Working out….and up…and all over

My closer-to-the-city self used to think that working out meant getting in my car and then going inside. I’d drive over to Planet Fitness and schlep around from one piece of equipment to another, relying on the screaming yellow and purple color scheme and the gargantuan thumbs-up logo to make me want to jump on and go like hell. On good days, I’d  burn 283 calories while finding muscle groups I never knew I had, and watching Dr. Oz cure things I hoped I’d never get. Other days, not so much. If I timed it wrong, the TVs strung over the elliptical would be broadcasting soap operas or golf, leaving me staring out  the window at the parking lot, shuffling in place and feeling slovenly. Then, on May 5, 2010, I  shook up my fitness routine and thrust it into overdrive. “I’m moving to Rangeley!” I told the hello/buh-bye girl at the front desk as I shouldered my gym bag one last time. She shrugged, slid me some paperwork, and punched me out of the computer forever.

I found the Planet Fitness paperwork stuffed under some musty socks when I went to re-purpose my gym bag months later. Deep into my first Rangeley winter, I had to chuckle at my signature and all the fine print above it that placed me on my own—outside the “Judgement Free Zone.” I’d officially attested that, yes, I believed whatever new planet I was bound for would offer me a better deal for staying in some kind of shape than $10 a month.

But I was making that happen, I realized. With a bit of ingenuity and a lot more footwear, I’d learned it was possible to keep vertical, keep moving forward, and stay one step ahead of the potluck suppers and wild blueberry pancakes. I’d also learned that an extra canvas bag would be much more useful for lugging mail out of the post office or old magazines to friends than gym clothes.

As I said back in Homebody Building,  I am aware that Rangeley has the best health club ever seen in this neck of the woods. And I agree with my in-town friends—the view from there is spectacular. But I prefer to enjoy it from the back lawn, outside the building, especially when our local clinic brings up the Doobie Brothers and other bands to put on a benefit concert there. 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 back into the Subaru. So I settle for sticking to my “at home” routine, substituting the extra car travel with just “getting out there” under my own steam. I may not be able to 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 any neighbor who might pass by on my fitness circuit?

This time of year, with only a few of us non-summer stragglers left in my neighborhood, the road wave becomes less and less necessary. And, when it’s snowing again and still blowing a gale,  getting out there is more about blowing the dust off, keeping the shack nasties at bay, and choosing direct contact with the elements over DirecTV. My daily formula for not “letting myself go” 100% dormant becomes 99% stubborn commitment, 1% motivation.

“I’m going out there!” I declare from my back door, wearing my Elmer Fudd hat and layer upon layer of wind and water resistance. “And, dammit, I’m staying out there at least as long as it took me to get all dressed up to do it!” Most days I fit in a decent routine, solo or with Tom and the beagles. My Stair Master is now a hill across the road, my elliptical a pair of snowshoes and poles, and my view far more inspirational than a parking lot or even Dr. Oz. And although I don’t have any fancy equipment or giant thumbs-up (except those I give myself), I have managed to stay in stride with the latest fitness trends. Here’s how:

  • 10,000 steps: I don’t own a pedometer, but figure I get pretty close to 10,000 steps on my jaunts. And I’d bet anything some of my steps pack more of a punch than strolling around the mall. To those who do happen to drive by and notice, I’m the “seen you out walking” woman, hoofing it all the way to Bemis and back in all manner of conditions. In winter, that means stepping out with ice grippers strapped to my heavy snow boots—not the Yaktrax I raved about two years ago. Those were OK to keep in the car in case a stretch of pavement got a bit slickery. But negotiating the luge track formerly known as my camp road has forced me to permanently graduate to serious toothy, muckle-on-for-dear-life cleats. They’re my Rangeley “shape up” shoes on steroids. Once the snow and slush builds up under those babies, my calves think they’re jogging in deep sand on a beach somewhere until my frozen head tells them otherwise.
  • Circuit training: Back at Planet Fitness, there was a special circle of equipment that guaranteed to work out every muscle group in about half an hour. On really good days, I’d make my way around the circuit before moving on to Dr. Oz and the elliptical. I liked knowing that, unlike shuffling in place, the circuit exercises had a beginning and an end. If I made it all the way around to #10, the ab cruncher machine, I’d won. I’d done all the reps and pretended I might be able to hone a six pack. Out here, though, “circuit” training is not about machinery, but common sense and the laws of locomotion. It means ” If I go over there, or through this, or across that, I gotta come back.” And I gotta make it before dark and before the weather changes, or both. Whether I’m out on the lake or up the hill, the circuitous principle is a powerful distinction from any indoor regimen since I typically launch forth with considerable more vigor than I can muster on my return. My last snow shoeing trek was a prime example. I strode, hell bent and full speed ahead all the way across the ice to Toothaker Island—just me and my spring fever out there under the bright blue sky. But when I turned around to head home, my tracks stretched twice as far in the distance as the steps I had taken to get over there, I swear. I figured 3,000 going and at least 7,000 coming back!
  • Yoga/Tai Chi/and other meditative motions: My yoga mat has gathered a bit of dust in recent years, I’ll admit. But I still remember the moves, and I still seek the mind-body connection that comes from thoughtful appreciation of being immersed in nature, moving to the rhythm of creation. This time of year, that often starts with my version of “downward dog” as I jackknife myself to cinch up my snowshoe straps. Some days, I manage to rise up and perform many “sun salutations” and only a few gravity-defying contortions. Other days—after a poorly executed Tai Chi maneuver to shake snow off one shoe, or a misstep into some great white abyss—I add in more deep meditative moments. “Focus on your breath,” I tell myself, my face two inches from the snow, one leg buried, and the other skewed around next to my elbow. “Just let your body sink, relax into it. Deep cleansing breaths, in…and out. Good! Remember, you have the control, the innate strength—to bend, to stand, to step into your power always!” On good days, the mantra works.
  • CrossFit/core training: It’s all the rage, I know. Confuse my muscles and jump start my metabolism with a rapid fire sequence of burning and straining. I’ve got it covered, Rangeley-style, with a custom workout as second nature as brushing my teeth. I call it the seasonal “backwards recumbent stretch, sit and shake” and it goes like this: Open the door to the Subaru, keeping your arms extended all the way out. Maintain as much distance as possible from the covering of road slime on the apparatus as you angle your gluteus maximus toward the seat. While still holding the door firmly with one hand,  sit down, but make sure you keep both legs fully extended, toes pointed outside the car. Clap your legs together firmly several times. When your boots are free of mud and slush, swivel your legs in and close the door. Repeat as needed—at the post office, the IGA, and all around the loop. If done correctly, you’ll feel it in your shoulders, your calves, and especially your core.


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!