I believe that we have an innate ‘liking’ for the things that are good for us. But I think it gets conditioned out of us by health experts and media who would have us believe that because we eat ‘bad’ foods we are therefore ‘bad’ people. That the fat on our body should make us feel ashamed. Sooner or later, we start to despise the things that are good for us, not because they are good for us, but because we are all secretly rebellious at heart and respond really badly to being told how to live our lives.
Have you ever watched Supersize Me, and then had a crazy, irrational craving for junk food? This is as much an expression of our rebelliousness and independence as it is an expression of anything else, and having cravings for junk food is not actually a sign of weakness.
In the context of training, and in particular discovering the childlike joy of movement, what does that mean? If you hate exercise, is it because you don’t like being told what to do and how to live your life by sanctimonious hypocrites (such as myself!)? Do you hate gyms because you don’t want to feel like you’re trapped in a structure of ‘what you should be doing’ for the rest of your life? Or is it really the barbells and treadmills that you don’t like?
There is certainly a distressful aspect to training, particularly the type of training and intensity we are told we need to achieve if we’re to change the size of our bodies. But do we really need to ‘kill it’ in the gym? Do we need to punish ourselves to cure our fatness? The Biggest Loser would say: yes.
Structured exercise has its pros and cons. I don’t understand exactly why, but as adults, we tend to respond well to having a clear structure, whereas children will run and play freely, simply for the joy of expressing themselves physically.
Running is a physical expression of freedom. If you can run. And if you like it. But if you can’t, it’s positively torturous. I think it’s a beautiful thing, but it makes some people sick. I think being able to walk is a blessing, but to some people it’s a chore.
There’s probably a host of hormonal variations which could account for the difference between the adult desire for structure and measured progression vs. the childlike freedom of playtime, and as adults who want to look differently to the way we are, we’ve been told we need structure if we’re going to get into that smaller pair of jeans. They tell us we need... cardio.
And we’re told that if we want to pack on pounds of muscle, we need to work at 85–95% intensity and wait 60 seconds in between some exercises and 90 seconds in between others. And then chug down a post-workout shake. Does all this nit-picking really make a difference? Why twelve repetitions instead of ten? Or five instead of eight? Why not just wait til you’re ready to go again, and then go with it? Do what’s fun.
Most trainers, we don’t actually know what works for weight loss, not reliably, not for 'lasting results'. We know what works some of the time, given certain circumstances. For a period of time. Until you plateau. If you have enough money to buy the right foods. Enough strictness to stick to the plan. Enough sleep to recover properly. The right hormonal environment inside your body. If you succeed, yay! The system works. If you fail, it’s because of you. Not the system.
We’re all subject to the guilts and the shaming. To paraphrase David Mamet, who was talking about actor training at drama schools, we are loathe to believe that our teachers and gurus are frauds, so instead we start to believe that we, the ones who are failing when all others seem to be succeeding, we are the frauds. So we just work harder, not kicking up a fuss, not rocking the boat which wasn’t taking us where we wanted to go in the first place.
I’m terribly disobedient. I used to download fitness programs from the internet, and as I watched myself deviate from the program every damn time, watched myself tweak it so that it was the way I wanted it to be, I wondered why I couldn’t ‘stick to the program’. After a while, I realised that the only reason I couldn’t commit to the program was because, when it comes down to it, I’m kindof disobedient and independently minded.
Mine is a very subtle rebellion, but it’s real nonetheless. I hate being told what to do. I hate that there’s this stupid pressure that we should all look the same. That for us to be healthy means we should all walk around with the same amount of fat (almost none) and the same amount of muscle (plenty if you’re a man, but only a modest amount if you’re a woman). This narrow-minded take on ‘being healthy’ would have us believe that there should be no diversity in nature, which – if you know anything about evolution – is clearly ridiculous.
The truth that a lot of trainers don’t seem to realise is that it’s not my job to look the way I think other people want me to look, it’s my job to teach people about health and fitness. And that actually has precious little to do with the way you look. It has to do with how you treat yourself, if you have respect for yourself, and if you can love yourself even though you’re not the person you wish you were. If you love yourself, you won’t do yourself harm under the guise of improving your health.
You won’t starve yourself to look healthy, and you won’t force-feed yourself to look strong. You won’t stick to that diet which would make you miserable all the time because of severe depletion. You’ll train in the way that you find intrinsically rewarding, and you’ll eat the foods that make you feel good. Or something like that, anyway. That’s what I’m working on. Being less judgemental and just doing what seems right, and what seems to help me progress athletically. Why? Because that’s what I find fun!
But when I train for aesthetics I’m miserable. I don’t enjoy training at all. I might enjoy the resulting muscle growth or whatever, but it completely turns me off the process of training. When I train for my athletic development however, I love it! I love every aspect of it! I love the cathartic feeling of pushing my body to the limit, but not past it. I love the feeling of getting stronger, jumping higher, and also going for nice long walks in the morning through the park or along the beach.
Athleticism or recreation. That’s where it’s at for me, but not because I’m ‘doing what I should’, and not to pander to the beauty standard. Here’s something they don’t tell you on the fat loss websites: if someone doesn’t think you’re sexy now, dropping ten pounds isn’t going to change that. They probably won’t even notice. Likewise, gaining ten pounds isn’t going to make you more ugly. It’s not your fat (or your thin) that makes you beautiful. Exercise for you, not because you think it's what other people want you to do.
Duration is unimportant. Intensity is unimportant. Discovering what you find fun, rewarding, joyful – the freedom that exists in moving your body and getting nice and comfortable in your own skin, achieving real progress and changing your body by overcoming injuries and limitations, that’s where it’s at. Best way to kill the joy of exercise is to do it because you want to look different. You will always get more out of doing what you find fun than doing what you think you should be doing.
Walking clears your head, it frees the mind and stimulates the imagination. It gets oxygen into you, and warms the whole body. It’s one of the most natural things we can do, and it’s good for us on every single level. What isn’t there to love about that? The fact that we’re told we need to do it for 30 minutes. A certain number of times per week. At a certain speed. Damn, now it’s a chore, and I don’t want to do it. But when I think of just getting out and having time by myself, or walking with a friend...
Got a business meeting? Try a business walk. See if it’s a more creative experience, more energetic.
We know that the people in business, and creative arts, and all walks of life who have the most success are the people who march to the beat of their own drum; they make all their own rules, or they break all the rules. Yet when it comes to our health and fitness, why do we think we need to do what we’re told? Who cares about cardio? Or lifting weights? Or any self-serving idiot’s propaganda? With so many people sick of not getting results, should we really be doing what we’re told? With so much sickness around, is doing what we’re told really going to keep us healthy?
Don’t let anybody tell you what to do; how to live your life; what to put in your mouth; how to train. There are many specialists and we have opinions, and those opinions should be helpful. They should not exploit your fears and insecurities, and they should not trespass upon your freedoms. You are the one who has to live your life, and you get to decide entirely how you want to live it.