There’s a common saying: enjoy what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life. In a similar way we can state: have fun being active and you’ll never have to exercise again.
My journey through fitness ideologies has evolved more dramatically than any other area of self-improvement. Aside from some walking and biking for transportation, I did not partake in any formal exercise routine during my college and graduate school years. During this intense time of brain development, my body suffered from too much sitting and the modest amount of muscle mass I had developed in high school atrophied away revealing a skinny frame.
After settling into a routine in private practice, I once again devoted time to exercise. Being aware of the benefits of building lean muscle, I started with lifting weights in a gym once a week. The guidelines I used come from the book Body By Science by Dr. Doug McGuff. The general idea is to lift heavy enough weights sufficient to reach muscle fatigue in one set of about 10-12 repetitions. Once achieved, it is imperative to allow ample time to recover, thus spacing out workouts to once every week or two.
The advantage of the Body By Science approach is that one could perform 2-5 compound movements that work a number of major muscles (leg press, bench press, seated row, pulldown, shoulder press) in a time span of about 15-20 minutes. A fraction of an hour once a week to increase muscle mass sounded too good to be true, but to my surprise (and as verified by careful record keeping) I was able to make regular gains; dramatically at first but slow and steady even after a year and a half of workouts.
This style of working out briefly and intensely is part of a larger family of exercise known as high intensity interval training (HIIT). Provided you can push yourself to the intensity need to derive benefits, the clear advantage to a HIIT workout is the minimal investment in time. My busy schedule was no longer an excuse not to seek a modicum of better fitness.
Sometime later, our daughter was born and I quickly realized there was a flaw in how I was performing the Body By Science routine. I had neglected strengthening my back muscles, a notion that became abundantly clear whenever I walked and cradled our baby for more than a few minutes. Here I was, able to easily bench press my own body weight, but I couldn’t carry our daughter without my back muscles getting sore in short order.
Looking for a solution to my negligence, I discovered the work of Foundation Training by Dr. Eric Goodman whose approach involved a series of body weight exercise (reminiscent of yoga) to strengthen the posterior chain of muscles (calves, hamstrings, glutes, and back) to work as a cohesive unit. In a matter of a few months, my core developed and my back became much more resilient. My posture straightened and I learned the correct way to bend and squat. I continue these workouts, sporadically, to this day and I recommend them to any patient struggling with back pain.
At the same time, I begin studying the work of several fitness leaders calling for a return to natural and functional movements. One that inspired me was the opening of a CrossFit gym in my area. There I became free of weight machines and developed a passion for climbing rope, performing pull-ups, jumping on boxes, and flipping a giant tractor tire. These movements, many of which are bodyweight exercises, help develop a well-rounded physique that is functionally more capable, meaning, being prepared to handle the challenges of life with greater efficiency.
This idea made intuitive sense because it fit well beside the ancestral philosophy of diet I was developing at the time. We eat certain foods that have been with us for thousands of years, so why shouldn’t we move like our ancestors did? The first step on that journey mimicked the work of our neolithic agrarian ancestors, that is, working like a farmer. Although I wasn’t chopping and stacking wood or hauling hay bails, the movements I learned in CrossFit were an empowering contrast to the weight machines and industrial feel of a modern health club. I felt liberated…and then I went Paleolithic.
Shortly after getting comfortable with the CrossFit community, Spring had sprung, and I was researching ways to bring what I learned at the CrossFit gym into my backyard. It was then that my exercise routine went decidedly caveman.
After some research, I had developed a circuit of running, sprinting, throwing a heavy stone, lifting an even heavier stone, climbing a rope, jumping on a rock, and shooting a bow and arrow. Here I was, running around our yard, sweating and panting, still doing only 20 minutes worth of work once a week, but I was outdoors and getting sun and fresh air. It was invigorating and I was developing strength and endurance globally.
I figured this kind of routine would be the new norm, and that I would practice some variation of it for the rest of my life, but towards the end of the Summer, I got stuck in a rut of doing the same circuit. Apparently, my left brain thought it would be wise to keep the circuit consistent which was fine until the inevitable boredom snuck in.
Thankfully, the solution to my predicament came quickly and from the most obvious of places. By the time that Summer was coming to a close, our daughter had turned two and loved being outside playing gleefully around her slide and swing set. She was getting impressively strong running and climbing. She would jump and crawl, and whenever she squatted down I observed how perfect her posture was. Her running seemed effortless, as if falling forward, instead of the heel-strike common to a long distance runner.
It didn’t take long until I reinvented my workout yet again. No set routine, no rules, just play. I went out for the afternoon with my daughter and I mirrored many of her moves. We would run around the yard and I would jump over her. We would swing and climb like monkeys. We leapt from rock to rock. I would put her on my back and sprint up a hill, and let me tell you, there are few motivating factors to be active like a toddler giggling in your ear proclaiming, “again!”.
So now I no longer exercise; I play. Even as winter approaches, there is so much indoor play that can develop body and mind that I am no longer afraid of the boredom of an exercise routine. I have a trampoline to jump on, an open area to dance in, and best of all, a little playmate to keep me going.