Finding a Movement Practice
A wise man once said, “Consistency trumps intensity every time,” but if you look at any mainstream fitness magazine, they’re going to have workout templates to get you “bikini-ready” in six weeks. You’re sold a magic bullet workout, the one that will deliver the body of your dreams with a minimum of investment. If only it worked that way. I’m sorry to say that there is no magic bullet workout. If you invest minimally, your return will be minimal. Real changes happen over the long-term. That’s how you amass a real investment and get a real return. Natural bodybuilder Jeff Alberts calls it depositing pennies. So the real question becomes, what are you motivated to do not just for six weeks, but for years, for the rest of your life?
You, like many, might equate working out with going to the gym. And going to the gym is awesome. I’ve done it a lot. But there are a lot of ways to get fit, and I’m going to offer you a couple of criteria to help you select your path.
Criterion 1: Is it progressive?
Will you be able to continue to challenge yourself as you get faster/stronger/more skilled?
Bodies change because they are adapting to a stressor, and they are going to adapt to accommodate that stressor. For instance, if you run three miles, and it’s not something you normally do, your body will get to work reinforcing all the mechanisms that help you get oxygen to your muscles. For instance, your heart will actually get larger, increasing your stroke volume. However, if you run three miles at the same speed every week, your body will stop adapting and simply maintain the adaptations it already has. In order for your body to keep changing, you’ll have to introduce a greater stressor, such as increased speed or duration.
Another feature of progressive exercise is that it keeps things interesting. Running the same three miles every day might be soothing, but you might also get bored. If, however, you decide that you want to run 3 miles in 24 minutes, you may then begin to start investing some thought into your training, your gait pattern, your diet and sleep. As an Olympic-style weightlifter, I’ve set a goal to snatch 50kg/110lb. Right now I’m at 47kg/103lb. In order to get that 50kg snatch, I have a lot of little things I’m working to improve, both in technique and strength. I take videos when I’m not working with my coach so that I can watch myself. For this reason, every rep is interesting and it’s easy to stay engaged.
Criterion 2: Do you enjoy it?
You have to enjoy it. This is non-negotiable. Otherwise, your fitness practice will be unsustainable. If you’ve heard all about the benefits of yoga, but you can never seem to get the moves right and you really don’t like showing your crotch to strangers, you’re not likely to be consistent. If, however, you really like chasing a ball around in the heat, and you think you’d be able to do it three times a week, consistently, then tennis is the better choice. The best workout is the one you do.
If you can’t think of anything you’d like to do, or if you’re determined to do one particular modality that’s a little fraught for you, finding a guide, a trainer, a coach, an instructor, or even a knowledgeable friend may be the answer. This can help reduce some of the anxiety that comes along with a new sport or fitness practice. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy their company, which will make the workout more enjoyable. The first few times I tried to do resistance training, I had instructions a friend had emailed me that I’d written on a scrap of paper. I wandered around the gym, bewildered and embarrassed, looking at each piece of equipment, trying to match the name on the machine to what was on the paper. It was miserable. After a few false starts like that, my buddy Austin started working out with me. He had more experience than I did, and I loved hanging out with him. After a few months, he moved back upstate to finish hid PhD, but by that time I had already been bitten by the iron bug. (Sorry, not sorry.)
Criterion 3: Is it sustainable?
This is adjacent to the prior criterion, but a little different. When you look at all your priorities, what’s reasonable to expect of yourself in the long-term? Many people hatch plans to work out 5-6 days a week, but when they fall off the wagon, they get discouraged and stop altogether. Remember that you can always increase your commitment. I began working out three times a week, for maybe an hour at a time, and just that got me a lot stronger. Now I try to train about 5 times a week, which is not terribly hard to do when you work in a gym. However, even I have had to cut down for the past two weeks to get my masters thesis done. (That’s why this week’s email is coming out so late in the week.)
I will say that you should aim to start with working out at least twice a week, and you should space them out. That’s because if the body adapts to the initial stressor (your workout), but then the stressor doesn’t recur within a certain window, i.e. you don’t work out again, it starts to return to baseline. This is illustrated in the curve below. (The initial dip below baseline is fatigue, soreness, etc.)
What you want to happen instead is that you workout right as the adaptation peaks, taking advantage of your improved performance to break through to the next level.
Finding a practice that meets the above criterion will, I believe, allow you to get fitter with a minimum of resistance and struggle. It’s like the saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
If, after reading this article, you’ve decided that strength training might be your path, and you’d like a guide, you can email me to set up your free consultation call.
Until next time,