Campus Life

Raising the bar

How I got into exercising

When I learned I got into MIT, I worried more about the swim test and PE requirements than about the academics.

Back in high school, I hated exercise because I sucked at it. I read all about how to exercise more, but never really did.

Internet articles give all sorts of perky advice, advertising “10-Minute Full Body Workout!” or “The Only 12 Exercises You Need!” With hundreds of suggestions, I could never figure out which movements to do. Exercises called “the inchworm” or “donkey kick” just sound like awkward dance moves, and let’s be honest: arm circles do not count as an upper body workout.

With no equipment, I tried to get out more to run. On some weekend mornings, I would strap on my shoes, stretch, walk to warm up, and start running. Some runners get a “runner’s high,” but the endorphins never really kicked in for me because I was exhausted after five minutes.

This lack of endurance made getting to classes a struggle. My high school had two buildings — two stories each and more than a quarter mile apart — and only six minutes between classes. As soon as the bell rang, I would run down the stairs, speed walk across campus, clamber up yet more stairs, and finally arrive to class, barely in time and very out of breath.

Fortunately, at MIT, a bit of peer pressure and convenient exercise facilities motivated me to actually go exercise more.

My freshman fall, my friend took me lifting for the first time at the New House gym. The only equipment I recognized was the dumbbell rack. I had no clue where to begin.

One dude was already there, squatting a bar plus six huge plates for a total of 315 pounds. I had never squatted any weight before, so my friend suggested that I start out with the bar. Only 45 pounds, so I figured it should be easy.

Actually, it took me a while to be able to squat the bar, and it took me even longer to be able to bench it. But, even my first time lifting, I could complete the same routine as stronger people with smaller weights. Unlike when running, I did not feel immediately fatigued. When the standard bar was too heavy, I used the smaller 20-pound bars or dumbbells.

Exercising regularly no longer felt like an impossible goal. When I first started, I did not know whether my routine was optimal for getting swole fast, nor did I care. I regularly went lifting three times a week, and I increased the weights I used as I got stronger.

Since then, I’ve improved my old routines. Amateur lifters don’t really need separate arm and leg days, nor do they need tons of bicep curls. My routine now consists of squats, bench presses, and deadlifts — three exercises that target multiple muscle groups.

I have raised the bar when it comes to exercise. I used to consider 5-minute jogs and body weight squats to be a workout. Come on, Elaine, do you even lift? Now, I can say, “Yes, yes I do.”

Elaine Lin is a member of the Class of 2018.