As someone who doesn’t train for serious competition, I’ve become less concerned with defining workout goals in terms of numbers, times, distances, loads (NTDL) and other quantifiable feats. Yet goals are still important. Tracking progress and consistent schedules are hecka useful.
But the problem is this: massive gains or lack thereof in NTDL do not necessarily reflect upon a more broad, life-encompassing and lifelong notion of fitness. Ah, that buzzword fitness.
Most of us begin working out with a condition what we intrinsically sense is an example of “unfit”, though we can’t quite define fitness. So there is a journey, and we know that getting to the elusive destination of being “fit” is inseparable from the map, “having goals”. Then we have to decide what those goals are, and find the right trainer or program to get us to those goals.
But if our conception of “fitness” is ambiguous, how do we know if the goals are the correct goals? How long do we think it takes and what will it look like, what will we feel like? What can we do?
I am in full agreement with this excellent write-up from Fifth Ape, that fitness is really an abstract idea, and all training for fitness is also somewhat abstract. Hence when someone talks about becoming fit, the counter question should be “fit for what?” It has to be tied to more specific domains of skills, even and especially if one is not training for a competitive sport.
So there are domains consisting of skills one must decide to engage, whether it be certain notions of strength, or a martial art, or some everyday activity. The goals, then, may look “softer” than hitting marks in NTDL. But discipline is still required, because the most important aspect of any physical activity or feat is the trained nervous system orchestrating and coordinating with our bone-and-tissue structure effectively under pressure, resistance, and variance.
I believe we are to always be mindful during any session of physical exertion, that this is practice towards something else beyond and outside the practice. Effects like Calorie burning, shredding fat, big biceps, or getting to some arbitrary NTDL marker are far less important than the under-the-hood complexity of training our central nervous system in a whole mind-body coordination. This gets me rethinking which exercises or programs are really useful or not, based on what outside-of-the-workout applications are most pertinent to my goals.
Goals are now connected to how I am attempting to fit everything together in the whole health story. It’s been too easy to over compartmentalize physical movement, making it a distinct hobby with personal achievements. I am starting to evolve my understand of the workout as ‘life practice’. On the face, that sounds extremely arbitrary and unfocused. Well, if I can take the seeming random and infintely complex variances of life and break them down to a few manageable domains of skills, then things will become very focused if not quite as impressive in quantifiable feats. This is not just a matter of choosing the right fitness program that’s out there, but cultivating a personal instinct on how to physically move in space and circumstance through best-shot predictive training, determining the most important and efficient skills to that end and to plumb their depths with discipline.
So I think about this mostly in terms of life’s unknowns. Workout means to practice in controlled, progressive ways which promote a durability and adaptability that is protective for the chaos of “later”, whenever that is, where factors like space, time, counter forces, and surface variations cannot be controlled for. Perhaps it could be thoughf of as extending the concept of hormesis into every realm.
That means attention must be paid to correct form, but also wrong form and unsafe movements! Injury doesn’t always mean you’ve made a mistake-in-the-moment. The mistake can be in what was emphasized in practice, or lack thereof, for that moment when things don’t go as expected.
Functional movement guru Ido Portal writes (via Facebook):
Nowadays when people get injured because of X – they write a book about it…
“Shit. When you get hurt by X, its because it was applied in Y amount to subject Z – you. All factors should be taken into account.Most times, the best thing to cure an injury or prevent it is a gradual application of the same stress that may injure you, but in controlled amounts. This has been done pharmacologically and chemically for thousands of years but it can be applied to movement as well.
Complete avoidance of certain types of stress is a BIG MISTAKE and a major reason behind our pampered, vulnerable and sometimes pathetic modern human existence.So, dont write us any books about what is ‘safe’ and what is ‘unsafe’. It depends on your preparation and on your genetic make up.
Herein also lies the genius of MovNat and why their principles of fitness will remain part of my psyche. MovNat is an example of a badly needed corrective to the contemporary fitness industry. The best you often get out there are controlled exercises intended to approximate certain specific real life movements but still in a very linear, unnatural and results-driven atmosphere. At worst, there are a lot of stupid, time-wasting repetitions of unfunctional movements that can make people prone to strain and injury. We should be performing movements that are so safe they prevent strain and injury during the rest of the time life will be throwing physical challenges at us.
Another problem. Contrary to some popular conditioning programs out there, not everyone in the general population can become fit for any task if they just put in the hard work. “Elite” really must be selected for, not decided upon. The conditions of genetic potential and skill mastering must both be met.
What is more universal is the basic human capability, or even the biological imperative, of applying oneself to strength gains as well as skill conditioning of all basic tasks, and most complex tasks, we would have a considerable possibility of encountering. Human skills, cultivating natural capabilities for the context of life.
These “fitness for life” tasks are more how I frame my goals. It means the most important goals are not in the near future and are not always measurable. While strength gains can be either immediate or steady and long term, the conditioning in specific skills – even if they appear basic! – necessarily requires a long term process. The mastery of skills happens only when they become a part of us, rather than something we try to get right once in a while in our free time.
While I continue to figure out skillsets most appropriate for my potential and untapped capabilities, I am driven by two underlying long term, “soft” workout goals:
- to become a more adapative human being for the rest of life: in overall health, in the community, in old age, while avoiding workouts that would be damaging to those areas
- to evolve the workouts so more and more they will correlate, support, and are shaped by my experiences and schedules outside of the workout sessions, not vice versa. Do they mesh well into the whole fabric?
Next up: a current snapshot of my own workout practices and tools