Hitting the Gym

I haven’t mentioned it here — unlike on Facebook — but I have been hitting the gym for a little while lately. While, yes, the endorphins actually do kick in once I’ve been doing it a while, and yeah, I do feel a bit healthier after a few days of it, I’ll be really honest:

I hate exercising. Everything about it: the sweatiness, the aches and pains, the irritation to my very vulnerable Achilles tendons, the bother of going and doing it, the guilt that kicks in at not doing it (and not having done it enough for most of my adult life), and more.

But I hate my high blood pressure even more. (And I have to admit I’d like to lose some weight.)

I’d been planning to start all semester, but I got so bogged down with other things that I ended up putting it off till the holiday to start. I figure if I can get into a nice rhythm/routine now, I can perhaps sustain it through the semester. (In August, all the foreign faculty will be moving over to a new building, and it’s been said there’ll be a really nice fitness center over there, so I’m kind of hanging in there for that. The place I use now is a single, slightly dingy room in the basement of the school dormitory, but, oddly, is closed to students. This means only a very few people on campus use it — a few office workers, the odd professor, and one deranged lunatic foreigner. Luckily, I haven’t run into the latter while exercising there, but the emptiness of the place is, at times, a bit unnerving. I don’t like gyms that are full of people, crowded so you have to wait a lot to use a given piece of equipment, but there’s something a little lonely about working out alone. Then again, there are  a couple of non-deranged, or even very cool, people in my building who, hearing of my renewed campaign against high blood pressure, have suddenly confessed they’ve been meaning to go there and start working out, and maybe we can go together.)

I have to admit: despite the feeling-revivified after, it’s a hell of an effort to get myself up and out to the gym, especially when it’s cold outside. (Or hot.) It’s the vivid fear of a stroke or heart attack at an unusually young age that has me going, and guess what keeps me there?

Podcasts. Whereas listening to loud, rhythmic music tends to drive home that frantic feeling of, “Am I going to catch my breath? Ever?”, listening to fiction podcasts simply distracts me from the exertion. Not so completely that I’m unaware of it, but enough so that I’m not annoyed by it.

(Though it’s technically not a podcast, I got my hands on the BBC Bloodlines radio story series, and that got me through a couple of days on the treadmill; so did a version of William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” that someone gave me. Next up is Cory Doctorow’s Content, and I’ll be following up that with some of the podcasts listed in my links sidebar under Podcasts.

Aw, hell, I’ll copy and paste the list here:

Are there any others you’d recommend to me? Not that this isn’t tons, and I will also be hitting Librivox for free audiobooks soon, but if there’s another podcast you think would appeal to me, feel free to suggest it. I’m thinking if I can get myself feeling eager about my exercise — as if it’s “story time” or something — it’ll be that much easier to motivate myself to get to the gym!

19 thoughts on “Hitting the Gym

  1. I also hate exercising but have started back on the running machine (in my balcony) since last week.

    In the summer I was running to an audio lecture “The History of the English Language” it was really really fascinating.

    I can’t seem to get into podcasts so I just run to music on my mp3 player. Maybe I’ll give an audiobook a chance if I can find something interesting.

  2. Tristan,

    Clarkesworld podcast? If I heard about it, I forgot. Wow! Definitely will check it out.

    EFL Geek,

    A lot of podcasts do little for me, too, but I do find the fiction podcasts distract me from the pain, and some of the interviews and such (as StarShip Sofa does) are cool too.

    You might check out Librivox, for a huge array of free, public domain audiobooks. (The podcasts I mentioned are mostly SF, aside from This American Life, which btw is EXCELLENT as a TEFL resource when one has advanced students. The TV show is great too.)

  3. Ouch podcast

    Although you might want to try listening to it from the beginning…I’ve missed checking it since the summer.
    Really amazing hosts, funny, intelligent. Not always uncontroversial, sometimes even I have been offended. But never unenjoyable, and never sanctimonious. Lovely stuff, great hosts.

    Liz I particularly like, she’s so acerbic.

  4. Congratulations! You are doing something that’s very good for you.

    I started about three years ago, when I realized I might not make it to my daughter’s college graduation (she was then 5, I was 55) unless I made some changes. This revelation took place when I found myself sitting on the bed putting on my trousers, because I couldn’t do it standing up anymore on account of lack of coordination and balance – the latter directly attributable to relative lack of muscular strength. I was also significantly overweight and suffered from high cholesterol and high blood pressure, incipient gout and all-around ornery-ness.

    Since then I’ve lost 50 pounds of fat, put on 20 pounds of muscle, lowered my cholesterol by about 75 points to well-below the danger level, and lowered my blood-pressure to much better than normal and also lowered ny resting heart rate from 78 to 58 bpm. (I’m still battling what I thought was gout, but have now just figured out is related to an excessive intake of salt and msg from eating too much store/restaurant-bought Korean food – which I’m swearing off for the new year.)

    I think I was able to achieve these results in large part because I (learned to) love working out – despite all the annoyances to which you advert (save the “aches and pains”, which I kind of enjoy – “Pain is your friend. It lets you know you’re still alive. And it gives you the spurto get back home” (and crash into that easy chair guilt-free). Learning this lesson is what I am writing to recommend to you – I trust not too) presumptuously).

    By all means, ease yourself into it, but remember to keep pushing beyond your comfort zone while figuring out how positively to enjoy the process not just appreciate the anticipated result. At some point that will mean chucking the cardio hamster routine for some form of exercise that is not only physically demanding but mentally challenging (because, e.g., it requires you to learn new physical skills and increase your proprioceptive capacities and is more conducive to get you mentally involved with your own neuro-muscular processes that a treadmill is likely to do). Besides, if you have weak Achilles tendons, all treadmill pounding is going to do is increase the risk of a repetitive motion injury to them.)

    This will also mean chucking the podcasts and anything similar that distracts you from engaging your mind and will in the physical activity.

    Consider doing that now but, in any event, be prepared to do so when the time is right.

    Otherwise you will be wasting your time.

  5. Sperwer,

    Thanks for the advice. I have been thinking about it, and had been thinking about the whole, “What can I do outside a gym?” issue even before you posted it. The problem is the two things I don’t quite hate — swimming and cycling — are things that I dislike doing, or refuse to do, in Korea. (I only dislike swimming here — because swimming pool etiquette here is pretty bad, and pools are crowded as hell; cycling, though, is outright dangerous, and even though I’m vaguely considering it, after 3 years of risking my life on two wheels here — and many close calls — I suspect it’s not worth thhe risk.) The problem is I also abhor team sports and (owing to being almost blind in one eye) have poor depth perception, which doesn’t help with most of them.

    I do get a kick out of hiking the “mountain” I live beside, when it’s not too icy out, which is a good workout for me. (And walking is good for you, if you have the time.)

    But I think I shall have to keep on supplementing it with the gym until such time as I can get to a neighborhood where a bike path or a non-ridiculously-crammed swimming pool is available.

    As for the tendons — well, I’m sincerely hoping that an orthopedic surgeon will consider doing something about the bone spurs. The physiotherapist at my regular place is actually shocked by them, and the opthamologist at that same place showed me how, in an X-Ray, the spur is actually completely detached from the bone of my heel. So it’s like a random extra piece of bone jammed under the skin, irritating the tendon. I’m really, really hoping for surgical removal. but we’ll have to see, I suppose. (Since this even impedes my wearing nice shoes, for example, which strikes me as, well, a bit much. If removal is possible, I’ll be going for it, and hoping hard that they don’t slice the tendon while they’re at it…)

    By the way, I’m not sure the podcasts actually distract me from the physical activity so much, when it’s as mindless as treadmill or statiomary bike: it seems to me I multitask, and that takes the edge of the superficially unpleasant stuff. But yeah, I hear you on the need to really embrace the pain and the argh.

  6. Gordo:

    1. With bone spurs like that, you really shouldn’t be on a treadmill. I’m no physiotherapist, but it’s hard to believe that the presence of the bone spurs would not dramatically increase the risk and severity of repetitive motion injury. If you’re wedded to the cardio-hamster approach to fitness – even if just temporarily – please switch to a stationary bike. With your problem, I’d opt for the recumbent position bike.

    2. The problem with treadmills, stationary bikes and such IS that they encourage mindless exercise – which really doesn’t really deserve to be called exercise at all. Mindless physical activity is not entirely worthless but, e.g., if you pedal or tread away mindlessly the only truly significant effect will be that you increase your endurance at — treading or pedaling away mindlessly. There are a lot of (morbidly) obese but skinny folks out there pounding away in various states of boredom and doing nothing for their levels of strength or adaptability to the strength, flexibility and endurance requirements of other everyday physical activities, let alone the weight, blood pressure and other symptoms that motivated them to start in at the gym precisely because they mistakenly believe it can be done on automatic pilot.

    3. I share your concerns about biking and swimming in Korea. If your heels were healthy I’d recommend something like haedong geumdo, which is anything but boring, but you’ll have to save that for later (if at all). In the gym, nothing beats lifting weights, especially free weights – although it’s not a bad idea to start on the machines if the barbells and dumbbells seem a little intimidating. I accomplished my losses and gains, as described earlier, almost exclusively from throwing around the iron, doing very little and often no aerobic exercise at all.

    4. I have Dupuytren’s Disease and the number of cysts and resulting contracture on my right hand were so numerous and severe that the hand was completely closed into a fist. I had it surgically repaired here a few years ago at about 1/25th the cost back in the States, and most of what I had to pay out-of-pocket was for a private room for three days. The surgeon was the head of the Korean Micro-surgical Society and really good. If you decide to do something about your spurs, let me know and I’ll refer you.

  7. Sperwer,

    Thanks again for the advice.

    I’m not limping now, but I can feel I would start soon if I didn’t switch to bike instead of treadmill soon, so I was thinking about this too. (Also, there’s a bike trail as close as Shindorim, so I’ve been considering getting a folding bike for when it’s warmer out and taking the train over for cycling sessions. (The bike trails are at least sorta safe.) I was thinking about a Brompton till I saw the price here, but a friend just recommended a Dahon instead.

    Another thing I was thinking about — for flexibility, but also for learning to relax, which I think I also need for my BP — is yoga.

    Gumdo — ha, not for now, anyway. I am glad to hear such advances can be made with weights; it’s something Lime said to me, but I feel I need to do some cardio, if for no other reason than it really does help my asthma. But it’s warmed up, and I’m thinking I may actually climb the mountain tomorrow, and then hit the gym for weights and, maybe, bike, depending how far up Wonmisan I get.

    Seriously, thanks for the advice. As someone who’s never really exercised much (aside from a one year swimming class back in 2004) I appreciate feedback and guidance.

    And as for the referral — cool. I think I’ll start with a consultation, though, and see if the spurs on both heels are detached… or, indeed, if either is: I saw the X-Ray myself, but I don’t know if what I saw was what I think I saw, or how competent the opthamologist was; when I asked him about removal he just dismissed it, saying it was unlikely inflammation would recur, though I had said this was a recurrent problem, and when I asked how the hell I should lose weight if exercise was bound to cause inflammation. (He said “Eat less,” without any idea of my diet at all.)

    Anyway, if I decide to do something, and if they’re not easy-as-pie-removable, I’ll definitely ask you for a contact with this microsurgeon.

  8. Yoga is good. If it’s done right, it’s a helluva a lot more strenuous than people think, too. I tried to do it for awhile, but didn’t have the time to do that and my weights routine, even though I’m desperately in need of more flexibility. Am now trying to achieve that in the confines of my weightlifting program by larnin’ myself the Olympic lifts – the snatch and the clean – both hellishly difficult but very productive.

  9. Yeah, I’m thinking yoga might be a good fit for me. Maybe I can even get a few people in the building into it, and hire a yoga tutor. (If not, I think there’s a place just off-campus.) But weights will remain in my approach, because I like doing them and feel an effect.

    (But yes, freeweights scare me.)

  10. If you like pushing the weight, go for it. And don’t let your entirely reasonable apprehensions about free weights put you off them.

    Interestingly, because many people don’t have similar inhibitions about the machines, they end up injuring themselves doing machine-assisted movements by trying to handle too much weight (and because the machines generally isolate the stress on single muscles rather than spreading the pain among a complex of muscles like free weights do.

    That, by the way, is the great advantage of free weights. They force you to engage whole neuro-muscular complexes, just as ordinary physical activity does and hence improve genuinely functional capabilities (rather than promoting the hypertrophic tits-on-a-bull sort of “development” one sees on the covers of weightlifting magazines.

    The most important thing is to start with weights with which you feel comfortable physically – even if it discomfits your pride – and focus on learning to perform the exercises with very strict form. That will enable you to get used to the weight and as you do you can ratchet up the load with confidence.

  11. Sperwer,

    Yeah, I can imagine people really hurting themselves on the machines. Or just doing things really, really wrong. I’ve seen some people buzz through weights like there was only ten minutes in the day to exercise, and as if putting more weight on made up for doing it at lightning speed. (Or maybe these guys were trying to outdo the foreigner, I’m not sure.)

    I actually fiddled with one of the freeweight machines, if that makes sense? There’s a guide and pulley thingie, and if it starts to crash, you just rotate it and the bar is hooked. Lots of safeties on it. I could feel the difference in how it worked more muscles. But I won’t do much with such things until the guys who said they want to start going with me actually make good on it.

    And yeah, weights are fun enough. Dumbbells don’t worry me, at least, and I am getting some good results with them.

    The most painful exercise today, though, was the least visibly strenuous — just abdominal exercises involving lifting my legs a little bit off the ground. My lower spine cracked (which was pleasant, actually) but soon after the ache in the abs told me I was doing some serious work. As always, starting very modest. I’m not proud: I’m way out of shape and could do with a gentle takeoff.

    Ha, tits-on-a-bull: no kidding. Posters around the room display such physique, and I always go, “Where the hell would a guy like that even buy shirts in Korea?”

  12. Try this:

    1) Download the 2.6.28 Linux kernel from http://www.kernel.org and compile + install it.

    2) Get the latest Nvidia display drivers and install them. Watch X crash when you try to start your window manager.

    3) Fall back to the previous Nvidia drivers. Watch them fail to compile.

    4) Start to get irritated.

    5) Fall back to previous kernal/display driver configuration while you try to figure out the problem.

    6) Fiddle with display driver source.

    7) Actually get display driver to compile on 2.6.28 kernel. Watch X start up normally.

    8) Watch in horror as the gpu temperature shoots up.

    9) Find you’ve lost 20 pounds through pure frustration.

    Barring that, you could try Brazilian Jujitsu. You’ll be in top shape in around 6 months. Plus, you get to choke people. What’s to lose?

  13. LOL, the Linux Weight Loss Plan: Open Source Dieting. I like that.

    Glad I haven’t done any upgrading in a while, too.

    (I did try adding saxophone playing into the mix, but after so long away, not only are my chops weak, but worse, I finally get why I should have listened to one of my saxophone teachers; in the early 90s I was told to dump the horn I was then using and get one I wouldn’t have to fight against in order to play. Here I am, almost 20 years later, and I’m thinking it might be time to get myself a decent, though second-hand, tenor saxophone. (But I’m leery about buying one in Korea, unless I can figure out how much the export tarriff will be when I eventually leave.)

    I wonder if Japanese customs tracks things like saxophones on departure? (Korean customs does, and records serial numbers and such on top of it all. And charges tax on you if you sell the horn in country, oddly enough. I don’t know if I would be charged if I gave the horn away or something. Not sure whether I could do trade-in on a new horn, either. *sigh*)

    I think I’ll research the Japanese option, as I’ll be doing a (longish, also-holiday) visa run to Japan in late February.

  14. I bought a haegeum (Korean fiddle) back in 1999. K-customs wasn’t interested in it at all, but I had to pay around $100 to U.S. customs. Maybe the rules have changed…

  15. Weird. Well, my saxophone was an issue when I was coming into Korea, and remains one now, as far as I know. My flute (metal, transverse, bought in Korea) wasn’t an issue, though. They considered flutes a “common” instrument and saxophones as “rare.” A friend of mine had to pay import tariff on a used guiter he bought on eBay, too.

    Of course, I wonder what would happen if I bought a saxophone in Korea and then tried to leave with it. Would I be expected to pay an export tariff?

    (I doubt I’d be stopped in Canada over it, but Korean customs might make an issue. Or might not. I know someone who brought a soprano saxophone into the country and nobody said anything. But then, it was packed inside her suitcase.)

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