You Don't Need "BeastMode" to be Fit for Life

Julia Hubbel, Walkabout Saga, Horizon Huntress

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Weakness is a choice. Be a Beast. Success Trains. Failure Complains. The Road to Success is Covered in Sweat. BeastMode.

Is that really the only choice?

For forty-seven years, the gym has been my second home. Beginning in the military in the early seventies, I’ve found the environment of iron, chalk, sweat and swearing as natural a part of my life as breathing. Right now I’m limited in what I can do until our gyms reopen, but I can’t wait to be unleashed so that I can rebuild my upper body strength. They say Friday. I will sleep on the sidewalk to get in if necessary.

All these years I’ve seen Arnold posters and posters of top bodybuilders, along with motivational phrases from people like Michael Jordan. If you were to believe all of them, your distinct impression is that not a single one ever took it easy, took a day off to let their bodies rest. It’s all-out effort, all the time.

What a crock.

Not only is this a lie, but it also is monumentally stupid. Nobody can maintain top effort all day every day. Even top level effort for 60–90 minutes at the gym, or running, or playing hockey, or anything else. The NFL’s best running backs have to hit the sideline to take a breather after a run back for a touchdown or a long series of hard-won yards. They have to be given time to recover. Hockey players take badly-needed rests from constant skating on the ice.

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This is true of all athletes. Even racehorses die of extreme effort, right in the middle of a race or just after. No creature pushed to extremes is safe from the body’s limitations. While you could legitimately argue that a great horse like Secretariat luxuriated in being pushed, and if anything, went on to extraordinary greatness as a result, he also was regularly rested.

Those who don’t rest, injure. Some die. We’ve all read stories about recruits pushed beyond their limits in the military. Rookies who die in training camp in the late summer heat.

This is just stupid. Yet too many of us buy into this notion that it’s either all out all the time or nuthin’ at all.

This is called Overtraining Syndrome . Exhorted to be our best all the time, some of us push ourselves so far past our limits that we get sick. Our hearts are overworked. Our brains begin to shut down- in fact, mentally we’re in a fog. Our muscles begin to shrink. Holy crap- and we were expecting the opposite!

The lie that somehow we’re expected to never let up is part of the airbrushed and manufactured image of high achievers. The problem is that many of us buy into this lie, and push ourselves so hard that we end up damaging our bodies. No wonder those who have an internal drill sergeant — and I still have mine from Army basic training in 1974 — have a hard time slowing down. Giving the body time to rest, recuperate, rebuild is essential to any kind of training or fitness program.

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This Push Hard Or You’re A Wimp message is another reason why so many folks don’t even begin. It looks and feels as though there’s no middle ground, no safe place to begin where you are. That just doesn’t look like fun, to me or anyone else, so it’s just vastly easier to throw in the towel and stay on the couch.

Planning for Balance

Here instead are some alternatives:

  1. HIIT Training: Going after it hard for short periods of time provides excellent benefits for those who have been working on themselves for a while. The key word here is “interval.” This isn’t going full out, all effort, all the time. It’s short bursts of intense training, then recovery periods. Those recovery periods depend a great deal on your level of fitness and your goals.
  2. Periodization Training: This addresses the inevitable plateaus we reach after doing the same thing for weeks, months or years. There are men at my gym who have been working out next to me for decades, yet their bodies are either the same or they’ve slid backwards. They get frustrated when their bodies have adapted, as they inevitably do, to regular, predictable routines and habits. They began with an excellent program which produced significant results. Encouraged by this- as would we all be- they never deviated from that program for years thereafter. The problem is that the body adapts. Given no variety, it simply stops developing.
  3. Find what’s fun. I take issue with the term “workout” if for no other reason than the word “work.” Rather than see physical movement as playful, we’ve turned it into a chore. No wonder folks shy away from it. When we see and experience regular, daily movement as enjoyable and rewarding, we’ll do more of it. This is one reason I include the pool in my overall program. I love being in the water, and that provides an element of fun while I listen to old George Carlin routines. There’s something about laughing out loud and splashing in cool turquoise water that is downright joyful.

When I do weights, I change up my routines regularly. I vary my workout so that my body, now 68, is challenged, surprised and invited to work in a different way. This is how we grow and improve. I also rest- I LOVE to rest-and so does my body. That means taking days off, or doing shorter runs, or taking it easy on the steps. That’s how it keeps on giving me tone, power, strength and performance as I enter my later years. For me, and for what I’m hoping to achieve, that means running stairs, riding a bike, swimming and running pool laps, running my neighborhood, weight training and yoga.

The more I do, the more variety, the happier my muscles are. I don’t get bored, and neither does my body. I can’t emphasize the importance of giving the body vacation time away from the training. Not only does this ensure that your muscles will grow — if that’s what you’re after — but it also means that there is balance in your efforts. You don’t exhaust yourself, and your body’s capacity continues to develop.

This is particularly true for those beginning a workout program or looking to improve their results. Allowing time for the inevitable soreness to dissipate- our body’s way of shrieking “WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THESE YEARS???” is one way to ease carefully back into regular movement.

At the gym, when I’m on a hard workout day, people tease me about being a “beast.” The implication is that I never, ever let up. Nothing could be further from the truth. While a little piece of me revels in this nickname, let’s be clear: especially as I get older, the need to rest my body after I push hard is critical to healthy aging, and to ensure that the resources are there when I need them. Listening to my joints and my body when they say NOT TODAY is just as important as pushing extremely hard to run the last fifty steps at maximum speed.

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Those who perform well, who age well, and who have happy bodies, rest. They have lazy days, sleep in, the occasional chocolate chip cookie, and time to lie in the sweet green grass of summer and do absolutely nothing. People who make it well into their hundreds don’t push to the extreme. They do move a lot, but not at the expense of their health and well-being.

Go hard or go home works- some of the time. The rest of the time we need play, variety, fun, rest, and recuperation. All work and no play does indeed make Jack a dull boy- and his body will rebel.

Take a break. Sleep in. Do something for the joy of it. Go lie down in that hammock for a few hours. Knowing that you not only have full permission to have a rest day but also have pure, unadulterated fun will make any fitness program from walking to world-class competition a great deal more successful.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, here’s my hopefully gentle way of ushering you to click the box below to follow my stuff. When you do that, I’ll know you’re comfortable with hearing from me once in a while.

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Welcome home. You are HOME if you like irreverent, smart, funny, in-your-face writing. You are HOME if you like stories about interesting people of all ages, cultures, stripes, backgrounds, beliefs doing amazing things because they made different decisions. You are HOME if you wanna learn about aging vibrantly, being in the outdoors, getting and staying fit no matter our number. You are HOME if, on occasion, you like to laugh so hard you spew your drink of choice on your lap cat/dog/gerbil/centipede/soon-to-be ex. I work hard, ride fast horses, do lots of sports, fly high and still leap out of airplanes. Yeah, really, and I am 68. And yes I love, respect and appreciate feedback, including stuff that's hard. Because hard is the recipe for resilient. Wanna play? Let's. Please. Pull up a chair. There's room by the fire. In summer, there's room on the patio. (Okay so I don't have a patio. I made that up.)Get comfy. Bring a towel for your lap. Welcome home.

Eugene, OR
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