I couldn't help noticing how the stacks of my magazines were becoming increasingly unruly, so I went to the basement to retrieve a few handy-dandy cardboard filing cases that I'd purchased from Ikea some months back. I was shocked and appalled to see that the spares I was counting on were now full. Adding more old magazines to our already creaking shelves would be a difficult sell for my wife, so I bit the bullet and rolled up my sleeves to do a little culling.
The choice was glaringly obvious. Within 15 minutes I had bundled and brought to the curb four years' worth of Men's Health Magazine.
Four years — what possessed me? The Post Office Ladies smirked whenever they handed me the monthly ish; my wife cocked one eyebrow in benign amusement; even my three-year old daughter thought the covers were a joke (after seeing yet another example of gay beefcake frolicking in the sea, she said, "Daddy, that man looks like he dipped his head in the potty!") But my rationale, such as it was, was quite simple: I thought if I subscribed to the magazine I'd be a trimmer, fitter person.
The magazine subscription, in other words, was what marketers refer to as an aspirational purchase. Some yobs put on a Ferrari ball cap before they get in their Dodge Neon to drive to Costco; every month I parked an issue of MH by the crapper. The majority of the magazine is formatted for just such reading, and I figure I read most issues from cover to cover. One of the magazine's mottoes is, "Tons Of Useful Stuff," and the claim isn't too far off the mark: they do fill the pages with quick summaries of various scientific studies, and run longer pieces on pertinent subjects like medical insurance and heart health. And Lord knows I didn't mind the many pictures of pretty girls in lacy things. But there's no reason to keep these magazines around for longer than a month. And as I concluded shortly before turning 40, there was no reason for me to purchase the magazine at all.
To be fair to the (former) editing staff and my (formerly) aspirational self, there were two years running when I adopted and followed the headline workout programs. Most of the programs that get mentioned in the sidelines are chiefly exercises of a particular coach's imagination (the recent emphasis on "core" fitness produces some spectacularly flexible workout regimens, most of which strike me as suspiciously frivolous in their goals), but the two that caught my imagination were sold as the (excuse me) meat of the magazine, and had every indication of being carefully considered before getting published as progressive, year-long regimens.
The first was developed by Ian King, and while it had no shortage of oddball exercises (in the eye of this beholder, of course: I don't know why I think the barbell rollout is more peculiar than the bench press, but I do) it generated some very notable strength gains and altered my physique enough that my wife eventually commented on it (favorably, thank you). He's published something similar with former MH contributor Lou Schuler, here. While I don't own the book, the program looks similar enough to the one I followed that I'd recommend it to anyone keen to ramp up their workout — with one caveat: if you follow the program religiously, there will come a point about midway through it when the workout sessions break the one-hour mark. They return to saner proportions, but I'm at the age where I simply can't justify that kind of time on something as frivolous as physique, when I could be doing something funner, like reading your blog.
The year after the King workouts, MH published a "home or gym" series that became the basis for this book (another Lou Schuler byproduct, this time with the help of Michael Mejia). I've little to say about that, except that the book is just the thing for guys like me, who consider working out in a gym to be a huge disincentive.
At one point I bought and adopted the magazine-sanctioned diet. Within three weeks I actually had to let out my belt, so I promptly went back to my usual. I don't consider myself an especially conscious eater, so my only conclusion from that experiment is that North American eating habits have become wildly removed from my grandmother's plain common sense: ie, whole grains are better than processed, any food you prepare is better than something prepared for you (especially if it's in a can), etc.
Near the end of my tenure as a subscriber, the magazine published a one-off piece by a guy who had the temerity to ask significant questions about quality of life. He noted how gyms have enough people running on treadmills to generate electricity for entire states, and wondered what his father, an old-world type, would think. The old man wasn't the sort to engage in exercise for exercise's sake; if he found himself with some spare time, and he finished his nap, he'd go to the docks to stack pallets for a few extra bucks. When the son asked dad how he kept his waste-band at a consistent 34, the dad gave him a pained look and said, "When the pants got tight, I put less on my plate."
We do what we do. Note the firewood behind the magazines: a couple of weeks back I stacked two bush-cords of hardwood. The fact that this didn't result in two weeks' worth of pain and misery is due in no small part to the program, such as it is, that I currently follow. This is it, tweaked somewhat to accommodate Peter's helpful advice. Doesn't last longer than 30 minutes, for more than three times a week, tops. I could stand to drop one of those workouts in exchange for more walking, but maybe I'll make that change in the new year.
In the meantime, I've got a few more magazines to get rid of.