The elliptical and pool running: initial impressions

Today I made my way up to Briarcliff Manor to Club Fit, a HUGE gym off of Rt. 100. Coach Sandra lives about 5 minutes from the gym and is herself embarking on an ambitious regimine of cross-training and will be spending 2-3 hours a day on her own fitness activities. And Club Fit was having a deal — two months for cheap (for both Jonathan and me), no long-term commitments. Perfect timing! Sandra can show me the ropes and probably train with me more days than not, assuming we can coordinate our schedules.

It’s bigger, cleaner and more well-appointed than the Y. And about the same price. For now. I’ll worry about the fact that it’s 3x as expensive annually later on.

I have never belonged to a gym. I had been to one gym exactly once in my life prior to this — a visit to my (sort of) in-laws’ gym in Pretoria, South Africa a few years back. I was totally overwhelmed that day and similarly overwhelmed today. I felt like a hapless member of some remote Amazon tribe, plunked down in the center of the Mall of America. How do these lockers work? Where do I find the tiny towels? Is it okay for me to be naked in this room? What’s this thing for?

I threw myself on Sandra’s mercy and, when she occasionally disappeared into the multi-corridored abyss, on the mercy of those around me. It worked out. I’m in at least through October. I may just keep the membership beyond that as they have a 200m indoor track and I get really pissed off about not being able to do track workouts all winter. Plus they have about 30 elliptical machines, three pools and a sauna, among other goodies. It’s a good thing I don’t have a real job, as I’ll be spending quite a lot of time there over the coming eight weeks. I’m apparently still expected to go there, even when I can run again, to do major weight work twice a week and spinning, both of which Sandra swears will pay dividends when I hit the last 10K of a marathon.

First, the elliptical. At first, this felt like an exercise machine designed by a prankster. Whee! Your feet go round and round, but you feel like you’re going to fall off the fucking thing every five seconds. So today’s session was “learning how to use the elliptical.” I started out holding on for dear life, then learned to relax my hands (which was good, because my shoulders were killing me after 10 minutes). Eventually, I got to where I didn’t have to hold on and could mimic a proper running form. I was told that this was good progress, less spastic than most. But when trying to run faster, all bets were off. I still couldn’t keep my hands off the thing, the little temptress, when trying to do faster running. I’m told in two weeks I’ll be doing intervals like a pro. Okay.

Elliptical grade: B

Next, pool running. The first thing I discovered is that the AquaJogger belt sucks dead donkey dicks. I may as well strap a large block of styrofoam to myself with duct tape. It’s about as streamlined and comfortable. The thing rides up and fucks with whatever progress I’m managing to make with my “form,” which in itself is laughable. Since I’m going to be doing a lot of this, I’m biting the bullet and buying what Sandra had on, a Wet Vest. It’s thin and it actually fits. Sure it looks like a giant diaper, but that is the very feature that keeps the thing from riding up around your neck.

Simply put, pool running is really hard. It’s difficult physically, in that getting to a point where you’re using an actual running form is hard to do. And it’s difficult mentally. You run and run and run and, while you go somewhere, it’s nowhere fast. Imagine running a 400m repeat as hard as you can while trying to push a wheelbarrow full of sand. That’s what pool running feels like. Side note: the upper body work involved is not to be sneezed at. Sandra says I’ll have incredible strength up top after about six weeks of this. Maybe I’ll be able to bench press the elliptical.

I’ll get better at it with work. But learning how to run in the pool reminds me of taking ceramics a few years back and trying to learn to “throw” clay — meaning form symmetrical objects on a wheel spinning at incredibly high RPMs. Preferably things like vases that didn’t weigh 30 lbs. It got easier, but it took forever to make even a little progress. I finally decided that I would save ceramics for my old age, when I would presumably have a lot more free time for messy, pointless endeavours. I’m motivated to move along the learning curve of this particular messy endeavour as quickly as possible so I can actually get some real training done. For my bigger pointless endeavour.

Pool running grade: C

If you don’t like reading about the elliptical, pool running, weights and spinning, then stay away from this blog for the next couple of months. I hope I can run again at some point, but I have put it out of my mind. At least I have plenty to distract me in the meantime.

9 Responses

  1. It sounds like Globo-Gym from DodgeBall, rather than Average Joe’s. A 200m indoor track! Where do I sign up?

    I’ll be reading — I think you’ll have good progress – both with the elliptical and the water running. The elliptical also works the muscles eccentrically, so some value there for fibre development.

    • That’s a very interesting point, Ewen. I know that the elliptical is supposed to be the “closest” to being able mimic running. But there were aspects — perhaps that’s one of them — that reminded me frequently that I was not running. For one, I felt that my quads were much more engaged and hamstrings less so. Given he nature of my injury, in which my hamstring plays a big part, this is probably good.

      • I think the elliptical is way overrated for ANYTHING, whether it be regular fitness or running recovery.

        My $.02

        I’d rather spend extra time in the pool and then hit the stair climber (the one with the real stairs), and do lots of WALKING, than spend (waste) time on the elliptical. Sorry for the bluntness. I think its no better than cycling in terms of specificity.

        Find an Alter-G! :-)

  2. That sounds like a nice gym. Which are hard to come by at a reasonable price.

    Also, Pool running…ugh.

    You know what makes it WORSE? Trying to do it with no flotation device whatsoever. If you end up trying that, I’d be interested to see your review.

  3. I’m intrigued by the idea of pool running, but have not yet given it a try. For some reason it always seems like so much more effort to put on a bathing suit, swim cap, etc, and then have to shower, clean up, etc after. If I work out at night, I will often just throw my pajamas on for lounging and then get cleaned up in the morning, but with the chlorine, you can’t do that.

    • One mitigating factor for me is that there are two pools where I go, plus a jetted spa and a sauna to leap into after my torture. This is good as I’ll be pool running every day until told to do otherwise.

  4. Andrea, there’s no love lost between me and the elliptical. But a stairclimber in my condition would be out of the question — it engages the gluteus too much, and therein lies my problem.

    Also — the idea of walking up stairs for 45 minutes makes me want to kill myself.

  5. [...] week and a half ago I joined a gym. Now I spend much of my time there. I feel like I’ve been going there for six [...]

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