4-3: Exercise – do whatever hard thing you actually like doing

For those of you who love to work out, or who at least enjoy its benefits, Unit 4 is the time to work exercise back into your life. If you’re not that way, I’m going to try to convince you to get exercise in some form that you love. Like if you enjoy baseball or swimming or hiking.

Just look how happy exercise made people in the past. He’s practically a smiley emoticon, and all he can do are crunches.

You do not need to become a bodybuilder. But I will tell you about how exercise based on functional movement will put you a path both to knock out CPPS, and to be a better athlete for the rest of your life.

Americans fall into four levels of exerciser:

  1. I’m not getting off the couch
  2. I used to ride my bike as a kid, so I’m open to the idea
  3. Exercise is part of what I want to be
  4. Welcome to the gym! I live here

I tailored this scale to make 3 the obvious ideal range. 1 and 2 don’t get you any results, and 4 can actually have negative consequences. We’ll get to that.

Your goal is to put yourself in category 3, or stay in 4 with some perspective on limits. Because there is such a thing as too much training. It can even be fatal. More on that later.

How exercise battles CPPS

By itself, it doesn’t. That’s why it’s in the last unit.

Once you’ve reached this level of balance, however, exercise provides five big benefits:

  1. Decreasing anxiety by releasing endorphins.
  2. Improving your self-image and sense of accomplishment.
  3. Increasing circulation.
  4. Challenging you to adapt to new circumstances.
  5. Giving you bigger, better muscles.

Isn’t walking enough? Sheesh.

Yes, you could get by with just walking.

But really, you don’t ever want to throw a frisbee with your daughter, or bike down to the lake, or play softball with your friends, or hunt a moose, or ski the black diamond, or surf a good-sized break, or chase your grandkids across the park?

Exercise can either be those things or empower those things.

But you have to train functional movement somewhere in there

Functional movement is not some paid affiliate program taught by a muscle-head with a meaty voice saying “brahhh.” It’s simply movement that humans are best at. It’s what you did as a kid, and what adults do when they’re not habitually shackled to cars and desks.

Hey, it rocks to be an American, but our movement sucks. Now, I’m all about both freedom and responsibility, so all I can do is persuade you to fix yours.

Functional movement for humans is walking, squatting, hanging, and sprinting. Maybe crawling, too, if you want to get muddy. But there’s a right way to do them, and chances are you don’t.

Don’t take it personally. I worked out six days a week when I started, ran 3-5 miles at a time, and found out how terrible my form was from all of the pains and injuries I got. The more I train functional movement (and keep up on walking and stretching), the fewer injuries I get, even as I ramp up my exertion.

Easy ways to get functional movement

1. Keep up on your walks

It sounds ridiculous, but most of us don’t get the most out of every step – including myself! As I write this I’m still improving my walking technique. And it’s not at ALL that you are stupid – it’s that the machine that if your body has reshaped in adaptation to how you move or don’t move.

2. Work up to doing a proper bodyweight squat

Can you squat, keeping your heels down, and stand up easily?

That’s your goal. If you need inspiration, find a one year-old and watch them. Our bodies are designed to go down to that position, stay there a while, and get back up from there. But without continuous use of that motion, it will atrophy like anything else.

Don’t rush it – just make it a goal. Katy Bowman has taught 70-something ladies to squat like toddlers. Like everything training and rehab, it just takes accurate practice and consistency.

Insert: basic squat progression video

3. Work up to doing a proper pull-up

Another kid thing: kids hang from trees.

Humans have arms and shoulders that are well suited for hang from things, to climb, and to throw things. You already throw your remote at the TV screen every time you watch the news, so that’s covered. But can you hang and pull yourself up?

Pullups, fortunately, also have a gradual progression that you can follow. And once you reach one good pullup, it’s time to work toward two, then three, and so on.

4. Work up to walking stairs without rails

If you can climb or descend a staircase while keeping your posture straight and only using your legs, you’ve reached a new level of strength. Go slow until you can.

5. Haul a kid (or a sack of rocks) without stooping

This is a benchmark for both core strength (developed by walking and hauling things – not abs exercise) and arm strength (developed by hanging and carrying things).

Bodyweight exercise

If you want to walk, squat, hang, and build muscle, and you want to be able to do it anywhere, any time, and see results, then bodyweight exercise is your new friend.

Now, I’m not digging on lifting in a gym. With proper technique, Olympic lifting will provide beautiful gains and shiny big muscles bursting out of your skin in good time.

But if you’re a dad, a husband, and/or just a warrior looking to train anywhere, squats and pushups are excellent. And if you’re creative, you’ll find a tree branch or a football goal to do a few pullups, too.

Bodyweight exercise is, in a nutshell, anything you can do with your body weight. There are whole books on the subject, but the basics are pushups, squats, pullups, and lunges.

Grease the groove – the best way to train for anything

Grease the groove sounds like having sex before working out. Which sounds great but tough to schedule. In actuality, “GTG” is actually about never training to burnout. In fact, you don’t even get close.

For those of us who had coaches whose holy trinity was AMERICA – SPORT – TRAIN UNTIL YOU COLLAPSE, you know all too well the simultaneous thrills and setbacks of training to exhaustion. But we keep doing it, as though overtraining is a badge of toughness.

Enter Pavel Tsatsouline, with a solution from his native Russia. It’s as effective as Ivan Drogo, but a lot nicer. He comes bearing a (relatively) new paradigm: Never burn out. Never train to exhaustion. Do fewer reps, more frequently throughout the day.

This is the training concept that brought us Khabib Nurmagomedov taking the UFC to a new level, John Gagliardi’s football record at St. John’s University, and even Carl Lewis winning four Olympic medals. None of them practiced burnout training.

When you work out, you should never feel the burn.

Consider these two ways to do 50 pushups:

  1. 50 pushups in a single set, after which you’re sore and done
  2. 50 pushups split up into 5 sets of 10, with at least 15 minutes between

Now, you’re achieving the same number of reps. But with method B, you can focus on good technique for each rep – and if you feel able, you can fit in a few extra reps with each set.

So in the space of , method B allows you to do more reps over the day, focus on your form so your muscles train correctly, and give your muscles time to recover in between each set.

Another bonus: you won’t walk around feeling sore.

Physiologically, you’re avoiding the buildup of lactic acid. Psychologically, you’re programming yourself to do little sprints.

Watch to get the full, highly compelling argument for Grease the Groove.

How do I fit in all these reps over time?

Time limits are the hard part. You might really only have 20 minutes for a hard workout.

This is where bodyweight exercise is useful. You can track exactly how many reps you can do before your muscles start to get tired, and hit that limit several times a day. Then, when that gets too easy, add a rep.

Monday: Stretch, 5 minute GTG bodyweight workout, your favorite workout

Tuesday: Stretch, 5 minute GTG bodyweight workout 3x/day

Wednesday: 5 minute GTG bodyweight workout 3x/day

Thursday: Long walk, stretch, pushups throughout the day

Friday: Stretch, 5 minute GTG bodyweight workout, sprints, walk if more time

Saturday: Walk, rest

Sunday: Playing with the kids, walk, rest

You’re doing what you can, where you can.

What if I train myself to overtrain?

For those of you who proudly identify in category 4 (where you get intense exercise nearly every day), it’s possible to exercise too much.

You’ve heard me quote Bruce Lee. Now let me reference him. Bruce Lee used to train at every available moment. The man was a machine. Until the machine just stopped one day.

In fairness, the exact cause of his death was never determined. But let’s look at another example: the subject of the running book Born To Run, Micah True. Micah was a long-time ultramarathoner. He died of “idiopathic cardiopathy” at age 58, in spite of otherwise looking super fit. Meaning, his heart stopped without a clear cause.

There’s a strong case that overtraining your heart will, in fact, exhaust your heart. And the surest way to that is “chronic cardio,” or doing load after load of running, elliptical, biking, or even kickboxing.

Now, not everybody dies from overtraining, and there’s insufficient data anywhere to determine whether people die earlier, a lot earlier, or no earlier than they otherwise would have.

But there is data to suggest that there’s a point of diminishing returns. Meaning, you’d actually get stronger, faster, if you didn’t train so much.

Using the GTG principles, and wisdom from some of the best coaches of the day, some of the best advice I have found on cardio is, do sprints once or twice per week instead.

Animals do not train to run long distances. And yes, humans have independently-controlled lungs, so they are in fact the greatest creatures at running long distances. But hunters who use those abilities in the wild use them only when they need to – and their single most important skills are probably breath control (deep breathing!) and sprinting.

So sprint instead. And do actual sprints, too.

Sprints are doing your favorite cardio activity for short bursts – like 15-60 seconds at an all-out pace.

Why should you do sprints? Do them if you love exercise, you want to get faster, you want to get leaner, and you want to train your body to be more like a superhero.  

Make sure you’re warmed up. Lord, I have injured my lower back enough times by just jumping in, because I think I’m still a kid. To warm up, to ramping activities. Walk, then jog, then jog fast in place, then do jumping jacks, whatever.

For those who argue that you shouldn’t stretch before working out, I would counter that unless you’re under 30 and spry, you have two options:
1. Stretch, and work out with slightly reduced max rep potential, or
2. Risk getting injured, and miss the next 3-10 workouts

Kind of a no-brainer to me.

Run on grass, if you can. Hard roads and tracks don’t work your foot muscles, and when your form isn’t perfect, it’s easier to get injured. Or even just sore. And you won’t be able to go as far, either.

Treadmills are a bad-weather compromise. Treadmills do not let you slow down as you get tired. You can’t fit in as many sprints before getting too tired. Also treadmills do not allow you to use your stride the way your body is designed – your foot falls differently over a moving surface.

If you’re up for trying them, I suggest no more than once/week.

For more information on sprints, Mark’s Daily Apple has wonderful resources.

Bad news for serious cyclists

If you’re one of those dudes who loves to put on spandex nuthuggers and ride 40 miles in a day, and you’re having CPPS, I have bad news. Biking is not a functional movement, and sitting on a bike seat puts a lot of pressure on the muscles already taxed by CPPS.

Now, I’m not saying don’t own a bike, and don’t take recreational rides. I own a bike, and I can’t wait to teach my kids to ride. But before they bike, they must walk, because that’s what our bodies are meant to do.

Die-hards are going to die-hard and keep on pedaling. Again, I’m not one to beat you over the head, but if you’re going to engage in chronic cardio while sitting on your taxed muscles, and while forming new movement habits outside of our naturally born functional movements, be ready to compensate in other ways – like more walking, stretching, and recovery time.

YOUR MISSION:

  1. Decide which of the four exercise-commitment categories you fall into.
  2. Decide where you need to go from there. More? Less? If it’s less, skip to step 5.
  3. If you need to find motivation to exercise, create a strong image of yourself in your mind. You don’t have to draw it in crayon – although you can, if you want. Just envision yourself, how you look, and what you do with that strength.
  4. Figure out what you’d actually want to do for exercise.
  5. Combine what you love to do with some functional movement training.
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