The Resolutionary War

The Resolutionary War

Local experts say getting in shape requires finding the right activity and a little help from your friends.

Ann Bernard admits that amid the stress of starting a new business, she gained a few pounds in 2006. She also admits that she despairs on the thought of following through on a New Year’s resolution to “lose weight.”

Bernard is better qualified than most to evaluate her odds of making a life change. As the founder of LGS, a professional coaching agency based in Woodbridge, she makes her living by assessing the factors that cause her clients to succeed or fail during professional and personal transitions. And she knows that although New Year’s resolutions are a classic reason to attempt these transitions, they are often more synonymous with wishful thinking than successful change.

Bernard says this is because most people don’t make resolutions for the right reasons. “It has to be about you,” she explained.

“One of the key points is knowing why. Exactly why are you setting this New Year’s resolution? If you can’t start out with five strong reasons you’re making this resolution, it’s not likely to be successful.”

Bernard said she knew she would not have enough passion to complete the abstract goal of “losing weight.” But for years she’d wanted to learn to rock climb. So for 2007 she resolved to join a climbing gym.

“Here’s a resolution that entails a lot more of who I am and what I enjoy. Therefore it’s going to be a lot easier to follow through on it.”

As Bernard, a former Marine, learned, being ambitious in one area of life often means neglecting another. Regular exercise often falls victim to other priorities in the notorious time crunch that leaves many Americans scrambling to schedule adequate doses of work, family and relaxation. Time-savers, like driving everywhere and eating out, can leave more time to spend with family, but they often mean less nutritious food and a less active lifestyle.

BERNARD STRESSED that losing weight and getting in shape means finding a specific activity. Fortunately, the Alexandria area offers a host of options. At Pacer’s Running Store in Old Town, employee Brian Collins said he deals with many customers who are looking for their first pair of running shoes. He said the enthusiasm of new runners can sometimes lead them to push too hard when they are just starting out.

“Regardless of what you’re doing – biking, running, going to a gym – I think one of the really important things for someone who’s just getting into it is to just take it slow. It’s tempting when you have a New Year’s resolution to really pound it for a couple weeks, but you’re just gonna get hurt.”

And to maintain that enthusiasm past the first few weeks, Collins recommended the motivation of working out with a group. “Try to build a support system, a network of friends. Join a group. If it’s just you getting up with that alarm clock in the morning, it’s not going to happen.”

Collins recommended the free “fun runs” that Pacer’s organizes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. Participants meet in front of the store at 1301 King St. and take a tour through Alexandria, breaking up into pace groups that range from beginners to marathoners. “You make friends,” Collins said. “It ends up being more than about the exercise.”

Maria Pradilla, the president of Generations Dance and Fitness Studio at 816 N. St. Asaph St., echoed that sentiment. She believes people return to her dance classes, “because it’s fun. It’s social, so you’re always with people. And the music is great. You’re always motivated not because you want to lose weight but because you want to spend time with people that you know.”

Pradilla said her dance students move constantly during the 45-minute classes, keeping their heart rates up. Learning the “rise and fall” technique for the waltz may entail a session of deep knee bends. The twists of the Latin dances strengthen muscles in the body’s core. And learning to dance is a goal that requires months of commitment, Pradilla said, enough time for habits to be formed and activity ingrained into her clients’ lifestyles. “People think they’ll be in one night a week, but they end up being here three or four nights a week instead of eating a big dinner or sitting in front of a TV.”

TED QUINN LEAVES his townhouse in Alexandria at 7 in the morning and doesn’t get home until 7 at night. Teaching for ten hours a day at a Catholic elementary school near Capitol Hill, Quinn said that fitting a workout into his day would force him to get up before 5 a.m. or cut into his few hours to relax in the evenings.

Instead, he has replaced the 80 or so minutes he would spend immobile in a subway car with 90 minutes pedaling his bicycle. Quinn said the 14-mile round trip, much of it spent on the Mount Vernon bike trail, takes almost exactly the same time as a similar trip by Metro. “It’s a great way to get exercise built into your day. I love the chance to just clear your head in the morning and also in the evening. Just to feel the wind in your face.”

Quinn describes himself as a “weather optimist” who will ride on a clear morning despite a rainy forecast. He will shift his attire to match the weather, riding shirtless or wearing multiple layers, but what has carried him through the heat of an Indian summer and the cold of dark winter mornings is philosophical more than sartorial. Quinn will never force himself to ride on days he’s not feeling it. He calls these occasional breaks “Overall-Will-To-Ride Days.”

“You don’t need to be obsessive about it. Its something you should do because you enjoy it and you like getting the exercise. But you shouldn’t force yourself and decrease your overall will to ride. I think that sometimes forcing yourself to exercise when you really need a day off is counterproductive. But in most cases I look forward to the ride in the morning, and am glad that I’m able to do it.”

But for some people, whether because of time, injury, expense, or inclination, no form of exercise will ever be a passion. They simply want to get the health benefits they need from a dose of exercise they’re willing to swallow.

Cuts for Men, which opened Aug. 3 at 6328 Richmond Highway, is a gym for people who don’t make exercise a hobby, said the franchise’s owner, Dave Hommerbocker.

The gym is a circle of 17 exercise machines, including stacked weight machines, a bike and stair-steppers. Every 40 seconds, a recorded voice tells participants to get up and move to the next machine. Participants start anywhere in the loop and do three circuits, checking their heart-rate regularly to ensure they are pushing themselves at the most effective aerobic level. From beginners to the already-fit, 30 minutes of steady exercise on the machines leaves participants sweaty and tired.

Hommerbocker estimated that over 60 percent of Cuts clients had not worked out in “a long time,” anywhere from five years to “since high school.” Most are between 30 and 60. The youngest is 24, the oldest 69. “We’re trying to create another community here, where people can just come in. They don’t really care what they look like. They’re doing it for their health.”