Serious exercise is a way of life for the folks who flocked to the exercise bikes yesterday, so well-conditioned they coolly flipped through newspapers and magazines as they whirred through 50-minute routines.
But to hear them tell it, dragging overstuffed bodies to the Baltimore Racquet and Fitness Club the day after Thanksgiving was an act of atonement, the flip side of enjoying the grandest meal of the year.
A wistful smile crossed Charles Walker's face as he recalled the Thanksgiving spread that prompted him to take the day off from his job at the Department of the Environment and head for the health club.
There was the huge ham, the shrimp salad, the squash casserole, the creamed sweet potatoes, the homemade rolls, the cheese bread, the pumpkin pie and mincemeat pie.
"The works," said Mr. Walker, 48, still smiling as tight beads of sweat danced across his forehead.
"I felt guilty and stuffed," he said, recalling how he felt when he rolled out of bed yesterday. "I felt probably like the Thanksgiving turkey did, all stuffed in the oven."
After cycling, he would row for a while and then swim laps.
"It feels great psychologically," Mr. Walker said. "There's mental therapy involved in this process, too."
A bicycle away, lawyer Dana Petersen waxed nostalgic about a lineup of turkey, stuffing, rolls, corn pudding, candied yams, string beans, kale, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple cider and wine that tasted great one day but slowed her down the next.
Ms. Petersen, 33, said she woke up late yesterday, staggered into her office, took one look at her desk and decided, "Well, it's time for a break."
The meter on her cycle said she was 24 minutes and 10 seconds into her workout. "It's not any harder today than it ever is," she said. "Well, yeah, it's harder. It's hard to get here, and once you get here, it's hard to stay. But once you leave, it feels great.
"I'm going to Barbados in January, and I know I've got to work out," she said.
Nearby, marketing director Cal Brockdorff offered some wisdom about diet and exercise. It doesn't do any good to get religion after a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast, he said, unless you're going to keep the faith all year.
"It's not going to work if you're sedentary and neglectful nine months a year," Mr. Brockdorff said. "Just a moderate, consistent program is the way to keep the extra fat off."
In other words, the stalwarts around him looked good because they pumped and cycled regularly.
Mr. Brockdorff said weight loss depended on a combination of exercise and diet -- not just one or the other.
The American Medical Association, while touting the benefits of exercise, points out that it's much easier to take in calories than burn them off through exercise. An hour of brisk cycling, one of the most efficient forms of exercise, burns on average just 660 calories -- or the caloric equivalent of one cup of stuffing.
And an article that appeared in the food sections of many newspapers this year pointed out that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for oneperson contained up to 3,600 calories -- far more calories than the average person consumes during an entire day.
Across the workout room, legal assistant Michele Smith looked like an Olympic runner in her red spandex outfit, hardly panting as she jogged on a contraption that mixed running and climbing.
"I feel a little sluggish," Ms.Smith admitted. "But it's always hard to come exercise. Nobody likes to do it."
Toward the end of her 50 minutes, Ms. Petersen thumbed through a copy of the glamour magazine, Mirabella. A svelte brunette adorned the cover in a strapless evening gown, looking almost impossibly gorgeous.
Ms. Petersen said she knew why.
"She doesn't eat."