Tuesday, June 12, 2007

DF Tip #27: Stealing Workouts

Owen McKibbinA few years ago I read an embarrassingly-titled book called "The Men's Health Cover Model Workout" by, yes, a Men's Health cover model named Owen McKibbin, who probably has the most coveted physique in the kingdom of average guydom. He looks -- and this is probably what has made him such a long-standing ambassador for the magazine -- ALMOST like a guy whose body the average exerciser could roughly approximate without resorting to a lifetime of covert pharmaceutical-acquisition trips to Tijuana. He's not enormous; he models with his shirt on, too, and doesn't look like a rhino in a tablecloth like most bodybuilders do (side question: since we spend most of our lives clothed, shouldn't we exercise in a way that makes us look GOOD in them? I just ask). He's "just" an athletic looking guy whose job it is to keep his bodyfat in the single digits year round.

body typesHis relative normalness, of course, is an illusion: McKibbin has some serious genetics. Yes, as his book recounts, he's overcome a lot of injuries, and has worked hard for his muscles, but he's a mesomorph through and through: he doesn't tend to gain fat, and he doesn't have a tough time holding onto his muscle mass, either -- the relative sanity of his workout programs are ample evidence of that. Now, most people can exercise and diet themselves into a peak condition resembling a cover model's, but they usually lose it when they go off their Spartan diet/workout regimes, which is why Brad Pitt looks one way in TROY and quite another on the cover of US.

The only person I ever met who had the McKibbin-like combination of muscularity and leanness was a guy named Wayne who lived in the same apartment building as my family and me before we moved to the 'burbs of Glendale. The first thing I ever said to Wayne, which he had the kindness not to misinterpret, was "How did you get legs like that?" Turned out Wayne was a former Army Ranger and breaststroke world record holder. His athletic accomplishments were the result of hard work, for sure, but his enviable genetics had given him a massive headstart on his competition. When I met him, he hadn't worked out in years. And when we went to the gym together, it was clear he'd never done a squat in his life and barely knew a dumbell from a hole in the ground.

breaststrokeAnd this guy was leaner and more muscular than me on my best day, after 15 years of dedicated exercising. And he had done fitness modelling as a freakin' sideline, in the same shrugging way I might put in some hours driving a cab for extra beans. Jesus H. Macy, I wanted to stab myself in the head with an ice pick.

Okay, my resentment of sub-normal bodyfat types aside, Owen McKibbin has some smart things to say about fitness. He was the one who turned me on to sprinting and lower-rep weight training for muscle-building -- before both became exercise modes du jour in just about every mainstream fitness publication currently on the shelf. His exercise programs are clear and reasonable, very doable for most average guys, and adaptable in intensity for more advanced people as well. His diet tips are sensible and clear and remain more or less the parameters I use to guide my eating to this day.

But I think my favorite McKibbinism has to be the concept of "stealing" workouts.

To paraphrase Simon Cowell, 'What. The. Bloody. Hell. Is. That?"

Here we go: stealing a workout means figuring out a way, often against serious odds, to cram a workout into an overstuffed, overcrowded, overstressed day. The kind of day where you might say: "I can't possibly find a second to work out in this day. There just isn't time. It's totally impractical. If the great gods of fitness were to look down on me from Mount Olympus, they would say, 'You're off the hook, Sally J. Oppenheimer, no reasonable person could find a way to exercise today.'" Stealing a workout means to have a day like that and find a way to WORK OUT ANYWAY.

David CassidyLet's say you're home from a stressful day at work at 6:30 PM and you've got a dinner to attend at 7:45. You haven't so much as left your desk all day. Now, you COULD sit on the couch, catch your breath, pour yourself a glass of wine and savor your time off for an hour or so before you change and get back in the car. You could spend some time with your family. You could catch up on reruns of "Gilligan's Island," thumb through the latest issue of Tiger Beat (the one with David Cassidy on the cover). Lord knows I've burned through years of my life doing things far less productive.

But here's another option. Steal a workout. True, you don't have time to schlep to the gym. And you might not have all the energy you would have if you'd planned for the workout, eaten a high-protein/carb meal 90 minutes before, and gotten yourself psyched up to sweat. Assuming you don't have a commute as nasty as mine, you've got yourself just 40 minutes to get a workout in before you have to shower and get out the door.

Don't assume that whatever you do won't help. Don't assume that your don't have the time -- or the energy -- to make it happen for yourself. Just focus on getting through the transition period from harried office worker to refreshed exerciser.

So spend from 6:30 to 6:35 pouring yourself a glass of juice (yes, juice, for the love of god), maybe with a sprinkling of protein powder, and getting into your workout duds (hint: get some workout duds you feel dead sexy in. I personally think it's fun to exercise in t-shirts with holes that I've had since college, but that's my personal kink).

At 6:35, walk out the door. Take a watch with a secondhand with you.

  • From 6:35 to 6:40, ease from a brisk walk to an easy jog to get your blood pumping.
  • From 6:40 to 6:45, do some dynamic stretching of your major joints: arm swings, toe touches, ankle, knee, wrist, and neck circles. Pay attention to what you're doing, work with increasing range of motion, and use the time to "arrive" in the body you've essentially been using as a brain-storage chamber all day.
  • From 6:45 to 7:00, do thirty-second sprint repeats with two and a half minutes between repetitions. After each sprint, and while the clock is still running, drop and do a set of 10 pushups. Perform a total of five sets of pushups and five sprints.
  • From 7:00 to 7:05, do some easy jogging, jumping jacks or calesthenics to bring your heart rate down.
  • From 7:05 to 7:09, perform a circuit of four exercises: squat thrusts (stand, bend to pushup position, jump legs back into squat position, stand up for one rep); pullups on a monkey bar (jump up to the "up" position to make it easier on the upper body); step-ups onto a stair -- higher for more intensity, lower for less; and walking lunges. Do twenty seconds of exercise one, rest ten seconds, move to the second exercise, and so on, unil you've done two sets of each for a total of four minutes.
  • From 7:10 to 7:15 make your way back to your doorstep, do some easy stretching -- the yoga sun salutation sequence is one of my favorites, but then I've got a soft spot for touchy-feely things. Sue me, I'm married to an astrologer. Bring your heart rate down, breathe deeply.
  • At 7:15, walk inside, take shower, change clothes, and hit the restaurant. Your body will be craving healthy food at this point, so you'll be all the less likely to order the sausage pizza with pepperoni, extra cheese, and extra cheese inside THAT cheese.
Serious exercisers: you can can cut down on the rest between sprints, try to match your 30-second distance with all five efforts, elevate the feet doing pushups, perform a tuck jump at the end of each squat thrust, and do two-legged jump-ups rather than step-ups onto the bench. Less conditioned people, you can rest longer and go easier on the sprints, perform pushups with the hands on an elevated surface, do body-weight partial squats instead of squat thrusts, and do partial pullups or simply eliminate pullups from the rotation and do a couple extra sets of other moves.

beachLast week when I was in Hawaii with my family I squeezed in one of the most fun workouts of my life. While on the beach, I did 20-second boogie-board pulls with my daughter and niece in tow. When that got too tiring I pulled them one at a time. Then I caught my breath and did 10-rep sets of "alternating kid overhead throws" where I'd lift each child overhead rapidly, release them briefly at the top, catch them on the way down, put them down, and move onto the next child. Then I did pushups with both of them on my back, then just the bigger one, then just the smaller one, then with no weight at all.

Gilligan's IslandWhen I have to get up for an early morning workout and the alarm goes off when the raccoons are still poking through my garbage, I remind myself that the hardest part will be the act of getting out of bed. Once I've done that, autopilot takes over until I'm actually exercising, waking myself up, and having fun. Stealing a workout is the same way: it's that transition period that defeats most people, that moment when you ask yourself "Am I up for this?" Just answer yes! Overcome your resistance to move, and pretty soon you'll find yourself out the door and exercising. And pretty soon after that you'll be done -- and happier, healthier, and more energized for it.

And Gilligan won't have missed you.



              mamacita chilena said...

              Hi! I think I already told you this, but I love this blog. This in particular was a great post, because honestly, I think everyone feels that they are too busy to exercise at some point or another...

              As I mentioned, I have a question for you. I live in a very polluted city (Santiago, Chile). Its to the point where they have "pre-emergency" days and reccommend that you only go outside if you have to. Obviously I don't exercise outside on those days. The only places to go running are on busy streets. I don't necessarily mind that, but I have started to read things that say its horrible for your lungs to exercise near car fumes and what not because you breathe deeper and often through your mouth so you don't filter out as much of the pollution. Have you heard anything about this? I've heard conflicting reports. So, instead of running I thought maybe I could just go on long, brisk walks (which I know will not get my heart rate up as much, but I will still be burning some calories and not just sitting on the couch). Would going on walks still have me ingesting unhealthy amounts of pollution? And if the answer to these questions is I should definitely be exercising indoors, do you have any good indoor workouts that you reccommend? I had a personal trainer when I lived in the US and I learned a ton of strength, toning and flexibility moves from her that I can do in the house, but I don't know what I can do for aerobic exercise. As it is, I run in place, I do high aerobic dancing, jumping jacks, just pretty much whatever I can to get my heart rate up. Any suggestions? I know you don't know me or my fitness level, but I would rate myself a medium on fitness level and I have no medical problems at all.

              Thank you so much! Kyle
              ps. if you'd like to email me an answer I can be reached at pinkhatphotography@gmail.com

              Anonymous said...

              Here is one to steal in a hurry.
              5 x 5 deadlifts w/ 30 second rest
              tabata squats
              15 minutes


              Andrew said...

              30 seconds' rest between sets of 5? And 15 minutes of Tabata squats? That'll put you on the couch for a week. I'd file that one alongside Chad Waterbury's "Workouts to do when your woman leaves you." Cheers--

              Anonymous said...

              Yeah, it is a wicked workout, but in the spirit of stealing a workout it is fast. It is only bodyweight squats though. ;)