Saturday, August 24, 2013

Why I work out...outside

About six or seven years ago I briefly harbored the delusion that I should return to graduate school and get my PhD in English literature. Fortunately, I came to my senses but I did take a graduate class at a local fancy-pants university to bolster my credentials and to prove I could still think about obscure issues no one outside of academia cares about.

One day, towards the end of the semester, a PhD candidate whom I had befriended came in with her coat slung around her shoulders.

"What the hell happened to you?" I said.

She explained: every night, after her classes were over, usually around 10pm or so (early by grad school standards) she'd pop open her portable DVD player, prop it up on her desk and work out to The Firm.  She used The Firm step aerobic program, which came complete with a pink, plastic step for a complete workout experience.
You know it has lots of incomprehensible choreography because of the instructor's 80s leotard and the crunchy perm.

For the record, I have worked out to DVDs from The Firm series. But the Firm series involves lots of grape-vining, and immediately when a video has lots of grape-vining and dance moves that require fine motor skills and small hand weights, I get lost.

The only DVD series I've really been able to benefit from is Jillian Michaels, who uses stuff like squats, jumping jacks, crunches, and moves so basic even I can't fuck them up.  Also, she is a short brunette, not a leggy blonde, and says motivational stuff like "I'm not going to give you modification you fat ^%#&.  I have 300 pound people doing this so you can too."  I respect that.

But anyway, my friend was grape-vining away on her little pink step and suddenly the step slipped out from under her, causing her to fall on her arm at what she described as a weird angle.

She tried to continue but was unable to do so and her arm began to turn a weird purply shade.  So she went to the student health center.

"What did I do?" she asked the person on staff.

The woman poked the multicolored part of her arm.  "I was doing The Firm," she explained.  "The step version of The Firm," she explained, to indicate why she was troubling the healthcare center with a workout video-related injury so late at night.

The person on staff offered her some acetaminophen and told her to go back to her dorm.  I like to think the healthcare worker offered her some condoms and a pamphlet on breast self-exams as well, as my college was wont to do, but perhaps I am projecting.

When the student returned to the dorm, a friend of hers looked at the injury.  "You know, that doesn't look good.  I think we should get a second opinion."

At the ER, after a long wait, the graduate student finally got examined (If you want someone to rush to see you, I guess don't tell them you have a Firm-related injury).

"It hurts."

"That is because you have a broken arm."

Yup, when I said, "what the hell happened to you," I was referring to her cast and sling.

In defense of the university health center at fancy-pants university, it is one of the Ivy League schools that doesn't have a medical school. If that puts your mind at rest about the quality of healthcare in academic medicine. 

She was pretty upset because that meant having to type all of her semester papers with one hand (her left, non-dominant hand). And also upset because, as she said to me, "how am I going to work out with only one arm?"

I suggested using the treadmill at the awesome free fitness facility at the university--which if she had been using in the first place, she never would have broken her arm.

"But it's not The Firm."

Sometimes I'm surprised when people tell me the activities I like to do outside (like running on the roads) are 'dangerous' given that I'm so often reproached for having the heart of a mouse and a weenie one at that when it comes to risk-taking. 

I've been told on many an occasion that the only safe place to exercise (for a woman) is safely cloistered inside doing appropriately girlish activities like lifting 2 lb. barbells and the dreaded grape-vining. I always use this anecdote to justify the safety of my 'fitness regime.' And in answer to the question if all the people who go to Ivy League schools are really smart. 


  1. The worst injury I ever had working out was playing racquet ball. I jumped, swung and landed on my ankle with my foot at a 90 degree angle. That sucked. It still aches sometimes randomly.
    When I started running it was always outside and before it got light out, my grandmothers were always concerned for my safety, especially in the winter when the roads and sidewalks were icy. When my parents bought me a treadmill, I ran on that exclusively for two years, but found when I moved out, I couldn't get back into it.
    I tried a bunch of stuff, was never willing to go to the gym, and the best I could do was a little over a month of the Insanity workout DVDs, but got tired of that too.
    Thankfully, running outside seems to have rekindled it for whatever reason.
    I don't know if running outside for a woman is any more dangerous than going to the gym and maybe having someone stalk you out into a dark parking lot. If we spend all of our time worrying about what could happen, we wouldn't do anything. I mean, you're just as likely to get hit by a car as you drive to the gym.

    1. Exactly! You can't live your life in fear. Thanks for the synopsis of your running/work-out history--I love hearing about the fitness regime of other people (especially runners). I too am an outdoor runner and despise treadmills. During the winter when it is too icy to run I will occasionally resort to my rickety, cheap home 'mill, but it just seems to be antithetical to what is the great pleasure of running--moving forward. I have to say I am always very impressed by people like you who live in very cold climates who stay fit. During the depths of winter it is so hard to 'motivate' to leave a warm bed. I do it--I run year 'round--but it is so much easier in the spring, summer, and fall.