The Power of Community – an underrated tool

funny-aerobicsThe other day my daughter had to prepare a short talk on ‘spectators’ and their influence on her life. She started off by stating that two is better than one and then went on to describe how we all are spectators of each others’ lives and that merely standing by and observing doesn’t cut it and that it is only when we give something of ourselves that we truly get involved in the game and transform ourselves from passive onlookers to active participants, thereby tasting what life is really about. A proper mouthful for a 16 year-old.

It made me think. On how many roads have I embarked just to be turned around without reaching my intended destination. Dozens, no, more. Now, with the power of hindsight, I’m not in the least bit surprised that on each of those journeys I’ve set off alone.

I won’t bore you with the tearful details of each (perceived) failure but I will say this: Had I embarked on those journeys WITH someone or at least FOR someone other than myself, I would in all likelihood have reached the destination.

The power of community is often overlooked and underestimated. It is especially true if your goal is reaching a place where you’re fit and healthy. Improving your health (and therefore your fitness) requires focused intention and consistent effort. It requires discipline when it comes to making daily choices. What it comes down to is changing habits and as we all know, changing habits is hard. Especially if you’re trying to do it alone.

Being part of a community, or harnessing the power of ‘togetherness’ is a powerful tool. And it is out there, and it is free. Being engaged in community will improve your health – and not just physically. Conversely, isolation will prevent you from becoming the best version of yourself. Alcoholics for example don’t get drunk in groups, they do however try to heal in groups.

Here’s the kicker: Health habits are contagious. For example, if you spend time with people who exercise, you are more likely to exercise. Same with eating healthy. The group you associate with often determines the type of person you become. This does not mean you should ditch all your fat friends. You are not only capable of being influenced, you can influence as well. If you keep healthy habits, friends and family are more likely to follow. Like I said, habits are contagious which means you can have a significant effect on those around you.

It won’t happen overnight however. You will most likely encounter some resistance. Chewing on a carrot while your friends are puffing away will draw the odd comment of resentment. By the way, that should be your sign that just maybe you’re associating with the wrong crowd.

And then there’s the small matter of ‘commitment’. To most commitment does not come naturally, we’d rather opt for the ‘no obligations’ route than be tied up, missing the point that commitment actually gives us freedom. The freedom to be who we want to be because it is only in the confines of relationships that we can let our hair down. Or fart out loud.

There is also comfort in knowing that we’re not alone in our battle to stay on track with our fitness and health goals. And being committed to a group or a couple of friends will cause them to be committed to you, dragging you along even on those days when you’re not feeling up for it.

You need not look far to start forging such bonds. Co-workers, neighbors, friends, parents of your kids’ friends – in today’s world of connections, groups and social media it should be quite easy to find a few like-minded individuals. A great place to start can be your immediate family. It’s a fact that couples who train together, are more likely to stay together so just maybe you don’t need to look any further than your better-half. After getting your better-half on board don’t be surprised if the kids follow suit. You might have started off thinking that you’ll be the inspiration but more often than not you’ll find that once those bonds have been established, you’re the one that is inspired for once you are surrounded by others who are just as committed to ‘loving thy neighbor’ as you are, you become the recipient of that ‘love’ as well as the giver of it. And only then will you transform yourself from a passive onlooker to an active participant in the joyous game we call ‘Life’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life in the Box

Even though I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, cycled solo across the Namib Desert and been coaching functional movement for the best part of five years, there was a time in my life when I was the last person you’d want to consult for advice on how to get fit and change your life for the better.

I was unfit, overweight and generally sucked at relationships. Climbing a flight of stairs was not something I’d do voluntarily. Let alone invest time in becoming a better dad or husband. Grabbing a beer would get preference over playing with the kids. Because of a poor physical state, I was in a poor mental state. No energy for training translated into no energy for trying (anything).

And then came CrossFit, and the ‘Box’. The merits of this seemingly crazy fitness phenomena are not under discussion. You either love it or you hate it (or, like me, you adapt it). CrossFit jargon is descriptive and even funny. The ‘box’ is the place where you workout. WOD is the workout of the day and an AMRAP is as many reps or rounds as possible, to name but a few.

There’s also an uncanny similarity between life itself and what happens in the Box. I doubt whether Greg Glassman, CrossFit’s founder, did it intentionally but I’d like to give him credit for it anyway.

A CrossFit class starts with a warm-up. It is a period where you ease into things under the watchful eye of someone who cares about you. You are taught the basics. Like an air-squat for example. The simple act of squatting down and standing up. A movement underpinning most of the more daunting movements you’ll encounter on your journey towards physical well-being. You are required to do it over and over and over again until you can perform it with your eyes closed not even thinking about it anymore. Like wiping your butt.

The warm-up is a period of anticipation, anxiety and giggles. It’s a period spend in your comfort zone. Unless you’re new to CrossFit in which case the warm-up will feel like the workout. During the warm-up there’s time for idle chatter but there’s also that lingering feeling that some time very soon the shit will hit the fan…

The warm-up is usually followed by a skill- or strength session. After you showed proficiency in the basics, mastered the fundamentals, you progress to a session where you can test yourself. This session is specifically designed to equip you with for what is to follow. It is where you realize that you’re not as strong or as flexible or as accurate as you thought you were. It is a session during which doubt is a constant. It is also during this session where it dawns on you that you probably need expert coaching for certain movements. Like marriage counseling for example.

Then, before you can say Rich Froning, the buzzer sounds ‘3..2..1..Go!’ and you’re into the workout proper. Every man for himself. You dive in head first, and go as fast as you can. You sense that you’re falling behind. The Joneses already started round 2 and you’re still renting an apartment. The pace is frantic and unsustainable. You feel tired and alone. Where’s the coach? Can’t he see that some are cheating?

You adjust your pace. You even adjust some of the movements. Self-preservation becomes the focus. Life will beat the crap out of you, stupid to be doing it to yourself. You look around and see people of all shapes and sizes battling the same demons. You realize that you’re not alone. Inspiration comes from where you least expected it. There’s a guy with only one arm doing kettlebell thrusters. Your problem suddenly becomes insignificant. If he can do it, so can you.

Then, just as you are about to throw in the towel the buzzer sounds again, signalling the end of the workout. You collapse into a heap on the floor. You’re not quite sure what just hit you but you’re breathing and you’re alive. You survived. Again. You realize that the suffering you just endured made you stronger than what you were before. And as the smoke slowly rise from the ashes, so does a new opportunity. You look up at the white board relishing in the fact that you just completed something which only a short while ago seemed impossible to do.

The coach walks over and gives you a high-five, he was there watching all along. Bring on tomorrow!

The Inevitable By-Product and Burpees.

Burpees can make you happy. Really. First you need to know what a burpee is, and secondly you must comprehend what it means to be happy. The foremost is a complex four-stage physical movement, the latter a simple feeling.

“burpee” is defined as “a physical exercise consisting of a squat thrust made from and ending in a standing position.” A burpee is not something that happens to you. It’s something you physically do.

This is what a burpee looks like:

The term ‘burpee’ originated in the 1930’s. Named after Royal H. Burpee, a Ph. D. candidate in physiology at Columbia University. The man was dedicated to figuring out a seemingly straight forward concept: How to determine a person’s physical fitness. In order to measure physical capacity he made his subjects perform a simple four-step exercise (the burpee) and timed them. The army was particularly fond of the movement and added a push-up and a jump to Mr Royal’s original version. Today the burpee is firmly entrenched in fitness vernacular although dreaded, even feared by most.

Wikipedia lists no less than 20 different (sadistic) versions of this legendary movement and it has become the embodiment of physical exertion. There’s even something called ‘the burpee mile’ in which you do a burpee and a standing broad jump over and over for 1 600 meters. It takes over two hours to complete and is rather insane!

Happiness on the other hand is not nearly as complex as the burpee. It does however seem to be elusive (but now that you know how to do a burpee it shouldn’t be).

“happiness” is simply defined as “the state of being happy” while “happy” is defined as “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” A feeling is a fickle thing. It comes and goes. If you don’t keep on doing that something that gave you the feeling in the first place, it’ll go away.

Happiness therefore is always a work in progress. It is not a constant state, you have to work for it. You have to do something to experience it. Happiness is a form of action, same as a burpee. You’re not going to find it behind the wheel of a sports car or waiting for you in a three-story house, or in the arms of Stormy Daniels. It didn’t work for Donald Trump and it won’t work for you. If he rather did burpees instead of Stormy his fitness, albeit for office, would not constantly be doubted.

Ever wondered why a mother of two would want to get up at 05h30 in the morning to do burpees? Or asked yourself why a 40+ year-old dad would want to wake up at 4 am on a Saturday morning to go ride his bike in freezing temperatures?

I asked them, and here’s their answers:

Mother of two on waking up at 4h45 to go and workout:

” One should think that I exercise because of peer pressure – constantly being bombarded by images of ‘the perfect body’, the world’s message being that unless you look like this, you won’t be happy. But no, I exercise because it makes me feel good. I’m certain that being physically fit makes me a better version of myself. My work’s stressful. Raising two young kids is stressful. Going to the Box (that’s where CrossFitters do their stuff) is me escaping from all of that. It’s where I forget about my problems. It’s where I focus on myself. It makes me feel good about myself and because of that, I’m a better wife for my husband, a better mom for my kids. It is easier to give more of myself when I’m feeling good about myself. It enables me to be a better ‘me’ for those around me.”

You see, nothing to do with losing weight or looking good in a bikini.

The ‘cycling-dad’:

‘Exercising, training, whatever you like to call it, makes me feel good. Being out there on my bicycle gives me time think. Makes me realize what’s important and what’s not. Being fit gives me energy to say ‘yes’ to my son when he wants me to go kick a ball with him. It  makes me a better dad. Being a better dad makes me happy.’

Again, nothing about becoming leaner or having a lower resting heart-rate.

Back in the day Mr Royal H. Burpee might have created a yardstick for measuring physical capacity but he also unearthed a recipe for feeling happy. And it’s a simple one. Fall down, get up, repeat. Whatever your burpee looks like, go do it – get that feeling.