Working out sucks. Stop doing it. Seriously.
That might sound like some odd advice from the section of FYMP that professes to be the physical well-being side of the house, but those three words are essential to be able to understand every blog post that comes after this. In the cartoon above, Calvin is confused not only why adults don’t play, but also the definition of “play” offered by his father. Calvin’s father is also in turn confused, and clearly disappointed, by his own explanation. I think it would be more accurate to replace the word “exercise” with “working out” as it is more conventionally used for what Calvin’s dad is referring to and elicits a more specific visual. That being said, working out sucks.
I exercise anywhere from three to seven days a week depending on the circumstances and I agree, working out sucks. How does that make any sense? Have I just come to terms with the Sisyphean task that is working out in order to achieve a level of fitness or a physique that I want? Hell no. I don’t work out. I used to, but over the years I’ve been giving it up in favor of what Calvin would more readily recognize as play. The best part about removing “workouts” from exercise? Exercise becomes fun again.
Just as in my previous post about running in pants, you’re probably suffering from a classic case of “you’re doing it wrong.” I’m going to play the same assumptions game and make a few guesses about what your workouts look like. First, there is a seemingly endless list of specialized equipment, starting with clothes, shoes, accessories (those gloves match your purse?), not to mention the seemingly endless list of extra tools you can buy (think late night QVC-style TV) and finally the numerous racks, machines and ‘bells of all sorts that can only be found in a specialized place. That specialized place is the target of my second assumption: after dressing up in a workout outfit, you probably got in your car and drove to a gym (if you ran or biked there, good on you, but you’re still doing it wrong). Third, once inside this workout facility, you likely engaged in the standard workout structure: warm-up, stretch, workout, cool-down, stretch more, leave. This workout structure likely has a name. Some of us old folks probably remember the Sweating to the Oldies-style regimens and nowadays the kids buzz on about Zumba, CrossFit, HIIT, The 300 Workout, and so on. That’s a list I would hate to ever have to make comprehensive (speaking of Sisyphus…).
But wait, there’s more! On to number four: chances are pretty good, especially if you’re of the male variety, there is some sort of supplement involved. That can include anything from pre-, intra-, and post-workout supplements, pills (or “tabs.” Ugh, stop saying “tabs.”), powders and anything in between. Raise your hand if you have some Breaking Bad-shit going on in your locker or kitchen; you’re not alone. Next up, many folks these days are finishing their workouts with logging. Lots and lots of logging. Who knows how people ever managed to do anything before smartphone apps, GPS, Nike chips in shoes, calorie in/calorie out websites, etc., etc., etc. And don’t forget, Facebook. Raise your hand if you have ever created or witnessed a workout related post on Facebook; you too are not alone.
Did I leave anything out? There is indeed something missing from this party – fun. While not everything listed above is inherently bad, none of it sounds particularly enjoyable. Therein lies the greatest obstacle when it comes to establishing a fit lifestyle: you will naturally stray from things that are not enjoyable. The one piece of human anatomy that decides enjoyment level is the same critical piece of human anatomy that likely 99% of people who “workout” forget during exercise. THE BRAIN. This is critical so much that I’m going to go all caps-lock on it again. THE BRAIN. Now, I will readily admit that researching, memorizing, recording and analyzing all of the workout regimens, sets and supplements of many people who work out is nothing short of PhD candidate level academic rigor (I’ve been there), but that is absolutely not what I mean by leaving THE BRAIN out of the equation. Side note, in my head, every time I type THE BRAIN, I sound it out like I imagine an old-school zombie would.
So what do I mean by leaving THE BRAIN (ok, that was the last time, it’s been fun though) out of the workout? This is actually really complex in explanation, to the point that I intend to explain the brain’s function in different, specific aspects of exercise in many future posts. For now however, let’s simply take a broad look at how much the brain is involved in working out. The human body experienced thousands of years of survival and improvement in environments that were much less ideal than all of the artificial stuff that are found in workouts, as outlined above. The human brain evolved along with the body in those less than ideal environments. If countless and unsurprising psychological studies can effectively prove that nature (where our brains and bodies grew up over millennia) has many positive effects on our mental wellbeing, is it that much of a leap to think that “workouts” (effectively a 100% artificial activity, based on the above criteria) aren’t the best option? That maybe you’ve effectively removed the brain from the exercise equation? If we put our brain in a more natural environment there are marked increases in good feelings…maybe using our bodies to move naturally in that natural environment ought to make the brain happy as well.
Again, as I said, much more will come of this discussion, however let’s play another mental exercise. Start by checking out some nature. Go on a hike, do some trail running, climb (or attempt to climb) a tree. Anything. This is of course harder depending on where you live, but I defy you to come up with an airtight excuse for why you can’t even find a city park. Try moving in nature, without any specific and artificial assistance (some shoes and durable clothes may be a good idea…more on why in future posts) and just take note of how you feel afterward. Natural movement in a natural environment and then think about it. Leave comments below of your experience if you’re so inclined!