Hands up all you who don’t feast more as the year ends.
For me, nothing exemplifies Newton’s First Law better than that black hole between the end of one year and the beginning of the next one. You eat more and you move less.
You’re reluctant to do more as you swing back into the new year. Momentum is hard. Inertia is a bitch.
I sit here with a belly full of food from my usual December hedonism. Except that this time I don’t groan at the idea of having a January fitness regime— instead, I look forward to it, ever since my Perfectionistic Type A brain rewired my ideas on exercise.
So I had a chat with I spoke with my friend Peter Shmock, a 2-time Olympian, on the topic.
This is for you, if you want to make the idea of inertia a thing of the past.
1. Big Bang Theory 2.0: Forget kicking off with a big painful bang
I remember that time I went for a deep tissue massage on Christmas Eve. Back then, I believed that pain was good for me, and Swedish massages meant I was ‘sissy’. I couldn’t even stomach asking my masseuse to go a little lighter.
If that was my attitude to massage, then it isn’t surprising that my attitude to fitness was Go Big Or Go Home. But avoiding fitness feeling deterred by the challenge of Going Big also meant I saw myself as a failure. Thankfully, these days my Recovering Perfectionist is kept in check as self-awareness kicks in.
Peter says, wipe off the idea that fitness has to be hard or painful. Just because you aren’t suffering and aching all over— or incapacitated for the next four days— doesn’t mean you haven’t gotten anything out of it. In fact, that might be a massive deterrent.
Instead of jumping straight into maximum intensity, a high-level athlete understands that coming off a rest period, they would start slowly. They’d get accustomed to being back in their body.
Our bodies are much more intelligent than we give them credit for
Peter advises us to mentally reframe our idea of sports. “You aren’t working out just for the first month of the year, do it in a way that you can continue doing it for the rest of your life”.
Therefore, give yourself permission to start slow and small.
And I get it if a part of your Perfectionist Brain is screaming, “Challenges are good, how else will I grow?”
Simply ask yourself, “Where in my life do I like loads of challenge?” and then “Where in my life can I ease on pushing myself too hard”. This way, you can still feed your inner Perfectionist, just not in every aspect of your life.
2. Don’t do it every day
One of the biggest fallacies Peter notices is that when people haven’t been exercising for some time, they believe they need to do it everyday when getting back into the routine.
However, it feels like a big defeat when you can’t make it on those days. You start thinking “If I can’t do it 7 days a week, why should I do it at all?”.
And then you stop.
Here’s yet another aspect where exercising is mental.
Peter’s secret is “Start with the ridiculous”.
“If you haven’t been moving, walk around the block. Then do that again for the next few days. That’s very doable. Then walk around the block twice next week. Then three times. The point is to start so minimally and slow you think it’s ridiculous. Let your body get adapt and get stronger.”
This resonates with Tiny Habits, something I learned from Stanford behaviourist BJ Fogg.
Make the task so simple you can’t not do it. Like, it’s easier to commit to flossing one tooth. That way, you’ll trick yourself to floss your whole mouth.
As Peter says, there’s no athlete who didn’t get to a very high level without doing it in a sustained way.
Similarly, if you’re wanting to tame your mind and begin a meditative practice, the goal isn’t to reach Nibana or Samadhi immediately. It’s to shift around from what you are experiencing right now.
3. Cultivate a sense of gratitude for your body
Most of us forget to have a sense of awe for our bodies. Instead, we believe “I’m gonna push until I can’t do anymore”.
But Peter quips, our bodies aren’t just here to serve an immediate need, to carry our heads. If people have a lighter heart and disposition, we’d live and feel healthier.
Exercise isn’t simply something you’re supposed to do. Instead, cultivate the intention to discover what your body can do and to enjoy yourself while inhabiting your body.
Indeed, I remember that moment I realised that FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) doesn’t simply apply to missing out on the latest IT parties and shiny new toys. Whenever I green juice or exercise because I’m afraid of cancer, getting fat or having bad skin, I am in essence percolating fear through these supposedly-good activities.
While we know what goals are, we forget about intentions, which are the energy that fuel our goals. They make the difference between doing something joyously or frightfully.
To Peter, if you are a High Level Athlete, then it’s true there are times you have to push yourself. But for most people, we need to learn to smile, breathe and have fun.
I consulted Peter on my Effectiveness/Efficiency Mindset when it comes to my choice of exercises.
I intentionally selected pole fitness and kettlebells because they work out the maximum number of muscle groups in the minimum amount of time. But I wondered, did that make me utilitarian?
Peter advises that there’s nothing wrong. Sometimes having something effective and efficient can make the journey a lot more enjoyable. Having the least amount of hurdles can be a motivator, as compared to the idea of exercising for five hours a week. Instead, he says that if it makes you want to do it for the rest of your life, then do it. Most likely, the reason you’re doing it is because you found a process you’re enjoying.
Subconsciously, we stop doing the things that are painful. We may endure some torturous exercise, but feel like we’re being punished. Whether or not we admit it, if it’s too hard, we eventually stop. Or, an injury happens.
“If you can do it forever, that’d be a huge success”, he says.
And with that I knew I’d found my sweet spot, feeling grateful for it.
An Olympian-curated workout, just for you.
Peter says that the most complete workout increases your mobility and flexibility (for your joints and musculature), heart rate, and strength. I asked him to curate one for you.
First, do squats. You strengthen most of your body in one move, and it increases your heart rate as it’s a big move. When you squat as low as you can, before standing up tall and stretching as high pushing overhead, you increase your mobility.
Then, bike for thirty seconds.
Then, stretch on the ground like you’re doing a yoga plow, with your leg over your head. Reach up and touch your toes.
I hope this Holy Trinity of simple movements eases you into your 2018 fitness routine. I know I will be doing it.