I hate that expression, “lapping everyone on the couch.” I get that there is a virtue to just showing up. I also get that it’s okay to be slow. We can feel good about showing up and running slow though without the comparison to those who choose to stay home and not run at all.
You’re not entitled to feel better than people on the couch. Why even is that a comparison that we want to make? We don’t like it when the speedy people say at least they are better than the people who take walk breaks. The couch sitters have their own plans, ideas, and reasons. See Am I really lapping the people on the couch?
I hated that expression years ago and I still hate it now. I wrote then that the idea of lapping people on the couch “rubs me to wrong way. I think it’s the comparisons thing. Yes, I’m faster than people who aren’t running! No surprise there. But it’s the assumption that I’m better than non-runners that I don’t get. I work hard not to feel smug about exercise, about fitness. I try to resist healthism and the politics of respectability. I’ve got friends who prefer reading to running, watching Netflix to bike riding, and hanging out on the sofa talking over CrossFit. I’ve even got one friend who thought she hated all exercise but later who admitted she was wrong.”
The point is that these are fine choices too. They’re not mine but you do you.
“The thing I don’t understand is why it’s so important to people involved in athletics to be “better” than someone else – I’m not talking about people who choose to compete in a race. I’m talking about people who talk about lapping people on couches, and people who are sitting on couches who didn’t ask to be involved in this mess. I choose my own goals for my own reasons and I pursue them. At this time one of those goals includes running. I have no need or desire to claim be “better” than anyone else to be happy with myself and my choices.”
It’s turning into a lovely fall here in the far east of Canada. The cold crisp air is a nice complement against the crunchy leaves and the gorgeous fall colours. When the sun shines, brisk walks are great, but already I can feel the desire to burrow, to get cozy under the quilt, and to ponder the virtue of hot tea or hot chocolate on swiftly darkening afternoons.
It’s the time of year that I find the most challenging in maintaining my fitness routine. This fall seems exceptional — my local pool has been closed since the end of August and won’t reopen until November; my work schedule is a little wonkier than usual; and I am managing some home repairs that will be most appreciated when we are in the deep of winter.
To keep myself on track, I have booked out my training time in my calendar. I know it might get moved around, but at least this way I won’t book something else by accident. When I see the weekly schedule, I know I have made fitness a priority.
I have started slotting out time for other things as well. I’ve always enjoyed doing handwork (although I am an atrocious knitter) and this summer, while on a car trip, I crocheted a whole dish cloth. I signed up for a quilt course in September and to keep on top of the project, I slotted out a chunk of time during the week and on the weekend.
A friend of mine told me years ago she found chunking up projects to be really helpful. Breaking things down into smaller bits makes large things seem achievable. As my schedule grew more challenging, I found chunking my time into slots reserved for fun things not only got me through various projects but also offered a welcome distraction.
I got my Fitbit involved as well. I have a timer set off to go at ten to the hour. This alarm reminds me to get up and move, because all too often I am likely to stay in my chair writing one more paragraph so I can call it done. I’ve already incorporated little tricks like parking at the far end of the lot, going up the stairs whenever I can, or timing myself to see how fast I can get up the hill.
When I was younger, I looked at scheduling as something rather regimented and limiting. Now that I am older, and have way more on my plate, I find scheduling is really helpful on several fronts: fitness, food/grocery planning , family fun, and me time. Balance is what I am aiming for here; not perfection.
Scheduling helps with consistency and for me, if I want to keep on track with my fitness goals, creating routines is what works for me. I know there will be days when the snooze button calls and the duvet wraps itself even closer around me. I also know by choosing optimal times for training and building in the time for the things that matter, I will be able to keep getting my fitness on.
How about you? What tips or tricks have worked for you to keep your momentum going when fall moves in?
MarthaFitat55 is a writer who likes to get her fit on through powerlifting and swimming.
Our followers were equally annoyed. Here’s some of their responses:
” I hate it! It’s privileged and doesn’t take into account the mental and emotional and environmental factors that go into why people don’t exercise.”
” These four “excuses” wildly underestimate the complex reasons people may not choose to exercise. It also assumes people don’t know these simplistic solutions. Oh duh-didn’t think of exercising in the morning, oh wait, I have to work and prepare various other vulnerable people who are dependent on me for their day too…oops.”
” It’s a deliberately myopic view of everyone who isn’t you and the 4 people you work out with. It’s also condescending as fuck, assuming the only reason people aren’t exercising is because they are lazy shits and that the speaker of this platitude knows better how to manage someone’s life than the person living that life. “
“Man this article is privileged as heck. Most seniors in my family are on fixed income that barely covers living expenses. They don’t really have the money to sign up for a class or go golfing. “
Others thought that some of the tips were good but that we ought to frame them more positively.
” More positive message like “breaking down barriers to a healthier and happier life” would be so much more effective. “
A personal trainer who follows the page chimed in and said she teaches her clients that the barriers are real. “No excuses!” talk doesn’t make them go away. Instead they sit down and look at the person’s barriers to having time/resources for fitness and brainstorm solutions.
When you plow past the simplistic advice–“Too strapped for time? Try exercising first thing in the morning” there’s actually advice in this article that matches well with a common theme here on the blog–Find a thing you enjoy! When people ask if one exercise is better than another, it often just comes down to which you enjoy. That’s the exercise you’ll do.
“Love music? Take dancing lessons, sign up for an aerobics or dance class, or walk briskly or jog and listen to your favorite tunes
Enjoy the outdoors? Play catch with your grandchildren or fetch with your dog, go hiking or rock climbing (but be safe while you do it), or go canoeing.
Like being with others? Join a soccer or basketball league, make friends in an exercise class, or organize a walking group with friends or coworkers.
Want to be on your own? Swim laps, spend an hour at the driving range, bike around your neighborhood, or use an exercise video at home.
Feel the need to multitask? Lift weights while you watch TV, do balance exercises while waiting in line, walk on a treadmill while you listen to an audio book.”
This intrinsic “feels good” motivation isn’t just kinder and gentler than “NO EXCUSES!” it’s also more likely to work. We blogged about that awhile ago.
“It turns out that those who think of exercise in terms of immediate benefits, how it makes us feel, do much better in terms of motivation that works, than those who think of exercise in terms of health and fitness goals. My students all agreed that exercise feels great. They thought if there was a recreational drug that gave you that feeling with no ill health effects they’d be tempted to take it. Thinking about the feeling is a very effective motivator.
Though it seems counterintuitive, studies have shownthat people whose goals are weight loss and better health tend to spend the least amount of time exercising. That is true even for older adults, a study of 335 men and women ages 60 to 95 showed.
Rather, immediate rewards that enhance daily life — more energy, a better mood, less stress and more opportunity to connect with friends and family — offer far more motivation, Dr. Segar and others have found.”
comparison trap is a difficult mindset to be stuck in. I hear it all the time
in my gym community—folks not satisfied with their progress because it doesn’t match
someone else’s. I also hear it in my own head. I hear my inner dialogue as it
compares the barbell I lift to the amount my friend can pull, and I feel my
self-worth increase or decrease with how much—or how fast, far, long, or many—I
can do. And I’m sick of it.
I know that seeing my fitness as a competition with others is a reliance on outside
factors and external validation to feel good about myself, and I’m slowly
talking myself out of this mindset. I’m paying more attention to my inner voice
and deliberately disrupting the dialogue with a new set of messages.
learned that how I talk to myself matters, and so I have started a practice of
drafting pep talks. I like this practice because it encourages me to dig into
some of the finer points of comparison and competition, and by writing to “you”
(who is you that is reading this but also is me in the mirror) I can develop
and order my thoughts in a considered, deliberate way. How we speak to others
can be so much more compassionate—and, also, more objective—than how we speak
to ourselves, and I’ve found this approach helpful to busting out of—or at
least putting some serious holes into—the need to compare and compete.
What Is Competition?
we get into reconstructing our mindset around fitness, let’s consider the
characteristics of competition.
competition is a contest in which there are winners and losers. At its core,
competition is a comparative exercise. Someone comes out on top. Sport is
competition; fitness is not.
sport, we determine a winner or a ranking of the top few. Someone is
identified, as objectively as possible, as the fastest, the strongest, or the
most skilled. Validation comes from others; it is external to the self. The
point is to win.
pursuit of sport and the pursuit of fitness are fundamentally different. In
fitness, there is no finish line, no award ceremony, and no gold star.
Validation is found internally, from meeting your own needs. The point of
fitness is to be able to participate.
doesn’t mean that fitness is easy. In fact, it’s often harder than sport.
Without the clear parameters of winning, how do we know when we achieve it?
Without agreed-upon rules of engagement, how do we know we’re doing it right?
And perhaps most confusing, without competition, what drives us?
shifting how we think about fitness away from competition and toward
participation we open ourselves up to so many more benefits beyond just the
Fit for What?
you identify the exact criteria for fitness? Few can agree on what to measure,
never mind the thresholds required, so don’t be surprised if you find it
difficult to pin down. Part of the issue is identifying the fitness
objective—what is it being used for?
fitness objectives are likely different from yours, and yours are likely
different from your neighbour’s. For example, I’m currently fit to care for
myself, do basic maintenance around my home, carry my groceries, walk around
town or hike through the forest, go ocean paddleboarding, and learn new
gymnastic skills. In other words, my fitness matches my objectives. I have
other objectives that I’m also working towards, and my fitness is moving in
that direction. Should my objectives change, I would likely work to alter my
I’m a competitive athlete, you say. Well, do you want to run hurdles, or
long-distance cycle, or execute a tumbling routine, or fence, or play rugby?
Great! Are the fitness requirements the same for each sport? Are you working on
fitness specific to your objectives?
no bar for fitness, nor should there be. Fitness is not an absolute. There is
only the ability to do the thing you want to do, at the level you want to do it
you picture yourself as a fit person, what activities are you doing? If you’re
already doing those activities, mission accomplished. If you’re on the path to
making it happen, mission accomplished also. Everything—everything—is a
It’s All About You
situation is unique. Really, it is. Hear me out.
physical fitness and the mindset you bring to it are specific to you and your
personal history. What you can do with your body, right now, is a manifestation
of that lived experience.
variables are infinite. Blow out your knee ten years ago? Recovering from a
major illness? Not sleeping well or working eighteen-hour days? Your mental and
emotional stressors are just as significant and combine with the physical to
create the you of this moment.
is the you that is capable of what you can do right now.
it make sense to compare your work-, family-, or injury-related stress to
someone else’s? No? Then why would you compare your one-rep max of anything?
about this: if you and I were to compare our fitness in a contest of
shoe-tying, would it matter who wins? If it doesn’t then tell me why it matters
that you lift more than me or I run faster than you. Each of us can do what we
can do and it’s irrelevant to compare.
there is a place where our unique situations are indeed relevant to others. We
all experience challenges, sometimes small and niggling, sometimes devastating.
And we all experience successes, be they fast and fleeting or sticky and
triumphant. Though incomparable, our experiences are what allow us to relate to
each other. Comparison is pointless, but empathy is gold.
is competitive, as are many other things—a game of chess, a spelling bee, a job
opening, an audition, the last seat on your bus-ride commute. What do all of
these have in common? There is a winner and there are those who . . . didn’t
win. The reward is limited to one, sometimes to a few. The system is based on
many of us, the competitive mindset is in our blood. We feel driven to lift
heavier and move faster than those around us. We want that personal best. We
want to “catch up” to our friends who can do more than we can. We want to
regain a skill, a speed, a body we once had because we think we used to be a
better version of ourselves.
comparing a past or an imagined future to where we are now and judging our
current selves lacking, less worthy than before or not yet enough.
fitness doesn’t exist in a system of scarcity. It is available to you now, or
later, whenever you decide to strive for it and regardless of who else is
working on theirs. There’s no podium and no limitation on who can have it, how
much you can have, when you can have it, or how long you can have it for. There
is no competition—it just doesn’t exist.
you don’t live in the past or the future. You live in the now. So how are you
not enough? You are, literally, everything.
the land of fitness there is infinite room, space for all, enough for everyone.
okay if you see something that someone else has and want it for you, too.
you see a stranger climb a local pitch, or your friend completes a Gran Fondo
with style, or someone at your gym has a two-pull rope climb.
might feel . . . jealousy. It might be hard to admit, but there it is. It’s no
surprise, really. We’re taught to compare ourselves to others. We expect to
compete for limited resources. We learn that there are winners at the expense
of losers and that the rewards go those at the top. But with fitness there is
no competition. You can have it too.
the important bit: your response to others’ achievements paves the way for your
own. If you celebrate the success of others, you’re saying yes to that success
for yourself, too, whether it be now or in the future. None of us exists in a
vacuum. Your support of others matters—to them, to a future you, and to
everyone else who wants to succeed. It creates an environment where we all can
strive and where more is possible.
if you put down the success of others, you’re saying that you’re not interested
in that achievement for yourself. You are, in effect, saying that the
achievement has no value—not for you or anyone else. This creates an
environment of apathy.
If, by watching your peers
increase their fitness, you discover a sharp desire to handstand, increase your
bench, or row a lightning-fast 2k, channel that motivation into your training.
Now you have a goal and the drive to make it happen. Go get it! Your
achievement won’t supplant someone else’s. But do this first: cheer on the
person who is inspiring you.
BIO: Shana Johnstone is an editor and writer who lifts, learns, and loves in Vancouver, BC.
As the days are starting to get shorter and the nights are getting chillier, it’s a good time to remind myself what motivates me to exercise on a regular basis.
Motivation is a strange thing. What works for one person, may not work for another. The number one motivator for me is: feeling good. Period. Vanity, health markers, increased confidence, all have their place. But ultimately, feeling good is why I keep coming back again and again.
What overcomes a lifetime of a love/hate relationship with food and your own body and being brought up in a diet era? Feeling good while slamming balls against a wall – and despite silly messages in your head.
How do you wipe from your head: a love of 80s glamour magazines, dieting from around 11, and thinking all day about what you should or should not eat? Reaching a max weight in your strength training class – and feeling friggin’ awesome with a perma-grin.
How do you silence the girl who was out of breath running across the street to her best friend’s house to share a smoke, from your head? Experience the feeling of closing in on the finish line at a marathon.
What is an antidote to being afraid of heights and not letting yourself do a pull up on the rig? Try to do that thing a different way – or do something else just as hard and badass – and feel good. There is not only one way to feel good.
What if your muscles are tight? Your lower back is achy? Determine what you CAN do, whether a certain type of stretch or a modified version of an exercise. Do that thing – and feel great.
What if you are so tired at the end of the day and can’t imagine going to a HIIT class? Remember that 5 minutes into the class, you will feel good and you will feel great by the end of the class. Not to mention the friends you get to see during class.
What if it’s a gloomy February evening after work, and you’d rather fill the perma dent in your couch with your butt, and eat vats of hummus while watching Netflix? Get your butt to the nearest spin class and feel great.
What if every human you have encountered that day has questioned how you have tolerated humanity for this long? Definitely go for a run and restore your faith in humanity.
What if you are your body’s biggest critic that day? Your body is telling you to quit bitching and to exercise. Be especially grateful if you have the ability and the option to do it. Not everyone does. Go exercise and feel great!
What if there was a clever meme going around an hour ago that told you that you are not getting out of here alive, nor in tip top shape, so you might as well give up any effort at being healthy? Remember that there is no guarantee for anything and that, the only thing you can control is how you feel today. Go to a kickboxing class and feel good!
Did you come across an annoying fitspo Instagrammer, who made you question your achievements because you don’t have “abs of steel”? Go find challenging flow yoga class and remember how good your body feels in tree pose and that is all the fitspo you need to feel great.
Were the people you lunch with comparing every diet they are currently on, in a way that made you want to scream, and find the nearest gelato stand? Go for a long walk with your partner and feel good (gelato optional)!
How about if you’ve had an awesome day and you feel like celebrating – by not going to the gym – go to the gym anyway and feel even better about your fabulous day!
Each and every time I have felt resistance to just go and exercise, each and every time I have defied the thoughts in my head, and gone for a run, a conditioning class, to spin my legs, or to lift some iron, each and every time, I feel better afterwards. What are your motivators to keep at it?
Nicole Plotkin: law clerk, loves to exercise, eat good food, snuggle with her dogs, and her wonderful husband.
Today is 50 days until my second degree black belt test. I know this because after the previous test in June, I decided to see how long I had to get ready. On the day I happened to count, the total came out to the pleasantly even 130 days.
For a long time, I’d been saying to myself that the trick of fitness in general, and of my martial arts practice in particular, would be to do one thing every day to improve. It probably didn’t even matter too much what that one thing was, since there were so many things–cardio, strength, flexibility, core, balance, etc–that contribute to improving martial arts performance, SO MANY of which I needed to improve. I knew what I needed to do, but I was having trouble doing it.
Although I was always dedicated about attending classes, I was sporadic about doing things outside of class to support that work. I’d go through streaks of regularly stretching while my youngest daughter took her bath, and then I’d get sidetracked one night and would drop it for weeks. I’d run consistently for two weeks, then have to skip a run or two because of meetings and would drop it. I had been on a very good schedule of weight lifting, but a shoulder injury sidelined that. Like everyone else, in other words, life kept getting in the way.
But I knew that, life or not, in 130 days I’d be expected to perform at the top of my game. And more than that, I wanted to perform at the top of my game. I needed to find a simple way to stay consistent.
A friend of mine in college always used to say that you could solve any problem with office supplies, heavy artillery, or a large enough plastic bag.
So I bought a planner.
I got a really small one–it’s about 4×6–with a page spread for each month and a small box for each day. It didn’t have any dates in it, so I could start right where I was. (I hate starting planners in the middle. So much wasted paper flapping around. And I hate starting mid month because of that depressing white void at the top of the page..)
I labelled it with months and dates. Then I put a countdown every 10 days of how many days were left until the test. On the front of it I wrote “130 Days” and a somewhat belligerent and accusatory “What did you do today?”
And then I started to fill it in.
I used it to track anything I did, any day, that would further my goal of performing well at the second dan test. I recorded class attendance, time spent assisting in instruction, stretching sessions (no matter how brief), runs, physical therapy, and so on. When I travelled and did lots of walking, I recorded that. When I spent hours doing yard work, I recorded that too.
And when my body told me that I need to take a day doing nothing, I wrote down “rest” as well. (That was a big deal for me, acknowledging that sometimes even I need to take a break. Maybe that’s another blog post for another day.)
I’ve learned quite a bit from having a planner dedicated to a single goal. A few blank stretches remind me that I get knocked out of my routines easily, so it’s better for me to find time to fit things in than to say “I’ll get back to it tomorrow.” Travel throws me for a loop, so I need to have a plan before I go about how I can keep working toward my goal even when I’m not at home. It’s best when I don’t use this planner to schedule ahead (though sometimes I do). This is meant to be a record of what I have done–not of what I intended to do. I’ve learned that writing down what I’m doing helps me feel like I’m making progress, even when I’m feeling stuck on a plateau, or frustrated about not being able to make it to class one day, or just generally feeling old and creaky. I can look at my planner and see how much I’m doing and how hard I’ve been working. I’ve learned that I’m sufficiently nutty to be motivated to add new things to my routine just to be able to write them in my planner.
I know that the trend now is for bullet journals, where you track everything all in one book–daily calendar, shopping lists, work out schedule, movies to watch, favorite quotes, and so on. And I’m as seduced as anyone by the elegantly laid out bullet journals I see on Instagram and on my friends’ Facebook pages. But I don’t want to make earning my second degree black belt just another part of the daily run of stuff I do. It’s more important to me than remembering to stop by FedEx, or pick up more tea on the way home from work. I wanted to set it apart.
Having a dedicated space where I record my work towards this goal reminds me that it’s more important, and reminds me to treat it that way. Work and family and kids and illness and everything else still go one, and still call on my time, energy, and attention. But now there’s a little book in my bag or on my desk belligerently asking me, every day, “What did you do today?” and reminding me that it matters.
Sarah Skwire is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund and Senior Editor at AdamSmithWorks.com. Her academic research primarily considers the intersections between literature and economics, but ranges widely from early modern material to popular culture.
However, I know from experience that the first day of feeling better is a trap!
You think you feel like yourself but it’s only in comparison to how bad you felt before. With that false sense of security, you jump right back into the swing of things and find yourself feeling awful again.
So I did not want to fall for that ruse again.
On the other hand, all of this sitting and lying around has left me with a very stiff back and hips. I also knew from experience that movement is the only thing that will help.
So, I figured out a plan that would let me move, do a few kicks and still take things very slowly.
I looked at the exercises for today and realized that they wouldn’t be very intense if I did them separately.
With that in mind, I decided to do a small warm up (mostly to warm up my muscles rather than to get my heart rate up), then do one stretch and one drill. Then, I would wait 30 minutes (you know I used my timer, of course) and try another warm up, another stretch and another drill.
I also decided to make the following rules for myself:
1) If I felt bad at all, I would stop immediately
2) I wouldn’t do the exact exercise that caused the crunch
3) I would modify anything that seemed very hard or required me to move fast
And it worked out fine!
I did four ‘sets’ of the warm up/stretch/drill combination over the course of two hours and it felt great.
I had no pain, no dizziness, no weird feelings.
My back and hip stiffness is gone.
I feel really great about it. I had to adjust a few of the planned exercises but I could feel a real difference in my hip mobility during every exercise that I did.
I’m not sure my kicks are much higher yet but they are BETTER and they feel more effective. I feel like I am executing them with more skill.
And, now that my hip mobility is improving, I can clearly see how I need to increase my leg strength to add a different type of improvement.
Bonus: My wall splits* have definitely improved since Sunday! Not a huge amount but enough for me to see and feel a difference.
I’m calling Day 4.5 a victory!
*The exercise I’m referring to is lying on the floor with your legs up a wall and then doing a sort of split by letting your legs fall open to either side while they are still touching the wall.