MASTER CLASS: Exercise gets a bit easier if you make a game of it

Josh Holt, fitness director at Little Rock Racquet Club, demonstrates the Triceps Gravity Press for Matt Parrott's Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
Josh Holt, fitness director at Little Rock Racquet Club, demonstrates the Triceps Gravity Press for Matt Parrott's Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

Maintaining regular physical activity can be a challenge in the cold. Neighborhood walks, yard work and park visits aren't appealing at freezing temperatures.

When indoor exercise is the only real option, I like to "gameify" my workouts.

Gameification is a term that has become popular among fitness experts over the past decade or so as activity tracking devices have entered the market. There are thousands of variations on the game-playing theme, but the basic idea is to use workout data to create miniature challenges for oneself — either during an exercise session or over a longer period of time.

For example, I track my heart rate during every workout. I know that my ideal heart rate is 145 to 165 beats per minute. So I gauge my effort level (during cardiovascular training) using my heart rate monitor. If it's reading below 145, I kick up the intensity a little. Conversely, a reading of 166 or higher means I need to back down.

It's a little game that makes a workout more fun, particularly if I'm using a cardio machine and introduce elevation changes and speed changes that manipulate heart rate one way or the other.

Long-term gameification is even more fun, because the data become aggregate. Someone interested in weight loss, for example, might track caloric expenditure during each workout. As workouts pile up, the cumulative calories rise until the number looks huge. I like to set little rewards at different points in the journey, so there's incentive to reach milestones. For a beginning exerciser, I might set an incentive every 10,000 calories. If they average 500 calories per session, they would be rewarded every 20 workouts.

The reward value is relative for each exerciser, but it should be something personal and meaningful. For some, rewards will come in the form of self-care, such as a massage or nail appointment. For others, the reward might be dinner at their favorite restaurant. Attaching incentives helps break up the monotony, but it also reminds us to stop and smell the roses — to enjoy our accomplishment and recognize our efforts. Lord knows we need self-appreciation after the past year, right?

This week's exercise is a creative twist that is perfect for an incentive-based program. The Triceps Gravity Press can be performed on the floor or an exercise bench and requires only a pair of dumbbells.

1. Select a pair of medium-weight dumbbells and lie face up on an exercise bench.

2. Holding one dumbbell in each hand, extend both arms straight up from the chest.

3. From this position, bend both elbows until they reach 90 degrees. The dumbbells should be lowered to around ear level at the lowest position.

4. Once you reach this point, extend both arms horizontally until they are fully extended and in line with the rest of your body.

5. Bring the arms back in until the elbows are at 90 degrees.

6. Continue pressing the arms horizontally as you hold the weight against gravity 100% of the time.

7. Perform two sets of 10 reps.

Sometimes, one's incentive comes in the form of progress. Last week, I received a note from a reader who started an indoor walking program in her home by using her staircase.

She started slowly but has worked her way up to stepping 3 miles per day, six days per week. As a result, she has lost 10 pounds over the past year and couldn't be happier.

If you have a story about your pandemic workout, or simply want to ask me a question, shoot me a message. I'd love to hear from you.

Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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