I’ve never written a post before on how to exercise after the holiday period. So here goes: with so much conflicting information out there, how do you train after Christmas?
The same way you train the rest of the year. Do what you like, what’s appropriate and useful for you. If you train according to a program, or some sort of periodization scheme, do what is supposed to come next. If it’s the off-season for your favourite sport, train appropriately to your off-season. If you move intuitively, keep moving intuitively. If you dance, dance. If you run, run. It’s yours. And if it’s time to just take a break and not train, do that.
Then, do whatever comes next.
So pretty much – nothing new here. My same old tune. Even after Christmas.
I was playing with our cat. She plays for the sake of the play itself – I love observing animals, they are unburdened by conception. They play when they have energy for play, and they rest when it’s right to rest. They don’t worry about their weight, or about effective movements or programs – when hunting, they naturally do what is most efficient or easy to complete the task, based on their target and their own physical makeup. All this happens intuitively, without conception, and so it is effortless and graceful, and sometimes hilarious. The pug jumps up the stairs because it is the best way for him to climb the stairs – she isn’t trying to be cute.
If we can learn from this, when it comes to exercise – bring yourself to it with an open mind, and do what you have energy for. To train without conception means to only think of the exercise itself, not how you wish you looked different, not about how one day you’ll be able to do something better, not about how your life will be fixed by this thing. It doesn’t have to be heavy, serious or focused. It can also be absent-minded. If you’re curious about your body, about movement, you’ll discover something just by observing. It’s not about your worth, or about hard work, or about discipline. Exercise is movement. That’s all it is. It may be simple or complex, challenging or effortless, but it is only movement.
People express themselves physically all the time. We stamp our feet and express frustration. We clap when excited or joyful. If you manage to discover that you don’t hate movement, or you discover a thing that is an expression – this is useful and positive, the thing itself, for its own sake.
Training is mundane, but that’s where the benefit lies. Exercise is about the moment. When exercise makes you feel good, it’s about the present more than anything else; the immediate effect on your body and mind – it is not only the sense of possibility for your future.
All exercise is about something. There’s a direct relationship. You’re doing something, you are not just a random-movement-generator. The muscles and nervous system respond; practicing a thing makes you better at the thing. Practicing dance for fat-loss, or for body-image – or even martial arts for confidence, there’s an indirect relationship that you may discover over time, that is dependent on a thousand other things, but the actual thing itself; the point of practicing dance is dance, free movement is about free movement. Practicing efficiency is about getting better at doing hard stuff easily or well.
I have some experience of practicing one thing and hoping for another result. You miss out on a lot when you fixate on a thing that is not the thing itself. The real benefit often slides by, valuable yet unnoticed.
Exercise can be exciting or subduing, it can be stimulating or calming. It’s really no one thing. It can be monotonous or varied. It can be structured or free. One thing, however – if you’re trying to distract yourself from the fact that you’re training, if you’re doing sit-ups in the ad breaks while watching TV, if you’re switching from one thing to another because you resent the process, you believe you have to do this thing that you despise, if you simply run until the calorie counter ticks over – a calorie is not actually a thing, it is only an idea, a representation – it will never be satisfying. It’ll never work out the way you want. And you’ll be left wondering why you feel so lousy when you’ve been doing all the right things.
Sometimes we envy people who enjoy a process we do not. And sometimes we don’t believe them. How can you really enjoy doing this thing to yourself? It looks excruciating. But having said that, running on a treadmill while watching TV – you really might find it a useful way to get into training, I don’t know – it doesn’t really work for me – it might work for you, but sooner or later it’ll need to shift.
Often things you can’t do are extremely unpleasant. Distracting yourself from the process can be useful until you reach the point where you realise you can do it, and it’s now not so traumatic, so exhausting or punishing. I prefer a more moderate approach. Move from thing you can do, to thing you can do. If you want a positive experience of exercise for the long term, the ‘throw yourself in the deep end’ approach might not work out. But if you find something you can do, something you at least don’t hate, and then over time as you’re ready you layer in other things you can do as your condition improves – then you can use this process to help you progress.
But why focus on progress? The thing that’s good for you about exercise is the exercise itself. If we’re to return to the first point – how about you continue to do the thing you can, without concept, and just, well – continue to do that for as long as it suits you. You might not need to force yourself to do other things. Just do the thing you can, with an open mind, and see what you discover.
But this is just my agenda. The great thing about training – it’s only what you make of it.