No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

Never gymless (part 3)

Posted by Ben on Saturday, February 28, 2009

Recap: In part one, I announced the cancellation of my gym membership after continuously having one for the better part of eight years. In part two, I mentioned some of the responses I received from friends and acquaintances, and from those, I began to wonder aloud about the replies that more or less expressed confusion and even sympathy and at the people behind those particular comments.

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As promised, I’ll begin by explaining why I finally gave up on the gym. If you’ve followed my training log, you know that I haven’t set foot in a gym since mid-December due to physical, mental, and neurological burnout as well as having developed a pretty nasty shoulder impingement. I took about a month off from pretty much any kind of training, and when I came out on the other side, I realized that I really hated going to my gym—not A gym, just my gym—and I really hated paying them for the experience. It wasn’t always that way—I’d gone religiously for several years and thoroughly enjoyed myself for the most part—but after last year’s JP Fitness summit, I shifted my training focus from maximum strength to strength with conditioning. Combine this shift with a disdain for the gym itself—especially having to see and hear “trainers” at work destroying clients’ bodies (in a bad way)—and it was the perfect recipe to embrace a training mode that required exactly zero equipment (except for a place to do pull-ups and bodyweight rows) and a minimum of floor space. Seriously, if I had to really cram into a corner, I could probably get away with using ten square feet of real estate and get in absolutely brutal workouts on a regular basis. Besides, if I ever really get a hankering to go to the gym, I can still go twice a month for less than I was paying to not go at all.

I’ve become more and more mindful of the natural movements and abilities of the human body over the past few years, starting with some chronic/overuse injuries from distance running and progressing through various other injuries, tweaks, and imbalances. I’ve also been introduced to the writings, ramblings, and teachings of people like Gray Cook, Mike Boyle, Scott Sonnon, Steve Cotter, and Ross Enamait among many others who seem to focus on helping the body do what it can naturally do and reaching its full potential. Let me say right now, though, that this whole anti-gym thing isn’t truly anti-gym. The day will come when I have a garage or basement that I will equip with a power rack, various Olympic-style lifting elements, my Concept2 rower, and other goodies with the added bonus of not getting fussed at because I supposedly don’t know how to properly spot someone (um, spotting means being immediately ready to help only when absolutely necessary, not taking half the load on every rep while screaming “ALL YOU, MAN, ALL YOU!”—I’m not bitter). However, anything not attached to the body is a tool, a supplement, an option, NOT a necessity. I’ll again direct your attention to the nearest school playground during recess (figuratively—don’t do anything creepy) and notice the kids—well, at least the ones still up and running around. Sure, they may have a slide and swings and such, but there are plenty of other kids just running around, jumping, balancing, handwalking, doing cartwheels, and so one. Why don’t adults do that kind of stuff?

See, newbies? You used to do everything you’d ever need to do to maintain and develop a healthy body. No one had to show you how to play; you just did it. See, searchers (my new, nicer name for codependents)? You tried everything without fear of what others thought. You even helped each other through demonstration, physical manipulation, and encouragement. There are inklings of this sense of play in adulthood—consider the resurgence of dodgeball (the movie notwithstanding). Sure, no one really plays freeze tag or hide-and-seek beyond elementary school, but the mindset isn’t inaccessible. But, you might say, playing is hard work! Well, sure it is, especially since (a) you hopefully weigh a lot more than you did in second grade, (b) you most likely don’t “play” on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis (that traditional Thanksgiving Day touch-football game in the front yard doesn’t count as “regular”), and (c) you think you should be able to jump up from hours upon days upon weeks of slumping on the couch or in a desk chair and “play” successfully, only to lose your breath after thirty seconds, pull this, tweak that, and basically feel more pain than pleasure both during and long after “recess.”

Yet again, think of the children (good grief, I’m starting to sound like Sally Struthers). They go hard early and often, whether it’s learning how to walk or run on feet or hands. There’s no giving up on the hula hoop the first ten or twenty tries (I did eventually give up on it, but mostly because I was almost as big around as the hoop itself; talk about a missed opportunity to learn core and hip proprioception). There are plenty of failed cartwheels before nailing them. If you want a more adult-like perspective on this phenomenon, consider a recent post from Scott Sonnon that talks about the concept of ratchet ladders. For kids, this is generally a natural occurrence: the human body develops in spurts—sprints, if you will—with rest intervals tossed in as needed, but only as much as is needed. Balance develops from supine to prone to sitting up to crawling to standing to walking to running. Practice, practice, progressive practice. For adults, however, there’s usually a problem, especially when it comes to newbies and searchers (I’ll stop saying codependent): fear of failure.

Notice that kids don’t normally “fail” any of these activities and developments; in fact, the idea of failure really only arises from being told they failed at something and must either remediate or move on to something else. Instead, they just keep trying until they get it or find something more interesting. A key line from a recent Grasso post says: “We over-teach our youngsters and do not allow them free exploration.” He’s more specifically talking about coaching, but even if it’s Mom or Dad in the backyard, isn’t there a line drawn somewhere in their minds that says Junior simply can’t or won’t be able to do this, that, or the other and so must find some other activity to pursue? Granted, we’re not all natural athletes—hell, I’m 5-10ish, 195ish, with a long-ish torso and short-ish arms—but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still humans, and by and large, the human body is capable of a LOT more than most people give it credit for.

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I’m not exactly sure where the next post in this thread will go (I may interrupt it here and there with other, more focused, less rambling posts), but I know I want to talk about some things that we force our bodies to do that they aren’t designed to do within the context of exercise and general lifestyle, how it takes more than five hours out of the 168-hour week to find what you might be looking for, and the mental connections to getting all this mess done—for the newbies, your fitness goals; for searchers, your holy grails; for all, the spectre of failure. Please feel free to throw some water on this fire at any time; otherwise, I’m going to ramble for awhile. I have a sinking feeling that this series is going to go for a bit. Join me in the sink (okay, that sounded bad).


One Response to “Never gymless (part 3)”

  1. I bought Ross Enamait’s book Never Gymless years ago and to this day, it’s been a staple for my workout regime. It’s been useful indeed when I was reduced to working out in a spare office (power pushups) and on the road in the hotel room (using the furniture for leg-presses).

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