A Long Slow Walk to Nowhere or Watching Hamsters


This was the second of a series I wrote a few years ago based on my visit to a commercial fitness facility. I was moved to repost/ revise it after I walked by a commercial fitness center in a mall. All I could think of was watching hamsters on the wheel in the HabiTrail.

In part 1 I covered weight training. To review, look at what everyone else is doing and, don’t do it. Pretty simple. The Charles Staley 180 Principle. Everyone benching, think more rows. Just keep telling yourself, do the opposite. Guy does arms for an hour. You should do legs. Just a thought. How many people walked by you on their hands today? My guess unless you went to the circus was zero.

In regards to “cardio”, the same is true. I hate the term cardio. Most of the people I saw in the gym the day I was there were on what I like to call “the long slow walk to nowhere”. Even if I liked the term cardio, what these people were doing would best be qualified as Ultra Low Intensity Calorie Burning (ULICB) or Ultra Low Intensity Cardio Training (ULICT). Just figured I’d make up my own acronyms. Everyone else does. I have trouble believing that anyone walking on a treadmill, while holding on no less, is getting much of a cardiovascular workout.

I know, I know. It is better than watching TV. But, guess what, at most of these places you can walk slowly and watch TV. If only they had waitress service, you could eat while you walked also. Here is my analogy. Walking is to exercise as eating sugar packets at Dunkin Donuts is to nutrition. Yes, if you were starving you could get calories from sugar packets and fend off malnutrition. That doesn’t mean it is good nutrition.

What I witnessed was the cardiovascular lowest common denominator. Lets get one thing straight. If you want to improve your fitness you need to challenge yourself. Walking is a great place to start. However, if you continue to walk at the same pace for the same time the benefits, beyond calories expended, decrease and potentially disappear.

Back to Charles Staley’s 180 principle. Everyone is holding on. Let go. Everyone is walking flat. Raise the incline. Everyone is walking for a long time. Walk up a hill and then rest. That’s it. Start a simple interval training program if you have been walking for a while. First step, buy a heartrate monitor. You can get them at http://www.performbetter.com. Buy a cheap one. All you need to do is know your heartrate. Next time you walk use your monitor and see what your heartrate is during your walk. This is what we will call your Comfortable Working Heartrate. Most middle aged people would need to break 110 beats per minute to get a cardiovascular effect. Either way, don’t worry about it. Just figure out what heartrate you normally walk at.

Next time you walk warmup for 5 minutes at your normal pace and then raise the incline to 5%. Walk for one minute. This should move you about 10%-20% ( this will be 10-20 beats in most cases) out of that steady state comfort zone. If it’s more than 20% higher, reduce the incline to 3%. If it’s less, raise it to 7%. Step off the belt and wait for your heartrate to return to 100 beats per minute.

The bottom line. Do a 180. Do the opposite of everyone else. Don’t be a hamster.

PS- If you only have an hour to exercise weight training will burn more calories and make more positive changes than an hour of cardio. The research is very clear on that. Pressed for time, do a total body lift.

10 Responses to “A Long Slow Walk to Nowhere or Watching Hamsters”

  1. Tina- it is sad. However, I have come to the conclusion that life exists on a Bell shaped curve. Our job is to help those on our end of the curve.

  2. Tina Quinn Says:

    One more comment, I campaigned during my time at that gym for TRX space (I owned 14 TRX’s already). I wanted members to have more options getting their total body work. I met resistance and moved on. Everytime I return to the gym, the same people are on the treadmills, getting the same results. The same guys are benchpressing and doing bicep curls. I’m also a rehab nurse (patients receive physical and occupational therapy). I shudder at what their posture will become along with their other future ailments. Good workout habits and education are prehab to avoid rehab.

  3. Tina Quinn Says:

    I was a trainer at Bally’s for about a year. The PT manager, the general manager, and several of the trainers were also on that long slow walk to nowhere during their own workouts. One other trainer, besides myself, avoided them. I was quite puzzled by the experience. I also taught group ex classes at Bally’s for 5 years and did my best to educate and lead by example. I loved my students.

  4. mboyle1959 Says:

    Karim- that is a very optimistic view. I can pretty much guarantee you that any member at Bally’s has no idea who Lyle McDonald is or what a stubborn fat loss protocol is.

  5. Karim Garza Says:

    Interesting, but it is hard to know what people are doing just by watching them on one workout or a few minutes at the gym. We do not know the whole picture of their training. If they are walking, perhaps they are in the resting period of HITT, if they are walking for 20 min, then perhaps they are doing one of Lyle McDonald’s stubborn fat burning protocols. He is giving good advice don’t get me wrong, but he thinks that he knows what people are doing just because he has seen them a few times.

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  7. mboyle1959 Says:

    So at least someone does plan to walk on their hands.

  8. Tina Quinn Says:

    I had to laugh when you mentioned walking on hands. Between yoga and aerial sessions at The Detroit Flyhouse, I’m developing a repetoire of upper body body-weight conditioning. At our boxing gym, I “walk” along the wall sideways–once in a while someone will join me. I’m trying to get them to hang a rope for climbing. Much more fun than a treadmill, and rope climbing kicks that heartrate right up!

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