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An Assembly Project for Exercising at Home

Over Christmas, I spent two weeks at my son’s home in southern California. We had taken precautions; everyone had tested negative, the nanny and the housekeeper were given two weeks off, and I drove door to door with only one stop for gas.

It was a wonderful visit, during which I reacquainted myself with my four-year-old granddaughter and observed how often and lovingly her family is using Sheila, my Class B motor home that had been sitting, unused, in my driveway since Covid-19 began.

I soaked in their spa while my son and his wife, their dog, and my grandchild swam in the pool. I joined them on several hikes and watched movies long into the night with my son.

What I learned from all that is that my physical fitness, never great, had slipped away during these many months of sheltering in place. The three-day-a-week circuit class I attended before Covid had been keeping me strong and flexible enough to haul groceries in from the car, take the three trash bins out every week, keep up with my laundry and stand on tiptoes to reach plates and bowls on high shelves.

Now, I needed help to get my suitcases up a flight of stairs, pull myself out of the spa, and scale steep hills. It wasn’t a happy notion. I’d been thinking that twice-daily walks in my neighborhood were keeping me fit, but clearly, they hadn’t been enough.

Six months of grocery deliveries, a year of writing to the exclusion of nearly everything else, and watching way too much Netflix movies had left my muscles weak and my joints creaky.

Fitness at Home

Several years ago, my son and his wife gave up their gym memberships and bought several pieces of exercise equipment. While I was visiting, they bought an elliptical trainer, and I watched from the sidelines as my son put it together.

It didn’t look difficult, although it took two long sessions during his daughter’s naptime and some hours late into the night. An idea was born as I watched my kids trying it out. Perhaps I should get an exercise bike for myself!

When I returned home, I researched equipment that I could afford and found a lightweight, foldable recumbent exercycle with an upper-body exerciser. I clicked BUY and waited for my new toy to arrive, imagining how strong and fit I would be by the time the pandemic ended.

I was in the back of the house when it came. The delivery person stood the box up against the front door. The box was heavy and I couldn’t open the door from the inside, so had to go around to the side of the house to get out. I shoved the box so it fell to the ground, and there it stayed, too heavy for me to lift.

I went into the house and closed the door. What had I done? I couldn’t even move the box. How was I going to put this thing together?

Some Assembly Required

It took two days before I was able to face The Box. This is ridiculous, I told myself. You have been putting Ikea furniture together for years, and helping children with Lego projects, too. “Yes, but you always had help,” my internal naysayer reminded me.

That was true. I had children to help me with the bookshelves and desks and Lego projects, and a partner to help with the couch and the art carts. I had never assembled anything alone.

Now I remembered that on several occasions my son had asked me to “hold this” or “lean on this” as he put together the elliptical. But I had no “someone” to help me now.

Stepping into the Fray

Finally, I decided to at least open the box and get it off the front deck. I rummaged around on my bench for a box cutter and began cutting the box apart.

Each part was individually wrapped in plastic and tape. The 22-page instruction booklet contained detailed drawings that identified the many parts and 33 bolts, nuts, and washers, and listed 11 steps to assemble them.

The most recent Lego project I had helped my granddaughter build was a Frozen castle. It contained hundreds of parts and three separate instruction booklets. Thinking about that project, I decided I would just do what I had coached her to do: Start with Step 1 and don’t worry about the rest.

It took me three days to assemble the bike. I worked on one step at a time, taking a break after each, rewarding myself with a cup of tea or a walk around the block. And, with just a few missteps, I did it.

I climbed on and tried out the pedals. I could barely move them. It was super stiff. Discouraged, I left the bike alone for a couple of days. Then, encouraged by my son, I sat down with the instruction manual and finally realized that the pedals were by default set on the highest number: 8. I dialed it down to 1 and then I could pedal freely.

More Assembly Required

I suppose it’s not too surprising that I found sitting on an exercycle kind of boring. There wasn’t a shelf to put a book on, so I tried using headphones connected to my iPhone, then listened to podcasts or audiobooks.

But I was a wimp – I would stop after five or ten minutes. It was boring and it was hard. My youngest daughter called one day and after hearing my frustration, she offered to be my exercise buddy. “Check in each day with a text telling me how you did,” she suggested. “If I don’t hear from you I’ll call.”

And that’s what she did. Apparently, I needed some assembly too. A few days later, my daughter sent me a podcast called “Re-Engage with Your Resolutions” that listed several strategies she thought would help.

Three of them resonated with me:

  • Accountability: I needed to be accountable to someone.
  • Tracking: I needed to record my progress.
  • Pairing: I needed to make exercising more enjoyable.

It took some experimenting, but I finally discovered that exercising while I watch the 12:00 noon local news program worked. I would get so caught up in the events of the day, the daily Governor’s report on Covid-19, the weather report, etc., that I forgot to be bored. My daughter continued to check in with me for a few more weeks, and I recorded my progress on a chart.

Now I have a routine and I’m slowly getting stronger. I still don’t love pedaling my exercycle, but I’m doing it.

Have you faced a project that overwhelmed you at first? Where did you get the courage and ambition to keep at it? How did you feel when you accomplished what you had set out to do? Let’s talk about it!

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The Author

Marlene A. Bumgarner, Ed.D. taught child development and family studies before retiring to the California coast where she writes, gardens, and walks with her Border Collie, Kismet. Her 70s memoir, Back to the Land in Silicon Valley, was published in 2020. Her newest book, Organic Cooking for not-so-organic Families, will be available in 2022. Visit Marlene at

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