html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: What if you <i>didn't know</i> what type of push-ups you hated most?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What if you didn't know what type of push-ups you hated most?

I was talking to this kindof big guy yesterday, and he mentioned that he had lost thirty pounds in the past three months. I asked him how, and he said, well, you know, eating less and exercise. I prompted for more and he said that he’d always been a couch potato, but he’d decided to pay more attention to his health. He said that he used to always eat tons of pizza and burgers, but now he was trying to eat them, but less. He said he’d been trying to eat vegetables and he likes some of them.

He said he was exercising more, so I asked him about his lifting routine. I honestly wasn’t trying to be snotty; I just thought that people know to start lifting when they want to shape up, to build muscle that burns calories. And it is so exciting when you first start lifting, because your numbers go up so fast. So I asked him what he does to lift, and he said, oh, nothing like that. Now I walk places, more than I ever did. The weight is just falling off.

I’ve been fascinated by this since talking to him. I should say first, full props to him. What he’s doing is awesome, so I want to make it clear I’m not making fun of him. I just can’t imagine being at a starting place where your body would be so responsive to changes like that. I see those magazines where they’re all “Lose five pounds without noticing! Easy food substitutions you’ll love!”. And then the article says “Instead of using a full cup of sour cream and a full cup of buttermilk when you make ranch dressing, use two cups of lowfat yogurt!!!” I could never figure out who those were directed at. I don’t know anyone who eats like that. My whole diet is whole grains and veggies and protein. I could make changes that would cut two hundred calories, but that would mean not eating an ice cream cone. But I knew what I was choosing when I decided on an ice cream cone, so I’m not going to un-choose it after.

I asked him if he’d ever played a sport; he said no, he’d never been active. So right now, by walking, he’s finding out what his body can do. That must be so exciting for him, to watch the weight fall and be able to do more every week. If someone does get him into lifting, he’s going to see all these new ridges on his body. He’ll feel totally different. I wonder if he’ll ever learn to love to sweat. That would be so amazing, to have new personal bests show up every week. To have the shape of your life be now. The problem with training so hard in college is that I both know how it feels to be in that shape and know that I’ll never feel that again. I’ll be dicking around at forty to seventy percent of that shape for the rest of my life, because it isn’t worth those last ten hours in the gym per week. You can know that and choose that and still feel a little sad that you’ll never be that fast and strong again.

So a very small part of me is jealous of this guy. I would never trade, because I would never give up my last two decades of moving around. But he’s on the threshold of a whole new way of living, with entirely new feelings and an incredibly rich subject to learn. I hope he takes it far.

19 Comments:

Blogger Trevor said...

The problem with training so hard in college is that I both know how it feels to be in that shape and know that I’ll never feel that again. I’ll be dicking around at forty to seventy percent of that shape for the rest of my life, because it isn’t worth those last ten hours in the gym per week. You can know that and choose that and still feel a little sad that you’ll never be that fast and strong again.

This is so true. Thank you.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

It's not all that hard to lose a fairly decent amount of weight when one first starts dieting and exercising. That's especially true for people who've been sedentary. What's probably going to happen in this man's case is that soon enough these initial losses will come to an end. He'll reach a plateau and find that further losses come much more slowly. At that point, he'll have to become more diligent about exericise and diet if he wants to keep losing.

6:30 AM  
Blogger Ivan said...

What the hell kind of guy has never played a sport in his life? Is this normal in America?

6:40 AM  
Blogger bobvis said...

I tend to care more about how good I am at some particular thing rather than the shape I am in. I'm a better tennis player now than I have ever been, so I don't really feel the need to compare what shape I am in now relative to ten years ago.

6:47 AM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

I used to run on this particular trail on a regular basis. And one day, I saw this immensely fat man riding a bicycle. He was groaning and grunting and sweating profusely on this poor bicycle that appeared far too small to be bearing such a huge load. It was comical as it was hard to tell whether the man or the bicycle was under more strain.

After that day, I would see the guy from time to time when I was out running. And over a two-year period, he went from being immensely fat to being just a little overweight. As time went on and his body shape changed, he went from wearing baggy, long-sleeved shirts and long pants even on hot days to tighter clothes with short sleeves. He upgraded his bike too, and seemed to be enjoying himself more every time I saw him.

I was so proud of him for sticking to it, because those first few times on the bicyle must have been hell. Aside from the physical discomfort, he had to have been the butt of jokes or an object of scorn from many of the other joggers and bikers on the trail.

I moved away from our apartment near that trail a few years ago, but I wonder if that guy is still out there now, only sleek and buff, wearing spandex and competing in triathlons.

7:01 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

I'm like that man in the sense that I never played any sports in high school or college. Or almost none; I tried out for the football team as a freshman in high school but quit after a couple weeks of practice because I was too out of shape to run laps. It wasn't until I was past 40 that I became serious about fitness.

In one sense, making a late start has been good. I don't have to worry about not being in as good shape as I was in, say, my college years, for the simple reason that I'm in far better shape today. I'm much faster, stronger, and have far more endurance at age, er, over 45 than at age 21. No comparison at all.

Now, the disadvantage to having gotten a late start is that playing any kind of team sport or group activity is almost impossible. Gym exercise is fine from a fitness standpoint, but offers little or nothing in social terms. My area is chock-full of "youth" sports leagues but offers virtually nothing for adults. There are a handful of adult softball and basketball leagues, unfortunately "adult" in this context really means "a couple years out of high school." I may be pretty fit but even so I'd be better off in an over-30 league, unfortunately they don't exist - we're all expected to play God-damned cartball instead of real sports. It's quite frustrating.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

I have no doubt that from his point of view, "people who lift weights" are some kind of alien species, and a fairly obnoxious one that has tormented him most of his life. Just learning to see himself as someone who walks places and takes care of himself a little is probably a big enough mental transformation for one season; actually entering a *gym* would be very foreign and very frightening territory, like going to the church of a religion you don't know anything about, and where you'll stick out like neon, and whose adherents used to kick your ass in high school.

I know it took me a *long* time to realize I could lift weights too, and it wouldn't necessarily turn me into a jerk.

Ivan: the guy was probably slow and uncoordinated as a child. For that kind of person, being forced to play team sports is a special kind of hell, and he no doubt avoided it with every stratagem he could find. I doubt he meant literally *never*, but it's quite possible to have never been on a team or played seriously.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

peter: I don't know where you are, but in New England the cycling clubs seem to include adults of all ages, and group rides can be fairly social.

9:36 AM  
Blogger John said...

On the topic of walking as exercise, I'm having fun with what I call the transitarian diet.

This combines the feel-good sanctimony of being a transitarian (see definition here) and healthy walking.

Of course it's nothing more than eat sensibly and walk, but it offers a number of other self-improvement bonuses, not the least of which is the opportunity for recreational reading on the bus.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous quirkybook said...

Two anecdotes:

1) I once knew of someone who was extremely non-athletic as a young person, and then when she turned 40, decided that she wanted to run a marathon. She eventually became a record-holder for marathoners among the 40+ age group -- probably in large part because she didn't train as a younger person, and thus didn't wear her body out.

2) There was a NYT article last fall about how people who end up being in good shape in their 30s and 40s are often *not* the high school and college athletes, but rather people who came into their athleticism post-college or beyond. The hypothesis in this article is that when you're a youngster playing a team sport, it's the competition and other external forces (e.g., your coach) that motivate you to be fit, and when those elements are gone, so is the reason to be fit. In contrast, those who get into fitness doing the typical solitary post-college thing (i.e., running, biking, going to the gym, etc) are often doing so for their own internal motivations.

So... all of that to say yeah, though I regret years of sub-par fitness when I could have been at my prime, if that means that my later years can still be characterized by a generally upward trend in fitness, I'm not too sad about the trade-off.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Those are both so true. I am a little worried about the way my hips, knees and ankles hurt all the time.

And it is really hard for me to train when I don't have a tournament or league in mind.

So I believe both anecdotes.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Erik said...

I need to second the trueness of the passage Trevor quoted. I have been trying to explain precisely that to a friend for months.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hips, knees, and ankles hurt all the time, all the more reason to take up rock climbing and mountaineering, nice low impact athletic endeavors.

My knees and ankles used to hurt all the time, years of constant basketball and skiing will do that. I don't have hips, so they can't hurt.

Anyway, I've said this forever. People who end up really over weight get that way from being ridiculously lazy. Too many people who just HAVE to get that front parking spot to save the 100' walk. It's no big surprise to me that adding even a minimal amount of exercise to your life can make a big difference.

Justin

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

peter: I don't know where you are, but in New England the cycling clubs seem to include adults of all ages, and group rides can be fairly social.

I often see cycling groups on weekends in my area (Long Island). It looks like fun, even if not actually a team sport, though I'm not thrilled about riding a bicycle on roads given all the bad drivers.

There was a NYT article last fall about how people who end up being in good shape in their 30s and 40s are often *not* the high school and college athletes, but rather people who came into their athleticism post-college or beyond. The hypothesis in this article is that when you're a youngster playing a team sport, it's the competition and other external forces (e.g., your coach) that motivate you to be fit, and when those elements are gone, so is the reason to be fit. In contrast, those who get into fitness doing the typical solitary post-college thing (i.e., running, biking, going to the gym, etc) are often doing so for their own internal motivations.

I sort of recall that article, it makes perfect sense. What must be really frustrating is if you were an athlete in high school or college and enjoyed it, and now find that as an adult there are few if any opportunities to keep playing on a recreational basis. As I mentioned, and just thinking about some of the major sports, adult baseball and basketball leagues are very scarce, and adult football leagues essentially nonexistent.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pfft peter, I'm not sure I'm buying that. When I was in HS we played with everyone, there were open gyms everywhere. We played with old guys all the time.

Here in the bay area I was going to a couple of open gyms a week to play basketball, and the ages were mixed. There were definitely guys at least in their 40s, all the way down to guys in their teens.

But, as always, rock climbing. I know there are gyms in New York, and it's not far from the Gunks for good outdoor climbing. People at the gym climbing range from about 4, to over 60. And, athletic ability varies dramatically too.

And, you can do it year round in the gym. And it's a very social sport by its nature. You have to have a partner, and you tend to time to talk, unlike in basketball.


Justin

1:39 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

I've been running since I was 16, and it seems like I'm not going to be able to do it any more because of the damage done to my knees and various other parts of my legs. This really started to reach a crisis point in the years after I turned 35. I often think that it would be nice to be starting running now, and have 20 years of mileage left on my knees.

Another problem is that when you engrain your exercise habits early in life, they are hard to change when your body changes. I love to run, preferably run fast, and now that I no longer really can it is hard to switch exercises.

I recognize Megan's thoughts exactly...I really miss running *hard*, that feeling of exhaustion I would get, the level of fitness I had (I could run ten miles fast!) and I probably will not get that feeling ever again.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Here in the bay area I was going to a couple of open gyms a week to play basketball, and the ages were mixed. There were definitely guys at least in their 40s, all the way down to guys in their teens.

Well Justin,

I think people in California are rather more athletically oriented than they are around here. Most men over age 25 or 30 in these parts consider physical exertion to consist of sucking down beers and scarfing buffalo wings and nachos while watching (drumroll please) The Most Important Sport in the World (bow down to hail the Almighty NFL). Well, that plus an occasional round of cartball.

Besides, pickup basketball and climbing may be fun, but they're not real team sports with schedules and practices and coaches. Sports like that seem to be for children only.

8:02 PM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

The problem with training so hard in college is that I both know how it feels to be in that shape and know that I’ll never feel that again.

Not necessarily so. I was fairly into TaeKwonDo at college (I made 2nd in the heavyweight division at the university national championships.) and after uni I kind of let myself go and put on a bit of weight.

Then about when I got married I changed my diet (by accident, I was spending a lot of time in China, not much Macaroni and Cheese there) and then took up riding my bike to work.

I am at the age of 36 definitely harder and fitter than I've ever been in my life. Though I am sure that my turning kicks have seriously deteriorated. My ability to fight a tournament has gone way down, but my looks and general fitness is definitely at a peak and climbing.

And my 65 year old dad can run 8km in the time it takes me to stumble and gasp my way to half that. But I blame that on my lousy running style.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again I say, pfft.

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago. Plenty of open gyms there. It's actually harder to find an open gym here in the bay area.

And, I know plenty of lazy people in the bay area. Lots of engineers sitting around doing nothing.

But, yeah, if your goal is a team sport with coaches and practice, I think you're out of luck. Maybe a work league. But, you're right, that's mostly for kids.

Justin

10:16 AM  

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