This is virtual training, with me in my basement and the trainer, Michael Riley, in his basement — or at the recently reopened health club. He peers out from the screen of my iPhone via FaceTime and tells me what to do.
I thought I would miss the health club — the various complex machines, each serving a specific muscle group — but I don’t. It turns out you don’t need an expensive contraption to exercise, just some dumbbells and a few big, brightly colored rubber bands.
The main piece of equipment is your own body, the biggest dumbbell of all. And, perversely, the fatter you get, the more isometric exercise your body provides. If holding a plank is a good way to strengthen your core, just imagine holding that plank while a 10-pound kettle bell rests on your back — or, more accurately, a 10-pound ball of excess flesh hangs from your stomach.
I’m not the only one motivated to move. Early in the pandemic, My Lovely Wife decided she didn’t want to be marooned at her computer all day in our home office. She wanted to be up and walking, even if only in place. You can buy a treadmill desk, but they’re expensive. Besides, we already had a treadmill. Ruth just had to figure out a way to work on her laptop while reducing her lap.
Ruth loves a challenge. And like a primate who strips the leaves off a branch and uses it to winkle tasty termites out of a mound, she is a toolmaking animal. She took a pair of folding TV tables, some cardboard packing inserts (those grids that separate bottles of wine), an extra shelf from a bookcase, an overturned bucket and lots of duct tape and MacGyvered a “desk” that goes over the treadmill. It’s not elegant, but it works.
“You’re like the Professor on ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ ” I said, impressed.
“I’m like the Professor and Mary Ann combined,” she replied saucily.
Then I called her “Lovey” and spoiled the mood.
Back to squat vs. lunge: Either on its own is bad enough, but trainers like Michael won’t leave well enough alone. They’re like the dentist in that “Far Side” cartoon who wants to cram a tennis ball in his patient’s mouth. There’s always one more complication.
The squat would be easy if you didn’t have to also push out a dumbbell as you did it, the lunge simple if you weren’t also pivoting your leg sideways and crouching.
Every exercise is designed to be a little harder than it has to be. You got that plank down? Good, now move your arms farther apart until the sweat beads on your forehead. You’re on your hands and feet like a bear? Good, now bend your knees and elbows so your muscles quiver like a Jell-O mold.
Who knew that something as simple as pointing your toe (or not pointing it; it depends) could make an exercise twice as hard?
I suppose I could cheat. I could knock over my iPhone so Michael couldn’t see whether I was performing the moves properly. I could keep a bowl of chicken wings off-camera and gorge on them unseen whenever I crabwalked out of range with a rubber band around my ankles.
But I’d only be cheating myself. And so I persevere.
I keep expecting Michael to run out of exercises, but he never does. We do the old “favorites” and then he’ll slip in a new one, some way of holding my body that my body has never thought of before. (Because, why would it? My body is a bit of a shirker.)
Twice a week, I’m in my basement, looking at my phone and feeling the burn. I guess that’s why they call it a workout, not a playout.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.