5 Lessons I've Learned About Life from Fitness
Updated: Mar 25, 2022
I've been working out relatively regularly since I was 17 after I began watching exercise DVDs with my mom. While I'm not a certified personal trainer or instructor, I have learned quite a bit about fitness these past 9 years. I won't be diving into what I've learned about fitness since I'm not qualified. Rather I'll be focusing on what lessons about life I've learned from fitness.
Another addition to my 5 Lessons series where I go into lessons from skills I've practice for 6 months or more. See the other articles I've written in this series here.
Lesson 1 - Consistency
When I first began working out I thought I had to go all in. Workout for 6 days a week for an hour, push myself to my breaking point. Every. Single. Workout. I wanted to do something similar to P90X, an intensive DVD exercise program that claims to give you a lean, ripped body in 90 days, working out 6-7 days a week for an hour to an hour a half. Or when I was in cross country I began running 4 times a week for over 3 miles each session. If I was going to begin a new habit, I was going to go all in. Every time I did this. I failed. It would work for about 3 weeks, I would have motivation to drag myself to workout for over an hour. But that motivation left me about a month in. I didn't want to workout 6 days a week, I didn't even feel like working out once. I repeated this mistake several times as a teenager.
Eventually I realized this wasn't going to cut it. So when I was 17 I decided I was going to begin working out with my mum. We would start with yoga DVDs because we wanted to build strength and flexibility. That and my mom already had a few yoga DVDs lying around. We did this for a few weeks together. The videos weren't necessarily hard or long (only about 20-30 minutes). It felt easy only doing 2 workouts a week. Eventually my mom stopped doing the videos with me (sorry to call you out here mums). I continued. I began watching more fitness focused videos about building strength and "toning". And it became easier after that, I began adding another workout day after 3 months and then another one after another 3 months. Eventually I was working out 4 days a week and was getting in decent shape.
I'm not saying I've been consistently working out for the past 9 years, it's been more on and off honestly. But I know every time I fall off the wagon with fitness, the easiest place to begin isn't where I left off (like 4 days week with heavy weightlifting). I start off easy with 2 days a week and build upon it. Being consistent, or becoming 1% better every day (Atomic Habits) is having compound interest with fitness. Instead of having several instances of trying you are consistently getting better and in the long run, it makes up for a lot.
Lesson 2 - Don't miss twice in a row
Similar to the consistency lesson from above, I heard this piece of advice from Matt D'Avella on his own journey towards working out. Instead of doing the "break the chain" rule, where you mark on a calendar everyday you do your habit (in his case working out), and try not to miss a single day. He has a rule which allows him to miss days, but not twice in a row. This way he can get breaks when needed but he doesn't get into the habit of missing workouts. This lets him be more consistent with working out. I've adopted this into my own fitness journey.
I've begun using this for other habits as well like: practicing the guitar, writing, reading. It lets me take breaks but remain consistent. I'm more likely to stick to the habit if I know I can take breaks for unexpected circumstances (like my dog being sick and I have to skip a workout).
Lesson 3 - Do something you enjoy
Most people when they imagine "working out" they think of running for hours on the treadmill in a gym or using the machines. And it makes them shudder. They join a gym and try working out the "traditional way" and usually don't stick with it. Besides trying to do too much at once, their new healthy habit fails because they've chosen a form of exercise they hate. As humans we try to avoid the difficult thing, that's why we procrastinate. We avoid things that are: boring, frustrating, difficult, unstructured, lacking in personal meaning, lacking in intrinsic rewards (Here's why you procrastinate, and 10 tactics that will help you stop by Chris Bailey). And if you are doing a form of exercise you hate and have no knowledge about, then it could be all 6 of those things. Making it less attractive for you to actually workout.
Exercise isn't solely going to the gym and lifting weights. I learned from Steve Kamb at Nerd Fitness to find a form of exercise that you enjoy. This could be dancing, rock-climbing, kayaking, or anything else you can think of. As long as it's physical. You're much more likely to stick to an exercise routine that you enjoy rather than one you loathe. Though I think we can all benefit from a fitness routine that improves your strength, cardiovascular health and mobility.
You're more likely to stick with a habit if you enjoy it. For instance, I'm learning the guitar now. Most people learn an instrument to play songs, not to practice chords all day. I'm not saying you shouldn't practice the fundamentals like chords, but you should incorporate what you enjoy into your habit/skill. Then you're more likely to continue with the habit.
Lesson 4 - Generalize... even a little bit
With the above topic, sometimes we find a form of exercise we love so much we become almost obsessive about it. In college I wanted to get back into martial arts after spending years away. I joined my college Taekwondo club, I became intense about practicing and went 3-5 times a week for the next 4 years. In my fifth and final year I became burnt out and injured from my consistence use. After visiting a physical therapist for my tennis elbow, I realized the power of cross training. Cross training is when you train/workout in a different sport/style than you usually do. This helps prevent overuse injuries (ones common for those who exercise in one sport) because you are training your body in a different way. Building your muscles and endurance in another form of exercising and not overusing your muscles by sticking to one sport. Even if it's just once a week or every other week, cross training in a different sport can help prevent injury. For instance if you're a runner then cycling once a week can give your knees a break while not falling behind on your fitness regime.
I've talked about this idea in previous articles: What I Learned from Leonardo da Vinci to Improve My Data Dashboards, Building Range, and Finding My Niche. I'm an advocate for expanding your knowledge. I think everyone can benefit from "cross training" or learning something new that's not related to your current job. It helps with problem solving and creativity. Even if you're not interested in becoming a generalist, there are benefits to occasionally branching out of your field.
Lesson 5 - It becomes more than what you set out for
In the beginning of my fitness journey I had one goal in mind: to become stronger. I was a weak kid growing up, I barely weighed more than a twig. And to top it off I was short. I was insecure about my small stature and decided to begin working out. It took a while but I began to see the changes in my appearance but also my strength. I went from doing elevated knee push ups (in terrible form) to busting out 10+ push ups with great form. I've gone off and on with my workout routine, but recently I've been working out consistently (3-4 times a week) and I've never felt better. Not only physically but mentally as well. My confidence has grown.
I realized that by committing to working out, I didn't just become stronger. I became more confident. Knowing I have the physical ability to do what used to be impossible for me has been great. I started off wanting to build strength, but what I came out with was something much better.
Establishing a new habit doesn't only effect one narrow aspect of your life it often has a snowball effect on other areas of your life. With my fitness habit I not only improved my fitness but I improved my energy level and overall health. Often times a new habit/skill has other benefits you hadn't thought of.
Fitness has become a huge part of my life. It's not just a way for me to get more exercise into my day but it's become a part of my identity. My journey with fitness has taught me about life and I'm excited to see what else I can learn in the future.
If you're interested in this you should read an article, Iron and Soul written by Henry Rollins about what weightlifting taught him. Honestly it's a better version of my article, and I come back to read it every so often. I remind myself of what fitness has meant to me. It's more than just working out.