Back in the college days, “cross training” was almost as dirty a word (or words) as “jogging.” Cross training was what you were subjected to if you were too hurt or sick to do any “actual” training. It was basically a form of punishment, because you still had to take at least two hours out of your day to come to practice, but you couldn’t get the satisfaction that comes after a hard track or AT (aerobic threshold) workout when you KNOW that today, you got a little faster. A little stronger. A little better. Cross training couldn’t give you that. It’s the training equivalent of treading water…a whole lot of effort with very little forward progress. Usually, cross training for me literally was treading water…or “aqua jogging.” Others would hit the stationary bike or the elliptical, but I got to strap on a THIS IS NOT A LIFE-SAVING DEVICE foam vest and hit the pool. Redolent of mildew and perpetually damp, this delightful vest was capable of stabilizing me as I ran laps around the deep end of the pool. A lot of people think that running is boring…those people should try aqua jogging in an empty pool for an hour. After the novelty of running in water wears off, you’re left with 58 minutes of back and forth, back and forth. Wishing you could get outside and run, so at least you could watch different scenery pass by. Treading water. Smelling that old, grungy vest smell. Those were the days.
THAT is cross training the OLD way. I’ve found something much more entertaining…and addictive. Husband finally got his Xbox 360 in January, and his key argument for why we wanted/needed/absolutely had to have it was how much I too would enjoy it. Uh-huh. Somehow this is sounding like the ol’ “buy the wife a toolbox/grill/fishing pole for her birthday” trick. “Oh, you don’t need it? That’s funny, I really thought you did. Sigh. I can try to get some use of out it…” I challenged him to find a game that I would actually want to play on a regular basis. Somehow or other, it was determined that I would like to try the dancing game – specifically, Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) Universe 2. And when husband finally got his Xbox, we ended up bringing home DDR and two floor mat controllers as well.
I should have let him get that Xbox sooner.
I must preface this entire section with the confession that I have absolutely no sense of rhythm. Nope. None. So the first time we tried the game out, husband totally schooled me and I was frustrated beyond belief even on the “beginner” level. For anyone not familiar with this game, the controller is a rubber mat that goes on the floor and has four arrows on it. As the music plays, corresponding arrows scroll up the TV screen. When an arrow hits the top of the screen, that’s your cue to step on the correct arrow on the floor mat. You get feedback for each step. If you were right on the beat, it says either “perfect” or “great.” There’s also “good,” “almost” and “boo.” Watching the boo’s pile up is one of the more frustrating things about learning the game. The others are the announcer, who very helpfully says things like “Don’t give up!” when you’ve tripped over your own feet and are now sprawled across the mat, the grading system that tallies up all of your steps at the end of each song, and the distracting, disorienting, brightly-colored backgrounds. 6 boos earns you a D. The lowest score is an E, which makes more sense than the difficulty levels, which are: Beginner, Basic, Difficult, Expert, and ONI. I don’t know what ONI stands for. And I’m not sure why there’s a Basic instead of an Intermediate. All I know is that beyond Basic I face certain rug burns on my knees from tripping myself up and an unknown quantity of taunts from the announcer.
Hmm. This isn’t sounding very much like an “ode” to DDR, is it? The thing is, the game is just as addicting as it is frustrating…and as you can see from the previous paragraph, the frustration potential is limitless. This is more than partially due to the discord between my highly competitive nature and the severe beating dealt out by husband the first time we played! One day when the weather was nasty and I stayed home from work, however, I had the opportunity to practice unobserved, and I discovered some important things. (1) Practice makes perfect. In a few hours, I’d gone from Ds and Es in the Beginner level to Bs and Cs in the Basic level. I’m still trying to master Basic over a month later, but I’m getting there. In fact, I should probably move up to Difficult and get it over with, but I’m reluctant to have to start over. (2) It’s actually a good little aerobic workout! I don’t know why I didn’t expect that, but I was shocked (and a little embarrassed) to work up a sweat playing a video game in my living room. In some songs, the step combo is fast enough to be a good cardio workout and the overall session is great for my calves and hamstrings. I’ve heard stories about people losing lots of weight playing DDR and that it’s being incorporated into gym classes in some cities. (3) It really is fun! I’ve introduced the game to some friends, and now I periodically have people stopping by the house to play a quick round…or twelve. Sure, it’s a little silly to be stomping around on a plastic mat in your living room. As far as exercise that’s not running, however, it’s not even in the same realm as (shudder) aqua jogging. Smelly, damp vest and empty swimming pool…or fun game that others will volunteer to play with you? Hmm…choices, choices.
DDR is probably not for everyone, however. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone with lots of joint trouble, or to anyone with possible stress fractures. The slight additional pounding might not be good. And of course, it’s not really a substitute for running. As a supplement, though, it’s a good fit for me. I’m going to keep tracking my game time in addition to my running time and see if it produces any results. I’ll keep you posted. 🙂