Describing “Fitness” as an art, can be very hard for many to conceptualize. The foundation of fitness and exercise, has been built upon many of the terms that make up its existence, such as “programs” or “methods” or “routines” which is a complete contradiction to what art is created from, self-expression. So how can something that is developed from routines and programs be explained in a manner that is so creative as art? Before continuing on, please note that when you hear “Art” and “Fitness” it is not to describe the physical appearance of the human body. Yes, this is a by-product, and the human body is beautiful in all forms, but the context of this writing is more about the self-expression of the creativity we all possess within.
I believe to explain this, it would be more beneficial to explain why the use of “programs, methods, routines, etc.”; is the biggest reason why many that implement this method at an attempt of a healthy existence, will inevitably be met by road blocks, and revert back to existing habits of a life that favors the statistics of our more sedentary lifestyle. So many of us can relate to that moment in life when we realize that we are heavier than we want to be; we are more tired than we should be; or our clothes are beginning to reach the end of their role, before the need to replace with a larger size clothing has become the reality. This burst of motivation leads us to begin our search mode of discovery; vastly searching the online community and sparking any conversation to learn of any new and exciting fitness program that others have completed the goal you so desperately are seeking.
Once you have matched all the critical components to your checklist, you gather all your data, gather up your required equipment, you prep your food and you begin like a person filled with fire. Day-by-day, you fight to maintain that motivation, knowing that mental picture you have already established in your head, seems miles away, but you know deep down, that if you just stay the course, you can accomplish that goal. You fight, you claw, you continue to overcome those detrimental habits that you know take you off course of your intended goal. But you continue to take those progress pictures, you continue to step on that scale, you continue to wrap yourself in a tape measure, just looking for any signs of improvement, since you know you have been practically moving the earth to accomplish this goal.
Then it starts to happen. Discouragement; comparison; old habits; summed up that you feel that for the effort you have given to accomplishing your goal, has not been equally received in results that reflect in the mirror or on the scale. You question your effort, you question your program, and begin to realize that the effort put forth is inadequate to the time table you have placed on yourself and you begin to “ease off the gas” and slowly allow your existing habits to re-enter the picture. Only soon to be back at your starting point.
Why? Why me? Why is it so hard for me? I will answer this, but to provide a visual to what is happening, let’s associate this to the creative process of a dance.
To help explain, let’s consider what the late Alan Watts described how we go through life so focused on a destination, rather than enjoying the present moment. It has been referred to as “destination addiction.” We are so focused on this end result, that our moments become consumed with comparing our present state to that of our state of want. The greater this distance seems, the greater amount of frustration mounts inside of us. Watts described our daily life to that of a dance. He stated that our purpose of a dance, is not to wind up at a specific point on the dance floor. If this was the case, we would rush to that spot as fast as we possibly can, claiming victory that we arrived sooner than the last person. The focus of a dance is to experience each step, to become fully aware of the current moment, not giving any thought to 5 or 10 steps ahead, just the next one. We are to flow and move through space in coordination with the sounds of music. Life is the dance, it is not the accomplishment of completing the last step.
At this point, I can only imagine so many of those who have undertaken the task of a quality, high intensity workout, are thinking to themselves, “Sorry, but dancing is pleasurable; doing squats is borderline hell.” Yes, I can relate to that, and even though a strenuous workout does not provide the same rhythmic, soul-inducing feeling, not one person can argue that regardless of the intensity level, that workout that left us with nothing in our tank, filled us with so many positive chemicals and hormones that gave us that craving to want to repeat the process. The dance, in regards to fitness, is not about completing the workout; it is about experiencing how our body works, what makes us stronger, what initiates those “feel-good” chemical reactions in our body. Unfortunately, what fitness, exercise, or just a healthy lifestyle has become, is about finding that end spot on the dance floor. Programs, routines, methods, etc, are simply limitations and expectations that are immediately placed on ourselves. Become less aware of how the body is responding and solely focused on those 8-10 repetitions. We become less concerned with the feeling of strength and accomplishment, and more concerned with completing 5 sets, not 4. We have become so caught up in the shallowness of health and fitness (ie, how many likes, the compliments we receive, the attention we get from others for our “makeover”) that we have lost all ability to experience what benefits exercise and a healthy lifestyle have to offer. We become so focused on the fact that we didn’t lose any weight this week, even though we were able to complete one more repetition in a specific exercise; a true result that we have just strengthened a muscle beyond its existing level. We become so focused that our “mirror selfie” doesn’t really show signs of improvement, even though we completed our 2 mile walk in 2 minutes faster than last week; a true sign that our heart has become stronger. But since these signs of progress are not easily displayed to others, we minimize their value and dismiss them like yesterdays news.
Before you shut me out, and just label me as some “out-of-touch” older person, I do realize and understand that this is not 1990, where if we wanted to show someone our progress, we had to get out our disc camera, take a picture, and wait until the whole disc of 35 pictures were taken, before taking it to Photo Lab to get them developed (yes, developed; not printed), and a week later, pick them up, get in our car, or on our bike, or get an envelope and mail it to that person. You can see why the effort of doing all this just basically led us to not even want to take the time to go through all this. Now in minutes, you can post countless images and viewed by countless amounts of people ready to hit a like button, comment on how great you look, or even some jerks who are going to point out your flaws regardless of your progress. Yes, it’s a different time now, a time where our need for approval from others has become more important than self-approval.
So what is my point? If you haven’t figured it out by now, it is that to me, and what I want others to discover; is that fitness is about self-discovery. Everything else that can possibly motivate someone to exercise and look healthy, are short term spikes in motivation that will be eventually overtaken by pre-existing habits. To develop a healthy aspect to our lives, we must learn to enjoy the dance. The process that occurs from engaging in physical activity. The more we learn to appreciate the physiological benefits of fitness, and move away from the shallow, ego-inflating feedback from others, the more we can experience each step of our dance. We become more in-tune with the flow of life, the improvements occurring within us, and the pure joy of overcoming obstacles that have been placed in front of us.
As a Certified Personal Trainer, of course I make my living helping others create a plan to accomplish their health and fitness goals, and it would sound almost like from what I discussed above that the need for people like me should not exist. I do wish this was true, however, unlike art, engaging in strenuous fitness activity does present its possible dangers. The study of Kinesiology (how the body moves) and Physiology (how the body functions) provide the necessary insight to ensure a person who is placing their muscles and cardiovascular system under consistent stress, does so in a manner that one does not injure themselves. This learning curve of understanding how to apply enough resistance through proper ranges of motion, help a person who has not endured this type of physical activity before. This learning phase would be the ideal way to describe the first phase a person would complete when working towards their desired expression of oneself.
Learning the Dance
During this first phase, it is critical that each one of us learns how our body reacts to variable forces through a variety of modes. To elaborate, each of us have been created with varying types of muscle fibers that allow us to exert varying levels of forces. Some muscles fibers are not very powerful, yet due to their high oxygen content, they can continue to contract for long periods of time, as those who engage in longer distance running. Some people have a greater percentage of these than other fibers that are able to create higher levels of force output, but are not able to do so for very long. These people would tend to be more efficient at lifting heavier loads or running short distances much faster. During this initial phase, it is important to learn all aspects of the fitness world. Not to get caught up in the fad of a specific style or specific program, but to explore and try different methods, seeing how each one reacts to our body.
This is where we begin to learn about ourselves. We are all born differently, and are unique in our own special way. This self-discovery process will begin to help us learn our bodies and discover what strengths and what limitations we currently possess. Once this occurs, we are able to explore and enter into the phase of self-expression, much like an artist displays how they feel on the inside, and create it into form. We accept our limitations and begin to work to make them our strengths. We begin this process of “molding” the person we choose to be. An artist doesn’t say that his sculpture or painting has to be completed in a couple weeks or months, they work on it until they feel they have created the art they had intended. The only difference with the human body, we are always in a state of evolving and changing, and we never become satisfied and stop. This is the law of nature, always in motion and always changing.
In our second phase, we have a basic understanding of the different modes of stress to place on the body. We have discovered body weight exercises, how to use kettlebells, how lift heavier weights, how to perform plyometrics and the like. Not all will incorporate all the modes, but learning about as many will only create the foundation of a solid active lifestyle. During this second phase we begin to understand how our body reacts to different intensities, different exercises and those that tend to create an adverse reaction to our body. There is no time limit on this process, and through this process we begin to discover the impact that exercise has on our inner self.
Through this process, we begin to unveil the Art of Fitness, where we become in touch with ourselves, and the realization that exercise is about connecting to yourself. You find yourself showing no interest in the latest and greatest exercise routine to hit the market, since you are well aware of how to place your body under controllable stress to improves your cardiovascular system, your musculoskeletal system and a sense of well-being. It no longer is about reps, sets, or weight, but how do I want to challenge my body and mind today. Maybe it’s a 5 mile walk/run or maybe I will do all body weight exercises. It is allowing me to express my inner needs through the use of resistance and cardiovascular training. It is now me versus me. It is not about completing 10 repetitions, but how many can I complete before my muscle is completely fatigued and do I have the ability to generate 1 more. To me, this is more spiritual and has nothing to do with routines or programs.
I challenge you to strip away the superficial layer of your fitness goals, and begin a journey of discovering how you wish to express yourself. Learn to eliminate the routine of fitness and go on a journey of self discovery. Take up running, hiking, biking, learn new methods, take yoga, do anything and everything you can, and eventually, fitness will be simply a platform that allows you to express what’s inside you. Be well.