The subway system in New York seems like it's about to collapse under its own weight. Every week, there's at least one major delay that has an impact on thousands of commuters, fouling up their day and preventing them from getting to where they need to be on time. But there's a bright side. Did you know: If you breathe deeply and evenly, hold your abs tight, and keep your hands to yourself, getting really pissed off about the state of the MTA can be nearly as effective as a Bar Method workout? Everyone complains that they don't have enough time to work out, but it doesn't have to be that difficult. There are exercises you can do on the subway and not look like a complete weirdo!
Forget the machines at the gym, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, or walking that extra stop is great for your body – and can also prevent you from getting trapped in a fetid subterranean commuter Hell of DeBlasio and/or Cuomo's making. Getting to and from work is a perfect opportunity to get fit and strong... and avoid a bunch of people or having a mental breakdown.
And although your commute (either way) doesn't seem like a whole lot of time to expend working out, little forms of exercise throughout the day certainly start adding up. As Doctor of Physical Therapy Laura Mannering (who also happens to be a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy on top of being certified in MDT) points out, "It's clear that short amounts of movement – any type of movement – dispersed throughout the day are beneficial. This movement can even be functional so it's easily incorporated into your day –think walking instead of using transportation, climbing stairs in lieu of elevators, using a treadmill desk, or washing dishes versus putting them in the dishwasher. This benefits many if not all of the systems in our body."
So why not transform your morning commute into a workout? Here are five exercises you can do on the subway:
Listen, I get it. We're all exhausted and I know we all want to sit down on the train, but standing can be a great way to set the foundation for a healthy body. You're on a packed train, someone's backpack, which they have been specifically told to remove by the subway robot voice, is digging into your shoulder blade, and it really sucks. But, instead of slouching against a pole in defeat, you can use this time to work on your posture and focus on your alignment.
First, plant your feet hips width distance apart. Now move your shoulder blades onto your back and note the feeling that you're balancing your skull on top of your spine. Hold your abs tight. Now bare your teeth. Yeah, you read that right, bare your teeth.
In a normal situation you could smile, or not, but this is the subway, so your goal should be to look as scary as possible. If you were a blowfish, I would tell you to inflate, but you're not, so the best you can do is show your fangs like the wolf that you are, and stare down every person who gets on that train until you have a 3-foot space around your perfectly aligned standing form. That's how you ride the dang subway and make it out alive.
I live near a subway station that has two flights of escalators. It takes almost two full minutes to get to the top of them, and then there is another set of stairs before you get to the actual platform. That's a sh*tload of stairs! I make it a goal to walk up all of those stairs every morning when I'm on my way to work for several reasons:
A. It's SO fun to gaze smugly over at the people on the escalator as you pass them by, making good time on the stairs. Look at those sheeple, just blithely waiting for the robot stairs to deposit them onto the next level. Not me, I control my own destiny and the amount of sweat on my back, so I take the real stairs instead of riding those slow-ass metal ones.
B. The stairs, as much as we all hate them, are a great way to get your blood pumping and kick your metabolism into high gear for the rest of the day. Making the switch from the escalator is a great way to feel strong and smug all day, and isn't that what life's all about? As Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise confirms, "Stair climbing will give you a little more bang for your buck because of the vertical component." The incline is what really gets the blood pumping and makes it more effective than flat-surface fitness, like running.
Yes, I said it. Fume! Fume about the fact that your train is being held in the station because of train traffic ahead, even though you had to wait 20 minutes for this train, meaning there couldn't possibly be trains ahead of it. Fume about the fact that an empty express train just flew by you, and the local that actually stopped is packed to the gills with suitcases and strollers. Fume away! Get all hot and bothered, it's good for your metabolism and it's OK to be pissed and annoyed and frustrated for a minute, but only for a minute, and then it's time to take control by using your breath to calm yourself down.
When you're stressed your cortisol levels increase, according to dietician and health coach Jill Corleone. That chemical ups your metabolism, but only at first. Continued stress sees cortisol eating away at your muscles, and you don't want that. So, after you've had a good fume, try this technique.
Breathe in for four breaths, hold for four breaths, exhale for four breaths, hold for four breaths. This is the tactic Navy Seals use to stay calm under pressure. It should at least help a little bit when an elementary school group and a guy with a bunch of catering food get on your already-full subway car.
Dude, you literally never know when the next train is going to come. The transportation system is crumbling before our very eyes. Today, this very moment, could be it's last. Five years ago, you could afford to wait for the next one, but now? Today? Too risky.
If you're close to making the train you should make every effort to make the train because it might be the last. Ever. SO F#%*ING RUN!
OK, this is a weird one, but the first rule of the NYC transit system is that you cannot possibly be the weirdest person or thing on the train. It's impossible. I once wore a unicorn suit on the F train into Manhattan on a Wednesday night and I was probably the 12th weirdest person in my car alone. So don't feel weird about flexing all of your fine, strong muscles as you sit or stand trapped underground because there is a signal malfunction at the Hell Mouth known as West 4th Street.
First, make strong eye contact with whomever is sitting across from you to establish your dominance. Then, starting with your feet, try to concentrate on flexing every individual muscle in your body. It's a fun exercise to find where they all are, and flexing them stimulates them, so it's kind of like lifting weights.
Eye contact with the person across from you should remain unbroken at all times, and ideally you should squint your eyes every time you flex a new muscle. Congratulations. You are now the weirdest person on the train.
Now, obviously these tips are very New York-centric, but they can be applied to anyone in any city or town because nobody's public transportation is particularly great. Boston? It's a mess. DC? Why are those stations so deep in the ground. San Diego? Do they even have public transportation?
Anywhere you live you can find time to focus on your alignment, get in a few flights of stairs a day, and focus on your breathing. Just these small steps, repeated every day, can go really far toward contributing to a healthy lifestyle. And making you the weirdest person around. Weird is wonderful!
Welcome to No Sweat: an exhausted girl's guide to squeezing in fitness. This content package is for the woman who wants to find an exercise routine that doesn't feel like a chore. No Sweat isn't changing the shape of your body; it's about feeling stronger, happier, and more energetic. Because working out doesn't mean you have to break a sweat.