Kettlebells, microchips or nothing?
(No. 61) Tom Brady is going to keep playing, by Stephen P. Williams
I’m going to transform myself into a strong, well-aged machine — or not
Last year in Marfa, which was basically closed due to the virus. I was too self-conscious to do squats outside my tent, so I had a sweet roll and coffee instead. Selfie by Self.
There are moments when my aging self unexpectedly reveals itself. Last night, for instance, I got down on my knees to search for my hiking boots in a low closet where I keep my shoes. Standing up, I had to use my arm muscles to push myself up, because I didn’t totally trust my legs. This bugged the heck out of me.
“Did you see that?” I called over to my kids, who were watching a movie nearby.
“I had trouble getting up, and that’s why I want to get that machine,” I said. “I can feel my body deteriorating fast when I don’t exercise.”
My gym has started to feel like a coronavirus hotbox, even though by all rights I should be pretty well protected — I had the virus 18 months ago, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine last spring, and then a double dose of Pfizer in early July. But gyms are fecund bacterial environments, and these days mine feels less like “welcome to the future healthy you,” than “this is an experience you will learn to regret.”
But I really like to exercise, and a curious pandemic tire around my waist is telling me I must. (Belly fat is a key risk factor for all kinds of illnesses, especially in men.) I’ve been debating about buying a Tonal digital weight machine, and some of my kids were worried it might just gather dust.
“Couldn’t you just watch YouTube videos about how to work out at home?” my middle child said.
Of course, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Rather, I wanted confirmation that my decision to buy a $3,000 workout machine (plus extras) made sense. There were all kinds of ways I could justify it — cut my gym membership, reduce my group pilates classes, and it would all be paid for in a year or so. But mainly I didn’t want to be called out for my extravagance.
I would like to transform from the guy on the left to the guy on the right. But I’ll settle for less!
And then there is the existential concern: This machine is made from plastic and metal and contains microchips and some sort of screen. As with everything I purchase, there is an environmental impact. Rare earths are mined, perhaps from sensitive rainforests, perhaps by people with no occupational safety protections or even a livable wage. Plastic, which is made from petroleum, is extruded. And more. Do I deserve that portion of our shared natural resources? Will this machine in the end result in less environmental impact than going to the gym? I have not done the research, though I ponder the potential outcomes in my head.
I have one very selfish reasons for buying this Tonal: the preservation, comfort and health of myself. In the end, don’t we all justify most of our decisions based on our selves? I suppose I could make the case that the longevity and health that I plan to glean from using this machine will allow me to do good things in the world, will reduce my health care impact, and will let me help my three kids thrive. Those are all decent reasons for keeping myself in shape. But in truth, I’ve already been alive 63 years and haven’t done much yet to help the world — I don’t think the Tonal is programmed to change that. And I already know how to do pushups on the floor.
I hope this machine, which is designed to challenge my muscles with subtle increases in weight as I work out, and which, because it is digital, involves no barbells, free weights or heavy kettlebells, will work wonders. I would like to keep my muscles intact as I age, so that I may rise, sit, squat and lift with confidence for decades to come. Is that too much to ask?
That’s a serious question. I’m not certain of the answer, though I do know that I should be able to stand up from the floor without using my hands. A Brazilian doctor developed the Sit Rising Test as an indicator of future health. Take it, and see if you don’t consider buying some home resistance exercise equipment.
I wish my Tonal were already installed. I’m leaving on a 14 day road trip this morning to research the final chapter of a book I’m writing about my journey through America during the pandemic, and I’m not yet packed. The route, which is vague and idealized, will take me to Portland, Maine, then north towards Canada and along the border to Detroit. From there I will head north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and down the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, to Chicago and back to New York. Will I be able to cover all that distance? IDK. That’s why I have no set route.
Everything we purchase, including a Tonal, leaves a mark on the earth. Photo of an open pit mine in Australia by Calistemon.
It’s now 5 am. I’ve been up since 4, after falling asleep at 11. I am very familiar with the reasons I slept so little. First, as often happens before a trip, I lost my common sense yesterday and indulged in a huge cup of coffee (coffee is something I cherish and look forward to every day) at about 3:30 in the afternoon. This behavior is guaranteed to wake me up in the middle of the night. Second, I didn’t finish packing for this trip, so I have a lot of things to deal with before leaving New York, at about 10 this morning (including a 14 mile bike ride through Manhattan, to visit a doctor to get my ears cleaned and then way downtown to pick up my rental vehicle). The caffeine woke me up and the worry keeps me awake. I just made my first coffee of the morning, and it tastes really good.
If my Tonal were already installed, would I use it this morning? Or would I look at it and say, “See you when I get back from my trip.”
You can follow my travels (and see my travels from last year, when I drove 25,000 miles around America), on Instagram. (Yes, I bought carbon offsets against all my driving, for what it is worth.) Or go to my website for other links to my journey.
Let me know what you think about Tonal, Peloton, Mirror and the other digital fitness gadgets coming online. Stephen@stephenpwilliams.com
Tom Brady is a little more interesting than I thought. The Gronk is a lot more.
Forty-four year old Quarterback Tom Brady says he’ll be able to play at least to age 50.
Three things to know
Too anxious to sleep
Deep sleep, the longer the better, somehow keeps the brain from being so anxious.
We forget how old we are; we are going to live a long time.
Do it on a chair
Simple home strength-training tips from the Ivy League.
I came across a protest against J.P. Morgan Chase this morning while biking around. I was happy to see that so many of the protestors were older people, out to make a difference. Video by Self.
Until next time, Stephen