The Rule of 200: Fitness Edition

A while back, I introduced ProfHacker readers to my “Rule of 200.” In a nutshell, the Rule of 200 is my way of maintaining writing momentum when life gets busy by writing 200 words a day, every single day. I figured that even if I couldn’t begin my writing session until 11:00PM after a full day of teaching, I could still produce 200 words. They don’t have 200 words of unadulterated genius, or remotely close to genius; my word count simply needs to be 200 words higher when I am finished.

Recently, I have adapted this principle to my fitness routine. I try to stay active and exercise throughout the year, but I have a tendency to let things slide as the pace of the semester picks up and the demands on my time from students, advisees, and committee chairs multiply. Those demands on their own aren’t generally what breaks my habit. There is one more ingredient, however, which is both damning and just plain wrong–and yet I still fight it often. That sinister addendum is the thought that if I can’t get a full workout in, I might as well not work out at all.

It’s absurd. I know it’s absurd. And yet, it’s an excuse that rears its nasty little head subtly, sneaking under the radar for a day or a week, just long enough to break my stride and kill my momentum.

This semester, I am trying something different: I’m training for a half-marathon. I have been a runner off and on most of my adult life, but I haven’t maintained a running routine since starting on the tenure-track four years ago. This semester promises to be an especially busy one for me, so I knew that I needed an external and tangible goal to keep myself motivated. The half-marathon is that goal.

Here’s where the Rule of 200 comes in. Just as I can’t draft a chapter or an essay overnight, I know that I can’t finish a 13.1 mile race without long-term preparation.If writing a little every day can add up to an article or even a dissertation, following a similar kind of plan might also work for my training regime. If the Rule of 200 can keep me accountable and on track by encouraging modest progress on a daily basis, perhaps a similar attitude towards exercise can help me maintain my momentum when it comes to fitness.

After looking into a few different training plans recommended by friend of ProfHacker Dave Parry (@academicdave on Twitter), I settled on one of Hal Higdon’s novice plans. The plan calls for a mixture of short-runs, strength-training and cross-training in addition to one day of rest and one long run per week. Like the Rule of 200, it encourages gradual and measurable progress that is consistent and steady rather than the kind of all-or-nothing mentality that threatens to seduce me.

Even if you have no desire to run a half-marathon, these ideas might help you maintain a wellness routine when things get busy this semester:

  • Get moving on a daily basis. Even a 20 minute walk can be helpful, and studies have shown that walking 30 minutes a day reaps huge health benefits: reduced stress, reduced risk of heart-disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis, better sleep, etc.

  • Something is better than nothing. Fight the tendency to think that exercise is an all or nothing proposition. Every little bit helps. A few possibilities: park a little farther away than you might otherwise; take the stairs; walk the memo to your colleague’s office rather than using campus mail.

  • Give yourself a break. This might seem to contradict the previous claim that something is better than nothing, but giving yourself a day to rest and recover is just as important to fitness and wellness as your workouts. Nothing sidelines us faster than injury, so be sure to allow some recovery time.

  • You don’t have to go it alone. Just as writing groups can provide terrific support and feedback for our scholarship, sharing your goals and workouts with others can also help to motivate us. I am particularly indebted to my virtual training buddy Kathy Harris (@triproftri). Though we are literally thousands of miles apart, knowing that we are training together helps keep me accountable. #thirteenorbust!

How about you? Do you set fitness goals for yourself during the semester? How do you manage to maintain an exercise or wellness routine during the semester? Do you have tips for our readers? Please share in the comments section below!

[Creative-commons licensed image from Flickr user Asela].

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