I do a ridiculous amount of exercise. I don't say that to brag (well, maybe a little), but like a lot of people, my standards lag quite a lot behind my behaviour, and by the standards I had five years ago, I do a ridiculous amount of exercise.

Back then, I did absolutely no exercise at all, and certainly nothing resembling sport. I had a couple of stints of going to the gym, but they never lasted very long and never amounted to anything. From my childhood right up until I started kickboxing, I could never find a form of exercise that I actually enjoyed.

These days, I spend six hours in the dojo every week, and all of that time is spentshuffling around, punching and kicking, with a couple of breaks for stretching.

Quite frankly, it's exhausting. I get there before six and by the time I get home again it's after ten and I struggle to find the energy to shower and go to bed.

Even so, it's a lot of fun, and I've learnt so much. I want to share some of these with you.

Hard work

Perhaps the biggest thing is the power of hard work applied over time. Each session in the dojo is hard work, and there are plenty of times when there's a technique that I can't figure out, or a fighter who I can't seem to touch, or I'm frustrated by how slow I am or how low my kicks are.  But over the last couple of years, I've learned that I can overcome all of these things simply by trying over and over.

This might sound a trite lesson, but it was pretty profound for me. Until I started kickboxing, most things I tried either came easily to me or were things that I gave up quickly (see gym above). Kickboxing was the first thing that was difficult from the get go that I've stuck with. As such, it's become my own personal illustration of the value of hard work.

The mental thing

Secondly, I've learnt that ability in exercise is, to a surprising degree, psychological. I used to hear football players and Olympians on the telly talk about how it was all a mental game and how they needed to focus and get their head right and I used to think that they actually had no idea what they are talking about. Chess is a mental game, programming requires focus, but swimming laps is not "all in the mind". If it were, why would they need such big shoulders?

Now I'm sorry for being so arrogant. I've been physically exhausted, being tired, hungry and thirsty with flat feet and leaden limbs and nothing left to give at the end of hours of non-stop exercise, but then, as our instructor started to cheer us on for the final ten calls, felt energy come back and start to punch fast and kick high again. Where does that come from?

Metaphors

As the last couple of sections illustrate, many of the cliches that are repeated constantly by folk who exercise now have actual content for me. That's pretty cool, because it means that there are great sections of people's lives that I'm able to connect with in a way that I couldn't before.

I hope also that it's humbling.  In the past, I was a bit dismissive of sport and the like, discounting it as something not worth bothering with. Now, at least in the form of kickboxing, it's an important part of my life. How many other rich, interesting, rewarding things are going on in the lives of others that I'm ignoring, that I can't even begin to connect to?

Food

You can't outrun your fork. Well, maybe you can, but I certainly can't. I can exercise a lot and be quite fit cardiovascularly, but still put on weight by eating too much crappy food.

Body

For the first time in my life, after years of being a klutz and feeling overweight, I feel some degree of mastery over my own body. I've got so much to learn, and so much to correct, but there are times when I actually feel skillful, and have the same pleasure in the working of my body that I do when I'm programming and "in the zone".

For any other late-comers to exercise out there, does this chime with your experience?  Have you learned different things?

For life-long jocks, what have you struggled to communicate to lazy slobs like me?


Comments

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Bron (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Sun 03 March 2013

yep, can definitely empathise! I've just started CrossFit a few weeks ago after decades of inactivity. I too have pretty much always shunned exercise or tried and given up. And, like you, have finally picked something that's bloody hard! I dont know psychologically why this is the case, but it definitely fits with the 'all or nothing' personality.

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Unknown (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Mon 04 March 2013

Hard work you mention there reminds me of distinction between "fixed mindset" and "growth mindset" from Mindset by Carol Dweck. That book changed the way I look at life. I always was the way you described, at least before doing my first marathon.

As for the sports being a mental game, it holds true in every one of those which I tried, being it rock climbing, powerlifting, or ultrarunning. At some point you have to decide to continue despite the tiredness or pain. Here's a great video about that http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrlmLvPFdg8 (@4:45 "When you think you are done, you only 40% into what your body is capable of doing, and that's just a limit that we put on ourselves").

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AmanicA (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Mon 04 March 2013

Here is a related book you may like: Spark - how excercise fixes your brain

I got it on special at audible - Best \$5 I ever spent

http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B002V5H0OG&qid=1321463089&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Spark-Revolutionary-Science-Exercise-Brain/dp/0316113506

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Jonathan Lange (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Tue 05 March 2013

@Bron, glad you've found something you like :)

@Unknown, I really like that quote. Looking forward to watching the video. Have added Dweck's book to my kindle reading list.

@AmanicA, thanks. Will look into it.

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Łukasz (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Tue 05 March 2013

I have no idea why it insists on me being "Unknown". In any case, Łukasz here.

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Jonathan Lange (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Tue 05 March 2013

Welcome Łukasz :)

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Jonathan Lange (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Tue 05 March 2013

Welcome Łukasz

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dan_g (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Tue 05 March 2013

I feel happy for you, Jon - very few people manage to break in to a physical discipline at this stage in life.
As not so much a "jock", but a general outdoors-type/adrenalin junkie, and somebody who started regular martial arts practice as a pale young boy aged 12, it's interesting to hear the question of what I've been unable to communicate successfully to those who don't have physical discipline.

Actually, I think you the hit the nail on the head in your comments on "Hard Work". The notion there is that despite not getting the instant positive feedback, the gratification of receiving pay-off from even a minimal input of effort, you _persist_ with the practice, suspending the requirement to see the results immediately. You follow a path laid out by your instructor, having faith(!) that the results you want to see will eventually come about. And of course, the results that come are typically greater than you anticipated ....

This is part of the principle Shu-Ha-Ri (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuhari) which we learn in Shorinji Kempo - and you very eloquently stated why it is so difficult to convey to those unfamiliar with physical practice (especially martial and related arts). The reason is that the intellectual concept is, as you say, trite and uninteresting. The value is only evident in experience - which means you can argue the point till you're blue in the face with a "slob", but they won't be engaged until they have felt the value of the practice itself.

I have had the "breaking-in" experience myself again in recent years with my learning to surf, which has been a very slow learning curve - perhaps the slowest pay-off activity I've ever practiced! But ultimately very worthwhile.
I think this is probably one reason your comments are echoing fresh in my mind!

Great stuff - keep it coming.

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Jonathan Lange (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Wed 06 March 2013

I like this, "when I hit a wall, I smile, because I that's why I'm doing this" (maybe not word-for-word) and your quote.

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Jonathan Lange (noreply@blogger.com)

Posted on Tue 26 March 2013

Thanks for the thoughtful comments Dan!