Okay, now two weeks ago I kicked off another small discussion – I called it: joining the resistance. It was the idea that we can – because of the fact that only 6% of Americans practice any kind of resistance training – very rapidly accelerate to the upper echelons of ability and prestige in this regard.
In other words: we can get strong! We can get fit. And that, when we do get strong and fit, we reap a massive amount of ‘fruit’ from having done so: namely, mental strength, resilience, peace, confidence, and discipline.
And the most important note of all here is: this actually applies to *everyone*, no matter how old you are or what state you’re in. In fact, I’ll say that the further you are away from your prime, the more important this stuff becomes. I’ll explain more in a minute, but just please: bear with me as I deliver this, because it’ll all make sense in the end. Plus, I think it’s a very important message.
I want to talk a little bit more about that this week and next. This week, I want to share some of the more important lessons I’ve learned, which will hopefully help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made if you do indeed travel down this path. Next week, I’m going to share with you some sample routines and challenges I’d like to give you, to help you get started if you don’t know where to begin.
Okay. Big lessons.
The biggest lesson by far that I’ve learned with regards to physical fitness and physical challenge is this: In life, we can use it, or lose it, and the enemy of living in the kind of body we are capable of living in is – if you ask me – perfectionism. I used to think physical fitness belonged to the kinds of people who had 2 hours or even 20 minutes to devote to being in a gym. Because that is just simply not me. I haven’t been in a gym in years, and even if I had the time, a gym is honestly about the last place in the world I’d choose to be. Not because there’s anything wrong with gyms: it’s just not how I prefer to exercise. I don’t want to exercise in public, and I don’t want to spend 20 straight minutes, let alone an hour, exercising.
But we have to destroy the idea of perfectionism, because that is public enemy #1 to fitness. Because perfectionism whispers in our ears: you can never be the best, or even in the top 20%, so don’t even bother. Or, perfectionism might whisper all sorts of other things: you can’t be strong or in good shape. That’s not who you are. Pride can give us all the excuses and alternative paths we need to avoid it. But here’s what I say:
Inside of us, at any given time, lies ‘the best person we can be.’ And I mean that physically as much as I mean it emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, if you’re like me. We could be better than we are right now. And if tonight we get mangled in a car accident and the doctors tell us we’ll never walk again – even in that state, there’s a ‘best version’ of ourselves buried within. Well, I think we should challenge ourselves to find that best version. I’m not talking about becoming a triathlete, even though you’re probably capable of a whole lot more than you imagine. I’m just talking about getting a little bit better every day. Let me continue with other lessons I’ve learned.
Spread it out, and stay ultra-local.
Okay, first: the biggest lesson by far that I’ve learned with regards to physical fitness is: spread it out and stay ultra-local. So, if the idea of going to a gym sounds like a deal breaker for you, for whatever reason, I have good news for you. Because not only is going to a gym, as I mentioned, something I absolutely would not be interested in, but even finding 20 straight minutes to exercise is something that would single-handedly prevent me from ever taking on any physical challenges. So, what do you do? You spread it out and stay ultra-local. What do I mean?
Well, this isn’t going to be practical for everyone, but I’m blessed to be both “the boss,” and in complete control of my work environment. So, what I do, is I fill my work space with exercise opportunities that I can do in one-minute bursts, and I make sure to do 12 or 15 or 20 different “sets” throughout the day. You might get a 20-minute workout in, but it doesn’t feel it if all you’re doing is 10 or 15 or 40 push-ups every half hour. When I started exercising this way, some of my more committed friends who do their work outs in intense bursts of 20 or 40 minutes wondered if you can get results by spreading fitness out like this. Well, I’m here to tell you, you absolutely do. Plus, I prefer exercising in this tempo, because you get a nice burst of energy from it throughout the day. Rather than getting exhausted at the gym, you keep a slow and steady stream of energy all day. Plus, if you have a sit-down job, exercising this way keeps you up and mobile and prevents you from developing bad posture or repetitive stress injuries. And if you work in a professional environment or can’t do this during your work day, no sweat. Just adopt this style in the evenings when you’re in the privacy of your own home. We’ll talk more about what kinds of exercises to do during these 60 second bursts, but I’m talking about very simple things. If you have enough room to do push-ups, you have enough room to do the stuff I do. And by no means does it have to be push-ups. I think there’s something especially gratifying about strengthening the upper body, but let’s say you work in dress clothes and absolutely don’t want to break a sweat during your work day. Well, just do sets of 10 body squats next to your desk, or even in the privacy of the bathroom.
Second, warming up and flexibility.
For some reason that I can’t comprehend now, I never used to like to warm up before I exercised. It felt like a waste of time – I wasn’t going to get results by rolling my shoulders, and I only had a few minutes to exercise – right? Well, that silly attitude cost me a few injuries over the past couple years. Right alongside it is cooling down. Once your muscles are worked, you’ve both got a great opportunity to increase circulation and flexibility, but you also can prevent unnecessary soreness, knots, cramps, and strain on your tendons by keeping your body loose with a good cool down. Nowadays I like to think of my body almost like a sportscar. Never in a million years would I start pushing or shifting at the redline before both my water and oil temp are up to where they should be. And never would I go from pushing the redline to shutting the car down and walking away. You give it that cool down time. Our bodies are that much more important than a car, so we’ve got to give them the same treatment.
The next lesson I’ve learned is that fitness or weight loss are all about playing the long game. It’s not about ‘getting something done’ as much as it is about: incorporating small lifestyle changes where you expose yourself to more challenge over time than you currently do. What I believe now is this: don’t even think about looking for or hoping for results for the first six months of whatever lifestyle change you make. It could be a daily walk. It could be a new exercise or strength regimen. But just stick with it for six months, and only then should you start looking for results. The way I see it, the first six months is all about building habits. And even one instance of the number on the scale or one measurement of your chest being disheartening can make sticking with it that much harder. But I also say this for a different reason, and it comes from my own experience: when I got serious about strength training, my weight and my physical size didn’t change at all for six months. My actual ability grew pretty rapidly by comparison, but nothing else did. After that six months, the muscle seems to start packing on out of nowhere, and it became very rewarding. But sticking with the regimen was a challenge because, like most people, I wanted to see quick results. So: play the long game. Outsmart your body. Make your victory conditions be actually doing it rather than getting the results you’re ultimately after.
Next is an important concept that I found to be true for me, and it’s what I’ve referred to as “acclimation.” Basically, it really felt to me like, after a couple decades of NOT exercising extremely regularly, my body almost treated my new fitness lifestyle as a fad. Sort of a move for efficiency, where the body ‘says’: “look, I’m not gunna waste precious energy and calories building muscle for something you’ve only been doing for two days… or weeks… or months.” But after a while, after being CONSISTENT with my activity, it seemed like my body kicked into high gear with accepting that this new lifestyle was here to stay, so it had better adapt.
Next was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn: that our tendons and ligaments and connective points and tissues all adapt and grow in flexibility and strength MUCH more slowly than muscles do. I really can’t stress this enough, and I think it’s a big reason why warming up and cooling down is so important. Muscle seems to adapt to new challenges in a matter of about three weeks if you’re consistent with the challenges. But tendons and attachment points seem to take five to ten times as long. Now I’m not a doctor and this isn’t the gospel truth – it’s just my observation. But I caused a few injuries simply by using my muscles to the max a few times, early on. So, this is another reason to play the long game and move slowly and steadily. I set myself back a few months by moving to do one-handed pull-ups as soon as my muscles had reached that point. I tore myself up! Now, I’m slowly working back to that point, letting my tendons catch up to the rest of my body.
Finally, I want to leave you with the notion of being positive, having fun, encouraging yourself, and racing yourself. By that I mean: you’re not racing or competing against anyone else. We all have very different bodies and very different strengths and weaknesses. You’re not out to be the best, you’re only out to be the best version of who you are right now. Don’t forget that. If you’re 40, you’re not trying to become better than or as good as you were when you were 20. Or if you’re 70, you’re not trying to get where you were when you’re 50. You just want to be the best 40-year-old you that you can be, or the best 70-year-old. And I promise you: wherever you are now, you could probably really surprise yourself with what is possible for you. You’ll feel better, more assertive, you’ll be happier, and you’ll be healthier. And as a guardian, you’ll be that much more effective.
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