03 February 2012

About Exercise

The major snowstorm that hit Denver today has kept everyone indoors, at least for a while. We take it differently. My wife, a Pilates instructor, and my son, an avid cross country runner and soccer player in season, are bouncing off the walls. When they don't get their regular exercise fixes they get an intense physical and emotional craving to work out. My son ranges wildly around the house, jumping on couches, swinging whatever comes to hand in the living room, and generally jumping out of his skin. My wife says that he's like a puppy and needs to be run. My wife gets anxious and irritable if she's missed a workout and develops an urgent need to vacuum, declutter, or polish the refrigerator door to a gleem, all at two or three times the speed she'd ordinarily do those chores.

It baffles me, because I can't relate from personal experience. I can recall being a high energy kid who often wanted to race around and do something disorganized and wild, but I never craved a sustained, regular workout.

I was on the swim team, first at the local recreation center during the summers for years, and later, as a freshman on the high school team. I went to swim practices for something like an hour, almost every day of the week, for month after month, for years. Other autumns, I was on soccer teams with regular practices for months.

But, in all that time, I never once felt a craving to go when a practice was missed, I never felt the least bit of longing and anticipation to go there. There was nothing physiologically or pscyhologically tugging at me to get back into it. Every single practice was a bewildering, soul crushing hour or so of mental and physical agony. Discipline, a sense of obligation, and habit overcame that the mild dread that preceded these daily chores, but there was always a little reluctance and even mild dread to overcome.

When I decided to quit swimming after being the only person on the swim team not to earn a varsity letter (a dishonor that quite frankly, I deserved, I was always last in every drill and never placed once in any race all season), rather than to do another round of swim team that summer, and again in the fall, I remember feeling elated and more free than I'd been since I was a little kid.

It certainly didn't help that I was a mediocre athlete. Almost all of my swimming awards were ribbons for third place finishes in races with three people in them, and team spirit awards. One of my soccer leagues won a league championship, but my own contribution as a defender was only slightly below par for the course. But, it wasn't as if I was in horrible shape either. I spent most of those years as a bony kid, and when I graduated from high school I had a nearly ideal 6'1" and 182 pounds who was reasonably fit. I just hated regular sustained workouts with a passion.

Intellectually, I can understand that workouts burn calories and keep your muscles strong. But, emotionally, I just don't get it.

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