Writing a weekly column about fitness started out as a means to share my passion for staying “fit enough to function” while dispelling some of the pervasive fitness myths in our modern culture. I’ve spent enough time in the fitness world to to recognize the ways we’re sold our insecurities, and seeing I’ve used my body to exert all sorts of physical violence on others over the years, I also have a pretty meaningful understanding of what kind of fit I need to be in order to come out on top.
In my mind, there’s a pretty significant gap between the image we have of a “physically fit” guy, and the way a dangerous man actually looks… because (spoilers), having a six pack has never won anybody a fight. You don’t need three percent body fat to be a functionally fit athlete, and although some rare specimens are able to maintain extremely low body fat stores in a healthy way long term, most of the folks you see in magazines, ripped up and vascular, only look like that during a certain phase of their bulking and cutting cycles. Basically, everybody’s a little softer than they appear, and that’s all right, as long as we understand that.
So here I am, recounting a number of points I’ve made in previous articles about how it’s okay to pack on a few extra pounds around the midsection and about how being functional doesn’t necessarily mean being ripped… but you saw the title. This is an article about the worst part of fitness; the part every weightlifter or prospective weight loser dreads: cardio.
Now, I know that some of you don’t dread cardio. For some lunatics, lacing up a pair of running shoes and racking up a few miles on the blacktop is your idea of a relaxing afternoon. My boss here at SOFREP, who you may know as The Odyssean, is one of you maniacs. He was known to cover more than 20 miles a workout at some points during his operational days, though he’s probably slowed down a bit over the years and tries to keep things in half-marathon territory. I, on the other hand, have only traversed such distances under a pack and at a slow and steady pace – such as big lugs like me are wont to do.
The problem with cardio, as near as I can figure it, is that it offers me the exact opposite of what I look for in my workouts. The hour a day I spend banging weights around in my basement is a blessed reprieve from the non-stop cycle of thought and analysis that makes us functional adults. For the short window of time, I turn the music way up, my thinking way down, and I just get after it.
Unless I’m on a run. Then, it’s all just rattling bones, achy joints, labored breathing and, best of all, a non-stop audience with my internal monologue, reminding myself of how much I hate running with every painful step. When I’m lifting, I feel empowered. When I’m running, I feel physically and mentally weak, and for me, that sort of weak is one of the worst feelings in the world.
A spiritual friend of mine once told me that I sought dangerous situations for the same reasons I like sports: it lets me experience a form of enlightenment she called “Satori.” According to Wikipedia, that means “seeing into one’s true nature,” though she described it as living entirely within the moment – with no concerns for the past or future. I’m willing to admit that, for someone more enlightened than I, those two definitions could potentially mean the same thing, but for the sake of my analysis, I’m going to stick with hers.
She explained it with a simple demonstrations. We stood a few feet apart, facing one another. She waited a moment in awkward silence, and then threw her bottle of water at me. I managed to catch it (after it bounced off my chest), but before I could complain she shouted, “good!”
According to her, in the split second after the bottle left her hand but before it found its way into mine, I was experiencing Satori… the complete absence of concern over past or future, and a 100% investment in what was happening right now. As adults with lives full of responsibilities and stresses, that feeling can be addictive, and since she’s not around to throw water bottles at me all the time, I’ve had to find my own means to experience it.
For me, that could be a lot of things. Some workouts get me there, sometimes writing does it, but the clearest examples that I can think of in my own experiences have all been during fights. When your opponent means you harm, there’s no time to think about your power bill, if your wife is mad at you, or what you’re going to have for dinner tomorrow. All you can do is act and react, offense and defense, win… or lose. It’s not the pain of the fight that we keep climbing back in the ring for, it’s that break from reality, where all there is in the world are the two of you and a will to win.
And running is basically the exact opposite of that.
Here’s the thing though… I’ve still got to do it. Sometimes life just sucks like that. I may prefer the weights, I may enjoy a good fight, but if I intend to be a functional athlete, I have to prize that function over preference. So much of Old Man Fitness is about making fitness what you want it to be, tailoring your regimen to your own goals and making fitness work for you, rather than vice versa… but sometimes, you just have to suck it up and get to work.
I’m never going to be a runner, but I’ll keep on running just like I’ll keep on jump roping, rowing, cycling and whatever else I have to do to keep my body within the loose parameters I’ve established as my personal brand of “fit.” Most times, fitness is about feeling good about myself, but sometimes, it’s just got to be about the work.
If running happens to be the thing that brings you that much closer to enlightenment, God bless you. As for me? I’ll be the guy swearing, grunting, and lumbering his way through a few miles of the Georgia woods.
Feel free to wave as you jog by.
Images courtesy of the author