What I learned about fitness on the road

Sanity is rhythmic.

I’ve been off the road for almost a year now. But before that I was driving 12 to 14 hours a day, sometimes more, for a year and a half. I’d be gone for two to four weeks at a time, back for five to ten days, and then off again. It was a consequence of the financial meltdown and the way it affected our art gallery — plus our fervent desire to keep our employees hired.

That’s another story, and not an easy one. What might have been adventure in my twenties was anguish nearing fifty — I had a six then seven year-old at home; I had a wife there who turns me on to this day.

This is not about that time except for this: It dawned on me early that this was not the vibrant lifestyle I’d been striving for in my recent adult decades. It was easy to spot the other drivers out there; most of them fatted up like penned calves quickly. It was evident I was heading into that same body-fat percentage zone after the first couple of trips.

At first I tried the logical thing — to exercise at the end of the day, in some forlorn hotel with oily carpet. Or it could be a walk around that desolate hotel at 9 pm, circling around five, ten times to get in twenty to thirty minutes. That didn’t work. By then you’re too exhausted, too achy, or you can’t see or its rainy or cold or buggy or all of it. Plus you’ve got to get up at 6 am and run the roads again.

5-minute exercise breaks
If you’re driving 12-14 hours a day and you don’t want to look McMuffinish then you’d better get yourself active. And if you think you’re gonna do it when you pull in exhausted at 8 or 9 pm, then you skipped the ancient dictum “know thyself” along the way.

Here’s what I discovered: Do it in quick chunks — microbursts — throughout the day. Five minutes at a time.

I started coming home from several-week trips buffer and leaner. My wife joked that had she known the road would be so good to my physique then she might have sent me packing earlier, during the good times.

Everyone can exercise 5 minutes at a time every hour or two. At rest stops, gas stations, restaurants. And I did. It was a heart-pumping joy. I’d climb back into the cab of the van invigorated.

In the beginning I’d duck around the side of a building, or into the back, as if I were committing a shameful act. Sod that! I just started doing my yoga moves and push ups and knee bends right there — at the gas pump, at the restaurant sidewalk. People in pickups might give you a sideways glance but this is what I found. People in shape approve, even applaud (in my mind of course, but they would given a different setting). People who aren’t are, well, flabby — and they wish they had the discipline to be you. I’ve had people walk by and tell me so.

At the end  of the day I would total up my 5-minute workouts and voila, 20, 30, 45 minutes of exercise had been had!

A beneficial consequence: I was more alert for driving. Suddenly the aches that had developed so quickly disappeared.

A secondary realization was this: if you ache, then you’re not moving enough — in enough different ways. When I hit the road it was as if I’d contracted instant arthritis. Unexpectedly I had joint pains that fairly bellowed. Upon entering into my 5-minute micro-workouts all those pains vanished.

Recently I brought that rhythm into my current workday. A quick 5-minute workout every hour or two. It’s actually easier because there’s so much more available to you in your regular life. On the road you only have your vehicle and pavement, maybe a strip of grass somewhere.

Yet there’s an interesting psychological component in standard life I didn’t expect. When you are driving 12 to 14 hours a day, you must make it happen every hour or two — there will be no other time available. In your regular workday there is a time seduction — you fall under the spell of I-Can-Do-It-Laterism. It’s an illusion! Shake it off!

Once you accustom yourself to taking five-minute exercise breaks in your everyday life — it becomes far more dynamic than on the road. You can take a quickie walk — can’t always do that on a lonely stretch of highway with nothin’ but venomous snakes for miles of desert (the signs say so if you’re out west, west starting with Texas).

You know the terrain on home terrritory; there’s nothing to figure out. You can utilize your exercise equipment if you’ve got it laying about at home. A  five-minute fitness splurge is exquisite! It’s a no-boredom-guaranteed intensity.

One of my favorite routines that can be done anywhere is this: 15 slow pushups in a row, broken by an arch Downward Dog, then followed by five more slow pushups. A dozen yoga leg poses that challenge your balance, a dozen all-American knee bends — because I’m nobody’s true disciple — ending with 20 up and downs off your toes/balls of your feet while standing straight and tall, arms up in a triumphant V if you dare!

You can take that into your non-driving day, that micro-burst ethos. You have the time! And I guarantee you, you will accomplish more, feel better — and your wife won’t send you on the road to get that fine bod. That sleeker self will be yours for the price of a more enjoyable day.

Vitality can be yours five minutes at a time.


Delicious spaces in a busy day
My ABCs: Always be creating