Pacific Northwest | November 30, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineNovember 30, home
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The Total Package
A YMCA project aims to help us hang in there — for life
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The FitLinxx system automatically charts your workout to let you know if you're doing things symmetrically. Offering a variety of ways to chart your fitness course, it can make everyday workouts more meaningful.
WHEN I WAS an oblivious 7-year-old, exercise came as naturally as the dirt on my shirts. So I felt a twinge of envy several weeks ago when I came across a photo of myself, young and smirking. It seemed that smug little kid was taunting me for getting old and burdened with life's details.

Here and now, in the real exercise world, things get complicated. Many of us need a partner, a coach, a goal, a plan if we are to sustain a fitness program. What we get are one-minute-abs come-ons when we yearn for long-lasting motivation.

The Northshore YMCA in Mill Creek has been tackling a holistic strategy designed to help spot and fix what leads people to fall off track. About 3,000 participants at 10 YMCAs along the West Coast joined an experiment called the Healthy Habits Project, developed by Stanford University. The project aims to learn the most effective ways to change behavior, promote healthier habits, identify reasons for sticking with or quitting exercise programs, and building success.

Participants take stock of themselves and identify what they'd like to change. Then they take steps to alter habits, monitor effort, break through plateaus and weather setbacks.
 Fitness Notebook

Fitness news you can use

Step out of the routine

Are you so bored with your workout that the couch looks even more inviting? The American Council on Exercise suggests you evaluate your routine and consider variety.

Try cardio-funk or kickboxing instead of step aerobics, or hoisting free weights instead of working on machines. If you've always worked out indoors, logging miles on a treadmill, stairclimber or stationary bike, move your workout outside for a change of scenery. Run, hike or bike on trails; swim in a lake instead of the pool.

A number of participating Northshore club members were asked to also take part in group sessions with peers to learn from and inspire one another. It wasn't for everyone. Some quit going to the meetings because they found the holistic discussions too fuzzy and deeper than they cared to go.

Doug Haley, though, hung in and thrived. When he began, he was carrying too many pounds and his cholesterol and blood pressure were high. He took to the YMCA's indoor track a year ago, and made it one lap — that's 1/19th of a mile. In October, 30 pounds lighter, he ran in the Portland Marathon and beat his time goal.

Because taking continuous stock was a big part of his program, he used an automated system at the club known as FitLinxx. Essentially, it's an automated personal trainer, recorder and coach. While the Healthy Habits program emphasizes leaning on and urging peers, Haley loved working with the system. He and I are the same age, so I was inspired enough to give what he did a whirl.

By plugging my ID code into a small console connected to the weight machines, my lifting was tracked and stored. The system recorded the loads I lifted, the number of reps and the main body parts getting exerted. It was also a taskmaster, refusing to count a rep unless I did the correct range of motion. It alerted me if I was going too slowly or too fast. It automatically logged the data.

Some of the club's aerobic machines are tied to the system, recording aerobic data such as distance, heart rates, calories burned. I manually recorded details of my other efforts, whether lifting free weights or going on Sunday-morning walks. I could log onto the system from home or work to enter my data. Most seductive were the totals, standings, pie charts and graphs. I could visualize my workout. The sweating didn't seem so aimless.

Being competitive from birth, I also got caught up in the comparisons to the exercise of others. After three workouts I found myself 297th on the weight-lifting total for all the members who use the system at various Y's. By shrewdly factoring in my age and gender and limiting the database to a particular month and that particular club, I zoomed to 63rd. I'd have to do the work myself if I was going to climb further.

Despite this, the system and the Y's Total Health program constantly remind you to work within yourself to eliminate injury or other setbacks. The Web site ( is replete with tips on all aspects of health. I'd drop out from boredom if I tried running a marathon like Haley did. But then, he had never imagined he would want to, either. Now he is planning another, and has gotten relatives involved, too. That's what the Healthy Habits project seeks to do: Spread the word.

Using a system like that, a busy, distracted person like me can find a bit more meaning in workouts. I don't need to lose weight, so the scale isn't a measure. General health is the goal — and that's hard to see.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine writer.

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