Co-authored by Andrew Heffernan, CSCS, co-author of The Exercise Cure (Rodale, 2013)
One occupational hazard of being in the fitness 'industry' (an awful term, by the way -- shouldn't fitness be free?) is that people often ask me to evaluate their workouts. "Is CrossFit good?" they'll say. "Is yoga good? Does Pilates work?"
Look, I can wax on and on about the perks and liabilities of just about any exercise modality. I can make a case for and against nearly all of it, and usually do, given the chance. What 'expert' doesn't like to drone on about his or her topic until long after everyone else at the party has gone home? We fitness nerds dream about captive audiences -- especially since so few people out there really appear to be listening.
But these days I've decided that all my jabber might not be worth it. Not because people don't want to know about energy systems and glute activation and the stretch-shortening cycle.
No, it's not worth it because when it comes to movement, it's all good. If you like taking long walks because it helps clear your head and your neighbor likes taking short sprints because she finds it invigorating, who am I to say one is right and the other is wrong?
If you're doing any formal exercise at all, you're okay by me. You're already doing infinitely better than the legions of sedentary folks out there who are, unaccountably, blind and deaf to the avalanche of studies, books, TV shows, websites, et al, that have been telling us for decades that moving is, you know, good for you.
You reap something like 80 percent of the health benefits of exercise by going from completely sedentary to doing something. Say, taking a short walk a few times a week, which almost all of us can do any time, for free. So if you're doing that, and you're not hurting yourself, and you like it -- then as far as I'm concerned, you're golden.
Now: will that give you ripped abs and glutes as taut as volleyballs? Will those easy walks impart Herculean strength, marathon endurance or NFL-worthy strength and power? Absolutely not. To get those things -- and to achieve a higher level of fitness -- you've got to work systematically and progressively, do the right workouts, eat the right meals, and so on. Heck, you might even consult a fitness expert or two.
But let's not kid ourselves: Few of us really need those things. Glutes and abs and the ability to run or cycle for tens or hundreds of miles are decidedly first-world aspirations. Even if the end of the world visits us, wiping out communication, hospitals, your local big-box gym, and so on, the depth your social ties are far more likely to save you than your ropey arm muscles or sky-high V02-max.
I'm not saying don't seek elite fitness. I've done so all my life and I don't consider it time wasted any more than the concert pianist or the heart surgeon regrets his or her time in the trenches of his or her trade. And I'm not saying stop looking around for a workout you like better. I'm just saying move. Have fun at it, don't hurt yourself, and don't stress over it.
And while you're at it, make some friends, too. Just in case.