20 Years Searching for Workouts Taught Me These 10 Things

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As What’s Your Workout ends, its columnist looks back on what she has taken from Sarah Palin, Rafael Nadal and many extraordinary amateur athletes


By Jen Murphy – WSJ

After a marathon run, What’s Your Workout has reached the finish line and come to an end. Over nearly 20 years, I’ve featured some truly extraordinary and inspiring routines and gleaned invaluable fitness strategies from pro athletes, executives, and normal folks.

For the debut column in 2004, I shared my routine. The headline sums it up: “Sleeping in Shorts the Secret to Journalist’s Rigorous Routine.” I’d roll out of bed, put on my shoes and go for a run nearly every morning, typically after no more than five hours of sleep.

I still wake up at 5:30, sometimes earlier, but it’s been years since I’ve slept in my gym shorts, thank goodness. At 43, I’m stronger than I was in my 20s. Consider this: At 24, I could do zero pull-ups. Now I can do seven.

The first subject I profiled, Jim Sud, then an executive with Whole Foods, was also a runner and gave me some sage advice: Evaluate your week and decide when another workout might be counterproductive.

My column on the midnight running routine of Sarah Palin was an early national feature on the vice-presidential candidate. Other high-profile names from the archives: tennis star Rafael NadalRev. Al Sharpton, weather anchor Al Roker, and a triumvirate of U.S. ski legends: Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso, and Mikaela.

Skip Bayless lifts weights for a 2015 profile. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER BEAUCHAMP FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Older doesn’t have to equal slower

With smart training, you can speed up with age. After adding tempo work to his routine, Ken Rideout has emerged as one of the world’s top over-50 runners, and he keeps improving. By training with younger, quicker runners, Erica Stanley-Dottin clocked a faster New York Marathon time at age 49 than at age 35. At 75, Marsha O’Loughlin of Texas trained with her local high-school track team.

Erica Stanley-Dottin had improved her marathon time by the time she hit her late 40s.  PHOTO: ANTHONY GEATHERS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

It’s never too late to get competitive

Many people I’ve profiled didn’t discover sports or exercise until later in life. The competition helped fuel their passion. Charlotte Sanddal started swimming at 72 and was breaking world records at age 100. “Swimming gives me purpose and focus,” she told me. “And I like having someone to chase.” When Leon Malmed got bored of golfing, he took up cycling in his late 60s and began competing, and winning, at 78.

Leon Malmed took up cycling later in life. PHOTO: PHOTO BY RYAN ANGEL MEZA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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Exercise doesn’t have to feel like work. Make it fun by trying youthful activities. At 60, ad executive Ben Hart found joy in breakdancing. Tech executive Kari Clark made cartwheels a regular part of her routine. Former Lexington, N.C., Mayor Newell Clark would lead group workouts through the city’s parks using swing sets and monkey bars as equipment. And Bob Myers, former general manager of the Golden State Warriors, played full-court, one-on-one hoops with staffers and team members.

Ben Hart, an advertising copywriter, started breakdancing well into adulthood. PHOTO: RYAN COLLERD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Change your routine to work with your life stage

Career or family obligations are the top reasons people let their fitness lapse. Rather than abandon exercise, Henry and Betsy Schloss, a Denver couple who loved long-distance races, swapped high mileage for high-intensity training when they became parents.

Henry and Betsy Schloss run with their sons in Washington Park near their Denver home in 2017. PHOTO: THEO STROOMER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Challenge yourself by mixing things up

Everyone, even pro athletes, falls into a workout rut. World champion water skier Camille Duvall found a new challenge in rock climbing. Olympic track champion Carl Lewis has stayed fit through trapeze and aerial silks workouts.

Carl Lewis demonstrates his high-flying workout. PHOTO: JULIE SOEFER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

There are some wacky workouts out there

If you’re not a gym person, there are plenty of untraditional ways to keep fit. Some of the most novel activities I’ve covered over the years include bellyaching (a mashup of surfing and kayaking), mountain unicyclingpogo-sticking, and archery dodgeball.

Darren Reckner played on a competitive archery dodgeball team near Cincinnati. PHOTO: ANDREW SPEAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Make your workout a ritual to look forward to

The anticipation of watching the sunrise atop the 6,863-foot summit of Mount Sanitas in Boulder, Colo., gets entrepreneur Jay Palmer out of bed to hike before dawn, no matter the weather.

Jay Palmer of Boulder, Colo., embraced a pandemic routine of hiking Mount Sanitas every morning. PHOTO: DAVID CLIFFORD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Don’t fear setting high goals

Committing to a goal can help you stick to a training routine. Grammy Award-winning DJ Paul Oakenfold had never hiked when he agreed to trek to perform at Mount Everest’s South Base Camp in 2017. Chef Charlie Layton and restaurateur Ben Towill had never rowed before signing up for an ocean rowing competition of 3,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic. Their year of training whipped them into shape.

When Eric Greensmith was winding down his medical career, he was 50 years older and 40 pounds heavier than in his rookie year as a Jersey Shore lifeguard. Twice-daily workouts and a revamped diet helped him pass the lifeguard requalifying test and get back on the tower at age 67.



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