How does a 20 yr old healthyish student get back in shape without dying?
October 27, 2013 5:33 PM   Subscribe

The fact I never liked the "traditional" forms of exercise never bothered me before. That is, until it recently dawned on me activities like going to the gym or running might be the only options I have left. But, with sensitive knees and shins from growing quickly and the residual effects of childhood asthma still occasionally inhibiting my ability to do cardio, these activities seem more foreign than ever. What can I do?

In high school, I was on the tennis team for 4 years. I liked it enough to play and was good. I'd say my level was well above average (as I am with most sports), but not excellent. Ultimately, though, the sport always seemed too artificial and contrived for me to ever get hooked. I rarely experienced the state of "flow" most of the sport's admirers enjoy all the time. As a result, I haven't played much at all. Sometimes I reluctantly play with my dad and friends every couple of months, but that's it!

Luckily for my health, I found everything tennis lacked in the outdoors. Activities like backpacking, hiking, and camping both thrill and inspire me. So, I've always spent as much time possible pursuing these passions. Sadly, I rarely get a cardio workout from these alone as it's always been the conjunction of tennis and these that keeps me physically fit. Now, after moving to a big city for school two years ago, and assuming a big kid schedule, I don't even have time or frequent enough access to my outdoor activities.

The activities I love have been slowly pushed to the occasional week-ends and summer months, and I completely avoid playing tennis. By consequence, I've become extremely out-of-shape, lazy (in a physical sense), and have very low energy. Not to mention the fact a 5 minute run literally makes me suck for air like the 10 year old asthmatic nerd I was.

Seriously, my only exercise is the extremely fast walks I frequently make, a byproduct of years of hiking, and the occasional forced run. Over the last few months I've done several days (4-8) in a row of running, but lose interest (motivation?) quickly.

My dilemma: Most the ways people exercise seem completely foreign and bizarre to me... I mean, the gym seems like a big Darwinian social experiment, and I honestly cannot imagine why people enjoy running. From my short experience, I'd say it's one of the worst ways to spend time I've ever known.

So, with my passion for outdoor activities cut-off and the death of my interest in tennis- how can I get back into shape and do it fast??? I'm extremely curious about all things, naturally hand-eye talented, and quick to learn.

In addition to your suggestions for why I should stop being such a lazy POS, I would greatly appreciate a realistic exercise plan and set of goals. In short, can you help me find a consistent activity to get back in shape which won't kill my lungs or knees and that I might actually enjoy?

At this point, I have no idea where to start. Imagine me a child learning to walk... While I consider myself competent in many areas - physical fitness and exercise - are not one.

Additional info:

I'm a male.

My schedule: 45 mins - 1 hour very early in the morning and late at night.

I am an extremely healthy, mostly vegetarian eater.

Thanks in advance!
posted by intelligentfool to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I assume that you have access to your school fitness facilities? Take advantage! One of my big regrets is not exploring school fitness facilites while I had the chance. Is there a pool? Swim! Alone or join a team! Take fitness classes! Dance can be a lot of fun.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:48 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Stationary bikes and elliptical trainers are very low-impact. You can bring a book or an iPad to the gym to keep you occupied.

Also, learning how to use free weights can be very satisfying. You build muscle and strength and it's quite good for you as you age. If you're in the gym anyway, sitting on a bike, see if you can check out how others are using that equipment.
posted by xingcat at 5:49 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Convict Conditioning is an awesome book and might be just the thing you're looking for.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:52 PM on October 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

Couple of suggestions:
racquet ball if you have in your area and if you think you can handle it breathing wise.
Biking is way more pleasurable them running if you have trails around you.
posted by pyro979 at 5:55 PM on October 27, 2013

I can second Convict Conditioning. I used to always hate exercise, never went to the gym, turns out I just hated gyms. I've been doing the bodyweight exercises in that book 3 times a week for the past 4 months and gotten significantly fitter. That, plus hitting a heavy bag are the only types of exercise I actually enjoy.
posted by pravit at 5:57 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

hi, I can't tell where you're from but if you're in a big city, maybe look around for a parkour gym. I am totally with you on the hatred of conventional gym workouts. I am a bike racer (and cycling can feed the introvert's exercise appetite really, really well but it can get equipment/time/money intensive).

What struck me by the parkour courses I took were how intensely full-body they are, and how playful and enjoyable the skills learned are. As a bonus, parkour TOTALLY helps me with hiking, trail running and mountain biking because the skills I gained at "seeing" lines and learning agility, balance and flow transfer to so many other types of sport.

Many large cities have a growing parkour / freerunning organization. It doesn't have to be risky, stunt-y stuff either - just learning the basics gives you a new perspective on play in the outdoors.

I also used to hate running (most bike racers do) until I did a couch-to-5K program at the suggestion of a friend. Turns out if you transition gradually to running to let your muscles adapt, you can run faster, farther, and without pain in a surprisingly short time.

Good luck!
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:09 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

A couple entry-level resources to start with:

Strength Running's standard core routine. Not running-specific, just a solid set of core strength exercises.

Nerd Fitness. More info than you can cover, lots of suggestions. Their approach might work well for you.

How bad are these breathing problems you're mentioning? You could have exercise-induced asthma, and if so, it would be worth seeing a doctor -- asthma treatments are completely different these days and they may have a better way to handle things than they did when you were a kid. (Asthma can set in or get worse when you're an adult, or your triggers can change. Not everyone outgrows it.)

Re: running: nobody *needs* to run, but if you want to give it another shot, I'd suggest slowing down. You may be running too fast for a beginner. Try a much slower jog, no more than one mile. Or if that's too much, jog 100 feet and then walk to recover (aka Couch to 5K, a venerable place to start). You may find you like it once you slow down. And don't run every day. No wonder your shins and knees hurt. Run one day, weight lift the next, repeat. Take days off. Let your body recover.

But, yeah, the breathing thing sounds like it could be a problem, and it might be worth starting there, and starting at the doctor's.
posted by pie ninja at 6:09 PM on October 27, 2013

I enjoy running because it's the only time I let myself listen to the podcasts I enjoy. Bribery of self is useful.

Talk to your doc about the asthma - I have exercise-induced, and it's very well controlled if I use my inhaler prophylactically before working out.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:11 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

My background: I've been in all sorts of shapes (overweight, unhealthy) to reasonably fit (right now towards the latter). I've been injured, gone through physical therapy, which forced me to really learn more about healthy physical activity. Currently have a bad knee so high-impact activities are usually out for me.

I've learned that just moving around can be good for your body and start out slowly- progressing too fast too soon could lead to injury. If you are doing it right, your body should adjust and get better/stronger/healthier over time. That being said, here's some suggestions.

Bike (stationary or not)
Walking (great low-impact workout that you can increase the intensity as needed to get your heart-rate up)
Row machine
Circuit training (I've designed workouts with a variety of bodyweight activities like jumping jacks, marching, etc.)
Strength Training

Also if you find some activities boring, maybe listen to podcasts, read, or watch TV/movies.

tl;dr find something you like and just move.
posted by aarondesk at 6:56 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know nothing about asthma so I am afraid I am ignoring that point in your post, but ...

Activities like backpacking, hiking, and camping both thrill and inspire me.

You could look into a MovNat club or workshop, which involve heading off to the woods/parks/ravines, taking your shoes off and doing a bunch of bodyweight exercises and circuits of pullups and things using the trees and so on. It's fun if not something I would do regularly. And (at least where I live) they can be pricy, but presumably you could design one of their workouts yourself. Or in most places I have lived there are groups and boot camps and things that meet at 5am and have a blast in the park or by the beach, year round.

the gym seems like a big Darwinian social experiment

Have you tried it? A lot of people just don't dig working out at a gym, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I've met others who avoided them because of the types of people/groups/activities they assumed were there. It's more or less what you make of it. Some of my gym friends are the nerdiest people I know, which you have to be to track macros and programs etc over the course of years, and you may find the "flow" you talk about others finding in tennis in weightlifting. I do, and I know a lot of students find it a great stressbuster.

how can I get back into shape and do it fast???

The only real way to get (well, and stay, which I assume is the goal) in shape is consistency - which will come from doing something you really like or having amazing willpower; and efficiency - use a training program someone smarter and more experienced in fitness than you or I have designed, whether Couch to 5k or one of the beginner weightlifting programs or a swimming program or one of the bodyweight programs from YAYOG or a squash schedule from a coach or ....
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:01 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I like to blast some awesome tunes and rock out in my living room (with the curtains closed of course). It's a surprisingly good workout, and dancing + music is also just fun and a great stress-reliever.
posted by snailparade at 7:21 PM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Gym culture varies enormously depending on the time of day. Personally, I've found early mornings to be the best time for people who prefer to keep to themselves as anyone up and exercising that early doesn't have time for bullshit.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:21 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try Krav Maga. I can't speak to whether it is appropriate given your asthma and knee issues (you may get a sense if you look it up). But your dilemma struck a chord with me--I got tired of running, don't like the gym, couldn't stick to a home-bodyweight type of routine. So I signed up for a Krav Maga gym--they whoop your ass into shape really quickly, but more importantly, it's super fun and you learn more or less practical self-defence skills at the same time. (Caveat--this option might not be cheap.)

I agree with those who have said that consistency is the key to keeping fit--so if your current routine isn't working for you, keep working to find something that is fun and keeps you coming back.
posted by Carton at 7:46 PM on October 27, 2013

A young friend of mine had a similar problem - after trying many of the "manly" exercise programs out there, he tried Tai Chi classes for some time and enjoyed it so much that he now finished his advanced program and is now on track to be a teacher himself.

Tai Chi has helped him improve his breathing, focus and stamina to the extent that he now plays squash and swims frequently. Tai Chi doesn't need any equipment and can be done anywhere with a little space.

It is definitely a different approach that I would recommend you to try.
posted by theobserver at 8:02 PM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

But, with sensitive knees and shins from growing quickly and the residual effects of childhood asthma still occasionally inhibiting my ability to do cardio, these activities seem more foreign than ever.

Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey and pravit's suggestion to check out Convict Conditioning is particularly apropos given your restrictions. The squats series will help considerably with your knee pains and your asthma shouldn't inhibit your ability to do these bodyweight strength exercises.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 8:11 PM on October 27, 2013

I would get your asthma checked out by a doctor. I've had asthma my whole life and so long as I use my meds diligently I don't have a problem with cardio.
posted by pombe at 8:15 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't give up on running. My situation was almost identical to yours. I deal with asthma, and my knees are torn up thanks to high school sports.

I thought I would never enjoy running. I learned a few things though, and now I love it.
  • Form matters. Run light on your feet, as light as you can, almost as if you are trying to sneak up on someone. Nobody gets prizes for being a loud runner or for having the longest, highest stride. Land on the balls of your feet, not your heels or your toes. Run with your back and torso straight (don't slouch over), but your whole body leaning forward a bit (as if you are falling forward). Give these changes a try and they will probably take a lot of pressure off your knees and legs, and build strength in your calves.
  • Don't run too fast. It's ok to start jogging at a pace of 12-13 minutes per mile (a pretty slow jog). You don't have to feel like a schmuck if you can't handle an 8 minute pace. When I go out and run today, I usually run at about 9-10 minutes per mile. But, I had to work up to that. I would bet you're pushing yourself too fast... so if you try running again, try to use a smartphone running app, or something like that to keep track of your pace.
  • Pace yourself by mixing in intervals. When you go out to start running, jog one minute, walk one minute. You'll soon be able to reduce or eliminate your walking intervals, and start mixing in sprinting intervals in their place.
  • Mix up your routine. Doesn't do your body favors to run every day, the same amount, the same place. I only run three times a week (twice I run 2-3 miles, and once I run 4-5). The other four days, I either go for a nice walk, go to the gym and use equipment, or play sports with friends.
I think you may be ruling out running without giving it a fair shot first... but I think if you tried these changes, you might find a little more success!

If you still don't want to give running a shot, there's nothing wrong with walking for exercise! It just needs to be a long enough walk (a half hour, at least), and it needs to be at a fast enough pace to get your heart going (aim for a 15 minute pace, which is a brisk walk).
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:51 PM on October 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I can hardly stand the gym (I'm running to nowhere??). Or running more generally, to be honest. But I am really motivated by seeing improvement and by learning new skills. So I keep finding myself drawn back to doing various fitness classes.

You might consider dance classes; they usually are looking for men, and it's a pretty useful skill to have if you want to impress women in the future (or just generally if you want to learn how to move your body with grace/power). For me I like it because I get to learn something new, and I usually notice after class that I'm feeling good about myself - either like it's easier to move, or at least like I'm "happily tired" and feeling like I've accomplished something. And I find the knowledge that I'll backslide if I don't go to class means I don't want to miss classes.
posted by Lady Li at 10:11 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Martial arts classes would be another thing along the same lines, btw.
posted by Lady Li at 10:12 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your school will have martial arts clubs. (And fencing, etc.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:10 AM on October 28, 2013

Bicycling, swimming, and yoga. You can ride and swim as hard as you like for as long as you like. You can coast your bike through the park to he coffee shop or you can grind up and down hills. You can paddle about in the shallow end of the pool for a few minutes or you can do laps until your heart is ready to explode. And yoga is yoga.
posted by pracowity at 4:55 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Said before, but must repeat....swimming and biking.

That said, what exactly are your goals? Are you overweight? (I do know some healthy-eating vegetarians who are fat) Are you trying to build muscle to look good or build strength and endurance? Biking and swimming are great for building cardo and strength in a mild way and can both be fun to do in the gym and the wild. If you are going for a more muscled look, maybe take a weight-training class ore get one or two sessions with a trainer at a gym. Throw in some hiking and you may amaze yourself.

If you are overweight or chubby, then diet is the most important factor. Since you are vegetarian, you can concentrate on improving your nuts, oils, proteins while cutting back on the starchy grains and potatoes. If you are not chubby, then think about what your strength and athletic goals should be.

Maybe also set a goal for yourself that is reasonable. Biking and swimming puts you one short course of couch-2-5k running program away from your first short triathlon!
posted by BearClaw6 at 5:55 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should see a doctor about your asthma. It can get serious very quickly when you least expect it. You should at minimum carry an emergency inhaler with you while exercising. I had my first attack (no history of asthma) on Mardi Gras 2010 when all of the hospitals were on the other side of the parade route. I ended up walking half a mile to Touro wheezing like a squeaky toy. Most terrifying experience of my life.
posted by domo at 9:25 AM on October 28, 2013

bad knees? forget cardio for now, then. see a dr about the asthma, improve your diet, and lift weights. lifting weights properly will improve your fitness level a great deal and probably do it faster than just low impact cardio. biking and swimming are definitely also good though if you find them appealing. or skipping rope, if you can do that comfortably.
posted by zdravo at 10:28 AM on October 28, 2013

I think you need to figure out what you want to do (or try a few things to find one you like), then figure out where you can do that, THEN figure out how to start slowly and build up to it.

For example, if the gym intimidates you but you want to try it, sign up for some personal training sessions so you will have someone show you how to use the equipment and which exercises will work for your goals.

If you still want to go hiking, is there a park nearby where you can walk at least somewhat in nature? Are there any natural areas within a half-hour of transit where you can hike on the weekends? If you want to run, follow the advice above about Couch to 5K - start slowly and build up to it.

If you like tennis - have you found any places in your city where you could play? Is there a Meetup for tennis? A high school with lit courts? Courts at your school?

Lots of folks say that the best exercise is the one that you will actually DO. So look at your college or the city parks and find some classes in active things that interest you, and then either sign up or find someone who can act as a guide for the first few sessions to get you started.
posted by CathyG at 11:21 AM on October 28, 2013

Team in Training.
posted by lotusmish at 12:54 PM on October 28, 2013

« Older Unlink picasa albums/picasaweb albums from G+?   |   Windows 7: copy or output folder, subfolder and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.