We who are about to exercise salute you.

In about half an hour, I’m going to the gym. For the first time. I’m terrified.

I’m really enjoying the biking now that Kiddo#4 is in school, but the two times I’ve tried biking in the cold, I ended up unable to breathe and unsure why that felt familiar… until I remembered, oh yeah, I had asthma as a kid. Cold weather activates it. And I can’t bike inside my house.

I looked into the gym membership because I could bike inside their house, but people told me I should do more than just bike. (Note the phenomenon of ‘mission creep.’ I wanted to bike.)  They told me I could cross-train and change things up and work different muscle groups, etc. So I got the Couch To 5K program instructions. I was only interested in building up my stamina and heart/lung health. I don’t really care about the rest.

And then I got a book out of the library, which warned me about Dire Consequences if I only did cardio stuff. No, you also need resistance training.

Right. Mission creep. Remember, I only wanted to bike.

I’ve been looking at exercise bikes and treadmills on Craigslist. I think 50 are listed every day, “Like new! Only used five times!” but this week, I’m trying the free one-week membership. There’s babysitting. There’s classes (and everyone tells me I want to attend the classes. Remember, I only wanted to bike.) You get a session with a personal trainer who will tell you you also need to do free weights, mat exercises, and a pilates class (mission creep).

But mostly, I’m intimidated. Because when I read that book (which for some reason didn’t magically get me into shape) they had all these rules. Don’t exercise the same muscle group on two consecutive days. Do 2 sets of 12 repetitions unless you fit the following criteria, and then do one set of fifteen. Do exercises that strengthen different muscle groups unless you’re doing exercises that strengthen multiple muscle groups at the same time.

The only conclusion: I’m too stupid to exercise.

Everyone agrees that you need to consult your doctor before you begin an exercise program. I never did that before I put myself on my bike. But two days ago I saw the doctor for an ear infection, and before she left the room, I said, “One more thing. I wanted to join the gym across the parking lot. Do you think I can do that?”

She looked at me as if I’d said, “Would it be okay if I breathe oxygen?”

She said, “Yeah. Go ahead.”

So at least I’ve consulted my doctor. But if you never hear from me again, please send a search party to make sure I’m not wrapped around an elliptical machine.


  1. Mary

    If the gym works out, great. But if you really want to bike at home, in your home, there are a lot of bike stands designed to let you do just that. They support the rear wheel of the bike and let you pedal away to your heart’s content. The fancier ones let you change the resistance or simulate biking uphill–all sorts of stuff. I wouldn’t recommend the roller type, as they require really good balance, but the other type really does a good job. And you don’t have to find room for a separate exercise bike.

  2. Amanda

    As someone who’s lost 65-ish pounds over the past five years and has varied from 2 hours of exercise a day to… well, none, my thought is just do what you can conceivably manage to keep up consistently.

    My max tends to be about 40 minutes a day, whether it’s elliptical, treadmill, cross-training, or whatever. Any more than that and I get resentful of the time it’s taking from my family. I mean, I know I need exercise and I’ll do it, but I also know that if I consistently aim for more than 40 minutes on a weeknight (I work FT, 2 sons, ages almost-9 and almost-13), I’ll balk after a few weeks.

    Just pick something you enjoy and do it. And ignore everybody else (except your doctor), including me 😉

  3. loriendil

    I agree with Amanda: do what you enjoy. {{{hugs}}}

  4. Illya

    Good luck!

  5. Cricket

    Checking with the doctor is purely for legal reasons, unless they actually have a trainer who can build a plan tailored to different health conditions.

    My tai chi group (including mothers and an advanced trainer) were so worried (true worry, not just legal) when I was pregnant that one of them even consulted his own doctor! (It turned out to be my own doctor. When she asked me if RH was in my group we had a good laugh. The restrictions in the tai chi group’s advanced manual said I shouldn’t raise my arms above my shoulders and should take tiny steps.)

    As for the book? She’s regurgitating the usual advice with her own seasoning. Unless you intend to over-do it or want the fastest-possible results, at the expense of your sanity, don’t worry about it.

    The trainer wants you to feel you’ve gotten good value for your money, which, in his mind, means using the toys and going to classes.

    1. philangelus

      This is weird, but I have no real results in mind. I want to improve my endurance, but I haven’t quantified for myself what that would mean. The couch-to-five-K program does give measurable results. I know I can’t run 5K right now, so if I can do it at the end of nine or twelve weeks or whatever, or even 24 weeks, then I’ll know I’ve improved. I’m trying to take things slow because it’s less intimidating.

      I wish there was a book for “Fitness For Moms Who Haven’t Formally Exercised Since Grad School But Have Been Biking Around A Lot.”

  6. blueraindrop

    short version of rules: if it kills you, don’t do it again.

    if you are working out at a good level, stressing out the same muscle group that you’ve already stressed out will be obvious in the level of both ability and soreness on the second round, and will cause agony.. if not immediately, then later or the next day.

    same with working out that same group the next day. especially as a beginner, if the muscles havent had some recovery time, its going to really hurt afterwards. like much more than it regularly is sore.

    if the second set of whatever is killing you and making you wonder if you can even physically do it, don’t do it… just do what you can at the end of the first set. (or, easier to me… chop it up into 3 shorter sets… 3 sets of 10 is a lot easier than 2 sets of 15)

    btw… on classes.. spin/spinning=bike. might be a strategy to do both classes and just bike. lol

    1. philangelus

      I looked at the list of classes they offer and I don’t even understand half of them! I need to sit down with the list and Google for a long loving hour and translate it from Fitness into English.

      The shorter sets might be the way to go. I like that idea.

      It’s hard to know the difference between “sore” and “pain.” I’m a wimp and I’ll probably curl up on the couch whining about being in agony at a point where most normal humans would say, “I feel great for a run this morning!” 😉

  7. Jen Nolan

    Putting my Spinning Instructor hat on for a moment (okay, I don’t actually wear a HAT unless my hair is too long, but hey), just remember this – cross-training is great. Resistance training is great. But if you find, after all of it, that you can’t stand it and all you really wanted to do was bike?


    Don’t feel compelled to keep going with it if you hate it, because you’re being told your calves will outgrow your hamstrings or your upper body will atrophy and wither away. Do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do. 🙂

    (And try out a Spinning class! :-D)

    1. philangelus

      My problem is that once I’m told there is a Specific Way Something Should Be Done, I feel compelled to do it that way until I understand the rationale for doing it that way. Then once I figure it out, I feel okay about cutting corners on things I understand. “Oh, I can accomplish the same thing by doing this.” It’s like taking the Google Maps route until you realize that there’s this neat back road that gets you there in the same amount of time but avoids that lousy intersection.

      They have a power biking class or something in the morning at a time I could make it, but it looks so SERIOUS. And as a friend told me, “I don’t like being yelled at.” 😆

  8. diinzumo

    I’m like you: This is Serious Business, and I hate being yelled at. 😉

    The gym I use has a training program that I more or less follow. I don’t always agree with the amount of weight listed on the resistance training (too light), and I do more cardio than specified, plus there are machines I hate using. But to the point, workouts are like diets – there are as many methods as there are “experts” in the world. It’s like Jen said: Do what you like and what keeps you motivated, because the most important thing about working out is that you *keep doing it.*

  9. Marie

    I need to start exercising and also have asthma triggered by cold. However, I have found covering my mouth and nose with a scarf and then breathing only through my nose works for normal things – there’s a temperature range in which I’ll wear a scarf but not a coat to go get the newspaper. A scarf on a bike scares me though – knit a short one.