<editorsnote> Nerds, meet my buddy Adam. I met him when I ousted him as mayor of his apartment building on Foursquare during my loverly couch surfing adventures. Really great dude, and SUPPEERRR pasisonate about all things fitness. He’s here today to give you some tips and tricks on how to get your body in tip top shape. I only have one more thing left to say … HIT IT ADAM !!</editorsnote>
Fitness is important to me on many levels. Sure it’s about physical health, but there so much more to it. It’s about mental health, it’s about poise, it’s about a physical reminder of things that aren’t always so simple to grasp, and above all it’s about preparedness for the zombie apocalypse. It’s also an undeniable part of my past as an athlete. Either way, game on.
My approach to fitness is a bit bewildering to people, sometimes it comes off as stubbornness, or maybe just craziness, and as I try to explain my mindset this doesn’t always get much better. Mostly this consists of me trying to explain that the crazy things I’m doing, plan to do, or have done in the past “aren’t that hard.” That’s about the point I lose people. I suppose it comes off as false modesty, but it’s this reaction that’s made me realize the problem. It’s a problem of understanding how the body works, how the mind works, the relativity of the idea of a “workout”, and really the idea of fitness in general. So I hope can chip away at some of that here, and send you away with a little homework.
Question 1: What’s the point of fitness?
In my mind maintaining a level of fitness is not only relative, but also a matter of understanding the actual meaning of “fitness”, and what that means about your goals. To most people working out, or maintaining some level of fitness, is a chore. I tend to suspect this boils down to a question of “what’s the point?” Going to work out is kinda of monotonous, and it makes sense that it’d be hard to motivate yourself if the idea is just, well, the world says I should do it, so there must be a point. So… What’s the point? Here it is…
The point of general fitness is to keep the body and mind ready for the chaos of life. It’s not about having a lower time in some race, or the number on the weight you lift, or any of that bullshit that people compare to try make one person better than another. It’s about being able to get out of the way of the skateboarder flying at you on the side walk, or bend over and pick up your backpack without having to think about how you pick it up in order to avoid injury. When was the last time you saw any animal in the wild carefully lifting with it’s legs. If you went down to your local gym right now you’d see a number of people that you might think of as “in shape” but their “fitness” is probably pretty poor. That dude may be able to bench press 400lbs, but if he can’t do it standing on one leg then it’s not much use, because most of walking is standing on one leg or the other, never-mind running. So, sorry bro, unless I need you to move a boulder from a cave entrance, you’re probably not much help to me.
Question 2: What is “Baseline Fitness?”
I joke about the Zombie Apocalypse, but that is actually sort of a valid way of thinking about it. If you suddenly had to fend for yourself, while occasionally escaping a predator, how would you do?That’s your fitness level. Believe it or not this is exactly the physical dynamic that the body is built to withstand. This, of course, brings up the first mismatch that makes this stuff so tricky. Society has progressed past what our bodies are built to deal with, we don’t have to run from beasts, and climb trees, and so on, but we still have a body built to store energy when it gets it, run from the predators, and chase down and kill prey. This is why it feels like a chore, because it’s really not that important for actual survival anymore. Unfortunately the physical systems in our body haven’t re-calibrated for this, and they won’t, so if you want to keep the body happy and functioning you have to fake it. This is a fundamental difference between athletes and your average person. Athletes have found a replacement. Whatever they’re training for has replaced running from a bear.
So here’s your first assignment: Find something to run from. Zombies, dogs, your mother-in-law, whatever. But if the shit hits the fan, can you get away from it? Want to get trickier, what supplies can you carry while you’re running? Want to get more Rambo with it, also pick something to fight. A shark, a bear, your mother-in-law, whatever. Whatever you think you can handle now, that’s your baseline, the point of working out is try and make the things you can fight, flee and carry a bit bigger than they are now. But for now just think about it. Think about it when you go up the steps, when you bend over to pick something up, whenever.
Question 3: How do I raise my baseline?
Well, this is the essence of the idea of “training”. But for now don’t sweat where your baseline is. We’ll get there later. First there’s some more stuff to think about…
Here’s the thing: any one human can only ask so much of the body at one time. The ability to adapt from one day to the next is finite. Yet people tend to look at goals they want to reach that, when look at in the face of this look pretty damn demoralizing. To say you want to do 100 pushups, when you can only do 10, 100 seems really far away. Demoralizingly so. We also make the mistake of comparing ourselves to athletes. The point of thinking of baselines is to try and diffuse this frustration.
The important thing to remember is that your baseline is yours only. The idea of ” a workout” is measurement relative only to you. I used to be a competitive swimmer, a sprinter, and our average workout was somewhere on the order of 7-8 thousand meters. That’s roughly 300-400 laps in a 25 meter pool. Sounds batshit crazy right? Well it’s really not. For one, we took years to build the ability to go that far, and once that baseline is there it’s only the last 1000 or so that’s actually hard. I mean, it takes time, calories are burned, it’s work, but it’s not really difficult, it doesn’t really hurt. It’s that last bit that’s causing adaptation. It might still sound nuts, but that’s how baseline’s work, and how awesomely the body can adapt. If it’s used to doing 7 thousand every day, then the workout is only really the 1000 that gets you to 8. It’s that little % extra that will make you stronger the next time. What’s a workout for you might not be for me, and what’s a workout for me is nothing to Lance Armstrong, but that doesn’t mean shit. The point is to push yourself to adapt, the point isn’t some number, it’s that push. And this is the problem with the normal view of fitness. We shouldn’t be looking at where we want our baseline to be as a goal, we should be looking at achieving that extra percentage relative to whatever we’ve got as the goal. If you’ve hit that, then you’re done for the workout, pat yourself on the back. Keep at it long enough and the further goals fall in line.
So we’re back to the thing I mentioned earlier, how much we can ask of the body? It’s actually easier to think of in terms of volume, or water. You’re a jug, and your “baseline fitness” level is the size of your jug, which is also going to control how much water you can put in it. The way our body and energy systems work, and once that jug is full, we can only add a couple more shot-glasses to that jug with every workout. But guess what, that 2 shot glass limit applies across the board. This is the fun thing. You can only add two, I can only add two, and Lance Armstrong can only add two. We can only exert ourselves a certain amount past max, but it’s that little bit that will stretch the jug.
The point is always to look at your baseline, and to make the goal to push just a bit past it with every workout. When you think about it this way you realize that you’re already on a level playing field with Lance Armstrong. Maybe he can ride 100 miles in a day and you can ride 20. But if he rides 100, you ride 20, and join him for the the last 10 it’s going to hurt just as much for both of you. And you’re both going to wake up better the same amount relative to where you were yesterday. And only focusing on that, and knowing that you can only reasonably adapt so fast is how we bring the baseline up.
So here’s your second assignment: I’m still not even going to give you a workout to do. It’s another mental exercise. This one is about reframing your goals. It’s about looking at whatever picture you have on the wall, whatever weight you want to get down to, whatever distance you want to run, and remind yourself that we can only adapt two shotglasses at a time. Me, you, and Lance Armstrong can only do a tiny bit each day relative to the goals our imagination (or our fucking doctors, and that’s a whole different discussion) can dream up. Think about those goals, but focus on the two shotglasses, and think that once you get started those two shots aren’t optional. They’re life.
That’s it for today. See…the homework isn’t even that bad, it’s all in your head for now. Keep doing what you’re doing, but try to think about those new things. Just trying to shift your perspective on those two is extra workout enough. It’s that mismatch of mind and body I alluded to earlier. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for the effort mental tasks take. You might not sweat, but doing these two things will be a hell of a workout for a week.
Any questions!? Hit me on Twitter (@thekerp).