“No pain, no gain” is something that I still hear frequently around the gym, and it always gives me pause.
While a certain amount of physical discomfort is part of the “getting in shape” experience, all too often I see people pushing themselves too hard as they strain to push or pull a piece of equipment around. There is a fine line that we tread in our fitness programs, and people are continually asking me, “How much is too much?” More importantly, at what point does exercise stop being fun, becoming something else to check off a daily “to do” list?
My general, all-encompassing response is that you need to listen to your body. In today’s world of cell phones and email, fast food and commutes, I worry that we have been disconnected from ourselves and our bodies. Stopping to smell the roses has become something of a lost art in the era of the ten hour workday, and “multi-tasking” has come to mean that nothing ever gets our undivided attention anymore.
I had a client who complained that although she spent an hour a day on aerobic activity, it didn’t seem to be producing noticeable results. I watched her later that week as she sat on a stationary bike, slowly spinning as she edited work proposals, and explained that when neither activity was getting her full attention, neither would produce the best possible outcome.
Another client tried to maximize the time that she spent in the gym by running at full tilt for twenty minutes, then charging for the shower gasping so that she would make it to work on time.
I understand job pressures, and the challenge inherent in the juggling act that most of our lives have become. Personal fitness seems to slip by the wayside a great deal of the time, in addition to general health and a sense of well being.
The biggest problem that I have with my clients is that they have a tendency to skip meals, to just forget to eat during the course of their day. I wonder how we have become so disconnected with our physical being that we no longer hear that primal voice telling us to refuel, or to stop and rest or sleep when we get tired. Machines were supposed to be our savior, providing more free time as they assumed the burden of a multitude of tasks. Ironically, the reverse has happened; not only do we have less time, we have become more like machines ourselves, driving forward to the limits of physical endurance in the course of our daily lives.
I constantly need to remind myself and my clients that your body is the one constant. Regardless of everything that happens throughout your life, at work, home, and in your personal relationships, your physical being will be where everything ends, and how you treat it during the course of your life greatly affects its strength and endurance.
This includes not just physical fitness, but mental fitness.
Exercise can reduce stress, eliminate depression, and provides a host of other benefits. The reason that we work out is not so that we have abs of steel or huge pecs. The main reason that you should exercise is to feel capable of maintaining the pace of life in the twenty-first century, both mentally and physically.
Instead of pounding the treadmill, take a walk through a park at dawn or at dusk.
Instead of spending a Saturday morning at the gym, go for a hike or a bike ride.
Try to find pleasure not just in the by-products of exercises, but in the movement itself, and where it can take you.
Exercise is not supposed to be about pain, it is supposed to give you pleasure in the shell that we carry our souls in, to care for it the same way that you tend to other aspects of your life.
Remember always to have fun, and realize that in the end, everything else will slip away and assume less significance. Don’t push too hard now, so that you can enjoy leisurely strolls when you’re eighty years old. Every day should appear endless and rife with possibility.
Don’t get so caught up in the race that you forget why we’re here; you only get one life, one body, and one soul. Don’t let the din of daily life get so loud that you can no longer hear that voice inside yourself telling you what you need.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) can help you to find an
ACE certified trainer in your area. They can be contacted at either
www.acefitness.org, or by calling 1.800.825.3636.