Where Is Your Exercise Taking You?

By Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD

I’m not a big fan of road trips.  Maybe it’s that I’m in my 40s, and I’ve had my share of them in my youth:

… As one of three kids, packed into the family car (not even a station wagon, just a regular car) driving for days (yes, days) across Canada’s vast hinterlands in the 1980s.

… As a broke-ass student, borrowing my mom’s car, to drive to a crappy city so I could go drink crappy beer in crappy bars with crappy people.

… Stuck behind a giant RV going 35 km/h — that’s just over 20 miles an hour for you Americans — for hours on a long, twisty, no-passing-allowed mountain road, meditating on the airbrushed “Ma and Pa Kessel” emblazoned on the back. (Ma and Pa Kessel, wherever you are, may you suffer karmically for being human traffic cones.)

… Getting so far out into the wilds that a diesel-soaked gas station bathroom with sodden muck for toilet paper seems like the Four Seasons compared to the terrifying outhouse at the campground.

driving-450x300But I get it. Some people really dig road trips. They like the process. The journey.

Of course, road trips are a great metaphor.

Jack Kerouac basically wrote his meal ticket with On the Road, a testament to the nomadic life. National Lampoon’s Vacation (and its modern remake) celebrates the life-changing, family-knitting shenanigans that inevitably occur whenever people pile into a vehicle and hit the asphalt. Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days was road-tripping gone “next level”.

The more Zen among you will like journeys, the moment-to-moment experience of processes.

As the joke goes:

Why don’t Buddhists run?
Because where they are now is as good as anywhere else.

I’m a fan of journeys too. I like moments. I like being present. I like sitting with things. But you’ve gotta know where the goal is.

dog-in-car-450x300If the purpose of a road trip is to road trip, you’ve nailed it. Bravo. Enjoy just driving.

If the purpose of a road trip is mostly to get somewhere else, don’t confuse the means and the end. And consider flying (which can also suck, but at least it’s usually quicker).

Here’s what I mean:

I like exercise. Which is to say I actually like doing exercise itself. I like being in my workouts. I like the way it feels to do the workout things. I like the way chalk feels and iron smells. I would probably exercise all day long if I could.

But that’s weird. I know. Most folks don’t really like actual exercise. Like the moments spent pounding the treadmill, or making constipated-cow unggggh noises, or wanting to barf after a set of squats, or feeling the sweat pool in unmentionable crevices throughout your body.

Instead, most folks like the results of exercise.

They like the person they are when they commit to a regular exercise program. They might feel better, look better, perform better, move better. They feel confident and capable, perhaps even calmer, after a good round of movement. They might now consider doing other things that they couldn’t do before.

To be clear: despite my own personal love of the act of exercise, I side with most normal people’s point of view, which is that exercise is a way to get somewhere else. Yet just like the road trip, we’ve gotten confused about this.

We often confuse doing exercise (the means) with the goal (what we ultimately want).

woman-fitnesstracker-450x300We try, in very well-meaning, yet often misguided ways, to be good exercisers. We try to please the Fitbit, or match our run times, or do the right number of reps with the right amount of weight in the right sequence. We try to do the correct type of exercise, perhaps something involving aerial yoga spin balance for max reps or extreme pump.

We share the performance of our exercise with others. (Or maybe just take gym-bathroom selfies while sucking everything in, flexing, and duckfacing,)

We think this is the right thing to focus on. Being a good exerciser.

So we get all tweaked out about doing it perfectly. Or turning a workout into an achievement. Or cruising workouts like addicts looking for a fix.

This is like a road trip without a destination. Basically just driving around randomly.

This is like Instagramming the progress of your gas gauge.

This is like looking at other tires on Google and wondering if your own are round enough.

woman-celebrating-feeling-good-hiking-450x300This is like hunkering down into the car seat, not looking out the window, and counting the spots of lint on the carpet, or the number of empty coffee cups tossed into the back, and posting that to Facebook, and thinking that that is the point.

Most of the time, it’s not the point. Most of the time, you are driving somewhere in particular. Again, unless you’re totally into the Zen of road tripping, the point is what the road trip lets you do, which is other things. Things that are not road trips, but actually being somewhere other than you are right now.

Most of the time, for most people, exercise is a way to get somewhere else. It’s a way to create capability and capacity to do other things.

Like play. Be out in the world. Have interesting experiences.

Enjoy living in your body. Turn your body into a well-oiled machine. Make your cells dance in sync like a high-kicking chorus line.

Unless you are competing right this moment in an activity that considers exercise a sport, or being a lab test subject, your reps and sets and weights and times and precise style of movement are absolutely irrelevant to anything in the real world. Much like your exact weight, body fat percentage, clothing size, calorie intake, or grams / percentages of macronutrients.

bench-doesnt-mean-sht-450x287Let me be the first to disillusion you about the details of these things: they don’t matter.

They don’t matter, that is, except as a way to get a general sense of whether these numbers tell you that you are going somewhere useful. There is meme going around that amuses me (pictured). I think you know what I mean. Now, obviously, most of us are never going to ask someone to beat us up on purpose. But the point holds. Substitute anything you like for “sweaty punching in a cage”, such as:

  • hiking a mountain
  • playing with my kids
  • frolicking in the surf
  • zooming down a ski or snowboard hill
  • smashing a wicked serve in tennis
  • running for the bus... etc.

feet-flipflops-beach-car-450x307Ask yourself:

  • What am I doing here, with this exercise thing?
  • What is the purpose? What is the point? Why is this meaningful to me?
  • What other things will exercise enable me to do?
  • Where am I trying to go? What awesome things await me there?
  • Am I confusing the numbers on a map with the real-life destination?

Enjoy road tripping — and exercising — as much as you can.

More importantly, enjoy the places you’ll get to!

Thanks to Craig Weller of Barefoot Fitness for inspiring this. Check out his related article Trips Worth Taking.

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About the author:  Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD

Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon founded the website Stumptuous.com in 1996, and has been an advocate of women's health and fitness ever since. She currently designs curriculum for Precision Nutrition's coaching and certification programs. She's the author of several books including F*** Calories and Consumed. Learn more about Krista on her website, or connect with her on Facebook here and here. She's also on Twitter: @Stumptuous.

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