“What do you do for workouts now?”
“You know, some cardio for like 30 minutes, then some weights.”
“Great! Today we’re doing one that takes most people around 7 minutes.”
“Will that be enough?”
“Yeah, it’ll be enough”
…7 minutes later…
“Was that enough?”
“[Heavy breathing… head nodding “yes” through grimaced, clenched teeth… collapsing to the ground.]”
Many, many moons ago, in the days of our ancestors, we didn’t even think about “working out.” It happened automatically. We walked miles for water, searched all day for food or grabbed our spear and rustled up some protein. If you were out picking franken-berries, you may have happened upon some critter that scared you enough to bolt for your life for a couple hundred yards. This constant movement, marked with semi-daily intense activity, would have kept you healthy, fit, and emotionally stable.
It’s been at least 25 years since I had to walk any farther than my faucet to get water, and a little more since I was literally scared for my life. Since we aren’t put in mortal danger on a regular basis, and most of us drive to the grocery store for our food, we have to be more proactive and set aside time to make healthy movement happen. We need to workout.
Working out should feel just like it sounds. Like work.
If it’s something you breeze through, it ain’t work. Enjoying your workout should be something akin to enjoying natural child birth. The results of each of these may be beneficial, but the actual performing of the task is really rather grueling. Perhaps a comparison to childbirth is a little extreme, but you get the idea. A workout shouldn’t be a tea party, and it sure isn’t talking on the phone with your sister while on the elliptical.
Our ancestors are laughing at you. They were more fit in many ways, because they did not confine themselves to machines or artificial movement. In days gone by, there was nothing to tie them into a movement pattern that was unnatural or isolated to just one joint. All real-life, functional movements fall into these four simple categories: run, jump, push, and pull. These movements all involve more than one joint, and have immediate applicability to real life. Never did hunter-gatherers, in any tribe or community, do any daily movement that resembles the motion on the “pec deck,” unless, maybe, they were imitating a bird, poorly. They would, however, regularly run after each other, jump explosively to make a kill or reach oh-so-tasty high hanging fruit. They would push and pull in the making of shelter, grinding of foods, or in combative play. Do the movements you embrace for your workout sound this way, or are they just something you read in an article titled “Great Abs in 6 Weeks?”
The fact is, our ancestors (heck, even our grandparents), worked hard, and moved a lot, a lot of the time. Many of us would be sore for weeks trying to finish all of the moving that these people pulled off on a daily basis: hiking or jogging for miles on end, literally wrestling game to the ground, fighting with another tribe, or climbing a tree for a vantage point. None of these things were thought of as exercise. And actually, once you’re reasonably fit, you’ll stop thinking of these things as exercise as well. You’ll go for a hike and be watching out for groovy animals, or enjoying the view, rather than being all winded and whiny. You won’t hesitate to playfully wrestle your son to the ground, just to make sure he still knows who’s boss. You’ll climb a tree just to have a look. These activities should be things that you just do, and aren’t intimidated by.
Your workout should be something far harder and more challenging than anything you’d ever encounter in real life.
If you need to pick up your new 10-pound grandson several times a week, you should be practicing picking up at least twice (maybe even ten times!) that weight when you’re working out, so that you are stronger than necessary to tackle your daily tasks. That is how we avoid injury. The same goes for if you need to move your 20-pound toddler or bag of cat food in and out of the car. Your workout should be just challenging enough, so that you’re a little scared of it. But that means you won’t have to be intimidated by the moving and lifting you have to do in real life. Your workout should be something that you’re quietly dreading throughout the day, but something you know you have to do. If it’s nagging at you all day, poking and prodding you, then you’re doing it right. If you have no feeling about your workout, honestly, if you’re not a wee bit scared of it, it’s too easy.
There is one thing you need to add to your workouts more than anything else: intensity. That means harder and faster. Like, as hard and fast as you can. Every rep, every time. Like your life depends on it. (Yes, you need good form, so having a coach keep an eye on things when you get fatigued is very helpful.) One of the reasons people see significant results with CrossFit is that intensity (within the confines of proficient form) is, ahem, encouraged. Aside from doing something like CrossFit, the easiest way to bring up the intensity of your workouts is to try to do them faster. How long are you usually in the gym? An hour? What exactly do you do? Can you get all of the same stuff done in 45 minutes? 30? Wouldn’t that be something! Or better yet, try the 10 minute workout below and see what a difference intensity can make! Of course, consult with your medical professional before doing anything drastic, but if you’re already running, or heading to the gym already, there’s a lot more you could be doing, in a lot less time.
Here’s a workout for you.
- Next time you’re on the treadmill (or better yet, why not go run outside?), run for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. The 30 seconds that you are running, you should be running as fast as you can go, like you’re being chased by a bear or muggers. If your treadmill has an incline setting, use it.
- After the 30 seconds are up, grab the side rails and jump your feet to the sides, stand there and rest for 30 seconds.
- Repeat this 10 times (for 10 minutes total on the treadmill).
- At the end, you will have actually “only” worked out for 5 minutes total (and rested for 5). But in those 5 minutes you got more done than you would have on that long, slow, 45-minute slog of a jog. You will have maxed out your intensity, which gets far more results cardiovascularly and muscularly than a comfortable jog. And let’s be honest–a lot of us choose our workouts because they’re comfortable for us, and that’s why they just don’t cut it.
You’ve now had your first real workout. And guess what, you didn’t die. Even though after the 4th one of those treadmill sprints you thought, “How can this be this hard?” There was a way, and you found it. Every workout you do should feel like this to some extent. Partway through, you should feel like, “There’s no way,” or “This is gonna take forEVER.” In the middle of all that self-talk, you’ll find a certain quiet, where all you can think about is your breath, because all you want is air. Good job, you’re even meditating at the same time.
Max Shippee grew up in a very small town in northern Maine, minutes from the Canadian border. Growing up in the woods, and being the son of a dance teacher, he’s been physically active his entire life. He has embraced health & fitness philosophies ranging from body building to endurance training, before finding CrossFit and its performance-based approach to lifelong fitness. Before finding a fit with the Paleo approach to nutrition, Max had also tried numerous nutritional practices, including raw flood, veganism, and Atkins. A father of three, he’s as proud of his family as he is of his business, CrossFit HAX in suburban Los Angeles. Max has Level 1, Kids, and Mobility Certifications from CrossFit. He likes the geeky things in life, including Legos, lasers, and computer operating systems named after cats.