When thinking about constructing a fitness plan, it can be tempting to structure it around the single goal of improving your physical health, or even worse, how physically healthy you look (not the same).
This was my mistake for many years. My only exercise was going to the gym and weightlifting, and while this routine did give me other benefits besides an improvement in my physical health, these benefits were by-products rather than desired goals of my programme.
Over the last few months, I've adopted an exercise programme that focuses on a more holistic view of the benefits exercise can bring. In this article, I'll share the goals I had in constructing this programme and what my weekly schedule looks like. The aim isn't to give you a prescriptive exercise regime, but more open your eyes to the potential benefits of exercise you might be missing, if you are only focusing on improving your physical health
Let's take a look at the potential benefits of an exercise programme.
This is a huge category, and probably the main reason most of us engage in an exercise programme. Physical health isn't a way you look (although this can be a happy by-product) it's how you feel in your day to day body. Are you free from pain? Can you perform all the activities you would like to do daily? Do you have a tonne of energy? These are all questions to be asked when considering what good physical health means for us.
I think this is probably the biggest benefit of exercise and should be one of the main goals of any exercise programme. The mental health benefits (mood, confidence, focus, satisfaction) that come from exercise regimes are going to vary from person to person, and you need to figure out what works for you. If going to gym fills you with dread, is not enjoyable, and just makes you feel sore and worn out, then why bother? Find something that works for you, exercise should always be something you look forward to.
Not all exercise needs to involve the gaining of skills. In fact, running, walking or having a casual kickabout with mates can often be so enjoyable for the reason that they allow you to switch off and just be in your body. Having said that, if you are the sort of person who gains satisfaction from being able to do a skill you once could not, exercise is a great way to channel this.
I don't think many people think of exercise as a way to cultivate desirable traits, but in my experience, it can be a great way of doing so. We'll explore this idea through the lens of my current exercise programme below.
Exercise and sport can be a great medium to grow relationships with existing friends, and equally as an inroad to making new connections.
The mythical flow state. When we are working at the edge of our capability, completely absorbed in our task, and taken away from the continuous stream of mind chatter. Exercise is a great opportunity to access these higher states of consciousness.
Below is my current exercise regime, I've tried to rank the different elements.
I weightlift at least 3 times per week. It's something I've done for the last 15 years, and a habit I can't see myself ever dropping.
The physical benefits of weightlifting are obvious, improved muscle mass, which increases testosterone production, improves metabolism and reduces the risk of injury.
Weighlifting doesn't, however, do much for either mobility or cardio performance. This means that, in real-world terms, you won't feel your best self if you just weightlift alone. This was my mistake over the last few years.
There's no doubt that you get a decent endorphin rush after weightlifting (although nowhere near that which you'd get from a cardio-based workout).
This is a tough one. When you start you gain the skill of weightlifting, but to be honest, it's not a particularly useful skill in my opinion. It is satisfying to be able to perform heavy lifts for sure, but I don't find myself particularly challenged in the skill acquisition department after many years of training.
Weightlifting was I think, the first activity that taught me the traits of discipline, consistency, and hard work. There are not many areas of life where you can follow a pretty much step-by-step process, and if you execute on it, start to see pretty linear results within a few weeks.
I'd now say I'm pretty good at staying disciplined, and following a process consistently, even if the results may take years to manifest. I think this trait is a super-power, and I'm sure weightlifting played a large part in shaping it.
When I was young, weightlifting bought me closer with the 'gym-bros' I trained with at school. Now though, weightlifting is a pretty solitary endeavour and I don't view the building of relationships as a reason for doing it.
Unfortunately, I rarely enter flow states when weightlifting, usually, I use the opportunity to zone out to a podcast.
I do hot yoga (yes so boojie) 3/4 times a week. Usually, I am for mornings, it's a great way to start the day. I've dabbled with yoga for the last few years, but have made a real commitment to it in recent months.
I've only started seeing the real benefits of yoga after committing to practice it every other day, and man the health benefits are huge. I feel lithe, flexible and just all-around so much healthier. I can bend over to pick things up without my back straining, I can sit for hours without any pain, I can move my body in ways that would have before been impossible.
Immediately after a yoga session, you feel a real sense of calmness and clarity, incomparable to weightlifting in my experience. You also get the chance to meditate for 10 minutes at the end, and if combined with a cold shower you leave the session feeling a hundred bucks.
This state can carry through a lot of the day, if you are mindful to conduce it.
The skills of yoga positions aren't as useless as the skills of weightlifting. These are poses you can get into throughout the day if you are feeling you need a bit of movement, they are also functional in a sense.
The main skill that yoga develops is mindfulness, specifically the mind-body connection. As someone who is always in their head, always dreaming up business ideas, it's nice to have a practice that can take me out of that, and into my body. I've found that this also helps me try and gain a better mind-body connection when weightlifting, walking or practising BJJ.
If weightlifting cultivates the traditionally masculine traits of hard work, disciple and planning, yoga cultivates those of the feminine side. Self-acceptance, connection, kindness, are all ideas that a good yoga teacher will subtly weave into the session. I haven't practised long enough to see if these will result in meaningful behaviour changes like weightlifting has, but I'm optimistic.
I find yoga to be a very solitary endeavour, even more so than weightlifting. The whole point is to connect your mind and body. Perhaps there is some social elements to the practice, but I haven't yet seen them.
This is a tough one. I see the potential for huge flow states in yoga, after all, that's what it's designed to do. The truth is, I don't yet have enough skill that I can enter a flow state, my mind is still very much on the teachers' instructions and trying to wrap its head around the various positions!
I train BJJ 2/3 times a week. I am a complete amateur, having only been training for around a month, so take any insights gleaned here with a pinch of salt!
It's a good workout, you will be very much blowing after 'rolling' ( the BJJ term for sparring). As well as being decent for cardio, it also seems to have some good mobility benefits, as the different locks and positions etc. require you to be able to contort your body in ways you'll have never done before.
BJJ combines great social engagement, flow states, and a good endorphin-fueled workout. I imagine longer-term the confidence it will build should also be great for the old brain.
What's a more practical skill than being able to defend yourself? I think it's criminal that so few kids do a martial art in their youth. BJJ is highly practical as most fights are going to end up on the floor, and most of the skills are about how you can defend and distance yourself from your opponent, so in real life, you can either run away or gain the upper hand.
I've not even scratched the surface but BJJ is highly nuanced and incredibly complex, each movement contains numerous steps to use your body in the most efficient way possible. Even standing up from the ground is a 6-7 step process! I'm finding it really rewarding to learn these skills.
Again too early to tell on this. One thing I can say is I'm already learning a lot of humility and respect through this martial art. Getting beaten up by a woman half your weight is certainly a humbling experience!
Also, the etiquette around respecting your opponent, the instructors and everyone else in the class is cool.
You always drill with a partner, and you get to know the people in the class quite well. It's never awkward because you can always talk about the exercise itself. I used to play rugby, and while it's nowhere near that level of comradery, there's definitely a decent social side to BJJ!
Even though I have no skill in BJJ I find myself frequently reaching flow in the practice. I think this is because it's such a progressive sport, so you can drill one particular basic movement over and over and not feel completely out of your depth.
When rolling the imminent threat of getting choked or pinned heightens your focus on the task at hand, meaning it's impossible to think about anything else.
In summary, I think I've found a routine that works for me, each activity contributing slightly different benefits to my life. Again this is not prescriptive advice, the aim is merely to demonstrate the wealth of benefits that can be drawn from exercise, and how each type of activity can contribute to these benefits in their own unique way!
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