Exercisefilter, broke-ass misanthrope edition
April 19, 2015 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I’ve never been a fitness junkie or even really in shape. But I’m ready to start exercising regularly. I am ready to lose weight and also crank out the endorphins. I am hoping there are some good regimens for broke-ass misanthropes like me. Broke-ass misanthropic details await within.

As some of you recall, I’ve grappled with tons of trauma and anxiety/depression the past few years. Naturally, I didn’t have much energy for working out while in the throes of that mess. The mess is gone now, but I have about 100 pounds of lethargy and psych meds to remember it by. I’d like to reduce that burden. (I’m just focused on exercise right now and not looking for diet tips, thanks.)

I’m perpetually broke thanks to living on SSDI, so that’s a factor in choosing a place to work out. I live in Madison, WI, and take the bus. The Y might be the best option. I think there’s a gym on the north side that has some time that’s free for low income folks but I don’t know much else. If there are gyms that are especially friendly to fat bookish girls, please do tell. I prefer minimal airheads, meatheads, etc.

I find personal trainers a little bit scary and don’t know if I will need one at some point. I like the idea of doing outdoor exercise (aside from walking, which I frequently do for transport)--the sense of movement appeals to me that I wouldn’t get from being on a machine. But I know that running, etc. outside has its own difficulties and would likely be tricky for a novice.

As far as what exercises to do, are there good reasons why I should do other exercises in addition to cardio stuff, at least at the beginning? Also, I know people can end up with loose skin after they lose a lot of weight. Is there anything I can do to mitigate that?

Finally, any general starting advice for a newbie?
posted by mermaidcafe to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Planet Fitness is cheaper here than my Y. It suits me just fine for my current needs which are: get on elliptical for 30-45 minutes. They also have some free weights which I'm now starting to use. My goal when I joined in January was to get in the habit of going and just to make that a habit before starting anything complicated. I picked the elliptical because I hate treadmills and stationary bikes. There are other things to do there but I zeroed in on the elliptical.

Don't forget that walking outside is also free during the nicer months. Don't concentrate on distance. Just concentrate on doing.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:01 AM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, I should mention. I HATE EXERCISE MACHINES. I much prefer things like mud runs and rock climbing. However, I do not have room to set up obstacle courses in my yard. I joined pf to get in better shape (shape is still blobbish) to be able to more enjoy things I do like.

I'm never go to be a person who enjoys going to any gym (unless it's a rock climbing facility and I don't have a super close location to use daily or I would have done that.) It's just a necessary evil.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:09 AM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like going on walks (1-3 miles) on routes I find beautiful when the weather's nice. I bring music to listen to, stop for photos or the occasional random chat. I treat it as an adventure and often have a destination in mind, like a favorite coffee shop, to help motivate myself.

My big piece of advice is to start small and stick to stuff you like. Every little bit counts; as you progress, your motivation and abilities will grow. All you really need are a good pair of shoes but I find I prefer to walk in my regular clothing because changing into exercise gear can be a hassle (and way to avoid actually going out, ahem.)

Spring in Madison sounds like a great time to start!
posted by smorgasbord at 11:14 AM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Crap. Sorry I suck at answering this concisely.

Couch to 5k may also be an option. There are free apps/websites. It's a more structured program to get you jogging/running. I will likely be starting that myself at the beginning of May if you would like an online friend to commiserate with.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:16 AM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Running doesn't have to be tricky for a novice. If you walk a lot already you're probably fit enough to start a couch to 5k running programme - they're designed for beginners and build up gradually. And running is free!

Google 'Couch to 5k' and you'll find a whole range of programmes to choose from. If they feel like they're too tough you can repeat each week twice to give yourself more time to adapt. Running can give you such a great buzz even at C25K level, because of the combination of reasonably intense exercise and the clear sense of achievement as you progress.
posted by penguin pie at 11:18 AM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

In terms of machines, I was once advised that ellipticals are the best option for overweight people because they are low-impact. So to reduce the risk of injury, you might want to start on the elliptical and save running for after you have lost some weight.
posted by désoeuvrée at 11:21 AM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Even good gyms can feel like a chore to get to, even if you're in a routine and really know you want to make it a priority to exercise. This is doubly true when the weather is nice outside. It's spring! So I would just start with walking. I know you said you already do it for transport purposes, but that's different from making it a prioritized part of your day for mental and physical fitness. Set aside 45 minutes and download some podcasts and go outside! Stick to that for a month or so and then if you feel up to it, get the Couch to 5k app and see how it goes. Couch to 5k made a runner out of me in my 30s for the first time ever - it starts slow and you can repeat weeks if you feel like you aren't ready to move ahead.
posted by something something at 11:22 AM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding looking for the cheapest option and making your only priority to just get in the habit of going. Going = success, doesn't matter what you do there, when you're starting. My local town gym is cheap and I asked the front desk people (who were very nice) for a tour and to tell me which classes were good for someone who's a total out-of-shape beginner. The ones they pointed out were good. People were very nice once I said I was a n00b; they want to help people get started. If you can go during the work day you'll be there with the older folks and the stay-home moms who are just trying to get back in shape after having the baby, and generally it's a pretty mellow scene.

Your local library probably also has exercise videos you can check out. (Or Youtube) There's a series called "10 minute solution" which has five 10-minute segments, like ten minutes on arms, ten minutes on core, etc. You can do one, or do all of them, or do them in a different order, or repeat one you like, etc. It's an easy way to get started in your living room.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:26 AM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like for a newbie, even going to the Y or to Planet Fitness is a lot.

So my advice is don't. Start as easy as you can. No leaving the house. Nothing that you're going to feel weird about stopping in five or ten minutes. Something you can do a couple times over the course of a day, if you need to.

I suggest Leslie Sansone's one-mile walk. Start doing it, stopping to rest when you need to, and when you can comfortably do that video, add something else. Maybe a five-minute yoga video (I have recs, should you want them), or something from one of those 'Daily [body part] Workout!' apps. Maybe start working towards her three-mile walk.

But start small, and start with things that you can do at home, in spurts. It's a lot easier to convince yourself to do something for three or five minutes than it is to go somewhere and do something, publicly, for thirty minutes or an hour.
posted by MeghanC at 11:36 AM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

Walking is actually really great exercise -- by distance it burns as many calories as running does! There's a Volkssport walking club in Madison ($12 annual dues according to the website) that organizes group walks, which may make it feel more like "exercise time" and separate it from your day-to-day walking for transport.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:48 AM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Everyone should do some form of resistance training, even if that's bodyweight stuff for now. It helps build bone mass, protects joints from injury - here's the CDC on other good reasons.

Strength training during weight loss, along with consuming enough protein, will help you keep more of the muscle you have, and lose more fat. (Recommendations on what "enough protein" is vary - 0.5-1.0 gram per pound of bodyweight, probably more than 0.8 would be a waste.) You need to challenge your muscles sufficiently, though. If you have no injuries preventing you from lifting weights, start a beginner lifting program (maybe a month after doing bodyweight workouts, which can help you establish a base). Here are a few.

Videos are great if you can't swing a membership or need a backup for days you don't feel like travelling. (Try FitnessBlender.) The gym can be good, though, if you're looking for reasons to get out and about, plus it has gear. My favourite places to work out are community/recreation centres or the Y, which should give you a reduced rate. They usually have everything you need, nobody's putting on airs, and there's a good mix of people (old, young) who are just there to get stuff done. (Look's like Madison's got a fee waiver policy worth checking out, if you wanted to do classes.)

2nd holding off on running, and maybe staying away from a lot of jumping in general, until you're at your goal weight.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:14 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Baby steps, Bob.
Baby steps.

I LOVE your enthusiasm; I see it a lot in my coaching clients who want to set the world on fire, but I would also recommend that you start super slow and make it very easy to do every day. Yes, every day.

I recommend that the pick a time that is sacrosanct and they do just one thing at that time. Set the alarm on your phone, and, when you get it go BEEP then do the thing. Walk for 5 minutes. Do 10 jumping jacks. Use a desk or chair for support and do 5 squats.

Then that's it. Done. Finished.
Go on with your day.

Once you have done this for at least a month, then add a wee bit of something extra, just a little bit more difficult. Walk for 15 minutes. Do 20 jumping jacks. Do 10 squats.

You will find that this super small incremental thing done at the SAME TIME EVERY DAY will do more for you now and in the future when it comes to advancing on your goals.

Sometime down the road you're going to want to do something a bit more organized and a bit more advanced.
That time is NOT now, but when it comes to bodyweight exercises (because that's all you really need), if you're a beginner, I recommend Max Capacity Training, and for something a tad bit more advanced, I recommend Convict Conditioning, but without the jail time.

You are doing something VERY awesome for your health and your body and I salute you and wish you always the best. Go get 'em tiger!
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 12:22 PM on April 19, 2015 [20 favorites]

Get a fitbit or some sort of pedometer. Just start walking. Walking is cheap. It is not as oppressive as a gym can be. Walk to your errands. Walks get you out of your head and it is a good way to see things. The midwest is lovely in spring through fall to just walk. Walks don't guilt and make you feel like your money is tormenting you. Start walking and when winter hits then consider joining a gym.
posted by jadepearl at 12:28 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a stepping point between walking and running while you lose some weight, how about rucking (ie, walking with a backpack full of something)?

Seconding bodyweight strength training, for the reasons stated above.
posted by mchorn at 12:40 PM on April 19, 2015

Best answer: I see in your previous questions that your father passed away last month. My condolences. After my mom died, I found it helped to use the elliptical machine as a kind of walking meditation. I'd close my eyes, and maybe put on some soothing music if the gym was loud, and just go. It didn't just help with the grief, it also helped keep me from getting bored on the elliptical. With a meditation, I could go for 45 minutes to an hour, when I usually have trouble going for more than 30 minutes without getting bored.

I'd also recommend looking into a bike. It gets you outside, and you can make being active a part of your everyday mobility. To lower the cost, try bike co-ops. You'd have a range of options from buying a reasonably good used bike, to buying a crappy used bike and fixing it up. Working with the co-op staff to fix up your own bike can be cheaper than buying an equally-nice bike. There may also be options for sliding-scale payments, or volunteering in lieu of paying for shop time. You wrote previously that crowds can trigger your PTSD, which is definitely something to keep in mind. To be honest, some of these shops can get full and hectic. But if you phone ahead, they can tell you when they tend to be quiet. And many co-ops have nights for women & trans people, to help make the spaces more welcoming.
posted by Banknote of the year at 12:44 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you get your hands on a bike, Madison has plenty of bike trails. I loved biking around Lake Monona when I lived there.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:51 PM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thirding getting a bike. Nothing gets me out of my head better than a long, long bike ride with a podcast. I adore exploring new places on my bike.
posted by nerdfish at 1:01 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think we're coming from similar places, and what finally worked for me in terms of taking up exercise was this site: http://darebee.com

It's all exercise you can do at home or combine home bodyweight exercises with outdoor walking, running, or biking.

I started with the 90 Days of Action program to ease into the habit of exercising every day and build up some strength and flexibility to support that, but they also now have a new low-impact 30-day Foundation program for folks carrying a lot of extra weight or with joint issues. Both are available at: http://darebee.com/programs.html
posted by northernish at 1:14 PM on April 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

I came in to say get a bike if you can. I like it better than walking because you can cover more distance, see more things, and go faster (fun!) than walking. Bike trails in the spring/summer are probably lovely in Madison. If you get confident on the bike and your routes are safe, you could consider biking part or all of the trips you might usually take the bus. If your buses have bike racks, then you could bike part of the trip, or bike there/ride the bus back, etc. I commute 3-4 miles by bike most days and do basically no other exercise, so while I'm not the pinnacle of fitness, I think it really helps me to have this baseline of activity built into my life.

I also suggest trying out things you can do at home. You can learn a variety of exercises and mix them together, even on Pinterest or YouTube. I bought a set of resistance bands on amazon that came with a DVD (easier to store and transport than weights). At stores like TJ Maxx or Ross, they often have cheap fitness equipment. I also bought a small medicine ball and one of those big rubber exercise balls and learned to do various stuff with them. I took a couple circuit training type classes at a university gym. I only went a few times but it helped me add new tricks and exercises to my repertoire.

Oh, also: http://www.doyogawithme.com/ is a totally free website with high quality yoga videos (different lengths, difficulties...). Some of them are great for strengthening and light cardio, some of them are great just for relaxation and flexibility. I found it helps to find a teacher whose style I liked and then look up more of their videos. (I also bought a yoga mat at TJ Maxx).
posted by dahliachewswell at 1:35 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've tried and abandoned so many, many exercise programs. I heartily second Major Matt Mason Dixon's advice. When you're ready to leave your house, you may have success with a suggestion from McManus Bipolar and Depression Web.

Get a timer (a watch, a phone). Set it for ten minutes. Leave your house. When it beeps, turn around and come back. When I did this right before meals, I was less hungry.
posted by Jesse the K at 1:43 PM on April 19, 2015

You live in Madison? Nthing the advice to get a bike. If you're a misanthrope and into it for the exercise, I suggest a rigid single speed mountain bike--it's heavy and slow, which for your purposes is a good thing. It's also versatile and low-maintenance, so call that a bonus.
posted by box at 2:03 PM on April 19, 2015

Thing that worked for me, for zero monies: Two years ago I decided I wanted to take up Pilates, found a couple of 20 minute videos on YouTube, and dedicated to doing them twice a month. That goal was so achievable I found I started doing them a lot more, and getting better, now I do 4-6 hours of it a week.

Find something you dig among the fab suggestions here, and set yourself up to succeed. Make a star chart, use iDoneThis, list out the goals you want to hit on a post-it note, whatever, and tick that bad boy off when you're done.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 2:07 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Add a little extra to your walking. Some ankle weights, some arm swinging, a heavy bag, further walks, etc. Carry a litre water bottle in each hand and swing your arms while walking quickly. It's surprising how much of a difference it makes. It's also very cheap and can easily be added to your existing routine - get a couple of collapsible water bottles that you can empty and stash in a bag if you're going to meet friends and nobody need know you were exercising on the way there.
posted by Solomon at 2:53 PM on April 19, 2015

If you need a purpose to get out and walk around? Maybe try Ingress. Tons of portals all over, and if you msg me, I can send you a special sign up link.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:03 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd rather do anything outside than be in a fitness center during the precious few temperate months in Madison, but if you decide to go the indoor route, the cheap options you heard about were probably the Goodman Community Center ($80 for 3 months) or the Warner Park Community Center (lots of different options, including free for some inconvenient hours).

I had a membership at the Warner Park gym for circuit weighs and exercise bikes about 6 years ago. It was very welcoming to the non-gym-rat crowd. Lots of retirees and other folks clearly in early stages of getting fit, and zero macho posturing.

If you get into running, you don't have to be fast or rich to run with the swell folks at Movin' Shoes. They have Monday night group runs for beginners, and while technically there's a one-time $15 fee they are (or used to be -- again, 6-year-old info) very lax about ever collecting it. When they do, you get a 10% discount on shoes from them for life.
posted by dr. boludo at 4:59 PM on April 19, 2015

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
posted by tiburon at 5:56 PM on April 19, 2015

Best answer: Hey there...so, I lost about 100 lbs over the course of about a year and a half, through diet and excercise.

Exercise wise, this is what I did:

1) got a Fitbit, set it to 10,000 steps a day, and switched up my commute a little bit so that I could easily hit that number. If a fitbit's not in the budget right now, I believe there are some apps that can let you use your phone as a pedometer or you can get just a plain pedometer from Amazon for ~$20. For me 10,000 steps is a little under five miles; adding about an hour's worth of walking to my usual routine, spread out throughout the day, covered it. If you can swing the Fitbit, I personally found being able to easily check in on exactly how many steps I needed to hit my goal to be a useful nudge to get me off my butt.

2) once I had been successfully hitting the step goal everyday for a couple weeks, I decided to add some on purpose exercise and started a couch to 10k program. I took it at my own pace --- at the beginning especially I was taking two rest days instead of one between workouts --- but eventually completed it. (I then moved on to training for an actual 5k using the Runkeeper app to provide me with a training plan, but you can find tons of training plans free online).

3) a few months into my couch to 10k program, when I felt I was handling that well, I started adding in strength training. At first I was doing the 100 Situps/100 push-ups program (I figured even I could handle two exercises, three times a week) but in retrospect I wish I'd just begun with what I eventually switched to, the beginner routine recommended by reddit's r/bodyweight forum. It has a lot more variety and I saw much more improvement using it, and the very beginning stages of each progression are really pretty doable for anyone (wall push ups, standing rows, etc.) doesn't require any equipment you don't have lying around your house, either.

4) after completing my first 10k last fall and being pretty close to my goal weight, I switched from body weight to rippetoe's starting strength, mentioned above. Still trying to figure out how to perfectly balance that with my running, but I've definitely enjoyed it and it's helped with loose skin, and hell, itjust makes you feel good being able to so easily see your progress.

So, in a nutshell what worked for me was picking simple goal that seemed easy or at least doable, and waiting until I felt I had a good handle on that to add in something else. All of this stuff was additive, too, btw; I'm still wearing the Fitbit and try and make it so I end up well over 10,000 steps on days when I run.

Hopefully some of that's useful to you, because I do feel obligated to mention this: even having done all of the above -- and been in the end glad to do it, and feeling that the exercise bit was very important to my overall health and ability to stick with these changes I've made --- I'd still say out of the 100-odd pounds I've lost, 80+ were down to diet, not exercise. If I'd done everything I'd listed above and not changed my eating habits I'd still be obese. It's just a math problem: 80% of the calories you burn in a day, your body burns running the refrigerator, as it were. Keeping the heart beating, lungs breathing, brain thinking. Adding an hour or less of movement a day --- even quite strenuous movement --- is only going to move the needle 5% to 10%. Whereas you can eat a chocolate chip cookie from Panera and blow through 25% of the daily calorie budget for 150 lb. woman. The math is the math and you can't beat the math.

Please exercise. I have genuinely been astonished at what a difference daily exercise makes to my mood. If what's most important to you is losing the weight, I don't think it can get you there by itself, and I wouldn't want you to give up on the exercise of you're not seeing the results you want weight wise.
posted by maggiepolitt at 8:46 PM on April 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I loathe the gym. Loathe it: the peppy crowds, the narcissism, the t.v.s tuned to sports and fox news, you name it, I hate it.

SO, I walk/jog/run wherever I happen to be. I started Couch to 5K in 2012, and it was a bit of a revelation. After nine weeks of jogging and walking three evenings per week, I was able to routinely run 5K without stopping. Amazing. Highly recommended. I had to take a break from running last year due to an unrelated injury, and when I came back to it I started the C25K program all over again (just to give myself an easy transition beck into exercise) and I took it even slower--I repeated several weeks' runs two weeks in a row.

I've since installed a $30 over-door pull-up bar in my place. I also try to do push-ups, dips, and other exercises one can do at home with no or little equipment (see the bodyweight fitness subreddit for lots more info and ideas). The equipment I've collected over the years includes push up bars to give my wrists a break from time to time, a set of resistance bands, and a pair of running shoes that I totally appreciate.

Good on ya for thinking about exercise. I never exercised intentionally before C25K got me running, and it was pretty easy to recognize the impact that regular exercise had on my mood and mind, not just my body.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:09 AM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your help!

I forgot to mention that I, uh, don't actually know how to ride a bike. I'd like to learn; it just wasn't a thing where I grew up (which was not Madison. It was in Virginia with literally no place to ride a bike) but I would like to now. But in a city like Madison, it should be easy enough to find bike and teacher. Cycling among the die-hards will be the hard part.
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:05 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good for you! I, too, am an overweight, out-of-shape misanthrope who has recently started exercising regularly. It's done wonders for my mood and energy level.

First, I started working my way up the Fitness Ladder. It starts you out with a very gentle workout that anyone can do. Each week, you graduate to a new "rung" of the ladder, with more reps.

This has really helped me to stick with the habit: trying to tackle a workout that you're not ready for is like flinging yourself at a brick wall. It's going to be miserable, you're probably going to hurt yourself, and you'll quickly fall off the wagon. Start with something achievable: the most important thing, at first, is simply to build a habit, and get those sedentary muscles used to the idea of moving. If you ramp up the intensity gradually, it won't even be difficult.

(While a gradual approach is much more sustainable in the long run, it does mean you need to set realistic goals. You can't expect to do Fit Person things for a few weeks or months, achieve your fitness goals, and then revert back to your old ways. It's a long-term process that will require you to change your lifestyle and habits permanently. Fortunately, some of the benefits—like energy level and mood—can be reaped almost immediately.)

Everything I've read says that cardio is a pretty poor way to lose weight. Strength training is the way to go. For that, I've recently added this beginner body weight circuit to my routine, three times a week. (They call it a beginner workout, but there's no way I can do the full routine yet, at least not without hurting myself. I'm starting by doing a fraction of the prescribed reps, and gradually working my way up to the full workout.)

Here's what I like about these two workouts (YMMV):

—no gym required

—no special equipment required (so I don't have to spend money on fitness equipment; I don't have equipment cluttering up my apartment; I can do my routine in a hotel room; etc.)

—because I can do it at home, I can do it first thing before my morning shower, with minimum disruption to my daily routine (e.g., no time spent commuting to and from the gym, taking extra showers, etc.)

I know you said you aren't interested in dieting, but: everything I've read says that diet is at least 80% of losing weight (even if you are also exercising). There's exactly one way to lose weight: by burning more calories than you consume every day. Exercise can burn a few extra calories, but you'd have to work in a coal mine to lose weight through exercise alone. Them's the facts, and if you want to lose weight, you'd better get used to the idea.

Good luck! And remember to drink lots of water!
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:48 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

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