PUMPING IRONY: Invisible Workouts

I had one real workout this past weekend, or did I?

What does a workout look like? Most folks figure they’re not getting any fitness benefit unless they’re hoisting serious iron or cranking out a 5K in less than 30 minutes, but I’ve never subscribed to that theory. There are lots of ways to push your body beyond its level of comfort.

This past weekend was a case in point for me. Now, granted, I did run through a pretty high intensity workout Saturday morning (two sets of my normal kettlebell and bodyweight routine!!), but after that a lot of what I asked of my body would never be mistaken for exercise — but it sure felt like it.

Saturday afternoon, for instance, I spent an hour or so schlepping boxes of stuff from the attic down 27 steps into the basement storage room. Those boxes, I’m guessing, weighed between 10 and 25 pounds, and I think I probably made about two dozen trips up and down those staircases. If my math is correct, that’s like 650 weighted lunges — not to mention the squats required to pick up the boxes and whatever you want to call the task of sliding them onto a shelf in the storage room.

I woke up Sunday with my hammies and calves barking at me. They calmed down slightly as I headed outside to do a little work in the garden. There’s actual research showing the fitness benefits of gardening, but anyone who spends an afternoon pulling weeds, planting vegetables, and dodging fire ants knows they’ve had a workout when they’ve finished.

My Lovely Wife is the real gardener in the family, but I’ve grown over the years to enjoy the subtle pleasures of weeding. There’s something almost meditative about yanking dandelions and quackgrass out of the ground, and there are few actions quite as gratifying as successfully untangling a mat of creeping Charlie from the lawn. All this can require a combination of deep squats, lunges, a solid grip, and even a little upper-body strength.

I worked up a pretty good lather by the time I called it quits. Charlie was still creeping in various sectors of the back yard, but we’ll have to coexist peacefully for the time being. I had a tennis date.

Climbing on my bicycle, I pedaled west along Minnehaha Creek to the Lake Nokomis tennis courts, about a mile and a half away. I don’t tend to think of bicycling as a strenuous activity (I’m not a spandex kind of guy), but that’s not a bad little workout in itself, especially attacking the hill leading up to the courts from Lake Hiawatha.

There I met up with my old nemesis, The Baseline Machine, who quietly and efficiently pulverized me and my comical serve, six games to two. And while that may not sound like much of a contest, I did work up a good sweat chasing her shots all over the court (mostly in vain).

It’s easy to overlook these sorts of recreational activities when we think of what we need to do to keep fit. But every time (and every way) you move your body does you some good. When I look back at my weekend of activities, that Saturday morning kettlebell sweat-a-thon will stand out, but my hammies are still reminding me of my stair-climbing ordeal and my glutes are recalling all that squatting over the dandelions. Who knows how my back is going to feel tomorrow after the thrashing TBM handed me on the tennis court? Point is, it’s all a workout.

Can’t wait to get after it again tomorrow.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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