Learning Limits

Please decide now whether or not you will read this post in full.

In the past, I haven’t wanted to set aside time for formal exercise at a gym. Instead, I’ve tried to set a routine for myself, doing a daily session of basic exercises at my house. The purpose of these exercises was always to stay in shape and address the restlessness that I would experience later in the day. I also knew whatever small amount of exercise I was doing would be supplemented during the week by pickup sports, where most of my cardio exertion comes from. My system was inconsistent, but when it was working, the benefits were more-or-less apparent.

Recently, however, I was encouraged by my brother to engage in a formal daily exercise during the days that I work. Specifically one that makes me sweat and raises my heart rate significantly. This practice came highly recommended. The reason I decided to engage in it was a mixture of trusting the person that was proposing it, and knowing that I had to sacrifice a relatively small amount of personal time to get it done.

What my brother was recommending was a daily session of interval biking on a standing bike. Part of why I’m writing this is to pass that recommendation along. The exercise takes 12 total minutes, and so far it has made me sweat and has pushed my limits every time. The idea is that you bike while being able to look at a clock or timer, and go back and forth between two minutes of steady paced biking and thirty seconds of maximum exertion. So if you started your timer at 00:00 it would look like this: [00:00-02:00 Steady] [02:00-02:30 Max] [02:30-04:30 Steady] [04:30-05:00 Max] [05:00-07:00 Steady] [07:00-07:30 Max] [07:30-09:30 Steady] [09:30-10:00 Max] [10:00-12:00 Steady]. The level of exertion will depend entirely on what you’re comfortable with, so this exercise can be tailored to your personal needs.

This is what I’ve been doing every day after work, and it hasn’t ever required me to be in the gym for more than twenty minutes. It hasn’t completely changed my life; but I now understand the importance of formal exercise and what the tangible benefits are. I believe that the fruit of the practice comes less from the development of physical fitness and more from the development of mental fortitude. Exerting yourself in a controlled environment allows you to experience the process of being put into a difficult situation.

We all deal with difficult decisions and circumstances. But when we exercise, we have a chance to get into a situation knowing what our response is going to be. Knowing it is going to be to push through and stay focused on our task. To stay true to our goals, and not let our whims and distractions derail our state of mind. To not always trust our inclinations to stop, and to see what lies beyond the first frontier of what we consider comfortable. In other words, we are given a chance to discover what happens when we don’t give in. I find that we rarely regret this path of exploration, but we are usually afraid to take the first step. So, I think we should take the first step more often than we tend to .

I still do my daily exercises in the morning. I was inspired to change my method to twelve minutes of lower body stretching mixed in with intervals of abdominal crunches. However, the attitude with which I do these morning exercises has completely changed. Before, I felt like I was trying to get through my sets and repetitions to feel good about myself, like it was a burden that I had deemed to be worth it. Now, I treat the moments of resistance and difficulty as an opportunity to learn about my inclination to stop. Instead of doing repetitions of abdominal crunches, I try and do repetitions of feeling uncomfortable and staying focused on my task.