I’ve never lacked the awareness that I’m not a professional athlete.
But I’ve never been quite so aware of that fact as I was on a recent Tuesday morning, sucking wind through my fabric mask during a series of sprints designed for that select group on a stretch of grass on the Esplanade.
The person who prescribed the sprints was Yo Murphy, a trainer I talked to while reporting a story on what NFL players are doing to stay in shape while gyms are closed. Every couple of weeks, Murphy likes his player-clients to set a timer — 8 minutes for those over 260 pounds, 10 minutes for the rest — and do as many 80-yard sprints as they can in that time, jogging or resting in between. It’s a way to track performance over time.
There’s no workout bonus in my contract, but I’ve spent lots of time lately thinking about how to stay in shape while mostly confined to my 700-square-foot apartment. (I am very lucky this is my biggest current issue.)
I’ve mostly been running along the Esplanade when it isn’t crowded or doing Exhale’s on-demand barre classes at home. I have some resistance bands, light weights, and a yoga mat.
My roommate and I used to joke about how silly it is that our apartment, with a kitchen we can’t both fit in at once, has a pretty big back patio. Right now, though, it’s our most useful square footage since we can get outside without, you know, actually going outside.
I do yoga and the barre videos out there a few times a week when it’s nice out. I’m terrible at getting myself to exercise inside, which means my fitness is weather-dependent. I have no solution for this.
I miss the music and the atmosphere and the having-somewhere-to-be of my normal spin/boot-camp/barre class routine but, shockingly, I don’t feel out of shape two-plus months in. Running is great exercise that I usually find annoying, but now I have no choice.
Feeling proud of my maintained athleticism, I decided to try Murphy’s sprints test for myself.
I walked the 2 miles from Beacon Hill to Magazine Beach on the Cambridge side of the river, which I’d noticed on runs was usually empty. I found a good stretch of grass and paced off 80 yards. I had to ballpark it, but one thing I learned when writing about NFL players’ current setups is that they have far less equipment at home than I’d have guessed, so they’re ballparking things, too.
I set a timer on my phone for 10 minutes and got set.
Two sprints in, I needed to seriously recalibrate my pacing. Strange gutteral noises were coming out of my mouth with each exhale. I had to fight the impulse to slow my sprints instead of taking more rest, which isn’t the point of the exercise.
In the end, I completed 11 sprints in my 10-minute allotment.
I’d love to tell you I’ll return to the exercise and track my progress, but I will not. Beyond the novelty and the brevity of the test, I mostly hated it. There’s a lot more actual physical pain involved when your exercise habits are goal-oriented as they are for pro athletes.
That was the other thing Murphy and I talked a lot about: Players are used to training for specific benchmarks, because they hit athletic peaks they can’t maintain year-round, so it’s hard to know what to do when the calendar is in flux, as it is now. No one wants to burn out, but if there’s a short runway when things do start up again, those ready for high-intensity work will be favored.
When I exercise, however, it’s less in the pursuit of specific goals than it is to avoid the unwanted side effects of my Oreos problem and keep myself sane. That’s probably not going up on the wall of anyone’s gym any time soon, but it works for me.
It’s also why you won’t catch me doing sprints in the park again any time soon.