Innovative Exercise: A Review

The following was written for a class I’m taking this summer on innovation. The assignment was to write a blog some on something innovative. I also had a couple of other writing assignments that you can find here, but since they don’t relate to health or fitness, I’m not going to post them here (though I did write a pretty awesome book review, if I do say so myself). And we begin…

When it comes to exercise, it’s all about the “next big thing.” This machine will give you abs of steel! This DVD program will get your body beach-ready in 4 weeks with just 20 minutes a day! This chemical chamber will turn you into a patriotic super-buff (spandex not included)!

Nobody runs anymore. Crunches are a thing of the past. These traditional workouts are considered obsolete and ineffective. But why? Is there something really wrong with how people have been working out?

First, let’s look at running. It’s a simple idea; put one foot in front of the other very quickly. It’s also dynamic. Sprinting gives different results than distance running. City running is different than running through the country (country running is far superior in every way).

So what’s the beef with running? If you’ve ever seen the infomercial for the TreadClimber, the two biggest points they make is that running is hard on your joints and takes too long to produce results. 

In fact, running is actually good for your joints. It strengthens the muscles around your joints and prevents arthritis. Don’t believe me? Well I guess that’s your prerogative, but I have science on my side.

What about that second point? It takes too long. What? How long is too long? Running for 1 hour at an average rate of 5 miles per hour burns around 500 calories. Do that every day for a week and that’s over 3000 calories. If you ran this every day, you’d be essentially burning over a day’s worth of calories every week. Try taking one day a week and just not eat. See what happens.

The Tread Climber boasts being able to give you “results” faster (i.e. lose weight faster), but that may actually be a bad thing. Losing too much weight too quickly can cause all sorts of issues for your body. Bottom line: before you pay $2000 for a TreadClimber, stop and think for a minute about what you’re really buying (And think about how running outside is free!).

Now what about crunches? A very basic workout, right? You lay on the ground and contract your abdominal muscles until your shoulders lift off of the ground. However, crunches are one of the exercises that take the most heat in this age of innovative exercise. Ab Glider, the Hip-hop Abs system, and Leslie’s Bender Ball are all methods of getting “slim,” “sexy,” or “rockin’ [sic]” abs without doing crunches. The infomercials for these methods POKE FUN AT how ineffective crunches are for getting desirable abs.

Again, I refute their claims. Crunches are a proven method of strength training. If you’re doing “a gazillion crunches and not seeing results,” don’t blame the crunches (even though Leslie does). Blame a lack of cardio. As a strength training exercise, crunches are good at toning muscle, but basically useless when it comes to burning fat (about 200 calories per 100 crunches). Effectively, you could have the best abs in the world, they’re just hidden behind a layer of fat (don’t worry, I know that feel bro).

Another argument is that crunches are bad for your back. Let’s compare crunches to the Bender Ball method, shall we? In a traditional crunch, your back is either completely touching the ground or touching the ground from just below your shoulders down. For those of you who have never had a physics class, this large area of surface contact decreases points pressure, this decreasing the probability of pain.

With the Bender Ball, however, the entire motion is completed with the weight of a person’s upper body concentrated on a small ball anchored at your lower back. The area of contact is much smaller, creating a pressure point at your lower back. I don’t know if you’ve ever suffered from lower back pain, but I promise you washboard abs are not worth it.

In an age of innovation where it pays to reinvent the wheel, exercise is one wheel that should be left just how it is. People want to be skinnier fast, buffer faster, faster faster, but they are ignoring potential dangers to their health. The problem is not with exercise, but with people’s attitudes towards exercise.

Outdoor Etiquette

Okay, so I’ve been living in the city for the past three weeks (I got a nice shiny fellowship for the summer and they were generous enough to provide housing), and I’ve been staying pretty active. I run of course, but I also brought my bike with me, and I have to say, my first two cycling adventures were complete disasters.

The first time I went riding, I was just trying to get the lay of the land, and I happened to wonder in an area with heavier traffic, so I moved to the sidewalk (I know, I know it’s bad form, but I was afraid some crazy was going to hit me out of impatience). Next thing I know this old lady with a serious mustache is barreling down at me. I thought maybe she wanted directions or something, but oh how wrong I was. Our conversation went something like this:

Lady Mustache (in a demanding tone) : “Why are you riding on the sidewalk?”

Me (confused, and a little afraid): “I almost got hit, and I thought that it would be easier for me to avoid pedestrians than–”

LM (near yelling now): “Well some man just came by and almost ran me over!”

Me (more confused, and now a little mad): “…But that wasn’t me.”

LM: “…Well no you seem to be very responsible, I see you’re wearing a helmet. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, just riding recklessly came right up behind me and almost knocked me over”

Me: “…”

LM: “You just make sure if you come up behind someone you let them know you’re behind them!”

Me: “Okay…”

I ended up cutting my ride short because I couldn’t get over how nasty she had been. A couple of days later, I tried again, staying off the sidewalk and far away from that street. I went on a road with two lanes, thinking that it gave people ample room to pass me and it would be good. Nope. Just when I let my guard down, some guy came up behind me, yelled “GET ON THE SIDEWALK!!!” and actually USED HIS CAR TO PUSH ME OFF THE ROAD. I like to think that there aren’t a lot of things that shake my cool, but man, at that point my cool was shaken and stirred. I managed to stay mostly upright and rode by to my dorm on the sidewalk, crying off and on for about a mile. I did manage to get a partial plate on the guy, but when I called the cops they said that they couldn’t really do anything without the whole plate or more information about the car, which really made me mad, but that’s another issue.

I have since managed to find a safe place to ride my bike, but it’s still unsettling that people are that unkind. And what am I supposed to do anyway? I’ve seen people riding their bikes on the street, and on the sidewalk, but which one is right? I decided to do some digging, and I’ve compiled a list of rules for both running and biking. Feel free to add or correct anything on these lists, because I want the information to be right and to be complete. I’ll start with running

  • If you are running on the street, run against traffic. If a car is coming and it doesn’t see you until the last minute, it’s not going to be able to swerve and avoid you, but if you see the car first, you have a much better reaction time.
  • If you are running on the sidewalk, run with traffic. In general, this is the direction everyone else will be going, so it’s more out of politeness than anything else. If you need to run against traffic because you’re heading to a particular destination, that’s fine
  • If there is a sidewalk, DO NOT RUN ON THE ROAD. Even if the sidewalks are clogged, just get over it. Running a little slower or having to walk for a bit is better than being a road pizza…
  • Don’t yell at people who are being rude. Whether it’s pedestrians who are blocking the sidewalk or cars that don’t give you enough room, just let it go. Picking a fight while you’re running is just a bad idea.
  • Don’t judge people for judging what you run in. You’ve probably gone running in just a sports bra (or topless if you’re a guy) before. I’ve done it. It’s nice. Much cooler than with a shirt, and the sweat just flows so freely. Yeah…But anyway, if you’re going to run around half-naked, people are going to stare. If you don’t want them to look at you, either cover up or go work out in a dark room where no one can see you. (However, this doesn’t give people an excuse to be inappropriate. Look with your eyes, not your hands)
  • Don’t judge other runners. This is more of a personal thing, but if you see someone skinnier than you, fatter, slower, faster, or more naked, don’t judge them for it. They’re out doing the same thing you are, and you and I both know how hard running is, so respect their ability to go out and hit the pavement.
  • Run smart. It’s probably not the best idea to run on a full stomach. Or dehydrated. And even though a lot of people say chocolate milk is a great post work-out drink, be aware that dairy curdles under heat, so if you’ve been running in 90 degree weather and try to chug a gallon of TruMoo, it’s probably going to come back up (I’ve done it, it’s not pretty. Or tasty) Also, here’s a great sight for knowing all about running shoes: CLICK ME!

And now the rules for biking:

  • You are a vehicle. In the state of Pennsylvania, a person riding a bicycle is considered to be a vehicle BY LAW, and must adhere to all of the rules associated with that. That means you have to stop a stop signs and red lights, signal when turning, give pedestrians the right of way, etc. Think of it like you’re a very slow motorcycle.
  • Stay off the sidewalks. There’s no law in PA saying that bikes are banned from sidewalks (I believe in CA there is), but it’s really not the best idea (do you want a mustachioed old lady coming after you? I didn’t think so.) However, if you must be on the sidewalk, GO WITH TRAFFIC. NO EXCEPTIONS. I’ve seen people ride their bikes on the sidewalk going against the flow of traffic, and it just creates frustration for all parties involved.
  • Bike Smart. (See “Run Smart”)

Okay, so my bike riding list is a bit shorter. I promise I’ll add to it. I’m pretty new to the game, so I don’t know all the tricks of the trade like I do with running. The most important thing is to be safe, because whether you run/bike for exercise or for health or just plain enjoyment, you get none of those things if running/biking become stressful or dangerous. So be safe, be well, help me fill out these lists, and HELP SPREAD THE WORD. BIKER AND RUNNER SAFETY FOR EVA!!!!