Category Archives: General Fitness

The Fitness of Playing: Making Exercise (More) Fun May Be a Key to Keeping Yourself Doing It

Image Courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Too many people find it difficult to exercise often enough to stay fit and healthy. The reasons for this are complex, for sure. But I’ve come to believe that one big barrier to exercising regularly for many people is the fact that they simply haven’t found any physical activity that resonates with them enough to make it fun, or at least fun enough to want to continue.

We, as humans, love to have fun. Laughter and playfulness can help make physical activity fun and engaging, drawing a person to return to the activity in question again and again – not because they think they “should” in order to stay fit, but because they actually enjoy the activity and look forward to doing it…or look forward to how great they feel after doing it, as the case may be.

This is one of the lost concepts in fitness plans and programs and ideas for too many people, creating an obstacle to health and fitness. There’s a sense of exercising being a blah, icky, necessary evil that people have to endure if they don’t want to end up overweight or out of shape or both.

It’s true – exercise plans can indeed be boring and distasteful. Also true is that what one person loves and savors and find works wonders for them and lights their inner fire may draw an exactly opposite response from another person.

It’s so common for each of us as individuals to assume that everyone else wants what we want and thinks how we think and will experience what we experience in the same way with the same reaction. We also take comfort in numbers, so having others affirm that our choice is indeed the route to fun and enjoyment makes us feel happy and secure, and there’s nothing wrong with that – unless we find ourselves pressuring those who maybe don’t have the same response or reaction even harder to do what we do, making them feel bad or guilty that they’re not having the same enjoyable experience (which almost inevitably will push them even farther away from trying that particular form of exercise, or possibly any form of exercise).

One of the most important things for each person to work out for him or herself is to find a way to bring playfulness, joy and fun into his or her exercise plan or program. I’m not saying that this will be easy; it can take time to find a physical activity that is actually enjoyable. If a person is really out of shape, almost any activity may be uncomfortable, but still – figuring out a way to make it fun and to involve some laughter and lightheartedness can help make it seem less repugnant.

How do you make exercise fun? Try the following approaches:

  • When kids play, they don’t necessarily have to have a “point” to the play – nor do they have to have a time limit that makes it valid and worthwhile. Remember that 5 minutes of walking is better than doing nothing at all – or a few cat-cows, or pushups, or crunches, etc. It all adds up. Make it a game to see how many small chunks of time you can exercise throughout the day, if that helps you get more movement in;
  • Keep it lighthearted and don’t take it too seriously – if you don’t reach your goal for a particular workout on a particular day (in terms of time, distance, length, weight lifted, skill learned/mastered, etc.), let it go, and just be happy and pleased that you made the time for yourself to play at all;
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new, to look uncoordinated and silly doing it, and to laugh when you don’t – or do – succeed. When I teach yoga, it fills me with joy when students get caught up in the moment of trying a challenging pose or sequence, whether they giggle at not quite getting it or beam with joy when they finally do get it. This is exactly what I’m talking about – forgetting all of the “stuff” that awaits outside of the yoga practice, and just being present and playful in the moment;
  • Exercise with others, and make it an enjoyable social occasion as well as a chance to improve your fitness. You can have an exercise buddy (or two or three) with whom you meet up to exercise a few times a week; you can work out at a gym or sign up for a class; you can join a dance or yoga or martial arts class; you can get involved in an outdoor activity that is inherently social (rock climbing and bouldering certainly are!); whatever you choose, having other people involved can help add an element of fun and joy, even if you’re working your body hard;
  • Add some music that makes you happy, lively, and focused – music makes us move and can add pep and vigor, helping you kickstart and potentially prolong your efforts at moving;
  • Don’t give up right away if you can’t find something that you enjoy; take your time and try lots of exercises and approaches – perhaps you’ll cycle through a whole variety of different activities in search of something that motivates and inspires you, and perhaps something that doesn’t light your fire at first will gradually come to be something you feel you can’t live without. Whatever the case, don’t give up – and again, remember that doing something active, even for 5 minutes at a time, is better than no exercise at all.

Turning physical activity into something that you look forward to, that isn’t a tummy-turning chore that you must endure, can help make for a much more healthy and happy relationship with exercise and fitness. You may find yourself actually looking forward to your workouts instead of finding excuses as to why you’re too busy or too tired after work to make it happen.

For more tips on how to incorporate exercise into your life as a mainstay, check out How to Kick Start Your Workouts & Recommit to Fitness and The Long & The Short of It: How Little Time You Really Need to Make Improved Fitness Your Reality.

Strength Training to Improve Your Climbing: Lifts I Love (4) – Medicine Ball Leg Lifts

 

You can start out using an exercise ball as pictured here for these leg lifts, and then switch to a heavier medicine ball as you progress. (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

You can start out using a lighter exercise ball as pictured here for these leg lifts, and then switch to a heavier medicine ball as you progress. (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Doing hundreds of crunches isn’t the most effective way to strengthen your core or to get a ripped six-pack – not for climbing, and not in general.

As I mentioned in an earlier Lifts I Love entry, most climbers (and probably most people in general who work out) focus too much attention on the abdominal region and not enough attention on strengthening their lower back concurrently. That being said, it is a good idea to develop and maintain strong abdominal muscles, not just for climbing but for life in general. Balancing opposing muscle groups is always a sound plan for a healthy and functional body.

My favorite abdominal exercise these days is medicine ball leg lifts, performed with the medicine ball clasped between the feet. Check out Medicine Ball Leg Raises – Abs Exercise Guide with Photos for detailed instructions on how to perform this exercise. I generally do not include the switching of the ball to my hands and overhead, as I work these upper body muscles in other exercises using similar motions. Whether you do this portion of the lift is up to you, taking the rest of your lifting program into consideration. Be careful not to drop the ball on your face!

There are lots of other effective abdominal and core-strengthening exercises out there besides this one, including certain yoga poses, in addition to more standard crunches and hanging abs exercises (using a bar and doing knee lifts, for example). I suggest that whatever abdominal strengthening work you decide to include in your training program, perform the exercises at a level of intensity that isn’t aimed at endurance (i.e. hundreds of repetitions), but at a more strength-training level of repetitions, so that you’re working hard to do 10 or fewer reps per set. Complement every ab-focused exercise that you do with a lower-back (opposing-muscle) exercise. Strive for balance in your core-strengthening efforts.