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A Matter of Division: A Workout that Works May 15, 2014

I admit that the treadmill and I have never been particularly good friends. I run (or walk) not because I feel passionate about the pursuit, but because a failure to do so will result in aching joints and unseemly weight gain. In other words, it is the lesser of two evils. The result, of course, is that running is a chore, not a hobby and it is an activity in which I grudgingly participate.

Such half-hearted interest requires that I plan my pursuit well in advance. I admit that this planning has often been lacking, but last year I was determined to see that change. I began running again in early Spring with the modest goal of working out for 30 minutes five days a week. In reality, I was only working out four times a week, but I saw this as at least a marginal victory over my normal sedentary preferences. At least I was out of my chair and away from my laptop. Occasional meetings with my sister provided me with a change of venue and some good company as we strolled alongside the local river. By Fall, I was feeling at least a little inspiration to up my game.

I began diligently laboring to meet my five day a week goal, but it quickly became evident that it was still a stretch. I could accomplish the task, but ended up feeling frustrated, exhausted, and pressed for time. According to all of the information I’ve been able to glean from actual runners, this is not the ideal result. And with this in mind, I decided to try an experiment.

What would happen if I trashed the 30 minutes five day a week goal and tried instead for 20 minutes, six days a week? The goal really didn’t seem that strange, since I already had a well-ordered six day work week and the smaller time increment fit neatly into a coffee break. Furthermore, the reduced amount of time allowed me to try out a few of the treadmill’s shorter programs.

It wasn’t long before the six day a week goal was yielding results. I was regularly making it to my workout and had even made some interesting discoveries regarding my limits. (Much to my delight, these proved to be significantly higher than I had anticipated.) I could easily climb an 11% grade, maintain a pace of 6.2 miles per hour, and had even discovered that I could determine my heart rate based solely upon physical cues! I was actually having fun.

After several weeks, I decided to calculate my results (an essential step in any experiment). With the original four day a week program (the five day a week plan never really took), I was walking for 120 minutes and burning 700-800 calories. With the six day a week program, I was still walking for 120 minutes… but I was burning an excess of 3,600 calories! It was clear that my problem hadn’t been the workout itself, but the way I had been dividing it up. And the result was inspiration.

While I still don’t claim to be a runner (it would be a shame to disgrace the title borne by so many of my truly athletic friends), I can state that I don’t loathe running quite the way I used to. It had become an acceptable and sometimes even highly anticipated part of my day. In the end, finding a workout that works wasn’t a matter of digging deep to find inspiration or setting grand goals, it was merely a matter of dividing the time into more manageable increments.

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