The exercise machine

Farm Forum

Among the exhibits at the Ag Heritage Museum is an ancient wooden treadmill. It was designed so that a sheep – or a goat, or some other small domestic animal such as a teenager – could walk upon the treadmill, thus spinning a shaft that would power such things as a clothes washer or a water pump or an iPhone charger.

There were several advantages to this system. First was portability, but only if you define “portable” as “approximately same the size and weight as a Sherman tank.” Second was the fact that should your power source fail to provide enough power, you could simply sell it.

The sheep or the goat, that is. Teenagers cannot be sold. You generally need to pay to have a teenager taken off your hands.

I have recently begun to feel a measure of empathy for the sheep.

Like many Americans, my wife and I have gotten the message that we need to “get in shape,” even though it isn’t entirely clear what shape that should be. And like many, my wife and I are gradually getting older. We have passed through the Collectable phase and are currently in our Classic years. Next up is Museum Piece.

These and other factors prompted our recent purchase of an exercise machine. The thing is called an elliptical, although I can’t see anything ovoid about its construction.

We considered joining a gym, but think it’s weird to go to a place where a bunch of strangers are straining and sweating and chuffing. We saw enough of that when we tried to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. Besides, I got my fill of locker room towel-snapping in junior high gym class.

Plus we live out in the boondocks. In the wintertime, getting into town to do a workout might involve shoveling a path out to the car, scraping off the snow and ice, trying to start the car, searching for the jumper cables and so on. After all that, who has the energy for a workout?

I personally favor a brisk walk on our township road as a means to get exercise. But this winter has brought some brutally cold weather, along with wind speeds that have bordered on supersonic. Bundling up to brave such weather requires more protective clothing than a space walk.

We quickly discovered that there are many choices regarding exercise gadgets. There is the “el cheapo” level of quality, which often involves contraptions that resemble a conglomeration of baling wire. On the other end of the spectrum is the “Cadillac” level, but some of those machines cost more than our actual car.

There are also numerous bells and whistles from which to choose. Some exercise devices have an internet connection that will track your fitness level with a web-based app. No, thanks! Bad enough that we know how out of shape we are; the NSA doesn’t need to know too.

So we have begun to work out on this elliptical thingamabob. The movements it requires are similar to that of pedaling a bike while standing, along with a slow punching motion. If you need somebody to pedal your bike uphill while delivering a slow-mo punch to someone’s face, I’m your guy.

The scenery never changes during my workout. No matter how hard or fast I pedal, I’m still stuck in the bedroom. Thank goodness for the TV! Ironically, the TV is also a major reason for us needing exercise.

The whole idea of working just to work strikes me as odd. When I was a kid, such a thing would have been deemed the height of folly. Back then, when we worked it was toward a purpose. At the end of the day, you had the satisfaction of knowing that grain had been shoveled from Point A to Point B or that your exertions in the calf pen had raised its ceiling by several inches.

Nothing comes of the effort expended on an exercise apparatus. All that energy is lost, evaporated into the ether. I might feel better about this if some of it could be used to power the TV or to help keep the earth’s magnetic field on an even keel.

Perhaps someday exercise machines will all have flux capacitors. After a predetermined amount of pedaling – KAZAM! – you’ll be transported into the future and the future you will be svelte and muscular and won’t need to work out on any silly exercise gizmos.

At least that’s what I’m hoping for. In the meantime, I’m thinking about buying a specially trained sheep to fill in whenever I can’t find time to ellipse.

If you’d like to contact Jerry to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can e-mail him at: