I also could call this post "The Joy of Medicine Balls."
I'm one of those folks who gets up very early to exercise before work. At home. In a spare bedroom. I don't have a separate exercise room, per se, and I don't belong to a gym because to me if a gym were more than five minutes away it might as well be in Vladivostok. The drive would be taking away minutes I could exercise, and, well, that just won't do.
The health club I once belonged to had all sorts of nifty, state-of-the-art equipment, a good sound system, TVs on some aerobic equipment, you name it. But it was also about a fifteen-minute drive, which, coupled with my commute, made it all but unworkable on weekdays. I enjoyed working out there on weekends and on holidays, but I wasn't getting my money's worth, so I dropped out.
During the warm weather months, when it's light out early enough (and warm enough too), I'll get on my hybrid bike and do a 4-mile course in the neighborhood at least once, perhaps twice, and go hard all the way. The only hazard in the morning are the folks who deliver newspapers, who are wont to drive on both sides of the wide streets because there's no one else around. Because of this potential danger, I have a light both on the front and back of the bike, and, thus far, the closest I came to contact was when one of the delivery folks almost blew a stop sign.
The rides are fun. I am out in the fresh air, before the neighborhood is totally awake, and I pass a group of women who power walk, a few joggers, one or two other bicyclists and an older couple doing Tai Chi on the sidewalk. It's a great feeling to breathe the fresh air while the sun is coming up and before you surrender your day to the practical realities of work and the responsibilities of family. I vary the ride from time to time, so that it doesn't get boring.
But it's not that light out or that warm for most of the year, perhaps 4 to 5 months at the most. It's during the other months where I'm challenged to keep things interesting. I haven't bought the spin bike yet, if only because the one I like costs about $1,000 and some of the less expensive models have been written up as being particularly noisy. I've tried yoga, Tai Chi and even Tae Bo, but I did some serious damage to my lower back while trying to emulate Billy Blanks' doing a Tae Kwon Do kick, hurting it so much so that immediately after I had trouble turning on a faucet to get the water with which to take my anti-inflammatories.
So, several years ago, I returned to an old, faithful stand-by, a now almost 13 year-old Tunturi cross-country ski machine that they don't make any more (I've checked the Tunturi site) and, my guess is, I think they'd be amazed that there's one still in action. For those with low ceilings, this low-impact machine is good because, unlike most, if not all, elliptical trainers, it rests flat on the floor and not a foot above it. There are ski poles for you to push back and forth, and you get a good upper- and lower-body workout. It's not in perfect condition -- the grips are all but gone and the LED display hasn't worked for years, but I use and I-Pod and watch ESPN with close-captioning, so I really don't need to track my speed, mileage, etc. I think we paid about $200 for the machine in the early 1990's.
So, now, here's the workout. I stretch for about 15 minutes, doing back exercises my physical therapist taught me, some yoga stretches and then some hamstring stretches with a stretch band (I bought a pack of three of them for $5 at Five Below). After I stretch, I spend 20 to 30 minutes on the Tunturi machine, depending on how early I have to leave the house and begin my commute to work. Thereafter, I spend about 20-25 minutes using 4-, 5- and 8-pound medicine balls on a variety of exercises (about 20 in total) that are good for your core and upper and lower body. I got the lighter balls for $5 apiece at Five Below and then spent about $10 (perhaps $12) at Sports Authority for the 8-pounder. You may think of medicine balls from the days of the old gyms with the machines with the anti-flab bands you put around your waist and old, flywheel exercise bikes (remember Gordon Clapp, most recently of "NYPD Blue" but in the early 80's playing White Sox' catcher Ray Schalk in a gym scene in "Eight Men Out"), but they really help you develop your core strength. In addition, at the end of the workout, I use a big exercise ball to do 50 crunches and then 50 reverse crunches. I cool down for 10-15 minutes watching some news or doing some meditation, and then I'm ready to go.
I recall an old joke once where the comedian said, "I gave my mother an exercise bike. The best there is. Anyway, she sits on it for a while and then she asks, 'How do you turn this thing on?'" Now, for those of you used to LifeCycles, you might think her question to be legitmate, but, needless so say, she thought that the machine would do the work for her. As if.
Which gets to my point, which is especially germane for those of you who have thought about exercising for a while but whose intertia has prevent you from getting started. Just start doing something. Start out with a few simple stretches, get some dumbbells, do some pushups and crunches, all the while making sure you do them the right way. Get an exercise bike at a yard sale, buy one on-line for less than $250, and get going.
To quote the Vandellas from "Dancin' in the Street", "it doesn't matter what you wear, so long as you are there." Put on some exercise clothes (Dick's has a nice line of Russell Athletic stuff that is modestly priced, and Wal-Mart has some Hanes wear at very low prices) and do your best. You don't need a $1500 home gym, the $1000 spin bike, the $2000 treadmill or anything like that. Make sure your doctor clears you, and do whatever works for you in the space and time you have.
Yes, it's hard to get started. There are always people in better shape than you, and there are always people who will do more. You may think that your 20 minutes a day to start aren't significant, but after a while you'll build up to more vigorous exercise in a longer time period, to the point where it will be a highlight of your day. Just pace yourselves, and you'll do just fine.
You just have to start somewhere.
For me, it was some old-time stuff -- an almost-forgotten cross country ski machine and some old-school technology -- medicine balls. I try to exercise every day during the week, and I'm glad to do so every opportunity I get. Getting the motivation to get started is perhaps the biggest hurdle for most of us. Just remember, it really doesn't matter what you wear, how you look or how good your equipment is.
What matters is your commitment to better health.
And how much heart you show about your physical fitness.