Fight or flight?
May 20, 2008 7:36 AM   Subscribe

I've put on 20 pounds since I started my full-time desk job a year ago, and the time has come to get myself back in to shape. Research has brought me two preferable possibilities: a few days a week, either start taking Krav Maga classes (during my lunch break), or start commuting to work by bike instead of driving (15 miles each way). I have no experience with either, live in Boston, work north of Boston. Help me pick the right path.

Basic stats: 23 year old male, 5'6" 170lbs, up from my normal weight of 150lbs. No physical ailments or disabilities. The way I see it, both options have their pros and cons:

Krav Maga
Pros: Indoor / no weather concerns, learn to kick ass.
Cons: Hard to find a good trainer nearby (I work in Burlington, MA), more expensive than biking in the long run.

Pros: Save money on gas, less pollution, will be able to use more often than fighting skills.
Cons: 15 miles is a long way to bike, weather could lead to a long rainy ride home, will take longer to get up to speed (no pun intended), bike shorts are awkward.

I'm leaning towards biking, but I'd have to get myself in to shape before I could even consider doing 30 miles of biking a day. If you're a biker / Krav Maga'er, I'd like to hear about your experiences. I'll answer any questions that could help figure out an ideal activity. Basically, I need a good physical activity with an emphasis on cardio that I can work in to my existing schedule without taking too much of my free time. Building muscle is not something I'm interested in, I just want to lost fat and get my heart and my body in good enough shape to survive until scientists can grow new body parts for me from my stem cells so I can live forever. Mmm, test tube spleen...

Bonus option: I even considered Wii Fit, but I probably wouldn't find the time or the will to pull myself away from Rock Band. Open to consideration, though.
posted by SamuelF to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can transit get you to work? Could you bike to a somewhat far away train station and then take it the rest of the way?
posted by waylaid at 7:40 AM on May 20, 2008

You can take bikes on the trains in Boston right? That gives one more pro to biking - you can start soft by biking to work and taking the train home, or the other way around. Many of my workmates bike home but not to work as it allows them to "decompress" from work in a nice way.
posted by dabitch at 7:41 AM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I took the T during the summer and fall of last year, but my work is so far away from Boston that it takes an hour and a half each way, compared to 35 minutes by car. I had to take a bus, then a subway train, then another bus. Pretty brutal. I could potentially bike the first half and then catch the bus to my office. Interesting! I'll check in to if the trains/busses allow it, I think there are time restrictions. No bikes on the subway during rush hour, etc.
posted by SamuelF at 7:47 AM on May 20, 2008

Or, to springboard off dabitch's solution, you could take the bike with you, get off one station earlier every time, and bike the rest of the way. I'm in a similiar weight situation and I walk a mile from my job to the bus stop every day now. It keeps my doctors happy and it gives me time to stop thinking about work.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:49 AM on May 20, 2008

I've done the Boston-to-suburbs commute by bicycle before, about the same distance each way. Depending on where your office is, the Minuteman Trail is an excellent way to get out to the 'burbs - it's relatively flat, no car traffic, and shaded by trees. You will probably want to shower when you get to work.

If you plan on doing this all-weather, definitely get some weather-proof panniers for your bike to bring a change of clothes. I also probably wouldn't start this commute cold turkey, it does take a lot out of you.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:52 AM on May 20, 2008

Fifteen miles, really, isn't considered *hardcore*, except once the weather gets nasty. Do you have a shower option at work, 'cuz you're gonna ess-tee-eye-en-kay?

I have a 25 mile commute (would be longer on a bike - no insterstates) and run at lunch unless there's major precip or it's under 20F. From an exercise, not practical standpoint, here are some pros and cons:

-Two workouts per day->greater weight loss from the double metabolism ramp
-If you can shower, you start the work day off feeling GREAT! (I swim some mornings, and feel thusly. The problem is getting out of bed at 4:45 to swim)
-More physical time exercising.
-Less impact on joints.

Krav Maga:
-Better full-body workout
-You get to learn how to kick ass
-You workout through your doldrums, i.e. noon.
posted by notsnot at 7:57 AM on May 20, 2008

You might find (and it looks like you've recognized this) that 30 miles a day, five days a week, is too much for your body to handle starting cold. It takes a long time to get the muscles used to it, and to get to the point where recovery happens fast enough to keep up the mileage. It's even tougher if you're exercising twice a day than if you did one 30 mile block once a day.

But you could use a trick that several friends with very long commutes (50 miles, say) use so they can bike commute without doing insane mileage. Get a rack for your car and drive to work with the bike, then leave the car at work and ride home. The next morning you ride in, and that night, take the car home. Repeat. So you'd start out with a very manageable 15 miles a day. Once you get comfortable with that, then start doing more round trips on the bike until you're totally off of the car.
posted by dseaton at 8:06 AM on May 20, 2008

Oh I see, you live in Allston, and getting from there to North Station for the Commuter Rail would indeed be madness, even on a bicycle. However, what if you were to start by biking to Porter Square and taking the train from there to Waltham?
posted by mkb at 8:39 AM on May 20, 2008

Do both?

Variety is good.
posted by amanda at 8:46 AM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I probably wouldn't bike in the winter, but if I get used to biking in the summer and become one of those crazy biking fanatics, all bets are off. There isn't a shower here, but I'd have a change of clothes and could rinse down in a sink. Would that suffice?

mkb: Close, but no cigar. I'm heading out toward Alewife, not North Station. No Commuter Rail involved.

amanda: I'd probably die.
posted by SamuelF at 9:01 AM on May 20, 2008

If you do Krav you will need to shower. I can not stress to you enough how hard a work-out it is. Also, the classes are an hour so it may be hard to get to and from class and take a full class while on a lunch. Most teachers are not too thrilled with coming in part way or leaving early from their classes either.

Here is where the Massachusetts teachers that are certified by the national training center are located: . Krav is awesome and that weight will come off if you decide to do it. Good luck!
posted by skewedoracle at 9:10 AM on May 20, 2008

What about changing your plan seasonally? Bike in decent weather, and switch to classes in winter. It'll add some variety to your year. I live about an hour north of Boston and have a very short commute. I bike in decent weather, but there are some days...I'm sure you know the ones I mean. Biking in 6" snow, horizontal 34-degree rain, and over road ice is no fun at all. I only see a few people managing a year-round bike commute: I admire them, but they are more hardcore about the bike than I'll ever be.

Another advantage: during the non-winter months, there is more available light in the evening for your to bike home by. But in wintertime, you'll need reflector gear and a light on your bike after 5 PM.

Why not try both? You'll get cross-training and variety by doing martial arts in wintertime, and great light, fresh air, and exercise biking in spring, summertime, and fall.
posted by Miko at 9:15 AM on May 20, 2008

I started biking to work in Maine and lost 20 pounds in less than a year, without really modifying my diet. If anything I ate more.

It's more like 15 miles round trip and I do it in my work clothes unless it gets very hot - then I use some (regular) shorts.

30 miles a day is a lot to start off with, but this is the perfect season to start trying.

Is there somewhere halfway where you can park your car and switch to the bike.
posted by mikepop at 9:26 AM on May 20, 2008

One concern I'd add about biking: how comfortable are you riding in traffic? I commute from Allston by bicycle, and even going through some relatively bike-friendly areas like Brookline, there's a lot of brake-grabbing and swearing at drivers involved. The payoff is that you can often easily beat cars over considerable distances, even obeying all the stop lights. If you're heading towards Alewife, though, once you're out of Allston you can cut through some of the back roads of Cambridge that are pretty nice for riding.

15 miles really isn't all that far (especially if you have a road bike or at least thinner tires on a hybrid), and you'd probably find yourself winded but not really all that sweaty before too long. I wouldn't worry too much about it unless you're especially prone to getting sweaty and smelly, but you can always scout the rout on a weekend.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 9:34 AM on May 20, 2008

Just a quick personal point: In the nice months last year, I ride about 5 miles each way to work, and ride on as many errands as I can. Plus I add some extra miles just for fun. I lost about 15 pounds with no change in diet or other lifestyle changes, over about 3 months. I hate exercise, but doing something fun that happens to be exercise, worked into my daily schedule was really helpful.

(10 of the pounds are back now, but bike season is once again upon me.)

posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:39 AM on May 20, 2008

I would do both......this is the thing, the biking will probably make you lose weight but will not get you in perfect shape, the krav maga classes will probably get you in better shape but then that shape will probably be under a layer of fat. You get the benefit of a cardio-like workout with your bike and a more rigorous work-out during lunch. If I were you I would only bike half of the way (by taking the T) and then would think about having a better diet. If fitness is going to be a lifelong choice for you, you definitely have to start thinking about your diet and not only exercising...because what happens when you move 3 hours away from your job?
posted by The1andonly at 9:41 AM on May 20, 2008

Agree that 30 miles is a little bit much to start out with. Assuming you don't need your car every day (since you're in Boston), you could try this plan to get 15 miles of riding in. I also put in the Krav Maga class in case you want to throw in some cross-training.

Monday: Drive into work, ride home
Tuesday: Ride into work, drive home
Wednesday: Krav Maga class
Thursday: Drive into work, ride home
Friday: Ride into work, drive home

*The side benefit of this plan is the ability to store extra clothes in your car, which means you won't need to carry so much on your bike.
posted by smalls at 9:42 AM on May 20, 2008

oh, and to address your concern about bike shorts - try mountain bike shorts. No one will even know you're rocking the spandex underneath. Or you could get one of those crazily padded gel seats and wear regular workout clothes.
posted by smalls at 9:48 AM on May 20, 2008

Seconding the point above about trying out the ride to work on a no-pressure day -- weekend or holiday. It helps to see what the terrain looks like, if you'll need to find alternates, etc...and whether it's feasible at all. Also nthing the recommendations about a combo. Last winter I switched from biking (5 mi each way) to hitting the elliptical trainer, to make sure I was getting enough exercise, and I've added a yoga class this spring.

I lost 55 pounds in a little over a year, altho I did also change my diet fairly significantly. In many sedentary occupations, you have to watch out for office snacks and big restaurant portions!
posted by epersonae at 11:11 AM on May 20, 2008

Why isn't both an option?

That said, I would suggest the Krav Maga class. It's going to get you to a higher level of fitness than just biking. The idea of "cardio" and "weights" being separate activities one must engage in to become fit is a false construct. In your real, actual life, are you ever going to be in a situation that demands solely muscles or solely cardiovascular capacity?

Martial arts training is pretty great for all-around developing your cardiovascular system, balance, coordination, muscular proprioception, and strength in a way that will translate pretty well to your daily life, as well as providing fast-paced, interval-style workouts that burn more fat. Biking works out your heart, whatever that means, and will translate to you being better at biking.
posted by schroedinger at 11:36 AM on May 20, 2008

Best answer: just my $.02 as another bike commuter in Massachusetts. I used to have a 28 mile round trip commute and only rarely did I do that commute 5 days a week. It was closer to 3 or 4.

This had less to do with fitness or weather and more to do with not having the time to indulge in an hour long commute. I switched jobs to an office in downtown Boston and now I ride into work all the time.

With that said, even when I was doing the commute every other day, it was still great aerobic exercise. To respond to a couple of points raised by others:

1) Traffic -- if you're used to biking in Boston then riding out from Alewife to the northern/northwestern suburbs is a vacation. If you're going to Burlington, from Allston, you have a pretty swank selection of routes to use. Buy a Rubel's Eastern Mass map and have fun with playing connect-the-dots on the all of the green routes.

2) Building muscle -- I was really surprised with how much I bulked up on my upper body after I switched from a hybrid to a bike with drop bars. You will not be as well muscled as someone who's done martial arts, but you won't have to worry about being some guy with a really wimpy upper body and stupidly huge calves, either.

and to add a couple of other things --

Baggage -- for 15 miles, resist the urge to do the entire thing with a backpack or messenger bag. Invest in panniers or, at the very least, a rack trunk. Stash clothes at work and keep a supply of baby wipes. They're the standbys in getting freshened up when showers are not available.

Lights -- have some, even if you're only going to be a summer rider. You never know if you're going to be at work late or find yourself delayed with a flat tire
posted by bl1nk at 12:16 PM on May 20, 2008

Best answer: I guess its also just worth noting that you will not likely have the body you had when you were 20 your whole life. (I didn't believe it at first either.)

Exercise is great. I play team sports, but if you are really trying to lose weight it is so much more effective to watch your diet than to try to burn it off. You can burn that 500 calories riding your bike for an hour or skip that last slice of pizza.

For me, eating properly is easiest way to stay trim. Period.
posted by Slenny at 12:59 PM on May 20, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone.

From all the responses, I'll probably end up going with biking. I got a response from a nearby Krav Maga place - the only one really accessible during my lunch - and they only have evening classes so I'd have to get private lessons at $100 a pop, which is well outside anything I'm interested in. I'm going to get in touch with some biker friends about exactly what sort of bike and gear I'll need, and check out other AskMeFi threads on the topic to get started.

Dietary changes will be accompanying the increase in physical activity, no doubt. More exercise would be for nothing if I'm eating like crap. I'm vegetarian as is, but eat way too much sugar/sodium/empty carbs, so I'll be cutting out a good amount of that from my diet.

Thanks again!
posted by SamuelF at 1:57 PM on May 20, 2008

Best answer: no problem, SamuelF. I should also add that Slenny is right. You are not likely to have the body that you had when you were 20 your whole life.

... you can wind up with an even better one ;)

These are routes that assume a start in Harvard Square and an end near the MITRE campus in Burlington, but if it helps, these are my old commutes (I did not work at MITRE, but on Crosby Drive just up from the campus)

easy route with the Minuteman Bikepath and a bit of Great Road and Rt. 62

more challenging 14 miles with some climbing in Belmont and Lexington

some folks might tell you that taking 2A (Lowell/Summer St.)through Lexington to the Burlington Mall might be a better option. Those people lie.
posted by bl1nk at 3:21 PM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That Bikely site is AWESOME. The first route you linked is exactly what I'd need, just need to take Lowell St like the commenter mentioned. My office is before the 128 exchange, so I won't need to deal with any of that hairiness. The info is much appreciated!

And yeah, I know I won't have my 20-year-old body forever, but Christ! I'm only *23 years old*, people! Don't stick me in the old folks' home yet! I've never had bulging abdominelts or ripped bitoids, I just want to lose my tummy!

So many exclamation marks!
posted by SamuelF at 7:38 PM on May 20, 2008

SamuelF, look into Clif bars, if you're not already familiar. Vegetarian, tasty. They act like Chinese food for some people (hungry five minutes later) but tend to fill me up really well.

Clif also makes Builder bars, with a hell of a lot more protein. When you're starting out, building more muscle, you need all the protein you can get your intestines around.
posted by notsnot at 7:47 PM on May 20, 2008

I'd do both if I could, but it's worth noting that Boston is the #1 most dangerous city in the nation for bike riding.

I wish I still had the link to share, but I think I found it via Neatorama - it was some site where cities were ranked based on various factors. I only remember because a friend of mine used to be a Boston bike courier and wound up in the hospital for it twice.
posted by GardenGal at 9:18 PM on May 20, 2008

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