If you’re looking for a creative way to do penance during Lent, I have an idea for you: exercise. Even if you love to exercise, there is often a little suffering involved. It might be cold or raining, you might not feel like working hard that day, or perhaps you’re bored with the usual routine. Here are a few ideas to unite the minor discomforts of exercise with the sufferings of Jesus.
Note: These workouts are not designed to be done consecutively. Choose one or two per week, based on your current fitness level. Consult a doctor if required.
Go Up the Mountain to Pray. Every gospel describes Jesus going “up the mountain” to pray (Mark 6:46, Luke 6:12, John 6:3, Matthew 14:23). Imitate this in your workout with hill repeats. Find a hill about 1/8 to 1/4 mile long, steep enough to be challenging. (Beginners should use a slight incline and start with just one or two repeats.) Warm up for 5-10 minutes, then walk, jog or run up the hill as you pray the Our Father. Try to focus on each word as you imagine Jesus beside you, carrying His cross. Walk back down the hill, then repeat the interval 2-5 times.
A Work(out) of Mercy. The Divine Mercy Chaplet is prayed on rosary beads and is easy to memorize (see www.TheDivineMercy.org for more info). Using your favorite mode of exercise, warm up for 5-10 minutes as you pray the opening prayers of the chaplet (Our Father, Hail Mary, Apostles’ Creed). Increase your pace as you pray the first decade of the chaplet, then slow down until you catch your breath. Repeat for each decade of the chaplet, then cool down for 5-10 minutes. Offer up this workout for someone else, perhaps a sick relative or a friend who can’t find a good job.
A Rosary Walk. It only takes about 20 minutes to pray the rosary, which also happens to be the minimum amount of time that exercise experts recommend for an effective cardio workout. On a day when the last thing you feel like doing is exercising, think about how Jesus suffered for your sins. Force yourself to dress in comfortable clothes and walking shoes, and find your rosary (or download an audio version on your MP3 player or smartphone). Go outside and take an easy walk as you pray the Sorrowful Mysteries.
(Workout) Stations of the Cross. Write down each of the 14 Stations of the Cross on index cards and space them out in a large room in your house. Choose an exercise for each station such as push-ups, crunches, squats, lunges, dumbbell bicep curls, shoulder presses, etc. Warm-up for 5-10 minutes, then go to the first station and repeat the chosen exercise 5-10 times as you meditate on the event in Jesus’ Passion. Do likewise for all 14 stations. You can modify this workout by doing stretches at each station or take the workout to the gym and use machines or the weight room.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. With a little prayer and reflection, I’m sure you can come up with many more. These workouts are also certainly not limited to Lent and can be done at any time of the year.
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