How do I give my body the focus and attention it needs?
November 20, 2010 10:35 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way for a young, non-athletic, mostly out-of-shape male to get in touch with his body and feel good about himself? (More details inside.)

I am a twenty-one year old male. I've never been all that athletic. I had weight issues as a kid, but a few years ago I lost around fifty pounds and managed to keep it all off (mostly through diet and not exercise, and apparently an amazing change of metabolism).

I'm not looking to necessarily "buff up." I also don't want (or need) to lose any weight. I just want to get in tune with my body. I work at a job where I'm on my feet ALL THE TIME, and I often suffer from back pain.

I'd rather not go to a gym (A) because of the costs involved and (B) I prefer exercising in a quiet, solitary fashion.

Around a year ago, I would power-walk about four miles within an hour, five days a week, and it felt great! (I also enjoy things like hiking and such.) I'm thinking about getting back into that habit, but what are some other exercises that can shape me up? I was thinking about yoga -- but I can't afford expensive yoga classes. Does anyone know of a helpful yoga instructional book?

Any ideas and suggestions on this topic will be greatly appreciated.
posted by fignewton to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
P-90X is sort of intense but it's definitely worth it, and part of the program involves yoga. What's good about it is that you can do it at your house and you don't really anything except a yoga mat and some free weights (and maybe a chin-up bar, if you want to really get into it).
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:40 AM on November 20, 2010

[don't really NEED anything, that is . . . ]
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:40 AM on November 20, 2010

if you're a student, your school may provide free or cheap yoga. ...
posted by ansate at 10:49 AM on November 20, 2010

Cycling changed my attitude to physical activity. Plus, riding around on a bike is fun. Also, rock-climbing is a god mix of upper body workout and strategic thinking. You probably have a local climbing wall.

Find a partner interested in going a few times a week and these things become even more fun.
posted by hamandcheese at 10:51 AM on November 20, 2010

Keeping with the walking, find hills or a route that has stairs you can climb.
posted by rhizome at 11:15 AM on November 20, 2010

Do you live somewhere with snow? Cross country skiing is my winter exercise, and it is the epitome of "quiet, solitary" exercise. I bought some skis off Craigslist for super cheap and then bought new boots and bindings - it all cost about $180 total. And I watched YouTube videos to learn technique, so no lesson costs there.
posted by Maarika at 11:15 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recommend finding multiple physical activities that you like. Walking, running, tai chi, whatever. That way if you don't feel like doing one, you can do the other. Or if (heaven forbid) you get an injury that makes one difficult/impossible, you've got something else to fall back on.

I also enjoy cycling a lot, and since I can't run anymore, it's good that I have it as a backup. It's more of a time and money commitment though.
posted by adamrice at 11:22 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yoga studios often do "community" classes, which are cheaper than regular classes-- the place I go to is $18 for 90-minute regular and $10 for 60-minute community, and $5 for classes taught by supervised teacher trainees.

If your local yoga studios have that kind of deal, consider going once a week or every two weeks to get tips on your form and on specific back-friendly poses, then getting a DVD to work on between classes at home. Way cheaper than 2-3x/ week standard-price classes, if it fits your schedule.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:23 AM on November 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Swimming laps might be another option. No matter how many other people are swimming in the same pool, once you put your head underwater and start, the world narrows down to you, the water, the black line underneath you, and the wall.
posted by colfax at 11:47 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think adamrice has the right idea, generally speaking, not that I'm disagreeing with anyone else's suggestions. I've mostly proceeded the same way in my life. I've been exercising regularly, multiple times every week, for probably around seven years now, with very little downtime. The reason I think that is true is because I am deathly afraid of getting bored, and I'm always changing it up. I keep looking into new ideas, figure out what is fun and challenging and interesting, and try to change it up a lot. I started years ago with rowing, moved to some cycling and running, started adding in a lot of calisthenics and Tabata workouts, then heard about Crossfit (note that I am not advocating doing the mainsite workouts as is for a beginner—or even suggesting Crossfit will be good for you, but check this out if it sounds interesting) and I have enjoyed the constant variation and serious gains I've made, even doing it the scaled-down way I've been doing it.

I think now I may be moving in the direction of more calisthenics, jumproping and gymnastics exercises (all of which Crossfit uses, btw), for a variety of reasons, but my point in listing all of this is to emphasize that there is no one right way to do it other than the way that keeps you interested—and the way that you can do safely (that is, if you want to try something and are unsure of how, it's worth it get someone knowledgeable to give you some training...this is especially advisable if you are starting any sort of weight training regime). If that's getting a max squat, or taking yoga, or salsa then do it—but try a wide variety of stuff and see what excites you. Do you like working out with other people or in a solitary fashion? Do you like focusing on brute strength or agility—or want to integrate the two? Do you like the Zen-like state you get from a distance run or the insane physical exhaustion you get after a set of Tabata thrusters? Go slow and listen to your body, but try it all out and see!
posted by dubitable at 12:05 PM on November 20, 2010

Oh, sorry, I see you already said you like exercising in a solitary fashion...well, I do to, so maybe some of the stuff I listed would be interesting for you.
posted by dubitable at 12:07 PM on November 20, 2010

P90X is a great option, but might be on the intense side. It has a gentler cousin, P90, which is good for getting started with being fit regularly. Both programs are delivered as DVDs. I have no experience with P90, but P90X significantly improved my body and made me feel awesome with a minimum of inconvenience (albeit a huge amount of work).
posted by felix at 12:11 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some good consistent bodyweight exercises will help you get in tune with your body. Push ups, pull ups, squats, ab work, dips, burpees.

Being able to do a true pull up from a dead hang to chin over the bar will make you feel like you are in tune with your body.

From there if you want more then look into a program like crossfit or p90x. Though I don't know how much p90x focuses on your legs which are super important.
posted by WickedPissah at 12:35 PM on November 20, 2010

A decent bodyweight workout is at

You may also find a Paleolithic-inspired diet to be helpful. I lose weight without restricting calories on this, and I am pretty sure it would be good for putting on weight cleanly if you keep the milk.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:36 PM on November 20, 2010

Yoga, yoga, yoga. Check the DVDs available on Amazon. Shiva Rea and Rodney Yee are well-known teachers who have DVDs. Iyengar yoga tends to use props, which can really help beginners with alignment. Restorative yoga tends to be restful and healing to those with fatigue, high stress or injuries. You can also specifically search for yoga dvds that emphasize back issues.

Lastly, the yoga studio I attend has a deal where you can work one shift a week and get free yoga in exchange -- and that happens at a lot of yoga studios. If you get into yoga that might be a good deal for you.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:46 PM on November 20, 2010

Pay for a few yoga classes (find good ones) so that the instructor can critique your posture. Once you get the basics down, a yoga video would be fine (there are a 100+ recommendations on Netflix/Amazon for good ones).

Once you let the yoga loosen you up, adding in some core exercises will also help your back.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:09 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd also advocate transitioning from walking into running. I'm short and chubby and I always have been. But I run a 5k at an 8-ish minute mile pace 5 days a week and I love it. I just like the feeling of running - not sprinting, but that moderate pace you get with distance running. It's honestly just fun, especially with a little music, and feels great outside.
posted by kavasa at 1:25 PM on November 20, 2010

I'd rather not go to a gym (A) because of the costs involved and (B) I prefer exercising in a quiet, solitary fashion.

I have been doing CrossFit on my own in my garage for about 3.5 years. It's a great program, I'm never bored, the workouts are intense and short, and the equipment I use is positively minimalist. The entire program can be scaled to whatever you have and whatever you can do. I keep getting stronger and stronger. Maybe this is something you can look into.

If yoga is what you're interested in, though, you should totally do that. You might look around at your local community centers. Some yoga instructors have been known to teach classes there for cheap or free. If jogging, running and hiking are a possibility, you don't need any equipment more expensive than a notebook and access to your local Parks & Recreation website. Hike 10 miles on a Saturday and you have burned off a small pizza.
posted by phoebus at 6:39 PM on November 20, 2010

Hello, this is your future self speaking. I don't have much time.

I would like to thank you for LIFTING WEIGHTS and getting up the confidence to GO TO GYM once you realized that basic barbell gyms are not particularly expensive and just the act of GOING OUT IN PUBLIC helped keep you motivated.

Moreover, your knees would like to thank you for squatting and deadlifting safely with a spotter who had more education than having paid for a weekend certificate and also for not going crazy with the marathon running once we felt stronger.

(But the 30 minute runs three days a week have been great! especially since you learned to RUN PROPERLY and warm up for a good 20 minutes first).

Also, many thanks for not overdoing the questionable high intensity cardio workouts that made no sense (when you first started asking "what is the goal of this workout in terms of fitness benefit and what is the risk?" about things like handstand pushups on the rings stuff got a lot better!) and eating right (lots of meat, eggs and other protein, totally eliminated the carbs -- especially the grains -- and sugar) without going nutso and obsessing. I'm still amazed how cheap years of vitamin D turned out to be.

Double thanks for the time spent doing basic mobility stretches every morning to work out the back pain -- only had to use that foam roller for a year or so, btw! It seemed like 15 minutes was forever at the time, but believe me, we're thankful.

Wanted to mention that the copy of Starting Strength you bought, while now dog eared and stained (sorry, spilled some coffee on it and it's got sunscreen on it from around the time we first started putting it on our face every day), is still worth a peruse now and then.

It was weird -- and awesome!! -- when we first looked in the mirror and saw not a fat guy or a fat guy emaciated by a diet but a man.

I'm fading away-way-way-way-way now-ow-ow-ow-ow-oooooo....
posted by rr at 9:27 PM on November 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

what are some other exercises that can shape me up?

Anything done on a consistent basis with enough intensity. Seriously, it's that simple. Check out a bunch of different things until you find something you like and stick with it.

Here is some simple starting equpment you can look into:

- A 25lbs Hex dumbell for some unilateral movements and core movements
- A set of 2lbs Indian Clubs or Clubbells
- A 15lbs Kettlebell

For all of those you can find a ton of exercises, to do by yourself at home, on the Internet.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:20 AM on November 21, 2010

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