What is the point of exercise?
You may think that the benefits of exercise are those that affect the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems. While it is true that these will become more efficient, there is something much more profound about structured training that I believe is at the core of why we should exercise in the first place.
In my years of training, I have changed a lot as a person. If I look back at old videos of me olympic lifting or shooting free throws, I can find clips that show a dark side. Screaming in frustration, cursing, throwing things, kicking, throwing an all out tantrum. (Click here for an example) Keep in mind this is not simply a juvenile reaction as I have watched grown men and women do the same and worse. We are all very different in how we express these feelings. Some people I have worked with will cry in their car, some will be outright rude and hostile towards me (not that I have done anything, I have simply given them a physical/mental challenge), and some will simply quit.
Take a second to think about those reactions and the reactions I described of myself.
What do you think?
Are these valid reactions?
Do these reactions do anything positive for the person or the scenario?
Would you do anything differently?
The answer to the last question is probably no, you wouldn’t. Unless you have been training for a long time. As of this post, I have been engaged in physical training for 13 years. I started at 12 with my mother, who brought me to the gym with her to learn a few basic exercises.
Initially I had no understanding, and no expectations, so I never got frustrated with anything. What is there to be frustrated about? Over time however, I not only got older, which people say is apparently not a great thing, but I started to change my approach. I was becoming more advanced and stronger than ever. I became obsessed with training, but mostly trained on my own. I educated myself furiously on what exercises to do, how to do them, and why. I had been through every modality from bodybuilding to sports training, Olympic weightlifting to CrossFit, and even tried swimming in college which is also known as controlled drowning.
By the time I was in my 20’s I started to express these reactions I have described above, and coincidentally I had begun to shift more of my studies to psychology and philosophy. They started to permeate into my life. I realized that failing my clean and jerk was a lot like someone missing a promotion or lashing out at their kids. There is an “oh, shit” moment where you dropped the bar, or your heart sinks, or guilt creeps in, respectively. These things can truly crush you, or, you can learn from it.
This became even more prominent as I studied handstands and then one-arm handstands. You spend almost the entire time failing handstands. That is it. There is no destination. The entire process is realizing that you were meant to stand on your feet, and not your hands. But, you do it anyway. You stop screaming at the walls when you fall and instead take a step back to try and understand why you did fall, and how you can work to correct it. You start to abandon the destination mindset, and embody the journey mindset. It becomes an exercise not in standing on your hands, but in how you approach and overcome challenges.
It is not handstands for all. Some of my students struggles are below :
Inability to control their spine in a coordinated manner.
Lack of balance and stability standing on a single leg.
Lacking strength to lift a barbell at a particular weight.
Inability to sustain moderate to intense activity for 2 minutes straight.
Stiff bodies that restrict their range of motion and therefore their life.
Poor coordination – inability to dribble, catch, throw.
You become mature in your training when you realize that it is not about the exercise, but your relationship with it, and the chances it offers you to grow. I truly believe I can do anything I set my mind to. Constantly practicing new and frustrating exercises over time has given me this gift. Failure, which I experience daily in my training, has given me this gift. I can do this, If I just remain open and patient.
This is why we exercise; this is the true point. It doesn’t just make our bodies stronger, it makes our minds unbreakable.
P.S. – After all, you don’t make it to here without some sort of developed patience and introspection!