The Obsessed Fortysomething Runner: “Emergency” home fitness on a budget

It'd be hard to get much running down in here!

This is what it felt like when I was snowed in last week and couldn’t go running or get to the gym. (photo by my brother)

Last week’s triple-blast of snow definitely threw a wrench into my usual running/fitness routine. At first, it was snowing too much to go running outside (not to mention it was FRIGID), or there was just too much snow on the ground to run; “clomping” in snow boots was possible, but that didn’t really seem like it would scratch the itch. If I were really dedicated, I could’ve put chains on the minivan and driven to the gym, assuming the gym was even open. But I’m not that dedicated. So what did I do to ward off cabin fever and get in some modicum of working out done at home? It’s not like I have fancy gym equipment at home — that’s why I belong to a gym!

Thanks to Snowlandia, I’ve determined that it is possible to put together a reasonably satisfying exercise routine at home for not too much money or space. Now, snowstorms that shut down Portland aren’t that common. Well, it’s common for the city to shut down when it snows at all, but fortunately it doesn’t snow often here, and it usually melts quickly. However, being snowed in isn’t the only reason you might find yourself having to work out at home, especially if you’re a parent of young kids and it’s your turn to play Mr. Mom.

Here’s what I ended up doing during the time I was snowed in — note the ability to vary the exercises so that it wasn’t doing the same thing every day.

Homemade stairmaster (Thursday night, Saturday afternoon) IMG_20140210_224318

I use the gym’s stairmaster once in a blue moon as an exotic form of cross-training. It’s an okay machine, and a decent workout. Obviously I don’t have a stairmaster at home, but I do have a set of stairs. According to the University of New Mexico, going up a flight of stairs burns about 5 calories for a 150 pound person. Livestrong estimates 9 calories per minute for a 160 pound person. (Both estimates sound a little high to me, but they do give some rough idea of the amount of conditioning you can expect.)

Now, as you might imagine, going up and down a flight of stairs isn’t exactly the most interesting thing to do. But, as with the treadmill, just about any kind of indoor exercise/training can be improved with the combination of wi-fi + Amazon Prime (free videos) + Kindle Fire HD. I’ve been hooked on the old FX series “The Shield,” which streams for free with Amazon Prime, and a 46-47 minute episode holds my attention pretty well for my improvised stairmaster.

Cost: stairs, free (assuming a 2-story home); Amazon Prime, $79/year (comes with free 2-day shipping); Kindle Fire HD, $199.


Stationary cycling (Friday late afternoon, Monday late afternoon) bike trainer

I prefer running to cycling for a variety of reasons, but I do have a Trek bike that I bought just before moving to Oregon (when I had some fanciful ideas about biking to campus on non-teaching days). A few Christmases ago, my wife gave me a bike trainer so that I could use my bike as a stationary bike in the winter. Since then, I’ve become far more obsessed about running, but I have to admit, the trainer is pretty handy for when I can’t get away.

Unlike a true stationary bike, which you can keep indoors easily, the bike trainer probably has to go into the garage, as it attaches to the rear wheel of your bike. My trainer is magnetic, and you can increase the resistance by turning the crank on the bottom. It’s pretty secure; I can pedal without holding the handles, although the downside of this is that I’m not having to use my core to keep my balance. (The same would be true of a stationary bike, though.) Stationary cycling at a moderate pace for an hour by a 150 pound person burns an estimated 475-500 calories. (Again, sounds a little high to me; Lose It! puts it more at 400.)

My wi-fi reaches into the garage, so . . . you guessed it, I biked for 46-47 minutes on Saturday, and at least that long on Monday.

Cost: Forza F-2 Trainer, $99 (there are less expensive trainers available); bike (hey, this is Oregon — don’t you have one already???)


Dumbbell weights (Friday night) dumbbell

I’ve previously blogged about lifters who trash running (in fact, it was my very first post on this new and improved Run Oregon site), but I am definitely not a runner who trashes lifting. I don’t particularly enjoy resistance training, but I do acknowledge the importance of doing some lifting, especially as a fortysomething when you start losing 1-2% of muscle mass a year unless you do something about.

For a simple, improvised home gym, resistance training machines are out of the question; it’s going to be free weights. They’re cheaper and take up much less space. They’re also better at working out your stabilizing muscles. For a 150 pound person, 30 minutes of general (not vigorous) weight lifting burns about 110-120 calories. On the plus side, I believe that’s 30 minutes of set-rest-set-rest-etc., not 30 continuous minutes.

I mostly use a pair of 20 lb dumbbells, which turns out to be an adequate all-purpose weight for the small variety of lifting exercises I do: standing shoulder presses, upright rows, bicep curls, bench presses, flyes, and squats. My Kindle Fire doesn’t come into play here, but that’s because I can watch stuff recorded on my TiVo….

Cost: 20 lb dumbbell, pair, $38


Ab wheel (Friday night, Saturday afternoon) ab wheel

Crunches and sit-ups don’t require any equipment, but I find that sometimes they don’t feel all that good for my lower back. The ab wheel, for some reason, doesn’t cause me any discomfort. Well, except for the first time I used it, when I managed a mere 5 rolls before I was worn out. And then for the next couple of days, my abs felt like they were on fire. But if you want to work toward a six-pack, you want to get this handy little torture device. If you can do 60 minutes straight of this, it would burn an estimated 510 calories for a 150 pound person. Let’s just call it 8.5 calories per minute….

Cost: Ab wheel, $11.50


Jumping rope (Saturday afternoon) jump rope

Nothing fancy here, just old fashioned cardio. I’m able to do this indoors, which has its pros and cons. The major con is that I ended up jumping barefoot, which my still-recovering Achilles tendons did not appreciate very much. As a result, I could manage about a minute each session.

But if I had room in the garage and did it there with shoes, well, 10 minutes of jumping rope would burn about 100+ calories.

Cost: Jump rope, under $10


Snow shoveling (Sunday afternoon, Monday afternoon) snow shovel

This isn’t something we need to do here in Portland more than once every five or six years. It snowed my first winter here (late 2009), and having been conditioned by seven years in Iowa, I dutifully got out my snow shovel and cleared our driveway and sidewalks. . . and then noticed no one else was doing so. Why bother when it’s just going to melt in a day? But Snowlandia wasn’t going to melt that quickly, and this time, my neighbors had in fact shoveled their sidewalks.

Armed with my snow-removal equipment from the Midwest, I could’ve brought out my electric snow shovel, which would’ve chewed through the snow in about 10 minutes, but what’s the fun in that? I went about it with grit and muscle. For a 150 pound person, shoveling snow manually for 60 minutes burns about 400 calories. Just be careful that you don’t strain your back!

Cost: snow shovel, under $20  (maybe you should have one of these for those once in a blue moon snowstorms)


Now, if you read the Run Oregon snow running post earlier in the week, you might have seen that I did manage to sneak in a couple of short runs over the weekend. Got to be opportunistic about breaks in the snowing! On Sunday, it was basically the equivalent of trail running . . . Monday, on the other hand, was too slushy for me to go out there again.

Sunday afternoon during my break from cabin fever.

Sunday afternoon during my break from cabin fever.


Finally, you may be wondering, if I’m so obsessed with running, why don’t I have a treadmill? Well, for one thing, treadmills aren’t cheap. The equipment I’ve listed (not counting the Kindle Fire and Amazon Prime membership) comes out to just over $170. A decent treadmill probably comes out around $1000 or more. For another thing, treadmills need maintenance, they can be finicky, and I’d use one pretty hard. I’d rather let the gym handle the maintenance.

Besides, running can usually be done outdoors. If I were to plunk down some money for a serious piece of fitness equipment, it would be a Concept2 indoor rowing machine. (Got a used one for sale?)

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