I wasn’t planning to write about this topic this week – and was debating whether to write about it at all – when Ben and I had a conversation that convinced me this post had to happen.
In fact, I had been planning a post with the title that I have used today, when Ben says to me, “You can’t always look for the right way to train, but the way to train right now.” So I took it as a sign that I should be putting my thoughts into words.
Most of you may be aware that I’m currently “not training” – or so I describe my current routine which actually involves 3-5 days of 30-60min sessions per week. Those sessions vary in intensity from “I can’t be bothered to get changed so I’ll lift some weights in my work clothes but can’t get sweaty” to “Sneezing from the drop of sweat I inhaled off my nose”, via “I really really really want to train but X,Y,Z is injured”. So while it’s not the 5-6 days of perspiration-soaked muscle-tearing 90-120mins of BJJ or other combination of strength and cardiovascular conditioning that I had become accustomed to, it’s not quite idleness.
There are so many reasons why I can’t train the way I used to right now and though there are undoubtedly ways around those, it raises the issue of how much I am willing to sacrifice for my training. Time? Money? Health?
I know this sounds like a way bigger deal than it probably should be, but look at it this way:
- The amount of free time you could have in your day is, technically, unlimited. Sure, we tend to assume we’ll sleep for 8 hours or so, and we’ll work for 8 hours or so, and we’ll travel and cook and eat and watch that TV show, but all of those are on a sliding scale and you can play with the proportions as you see fit.
- The amount of money you can save after essential expenditures is, also, technically unlimited. You could be super strict and save everything that you don’t spend on the bare minimum rent and bills, travel to and from work, essential food. Or you could spend every last penny you have left over on gourmet food, the best training gear, going out to movies or for drinks, you name it.
- How much you spend on and worry about your health clearly unlimited. Apart from the vast number of unknowns, you can either live by the book and do everything every health expert recommends (not necessarily ideal), or decide to screw it all and live for today. Or somewhere in between – in which case, are contact sports out? Is sunbathing out? Hanging out with friends who smoke, yay or nay? So many different ways to look after your health… and sanity!
Those are generally seen as the essential barometers of a healthy and happy life. You hear people talk about how so-and-so makes heaps of money but has no time to spend with their family. Or such-and-such a person is having a great time going out and partying but at what cost to their long-term health? And then there’s whatstheirname who spends so much money on the latest health crazes that they can barely pay the rent!
Training, beyond the recommended minimum for staying healthy (which would come under number 3), is generally seen as superfluous. It is time that could be spent working, sleeping, or spending time with others. It is money you could spend on rent or bills or a better car or something. It is energy that could be spent on allowing your body to recover and repair itself, and it could be an injury risk. So, how much training can you do – and what type of training – before it impacts negatively on the Big Three?
Ideally we’d plug all these things in to a neat little equation, along with our priorities and preferences, and get an easy answer: Claire, you can train 4 times a week for 1 hour, with no more than 2 martial arts sessions and no less than 1 upper body lifting session.
But of course, every day is different, and every week is different. This week a friend you haven’t seen in years is coming to visit. That week you didn’t get paid so you can’t afford it. Today you have a migraine, tomorrow you’ll feel congested. Last night the bus was delayed and you didn’t get home until later, and tonight you’ve been asked to work an extra 3 hours so there’s no way you can fit training in. Rationally, we can look at it and see that skipping a training session or two for those reasons is fine and maybe even encouraged; but in my experience, most of us tend to beat ourselves up for being “weak” or “lazy” or “uncommitted”.
The problem is that we’ve been told over and over that exercise is unconditionally good for us (it’s not; but inactivity is bad for us, and it’s easier to schedule a gym session in every day than to remain conscious of our lethargy throughout hours of evening television viewing). A lot of the time exercise is a band-aid solution for other problems. So many times after a stressful day at work, a tough training session made me feel so much better… but it didn’t make the next day any less stressful. During university, training every day was the only justification for me not doing uni work for that part of the day.
Overexercising is a thing, and not a good one, and I think the first step towards it is losing touch of why we actually train. Is it because we love it, or because we need/crave it, or because somebody else is doing it, or because we don’t know what else to do with our time? I have been guilty of all of those, and at those times it has obscured the fact that I do love training, and I don’t want to ruin the enjoyment by smothering it in layers of guilt and obligation and sacrifice. I love it, but sometimes I need something more, like work or sleep or time off with people I love. And that’s OK.
Making sacrifices to train is OK too – I will always happily sacrifice money for good quality training, and I am also happy to forfeit “nights out” with big groups of acquaintances for a good training session. I find it more difficult to resist a meal out or a nice dinner in, a coffee with a friend or two, or sometimes just the time to write on this blog.
In the end, all we really have is the NOW, so the “right now” training is necessarily the “right” training.