I Love Exercise, but It can Really Blow.

As the weather continues to improve and the people around me are becoming more open about being  conscious of their bodies and how they feel about them, conversations have been popping up about fitness and exercise. How hard it is to get into, and keep into, and access in the first place. I want to sort of compile a bit of it here. Because exercise isn’t easy to get into.

It’s hard for many people to find an activity they like. It’s hard even to approach activities in an inquisitive way…everything is promoted by professional athletes. You see pictures of professionals. People who do this stuff for a living. You see the product of years of suffering. Of hard work and training. Of blood, sweat, tears and more likely than not, vomit.

Not your average person who works 40 hours a week at an office, has kids and can’t figure out how to incorporate fitness into their lifestyle.

Not someone with dietary restrictions or blood sugar issues who is afraid of exerting themselves and having further complications and not knowing how to approach that.

Not someone fumbling around the shifters of a new bike and then eating shit the first time they have to turn.

Not someone going for their first run and cramping so badly after 1/4 mile that they have to limp back home.

Not someone who wants to get active but for any number of reasons doesn’t like the idea of exercising without a buddy.

Not someone sitting on a piece of gym equipment for what feels like 45 minutes not knowing how to adjust it, if it’s adjusted, who to ask how to adjust it, and not knowing what’s so rewarding about sitting in this creepy warehouse full of guys that seem to just be there to ogle women and intimidate skinny men.

And not someone who is just trying out a sport so they go to a specialty store only to get talked down to by some snobby asshole who was their “friend” until finding out that their primary equipment came from a department store.

All of these and a million other reasons keep so many people from exercise. And I don’t mean getting into the kinds of shape you see in the ads. Those are people who are paid to look like that. Well…maybe that’s what you’re after. But really I mean getting into the kind of shape where your knees don’t hurt when you have to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or dropping 5 lbs. Or just taking ownership of the fact that metabolism starts slowing down at the end of your 20s, so you’re not gonna keep your abs while picking your ass and binging netflix, as awesome as that can be.

Honestly, though, exercise isn’t really a natural thing. No more natural than me sitting on my couch and typing this. And I say that as a bit of a fitness nut. But really, our ancestors didn’t exercise. They kinda sorta just had to have a very active lifestyle if they wanted to live.

Really the “paleo” diet is way off…basically in reality it would involved scavenging hippo carcasses and avoiding predators. Stuff like that.

Ancient lifestyles were hard. The Ju/wasi go without food for days on hunting trips. They have poison-tipped arrows, but the poison is slow-acting. So they hit their target and then track it for days while it slowly grows weaker. Typically they’ll go without food. These aren’t easy conditions to live in, but our ancestors, being part of the natural world, were living in them.

I like to think of modern humans as self-domesticated.

Among all of the other odd things we consider parts of regular life, the access to food at more or less no calorie expense is a big one…and the one that matters for this post.

What I’m getting at is that exercise kind of sucks. A lot. Sure, some of us have found activities we love. I’m a cyclist and regularly pummel myself into immobility with the use of my bike and I love it. And despite that, I sometimes have trouble keeping unwanted pounds off.

Calories are easier to come by than they are to shed. It takes about 2 minutes to eat a muffin, but about an hour on a bike to burn the same amount of calories. The trade off of guaranteed nutrition tailored to whatever we prefer to taste is that we have to artificially burn the excess. Well…and we have excess in the first place. So what I’m writing here isn’t a commentary on any kind of lifestyle. Rather, it’s a contextualization of our 21st century lifestyles within the biological framework in which we evolved.

We evolved to persist in dramatically different but dramatically difficult environments. Food wasn’t guaranteed. Old age was unlikely. We were physically weak. Physically slow. Pretty much without biological defense. But we were clever and we could adapt our bodies to any environment and any environment to our bodies.

Really we still can. We just don’t really have to anymore. Overall that’s a good thing. But it leaves the world with the need for posts like this one, and leaves people like me with time to write them.

Accessing fitness can be difficult. Gyms can be expensive and intimidating. And honestly, I think they’re pretty much awful. I’ve been a member of three gyms in the past maybe 4 or 5 years. I didn’t meet anybody who worked there except the people who signed me up…who invariably did not look like they used the equipment.

I’m a thin guy. I’m a cyclist. I have pretty big quads and calves but I have dainty wrists and I’m pretty sure my pecs haven’t grown since age 14. So I walk into a gym. I’m a guy. Guys should just “know” this stuff, right? So I go sit on whatever machine and stare at the ridiculous clipart instructions that supposedly teach you how to adjust it. I can’t see anybody who is obviously employed there. The other people who are there are seemingly either:

1) Way-too-serious guys who look like they’ll give me shit if I don’t know how to work the Rotating Lateral Torso Extender or whatever it’s called (dudes, we’re all paying $10 for this awful membership, don’t take yourselves so seriously)

2) Creepy guys who are clearly just there to either stare at or try to pick up chicks (I don’t want to be associated with them)


3) Women who already have to deal with the shittiest end of the sticks offered by both previously mentioned categories. I feel awkward enough being there, and I definitely don’t want anybody to feel MORE awkward than I do by starting a conversation about gym equipment, when I can’t seem to think of a realistic scenario in which I would actually have to talk to one of them in the first place. That and I don’t want anybody to think I’m trying to hit on them, nobody deserves to think that the unevenly-shaven guy in the purple running shorts who has been staring at a spring clip on one machine for half an hour is trying to pick them up.

So really I just avoided the conversations altogether and continued staring. Eventually they made sense. But then I would be doing curls or whatever and some creep with biceps thicker than his neck that is thicker than his head would slowly walk by. Yeah dude, I’m trying to compete with you. The vein bulging from your forehead is thicker than my arm, but I’m here to take your Planet Fitness Tough Guy crown.

Really I don’t care what you’re into. But also don’t make people feel like shit for being on a different level or having a different approach than you.

That scenario has played out for me in every activity I’ve tried to get into. Whether it be team sports as a kid, activities in gym class, martial arts, the gym and most recently and successfully, cycling. I have my own underlying issues with performance and all that that play a role here…but I’m not the only one with these kinds of issues. And I have the added benefit of being male and I still have to push through so much crap just to feel accepted into a community that’s supposedly about having fun and getting into shape in the first place.

Another issue is how misleading (or maybe just not obvious) losing fat is. Gaining muscle and losing fat are two pretty different things. They’re related, but different. Right around New Years I’ll see lots of Facebook posts about people doing crunches to lose belly fat. Always crunches but whatever. And it’s not going to work. Because basically, there are two types of workouts. There’s resistance exercise, and cardiovascular exercise (cardio).

Resistance exercise is stuff like lifting weights. Stuff like pushups. Stuff like…crunches. You work muscle, you build muscle. You’re all sore afterward because you worked hard. You probably started feeling weak from the lifting before you were completely out of breath. You were a bit out of breath but it wasn’t like running a mile or anything.

Cardio is the running. The bicycling. The jumping jacks. You work muscle but you’re often out of breath before you’re completely weak. You feel like a weak bag of ass afterward. But during, when you’re first starting out, it’s your heart and lungs that feel like they’re burning out of your chest.

That’s cardio. Cardiovascular exercise is fueled by fats and sugars in your system. You have to get to a certain heart rate to maximize fat burn but who cares about that. You’re burning more fat with cardio than with crunches. Crunches burn a little bit of fat but they’re mostly going to build muscle. When it comes down to it, muscle adds a bit of bulk.

Muscle is good! But if you’re unhappy with a flabby stomach, the bulk is gonna make you look a little fatter before you start looking good. But fat comes off in the reverse order from which you put it on. So with resistance like crunches, you’re gonna be waiting a while.

It’s confusing and seemingly counter intuitive. But I have a decent analogy.

Picture your arms and legs and chest and all that as different rooms in your house. You want a nice kitchen. So you get some nice pots and pans. A nice oven. Some nice knives. A sweet granite counter top, a breakfast bar and one of those island things that just seem to be there in fancy houses.

You work your kitchen, it gets nicer.

But you have a storage room. With all the stuff that you don’t really use. Clutter and boxes. That’s the fat.

And somewhere in that room is some really, really sweet mixing bowls. They’re rainbow colored and have fitted tops and there’s enough room to get all the tops into the bowls and the big one still fits its top. But you  have to move all the cluttery crap out first. And probably in the reverse order from that which you put it on.

That’s sort of how exercise works.

It’s hard to get motivated. Exercise is hard to find fun in before you see results. It’s hard to find identity in before you find it fun. I am currently biking right around 200 miles a week. That’s a lot and I’m fortunate to be able to find and make that time, but I always want to ride more. It’s hard to fit it in to my lifestyle. I work 16 miles away at a job I don’t like that can be emotionally and physically demanding and I punch in at 7am. I own a house and have pets. Up until recently I was in school, and now I’m working on getting things set so I can get into graduate school.

It’s tough to fit exercise into that. But I started small and out of necessity. I was looking for a job and biked around the city filling out applications because I didn’t wanna use the gas. I bought a bike for $25 at Savers, gave it to a friend and then trash picked another. That got stolen and I bought a bike at a department store for $150. It was a really big purchase at the time.

I remember how hard it was at first. But once I got that new bike I realized how enjoyable cycling could be. One Saturday I decided to see how long it would take me to ride to work. I got there in about an hour. I decided to give myself an hour and a half or so. I needed four or five breaks because I would get winded or my legs would be burning from it.

At one point I biked from my house to the end of the nearest bike path and back. 33 miles. My legs were screaming and I could barely walk or use the stairs when I got home.

At one point I was sitting in the shower, anxiety ridden about riding that particular day. I have an anxiety disorder anyway and I’ll expand more on how that’s affected fitness in another post. But I was sitting in the shower. Torn about riding. I decided to just stop thinking about it and start getting ready. Any amount of miles are better than none. I would turn back at 5 miles. Just do 10. I wound up doing 27 and that was a turning point in my fitness.

I got a lot of shit from self-important bike shop employees. I don’t like that. I’ve tried to be approachable and proactive about fitness because I know how hard it can be to get into.

I really advocate for fitness apps. I’m a geek over data, but beyond that, you can get points and awards. Maybe you don’t see the progress on the scale or in your waistline, but you know that last time you did a certain course it took you 45 seconds longer. You can see your progress. They have leaderboards and you can see how you stack up. No, you probably wont be the best. Not at first. But you can see that all sorts of people are out there doing what you’re doing.

There’s a username. Maybe a picture. But there will be a pack of people surrounding you, with similar times. You can message them. Meet them for rides or runs or hikes if they’re/you’re up to it. Or not interact at all. Maybe you see that you’re ranked 24th out of 61 people who use that route regularly. In two weeks you see you’re 17th.

That’s encouraging. And there are a lot of apps that do it. And they track calories. You can track your sleep and the quality of it, and the quality of your workouts. What the weather was like.

I also spent about $20 on a scale that reads out body composition. I know it’s not 100% accurate but it’s consistent. So as I see my weight and body fat going down, with muscle going up…I know that it’s showing the kinds of changes I want. I don’t look different but it says I’ve lost half a pound.

I don’t weigh less but it says my fat is down 1% and my muscle is up 1%.

And really…BEFORE all that stuff even registers, my mood and my energy levels are amazing. And my anxiety is almost gone. Honestly one of the trickiest things about exercising is that once I’m done, I feel so great that nothing else feels pressing. That’s a big trap I fall into. And I think a lot of people do when they work out and reward themselves with pizza and ice cream.

You can! Eventually. I call that stage “diplomatic immunity”‘ and it usually happens well into an intense season of working out. Before then it’s important to be mindful if you’re trying to lose weight.


It’s all small steps. I get really wrapped up in it sometimes. I started taking protein because I was worried about how much I was burning. Using one of these apps to track my food…I found out that I was getting 25% MORE protein than I needed, after taking into consideration how much I worked out…but before having a protein shake. So I stopped. I didn’t need it. All this stuff helps.

I started very small. A few miles was a lot for me to bike. Then 16 was. Then 30 something. Now it’s time I want on the bike. I want a few hours. I want an entire day. I set a mileage goal and if I meet it or not it matters less than the time I spend out there.

It is hard. It gets easier. It helps to have support and a partner to encourage you and work out with you. Partly for the shared goals, partly for the shared experience. I can’t necessarily offer advice for that except to say that I struggle with it, too. I have a wonderful partner and we ride together as often as possible. But our work schedules sometimes conflict. We talk about biking together and we set goals and plan rides and it’s wonderful. But when I’m out there alone I wish I had her there with me, or had someone there with me. Not always but sometimes you just feel like you wish someone was there to experience it with you.

And also when you’re starting out…it’s nice to have someone who is as fat and out of shape as you are, with as little of a clue as you have. I wish I had had that. The apps and whatnot can facilitate that, and they weren’t around when I was getting started, so really it’s easier than ever in some respects.

I started a bike group on facebook to try and network like-minded fitness dweebs and people of whatever level to share ideas and meet up. It’s called The Vehicular Liberation Front. if you’re interested. I want to start getting group rides together. My partner and I have a half-dream of doing big events like charity rides or whatever as a group, and having custom jerseys made for us so people can see how lame we are.

But I always think of that time when I almost didn’t ride. When I was in the shower and dreading the ride and how I would hold up. And I decided to just get out there and see what happened.

That’s really all it takes. recognize that you’re potentially thinking yourself out of itust see where it goes and take ownership of it. You’re not entering an IronMan. You’re just laying down your yoga mat and trying a few new poses. Or walking out onto a path in the woods with the dog. Or going for a ten minute jog. Or biking five miles and then turning around. Or doing 5 push ups with the promise that tomorrow, you’ll do 10.

It’s hard to get into. But really it isn’t. I’ve found that most of the difficulties are internal. That doesn’t make them easier, at all. But it does mean you can do something about it, because any amount of exercise is better than none.


About Pedal Powered Anthropology

I have a degree in anthropology from Rhode Island College. My focus was in biological anthropology but I also have a broad interest in cultural anthropology, archaeology and linguistic anthropology. This blog is intended to be for the development of my own positions and ideas, mostly regarding paleoanthropology and paleontology in general, with a heaping helping of evolution on top...but also includes bits about a lot of different aspects of culture, primarily race, gender, privilege, the environment and my own personal relationship with anxiety.

Posted on 06/08/2015, in fitness and athleticism, Health, fitness and athleticism, mental health and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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