Homebody building

My in-town friends tell me Rangeley has the best health club ever seen in this neck of the woods. They invite me to check it out next time I come in, take the tour, get a membership. “Where else,” one of them asked recently, “can you get in a workout while looking out over such a gorgeous view of the lake and mountains?”

The view is spectacular, I agree. I really enjoy it each time I drive by the club on my way down Dallas Hill Road. And it was particularly awesome from outside the building on the lawn last July where I saw the Doobie Brothers’ perform a stellar benefit concert for our health clinic. But, while I do miss the social aspects of club membership, I politely decline going inside to join up. I’ve done the math several times and 40 miles round trip to walk on the treadmill or splash around in the pool takes the wind right out of my sails before I even think about throwing my gym bag into the Subaru. Besides, completing “the loop” to run errands, get groceries—and maybe hit the dump if I time it right—is workout enough on my going-to-town days. So I settle for sticking to my “at home” routine, substituting the extra car travel with just “getting out there” under my own steam. Out here I can’t socialize in my sweats or ask my girlfriends what’s up while we’re getting pumped for water aerobics. But where else can I do the “road wave” to which ever neighbor passes by on my fitness circuit?

Before moving away from proximity to such amenities, I often did carry a  gym membership of some sort. Over the years, I migrated from pounding the pavement at the YMCA to a snazzy, high-priced athletic club—where I needed to put on an attitude with my Reeboks and Spandex. Then, when the more down-to-earth Planet Fitness opened close by, I was thrilled. I got the huge “thumbs up” just for walking in and, once inside, knew I was OK as long as I tried to keep in shape alongside  everyone else who drew breath and could afford the $99 a year membership. Who needed a snazzy club when I could use the same fancy equipment painted in screaming yellow and purple? The color scheme alone drove me to want to jump on and go like hell.

Yup, I’m happy to say my gym going days are over and that, since I moved up here “working out” at home is working out better than ever. No longer is it just an excuse I give my former snazzy club member friends who wonder where I went. It’s a way of life.

“Gosh, you look great!” my former aerobics instructor would tell when she’d run into me in the grocery store and I didn’t see her coming first. Her smile seemed genuine, but her eyes said something more like: What in God s name have you done to your hair and did you actually ask for it to come out that way? My other aerobics classmates claimed they missed me, too. In gym buddy speak, though, that only meant they missed secretly eyeing me for cellulite and exchanging pleasantries prior to sweating. In any case, they seemed quite curious as to why I hadn’t packed on the pounds or lost major muscle functions.

“Been working out at home,” I ‘d tell them. I didn’t go into detail and let them picture a mini-gymnasium in my basement. They didn’t need to know I owned just one piece of equipment—an exercise bike—and at that particular time, my home workout routine entailed pushing the bike as hard and as fast as I could out of the family room so guests could use the bumper pool table. To compensate, I relied on tips from fitness experts who claimed those without the time or discipline for a regular routine could still stretch and tone while riding the train or standing around the copy machine. I didn’t do either, so I had to be really inventive.

At that point in my life, I was blessed by not needing free weights or upper arm equipment. I had kids—one who’d reached the too heavy to carry but too hazardous to leave running around stage, and another who needed to be lugged everywhere. They made me wonder how childless women kept in shape. Besides having way more time to go to the gym, they’d have to hoist a potato sack filled with 25 pounds of dried beans and a couple of cats or other small, squirming animals to feel the burn I was getting! Another key to my success then was the layout of my living quarters. I lived in a split-level home with everything necessary for survival divided equally between two floors. My washer and dryer was on the lower level, along with most things I needed upstairs, while stuff I needed downstairs in my office was on the second floor, often under the bed. Multiply 24 climbing movements (12 up, 12 down) by the number of times I’d check my laundry, answer my door and lug my kids around, and I was proof positive why stairs are a training staple for all athletes. Eventually, I kicked that up one more notch by putting a baby gate at the top of the stairs. What a way to improve my agility while building up my calves and thighs! I even added a couple nice shoulder stretches by dropping a sock from my laundry bundle on each stair on my way down!

Especially this time of year, in my old neighborhood I’d stick to indoor workouts out of preference and necessity. “Winter recreation” was an oxymoron back then. Plus my road had so much traffic that, even in fair weather, I chose to stay housebound and alive rather than clipped by a dump truck while out for a walk. But now that I’ve traded that address for my road less traveled, I’m tickled to have moved my workouts outdoors where I’ve swapped my Reeboks with Yaktrax or snowshoes, my Planet Fitness purple and yellow with Rangeley blue and green, and my Airdyne bike for riding in fresh air.

There are some days, though, when Mother Nature has different ideas and staying housebound is still a survival strategy. That’s when I focus on my upper body and get inventive again. I augment reps of “throwing another log on the fire” with grocery bag lifting. When filled to capacity and used with proper technique, I’ve discovered grocery bags to be every bit as effective as free weights. I grab the two heaviest bags, one in each hand, and then clutch a third with whichever hand I don’t need for opening up the door. I concentrate on improving my load limit with each shopping trip. And, as I build up my tolerance and swear I can’t possibly hoist anymore, I reach out with one thumb and hook onto another IGA bag or maybe just a gallon of milk before charging up the porch stairs to my  kitchen. Another homebody building secret is to never ever put anything within arms reach. Canned goods for my favorite recipes need to be at the back of the cupboard, I figure, to do me the most good athletically. I aim for height too, stretching my hands above my head and then really pushing myself to go at least two inches above that point. Whatever casserole dishes and pots and pans I don’t have room for up near the ceiling, I store down low in a floor-level cupboard—way up against the back wall—and feel that stretch!

As I write this, it’s Fat Tuesday and I guess I’ll need to go out for a brisk walk to burn off tonight’s party food and drink. And when I come back inside, I’ll need to kick it up one more notch to avoid a Fatter Wednesday. I figure a couple circuits with my Swiffer duster will be just the right combo for adding strength training and agility…as long as I don’t forget to hit the really high shelves and the stairs!

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