Maybe it’s because Bryan and I have been watching 24 for months on end and I have a secret desire to be Jack (Jackie?) Bauer, or maybe it’s just because I needed to spice up my workouts, but, as I mentioned previously, I went out and got myself a weighted vest from Reebok. I’m not sure how I appear to strangers; I suppose I look like (a) either a very dedicated aerobic walker or (b) a 30-something girl training for the FBI and taking my new Kevlar vest for a spin around the parks of South Jersey.

To be honest, although I am harboring a secret desire to be Jack Bauer’s next female sidekick, I was also looking for a way to add some oomph to my walking workouts. There are only so many things you can do to jazz up walking, and I’ve done most of them: add speed intervals, stick to hilly routes, go out for looooong walks (5-6 miles), trek around the park with invisible skis (a.k.a., Nordic walking poles), or climb a steep set of steps every 3 minutes (thanks to the path at Red Bank Battlefield Park).

I used to make the mistake of carrying small hand weights or even strapping ankle weights onto my legs, but afterward my joints would always feel awful. No wonder! More and more sports articles are pointing out the injuries caused by use of such weights while walking or running. Swinging weights back and forth totally throws the body off center, and I can’t even imagine the damage I was doing to my poor hip trying to walk with weights strapped to my feet. I already have enough problems with uneven hips and one leg that’s slightly shorter than the other, and I’m sure adding a weighted pendulum motion to my walk wasn’t helping!

Enter the weighted vest, a way of getting your body to exert a little more energy while walking without compromising your form. This particular one from Reebok has four pockets (2 in the front, 2 in the back) that can hold up to 10 1-pound sandbags. Drawstrings on the side allow you to cinch the vest close to your chest so it’s not flapping in the wind, and it hugs you right at the core so your arms and legs can swing freely. (The Velcro pockets are also perfect for stashing your keys or cash, for those days when you’re otherwise pocket-less.) The most weight I’ve used so far has only been 4 pounds, and–let me tell you–that’s perfectly enough for now! I feel it after a 3- or 4-mile walk, and if I ever bump up the weight, my walk will definitely not be as long. Or at least not in mid-July. šŸ™‚

Of course, one of the downsides to the weighted vest is the dork factor. I’m a little white girl with glasses, not some beefy linebacker who needs to bulk up in time for football season. Also, because it really does kind of look like a bulletproof vest, I think some people get nervous that there’s a sting operation going down or that I’m tracking some kind of terrorist activity (which is why choosing the park right across the river from the international airport to wear the vest was probably not the best idea).

For those reasons, I think my vest and I will stick to Cooper River, the Ellis Island of exercisers (“We’ll take your tired, your poor, your weighted vests and sweatsuits in mid-summer…”). One of the things I love about Cooper River, aside from its spaciousness and terrific view of the Philly skyline, is the people. There are so many shapes, colors, faces, and ability levels trekking around that river that no one ever really looks silly or stupid. At Cooper River, ankle weights, wrist weights, dumbbells…all welcome. I’ve seen dudes walk around the river carrying 10-pound weights in each hand, some while wearing weighted vests too. Some hard-core guys wear those vinyl trashbag-like sweat suits in the summer sun. The cyclists wear their sleek shirts and oh-so-tight shorts, some ladies wear giant fanny packs with dangly keychains. One morning I saw an older woman use a short, thick tree branch as a weighted bar, lifting it overhead as she walked. Another woman carried two frozen water bottles, pumping them as weights. Older men do tortoise-paced jogs around the river, and some woman think flip-flops are sensible walking shoes. I once saw an Asian women do tai chi on the grass, and sometimes there is a guy who does some other form of slow-motion Asian martial arts, complete with a boombox playing windchime music and informational brochures on display. In short, anything goes at Cooper River.

What out-of-the-ordinary things do you do at the park or while working out? Like, for example, do you pretend you’re an airplane?

More on this craziness to come...