What I Learned From Seven Days Without Exercise

My usual workout is to do a course of exercises on Health Trails (TM) equipment, at a park eight miles away, every other day. I drive there.

Three weeks ago, our car suddenly became unavailable to me, because my wife unexpectedly started a full-time job. I needed to buy another car. I got out my old ten-speed bike and brought it into working order, and started biking to car dealerships. I didn’t have the time (or legs) to bike to the park and do my usual workout.

I should have worked out at home until I got the car. Months ago, I had prepared a series of exercises to mimic the park workout. Most of the stations can be imitated closely or exactly: push-ups, sit-ups, stretches, step-ups, jumping-jacks. Instead of jogging between stations, there is Nordic Track. (Or, jogging.) Instead of crunches on an inclined plane, there are crunches using the piano as an anchor, etc.

But instead, I fell into my usual home habits, doing tasks as needed. In this case, I concentrated on getting a car, and doing some tasks my wife had been doing. Getting the car took me a lot of time. (I find major purchases extremely difficult and fraught with anxiety; I envy people who can just walk into a car dealership and buy a car.)

The result was that I didn’t work out, other than biking, for an entire week. When I finally got back to the park, most of my muscle groups had lost some muscle tone. The exercises were noticeably more difficult. To avoid soreness and injuries, I made that first workout easier. I did 25% fewer reps on the hard parts, and I didn’t jog or run very hard. I also took two rest days instead of just one before the next workout. I imagine a younger man could have made a quicker restart.

Now it is two weeks later, and I am back to my usual workout, and back to the alternate-days schedule. I had no soreness, and no injuries.

It all points up the value of habits. I work out at the park every two days without fail, because that’s my habit, and there are no decisions involved. I know what to bring, I know what to do, I know how long it will take. For a person like me, that’s priceless.

My second lesson is, I need a new habit: when I cannot go to the park, I should always include a home workout into my daily planning. The workout doesn’t take all that long. In fact, without any driving, it’s quicker than the workout at the park. But unless I set aside the time, it just won’t happen.

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