Why Exercise?

I figured this would be a good question to start off with. It seems like a d’oh kind of a question, an easy question with easy answers.

Fat loss. See? That was easy.

What else?

To be healthier, stronger.

Could be more specific, but sure. Now what else?

Most people might start to draw a blank right now.

The point of this isn’t to put down the importance of shedding body fat as a goal but to have a few more incentives in your back pocket, just in case. I’m a hoarder by nature and I like to think of this as saving some extra reasons for that rainy day when motivation is running low and the excuses outweigh the urge to go into the gym.

Another reason is that fat loss is a tricky and fluctuating process, despite how straightforward those ‘Before and After’ social media posts make it seem. How, why and where your body decides to store fat is a result of a whole host of variables, and you’ll find a lot of voices chiming in on this one – not only nutrition but the quality of your food and the timing of when you eat, not only focusing on strength training but also the style and intensity of training, not only how genetics affect your metabolism but also hormones and your eating history. I could go on and on, but there are a million more in-depth discussions on all these different factors floating out there on the Internet, so to cut it short, your body will lose or store fat for different reasons at different points of your life. It isn’t quite so set in stone as it seems.

So think of a few back-up answers to this question. They can be small reasons (to be able to do 10 push ups in a row), they can be intensely personal reasons (to spend more time with your boy/girlfriend in the gym), they can be lofty reasons that you don’t dare say out loud because of how far away it seems (to get over your fear of the weight room and walk in there like you own it!).

You might not find them all now, you might discover your passions as you go along  like you did when you got thrown into working life as opposed to picking from a list handed to you during school. You might think and rethink and change them, but here’s a few of mine that will hopefully inspire some food for thought (and if you’re hungry for more, Precision Nutrition has a very good post why else we should lose weight).

Because it’s a fun hobby

Fun? Working out? That’s a lie that trainers tell in the same way that doctors give kids lollipops at the end of a painful check up, right? Well, if I had to spend an hour every day being forced to do exercises that only make me feel like giving up (definitely burpees) by someone yelling numbers, I would hate working out too. Sure, we all need to be pushed to our limits in order to progress sometimes, and we definitely need to do certain exercises to keep our bodies healthy even if we hate every second of it, but that doesn’t mean that the whole routine has to feel like a torture session.

We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that exercise is a chore to suffer through. Just think of the more popular fitness slogans out there. No pain, no gain. Sweat is just fat crying. It will take a while to recalibrate your relationship with working out, but aim to see it as an hour dedicated entirely to your wellbeing, in both the physical and mental sense of the word. I don’t know about you, but when I plan to have an hour to myself, I definitely want to enjoy that time. It can be anything from finding out which exercises you enjoy the most (clue: it’s probably the exercise that you’re best at as well!) and pairing that with one that you don’t enjoy as much,  to trying a new class every week until you find something that you love doing.

You can also treat this as a time to reflect on your personality and what makes you thrive. Do you like to challenge yourself but still improve at your own pace? Look for a progressive workout routine you can do yourself that has you lifting a little more or adding extra reps every week. Is it competition and the thrill of coming out on top that pushes you? Try something community-oriented like CrossFit or take out your aggression in an MMA class. Do you just want to take your mind off things and be somewhere else for an hour? Maybe a spinning or a dance class that doesn’t need too much concentration and will just have you bopping along to some upbeat tunes.

Because you can accomplish something

There will be times where you have to suffer through a heavy-ass squat or the last two minutes of an intense cardio interval in order to break through a plateau and continue to improve, but the feeling of satisfaction and I can’t believe I did that! after pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is irreplaceable because it’s something that you did all on your own.

How many things in life can you say that about, really? Speaking as someone who was used to the methodical ladder of challenges handed to me by schools growing up, it was a bit disconcerting to graduate into the unpredictability of working life – things either stagnate and feel routine and boring or become so hectic and consuming that you barely have five minutes to yourself at the end of the day. The gym can be a space for you to take control of an hour of your life and feel like you’re at least progressing towards a solid goal there.

What motivates me isn’t that stranger standing over me telling me to do an exercise because it’s good for me. What motivates me is knowing the reason why I’m doing something difficult. It’s knowing that there is a planned progression, that I  am working towards improving, method in the madness so to speak.

Find ways to track that progress so that it becomes something real that you can look back on. You can keep a notebook and write down all the weights and reps you’ve been doing, or if that’s too much work note down one or two of your weaknesses at beginning of the month and come back to it next month to see how much you’ve improved. Take progress pictures if aesthetics is what’s motivating you. You have a right to be proud of how your body looks since you’ve invested so much hard work in it!

Because you’ll learn what moving really feels like

Hopefully this will intrigue you enough to get you into the gym. Calisthenics-based and functional exercises in particular are a great step towards relearning how we were meant to move before societal constructs like desk jobs and conveniences like furniture and public transport taught us to live with just two set positions: sitting and standing.

When you learn about all the other movements that we should be able to do just as a foundation (this deserves a separate post but that includes positions like squatting comfortably on the ground, being able to stand up and down easily, crawling, hanging, reaching up and bending down without stress and so on), it will feel kind of like a revelation.

I’m planning to write more on this type of functional training in the future, but if this has caught your interest try heading over to Max Shank or Katy Bowman‘s blogs to incorporate more movement into your daily life.

Because you’ll enjoy a better quality of life

Longevity is always a benefit that comes up when people talk about health and fitness. I’m not discounting that hundred-year-old mark as a goal to aim for. Let’s scale down for a second and picture yourself at a modest 80, though. Would you rather still be able to get up and  move about whenever you like all on your own or chair-bound and dependent on someone else to move around? Living longer might not be such a good thing when you can’t spend that extra time doing the things you or your family enjoy.

Let’s not look at something so far off. Let’s rewind to the present moment. Can you walk up or down a slope without feeling something catching in your knee? How about that struggle at the grocery store when you want to buy an extra carton of milk but are thinking twice about it because you know it will feel way too difficult to carry? Do you feel like groaning when you drop something and have to bend down and feel that stress on your lower back when you pick it up? How about just standing, does something as basic as that bring some form of pain with it, whether it’s in your ankles or your knees or your back?

There are a multitude of little roadblocks and struggles in our everyday life that we’ve taken for granted without pausing to think that something can be done about them. The bad news is that age will inevitably make them even more bothersome. The good news is that it’s never too late to start fine-tuning your body and giving it some love.

 

Food For Thought: are you doing it ‘just because’?

I’ve gone on for long enough now and it’s probably high time that I signed off, but just before I do I’d like to cover the other end of the scale: the people who can do intense, butt-busting workouts without any reasons, just because they can.

Firstly, that’s a wonderful, practically robotlike ability that should definitely be appreciated. If that’s what works and it doesn’t disrupt your life in any way, then by all means continue on and click away now.

From my point of view, though, arbitrary reasons can also come at the expense of other things. It’s become way to common for avid gym-goers now to go to extremes despite that little old niggling pain – to push for that 100 KG squat PR despite the fact that they can barely squat properly without any weight, to keep practising your handstand in spite of that crick in your shoulder, to up your group classes from two to three a day even though you are feeling more and more fatigued.

It wouldn’t hurt (and actually might help with what does hurt) to take a step back and ask why again.

What does that arbitrary bench press number mean in the bigger context of your life – does it also come with elbow or wrist pain? What would you lose that you couldn’t build up again by backpedalling a little bit and working on mobility to make sure the foundation you’re building on is solid enough?

What do you gain by being able to do a handstand? It’s a cool party trick, but is it just an illusion if you don’t have the required shoulder stability or core strength to get that balance just right?

What is the purpose of doing endless hours of cardio until you feel like dying? Is there a benefit to the acts themselves of sweating, being out of breath and pushing your body to unhealthy levels of stress?

The point of this isn’t to say that there are definite right or a wrong reasons. There are clear and unclear reasons, and the best results tend to come from clarifying the intention behind your training. So take some time every once in a while to find somewhere quiet during your day, sit down and think: why?

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