Sam and I (along with our friend Joh and a bunch of random facebook people) are doing a challenge of doing 217 workouts in 2017. Sam did it last year (216 in 2016), and wrote earlier this year about her experience and trying to figure out “what counts” as a workout. Sam took a very philosophical tack on the question back in January, connecting the question to the Trolley Problem (which reared its head this week, weirdly enough, in my binge watch of this season’s Orange is the New Black. Philosophy is everywhere!). My definition is less theoretical, but last Friday I logged my 100th workout, and was reflecting on how clear “what counts” has become for me.
The terms of the group itself are fairly ambiguous:
“WHAT: The idea is simple. In 2017 there are 365 days. We are going to challenge ourselves to work out 217 times in those 365 days….
HOW: (1)Workouts are defined as any form of deliberate exercise/movement. Some examples are, lifting weights, doing gymnastics, a CrossFit WOD, a hike in the great outdoors, practising a martial art or yoga. Taking a dance class or playing rec softball with the folks from work also count. Do what inspires you to move your body.
The group is also simple — we log our workouts in a short sentence, occasionally with a photo. Sometimes people like each other’s posts. That’s it.
The simple counting is strangely motivating for me. The only time I’ve kept track of my workouts before was years ago when I was training for marathons, and that was more of an “am I following my program?” assessment. This is just… stacking up a list. And even in this world of strava, fitbits and garmins, I find a simple #97 hot 5K run in middle of day sort of seals a sense of accomplishment for me. And if I haven’t logged anything for a couple of days, I have a nagging sensation that I need to move my body. I know in my gut that I NEED to work out for my soul and body to function well, but other winters I have fudged that knowledge many times, letting 3 or 4 days drift between runs or trips to the gym. This challenge has built in accountability for me — if I have to scroll down too far to find my previous post, it’s been too long. That’s my rule.
I think what I like most about this is that there is a loose external structure — a FB group, a number goal, other people doing it too — but everything else is personal. You get to decide what counts for you as a workout. That’s it. Some people count every 2 or 3 km dogwalk, some people only count if they sweat. There are no objective “rules.”
Sam and I have a similar approach to “what counts” — we count intentional episodes of working out but generally don’t count everyday movement. That means we don’t count meeting our basic step count targets or short cycling commutes. For us, that’s not working out, that’s just living our lives. We count the things we wouldn’t be doing anyway.
Most counting is straightforward: one episode of activity counts as one workout. An episode could be a 3 km run or an 18 km run. One workout. Going to the gym is one episode, even if I ran on the treadmill and did weights. But — if I ran in the morning and then went to the gym in the afternoon, I’d count that as two workouts — because it was two different episodes of engaging in activity.
This does create some grey areas. Most of my cycling commutes total about 10 km a day, on pretty flat roads, in the city. I don’t count that as a workout (though I do count it toward my yearly mileage in the saddle). Other people might. This is a very “you do you” situation. However, I HAVE counted that 10 km cycling commute if it was really rainy or windy, because then it becomes an out-of-the-ordinary episode of mobility — although I usually count this as half a workout. I might count two days of commuter cycling as a workout if I also threw in a few extra stairclimbs, or some pushups. I don’t usually count hitting 10,000 steps in a day unless I exceed the 10K and it’s combined with a cycling commute. And I’ve counted 12 or 13000 steps if it also involved moving boxes or lots of stairs, and certainly 15,000+ steps if I marched around a city for hours. I counted an hour of dancing at a wedding one night after I’d already gone on a long bike ride. Other people have different frames of reference — again, you do you — I’m not going to weigh in on whether I think something constituted a workout for someone else.
In management theory, there is a concept called “felt fair pay,” which suggests that employees have an “innate” sense of appropriate compensation for their work, and the closer you get to that amount, the better motivation. The theorist behind this had a lot of crackpot ideas, but in my experience, when we’re engaged deeply in any initiative — whether it’s work or working out — we develop a “gut” sense of what feels fair. I’ve determined that for me, working out is mostly defined in terms everyone would recognize as a workout — a yoga class, a run, a long bike ride — but there is also this gut sense of “it’s a workout if I added something somewhat strenuous to my day, especially if adding it felt like some kind of effort.”
I like this little challenge, and the completist in me is determined to hit the 217 target. It’s simple, it’s flexible and I like the data: I’ve worked out 101 times so far this year. In the movement department, I’m taking care of myself. Gold star for me.