You may be familiar with the phrase “nothing worth doing is easy”, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that if a thing is hard, it’s automatically worthwhile. Many things that are hard are not.
A calorie is essentially a unit of measurement for energy. Our bodies use a certain, variable amount of energy each day, and food contains energy. Counting calories is our way of keeping track of all this. It’s the old energy in/energy out thing – are you providing your body with enough energy through the food you eat, or are you not? And just as you struggle to eat less in order to deprive your body of energy in the hope that it will burn its own fat stores to compensate, bodybuilders struggle to eat more, to supply their body with enough energy and nutrients so that they can build more muscle. It’s quite difficult to track, let alone balance.
Priorities. Planning. We’ve heard it before. But I’m not particularly compliant. Being told to do a thing, and then being told how to do it, how to implement it? Where’s the freedom? Where’s the joy in that?
If it’s fun, you shouldn’t have to force yourself to do it. If it’s satisfying or rewarding – maybe it’s not always fun, but it shouldn’t have to be forced. However, you do need to bring yourself to it. It’s not like a movie, you can’t just sit back and expect to be entertained by your fitness or mobility training. It’ll be work, but if you’re doing something that’s actually good for you, in one way or another it’ll be worthwhile. It really is important not to overdo it, or shame yourself, because these behaviours consistently will get in the way of you doing stuff you like. And if the activity itself is useful, where’s the need for shame as a motivator? Shame only ever backfires. If it doesn’t work for you in the long term, what’s the point?
It’s easy to resent exercise – there’s this thing I have to do, other people don’t have to, why have I got to spend so much damn time working on this thing – strength, fitness, posture, mobility, my funky elbow – that other people don’t need to? It’s easy to resent the exercises that actually free you, that enable you to move better and do cool shit. Like live and have fun. Sometimes, hopefully, with less pain and better function. “Damn, I have to do this stuff, just to be able to function!” Or maybe, “hey – if I do these things, I function better!”
One of the best pieces of advice I remember regarding overtraining is this: if you’re motivated to train, you can train. If you’re not motivated, if you’re unenthusiastic, that’s your central nervous system telling you to back off. Whether you’ve been training infrequently or not, different body parts or not, is really irrelevant. If you’re not motivated, don’t train.
It’s brilliant. It would be a corner-stone of an intuitive training model, if such a thing were formalised. At the risk of oversimplifying like crazy, the body seems to have a lot of warning systems and regulatory systems in place to influence your will and desire and therefore choice. It’s a funny and very fuzzy area. We don’t always want to think that our desires are informed by something as unromantic as our hormonal environment, but as complex as I am certain it is, there appears to be truth to it.
What’s revolutionary – if I can use so strong a word – about this approach is that it flat-out rejects our usual guidelines for what constitutes over- or under-training. It is entirely intrinsic. It denies that all people respond the same way to a given stimulus. It denies that a person may be average, and it embraces the idea that you are unique.
It acknowledges that young people might recover better than older people, or that if you’re eating more you might be able to train more, and that if your sleep is disturbed you might need more time off. Actually on another level it throws those guidelines out. It tells you to trust how you feel, not to analyse the stats. I know for myself, there have been times when I’ve been training one muscle group or movement pattern for weeks on end and I’m fine, I’m recovering, I’m enthusiastic, when I should be fatigued – and then there have been other times when I’ve had plenty of down time for recovery and sleep, but I just couldn’t make any progress in training. The whole thing felt laboured, it was a chore. And there was no logic. Nothing obvious that I could see – the signs I’d been told to look for revealed nothing.
I have a friend who was in the Australian army for several years – and of Bootcamps, he said it’s not about making you fit – it’s the army. They already assume you’re fit, because you passed the entrance requirements. It’s actually about team-building. You’ll push through those last few push-ups, because you don’t want to be the one who lets your team down.
And that makes perfect sense. It’s actually about something other than simple fitness. You train to learn to cope with stress, and knowing that they cannot accurately simulate the conditions of war, they train you to be able to function in high-stress environments in the best ways they can.
But it’s not just random yelling or abuse, it serves a purpose. And I think, these days at least, it’s much less questionable than the training you see in An Officer and a Gentleman. And as you go, they evaluate everyone – they want to know if you are an army kind of person.
This hard-line approach may work well for an individual, or for small groups or teams, but you can’t expect what works for a minority of people in a specific environment to work for everyone, ‘for life’. And you can’t expect people who have not chosen this career to willingly submit to these sorts of power/obedience games, simply for the notion of improved health and fitness. And it also should be obvious, if you want to improve your fitness in any capacity – strength, endurance, mobility, coordination or skills development – that this approach is not required. Can you imagine yelling at someone in an attempt to improve their coordination? There are many paths to the same destination, and many paths to your destination. You can take the road you like, and train in a way that is appropriate to you and your desires.
I feel like there are certain things we need to come to terms with, if we want to improve our condition in this life.
But if you feel like you have to do these things, if you feel coerced, forced, manipulated – it only breeds resentment and that leads to resistance and well, cutting off your nose to spite your face. The truth is – we’re all in the same boat. There is no place for bullying and manipulation, for “your own good” or not. And we must end it, first with ourselves – bullying yourself into training or “eating well” never works, so we must stop it. Hold it lightly. Do only what enables. You never need to force it.
Fitness is not about thinness, it’s about mobility and activity. It doesn’t matter if you’re fat or thin, fit or not, if you don’t practice mobility, in time you will become immobile. Taking a weight-neutral perspective does not play one human off against another, it is one of equality – if you want to be able to move well in old age, then practice moving well, as you can, very simply – this might mean sitting on the floor more often, rotating your shoulders and stretching every time you yawn – and don’t judge other people because they were unable to make the same choices or enjoy the progress and development you yourself experienced.
And of course the irony is – sometimes we have to resist the temptation to always be working on something, we have to relax and remind ourselves that it also requires effort to stop trying to do all the things. Laziness isn’t laziness. It is necessary to sit the hell down, but it requires a strange kind of work to make time to not work.
There’s no such thing as laziness. Only resistance, disinterest, and fatigue.
Think about it. The only time people use the word ‘lazy’ is when they’re trying to make you do what they want, or the ‘right thing’ – but it doesn’t mean you’re lazy, just because you won’t do what you’re told.
So what’s really going on? Why aren’t you exercising like you believe you should? Why aren’t you motivated?
Maybe you’re resistant to doing what you’re told.
Maybe obedience and compliance aren’t what they’re made out to be, and you really aren’t interested in being an active participant in your own subjugation. Maybe you’re too damned fatigued and can’t muster the energy to guilt-trip yourself anymore.
What you’re bad at can often provide clues as to what you’re good at. In martial arts, I was never good at slow, controlled high kicks or sliding into the splits, but I was good at jumping, punching, and low, powerful stance work.
As a trainer and a coach, I was never good at bootcamps, large groups, or pushing people really hard until fatigue, but I am really good at training people one-on-one, technical work, and taking people through a process of development.
At Personal Trainer school, they used to talk about finding your unique selling point. So of course, everyone chose the same points: fitness, weight loss, etc. What they didn’t point out, is that your weaknesses reveal your strengths. If you’re not good at one thing, like getting people thin, you might be good at another, like helping people be at peace with their bodies.
I’ve been reflecting lately. Twenty years is a long time to have been exercising. I started training at a Ninja school when I was thirteen; that’s twenty-one years ago – and I kept that up for a little over a year. At age sixteen, I started training in Southern Shaolin Kung Fu, and since then I haven’t gone for longer than a three month period where I wasn’t actively training in one method or another.
It’s been a long time, and it has been very consistent. I have sometimes wondered why other people don’t seem to enjoy exercise like I do, but I also feel like I lost perspective too long ago to be able to work it out.
I have explored a lot of movement styles over the last two decades, including:
Kung Fu and Wushu (Southern Style, Shaolin, Northern Long Fist, Cannon Fist, Weaponry)
Qigong and Meditation
Running, Jogging and Skipping/Jump Rope
Acrobatics and Trampolining
Yoga – Ashtanga and Bikram
And those were really just the notable activities. I’ve also played around with fencing, cycling (often just for transport), swimming, Feldenkrais, Hip Hop, and some incredibly old-school Samurai martial arts (Naginatajutsu).
We are told, by our own experience and other people too, that you should exercise because it gives you energy. Which is true, certainly, but only in context. Exercise gives you energy, but it also demands energy of you, and the energy it yields is different from the energy it requires. All energy isn’t the same energy.
Endorphins are great, but they are made of protein, and our supply of them is not limitless. You can become depleted. And what then? Train harder, diet harder, chasing that good-exercise-feeling? Or take a break and eat more?
I wrote about putting this idea of beauty (as something out there, something you can qualify for, as something, anything that is not within you already) putting this idea of beauty to rest; putting this idea of needing to qualify to rest. Accepting yourself as you are. If you want to ‘work on’ something, work on discovering your own true character – not on serving the status-quo’s exploitative agenda.
But what then?
How do you motivate yourself to care for yourself, to exercise and all that stuff, when you’re over pandering to their demands? If you really are worthy now, as you are, then what’s the point of all that hard work?
That’s a good point.
It’s not worthwhile because some day it might make you beautiful. If that’s all you’re focussed on, you’ll miss the forest for the trees. If you’re constantly seeking this other thing, you’ll neglect – you won’t even be able to see – the real benefits that you’re getting right now. You’ll take them for granted, always looking for this other thing.