Essay: Sweatin’ With Al Swearengen: The ‘Deadwood’ Workout

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I’ve had two things on my to-do list for the better part of the last decade: Get in better shape, and get caught up on HBO’s Deadwood. I finally got to both this fall, and both at the same time, too.

For the last couple of months I’ve been going on my basement elliptical machine, and at the same time watching episodes of Deadwood for an hour at a time, via HBO Go, on my iPad. The thought first occurred to me two or three years ago, but a combination of technical difficulties and a lack of motivation got the better of me until now.

I got the elliptical machine about five years ago, buying it cheap as part of a Black Friday sale one November, and ever since I’ve gone through varying periods of using it a lot and not very much. The arrival of our first child two and a half years ago made working out much harder, but once our second was born this past spring, I realized it was time to shape up if I wanted to be able to chase two young boys around without getting winded.

I think the Deadwood/elliptical idea occurred to me at least two years ago, when HBO Go was first introduced. See, I got to The Sopranos in its third season and The Wire in its second, and was in on Curb Your Enthusiasm from the beginning. Getting caught up on Game of Thrones only took a couple of weekends this past summer.

But Deadwood was the super-acclaimed HBO show that I somehow never got around to watching, and I’ve long meant to get caught up- especially since most of the shows I love now, from Breaking Bad to Sons of Anarchy to Justified- are supposedly either heavily influenced by Deadwood, or feature multiple cast members.

I first attempted the Deadwood Workout last year, when I was testing out a BlackBerry Playbook tablet, and had the idea of placing the tablet down on the elliptical console and working out while I watched an episode. But like most functions, the Playbook didn’t handle this so well. There wasn’t a dedicated HBO Go app on the Playbook- because there wasn’t a dedicated app for anything on the PlayBook- and watching through the web browser didn’t quite work either.

I was going to try again a few months later when I was testing out a Vizio Android tablet. But for some odd reason, the HBO Go app’s functionality disappeared when I upgraded to Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), and HBO Go was later made available for the next version up but not for that one. No luck there.

But finally, this year, I got an iPad, and I was good to go. I also got ahold of a Dockem Koala Mount For Tablets, which I used to bracket the iPad to the machine so it wouldn’t fall six feet to the ground and shatter.

I actually didn’t start with the Deadwood workout until after I’d been on a diet-and-exercise program for a few months. I was doing a lot of running in the summer months, but as the weather has gotten colder and I’ve been forced inside for working out, often late at night when the kids are asleep. So for the last month, I finally got started with the Deadwood elliptical workout- and I love it. I’m almost done with the first season of the series, and knowing I’ve got another episode coming up is a wonderful motivation for getting on the machine again. And the 60 minutes goes by in a flash.

A lot of that is because David Milch’s series is pretty damned brilliant. I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of Westerns, but the series is methodically plotted and supremely well-acted by a strong top-to-bottom cast. It’s also fun to spot Raylan Givens from Justified as Seth Bullock, the weird cop from Sons of Anarchy as the minister, the Man in Black from Lost as the magistrate’s bag man, and even Principal Rooney as the newspaper guy.

I’m also often left with five or so minutes after the episode, which I usually use to go back and read Alan Sepinwall’s recap. 

I’ve written before that HBO Go is probably my favorite app of any kind. But really, I very much have smartphone apps to thank for the long-elusive luck I’ve had losing weight in the past few months. The LoseIt calorie-counting app has absolutely changed my life and the way I approach my activities each day. When I got back into running, the Couch to 5K and Runkeeper apps were tremendously beneficial. Now I’m making good use of the HBO app, as well as Netflix Instant and Amazon on Demand, which I’ve used on a couple of occasions to watch entire movies while working out.

Two more seasons of Deadwood to go. I figure if I can burn 50 calories every time someone says “c–sucker,” I’m in good shape.

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  • Jordan Rockwell

    Good for you Steve! Keep up the good work. Some words of advice that have worked for me:

    1) Cut out white flour and starch. No bread, no chips, six days a week. Keep your carbs to no more than 100 grams a day.
    2) Drink 8 cups of water a day.
    3) Keep the booze to red wine (no more than two glasses a day), and steer clear of all mixed drinks. Sugar is the goddamn devil.
    4) Take one day off a week (I do Sunday, because it’s football season). This is for both psychological as well as physical reasons; you can’t expect to cold turkey everything, and by giving your body one day a week to spike the carbs, it prevents it from plateuing (sic).
    5) Forgive yourself for falling off the wagon occasionally. Understand that this is a lifestyle change, and slip-ups are to be expected.

    Good luck!