Sunday, January 22, 2023

Ask a Fitness Dweeb

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

I read somewhere that I should always do my weight training before my cardio. Do you agree?

Justin D, Asheville, NC

Dear Justin,

I doubt it matters very much. According to the CDC, more than 60 percent of U.S. adults don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity, which is 150 minutes per week. Fixating on the order of your activities seems like gilding the lily to me. I will say that doing cardio first might help you warm up, which can prevent injury when lifting weights.

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

OK, I get that you work out a lot. So I’m wondering: do you still have some clothes that fit too tight, and/or some that are baggy?

Whitney P, Santa Monica, CA

Dear Whitney,

Sure I do! Don’t stress if you have this issue. It’s not you, it’s the clothes. Some stretch, some shrink, and even if we’re fit our bodies still do change over time. For example, my suit pants are super tight … I must have been biking up a lot of hills when I had them tailored. But I’ve also got these jeans that I’m practically swimming in, so having those fit better will be a nice silver lining when I gain some weight at some point.

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

During these short, dark, cold winter days my husband works out indoors on his bike trainer, and it’s almost scary to watch. He’s thrashing around with such intensity, and breathing so hard, it’s like an act of violence. Should I be worried? Could he have a heart attack or something?

Kim A, Berkeley, CA

Dear Kim,

As long as your husband is in good shape and warms up properly, it’s probably harmless. It could be that to reach his desired intensity he just needs a super high cadence, or resistance, or both. Maybe he’s working through some stress. See how he is afterward … if he seems mellower, that hammer-fest could be exactly what he needs (click here for details). As far as heart attacks, these do afflict sedentary people who suddenly exert themselves too intensely (for example, every winter you hear about people suffering heart attacks while shoveling snow). There is also some anecdotal evidence of ultra-fit athletes having heart problems, but I don’t think that’s widespread … click here for details. (I’m no real authority, of course … everyone is advised to consult a medical doctor before embarking on a fitness regimen.)

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

Walking is so low-intensity … does it even count as exercise?

Charles D, New York, NY

Dear Charles,

Any activity is better than nothing. Sure, you’ll be better off if at least some of your exercise is vigorous, and if you’re trying to lose weight intensity will definitely help. But it’s so simple to go for a walk, even if you have only 5 or 10 minutes, and it’s such a nice way to shift gears, get some air, etc., it would be absurd to denounce it. I use walks as a way to keep a perfect track record of getting activity every day. Even if you don’t get a chance for a proper workout, it’s never too dark, rainy, or cold to get out for a quick stroll.

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

I’m trying to increase my exercise consistency. Some of my fittest pals tell me the trick is gamification—that is, using a scoring system and/or friendly competition as a way to motivate them. They mention Strava, Zwift, etc. Do you employ gamification and if so is there a specific platform you recommend?

Brad H, Austin, TX

Dear Brad,

In general, I have found gamification to be very powerful. I haven’t tried Zwift (until recently, I thought it was a floor mop of some kind), nor am I on Strava. From what I’ve seen of Strava, it looks great for budding athletes because improvement over time can be very motivational. But as much as I exercise, age is slowing me down year by year, and in the Bay Area where I live there are so many dedicated bike racers, getting a KOM or even a top 50 would be pretty difficult. But regardless of age, level, talent, etc. you can totally employ DIY gamification. This could be as simple as sticking a gold star on your calendar for each day you exercise.

I have a really cool DIY gamification scheme. I host a quarterly online contest with over a dozen participants, all friends or family members, using a shared online spreadsheet. Here’s how it works: we simply enter the duration of our activity each day, and select the activity type from a pull-down menu. The spreadsheet calculates a score based on the difficulty. Here’s a snapshot (click to enlarge):

Formulas, graphs, etc. do the rest. The contest works really well for a lot of us, being very fun and motivational. The youngest participant is 17, and the oldest is almost 85. All but two of us are at or above the CDC exercise guideline, and three of us have more than tripled it. I’m happy to share the spreadsheet template—just email me here. (For what it’s worth, I used to do a far more complex contest that rewarded high intensity, based on heart rate, which led to absurd levels of fitness and suffering as detailed here.)

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

Given how much time you apparently spend exercising, do you ever contemplate what your regimen is displacing? In other words, what are you giving up to worship at the altar of fitness?

Laura M, Minneapolis, MN

Dear Laura,

I have contemplated this, but not at length, because for me it is an article of faith that exercise is worth making time for. I suppose there are insanely busy people, like the scientists who developed the COVID vaccine, or single mothers working two jobs to feed their families, who really cannot afford the luxury of daily workouts. But for the rest of us, trying to reduce exercise hours would make sense only after first cutting back on all the time wasted indulging in clickbait, binge-watching video entertainment, and being glued to the 24-hour news cycle.

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

Why do you settle for such an unflattering moniker? Don’t you feel demeaned? Why not “Exercise Advisor” or something? Just curious…

Rob R, Topeka, KS

Dear Rob,

When I first pitched this column to my editor, I proposed something like “guy who actually exercises.” He laughed in my face and said, “Sounds pretentious, which is especially annoying coming from a dweeb like you.” He reluctantly agreed to let me do the column, but only if I called myself The Fitness Dweeb.

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

My girlfriend wants to get an e-bike, not just for commuting but for actual exercise. If the point is fitness, isn’t an e-bike kind of like putting an escalator or moving walkway in a health club? Can you set her straight?

Monica L, Phoenix, AZ

Dear Monica,

Actually, I disagree with you. If an e-bike makes your girlfriend more likely to exercise, it’s a good thing. We all have to fight our natural aversion to unpleasant duress, and if that one big hill on her route is just too much to face before or after a long workday, why not get a little help surmounting it? I tried out a friend’s high-end electric-assist road bike once, and it was a total blast. I was still pedaling, still working, but I just flew along; more than anything, it made me feel young again. My impulse wasn’t to loaf; it was to go even faster. Look, when you compare cycling to a truly difficult sport like running or swimming, it could seem like the bicycle itself is cheating. Where pedal-assist bikes are concerned, I say go for it. (But that other kind of e-bike with no pedals, that’s like a scooter … forget it, that’s just a vehicle.)

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

Do you get a lot of hate mail?

John P, Detroit, MI

Dear John,

Of course I get some negative feedback, but most of it is positive. Here are a couple of recent comments:

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Dear Fitness Dweeb,

I am an avid runner but don’t have the ambition to do any races. Can you suggest some S.M.A.R.T. goals to help me improve over time?

Jill M, Lafayette, CO

Dear Jill,

To be honest, even when I was a pretty serious bike racer, I didn’t put much stock in long-term goals. As detailed here, that approach covers the rest of my life as well. I think that devoting myself to the process, without worrying about where that might take me, has always been enough. For example, instead of worrying about next year or five years out, why not just make each run as fun and challenging as you can? More recently, I’ve concluded that SMART (i.e., specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals might be the worst kind. As I describe here, when setting long-term goals such as New Year’s Resolutions, I favor DUMB ones: duplicate, unimpressive, mealy-mouthed, and best-effort. For example, my goal for this quarter is to try again to beat my brother Geoff in the humble online contest I described earlier … and if I fail, who cares, because it means he got a lot of exercise too! All this being said, if you want extra motivation for your running, maybe sign up for a Fun Run that’s longer or hillier than what you normally do.

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

After a workout I feel so good, I’m already looking forward to the next time … but then when the next time comes around, I find I’m dreading it. What gives?

Thomas B, Seattle, WA

Dear Thomas,

I struggle with that myself, and have for decades. It’s just the way we humans are wired, I’m afraid. But as I describe here, it may be possible to mitigate this dread a bit by making sure your workouts aren’t too long or too intense. In the moment, when we’re caught up in all the adrenaline and endorphins of a great workout, we’re often tempted to dig deeper and/or go longer, which is all well and good until we viscerally recall that experience later, when the adrenaline and endorphins have worn off. Then we seem to mainly remember the brutality of it. So I make a point to keep my regular workouts more reasonable, to exercise self-compassion, and to save the big efforts for when I ride with friends (i.e., when I struggle to keep up).

Dear Fitness Dweeb,

I had a gym membership for years because I thought shelling out the money for it would make me actually go … but it didn’t. So now I’ve quit, and I’m thinking hey, maybe I can put the money I’m saving toward something else, like nice gear, that can help motivate me to work out. But part of me thinks that might just be throwing good money after bad. What’s your take? Am I just being crazy?

Sarah D, Portland, OR

Dear Sarah,

No, you’re not crazy. Obviously spending money on fitness doesn’t guarantee results, but if any of your gear isn’t up to snuff, and thus makes your workout less fun, by all means replace it. Are your shoes completely comfortable? And given how much rain Portland gets, do you have the all-weather gear (i.e., groovy technical fabrics) you need? I have zero regrets about the super-cool bike wheels I bought a few years back, and I’m already dreaming of a new yoga mat that’s long enough that I don’t clonk my head on the hardwood floor during the full-body stretch…

The Fitness Dweeb is a syndicated journalist whose advice column, “Ask the Fitness Dweeb,” appears in over 0 blogs worldwide.

Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

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