smoked but now want to be smokin' again
March 29, 2007 3:24 PM   Subscribe

I recently quit smoking and am starting to show up at the gym again. How do I build workout endurance in the first month?

I put on a lot of weight, going from 190 to 220 on a six-foot-tall frame, while smoking from 2005 until last week. I bought all these fitness books while I was smoking but never used them. But all I really need to know is how I can build my aerobic exercise and running endurance.

I can now manage about a quarter mile before my lungs feel like they are on fire. I should note that I am not quite away from replacing food for nicotine, but I quit using the Alan Carr program and have had no cravings.
posted by parmanparman to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The best way to build endurance for running is to run- in your case this will probably mean running for 2-3 minutes, walking for 2-3 minutes, wash, rinse, repeat. Keep up the walking/running alternations for half an hour or so at a time, or you can set a distance goal, say 2 miles. What will NOT be helpful is running until you want to fall over so you can't recover and start running again within a few minutes.

An alternative would be to jog very slowly, so you can maintain the jog for 10 minutes or more. This will probably be frustrating slow at first, but it will get your legs and lungs used to working for longer stretches.

In any case, exhausting yourself after a few minutes will not increase your endurance- you need to slow the pace or let yourself rest a bit inbetween bursts so you can maintain an elevated heart rate for a meaningful amount of time. It will be frustrating at first, maybe exceedingly so, but if you keep with it it will get easier.
posted by ohio at 3:34 PM on March 29, 2007

Congratulations. Qua smoker, I highly recommend walks outside a gym, and some kind of organized activity if you can. Don't start with running, you'll discourage yourself and it's hard on your joints. A quarter-mile with your lungs on fire and heart beating out of your chest isn't the best way to go.

I know you've got a stack of books already, but I recommend Body for Life. It includes a good system for lifting weights specifically (which he alternates with cardio days). Whatever. Best of luck,
posted by phaedon at 3:35 PM on March 29, 2007

Try walking at a brisk pace (around 4mph if you can) at a decent incline (2 to 4 degrees) instead... The goal is to keep your heart rate up for 20 minutes or so. Killing yourself by running to the point of failure is not necessary, and will discourage you from keeping it up. Do what you can do, keep that heart rate up, and endurance will follow.
posted by knave at 3:40 PM on March 29, 2007

Response by poster: What will NOT be helpful is running until you want to fall over so you can't recover and start running again within a few minutes.
That's what I did last night. Huge mistake. Very good advice.
posted by parmanparman at 3:49 PM on March 29, 2007

If you have the time, make it easy. just walk EVERY day. walking takes little "will power", just put on your shoes and go. yes, it will take longer than running, but if you're just starting out again, just put on the ipod and move. the best shape I was ever in was when I walked 1/2 hour to work, and a 1/2 hour back, 5 days a week. after a couple of months I was conditioned, and started running no problem - without having to "break" through any walls. (if that makes sense). I promise you, if you walk an hour a day, drink tons of water, and cut back on sugar/fat, the pounds will melt off.
posted by mrmarley at 3:54 PM on March 29, 2007

join the metafilter nike+ipod team. i haven't been able to buy the nano yet, but it looks it's worth a go!
posted by phaedon at 3:59 PM on March 29, 2007

Best answer: I've had some success with the Couch to Five K plan, which helps you build up to running three miles over a period of a couple months.
posted by hwickline at 4:36 PM on March 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, increase your effort slowly. Maybe you haven't smoked long enough to rewire your brain, but the smoking crave is often associated with moments of tiredness, when the body calls for the jolt of nicotine. So don't overdo it.
Good luck.
posted by bru at 4:37 PM on March 29, 2007


This thread appeared three days after I quit smoking (Aug 2!) and is full of good advice on exercise and quitting in general. For me, exercising to near-exhaustion twice a day made quitting bearable -- improving my health and not getting fatter were bonuses.
posted by Methylviolet at 4:46 PM on March 29, 2007

Response by poster: Methylviolet. I have not had any problems with quitting. I had tried everything from gum to patches to cold turkey and could not get off cigarettes. I read the Alan Carr book and quit Sunday night and have been four days and two nights out drinking with friends and have yet to have a craving. Not to sound upstanding, because i am eating A LOT and don't really enjoy that. I am starting to keep a diary of what I am eating and have printed out your thread so that I can read it and this on the train ride home - because I am still at the office getting my show ready for air.
posted by parmanparman at 4:56 PM on March 29, 2007

Run slower.
posted by dame at 5:01 PM on March 29, 2007

That's terrific, Parman, congratulations! Welcome to life as a nonsmoker. (But remember the Three-Week Clock of Doom.)

I haven't read Alan Carr's book, so I don't know what he says about it, but I approached as the deliberate acquirement of a different addiction (the gym) because the usual addiction people wind up with (food) didn't look real desirable to me either. YMMV.

But I gotta tell ya, your skin looks terrific -- I can see that from here. And you smell really nice!
posted by Methylviolet at 5:10 PM on March 29, 2007

One thing that I find helps me at the gym is to listen to music, watch TV, or listen to podcasts while working out. By focusing on the voices in my ears, I then experience this "whoa, have I really cycled 5 miles already? if it was that easy, I can keep going for another 20 minutes at least!" and I do. The gym isn't an achievement for me, but something to do while VH1 is on.

Also, I'm sure you've heard this, but are there any gums or mints that can replace the eating you're doing to replace the smoking?
posted by crayolarabbit at 6:02 PM on March 29, 2007

Best answer: The classic answer is the Couch-to-5K Program, made expressly for the beginning runner/exerciser. Can't recommend it highly enough. It will get you going without getting you injured (overtraining injuries are very common among the new enthusiastic exerciser).
posted by schroedinger at 6:58 PM on March 29, 2007

Congratulations on cutting down/quitting smoking! That in itself is an awesome achievement, and is worthy of an "atta-boy/girl".

As you cut down your cigarettes, you will gain some weight as "compensation". However, you can expect that weight to drop off as your energy levels begin to pick up and you start to get more active. Be aware, but don't sweat it.

Body for Life as phaedon mentioned above, is a great plan. It works on the basis of increasing intensity levels for cardio. It is similar to walking a little bit, then running a little bit, then walking a little get the picture. The couch to 5k plan is similar and will get you moving without that nasty heart thru your chest feeling.

Remember too, that fitness is not a destination, it is a journey. Slow steps to fitness are better than overdoing it the first week, injuring yourself, and then falling back to the couch because you are hurt.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 7:12 AM on March 30, 2007

"Three week clock of doom" guy here. parmanparman , you need to know that the food thing is pretty insidious. I've gained something like 50 goddamned pounds in the year since I quit. I'm now faced with having to make some radical lifestyle changes to get over this.

When I first quit, I did a lot of exercising as a way to get adrenaline and endorphins and whatnot into my blood stream as a way to overcome the withdrawal. But once I was over the nicotine addiction, I quit exercising, and now I'm huuuuge.

Choose some program that you know you can stick with. Get some kind of support structure (like a buddy) to keep you going even after you think you're out of the danger zone.
posted by popechunk at 8:16 AM on March 30, 2007

Response by poster: popechunk - yes! I am very worried about the weight thing and attempting (quickly) to get a plan organized to tackle the weight thing. In 2002 I weighed a healthy 170 and now I am 50 pounds heavier and it really affects my whole life now. I will pick up a copy of Body for Life, but I wish I had asked about High Intensity Training and whether anyone has had any great success.
posted by parmanparman at 9:57 AM on March 30, 2007

Best answer: Wrong question, but not an uncommon error.

Rather than building endurance, you should be concentrating on building the habit of exercise. If you have the habit, it's trivial to change your exercise program for endurance, speed, strength, or whatever. Without the habit, the best program in the world won't help you. The habit must come first, and it's going to be harder to build than you think.

I've been successfully exercising for ten years now. Here's what I did to get started, but don't just blindly follow my example--use your brain to come up with something that's right for you.

I started by walking for five minutes a day. Rule one was that I could walk as slow as I wanted to--strolling, ambling, and moseying were all completely acceptable--as long as I didn't stop.

Five minutes a day of slow walking isn't much exercise, you might argue, and you'd be right. But rule two said that I must walk that five minutes every single day. Every. Single. Day. Sunny days. Cloudy days. Rainy days. Snowy days. Pitch black night. When the weather was particularly bad, I would take my walk in circles in the living room--a damned boring way to do it, by the way. I distinctly recall remembering that I hadn't taken my walk one day. Unfortunately, I realized this while lying in bed with my eyes shut drifting off to sleep. So I got up out of bed right then, put on my pants, shirt, and shoes, and went out for my five-minute walk, then went back to bed.

The habit is that important. Luckily, the effort involved in taking a five-minute walk is so trivial that there was really no excuse why I couldn't do it.

Not feeling like walking was no excuse not to walk. I discovered that some days I wanted to walk, and some days I didn't want to walk. But no matter how I felt, I could always physically complete my walk.

Having a cold was no excuse not to walk. Since I could walk as slow as I wanted to, I decided that only running a fever would excuse me from walking that day.

Not having time was no excuse not to walk. After all, it was just five minutes.

After a month of five-minute walks, I increased my time to ten minutes, then fifteen minutes after a couple more weeks, and so on five minutes at a time up to thirty minutes a day. I found that slow walking became boring, so I quite naturally picked up the pace after a while.

My advice to you would be to find a stupidly easy exercise to do every day that doesn't require special clothing, equipment, or preparation. Maximum time commitment per day should be no more than five minutes--one minute long would be even better. Just make sure you do that trivial exercise every single day until the exercise habit is stuck in you.

Come back after three months of practicing the exercise habit, and we'll swap tips on improving endurance. :-)
posted by springo at 10:03 AM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Springo - you're right. Getting into the habit of exercising is important. I walk to work or rather walk to the metro, get on the metro and then walk from there to my office and back. I am trying to get into the habit of eating before i go rather than stop for a pastry at 7-11.
posted by parmanparman at 10:21 AM on March 30, 2007

Response by poster: UPDATE: I ordered a copy of Alan Carr's Easy Way to Quit Smoking and got so impatient with it (and my TV) not having arrived that I went out and bought the book at a shop. That was March 15, 2007. It's been a little more than 2 months and I am proud to say I have not had a cigarette since.
posted by parmanparman at 8:10 AM on May 17, 2007

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