them that there are so many ways to lift & that will cure the boredom. Same with cardio, find something that keeps you going & that you can live with & then change it up to keep the boredom away! Different strokes for different folks!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Working out with friends is my boredom fix. Having someone there to talk with and push me to try harder makes all the difference for me. Misery, just kidding....I mean, exercise loves company!

    ReplyDelete
  26. My small change was more in thinking than in acting...although it's spilled over into the acting as well...I changed from "working out" to "training".

    Now, instead of just tallying up one more day in an endless stream of "workouts", I complete a day of training. Somehow that wording helps...

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hey Meg! I do like that term better (and I never thought of it that way)...for some reason training sounds better. I guess it's because it doesn't have the work connotation like 'work'ing out does. :)

    ReplyDelete
  28. I've only recently started back at the gym and my duh! moment was that for me working out first thing in the morning is SO much more enjoyable. I had been trying to fit in a workout after a long day and pretty much had that sense of dread I imagine you did with the commute. This post is making me miss bike riding---after years of living in the city (and not being keen on sucking up bus exhaust) I really do miss it.

    ReplyDelete
  29. ooooh, Merry, nothing is more interesting than RAGBRAI!!! My town is actually an overnight stop this year. Trust me-- there's plenty to do and see during the RAGBRAI. Each town goes ALL OUT with food and events (street dances, bands, etc), and you meet so many interesting people (from all over the world).

    ReplyDelete
  30. Oh, AmyLou, I have no doubt that the stops are great. I've seen pictures and heard stories about the wonderful fun people have during RAGBRAI... when they stop pedaling for the day :)

    ReplyDelete
  31. For people who don't want to click on the link, RAGBRAI is the Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Lots of bike riding (about 70 miles each day for a week) and celebrating.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Exercise is like pushing yourself off a cliff. Hard to start, but once you get going you're sailing!
    Happy 4th of July,
    Steven
    http://comcblog.com

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)