In November I will turn 40. When you're struggling with the head of youth and young adulthood, middle age seems like a distant life. Now here it is, damn clichés, I can't help but reflect on the last decades, in particular as regards my journey through the world of health and fitness.
Errors have been made. Efforts were wasted. Time has been lost. If I could mentor my 20-year-old self, the first thing I would do would be to collect all the worn-out fitness and lifestyle magazines that would soon lead me astray and throw them all in the trash to which they belong. So I sat down and imparted the following hard-earned knowledge.
It should be fun
Do you remember the recreation? Do you remember how fun it was to let yourself go to the schoolyard after having endured hours of forced sitting? Unlike the gymnastics lesson, with its ethos of power is right, recreation has provided an outlet for obtaining a physique accessible to all.
Games for children like the Dutch double, the red rover and the tag I have always liked more than traditional sports, but with the age, the company tells us to stop playing, to get serious, to respect and follow the rules. The adult rules of physical form emphasize pain, suffering and the pleasure of pleasure, joy and recreation. Exercise becomes a form of corporal punishment simply because it exists; you can't indulge in any of life's rewards without having to pay the price on the treadmill the next day.
I have been a victim of this mentality for too many years. Only when I discovered martial arts did things start to change. Here was something that looks and sounds a lot like playing, but it also makes me sweaty and strong. My days of sincere work through random bodybuilding workouts have been numbered.
The point here is that there is great happiness in being active, you just have to find the right outlet. Powerlifting, CrossFit, sport with kettlebell, parkour, gymnastics, cycling, swimming, dancing, walking, running, rowing, climbing: each of these activities has value, each can provide "results". If your current training leaves you bored and listless, try something new. A whole world of movement possibilities awaits.
Start with stability
Just like solving an algebra problem or landing a 747, the principles for getting in shape are governed by a specific order of operations. However, unlike the laws of mathematics and aerodynamics, the consequences of ignoring the rules of fitness are not so terrible. The worst thing that will happen, outside of a real injury, is a complete lack of progress in achieving one of your goals.
There are variations on these passages, captivating words that some coaches will use to improve their industry brand, but the essence is the same: first increase stability, then build strength, then apply that strength to some form of fast, explosive movement. The logic of this continuum is obvious: you cannot be fast without being strong and you cannot be strong without first building a stable base. Obviously, all this was beyond me when I started to raise, which is why I didn't make progress for a long time.
The fitness industry is sold using exciting images of muscular people who do fantastic things: Kettlebell swings! Box jump! Disconnect! – the implicit message is: it could be you. Of course, this type of advanced exercise is what newbies are attracted to when they first enter the gym, when what they should do is learn to move properly. I know that boards and push-ups are boring, but first you have to master your body. So, and only then, are you ready to increase resistance.
You don't need barbells
This is a corollary of the last two points, if not a summary of my overall fitness philosophy. Barbells are designed to support a significant weight – hundreds and hundreds of pounds – and, in this regard, they do their job very well. And you? What are you wired to do?
If your answer is "move the weight as humanly as possible", follow the barbell workout. It will serve you well for a while, as long as your technique and programming are valid, but in the end your body will break. Watch the documentary Westside vs. the World for evidence of this.
For everyone else, it's time to think outside the squat rack. If you're walking in your workouts with something less than a semi-reluctant enthusiasm, getting rid of the boundaries of barbells and benches can have a dramatic impact on your mindset. Think of the push-ups on the bench, the pull-ups to the pull-downs, the sled above the squats. In fact, everyone should squat down, to do so you don't need to just carry a barbell on your back.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Toronto.
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