Summer is coming, Testy. In spite of whatever the hell is going on outside today. We are also making preparations for reopening Bang. So, it’s probably a good time to talk about exercising more—and keeping your momentum going.
1. Give yourself an inoculation dose
We forget how good exercise can feel. How great it can be to put our bodies through the paces. That’s where a couple of times around the block wants to turn into a 5K run. Yet, a sudden and acute increase in exercise is where we are most likely to get into trouble. The problem isn’t what you’re doing; simply that it’s too much too soon.
I have one piece of advice on this:
After returning to any kind of exercise after any time off, start small. Give yourself an inoculation dose. In other words, take your best guess about what you’re capable of doing and do 50-70% of that. Your body will tell the tale from there.
If you feel great 24-48 hours afterwards, you’ll know that you can do more. If you feel sore or beat-up, you can be thankful that you didn’t do more. Take that information and adjust your workouts accordingly. Start low, add slow.
2. First you get the patience, then you get the technique, then you get the muscle
I remember the day I met Il Mostro. After multiple shoulder dislocations (some from previous workouts), he found us. Actually, his wonderful wife did. Il Mostro had spent years trying to put on muscle but that damn shoulder just kept dislocating. He was in his late 40s and conventional wisdom said “Nuh uh.” But conventions are for Shriners. So, we ignored them and instead factored in the following:
- The ability to gain muscle decreases with age. Theoretically. In real life, however, that premise is based on already having achieved maximum muscularity. Few of us have.
- Il Mostro had been injured repeatedly but was giving things a(nother) go. He was ready, willing, and able to do what it took.
- We already knew what didn’t work.
In the end, we spent a good nine months emphasizing stability and mechanics. We did a whole lot of isometrics (static positions) and never, ever rushed. From there, we began to introduce more conventional strength exercises and—in time—more bodybuilding-style work. Building muscle (along with tendon and ligamentous strength) around great technique makes things stick. You’ve heard of muscle memory but did you know that muscles can hold memories? Physical adaptation is the second-order effect of practice. You can build structures that encourage specific types of performance.
Il Mostro added significant muscle mass in his early 50s, along with decreased pain, decreased injury risk, and improved shoulder health. He was patient, consistent, and open to change. These qualities turned him into a three-year overnight success.
3. Spread the load
This advice is mostly for over-40 exercisers but anyone interested in building resiliency as they age can take note. Unless you are doing specific physical preparation for sport, you may be better served by distributing your training load more evenly over the week.
So, instead of three all-out 60-minute sessions per week, you might find that six 30-minute sessions work better. Or twelve 15-minute sessions. You get the idea.
Think of this adjusting the dosage of a drug. You have far more ability to find juuuust the right dosage when you have more frequent checkpoints. You are also able to more fluidly respond to fluctuations in daily stress levels and signals from your body.
4. Clean up your cells
I used to think that humans should spend our lives in a vat of nutrients. Or at least try to. Yet more doesn’t seem to work better. Indeed, many people struggle to get the right nutrients to the right places in their body—in spite of having plenty of them. This is metabolic dysfunction in a nutshell.
Our surprisingly adaptable bodies respond to feast and famine alike. So, if we are never challenged, our cellular health will tell the tale and bits and bobs of dysfunctional cells will accumulate. This junk in your cellular trunk is associated with accelerated ageing, neurodegenerative disorders, and a host of other issues. Regular cleanup is important here. This is what folks are talking about when they say autophagy—usually in the context of fasting.
Here’s why fasting works: nutrient deficits are detected by your body’s accounting department. This, in turn, sends a signal down to individual cells to stop spending like assholes. And—while they’re at it—to look for any material that’s laying around. The ensuing rummage sale (breakdown of degraded cellular material) is what cleans up your environment and improves your overall function.
Fasting is useful here. But it does not need to be dramatic. In fact, it doesn’t have to be fasting at all. We are looking for a mild but chronic energy deficit. It’s a numbers game. This can be accomplished through intermittent fasting, longer periodic fasts, or simply by managing the size and composition of 3 squares a day. Eat a little less than you burn. Long-term. That’s perhaps the biggest trigger of autophagy. But sustainability is more important than short-term changes. So, my counsel here is patience and curiosity. Suffer-fests don’t tend to stick for some mysterious reason.
Once you have your style of eating locked down, I recommend bouts periods of low-intensity activity with your fasting periods. Without sandwich components floating around in your bloodstream, your body will learn to look for less accessible energy sources (hello, fat stores!)
Low-intensity activity like slow and low cardio, long walks, gardening, all work. This is because we don’t do a great job of oxidizing fat when stress hormones are circulating around. So, the goal here is to ask how much physical activity you can add in without any noticeable fatigue or stress response.
My advice—as with more intense exercise—is to start slowly and gradually ramp up. Think less about workouts in the traditional sense and more about what an active daily lifestyle would look like.
5. Treat feels as skills
My final piece of advice is this: strive to ensure that nobody knows more about your own body than you. You can make this a reality by continuing investing your attention into how your body and mind feel—and respond to things.
We already use many tools—from mirrors to wearable technology—to improve our feedback loops. I am not telling you to ditch these tools; instead, to use them to continue fine-tuning your own felt sense of exercise. The more closely you can correlate your perceptions to reality, the more intuitive and creative you can get about your own exercise experience.
Finally, I will add that this stuff should feel good. Emotionally. Physically. Everything-ly. Your ability to consistently tune into those signals will take your exercise into weird, unexpected, and positive directions.