All Exercise is Bad

Image: Flickr

This is really only adjacent to being swole: when … do you go to the gym? Like, literally what hours of the day/week? How do you do it regularly? Prioritizing a form of exercise that serious, that you have to do that regularly is very daunting to me as a non-exerciser. — Nozlee

Personally, I go in the middle of the day, like as my lunch break, because I can. When I don’t go then, I go in the morning before work, which is when a lot of people go when they don’t have time otherwise. Plenty of people go after work but my gym is a zoo then, so if it gets past 3:30pm and I haven’t gone yet, then fuck that — I will go the next day. I know you say going “THAT regularly” is intimidating but if you don’t need a rigid routine in order to stick with something, the actual days you go can be pretty fluid. Sometimes I go earlier in the week, sometimes later, sometimes a couple days in a row, sometimes they’re spread out.

Going from not doing much to sticking to a tight, intense schedule would be daunting in any respect, not just for working out. My enthusiasm for working out comes and goes; sometimes I’m super-pumped to go, and decide I’m so excited I’m gonna become a columnist about it, and then months will go by where I’d rather surgically remove my own eye. I have a number of mental tricks I use on myself to get myself to show up regularly.

Tell yourself you won’t do much.

Put on all your gym clothes and be like, “I will do one exercise (e.g., squats) and see how I feel, and if I feel bad, I’ll go home.” When I do this I almost always end up finishing the workout because I am already there and sweaty.

Tell yourself it’s only an hour (or 30 minutes, or 20 minutes, or whatever).

This is such a small amount of time in the scope of your day. This sort of dovetails with the above; you can do anything for 20 minutes.

Tell yourself you’ll feel better after.

I think anyone will tell you even if you feel like shit, you will not feel worse after a workout.

Tell yourself you’ll feel better in your life.

I’m going to speak for everyone and say no one does exercise… for the exercise. All exercise is fundamentally bad. No one lifts weights because they love struggling awkwardly in weird positions, or feeling like they could be crushed at any moment, or sweating, or making their veins pop out of their neck and forehead. No one runs because they love putting one foot in front of the other for mile after mile or breathing really hard. It’s always hard; if it’s not hard you’re not exercising. People exercise because in the seconds, minutes, days, weeks following, you feel a different kind of good for each of those time increments. You feel accomplished, the good kind of tired, stronger, more coordinated, more agile, more flexible, even day to day, just picking stuff up or going up stairs. What you do in the long term matters — you can’t make excuses every day — but just for today, showing up and doing the thing will be enough. You don’t have to crush every movement and throw 45lb-plates around like frisbees and do handstand pushups while screaming the national anthem in order to get the benefits of a workout. If you’re just getting started, showing up is more than enough. Get used to showing up first before you expect anything of yourself, and build slowly.

Do other things!

Workout boredom is real. Change the movements you’re doing, or do some other exercise for a while. You don’t have to fully abandon what you were doing before, but maybe scale it back in favor of trying some new things. In fact, and I will get into this into a future column, you can’t be *optimally* fit by aggressively pursuing just one aspect, e.g., strength. Good lifters must be quite flexible; good runners are usually pretty strong; you’re not a good yogi if you can’t breathe heavily in downward dog for minutes at a time.

At the end of the day, it’s not that big a deal. The beauty of becoming one of these annoying fitness people who appear to work out all the time (but they don’t, honestly) is that working out becomes the rule of your life, not the exception. And when it’s not the exception, having to skip a workout here and here, or push it back a day or a week, or even a few months, it’s fine, because you always know you’ll be back. People get injured and have to take months off. Pros take years off sometimes, just for the hell of it! If you can push through the rule/exception inflection point, this won’t be the tough part anymore. And pushing through that involves doing some of the stuff above so you get a chance to see the benefits of working out build on themselves and pay off in the rest of your life.

But you may just need to choose. A sort of odd meme I’ve seen traded around people who lift is a rephrasing of “I can’t do [x, y, z] because I don’t have time, I don’t have energy, it’s too hard to get to the gym and back, etc etc” into “I can’t do [x, y, z] because it’s not a priority for me.” You do this to see how it sounds to you, the idea being that, if it is a priority, your excuses are weak. I see what they’re doing; it feels a little privileged because truly, not everyone can work out. Exercise, as a priority, can’t compete with paying your rent.

Physical health is important, but it doesn’t need to be a full-bore effort for your entire life span. At some points in your life you may have more time; at other points you may have less. You don’t need to work out a lot in order to get some benefits. But if you are interested in becoming a very fit person and don’t lead a life of leisure, or are actually very busy, you will have to choose it. You may have to choose sticking to a drink or two rather than getting wasted on a Saturday because you only made it to the gym one other time this week and have to go tomorrow; if you work 12-hour days because you’re used to being a go-getter, three of those days might have to be 11-hour days. I know. I know. It’s scary. But do it for your muscles.

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