There are a number of misnomers and myths when it comes to training. One of the most prevalent is that you need to “Kill It!” each and every workout. The idea being, if your workout doesn’t reduce you to a nauseous mass, quivering on the floor then have you even worked out? I mean, how do you expect change to occur if you’re not willing to put in some serious work?
It’s an attractive idea. I mean at first glance it makes sense, right? The basic recipe for body transformation is “Move more, eat less,” right? So, if we move really, really hard, that’s even better. Maybe, we can move hard enough that we don’t have to pay as much attention to that “Eat Less” part. Wouldn't that be awesome?
Add to that, the industry knows you’re motivated by self-loathing. I mean, you do hate the way you look, right? To get you to buy fitness professionals use images of super fit, sexy bodies busting their asses. Often, these are not even the pros themselves but models, people who make a living simply off the fact they can manage to look the way we all think we're supposed to look. You're shown sweat, strain, effort, and the occasional glimpse of post-orgasmic relief that comes from a really hard workout. This is all about sex, after all.
But here’s the deal. Change doesn’t happen after just one workout. In fact, despite what your mind might say, you can’t workout out hard enough in one session to make any perceptible change in your body. Oops, that’s not quite right. You can make one change and it’s often quite lasting. You can injure yourself.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those types who say, ‘Exercise is dangerous. You need a professional, like me, to chart you through these perilous waters.” I think you’re fully capable of exercising to the benefit of your body. In fact, since it’s your body, I consider you the authority. No one knows your body better than you. Not me, not your doctors, your chiropractors, massage therapists, herbalists, or any other health professional you might name. When it comes to your body all we have is theory. You have practical knowledge.
The problem is that we as a culture have forgotten how to listen to our bodies. There is a rich dialog going on right now that you’ve forgotten how to be a part of. Every little itch, twinge, spasm, tickle, vibration, ouch, and release is your body telling you something. You were born knowing this. But our culture has adopted the fundamental idea that our bodies are flawed and corrupt. It is the duty of the mind to subdue the body and bring it back in line. As such, we subdue our feelings. Our entire pharmacological industry is aimed at helping you not feel. From pain killers to ant-acids, anti-inflammatories to anti-depressants, we’ve got a pill to help you not feel what you feel.
And sure, I use some of these products - sparingly. Sometimes, an Advil is just what I need to clear up a persistent headache or knock the edge off of today’s aches from yesterday’s sparring session. But rarely have I ever finished a bottle before its expiration date.
Instead, I try to listen to my body to head off the major injuries by listening to them when they are just minor aches. As you might expect, this requires nuance and attention. It is true that you must exert some effort to enact change. But the best application of that effort is consistency. You’ll achieve more by doing a little bit every day than by “killing it” once or twice a week.
One of the many problems with “Killing It” is that it requires a level of intensity that rules out your ability to feel. Sure, you feel the intensity. You feel the burn. But can you detect the nuance? Can you tell that your form has begun to suffer? That you’ve lost tension in your core and that weight you’re trying to toss around like a madman is no longer stabilized?
One of the many problems with the fitness industry is that we use elite-level athletes to sell fitness to everyday folk. We, as everyday folk, don’t see the years of work and preparation that went into that athlete “Killing It.” We expect that the way to be like them is to do what they do, like in the ad. When in truth we should do as they did, start from the basics, at the beginning, and slowly work our way into skill and development these attributes over time.
Trust me, I get it. I’ve wanted the same thing and I’ve busted my ass, only to get banged up, injured, and de-railed. Now that I’m 49 I keep in mind something I heard Dan John say a few years ago at a workshop.
After rattling off a litany of sports-related injuries he said, “You know what? I think I’ve got one good injury left in me...But I’ve got zero recoveries.”
Now, I’ve got nowhere near the athletic background that Dan has. Thankfully, I’ve also got nowhere near the surgeries and repairs he’s had, as well. Even so, I still approach my fitness as if I’ve run out of recoveries. Now I still play hard. I train jiu-jitsu and roll regularly with guys 10 and 20 years younger than me. I very rarely miss a roll in class. It’s a point of honor for me. BUT, I make sure that I’m ready for every roll. I listen to my body. I protect the sore parts and don’t take unnecessary risks.
When I train off the mat I LISTEN to my body as well. As I no longer feel the need to pursue competitive weights in powerlifting, I tend to train with lighter weights. With lighter loads, I can spend more time with each lift, feeling my way through the motion. I use time under tension to increase the intensity and pay attention to every aspect of the movement I can.
And this is why I can continue to train with and even teach guys much younger than me. When I started my fitness career my initial goal was to eventually be the "old guy" in the gym. I'm steadily approaching that goal and, if I continue to play my cards right, I'll likely be the "really old guy" in the gym.