Exercise: Ugh or Yay!?

Liverpool Discovers - The Runner

A few blog posts back I wrote about how weight loss is not “one size fits all.” The same is true for exercise as well. I know folks who love to run but cannot stand swimming, and those who love bike riding but hate running. It is very highly individualistic. That is not to say that an “ugh” cannot turn into a “yay.”

At the Mandel JCC where I work, we offer Jump Start Orientations for all our new members. Each new member is entitled to two complimentary sessions with a trainer; one is an orientation to the cardio equipment and stretching equipment while the other focuses on the strength equipment. It is, of course, a clever way to try to get folks to sign up for personal training, but it has a more important role to play. Many people walk into a fitness center and are simply overwhelmed. There is a lot of equipment. There are people who look like they know what they are doing. There is music playing but people have on earphones. Some individuals are sweaty and grunting. It is a lot to take in unless you are used to going to a gym. The JSO helps the new member feel more like an insider; they now know one of the trainers who knows him/her back, and they can walk into the gym and have a mastery of at least some of the equipment.

In the JSOs, I often encounter new members who think they won’t like the elliptical or the stationary bike but once they try it out they decide they really enjoy it. There are also many people (like I used to be) who don’t see themselves as gym-goers or athletes or runners…but, in time, they find they have become “that person;” you know, the one who has to check an extra bag at the airport just for all their athletic gear even when they go on vacation.

A recent article on http://www.nbcnews.com talks to this very point, focusing on running. Running is one of the most difficult individual sports in which to engage; it requires perseverance, special athletic footwear, and endurance. I am not sure how or when I became a runner, but at one point I realized I was. I enjoy biking and swimming (although less so), but running is my thing and I am glad to finally be getting back into it after my foot surgery in April.

The article talks about how there is no one way to approach running. Some people like to run with others, while some like to do it alone. Some prefer a treadmill while others want a track or a trail. Some run the whole time while others walk part of it. The author, Amanda Loudin, notes that it is important to know yourself and what works for you so that you can find a way to run that is feasible and enjoyable.

This, of course, could be said of any sport. Some people like to swim competitively, while others do it for fun. There are those who enjoy a leisurely bike ride to the coffee shop, while others ride 300 miles over three days for charity. There is no “one size fits all,” there is only what fits you.

Don’t give up. Don’t be like the new members at the JCC who at first are intimidated by what they see when they walk into a huge fitness center. Rather, keep an open mind. Know yourself. Don’t try once and declare it a failure. Realize that getting into a sport and a regular routine takes time and commitment. Of course, the rewards–both physically and emotionally/spiritually–are well worth it.

Read the article at: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/how-run-guide-people-who-think-they-can-t-ncna1064311

Exercise on the Sabbath

A few days ago at the Mandel JCC, a member who is a regular and long-time runner–who knows that I am a rabbi and a personal trainer–asked me (out of curiosity, I suppose), if running is permitted on Shabbat (the Sabbath).

This was not really the kind of question that I could answer on one foot (even though my left foot is still in a boot!), but I gave him the short answer, and promised to do a little more research. The short answer (so Jewish!) is: yes…and…no. It depends.

I started my “little more research” at my favorite Halachic (Jewish legal) source, Rabbi Googlowitz. A simple search on http://www.google.com revealed a surprisingly large number of web pages on this topic.

The long and the short of it…here is the issue. Traditionally, Shabbat is seen as being observed in two general ways: Shamor (guarding) and Zachor (remembering). These two broad categories come from the fact that the Aseret Hadibrot (The Ten Commandments) appear twice in the Torah–once in the Book of Exodus and once in the Book of Deuteronomy–in almost identical form. With regard to the observance of Shabbat (the 4th Commandment), one version uses the word Shamor and the other Zachor. Commentators said that the verses differ in order to instruct us that there are two aspects to making Shabbat holy and special. One is through guarding (observing the myriad laws about what can and cannot be done on the 7th day); the other is through remembering (doing the non-legal things that bring enjoyment to the day like having a festive meal, visiting friends, studying Torah, etc.) , often referred to as Oneg (literally, “joy”). The question becomes: is running simply exerting one’s body and therefore considered to be a violation of shamor–a kind of “work” with a productive purpose…or…is running an enjoyable activity in whose participation we can derive enjoyment, and therefore a kind of Zachor/Oneg? If the answer is the former, it is forbidden; if the answer is the latter, it is permitted. So…you are allowed to run, but only if it’s fun!

This is a very condensed version of the answer, but I was surprised to find that two pretty traditional websites: http://www.aish.com (Aish HaTorah) and http://www.ohr.edu (Ohr Sameach) said pretty much the same thing. Check them out for yourself to get the sources and the context.

By far the most comprehensive article I could find on the topic was written by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Jonathan Lubliner; it was endorsed overwhelmingly by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly (the rabbinic association of the the Conservative Movement–which is ironically the name of one of the liberal/progressive branches of Judaism). He covers all kinds of exercises and the various circumstances and contexts in which athletic activities are permitted or not. Here is the web address: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/lubliner-recreation-sports-shabbat.pdf

My conclusion: like everything else having to do with exercise and athletic activity, if you’re not enjoying it…either you’re doing it wrong or perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it at all!