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OK, so after last Monday’s meandering rant about my tendency to meander around the gym with no particular workout program or plan, I’m happy to note that on my next trip to the gym I came equipped with not just an idea of how I might punish myself, but with an actual crumpled-up post-it note on which was scrawled the names of eight specific, punishing exercises:

Kettlebell swings
Renegade row
Shoulder presses
Glute bridge
Weighted squats
Tricep extensions
Weighted lunges

Many of these I had never before attempted, a fact that became painfully obvious at some inopportune moments (as well as the next morning). Plus, to make the workout even more distinctive, I decided to try wearing my Vibram FiveFingers barefoot running shoes.

A couple of summers ago, I pulled on these skin-tight, toe-isolating rubber-backed foot gloves and took them for a spin around a nearby soccer field. It was cool to jog around without worrying about puncturing my feet on some foreign object, but after a while it became clear that my toes lacked the rugged individualism necessary to thrive in their own confined space. They seemed to prefer hanging out together.

Anyway, I’ve been reading a lot about primitive workouts lately, and the whole idea of scampering along woodland trails without the hindrance of modern footwear is pretty intriguing. So, in the spirit of mixing things up, I sat down on the bench in the locker room and began coaxing my communal toes into their own individual habitats. This is not as easy as it might sound. The FiveFingers are tight — really tight — and my toes are not easily separated. So, I’m sitting there like a 2-year-old with his first pair of gloves doing my best to line up my recalcitrant toes with their prospective new homes and recalling with some fondness the ease with which I can normally slip on a pair of sneakers.

I’m also thinking I could use a good pedicure — but I’ll spare you the details.

After much persuasion, all 10 little piggies seemed to have found a home, and I strode confidently out into the gym. An easy 10-minute warm-up on the EDM got my heart pumping a little and I moved over to the stretching area where I secured one of those too-thin yoga mats and consulted my list. The big toe on my right foot was throbbing a bit already, declaring its desire for freedom, but I launched into a lively set of kettlebell swings nevertheless. This is, by the way, just a terrific cardio workout — it never fails to get my heart rate up into the 140s. I highly recommend it. The renegade row? Not so much. I’d seen this move described in an upcoming issue of a certain fabulous health and fitness magazine and figured, How hard can that be? The idea is to basically get into pushup position while holding onto a dumbbell in each hand and simply lifting the dumbbell to your chest a few times. What I discovered was that it’s not that easy when the dumbbells refuse to remain stationary. Mine were maybe five-sided, but it would’ve helped if they’d been square.

Shoulder presses are old hat to me, though I felt a little feeble after my renegade rolls. And I was able to work through
three sets of side and glute bridges, which are basically modified planks. Weighted squats (I used a 40-pound dumbbell) are just plain killers for me, and tricep extensions — especially while standing — always leave me pining for more leisurely pursuits. But nothing sends me reeling like any type of lunge activity. I like to think it says something about my tranquil nature that I avoid lunging at all costs, but anyone who happened to catch a glimpse of me wobbling all over my mat would’ve simply concluded that I have a no sense of balance. And they would be correct.

I have enough difficulty remaining upright while lunging without any weights in my hands, but put a couple of 25-pound dumbbells in my mitts and I’m all over the place. (Note to self: Yoga might be a good idea.) And I’m not making excuses, but by this time the aforementioned big toe is not at all happy with its surroundings and I’m wondering whether I may need an emergency pedicure by the time I rip these stupid anti-shoes from my oppressed feet.

Still, it’s a helluva workout I’ve just completed, and I’m feeling jazzed enough to crank out a couple sets of one-legged pushups before heading back to the locker room to liberate my toes.

This all brought up an interesting question for me that had nothing to do with pedicures: Is this sort of programmed, non-machined and weight-roomed routine a better workout than what I’ve been doing all these months?

To answer that question, I consciously reverted to my old routine when I hit the gym last night (with real shoes, BTW): 35 minutes on the EDM followed by a whole bunch of push-and-pulling on the resistance machinery. The verdict? Get back on the mats. It’s way more interesting and it’s going to work way more muscle groups than anything I can do on the machines. Yeah, I’m going to look pretty foolish from time to time, but what’s new about that? I figure as long as I can wear real shoes I’m good.

Thoughts to share?

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