We know that walking for as little as ten minutes is good for your health, yet any personal trainer will tell you it isn’t enough. For what? Weight-loss. What is enough? And how much pressure is supposed to be helpful, anyway?
If we can let go of our own hypocrisy, that will enable us to do things that are good for us, even though they won’t make us thin.
Anyone who says they have a fool-proof, guaranteed system is lying to you. If such a system actually existed, would anyone be fat? Hell no. If it’s a secret method, that means it’s statistically insignificant. So is that ‘one weird tip’ good for anything other than lightening your wallet?
If you do want to start exercising, if you think you’d like to train, you’d like to be fitter, what do you do? Where do you start? With anything at all that interests you. Knowing that pretty much all movement is good for us, you really can do anything you like.
But what’s best? What’s efficient? What will help you to develop?
A: who knows? B: who cares?
The ‘what’s best’ idea is only relevant if you imagine yourself training for a limited period of time – which is to say – if you hate exercise. “This had better be fucking good, because I’m only here under duress. I need efficiency. I’m a badass on a schedule! Raaaar!” How’s that going to work out for you? If you hate exercise, efficiency and progression aren’t going to help – the only thing that’s going to help is learning how to enjoy exercise freely.
Is it efficiency or longevity that’s going to serve you best? And how long do you think you can dedicate yourself to a program you despise? Why would you even agree to do that in the first place? Progression doesn’t come from giving 110% to your training rather than a mere 80% - it’s the accumulation of many, many workouts over time. Longevity trumps efficiency, in my book. Longevity trumps everything, and the enablers of longevity are satisfaction and enjoyment. If you give 110% for three weeks, where does that leave you in two years?
Think about how many conflicting fitness opinions there are out there. Who should you trust? Whoever you like. Do whatever makes sense to you. You can be your own trainer, if you can trust yourself enough.
The thing is, if you want to start, but you cannot – maybe there’s resistance, pressure, maybe it’s all too important and that forces you into inaction – nothing you can do is a waste of time. The best way I know of – the one that’s most useful – is to take it easy. Remove all prejudices and preconceptions. Who cares what’s most efficient? If it isn’t something you like, you’re not going to do it anyway.
If you go to they gym and you’re tired, you only train for ten minutes, that isn’t wasted time. If you only stretch, if you do some arm circles, foam rolling or you walk for six minutes on the treadmill and make no obvious progress - this is not wasted time. You don’t need to force it just because you made the effort to go to the gym. You don’t owe anyone. If you turn up, and you realise that today you don’t have the energy, you’ve learned something about yourself. And learning about yourself is always, ultimately, going to be good.
That’s the thing with pressure. There’s so much we should be doing. And what’s the result? We do none of it, or only the parts that we enjoy. If you want to never train again, tell yourself you need to do it for the rest of your life. Why do we feel trapped and constrained by this thing that’s supposed to be good for us? I just had a thought. ‘Exercise Machines’. Way to kill the fun of movement. Machines. What does that imply? Joy and freedom? Hardly.
If you focus on what’s enjoyable and satisfying, it’s not a trap. It’s not a life-sentence. It’s just taking things a day, a week at a time, and doing what you like now. In the future you’ll like different things. Don’t worry about it. Sometimes it’s ‘right’ to train, and sometimes it’s ‘right’ to rest. How do you tell what’s right? Follow your intuition. You don’t need to have achieved some pre-determined ideal point in order to ‘deserve’ a rest. Fatigue is not reserved for athletes only. Rest when you want to rest. Work when you want to work.
Somehow it isn’t enough to like to ride, you have to race. Or do a triathlon. Or whatever. We take the joy out of things that are inherently joyful, all the time. Why so serious?
Play when you want to play, work within structures and boundaries when you want structures and boundaries. Posture, mobility and flexibility work are all good for you. Developing your strength and cardiovascular capacity are good for you. Movement is good for you. Playing games is good for you. Telling hypocrites to go fuck themselves is good for you, but may have unpleasant consequences.
I jog lightly, sprint up hills or staircases, maybe three times a month. I do it because I like it. It’s not enough Exercise to progress athletically, but it is physical movement, at some degree of intensity, for some degree of duration, and that makes it good for me. I don’t plan to fit three runs into my coming moth – it’s just if I look back, that seems to be the habit I’m in. And I’m under no delusion that I’m going to maintain the same training program or methods for years on end.
I used to train handstands a lot, and I find myself thinking I’d like to train them more. Again. In my head, it’s something I enjoy. But when it comes to my actual training, I spend a lot of time on pull-ups, squats, push-ups, and other simple (yet strangely complex) lifts. I don’t find myself doing handstands. At the end of my sessions, I sometimes wonder if I want to do some, but rarely do I follow it through, and I’m usually too fatigued to get any ‘proper’ handstand training in, anyway.
What interests me is not finding ways to train handstands – what I find quite fascinating is this large, apparent gap between what I think I will find satisfying (what I expect to enjoy) and what what I actually find enjoyable in the moment when I’m training. I don’t really care that I’m not training handstands at the moment, because I understand what I really want is to be active, to be working on something I enjoy, and I enjoy what I actually train. And like all things, this will change in the future. So what? That’s what training for health is – it really doesn’t matter much what you’re doing.
It’s not the fact that you’re fit that makes you healthy – whether or not you’re fit is kind of irrelevant. It’s the fact that you exercise. It’s the exercise that’s good for you, not some arbitrary ‘state of fitness’. If you’re unfit and you train, that’s good for you. If you’re fit and you train, that’s good for you too. There are benefits you accumulate – clearly – improved strength, tissue quality, what have you. I’ve been training fairly regularly for more than fifteen years and if I stop and think about how I should be doing all this other stuff that I’m not doing right now, it cripples my motivation to train. My enthusiasm dies a painful, shame-filled death. So I don’t lock myself into restrictive or specific programs. I might try them out from time to time, with an awareness that this program is supposed to serve me - I don’t serve the program. This awareness enables me to change the program where I want, because I haven’t given up ownership of my training. Usually when we change a program to suit us, we’re made to feel disobedient, we’re told that we need to stick to it if we want to succeed. I say screw that shit.
I was always drawn towards individual sporting pursuits rather than team sports. If, like me, you usually prefer to train alone for whatever reason (sometimes I simply don’t play well with others), that’s fine. There’s an enormous list of both team-sporty-activities and individual pursuits you can draw from, if you’re tired of the weight stigma and you simply want to try stuff out and get a real experience of being in your body, doing cool stuff.
When people get fat, they say they feel like they aren’t the person they used to be. You are still the person you are. Fat doesn’t have this magical power to make you ‘not you’. You can hide behind your fat only for so long - you can try to convince yourself that you’re a thin person trapped in a fat body, but that particular delusion will fail you because fat does not, it cannot change who you are. Stigma, however, fucks us up good and proper. The way to end stigma is not to be thin, it’s not to ‘find the secret to lasting change’, it’s to stop being one of the assholes who contributes to the stigma in the first place. It’s by not stigmatising ourselves.
I refuse to sacrifice myself for the dubious pleasure of fitting in with the crowd. The same crowd I have spent so much time trying to separate myself from.
Mediocrity. A life wasted. Am I supposed to believe fatness is the sign? How about pandering to the delusions of the ignorant masses? How about sacrificing your own good opinion and judgment for the sake of popularity?
Your internal life does not have to reflect the prejudices of a bigoted society. I will not give myself my own approval when I lose weight, only to take it away when I gain. I will not succumb to these hypocritical standards. I will not try to lose weight at the expense of joy, vitality and health. Hating someone because of the way they look is the pure act of bigotry - hating yourself because of the way that you look... You need to be gentle. You can’t force your way out of hatred. You can’t hate yourself towards love. You have to remove prejudice, preconceptions, and free yourself. And gently is the only way I know how to succeed.
If health really is something you care about – give up on weight. Do something that’s good for you. Do something that supports you, that nourishes you, that encourages you to live your own life, to march to the beat of your own drum, screw it – build your own drumming band if you have to. But pandering to the masses? Forever seeking a thinner body? Wasting your true self, only to buy into delusion and self-hatred? That’s not the life I want.