Tag Archives: fitness

Running Slower to Run Faster

I’ve always enjoyed running, just never enough to do it consistently. Or with any frequency. Or at all. Maybe I don’t enjoy running, actually. If you give me a random day off and let me do absolutely anything I wanted, running would be very far down the list. You would have to give me about 30 such days before I voluntarily went out to run.

When I say I like running, I mostly mean I like getting to the finish line so I can stop running.

Really, I enjoy the idea of running. Being a good runner is just one of those things that separate the men from the boys, so to speak. We can all do it. Short people can’t jump as high as tall people, and tall people can’t move as quickly with agility as short people. Different bodytypes have different advantages, but when it comes to running, we all have two legs. We can all move them. Anyone can run, and yet so few people get even mediocre at running. Becoming good really puts you in a class of your own. That’s why I run.

For the first time ever, I’ve been approaching my running more systematically this year, and it’s paying off. Over the last three months, I’ve made a big discovery: in order to run faster, you need to run slower. Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Do What I Want to Do

I’m currently experiencing some cognitive dissonance. You know, where you thoughts, beliefs and actions are not in harmony. Usually this is done after-the-fact, like the old fable of the fox and the grapes. The fox wanted some grapes, but they were hanging from too high a branch. The fox could not reach them, so he shakes his head. “Meh, they’re probably not ripe yet anyway,” and so he slinks off.

Incidentally, that’s where we get the phrase ‘sour grapes’ from.

My current problem has nothing to do with grapes, sadly. No, it has to do with my life goals. Being somewhat of an optimist, I have a lot of life goals, some big, some small, some life-altering if fully achieved. I want these things, and not in a wishy-washy, only-sorta-want them type of want. This is more of ‘give me a magic lamp and I’d wish these into existence almost instantly’ type of want.

If you ask me what I want to accomplish in this life, I could give you a pretty neat list, and I 100% mean it. Really and truly. It’s strange, then, that I’m not doing anything to inch closer to any of these goals.

I’m not alone in having this problem, by the way. “I need to lose weight,” a person might say, meanwhile not making any changes in diet or lifestyle. We can change that to, “I really need to lose weight,” or even, “If I don’t lose weight I’m on the fast-track for heart disease, diabetes and death,” and only some people make changes.

It’s strange, is it not? We want something, and we know to get it. There’s rarely any mystery with losing weight, or even anything else. We know what to do, or at least where to go for advice on what to do. Losing weight is the easiest, because we all know the magic ingredients: eat less, exercise more. We know this. There’s no doubt. You could take a test on it and get 100% every single time… and still we don’t do it.

My goals have nothing to do with losing weight, but the structure is the same. I want to get in the best shape possible, I want to get the splits, I want to be a writer, I want to be a chess master and a poi spinner and a karate expert and the list just goes on and on… and in every case, a roadblock, either real or imagined, but definitely halting progress.

I feel like a Balrog in the mines of Moria.

Chess may be the best example. I love chess. I can talk about it or write about it or play it all day. It’s perfect, just a perfect game. I used to get upset about certain things, usually opening choices by my opponent, but as I’ve improved those concerns have faded. I’m inching closer to my goal of mastership, and when I analyze the games of GMs and other top players, I can find the right move 80% of the time and the other 15% I’m close. The last 5%? Well, that’s why I’m not a master yet.

I have a roadmap to get there. GM Smirnov has a course Self-Taught GM, which is a complete training plan. Do that and I’m master level, more or less. Cool… so why aren’t I doing it? Why aren’t I studying? Why am I washing the dishes, cleaning the house, making grocery lists, writing trivial things and just plain doing everything else but this?

“Hey, Smithy, do you want to be a chess master?” Yeah! “Then let’s go study.” Meh, I’d rather not. “But don’t you want to be a master?” Definitely, just not this exact moment. Or later, apparently, as I keep finding ways to not study. True, studying isn’t very fun … but actually, that’s not true. Sometimes it’s great fun. Sometimes it’s dull. All the time it’s work, and that seems to be holding me back. Consciously or unconsciously, I don’t want to do the work necessary.

For the record, that nearly always separates the top performers from the rest, the ability to do the work necessary. Not that you want to do that, but that you do it. Do the work, you get the results. Do more work than average, get better than average. That’s it, that’s the secret. Applying it, though, isn’t that easy.

My poi spinning is very similar. I like doing it. I really want to get better at it. I have a training course, plus multiple DVDs, all showing various progressions and practice habits. I have a wonderful park just down the street with ample room to practice. I have literally no excuse … but I somehow keep putting it off. For some reason, practicing more (or even at all some weeks) is an incredible struggle.

And nothing with the flow arts should be a struggle.

In both of these cases, chess and poi, I want to get better but I’m not willing to do the work, or more accurately, I’m currently avoiding all the work. I know what I need to do, but I don’t do it. There’s also the opposite happening with my fitness training: I’m putting in my time but getting very little benefit. Rather than change something, though, I just keep doing the exact same thing.

I have two competing ideas battling inside my head. I want to get strong. That’s it. I’m already lean, I’m in great shape, I can run forever, I have agility and speed for days, but I’m not strong. I’ve never been strong. I was the scrawny kid, and arguably I still am. Starting high school, I weighed less than 100lbs. I finished at 140lbs … and over six feet tall. I gained 40lbs and somehow looked skinnier.

I want to get strong, but there’s a problem: I don’t like lifting weights. That’s because lifting weights is hard and makes me feel weak. I’d reach for a 20lbs dumbbell for some curls and struggle to even hold it. Meanwhile a regular guy not six feet away is using twice as much for his warm-up set. Lifting weights are hard work, and I felt so weak while doing it. Better to do anything else.

I embraced bodyweight training, which is interesting because many bodyweight moves are harder than lifts. It’s easier to do lat pulldowns than a pull up, or weighted squats rather than one-leg bodyweight squats aka pistol squats. I didn’t feel weak while doing these, though, and I soon followed various different bodyweight fitness programs.

All of them have worked for a bit … and then they stop working. I then look for a different bodyweight program. I found a good one, one I really liked, one that promised to lead to the promised land … but the last six months have been zero progress. I’m in the exact same spot, but rather than changing anything, I keep plugging away. Okay. I think that’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing but expecting, magically, a different result this time.

I want to get strong. Everyone knows how to get stronger: lift weights. That’s what works. What I’m currently doing isn’t working. The obvious choice would be to drop my current program and start lifting weights. That’s what this logic suggests, and I continue to do the opposite. Why? Because I don’t life lifting weights.

But I did it for an entire week once! I’m clearly an expert on it!

With chess and poi, I know what I need to do. I just don’t do it. With this example, though, it’s even worse, because I know what I need to do and am actively doing the opposite. I make a whole bunch of excuses, like how I’m already pretty strong relative to my weight (all 165lbs of me, so strong), or how I don’t want to get big anyway. Remember that fable from the beginning, with the fox and the grapes? That’s me but with lifting weights.

I need a mindset shift. I need to stop viewing things as what I want to do or like to do but as things I just do. I’m not sure how I do that yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I’m going to brainstorm more, then I’m going to test some, and then we’ll see how things go. For now, though, I continue to wallow in my cognitive dissonance, at least for a little while.

Foam Rolling for Pain and Pleasure

Everyone who works out is a masochist, at least in some sense. The common saying, “No pain, no gain,” should put this beyond doubt. Performing fitness activities, whether it’s lifting weights or rowing or running, all have a noticeable level of discomfort to them. Lifting weights leaves you feeling weak and drained. Rowing has you curl up on the floor after, exhausted. Running has you fight cramps the entire time.

There are memes devoted solely to this fact.

Strangely, despite all the discomfort involved, there’s also good feelings, like the rush of endorphins immediately after. When you’re done strength training, you’re exhausted, yes, but you also feel the pump. Your muscles seem to swell inside you, threatening to burst out, and this feels good even as it feels bad. Similarly, runners can get the runner’s high, where suddenly running feels good instead of soul-crushing.

About the only thing that doesn’t hurt in some way is the cool-down stretch … but that’s where foam rolling comes in. Continue reading

Getting in Shape Before You Get in Shape?

I’m a martial arts instructor, and most of my students are kids. That makes sense. Most anything athletic is mostly kids: soccer, baseball, hockey, whatever, the youth leagues vastly outnumber the adult players. Kids have more freetime, they don’t have the same commitments and responsibilities as adults and, let’s face it, they have more energy and recover faster.

Being about ten-years-old is more or the less the equivalent of being invincible.

That said, we still have a good number of adult students as well. Some train with their child in a family class, while others attend the adult-only fitness or karate classes. They often have just as much fun as the children, if not more, because adults rarely get that chance to run and jump and kick and play. Kids do it everyday.

Many parents watch from the viewing area, and they often remark that the class looks fun. If we ask them to try one, I get one of two responses. “Oh, I’m too old for that.” Okay. That’s a self-limiting belief, but I can’t really argue against that. The other response is usually, “Oh, I’d need to get in shape first before I try a class.”

Wait, what? Before you join a fitness activity that will get you in shape … you need to get in shape first? Continue reading

Fighting Through Sore Muscles

If you’ve spent any time working out, you’ve likely experienced the following. You have a great workout, whether it’s hitting new personal bests or just acing a normally challenging group of exercises. You’re tired afterwards, of course, but you also feel alive, almost glowing. Nothing can stop you. Today, you conquered your body, tomorrow, the world!

And then you wake up the next day and find out you can’t move. Well, technically you can, but your body is as stiff as a board. Maybe it’s your chest and arms, where holding a cup of coffee is now a challenge. Maybe it’s your back, where you can’t bend over to even tie your shoes without groaning. Or maybe it’s your legs, where walking across the room takes monumental effort.

Now it’s your body’s turn to conquer you.

You had a fantastic workout you got a gift, the gift of DOMS, sore muscles. Think of it like a souvenir, reminding you of all your hard work.

Continue reading

The Year is Half Over

Today is July 1st, a very special day. Most importantly, it’s Canada Day, a national holiday.  That’s always nice.  Of secondary importance, it’s the beginning of the NHL free agency period, one of the busiest days in terms of player movement.  There may be no better day for a Canadian hockey fan than July 1.

More than that, though, today is the beginning of July, the seventh month.  The year is officially half over.  Six months have gone, six months remain.  It seems like just yesterday we were welcoming in 2016, and now it’s half over and soon it will be done.  That’s … quite sobering, really.

Most people have long since abandoned their new year’s resolutions, but not me.  I’m constantly thinking about how I can improve, where I need to improve and what I need to do to get there.  I set some pretty lofty goals back at the beginning of the year, and now is the perfect time to make sure I’m still trending in the right direction or if I need to change something. Continue reading

Fitness Post Sickness

There are about 50,000 reasons getting sick sucks, but if you’re at all active, losing endurance is a big one. Seriously, it’s almost unfair. You can train diligently for months, never missing a day, putting in 100% effort … and then you get sick for a week, come back and it’s like starting all over again. Your old warmup now completely annihilates you. Fun.

Recovering from an illness is an art, an art most people don’t know. As a martial arts instructor, I see this all the time, especially with the adults. Someone will get sick for a bit, then come back and feel completely drained. What do they do? They either just stay home and soon quit, or they try to meet their old standards, get exhausted and fail … and then take a minute to catch their breath and try again. They might as well be slamming their head repeatedly against a wall.

About as effective. Maybe more so.

There’s a better way than that. Continue reading

My Structured Day

In my efforts to become a better person, I constantly set new goals. I want to be stronger, smarter, faster, fitter; I want to learn new skills and get better at the skills I currently have. That makes sense. Who doesn’t want to get better? The hard part is putting enough time in to get better.

This isn’t even my busiest week.

You have to put enough time in. You have to. There’s no other way to get better. Time is a universal currency. You get 168 hours a week … and often you look back and think, gee, I only spent one hour working on a particular skill all week. That’s not a good ratio. True, you can’t spend all those hours on one thing, but you can spend more than one, right?

Even worse, sometimes you get really busy doing other things. Important things, certainly, but other things. Then you look at the calendar one day and realize you haven’t practiced anything in nearly three weeks. Where did all that time go? It just vanished. That’s not a good way to spend a universal currency.

And that’s exactly why, after some trial and error, I’ve come to what I call ‘my structured day.’ Continue reading

Figuring Out My Life Goals

I’m a fan of goals. They give you direction: they tell you where you are going, and you know exactly when you get there. Those are powerful things. That said, unlike some people, I don’t set many goals. I don’t have a 100-page bucket list. I could probably write all my goals, absolutely all of them, on a single piece of paper.

See? One single page.

Is this the right way to do it? It’s hard to say. It certainly feels the most natural for me. Having too few goals means you risk not doing enough, while having too many can spread you too thin. Heck, at the beginning of the year I set 12 goals of varying importance, only twelve, and those drained me within a week. I operate far better on fewer but more important goals than many superfluous ones. Continue reading

Three Wishes

Anyone who has ever watched Disney’s Aladdin has dreamed about finding a magic lamp of his or hers own. What could you do with three wishes? It could be anything you wanted, and so the question becomes simple: what do you want?

Also, there’s a good chance you’ve had ‘A Whole New World’ stuck in your head at some point. Probably right now, in fact.

This question is actually deeper than it first appears. Many people don’t know what they want. Some people are so bad at making decisions that they can’t even decide what to have for lunch. Not me. I’m planning ahead. If I ever find a magic lamp, I’m wasting no time on my three wishes. I’ll have them all figured out, exactly. Well, maybe. Let’s brainstorm at least, shall we? Continue reading