an exercise in perspective

I was beating the clock on a timed weightlifting interval in my backyard. Such things make for brief yet effective training if you're willing to push yourself. An appointed rest interval ended. The time to get moving quickly came and went, slipped away like a car speeding down the highway. Instead of starting the task at hand I kneeled and pulled a weed from the lawn.
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1. Training: 

Training is select movement with a specific performance goal in mind. Variables like loading and reps, speed and rest are manipulated with intent. One session supports and builds upon the other, and the end goal is much too lofty and specialized for any single bout of effort. Training requires a chunk of time with structured progressions and regressions, recovery and peaking. This type of effort requires the greatest amount of discipline regarding what to do as well as what not to do.

Training culminates in astounding displays of nearly superhuman strength and speed and endurance. This is exercise.

2. Working out: 

Working out requires showing up, and it may require great effort and courage. This is what usually comes to mind when we talk about "getting in shape." You lunge or dance, kick or spin, or maybe follow what an instructor planned for the hour. You fit in a jog or brisk walk. You put in a DVD and repeat circuits of calisthenics. Working out may or may not have much structure. It's formal calorie burning, where you gasp and sweat and go on with your day.  

This too is exercise.

3. Corrective exercise and rehab:

This is highly specific and structured but less intense. You may sweat depending on your fitness base. The primary aim is to use movement as a means to gradually build tissue resiliency, improve joint stability or mobility, and ingrain more efficient movement patterns. You alter the mechanical forces on your bum knee by stretching the ankle in a specific way and building hip strength. This is physical therapy, gait and balance training, and I suppose some forms of yoga.

These count as exercise.

4. Work: 

Work involves a bazillion reps of moderate to low intensity. You lift and sort packages, mow the grass, pick green beans, build a shed, perform stretching and adjustments, wash windows, or pace hospital floors. Work is, well, work. It's the 40-plus hour per week grind that lasts for months and years. Work is also the weekend binge, like loading the barn with hay or painting the house.

A reminder of the obvious is warranted here. Work is awesome because at the end of the day you have achieved something beyond fitness. Your muscles tugged at your skeletal segments and your heart beat fast and it resulted in compensation or some other immediately tangible offering to the world.

Labor is definitely exercise. Every pile of split firewood warms you twice.

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With this as a reminder, here are a few thoughts:

-The vast majority of human activity has always been in the realm of #4. Only in recent times have many of us needed #2 or had the time and means to take #1 very seriously. Most with a career that requires even moderate manual labor cannot comprehend why anyone would want to spend their limited leisure time and energy on #1 or #2. These days, the #1 and 2s just assume those folks are neglectful or lazy. Maybe they are. Or maybe they're just tired.

-On sports: Playing the game where winning is the primary intent is #1. Playing where the main goal is to have fun or exercise is #2. Pay heed to this and do not mix the two.

-The #1s often fail to realize that doing time with #3 will help them resist injury and achieve new levels of performance. It goes for #2 and 4 as well. In fact, excessive anything outside of #3, without attention to #3, will often result in taking you to #3. But as Ronnie Coleman would say, ain't no one wanna do no boring-ass corrective work.

-There is sometimes a fine line between #1 and #2, but often there is not. Currently there is a LOT of confusion between the two. Athletes who have a specific performance goal in mind are caught running around, giving their body too much variety, going through unnecessary random draining workouts, with all the effort serving to stifle their advancement in #1. On the other hand, those who aspire to simply be active and get in shape are isolating their muscles on resistance training machines or, even worse, performing relatively technical and heavy movements they don't need or want.

-The funny thing is when a person who is all about the workout and gym culture imagines their #2 is some kind of magical greatness when in fact almost any #4 would be a lot more demanding and beneficial for them. Pay someone to plow the snow so you can go to the gym and work bis and abs.

-Military personnel, police, and other public servants are the only true #1s. Or at least they should be. Where else in modern times may life and death truly depend on high level performance? Professional athletes are often impressive genetic freaks with sharp intellect and superhuman work ethic. But at the end of the day, win or lose, they go home and eat, sleep, and hang out with their friends and family.

-The point, I think, is to clarify exactly what you want out of your fitness program (and life). I will point you to the enjoyment of pursuing a purposeful #1 rather than merely suffering through workouts. Do not discount the myriad of psychological benefits that even a light #2 provides.

-Right now I waver between #1 and 4, and except for casual mountain biking, usually altogether avoid structured #2. There's no need for random energy burning with all the work, housework, children, semi-rec sport. I remain fascinated with the idea of being a serious athlete, the discipline and diligence, structure and progression of #1. But could this be fading? I did pull the dandelion when I could have set a PR.

Sucker didn't come easy.

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