If it doesn’t improve your life in some way, you won’t value it. And of course – if you don’t see it improving your life, what is the point? Who would do that? There is no reason to spend time on training if it doesn’t improve your life in some way. That is supposed to be the point, when all is said and done.
Training does improve the quality of your life, as long as you’re training in a way that’s appropriate and useful to you. Doing what you’re told might not be a good fit. Following your intuition and instinct for satisfying movements and useful progressions is actually a pretty tough path to follow. It’s hard to know if you’re doing it right.
I’ve got a whole host of issues with the “strong is the new skinny” thing you see going around the internet these days. Others have written well about the problems with fitspiration – not the least of which is the fact that they always pick thin models to go with this phrase. If it really was true, where are the pictures of strong, fat athletes? We do exist, and we can be depicted for non-shame-related reasons.
But the thing that they’re going for – what’s good about it – is that they want women to value muscular development in the way we have been taught to value thinness. And that’s okay, actually – I like this. Muscle is good; strength is good; increased bone density is good, and a muscle-centric training approach reminds you to eat enough, it rejects excessive restriction. It’s just that they go about it in the same insecurity-exploiting way – be more sexy. But muscle isn’t valuable because it’s sexy, and the reason training is valuable isn’t because of the way it makes you look.
More than anything else, it’s because of the way it makes you feel. And good training will make you feel good, just as bad training will make you feel bad. Training that makes you feel confident, proud, capable, mobile and graceful is good for you. Training that makes you feel self-conscious, panicky, critical and inadequate is bad for you.
I remember reading once, that the way to tell whether or not you are experiencing central nervous system fatigue is by whether or not you feel motivated to train. It’s genius, really. If your motivation is non-existent, assuming you are training in a positive environment, it’s your body telling you to back off, take a break. If you’re training in a bad environment, however – well, there’s really no need to go back there.
It’s hard to clearly judge your own condition. We tend to think that we should be able to do more, even when we are fatigued. Especially then. We think we’re lazy and we need to push through. Sometimes, for progress, you need to train more, and sometimes you need to train less. It’s really hard to work out which one it is; sometimes if you’re hardly training at all, you’re still doing too much, or it might be too much of one thing and not enough of another. There is always a balance between training and recovery. We think about training harder, but what are you doing to help you recover?
A couple of years ago I got into this weird habit: I’d work hard and fatigue myself far too much, then need to take a break for a couple of weeks, then feel good and hit it hard again, then need to take a break – I thought I was better at hitting the right level of intensity and effort for progress, but I actually had to pull back when I was feeling good, err on the side of doing too little, and slowly build up my ability to recover. You work harder, you need longer to recover. It’s logical. Your ability to work hard may exceed your ability to recover, as was the case for me, in which case you need to moderate your enthusiasm and give yourself a little space so that your recovery-ability can improve. It’s not all about the high intensity work.
Trust yourself. The things that make you feel good are good for you. The things that make you feel bad are not. Progress appropriately. If you cannot do push-ups, and you hate them, simply trying harder at a thing you hate isn’t going to get you anywhere. Do something else. After you have progressed a bit at other things, you might find you’re strong enough to attempt push-ups without hating them, or to be able to embrace a specific program or process. This is what progress is all about.
You can burn yourself out at any age, at any fitness level, and you can also discover useful movements to train at any age, at any fitness level. But they’re hard to discover if you’re basing your training choices on fitness mags and websites that assume disability and individual variations do not exist.
Muscle has value. Strength and structure have value. Mobility has value. Softness has value. These are specific things you can practice, train or develop. And when you notice that you feel better, you come to value the process.
To butcher a Nelson Mandela quote, we are not born ashamed of our bodies. If we can be taught to be ashamed, we can learn to be proud and gracious and thankful. We can learn to appreciate ourselves, and when you start to feel strong, this crosses over into other aspects of your life. We can learn to reject and deny the pressure to hate ourselves in the name of love.
Too often, we think of beauty as a static thing. As a shape, a weight. But the way you stand and the way you move improve in response to good training, and they are visible too. Change comes, but not in the way we expect. Time passes quickly. “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”. All things change and grow. Stress exists and coping skills can be learned. There is an appropriate way for all things to progress.
Seek out that which has value. You will discover many things, and any training experience can be an educational experience.