Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

Muscular Christianity

Posted by universalis on 26 June 2006

In a secular world full of distractions we need to make space for prayer in any way we can. A friend of mine has an innocent-looking bracelet that just happens to have its beads in groups of 10: perfect for impromptu Rosaries. I used to have ten keys on my key-ring, and that was good too.

Let me commend to you the practice of going to the gym and using the rowing machine. Not that it has ten of anything; but its use involves a longish period of regular, repetitive motion, and I have discovered that that is ideal for simple prayers.

At the rate of one word per stroke, rowing one mile on the machine takes me one Our Father and two Hail Marys. The exact number varies a little: if you add in "In the name of…" at the beginning and "For thine is the kingdom…" at the end, and pull a bit harder, you can cut out one of the Hail Marys.

Praying at this slow pace (a mile takes me over seven minutes) engages the mind in meditation for a good long time. With practice, you can squeeze any number of prayer intentions non-verbally into the gaps between strokes. And from the point of view of exercise, this is something you can do with your eyes shut instead of obsessively observing the display on the ergometer.

It helps if you go to a gym without music.

For advanced students: you can vary the wording of the prayers, or invent tunes for them, or use different languages.

You can also group the words – for example, four words for each four strokes (Our Father who art / in heaven hallowed be / thy name thy kingdom…). Very few sequences of four words in the Our Father are without their special meaning, as you'll see if you try it; and perceiving it in lumps like this is an excellent way of discovering new perspectives and new topics for meditation.

31 Responses to “Muscular Christianity”

  1. The gym is an excellent place to connect with the Lord. I exercise early every other morning. Often I am the only one in gym (i.e. in our condo village) so I turn on the TV, move the channel to EWTN, often in time for the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy at 7:00 AM and after that for that beautiful 10 minute clip at 7:20 AM of Father Leo Clifford. Sometimes someone may come in while I am exercise with TV on. I offer to turn the TV off but they always say for me to leave it on. Again when it is time to leave, I offer to turn it off but again they ask to leave it on.

    One morning a while back, while joining in the the Divine Mercy in the gym, I felt inspired to pray for a murder who killed a judge and several people while escaping from court. Within a day the man turned himself in after taking a woman a hostage who witnessed her life to him and by reading excerpts from a book title Purposed Driven Life. Oh the power of the Divine Mercies and of praying in the Gym. That is where I am going right now. By the way, I recommend the “Purpose Drive Life”. Excellent book.

    God bless. Join me in reciting the Divine Mercy and listening to Father Leo Clifford.

  2. Rachel Romain said

    A University chaplain I know prays the Office on his exercise bike – apparently the rhythm of prayer is everything. I was going to try the Office on my rowing machine, but of course the to-ing and fro-ing predicates against it. I will try the rosary, though – sounds like a brilliant idea.

  3. Tim Heywood said

    I have done the same sort of thing with Stations of the Cross. A 15 minute row. The first 15 seconds of the row contemplating the station and it takes about 45 seconds to say an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be. Then start the next minute.

  4. Joan Currier said

    I love to sing the Divine Mercy Chaplet while driving from the Texas Hill Country to our Little Portion Monastery in the Arkansas Ozarks. It’s twelve hours straight, if I don’t break my trip part-way, and praying keeps me alert. I also have the Rosary on CD and all the music of my favorite Christian musicians to accompany me back and forth. (It takes two and a half DM Chaplets to get through Fort Worth during rush hour!)Blessings to all…

  5. RJS said

    Well, praying at the gym keeps you from ogling women–another benefit for those of us for whom the spirit is willing…

  6. Here’s Thomas Merton in Seven Storey Mountain:

    And when Nancy Flagg was there, she sat in the same sun and combed her long hair, which was marvellous red-gold and I hope she never cut it short because it gave glory to God.

    The less you ogle, the more you see.

  7. RJS said

    Merton always saw more 🙂

  8. Linny O'Hara said

    Incorporating our precious Lord into every moment of our lives … you all are an inspiration and a great source of encouragement, as well.

    A beautiful witness for daily, common, “regular folks” sanctification.

    You can get up a nice prayer rhythm washing dishes… dogs… children or sweeping the floor, too.

    Blessings to all.

  9. Gabrielle Christenhusz said

    A few days ago I went to my first step/aerobics/stretch class.

    While praying short, repetitive prayers is one way to remember God while exercising, I had trouble enough concentrating on the instructor!

    But I did find myself becoming aware of muscles I hadn’t known I had. The highlight was after one sit-up, really truly feeling the muscles in my stomach (abdominal muscles?!) for the first time that I can remember, and exclaiming inside: “Wow! God! I can really feel that! Imagine if I’d gone through my whole life never really feeling those muscles?!” So I offer this as another way of praying while exercising: enter into the present moment, and glorify God by becoming fully aware of your own body, which he created.

    Glory to God

  10. Jean said

    I’m glad I found your blog. More power to you. God is great!

  11. Teresa said

    As a teenage Catholic with a packed schedule, I can definitely relate to the difficulty everyone has in finding time for God. I also row on my high school’s crew team, which translates into lots of time on the rowing machine during the winter. Not only does praying while “erging” give me time to focus on God, it’s also a comfort when my muscles are burning so much I want to cry or stop! And the painful-but-peaceful state of a long-distance workout is very meditative, good for just being with God without formal prayer. (Thanks Mom for emailing this post to me.)

  12. Margaret said

    Hello everyone. I have been having a terrible, failure of a time trying to get myself to take better care of myself by exercising. You’ve all inspired me! If I see it as a time of prayer: put on my Companions of the Cross cd to set the tone at first, then move into quiet prayer as I step and stretch, I should be able to make a thrice weekly habit of it. Thank-you!

  13. When I was 60 (22 yrs ago) I was convinced by an associate, swimming was the best aerobic exercise I could do without messing up my knees.
    So, I joined the Bally Club nearby and we went together at 6:00AM each morning before work. I continued the practice until I retired in 1989. I then took to going to the gym every day at a liesurely time.
    I found the lenghth of the ppol to be just right for finishing an “Ave”. By the time I had completed thirty laps , I had completed Rosary.
    How does one meditate on the Mysteries while swimming?
    I fould putting myself in the picture kept me focused on the Mystery in question and my exercize program continues, even today, although at a much slower pace. The rosary can also be used while walking, running, doing tummy crunches, etc.
    What a blessing!

  14. Ibolya said

    Hi everybody!

    Glad , I found your blog!
    I usually pray while walking.

    Blessings to you all!

  15. louise said

    Am in my 7th decade of life…..Praise God…..and walk each morning while praying the rosary! I know the route well enough to meditate a bit on the mysteries themselves which helps alleviate any idea of ending the walk. 🙂
    also pray the Jesus Prayer in rhythm with my rowing machine.
    Cannot think of any better way to exercise!
    so glad to have found your blog!

  16. Andrew said

    I love to run, and it’s a good time to pray. Sometimes I try the rosary, but when I lose track or get too tired — especially during a race! — I find I only have the energy for a Jesus Prayer: “Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me”. That suits me fine for a few kilometers. A few kilometers later and I’ve worn down to “Jesus, have mercy” and then just “Jesus, mercy”. Whatever I say, I cut the sentence in half and say the first when I breathe in, the second when I breathe out.

    I wonder how many people have stared as I pass by, face grimacing, mouth working.. oh well.

  17. Rex said

    It’s amazing that we catholics are interconnected through prayer. I will keep this in mind everytime I recite the breviary. Praying for you all. And I ask the Lord thru prayer of His faithfull to grant me the grace to be strong and determined to do His will. Amen

    Pax Christi.

  18. Mickey said

    Peace with all of you.
    Being a transplant to the Catholic Faith, I am just a little confused by some of the terms used here. I know that I pray as I’m driving to work or Singing. He is Great & Glorious and full of wonder.
    Peace to you all.

  19. Don’t worry, Mickey, Catholicism isn’t an exam! Becoming a Catholic is a lifelong process, even for those of us who were born into the faith.

    (And, welcome!)

  20. Paul said

    While walking, I use both Pray as you go…the Irish Jesuit website from http://www.sacredspace.ie and download the daily mp3 files to my iTunes library, Then upload to my iPod for my 3 mile daily walk (54 minutes) either on a treadmill or outside if the weather is good.

    As well, I download Daily Breakfast from Fr. Roderick’s podcast…sqpn.com from the Netherlands…excellent English!

    When combined, all adds up to about 50 minutes. A prayerful and meditative way to start the day.


  21. Susan said

    Hi, Just happened on the blog by way of the Liturgy of the Hours…..came down to Florida for the purpose of making up for my neglected prayer life…. walking on the beach this day I chose just to listen to Him…..can’t say I heard His voice… but definitely enjoyed the gift of His peace. Please pray for me as I will for you …Susan

  22. Elizabeth said

    I like to add in the Fatima prayer when holding a difficult pose in yoga … it offers even these smallest sacrifices of suffering to the Lord … makes for a vigorous work out too : )

  23. Susie said

    As a teacher I find the long hours of invigilating exams an excellent time to pray.

  24. Juan Silva said

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. Its a reminder to all “keeping God in our midst through this exile.”

    May God bless us all 0:)

  25. I have taken karate for a few years, and each class begins and ends with meditation. I suspect that I am the only one in classs saying part of the rosary at that time. But it reminded me of something I read in DuBay’s “Prayer Primer”, that Buddhist meditation aims to empty the mind, and prayer is the opposite. Our minds are to be filled, instead, with the Holy Spirit, and not empty. I find it quite comforting in the dojo setting rather than emptying my mind to be letting spiritual thoughts push the thoughts and problems of the day out and fill in the void.

  26. Francine said

    I found this blog site when I was using the Liturgy of the Hours. I am thrilled to learn about the number of people who “pray without ceasing.” I would never have thought that people in the gym, walking on the beach, doing yoga or karate were deep in prayer. I have sometimes wondered if I was obsessive compulsive because I often pray as I walk, or as I am waiting for a printer or copier to complete my job that I am waiting on. I usually say my Morning Offering in the shower, and I often wonder if I am praying in a meaningless rote manner. I now feel empowered because I have found a “fraternity of like-minded prayers.”

  27. Francis I said

    The Holy Spirt’s mercy has given me the Liturgy of the Hours to pray. Although often I’ve been remiss, the praying of it has been my consolation and delight.

  28. Theresa said

    I began the Liturgy of the Hours last year at the end of Lent. I was kind of floundering and not making much progress so I decided to focus on prayer. It has done wonders for me and helped me through my “midlife crisis”. I also began to pray while running – I listen to liturgical music sometimes on my IPOD and the Rosary works well with the length of the run. I find I can open my mind, heart and soul while my body is just moving along. I have also downloaded Fulton Sheen but sometimes he is a little scary for an early morning run.

  29. Charles said

    Great blog … I say my Rosary while walking ( it’s great for meditation ) I also add the Divine Mercy Chaplet and this little Chaplet.. ( Our Father Beads Most Sacred Heart of Jesus convert the sinners,heal the sick save the dying and deliver the holy souls from purgatory especialy all of us most in need of your mercy andll those I am bound to pray for from love or duty … and on the Hail Mary Beads Jeus Mary i love you save souls ..after the 5 decades I say Jeus Mary Joseph I love you save the ordained , Jesus mary Joseph I love you save the concecrated, Jesus Mary Joseph I love you save souls .. said slowly it all takes 30 to 45 mins. ….bty tanks for a wonderful site to help us pray daily office.

  30. olrayt said

    I used to pray the rosary before sleeping, but then sometimes I fall asleep before finishing, so now I started praying the rosary while doing the twist step machine. Nice! 😀

  31. Peggy said


    I too have prayed the Rosary while exercising for years. This devotion led me to write an ebook called The Rosary Workout. You can check out my website at http://www.rosaryworkout.com
    I hope you’ll be inspired!


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