Fitness fatigue is not a physical phenomenon. It’s an emotional one.
Our world has become all about measurement and data. Much to our detriment, many have come to believe that everything can be measured and, therefore, should be. Fitness has not escaped that trend, and working out has become an issue of external measurements. It’s about your body mass index. Or your heart rate. Or how many crunches you can do in two minutes. Or what weight you’re maxing out at on the bench press. Or how many steps you took today.
It’s as if going out for a terrific run doesn’t matter unless we achieve a pinpoint goal of how long we ran or how far we ran and how quickly we ran it. Or playing for an hour with your kids on the jungle gym doesn’t really matter because there’s really no way to measure the physical impact of that play.
There’s an even more insidious measurement of our fitness, and that’s our appearance. We do more and more sit-ups because we want those six-pack abs. We pound more and more miles on that treadmill because we’re trying to lose those flabby saddlebags at the base of our buttocks. We bike more and more miles to shed those love handles and get those chiseled calves. We don’t play soccer with our kids or friends because, well, we’re just not sure how many calories that will burn, and we know exactly the minimum of calories we need to burn each day if we want to look a certain way, so we do intervals around the track instead while they play on the field within.
It is this focus on these external measurements, the numbers and the appearance, that’s leading to our fitness fatigue. Let me explain.
First, the numbers game. Part of the reason it’s impossible to judge fitness by numbers is that the numbers keep changing. The rules are never the same. To make my point, I turn first to nutrition. Some of you are old enough to remember the time that butter was bad for you, so we all ate margarine. Now, turns out, both butter and margarine have their pros and cons, or at least that’s the story this year. Then all fats were bad for you, except now there’s actually a good kind of fat. Or fruits are fine, but just don’t eat them in the morning or too much since they’re high in sugar. Or red meat is off-limits. No, wait, Paleo dieters love it, so actually it’s good. Frankly, I forget what it is these days.
It’s the same with all the numbers around fitness. We should all be walking 10,000 steps (just under 5 miles) per day, and we’ve even got little devices to count those steps. Once we hit 10,000, it was a good day for our body. Or we should all be doing 30 minutes of aerobic exercise four days a week, and if we do, we reduce our chances of a heart attack by 50 percent. Or was it 150 minutes of exercise per week, which is a half-hour five days a week, not four? No matter, next year, on New Year’s Day, when we get all those articles about fitness that coincide with the annual resolution to push for a new you, the standard of measurement will have changed. See what I mean by this madness of numbers? It’s very difficult to feel like you’re winning any game where the rules keep changing.
True fitness requires peace of mind, and if you’re entire routine of fitness is based on discipline, rigor, doing more and doing it harder, then you cannot achieve peace of mind as it relates to your fitness.
As for appearance, well, let’s start with the abs, which is a very common measure of looks. If you are going to the gym to achieve a washboard stomach, it’s safe to say you are unhappy with your appearance. If that’s the case, then it becomes almost impossible ever to be happy, no matter how taut and ripped those abs become. That level of self-judgment makes it almost unrealistic to ever approve of yourself in any form. We’ve all seen these people in the gyms and in our lives. Working out is about achieving perfection, and perfection is an unfeasible standard in everything, including fitness. What’s more, bodily perfection is driven by ego, and feeding the ego is like feeding any addiction: no matter how much you give it, it only wants more.
And so we keep going to the gym. And going to the gym. And going to the gym. Or we switch and start pedaling the bike. And pedaling the bike. And pedaling the bike. Or now we do routines with kettle bells, and more routines and more routines. But when does it end? When are you satisfied with your numbers or your appearance? For too many people, that satisfaction is an unattainable holy grail. But they keep going and going and going, and is it any wonder they’re fitness fatigued? We keep physically active to achieve goals that are either arbitrary or impracticable, and I believe much of the fatigue is borne of the subconscious knowledge that what we’re doing isn’t really working and isn’t any fun.
To avoid fitness fatigue, we need a new measurement for what it is to be fit, and for me, that measurement is internal. True fitness requires peace of mind, and if you’re entire routine of fitness is based on discipline, rigor, doing more and doing it harder, then you cannot achieve peace of mind as it relates to your fitness. Fitness is a calm sense of well-being. Now, that’s not to suggest that there are no physical components to fitness. Clearly, someone who is 70 pounds overweight is not fit, but then I have never met anyone who is obese or who thinks he’s overweight who exudes peace of mind. By the same token, I have met absolute physical specimens with nary an ounce of fat who live their lives in a state of agitation because those perfect bodies still aren’t what they want them to be. They are just as agitated as the person 70 pounds overweight.
The main remedy for fitness fatigue is fun. It’s spontaneous application of movement. It’s approaching your exercise not with the answer why, but the question, “Why not?” This way of thinking is the operative ethic behind Patch Fitness workouts. Yes, they compel the body to move in different directions across different planes to achieve a full range of motion for all joints, and there is definitely a physical benefit to that, but they also get your body on the ground and over logs and on top of benches and moving backwards or sideways and walking on all fours because it’s fun. When you get lost in the fun of a workout, you no longer care about numbers or specific goals. You just play. And the body reaps the benefits.
Believe me, I know many of the lords of fitness in today’s world are scoffing at what I’m saying here, but for a minute, just tune out all that they’ve said and listen to your heart on these questions: If the existing fitness industry were really offering you a viable solution to your fitness needs, why are there so many fitness fads? If you’re not having fun with that gym workout, how long do you really think you’re going to continue doing it? And how good is it for your body when you’ve essentially quit all forms of fitness because it became drudgery?
I don’t care who’s telling you how many steps you need to take today. If you’d rather spend the afternoon gardening, you should spend the afternoon gardening, and you’ll be more fit because of it. I don’t care what elevated heartrate you may achieve with a cardio workout, if you’d rather spend the next hour all over the playground with your child, then you should go to the playground, and you’ll actually be more fit because of it.
One more thing: If you’re tired today, skip that run and take a nap instead. It’s what your body is asking for. We have become so enamored with measuring things that we’ve come to believe that if something can’t be measured, it has no value. Therefore, we’ve come to believe that the only fitness that is worthwhile is that which can be measured externally. The fitness that matters most is gauged internally, where things can’t be measured.
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By Pete Egoscue