What is Fitness? Part 1

Jonathan
June 7, 2021

Recently at a family gathering I was given my Grandfather’s workout journal.  I remembered this journal from when I was young and he would take me on his runs with him. Afterwards we would sit down and document mileage and he would point out the little notes he made in the margins from time to time. These notes could be his weight, future progressions of a workout, or just items from his personal life. Fast forward to today and as I looked through this journal a couple of big things stuck out to me. First, the workouts and runs described in the journal took place over 30 years, which shows that in the end you just gotta keep going. There would be days, months, often entire years missing, but he always got back on the path. Second, the goals that he mentions and my goals in fitness are quite different. 

He writes little paragraphs in sections talking about the doctor telling him to lose a few pounds, or about how he thinks if he starts exercising more it’ll help him quit cigarettes (which did work for him FYI). You can watch him adjust his workouts to these goals, and as time would pass he would go from walking to walking/running to running only. The distances would grow and shrink as the intensity rose and adaptations took place. 

As he entered his late 40’s back pain became the arch enemy and like most he went to doctors and tried all sorts of different therapies. The pain persisted and his notes began to try and create patterns with the pain, “worked too hard today”, “laid in bed too long”, or “laid in bed not enough” were common items. However he eventually begins implementing calisthenics and also decompression by using an inversion table. The strengthening of his core along with taking pressure off his spine did the trick and he notes in there eventually that at a minimum doing these exercises twice a week keeps the pain away, but three times is best. 

He initially used fitness to control his weight and as a coping mechanism for stress and stopping smoking. Then as he aged and his body began to break down and hurt, as everyone’s will, he used fitness to maintain a standard of living. Replace a few words in this story and it could now be about your grandparents, or maybe even yourself. 

When I began exercising I didn’t know why but I knew I needed to keep a journal. In the beginning it was me tracking the date, the workout I did that day, and my weight. The occasional block of dates with notes like, “too busy at work” or “been feeling sick” would pop up from time to time, or sometimes items noting a workout suitable to be a “benchmark” or even a “do not attempt again”. 

What I found over time was this journal was my compass to move forward, and my coach to keep me accountable. I too was tracking my weight, but to make sure I ate enough to not wither away. I would try and track progressions while looking over older work to see what was possible. I’d develop an injury then figure out how to treat it and move on, or note how i missed an entire week of working out due to travelling for my stupid job.  As the years passed this fitness thing began to mean more and more to me and eventually I allowed it to be a large part of how I define myself. The workouts grew to testing items for application to others, or sometimes seeing what I’m myself capable of. However throughout all of this, my notes never really strayed far from the above three items. Realizing we have to move, keeping track of the movement, and then paying attention to the movements and how our body responds to them. 

So, why does any of this matter? To me, what I described above is fitness. Fitness isn’t found in a gym or sold by a coach, fitness is life. It isn’t your daily CrossFit WOD or Spartan Training Plan and it definitely isn’t found in a Planet Fitness. My Grandfather was an intelligent man and he was quite well-read, but I guarantee you he never read a book about physical fitness or let alone health. However, here is what he did:

  1. Recognized we have to use our body
  2. Kept track for accountability and patterning 
  3. Paid attention 

It really is that easy. Jimmy Royston wasn’t entering any bodybuilding competitions or participating in fitness competitions but he knew that at the bare minimum as a human we have to move. Then documenting helps us stay accountable, but also allows us to pay closer attention to what we’re doing, how much and how often. 

How far we travel on this fitness journey is personalized -  it doesn’t matter if you want to look a certain way, compete in fitness, or just be a little healthier, the steps are all the same. Do the work, document it, pay attention, and the rest will take care of itself. 

… 

Now, if you’ve made it this far into reading I would be remiss to not mention where a gym and a coach come into play. If all we are doing is running and simple bodyweight movements, you can probably get away with never having any real coaching. Take it easy in the beginning and gradually add more, it’s a marathon not a sprint. However if we’re going to do any sort of weight training it is extremely beneficial to our health to start with either a personal trainer or at least in a group fitness class that offers coaching. However at the end of the day group fitness gyms don’t sell coaching, they sell accountability in the form of a badass group of folks to workout with. It’s way easier to do it with people than to do it alone, I promise. Being intimidated to start is normal but if you’ll just make the plunge the members who make up most gym communities are the best. Having someone alongside you is usually the difference in what makes our program the one that sticks. 

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