A few months ago, a nearby church (the one with the chimes) opened a new Christian Life Center that houses a wide variety of meeting and recreational facilities. Among these are a walking track (on the second floor above a gymnasium with a full-size basketball court) and a fitness center. Both are free and open to the public, and the church is eagerly pursuing greater awareness and use of the facility by the community.
It had occurred to me that this might be a useful alternative to walking on rainy days, as well as those when it is “too hot” or “too cold” to walk. The walking track does not appeal to me. It is, in effect, a featureless circular corridor, and I would have to make 35 laps around it to equal the 2.1-mile scenic route I traverse daily. It’s hard to imagine anything more mind-numbing.
The fitness center, on the other hand, intrigued me. One of my friends recently lost a substantial amount of weight at least in part by exercising on elliptical machines. The fitness center has this type of equipment, as well as treadmills, stationary bicycles, a stair climber, and a variety of weight machines. So I visited recently to check it out and fill out an application/registration to use it. Since then I’ve been back a several times to try it out.
On these visits I’ve learned a number of things, and I’ve had a chance to think about the differences between using “exercise equipment” and just walking outside.
After my first visit, I had these comparisons between walking on streets and sidewalks and walking on a treadmill:
- The treadmill makes it easier to maintain a steady walking pace. You can set a specific speed for the treadmill. Although I can manage 3.5 mph, I get shin splints pretty quickly. About 3.4 mph seems comfortable (though even this is faster than I walk naturally).
- When I’m walking outside, I may be forced to stop (by traffic at an intersection, by a motorist asking for directions), but ordinarily I don’t stop for any reason. On a treadmill, I can stop the machine to catch my breath (not a good idea, though, I’ve found, as even “pausing” it seems to require resetting the speed control when I restart).
- When I walk on the treadmill, I can see how many calories I’m (theoretically) burning. This is actually rather discouraging.
- When I walk on the treadmill, I can be doing something else, namely, reading. Having concluded on my first visit that this would be possible, on my second visit, I took a magazine. I found that (a) the print in Newsweek is too small to focus on, and (b) the economy is not the best thing to try to concentrate on while walking. On my third visit I took a novel with larger print, and that worked out pretty well. There are two TV screens in the fitness room, but, as long as no one else is there, I can turn the TV off.
- When I walk on the treadmill, I can stop any time. In practice, I’ve ended up walking till I hit 100 calories, which turns out to be about 1.2 miles. When I walk outside, I can’t stop till I get back home. On rare occasions, if it starts pouring rain, I might cut my route short, but ordinarily, once I’m out, I have to walk the whole 2.1 miles. Sometimes I don’t really want to walk that far, but I do; so far I’ve never managed that distance on the treadmill, partly because it wears me out faster and partly because it’s boring.
- When I walk outside, I start from my house and return there; I don’t have to drive somewhere else to do it. Although the church is just a couple of minutes away, I do seem to end up spending more time on the whole exercise and less time actually exercising. Moreover, it feels even more strange to be going out without jewelry or makeup.
- Any number of people can walk (or run or ride a bicycle) on the streets at the same time; they mostly don’t get in each other’s way, and they don’t have to be sociable. In the fitness room, there are two treadmills, one of them currently out of order (parts have been ordered, according to a sign on the machine), so if I arrive and someone else is already using it, I have to wait or do something else (admittedly, there’s plenty else to do).
- When I “work out” in the fitness room, as long as there’s no one else there, I can make a fool of myself in private; if there is someone else there, then I’m much more conscious of their presence than of the curious eyes I sometimes imagine behind the windows of the houses I pass when I walk outside.
In addition to the treadmill, whose controls I believe I have more or less mastered, I have tried out most of the other equipment as well. I realized today that the reason the stationary bicycles can be placed anywhere (some are out in the corridor) is that they are pedal-powered (they don’t have to be plugged in). They have an electronic display and controls, but these are not activated until you start pedaling. I haven’t entirely figured out the best way to use the bicycle, but I think that should be a component of my workout. The weight machines (seated biceps curl machine, standing triceps press, and a vertical chest press) are fairly straightforward but probably more targeted toward guys. I’ve tried a few reps on each, using the lightest weights. The Stairmaster is missing its controls and therefore I assume is nonfunctional (I could be wrong), so I haven’t tried it; we have two flights of stairs at home if I want to climb stairs.
The elliptical machine, though, is the goal to which I aspire. So far I have never managed to last more than ten minutes on it (some of that stationary), and I have not begun to master its intricate controls. It is the only one that really makes me break a sweat, though, so I assume it is the one I should be concentrating on.
At any rate, it seems likely that the thoughts I might have while using this type of equipment will be different from those I have while walking. So far, they mostly seem to be along the lines of “Will this never end?” If I ever achieve anything more revelatory, be assured that I will report it here!