Elliptical Machines for Aspie Hamsters

The thing with now being 41 is that over the years I’ve gotten into shape, and then back out of it many times.  At certain points my life was physically demanding so I was in good condition, but then things became more sedentary and I lost what I had.  At others I had a lot of free time to exercise, but then got busy and didn’t have the time any longer.  Over the years i’ve done this and that, but for me what has consistently gotten me into shape is tedious cardio.  I’m a bit of an aspie so I like goals and numbers.   The problem for me with a lot of exercise is that there is no good way to track your progress. With yoga, martial arts, even weight lifting you have a vague idea that you’re pushing hard or not, but there’s no big LED status bar telling you where you stand. I find with cardio I have numbers that make my brain want to push harder.  Before iPhones and such it was enough just to know how many miles I would hike and elevation gain.  The with the iPod and then iPhone I could track my run progress.  I would set a route, and then could track my speed.  Once I started running fast enough I would the add mileage.  It was a very good way for my brain to get into exercise.  Just start running, and don’t stop until you get to the end…

The problem for me with running is that the Baltimore area has large swings in the weather with both brutal humidity and cold. I had been running during the summer until at a certain point the humidity made it hard to breath. Most people would just find different days to run, but I’m very pattern oriented.  For me doing something everyday is best.  Stopping for a day or three due to weather gets me out of the habit.

About a year and a half ago I learned about elliptical machines.  I did then a bit for awhile, but was traveling a lot and so got of pattern.  About 2 months ago I decided it was time to get back into shape again. My life is pretty stable right now which means both I have the time to exercise, AND that I’m not getting any exercise in my day to day activity.  With the humidity of summer I wasn’t happy with running, and frankly this year I’ve been a bit gimpy.  An old car accident tweaked my back, a tetanus vaccination set off a pinched nerve on my left arm in February that only now is almost healed, and a martial arts injury to my right elbow flared a few months ago and is still a bit tweaky.  I’ve taken some bumps over the years, and am starting to see the light in regards to “low impact” exercising.  So I joined my local LA Fitness and have been plugging away on the elliptical machine most days.

I chose the LA Fitness because it’s on the main corridor into our area, and it’s in a new complex with a Wegmans grocery store that I like to shop at. Going to the gym is easier when you need to pick up a carton of tofu anyway. Another little mental trick is to force myself to go in that general direction for something else, and then since I’m there… The other thing that I like in this LA Fitness that works for my Aspie Hamster brain is that the elliptical machines are on the second floor and look down on the weight lifting area.  As I work away like a hamster on a wheel I can look down and see what all the cool kids are doing.  It’s distracting to dissect people’s form, or watch the weird old guy get wayyyy too handsy with the women working out.

With the elliptical machine what I find that I like is it works more than just the legs.  Your legs wheel about, but you also use your arms to push and pull the levers.  I can say that I definitely feel it in my shoulders and across the back after I’m done.  It also gives my arms something to do, and with my arm injuries the movement is smooth enough that it seems to have helped.  I really think my arms are feeling better for the workouts overall.

With the machines themselves what keeps me invested is the little LED progress screens.  I’m not telling anyone else what they should do, but for me those stupid little numbers really matter.  I set my workout for 60 minutes so I always do the exact same amount of time.  Then I set the difficulty level.  I started at 5, and am now up to 16.  Every 2-3 days I simply add a single level of difficulty.  It’s enough to make it harder, but not enough to be too difficult to finish.  Past that I just focus like a hamster on the Calorie count.  It shows you the calories burned in real time.  So I see how many calories I’m burning per minute, and then figure what that means for an hour.  I then use this to keep pace during the workout.  So 15 calories per minute means 900 calories per hour, which means 150 calories per 10 minutes, which means 75 calories every 5.  Literally I’m down to looking at the Calorie count and knowing at every 30 second mark whether I’m where I need to be or not.  I just keep focusing on the little Calorie number, bobbing my head to the latest Taylor Swift, and watching the old guys get handsy as the clock ticks on.

I know some people get into the whole thing about the Calorie count not being accurate.  To be clear the count is simply a metric to measure myself by.  Did I really burn 900, or 700, or 1000?  That’s not important.  For me what’s important is that within the measurements of the machine 900 is greater than 800. As I notch up the levels I can feel that the workout is harder, and by measuring myself against the calorie count it pushes me to keep a pace that does something.  At this point I end up with a shirt so wet with sweat that I have to wring it out in the sink afterwards, and generally there’s two puddles of sweat on the floor from where it flings off my elbows.

Once I hit 1000 calories in 60 minutes I’ll start adding some strength training to my routine.  What’s important for me is the pattern.  If I have something to focus on I do best.  If I always go for the elliptical, then I have a routine that I just naturally follow, and then can add to it as I go.  For myself breaking the routine in order to do a more “balanced” regime generally ends in me wandering off and not getting around to any exercise.

As always YOU DO YOU… this is just my experience and what I’m happy with…



  1. I’ve struggled with weight and staying consistent with training throughout my 20’s. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the Kinobody programs put out there by Greg O’Gallagher that I finally managed to fall into a set pattern. It’s against the grain utilizing things like intermittent fasting to make it easier to eat satisfying meals and enjoy elevated HGH during the morning however it’s not a requirement to follow the program or make progress. Some people who prefer breakfast can choose to skip dinner instead.

    What I liked about his approach is it’s simple and is built around fitting into a busy lifestyle. You strength train 3 days a week and can do cardio/abs on the off days. Sunday is the only day recommended to have completely off through an hour of walking isn’t discouraged. There’s no magic bullet solution in this program. It’s basically just nutrition hacking in a way that’s comfortable for you to feel satisfied while hitting your target calorie consumption with a good balance of proteins, fats, and carbs. Like anything else you’ve described related to other aspects of life, consistency is key. The results come on their own in time. He’s an Eckhart Tolle fan and I recommend listening to that audiobook if you haven’t already.

    I’ve been consistent with the program since January (after falling off the wagon 3 other times in previous years for many of the same reasons you stated in your post) and have gone from 215 down to 180 (5’3 height) just on the scale alone. The muscle and strength development is nice but slow since I’m more focused on cutting than putting on size.

    • Additional thoughts: As far as what numbers to focus on, the program recommends recording things like waist measurement (above and below the belly), chest, and biceps. This is amazingly effective since it helps prevent the scale from lying to you. If your key lifts are going up in the gym without gaining size on your waist then you know you’re nailing it.

  2. I like elliptical’s as running tends to murder my back #tallguyproblems. I try to use my apartment’s gym and do about 40 minutes of cardio before work in the morning. I then go back to weight train after I get off work in the evening. It works if I keep it routine and I don’t hit up the fast food during the week.

  3. I’m all about yoga. My wife got me into it, I find it to be fitness and meditation combined, and all you need is a mat and a youtube video, you don’t have to go anywhere. Having something that’s ‘right brain’ enough that I have to engage with it but isn’t actually ‘thinking’ I find to be very conducive to relaxation.

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