13 Weeks: A Writer's Workout


One of my running themes in these 13 Weeks columns has been that I knew I wanted to be more fit, and knew exercise would help me with my blood sugar as well, but that I found it hard to fit it into my schedule. It’s not that I don’t like the exercise, but the recommendations I hear for five or six hours of exercise a week just don’t seem workable. Add in time to get ready and time to shower and all, and it’s an investment of 10 hours a week or more. That’s 20 tomatoes a week, and if I had another 20 tomatoes a week I’d write more.

Yes, it’s all tomatoes all the time in the Martin household.

(For those of you who came in late, I wrote on Wednesday about my use of the Pomodoro Technique, and how it has helped me as a writer, and I mentioned that I’d found it also helpful integrating exercise into my time. If you want to go read that article, go ahead, we’ll wait for you.)

There is a growing body of research, though, that shows lengthy exercise sessions aren’t actually necessary to get the health benefits of exercise. In a paper entitled “Physiological adaptations to low-volume, high-intensity interval training in health and disease” Dr Martin Gibala and others at McMaster University studied the effects of short intense bursts of exercise compared to longer aerobic exercise and found that a program of 4 intense 30 second bursts of exercise 3 times a week was about as effective as lower intensity training taking several hours a week. Regular 13 Weeks readers may remember me talking about the Tabata protocol, in which training sessions of 20 seconds of all-out effort are interspersed with 10 second breaks; this is very similar.

So, I had this idea: when I’m writing, and my 25 minute Pomodoro time runs out, I take my 5 minute break by doing a Tabata session, usually with my exercise bike but sometimes with kettle bells. (In fact, the tomato just rang. Back in 5 minutes.)

Okay, I’m back. I’ve bought a collection of timed music for Tabata sessions. This video shows an example of several people doing Tabata sessions to music from, one of my favorite sources.

I start one of these songs playing on my Roku box from my Amazon cloud player and get on the exercise bike. I go like hell for 20 seconds, then pedal slowly for ten, and repeat seven more times.

When I get off the bike, I can barely stand — I’m peddling much faster than I could on a real bike, I’d fall over. It takes a minute or two to recover, so I imagine my five minute breaks are more like six or seven minutes. But I’m trying to write for three tomatoes every morning, so I’m getting either two or three sessions every morning as well.

I’ve been doing this for a couple of week only, so it’s hard to say how much real effect it’s having as far as fitness goes, and impossible to say how much effect it’s having on the diabetes yet, but5 there is one effect I can already see: my mood on a morning when I’ve actually done my three tomatoes and two tabatas is much better; I fee awake and I feel like I’ve done something. I can take a shower and go to the office. On the weekends I try to do 5 tomatoes and four tabatas.

Obviously, like all good research, the conclusion is that more study is needed, but I’ve got to say, this actually seems to work well.

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