PUMPING IRONY: The Great Outdoors

Winter is giving way to spring around here, which makes my morning and evening walking commutes both exhilarating and treacherous. Patches of ice materialize at inopportune times, so mindful walking is the order of the day: one foot in front of the other. I’ve managed to maintain my footing so far, unlike My Lovely Wife, who has taken a couple of tumbles this winter.

I should point out by way of explanation, though, that MLW is outside a lot in the winter. She’s one of those people who hates to exercise indoors. She’d much rather brave the glacial ruts on our winter streets on her bicycle than climb on a stationary bike at the gym. As she puts it, “When I’m riding my bike, I like to go somewhere.”

It’s all about fresh air and adventure for her, but it appears that she also has some research on her side: She’s getting a better workout outside than she would get at the gym. And that’s the case whether you’re cycling, running or even rowing, according to Gina Kolata’s story in today’s NY Times. Kolata queries several researchers and fitness experts on the differences between indoor and outdoor workouts and highlights the subtle — and not so subtle — ways in which exercising out in the elements can push you harder.

Some of these are obvious (running or pedaling into the wind is tougher than doing it indoors), but others are more subtle. For instance, the flat surface of a treadmill won’t work your foot muscles the way an uneven running surface does; and riding a real bicycle outside demands the kind of muscle coordination (for balance and steering) that you can’t develop on a stationary bike.

Personally, I prefer the gym. I’ll break out the old Schwinn when the ice finally retreats in a few weeks (and some of the scarier potholes have been filled), but I’ve never been one to crank out a 20-mile ride on a Saturday afternoon, just for the fun of it. So, I doubt that my indoor workout regimen will have much effect on my cycling proficiency. As long as I stay vertical, I’m pretty happy. Nor do I have much interest in any serious outdoor (or indoor, for that matter) jogging come spring. If I can get the dog out for a walk once a week, that would be considered a triumph.

It’s not that MLW is training for the Tour de France, either. Her knees are pretty creaky. But that daily bike ride is a pretty important part of her fitness regimen. Plus, it makes her happy. As long as she stays upright.

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