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Now working out on land…

March 25, 2018, 1:39 PM

My exercise regimen has, for the past year or so, been a matter of fits and starts.  I resumed going to the pool before work last July, and ended up discontinuing it in October.  Now, I’m going to Planet Fitness a few nights a week in order to regain my boyish figure.  So far, so good, though admittedly, I’m still trying to figure out my groove.

It’s a shame, though, that I’m hanging up my speedo, at least for the time being.  When I went back to the pool, I intended to go in, do my hour, and then get ready for work.  However, I think that it was a combination of factors that doomed it.  I work nights, and that meant that the time that I used to work out some years back was now spent at work.  With the pool’s closing at 9:00, that meant that if I wanted to go, I had to go in the morning.  It is hard to get up first thing in the morning to go exercise.  That also stuck me in with what I called the “Leisure World crowd”, which was typically an older set that swam slowly.  When those people reached a certain level to where we started swimming three to a lane, it directly impacted my ability to complete my own workout.  That becomes frustrating when it happens on a regular basis.  I also felt rushed through the whole process because of a hard timepoint, i.e. getting to work on time, right afterward.  Get in, swim, get out, go to work.  I don’t like rushing, because that just sucks the fun out of the whole endeavor.

Additionally, at Montgomery County swimming pools, as a lap swimmer, you quickly learn where you stand on the totem pole of swimmers.  You are right at the bottom, down where the dog lifts its leg.  Swim team is at the top of the heap, and then you have aqua aerobics classes, swim lessons, SWIMontgomery (the pre-swim team program), and even open recreational swim (i.e. kiddie playtime) that takes precedence over lap swimming.  The management has no problem giving a full lane to a swim lesson group of five preschoolers and one instructor that will never leave the shallow end, and which requires a special platform so that the kids can even touch bottom, while cramming eight or nine people into two lanes for lap swimming.  Good luck trying to get a good workout under those circumstances, with that many people stuffed into a lap lane.  Likewise, the management won’t return lanes if a class has low attendance.  I have seen many occasions where an aerobics class is given four lanes (i.e. half the pool) for about five participants, while the lap lanes are crowded.  It’s ridiculous.

I also feel that as my swim workout goes, I have topped out, at least for now.  When I went back to swimming in 2011, I worked my way up to about a 90-second lap within the first year.  That’s where I’ve more or less stayed ever since then.  I haven’t made an improvement in my lap time since then, and so it started to feel like the challenge was gone.  It became routine.  I always need something to work towards.  I hate just maintaining equilibrium.

All in all, the pool became more trouble than it was worth, especially for the money that I was paying for it.  I was going there and not enjoying it.  If it tells you anything, my stopping going to the pool last October came about because I fell ill with a cold that was bad enough that it kept me home from work for a day, and then realized after I felt better again that I didn’t miss it.

So after a period of my attempting to guilt-trip myself into going to the pool, and one half-hearted trip to Germantown Indoor Pool that actually cemented the idea that it’s more trouble than it’s worth, I finally opted to move on.  I looked back on my experience in the pool in 2012-2014, when I was at my peak there.  The idea was to determine what made the pool work during that time vs. later on when it did not.  The take-home points were that I felt challenged at what I was doing, I was having fun doing it, and I was going after work (i.e. I did not have to rush through it).  Those factors guided my research into new alternatives to the county pools.  Hours were my biggest consideration.  I do my best when working out if I do it after work.  I work nights now, and I will likely do that for the foreseeable future.  Recognize that on the totem pole of seniority at work, with my only having three years and some change, I am fairly close to the bottom, at least on rail (if I were still a bus driver, my seniority would be better).  So nights it is.  Wanting to work out after work meant doing so during the overnight hours, which put me into the 24-hour realm.

My first step from there was to search for a place that had a 24-hour indoor pool.  I was hoping that LA Fitness would be that place, as many of their facilities had indoor pools, including two in Gaithersburg.  Unfortunately, LA Fitness closes overnight, which meant that I wouldn’t gain much benefit beyond what I already had with the county.  They still closed before I got off of work, which meant that I would still have to go before work if I wanted to swim.  The short answer for 24-hour indoor pools within a reasonable distance from my house is that there aren’t any.  The closest ones are at 24 Hour Fitness in Tysons Corner and Falls Church, but those are 25 miles each way to Virginia from my house in Montgomery Village.  That seems a bit too much to do on a routine basis.  However, if 24 Hour Fitness ever decides to open a facility with an indoor pool in Montgomery County, count me in (hint hint).

So with all of that said, swimming was out, at least for the time being.  From there, I ended up gravitating towards Planet Fitness, which is a chain of 24-hour gyms, with resounding endorsements from my friends Suzie and Melissa.  Planet Fitness also had a $20/month “black card” membership deal that was too good to turn down.  It gave me access to all of the chain’s locations, plus unlimited guest privileges.  That last part was important, because that’s how I brought Elyse into the fold.  Two lower-tier individual memberships would have cost the same, but only would have gotten us access to a single club, plus no massage chairs.  The top-tier membership gave me way more flexibility for the same price.  When Elyse questioned why she was essentially a permanent guest, I put it simply: “Would you ever go there without me?”  She wouldn’t, so that was that.

Planet Fitness has been an interesting adventure thus far.  We’ve been going for about four weeks, and we’re both still figuring out what works and what doesn’t.  While Elyse tends to get on the treadmill and spend most of her time there, I’ve been exploring around a bit.  I did 20 minutes on the elliptical.  I did 20 minutes on the treadmill.  I gave the recumbent stationary bike a spin.  I tried the Arc Trainer, which is similar to an elliptical.  I tried the stair climber.  I did the “30 minute workout” circuit training routine.  I’ve tried some of the weight machines, and I’m still working my way through those.  So I’m getting around a bit.  The only things that I’m not going to try are the free weights and the upright stationary bike, both due to lack of interest.  For the former, why mess around with free weights when I can do more or less the same things on a machine where I only have to insert a pin and get started?  The weights move along a track, and there’s nothing for me to accidentally drop on my foot.  And for the latter, I just hate regular bike seats (so there).

I’m still finding my groove at Planet Fitness, but I feel like the elliptical and I will be good friends.  Love at first sight, I suppose.  It just feels natural, and it’s also working the muscles that power my knees, which really need some strengthening.  I’ve been using the “fat burn” setting, which adjusts the tension in order to maintain whatever heart rate that you designate.  The first time I did it, I went for the whole enchilada and used 150 BPM as my target heart rate, which is what my doctor recommended.  I briefly got my heart rate up to 150 BPM on my first real workout with it, but my throat was burning, and it was clear that I had bitten off too much at once.  I ended up spending most of my time during that workout around 130 BPM, despite the 150 target in the machine.  130 has been a good target range for now, and I can work my way up to 150 BPM.  At 130, I am definitely working hard, but not throat-burning hard.

I’m kind of surprised that the elliptical is what I gravitated towards.  For some reason, going into this, I imagined that I would take to the stair climber.  However, one round on that thing turned me off to it, because I was exercising with a constant fear of being flung off of the machine if I slowed down.  Oh, well.

Meanwhile, weight work is going well.  I didn’t like the weight part in the 30-minute circuit training, because as soon as I got into a good groove with a given machine, it was time to move to the next station (I actually felt no benefit from the circuit training because it was too much movement and not enough workout).  But doing weights off of the timed course is good.  Slow movement with lower weight (around 70 pounds) seems to work well for me.  I’m putting an emphasis on taking my time going up and down in order to maximize the effect.  I’m still exploring the various weight machines, but I’m definitely having a good experience with them.  I just have to be careful not to overdo it.  One week, Elyse and I only went once because we both overdid it on a thigh machine, and our inner thigh muscles were sore for days.

Coupled with this workout routine is a good diet.  Breakfast is oatmeal, lunch is typically a salad, and dinner is usually a sandwich with some frozen vegetables.  It’s the same kind of eating that I did when I lost all of the weight in 2011, and so I know that it works.  Just no falling off the wagon.

And apparently, I’m doing something right, because between February 15, when I got weighed for my DOT physical, and March 22, when I had to go to urgent care for an infection, I lost eight pounds.  I don’t mind that at all.