Embrace Your Inner Geek
If you are exercising, and you don't know that you are exercising, do you get the same benefit as if you were doing the exact same amount of work but under the supervision of a personal trainer?
Maybe, maybe not.
A while back, a Harvard psychologist conducted a study using hotel maids. Despite the high level of physical exertion required for the job — hauling vacuum cleaners around, carrying linen, and lots of walking — very few of the maids felt that they got any exercise. Without changing their work requirements, half of the maids were told how many calories their daily efforts burned. The other half were kept in the dark.
Only a month later, the first group had lost weight and dropped their blood pressure, while the other group remained constant, even though both were doing the exact same amount of work.
That's the power of getting techie with your program.
You can hop on the treadmill, turn on the TV, and phone in a workout, and you'll burn X calories.
Or, you can hop on the treadmill, hook up the heart rate meter, log in your miles and speed, and the studies show that your body will respond to an exercise placebo effect: you'll think you're getting a better workout.
Two ways to accomplish this:
Without spending a dime, you can start writing down your workouts. Miles, minutes, distance, effort level. Lots of folks use a heart rate monitor, but studies have shown that simply rating your effort on a 1-10 scale can be as just as useful. Keep a log, and periodically tally up your numbers.
But sometimes that's not enough motivation, and in those cases, you have to whip out the plastic and buy the shiniest gadget you can find.
For instance, you can get a bike computer for around $30. That will tell you speed, distance, elapsed time, lap speed/distance, and max speed. But is that geeky enough? Because for five more Benjamins, you can upgrade to a GPS-based system that will track your entire route, tell you elevation gain, average climbing rate (VAM), power output, cadence, and a whole bunch of other functions. You'll spend so much time analyzing data, you won't have time to ride.
Geekiness doesn't have to be electronic or computer-based. You can buy running shoes with crazy insoles or support mechanisms. It's amazing what you can spend on a softball bat these days. And super hi-tech wicking, cool-max, dri-fit, polar-tech duds always work.
The key to success is that the item needs to make you think about your work-out. Technology becomes the anti-iPod: you are not tuning out the world, but instead tuning in to your pain or effort. Think about exactly what you're doing, analyze it, over-analyze it. Make it a conscious effort to improve.
Now get out there.