Exercise your demons

A while ago Matthew asked if I had any thoughts on exercise in the same vein as my posts on dieting.

To be honest, I don’t really. Exercise has always been a bit of an enigma to me.

But in recent years I’ve come to realise this is not a moral failing but a physical one. My body hasn’t been moving efficiently or easily, and this makes physical activity inherently more demanding.

In the past I would say my only strength was in wearily persisting at some low-demand, monotonous exercise like walking or riding. Anything more demanding was simply beyond my capabilities.

Running? Surely you jest.

My subjective experience of exercise was like that stage you arrive at when assembling a very large tent, and you have to hold onto it carefully at several different points to prevent the whole thing collapsing in on itself. It’s the feeling of parts that want to go in different directions, but shouldn’t, like watching a group exercise descend into chaos for want of a leader.

Looking into muscle anatomy in recent weeks has helped immensely, and I only wish I’d done it sooner. Ironically, I used to pride myself on my persistence. But 17 years in a martial art with an achingly poor rate of progression should have tipped me off sooner. A less stubborn person might have caved in much sooner, realised there was something fundamentally wrong, and sought help for it.

Or maybe not…maybe they would have just given up and stuck to casual walking and other less challenging activities?

I can’t claim to have really pulled myself up by my bootstraps, but I can at least stand a little taller (literally) knowing where my shoulders are supposed to be, how my joints are supposed to work, and why every ancillary exercise I’ve tried has just seemed somehow awfully off.

So my view of exercise is changing: I used to wonder why people would, for example, run a lot. Was it so they could eat more? In that case I’d rather eat less. Was it simply in order to increase their stamina? What’s the point, if you only use that stamina to run more?

But if you don’t feel like a jumble of broken parts being thrown around inside a box, then even running has a certain pleasure to it. It actually feels good to move the body efficiently at speed. It’s hard work, true; but there’s just no comparison between working the body hard in the right way, with efficiency, and working the body in the wrong way altogether.

I’m beginning (very slowly) to use exercise more now as a diagnostic and remedial tool: stretching, strengthening, and learning better ways to move.