Me: Way to, P!! I’m so proud of you! So – important question – did you pee in the lake?
I like to ask people, both relative strangers and intimate acquaintances, overly personal questions. Some call it bad manners. I call it my favorite hobby. And most of the time it’s worth the weird looks and occasional huffy response I get because people – all people – are a wealth of anecdotal information. Everyone is a researcher of their own body.
Pity the person who gets stuck on a long bus ride with me. Heaven help them if they’re some kind of athlete, personal trainer or just willing to talk about exercise because my favorite question to ask involves peoples’ workouts: what they do, what they won’t do, and what results they’ve been seeing from it. Their personal exercise philosophy, if you will. I’ve heard it all from the I Just Have Sex Five Times a Day workout (from a woman surprisingly) to the I’m Overtrained and Have Been Recovering (For Two Years) workout. But given the two constants in exercise – cardio and weight lifting – I hear a lot of variations on these two themes. You want to get strong opinions from a random stranger? Ask them how they feel about cardio.
You can break it down into three major groups:
1. Cardio Haters
2. Cardio Addicts
3. Moderation In Everything-ers
This group usually ascribe to some version of the Body Builder plan. They see cardio as a catabolic evil that steals their hard-earned muscle at worst and is a waste of time at best. Anything above a fast walk makes them run for a protein shake post haste. Often these folk have a fair amount of muscle and are very interested in supplements, protein powders and anything ending in -MAXX. They wear their biceps with red neck pride, even in sub-zero temps or highbrow restaurants. If you catch them in long sleeves, it’ll probably be of the skin tight Under Armor variety. A favorite activity is laughing at the hamsters on the treadmills or the chumps slogging through a 20-mile bike ride after work.
This group run/bike/swim every day of the week. The most defining characteristic that I have noticed is how their cardio is internalized as a core piece of their personality. They will tell you, with obvious pride, “I am a Runner/Swimmer/Cyclist” – often before they even tell you their name. This group is overly fond of t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers or any other accoutrement that will proclaim their devotion and dedication. The phrase “Can run circles around…” is a staple in their venacular. Often these folk are fairly thin with not a ton of obvious muscle and can recite all their split times/zones/VO2 maxes/ATs like 15-year-old boys recite supermodel stats. A favorite activity is mocking the meatheads on the weight floor for their cartoonish muscle and clogged arteries.
Everything in Moderation-ers
This group reads a lot of fitness magazines and are therefore just generally confused. Cardio is the best fat burner! But weights are the key to a fast metabolism! Try this 6-week plan and lose 10 lbs a day! We promise!! So you often see them doing what people in the know call “circuits” and what everyone else calls “schizophrenia.” This group is in the unfortunate position of being looked down on by everyone. The lifters roll their eyes at this group speeding through two sets of moderate weight, with no obvious split routine or care for recovery. The runners sigh loudly as these guys hop on and off the treadmills five times in 30 minutes, not once bothering to wipe it down. Everyone asks them how they hope to build muscle or endurance with this haphazard approach. In lieu of an answer, they’ll just chuck the latest issue of Oxygen at you as they run to their next stop, hoping that somebody hasn’t stolen one of the many pieces of equipment they’ve been monopolizing.
I have been in every single one of these groups. In fact, I probably cycle through all three of them on a regular basis. And, me being me, I’m always convinced that the next thing I try is going to be “it.” So here’s what I have discovered: just like there is no “it” body type for everyone there is no “it” workout for everybody either. Some people seem more naturally inclined to run fast while others put on muscle with ease. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.
My current “Cardio Experiment” is actually going really well. I’m having a blast, feeling really awesome, getting my eating back on track and just generally look forward to my workouts every day. I really ought to have called it the “doing whatever the heck I want” Experiment. And yet, despite being so very happy, I do not plan on continuing this ad infinitum. Because I am one of those people who naturally gravitate towards cardio, if left to my own devices that would be all I ever did. Except that I need weight lifting. And my shins need to not run every day. So then I switch back to one of the other camps to get motivated to do what I need to do.
Change is the Only Constant
You see, September marks one complete year of Great Fitness Experiments for me (a more thorough round up to be coming soon) and this is what I have learned:
1. Every legitimate workout works.
2. Until it doesn’t anymore.
Which is why my exercise philosophy is: embrace change. Try it all. Do everything. Love the process, even if sometimes the results are less than stellar. Have fun.
Earth shattering stuff, I know. But somehow it took me a year to learn it!
So now, I have important questions for you: which cardio group, if left on your own, do you naturally gravitate towards? What kind of exercise is hardest to motivate yourself to do? Also, gave you ever pooped in the wild and what did you use to wipe? Are you the kind of person who would try eating a puffer fish – with it’s one in 1,000 chance of instantaneous death – because it tastes awesome? Oh and one more: have you ever taken a plane to date someone you met on the Internet?