“Good” Workout Vs. “Bad” Workouts

This week I read a post in the Wildmind Newsletter about meditation, but I think the concepts can also apply to our practice of Pilates, yoga or any movement discipline we undertake.  So I’m taking the liberty of paraphrasing:  What is a “good” workout vs. a “bad” workout?  We waste a great deal of time making these judgments and worrying accordingly. The judgment is ultimately not about the workout, but really about ourselves and how we perceive our own efforts and abilities.  Maybe we think a “good” workout is one during which every exercise is performed to whatever specifications we demand of ourselves that day.  So it’s a workout that goes according to some preconceived notion or prescribed plan. But how many things in our lives actually go according to plan?  Or perhaps a better way of looking at it is how often does a well-layed out plan go awry? And what do we do when that happens?  When a workout doesn’t work out, we create stories about how we are not good at ______ (fill in the blank) or this practice isn’t the right one for us, or something similar. But this story is our own invention, so maybe we need to invent a different one:

With a bit more experience (assuming we don’t give up in the face of all those judgments) we may start to think that it’s the effort we put in that defines what is “good” or “bad”. We take into account that the conditions we’re working with change; sometimes they make [our practice] easier and sometimes harder. Imagine you go running. Some days you’re running on flat ground with the wind at your back. Sometimes you’re running uphill against a stiff breeze. The first of these runs is going to feel more pleasant (it’s a “good run”). But which of these runs is going to help you develop more fitness and stamina? The second one, right? So maybe it’s the [workouts] we struggle in that are really the “good” ones . . .

Think about how good you feel when you’ve completed something that you perceive as difficult.  It may take some time and effort to make that happen, but with a little determination you can find a way to your goal that works for you. Try being kind to yourself and have a little patience.  It is rare that anything worth having comes without at least some struggle.  But when you have that “aha!” moment of accomplishment, it is the best feeling!  Dangle that carrot.  You can reach it.

Expanding on the concept of patience with yourself and your goals, here’s something from Yoga Journal’s Daily Insight:

Yoga was originally developed to lead the practitioner to freedom from suffering and to realization of his or her Divine Nature. . .. It can be helpful, though, and even necessary, to set lesser goals along the way. . . These goals can help you to move in the right direction and provide you with valuable mileposts.

On the road to attaining your goals—in yoga and elsewhere in your life—you will inevitably encounter obstacles. Patanjali [recognized author of the Yoga Sutras, considered the guide book to the philosophy of classical yoga) refers to these as vikshepas and enumerates nine of them: illness, listlessness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, cravings, delusion, inability to progress, and instability in maintaining progress. Depending on your nature and the goals you have set, you will run into some of these more readily than others; but sooner or later you will come up against them all. How you meet these obstacles will affect how well you surmount them and what your state of mind will be in the process.

One does not need to understand the Yoga Sutras to recognize these obstacles. We all experience one or more of them on a daily basis.  That’s life!  It’s full of obstacles.  But you don’t have to give in.  Try being as patient with yourself as you would be with a child or a friend or family member that you care about.  We are often so much more willing to give others the benefit of the doubt than we are to allow ourselves the same leeway.

So next time you are tempted to skip your workout because you are worried about how you might perform, my suggestion is to just show up.   To echo a further sentiment in the Wildmind post, I would assert that

any workout “you turn up for is a ‘good’ [workout]. Sure, there are some days it’s easier than others and there are some days you have to put in more effort. But I’d suggest that you regard the [workout] you do as being infinitely better than the [workout] you don’t do.”

If your performance doesn’t meet your expectations that day, chalk it up to experience.  Whether or not you realize it, your body learned something.  Allow your mind to learn something, too.

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More on Exercise and Aging

This week I read an article asking the question “Do We Expect Too Much of Our Bodies as We Age?”  You might read that title and think it gives you a license to get complacent.  “Yup”, you might think, “I’m too old to do ____________ (fill in the blank) anymore.”   But the article presents a different picture.  It is for all of us over-achievers who keep comparing ourselves to each other and to our former selves.  The article discusses our hope that we can reverse (cure?) the aging process by exercising.  This naturally creates frustration with the limitations we continue to encounter as we age.

The fact is, we are all aging.  Every day we get a little older, like or not.  Despite the fantasies of science fiction writers, time only moves in one direction as far as we know.  And with that direction, change happens.  None of us like change. Yet change is inevitable and constant.  One of the few constants in our world – like death and taxes.

So we know we’re getting older and we know we can’t do some of the things we used to do.  Or at least we can’t do them in the same way we used to do them.  So what are our choices?  We can sit and lament the things we wish could still do and beat ourselves up for our own incompetence.  Or we can celebrate the things we can still do.  Some of that inevitable change can be positive.  No matter how much you’ve lost, you can still make gains.  Maybe you won’t get back to where you were when you were 20, but you can improve.  All it takes is a little effort.  The more consistent that effort is, the more gains you will make.

According to the National Institute on Aging, it’s never too late to start and the benefits are numerous and ongoing.  Here are a few:

Being physically active can help you continue to do the things you enjoy and stay independent as you age.  . . In addition, regular exercise and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing some diseases and disabilities that develop as people grow older.  In some cases, exercise is an effective treatment for many chronic conditions. For example, studies show that people with arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes benefit from regular exercise.  Exercise also helps people with high blood pressure, balance problems, or difficulty walking.

In fact, “in most cases, you have more to lose by not doing anything.” (from “Exercise & Physical Activity – Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging”).  Consistency is the key, though.  Start slow and give yourself time to adapt.  Your muscles make gains from the rest between exercise sessions.  That’s why we sometimes get sore when challenging our muscles.  But that’s how your body gets stronger – by recognizing the need to address the new challenge.  To sustain those gains we need to create that muscle memory.  The best way to do that is like any other memory we want to promote – that is, by providing reminders.  In this case, reminders come in the form of continuing to engage in these activities.  That’s why we call it practice.  The more you do it, the better you get at it.  But getting better doesn’t mean becoming 20 again.  Start where you’re at and move from there.  Fighting with reality will only make you miserable.

Returning to the National Institute on Aging, it’s never too late to start.  Even if you have difficulty, you can still benefit from exercise and movement.  The four types of physical activities recommended include those emphasizing endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.  The good news is both Pilates and yoga incorporate all of the above.  Both disciplines can also be easily modified to accomodate physical limitations.  Also, both will help with whatever other physical activities your life requires – like climbing stairs or gardening or putting the groceries away.

So don’t wait . . . just get moving!  You can do it!  But be kind to yourself.  Compassion begins with yourself.  Idea Fitness Journal recently printed an article on “How to Help Middle-Aged Women Improve Body Satisfaction“.  One reader (Karen Geninatti of Geninatti Gym and Fitness in Carlinville, Illinois) responded to this article by describing her “no negative comments about yourself” rule in her classes.  She also tells participants “never to say anything to themselves or about themselves that they would not say to their son or daughter”.  Amen to that.