Alexa and The New York Times Saved My April Workout

Alexa lit up with cat watching

I owe you an apology, Alexa. You really didn’t deserve all those heavy sighs, negative comments, and–honestly, I’m ashamed to admit–the profanity. It wasn’t pretty, none of it.

You hadn’t procrastinated.

No, you stood by me, never bad mouthing or uttering an “I told you so.” You were patient, kind…and still, I was a hater. Without you….

Project Austin Issues a Plank Challenge

Team name Planker Wankers

At the end of March, the fun folks of Project Austin–now November Project Austin, f**k yeah!–issued an April team workout challenge: complete at least 100 minutes of planks. My friend Ginny rounded up five us who quickly became Team Planker Wankers (we’ve got some international flair, thanks to Claire-who-also-lives-in-England). Our goal–at least 500 total team minutes for April.

Workout leader Gina set up a Google doc so we could keep track of everyone’s progress (and, therefore, talk shit, because what fun is a challenge without some smack down?).

Somehow, I missed the first two days of the challenge. Damn! But I quickly devised a plan– four minutes a day, starting with 30 second sessions and increasing as the month went on. With 30 days, no sweat getting my time.

Piece of cake, right?

Can You Spell “Procrastinator”?

Alexa lit up with cat watching
Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

I was sitting on the examination table’s crinkly paper when a colorful ad caught my attention. I turned to the cardiologist’s nurse busily taking my vitals and asked, “Is that true? Are people who procrastinate more likely to develop heart disease?”

Puzzled, she looked up, following my gaze to the scrolling wall display, and blinked thoughtfully. “Huh,” she mused. “I never noticed that. Well, I guess it makes sense. You know, putting things off creates stress. And stress is a factor in risk of heart disease….”

I sighed heavily. With three days left in April’s Project Austin plank challenge, I was 20 minutes short. Oh, I had stress alright.

Travel, appointments, and lots of errands had conspired against me. On those days, I only logged a minute (or less). Ironically, deadline days, stuck at home at my computer, yielded big plank numbers, ergo deadline procrastination > plank procrastination.

By now, my plank interval had increased to one minute. But on April 30, despite my best intentions, I still needed 18 minutes to reach that goal. Gulp.

Whereupon Alexa and NYT Sunday Review Save My Ass

Did you know that Amazon’s Alexa is an excellent timer? Early in the month, I’d figured out that yelling, “Alexa, set a timer for one minute!” and dropping provided the exact amount of time to assume proper plank position on the living room floor. During those intervals, I’d recite the ABCs and sing as distraction, but I knew something better was needed for this long haul session.

Fortunately, April 30, 2017 fell on a Sunday. On Sundays, I usually treat myself to a leisurely and thorough reading of The New York Times, particularly my favorite section–the Sunday Review, which consists of all the op-ed pieces. Genius struck: I’d read and plank at the same time! Because I’m a nerd, I took notes from start to finish. Here’s how those minutes played out:

  • New York Times Sunday Review section April 30 201710:30 a.m. Enthusiastically began planking in 1-minute intervals, reading my way from the front page toward the back, noting time spent: “The Upside to the Presidential Twitter Feed” (one minute, exactly) but “Are Women Allowed to Love Their Jobs?”=3:00+ (with some rest time perusal).
  • 6 minutes of planks Maintaining 1-minute intervals. Form is holding; life is good. Pondering “Why is Asian Salad Still on the Menu?” (2 minutes).
  • 8 minutes Never has so little time passed so slowly. Well, perhaps in childbirth. Hard to focus (plus body parts were shaking), so I took a break to walk the mile to my daughter’s house and see her chickens.
  • Resumed planking Ah, I feel refreshed. “Let’s All Go to Alabama” gets a big gold star and “best piece” award. Mood=upbeat.
  • 11 minutes Shine has really worn off planks (and paper), and I’m not sure but it feels like evil, heartless Alexa is stretching out those intervals. Core really complaining, which made “They Were True Believers” (an essay about, yawn, communism) tough going. Situation not improved with “The Man Behind the Metal Detector,” a 1-minute read with a 10-minute depression chaser.
  • 13 minutes Not sure if scribbling–loathing–refers to plank or essay (“Is There a Case for Le Pen?”). Now 1:45 p.m. and I must, MUST take a break…for food and, ahem, life.
  • New York Times Sunday Review section April 30 20172:25 p.m. Resuming planking with all the enthusiasm of a pirate captive about to…you know. Barely made it through 1-minute session, long enough to peruse “Lessons From 100 Days of Trump.” Reducing intervals to 45 seconds. Calculating how many needed because GOD KNOWS I don’t want to do ONE MORE SECOND than necessary. Force myself to finish reading “Le Pen” article.
  • 17 minutes Surprised elation– “I can finish this!” Immediately contemplating the unthinkable: “What if I did three more minutes for a total of 20 in one day…” CRAZY.
  • 18:30 Saved least favorite page, reader letters, for last. Why–like the final minutes wouldn’t be hard enough?!? Ugh! Core violently rebelling, trembling and miserable at 45-second intervals. Can I suck it up for 3×30?
  • 20:00: DONE! Cheered loudly, leaping about like an idiot and completely frightening cat. Hot, sweaty mess proudly and hastily enters time on spreadsheet.

Total Time: 102

Piece of cake!

Minutes of planks completed over 30 days in April
How I spread out those 100 minutes over 30 days, or “what not to do in a plank challenge.”

Learn More

“Causes and Prevention of Heart Disease in Women”

The New York Times

You can enable Alexa to help you with “7 Minute Workout”

To set a timer: say “Alexa, set a timer for (name the amount)”; When the tone sounds, say “Alexa, off.” (She can also tell you how much time is left–“Alexa, how much time is left on timer?”)

Alexa lit up with cat watching
Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant, Alexa (foreground); cat not included with purchase. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler
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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

2 thoughts on “Alexa and The New York Times Saved My April Workout

  1. This is hilarious, and totally relatable.

    I did the same thing you did on Sunday except not the planks (count me in on the next challenge—unless it is burpees) I too read about Asian salad and Communism, and all the content that caught your eye. I also finished a good book titled \”Lab Girl.\”

    Fun day today at the doctors office: new blood pressure medication, new meds for back pain, blood work to figure out why I have such crashing fatigue, X-rays for my back (to take to my surgeon in Baltimore) and a pneumonia shot (for old people). I have renewed hope that one day soon I will truly feel better.



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