The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image

The Secrets of Not Staying Fit

Over years of hard work, I mastered the art of not staying fit. By clever ersatz manoeuvres, I log exercises every day, yet my body mass index stays steadily under twenty, and my stature is that of a Gulag survivor.

The Kazakh steppe

Kazakhstan, the beautiful backdrop of many Gulag camps — none of which I was imprisoned in. Yet.

If you wish not to stay fit, you must observe two guiding principles: major efforts should be sporadic, and training in between should be continuous but superficial.

Undertaking major challenges is important to add structure to your life. Otherwise the unmarked years you keep accumulating fade into oblivion. Challenges, however, must be sufficiently rare, and proper training should never precede them.

Once I rollerbladed across Singapore — from Tuas Checkpoint to Changi Beach — covering a distance of 75km. My preparation was nil, and I was also never able to explain why I did it. If you are yet to experience what it means to rollerblade for eight and a half hours, anticipate pain. Pain derives from repetitive stress injury, and also from the occasional fall. One fall was spectacular: I was blazing down from a bridge, but the pavement at the base of the bridge had gravel over it. Successfully losing my balance, I gloriously slid on my front side for several meters. Having finished the full distance, I was not able to stand up for three days, and I spent hours admiring my war injuries.

Rollerblading in Singapore

How not to rollerblade.

Similarly, my knees were out of order for several days after my first marathon. My right shin bone was also in rebellious pain. In the weeks prior, I had done some easy jogging in the park that one may call ‘preparation’. My jogs followed a predictable pattern. If I found a nice butt to follow, I happily jogged through mile after mile. If not, my brain always found a great excuse why five kilometres were more than plenty for that day.

Sure, if you prepare, you might actually enjoy what you are doing. I prepared properly for climbing Aconcagua, and I had a great time during the expedition — except for the part when I detached from the team and got lost in the dark. My second marathon was a sustained high — my last three kilometres were the fastest I ever clocked. But that is not the point. The point is to feel heroic for enduring pain.

Every now and then I get fed up with my scrawny appearance. I made one serious attempt to gain weight. I signed up to a high-end gym and contracted a personal trainer. I devoured a steak for lunch every day, and I force-fed myself with a large meat-lover pizza every evening. Dozens of raw egg whites vanished in my bowels daily. My kidneys were sweating protein. I went to the gym five days a week. Over two months, I managed to put on two and a half kilos. Subsequently I lost seven kilos in about ten days when I experimented with a raw vegan diet. You hear a lot about vegan athletes, but reports about raw vegan body builders are few and far between — there is a reason why.

A few years earlier I embarked on a different exercise regime. The motivation had nothing to do with my scarecrow build. I needed veins. I had no veins, and with no veins, I would not have qualified for clinical trials, which in turn would have blocked me from a decent top up on my scholarship. So I started on a rapid vein development programme: I had a month to develop bulging veins that sprayed blood just by looking at them. My strategy consisted of a haphazard collection of cardio exercises — mainly interval runs, jumping jacks, and whatever other nonsense I could find in online sources. The rapid vein development programme was a massive failure, and I eventually did not qualify for the clinical trial. The exercises stopped immediately, the effort was not sustainable. It was another three years later when my veins decided to bulge themselves enough to qualify me for a study.

Apart from the spasmodic efforts, I have been maintaining an exercise schedule for about three years. I work out between thirty to sixty minutes five to six times a week, yet there is no visible result. The only success I ascribe to the routine is that the swelling of flesh is under control for the time being. Otherwise, I am skin, bones, and a dash of subcutaneous fat. The real purpose of the workouts is to have entries in my exercise log, so I will have someone else to blame when my health will deteriorate at a much faster pace.

I run two to three times a week, proceedings at a slowest speed that could still be perceived as not walking. If I stay near a hill or a nature reserve, I always go running there, so the terrain excuses me for not running faster. Mud is perfect: it slows me down like nothing else. My heartbeat seldom exceeds eighty.

Then I do abs and core exercises, at least that is what I call them. The routines are a hodgepodge of planks, wall-sits, crunches — basically anything that does not make a difference will do. I used to incorporate asanas from hatha yoga, but stretching is unbearably painful, so I gradually stopped doing them. Once I finish my exercises for the day, I feel I am overachiever: behold the joy of instant gratification.

If you are eager to delve into the art of how not to stay fit, I must start with a caveat: I had a good head start. I was exempted from PE all my school life. For the first two decades of my time on this planet, I did not do more exercise than running after the bus every once in a while. I can thank my non-athletic past to a bone development condition: I grew to a normal height, but my skeleton is half the weight of a normal person. This helps me sustaining my Gulag survivor image. I excel at few things, but not staying fit is one of them.

Dire city scape in a disintegrating Eastern European capital.

The lovely neighbourhood of my formative years where I did not exercise.

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