I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Mace: How to Get Out of Your Exercise Rut


I’m getting bored by my exercise routine. Considering how often I got detention for cutting gym in Samuel Tilden High, it’s amazing that I have an exercise routine at all, boring or otherwise.

Still, after 10 years at the same treadmill…countless squats and lifts…and classes, I need to come to grips with the truth.

I am no longer in love with Zumba. Yoga leaves me cold, and my mind wanders to thoughts of cheesecake during tai chi. I am fantasizing about cheating on my exercise routine with younger, trendier strategies. Or I might leave exercise all together and just grow flabby.

Forfend! This would be a healthy aging disaster and a real detriment to my goal of looking “hot” at 80 and beyond.

Help! I called in my not-so-old friend, exercise guru, Tracy Billings, to patch up my relationship with exercise. We met at my gym at Hunterdon Healthcare, and I confessed everything—how I had cut down the time on the stepper…did only two reps of weights not three…and when it came to the exercise machines, I was truly just phoning it in.

Tracy listened…but remained silent.

She left the gym and returned a few minutes later with—wait for it—a mace.

Yes, an iron mace without the medieval spikes. For those who don’t know, a mace is a long stick with a cannonball on one end. “Let’s do some functional new exercises”, she said. “Where on earth did you get a mace?” I asked, astonished. “Do you carry that thing around with you?”

“No,” Tracy replied. I keep it in my car.

It turns out that exercising with a mace is one type of functional exercise, which is not new at all.

Functional exercises duplicate the moves of active daily living, such as gardening, shoveling snow, carrying items up the stairs, taking out heavy garbage or playing a sport. These exercises work multiple muscle groups at the same time while preparing you for the activities of daily life. So if such exercises are just clones of the day-to-day movements of the body, why do we need exercises? Why not just get out and do stuff?

You know why.

No time…endless sitting at the computer…binge watching…and work-work-work…bad habits…bad weather…no garden. You name it—we have evolved as slugs. The movie Wall-E had it right. Darwin had it wrong. We are evolutionary couch potatoes.

Today, it’s the survival of the “sittest,” not the fittest, as success usually means staying put for hours at a desk, not pulling a plow. We need formal exercises to do what our ancestors’bodieshad to do to survive.

So be it. Bring on the mace.

The mace is heavily weighted at the top. Holding it like a baseball bat, golf club or caveman club uses different muscles and helps you gain strength when you need it in real life, like carrying bags of goodies from Trader Joe’s or lifting your grandchild.

Tracy walked me through—or I should say squatted, lifted, jumped and twisted me through—many multimove exercises using some pretty interesting apparatus in addition to the mace.

For example, the hupla hoop. I was ahead of the game here. Check out my article on learning new things, one being the hula hoop, which I mastered after age 70. My session with Tracy was a reminder of how twisting is fun and a great waistline whittler.

Have you heard of TRX? It’s not a dinosaur. I first encountered the system on a cruise ship. TRX requires you to hold onto various straps that are hung from the ceiling and use them to lift your body weight. You also can strengthen your core and thighs by hooking your legs into the straps and lifting your middle off the floor.

There is no time to get bored.

“What else could hold my interest?” I asked Tracy. She walked me over to the heavy ropes. I felt like a sailor about to mutiny. But I held one 20-pound, seven-foot rope in each hand and pounded them against the floor until my forearms ached. The heavy-rope functional exercise will come in handy if you need to wrestle a giant squid or shake hands with a tax collector.

Did you ever lift a gorilla? I did. Which product-design genius decided to put monkey faces on kettle bells? Well, it works. While you lift the bells or, better yet, do squats holding them, it’s hard to resist naming your primate friend.

Clever, each bell has a different face so you can have fun changing the weight by changing your kettle companion.

Not all interesting exercises are functional. I have learned to use the treadmill in a new way by walking backward on it. I saw a guy do this, and it was fascinating. I can’t get speed, but it improves balance and draws admiring attention.

I also watch TV when I am facing forward, usually HGTV and cooking shows. In this way, I have learned numerous recipes that I will never make, and I am fully prepared to organize my hall closet if I ever have one. Such TV shows lift me from the day-to-day drudgery of my life to the day-to-day drudgery of other people’s lives, which I find engaging enough to endure a half hour of aerobics.

Before I decided to plug in the sound, I used to watch the TV silently. It was boring, but I learned to read lips, which dramatically enhanced my eavesdropping skills.

When it’s available, I use the treadmill with the screen that helps me pretend I am running in Australia or California. I know Wellington, New Zealand, like the back of my hand, and could be a mountain guide for Utah’s Escalante. Still, I can’t get over 4.2 in speed and 3% in incline.

My ultimate longevity exercise that never gets boring. No. Not that! Although one can burn a few calories by kissing, massaging and generally debauching. But I find it easier to change my socks than the sheets, so my “go to” exercise is walking.

I burn 255 calories an hour walking given my weight and speed of four miles per hour. Check out how many calories you burn.

With walking, as with sex, it’s nice to have a partner (although not required.) I am a proud member of Freewalkers. We walk almost 18 to 25 miles weekly and visit Europe on walking trips once a year. The big event is a walk around the Potomac by foot, a total of 50 miles in one day, every February to honor the Kennedy Walk that inaugurated the Presidential fitness campaign decades ago. (If you’re wondering, it takes me 17 hours to do that walk, including breaks to eat, schmooze and you-know-what.)

They say that “The Bigger the WHY, the easier the HOW.” Making it 50 miles while walking with friends is such a big reason for me to stay fit, that I won’t abandon my exercise after all. What motivates you? Find it and train for it…health is never boring.