Spring has sprung, time to spring clean
Spring has sprung - and it’s been a bit late this year. Spring, of course means spring cleaning.
I cannot tell you how much I hate the idea of spring cleaning.
Really, it starts filling me with dread around about the time I’m busy resolving not to make any new year’s resolutions. I’m not much of a cleaner at the best of times - I’m certainly not houseproud. I don’t even believe I like houses that are extremely spick and span; they seem to be telling me I need to watch every step (and by extension, every word).
Decluttering and rearranging the furniture, though, that I understand. I love the feeling of freedom I get from throwing out things that don’t serve me anymore and bringing a new perspective to a room.
It won’t surprise you to read, then, that I tend to do a spring declutter and hope that in doing so I can dupe myself into doing the spring cleaning without noticing.
The opposite is true of my fitness habits. I dust them down a bit every spring and autumn. Into spring with the same goals. Out of autumn with the same results. Not looking at either particularly critically. Maybe add a new route here, try a few extra stretches there. Nothing much more, I’ve got a regular exercise habit and I’ve been following it religiously - and automatically.
In a normal year, I’d probably have already settled on my tweaks for the year and be training in such a way as to miss all of my autumn goals by a whisker. But the COVID-19 situation has delayed the spiritual spring in 2020, even if the actual spring sprang on schedule.
Not only that, but a little too much familiarity has bred quite a lot of contempt after 3 years of roughly the same programme.
Being thrown off my normal timetable for switching from cold weather to warm weather routines means I’ve ended up actually thinking about them instead of just following them blindly. It wasn’t an option this year to just rely on the seasons changing to switch it up. I’ve come up with some ways of decluttering and rearranging my routines that I hope will put a new spring in my step. Pun intended.
And I think that now is exactly the right time to be doing this. Even though social distancing is very clearly limiting our behaviour in some ways, compared to attempting to drag ourselves through appalling weather to stuffy gyms I think we’ve got a better shot at making some changes that matter than we do in the dead of winter.
So if you’ve hit a plateau or just need to get from inactive to a little bit active, why not have a look at my aha moments and changes I’m making to see if they can help you out, too. It might be time to freshen up your fitness habits.
Recognise your plateaus
Running, walking or cycling the same routes at the same pace. Lifting the same weight with the same number of repetitions. Doing the same yoga routine day in, day out.
Not necessarily a bad thing - in fact pretty good, if you’re actually doing them. What’s more, there’s no doubt that we need the repetition in the beginning at least to help us get some mastery of what we’re doing.
Sometimes our route choices are limited by where we live, the exercise needs of dogs or our timetables.
But constantly repeating the same routines over months or years can cause progress to level off. This is fairly easy to spot if you use an activity tracker or if you have set yourself any time-related goals.
Over time, this kind of levelling off can demotivate and lead us to go through the motions, give up hope that we’ll ever hit our goals or even stop altogether.
Think about form and technique
We all know that there’s a big difference between Usain Bolt and a fun runner. We expect the former to not only be very fit, but also to understand the finer detail of form and technique. We have no expectations of the latter.
And indeed, when we do exercise recreationally, the pressure’s off when it comes to honing our technique - at least in many activities. Yogi and golfers might beg to differ.
Still, it’s no bad thing to improve form and technique, even if it sounds boring. It does pay off. It pays off in the form of improved performance, which makes us feel better even if we weren’t aiming for it. It pays of by helping to protect us from injury. It pays off by helping us focus on the parts of our body we are trying to help with a particular exercise - in fact, this is the main aim of some activities - Pilates, for example.
Form and technique aren’t the be all and end all of recreational activities, far from it, but they do play a role in our fitness.
Count how many of the 4 pillars of fitness are covered by your current routines
Quite often we see fitness in one dimension: if you’re getting in a lot of walking (with or without dog), doing a daily yoga routine or if you get a lot of miles in by cycling your commute, you’re almost definitely getting a minimum of 20 minutes of decent exercise every day.
For me, that’s meant running at least 3 times a week in the summer and doing some cycling with my other half. Last summer I got quite a bit of strength work in at the gym, and I definitely felt the positive effects of that over the winter. But generally speaking, my fitness routines focus on aerobic fitness.
While I know that it would be good for me to develop balance and flexibility as well, my attempts to do so have been sporadic at best. This means I’m not covering all 4 pillars of fitness with my exercise routines.
Putting it all together: setting goals and prioritising them
I know what you’re thinking at this point:
I already spend quite a lot of time looking after one aspect of my fitness, how on earth am I going to find time and energy to deal with all 4?
Well it’s all in the goal setting.
Now, I’ve no doubt that you have goals for your fitness that you’d like to hit, either explicit or implicit. I’m not planning to go into any detail on the theory of goal setting and motivation.
Instead, I’m going to suggest looking at each goal and asking that question: “(how) is this serving me?” (See what I did there?). This might lead to some insights to help us declutter and help us to freshen up our routines and habits.
To show you what I mean, I’m going to show the workings of process I’ve just been through myself.
For the last 3 years, my running goal has been to run a particular 10km event in September, and to run at least 1 second faster than the previous year.
That’s pretty much the same goal, held for 3 years running and it’s been my main priority. Everything else I’ve fitted in around it.
I’ve wanted to fit in, if I could get around to it, “some” cycling with my significant other, including “at least 1 long trip”. I would have liked to maintain the muscle mass I built up over the winter and do some daily yoga.
So how have I been getting on? Well, yep, I’ve entered that 10 km 3 years in a row and finished it. No, I haven’t run it at least 1 second faster than the previous year.
Last year I did actually create a strength goal for the first time by paying for gym membership and following the routines I was given, increasing weights from time to time.
One 30-day challenge aside, I’ve done virtually no yoga, and I’m still as stiff as a board.
So that’s a 50% success rate on my goals Over 3 years. Having some has been a good thing, but clearly these goals aren’t really serving me in their entirety, and all the while my flexility is really suffering.
Here’s how I’m refocusing now:
- I’ve dropped the 10km event from my goals. I might enter anyway (if it happens this year), but it’s off the goals menu. This was a really hard decision for me, because I love that event for its own sake. As a goal to aim at, though, it had outlived its usefulness.
- I’ve replaced it with a goal to run 5km in less than 31 minutes. Shorter distance, harder to achieve.
- This means I’ve dropped the need to do lots of plodding just get lots of miles under my belt and cut down the amount of time I’ll spend running, but I’m keeping to at least 3 times a week, which is great, because I believe that’s important for my mental health.
- Instead, I want focus on intervals for speed and intervals for form and technique. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do this; I needed a very simple plan to follow just to be able to do anything at all. Now, though, I find it very motivating.
- I’ve made a specific goal together with Him Indoors to cycle a particular route on a particular date in the autumn. So I still have a distance aerobic goal, but it’s one we can do together, just the two of us.
- I’ve renewed my gym membership. My strength goal is serving me at the moment, I can fit it in and last year I found that I really looked forward to listening to podcasts at the gym. No need to change for the sake of change.
- I’ve committed to a particular yoga programme, so I’m not spending all of the time I should be allocating to yoga to surfing the Internet looking for a routine I might fancy doing until it’s too late to do it.
- I’ve also looked very hard at my timetable to pick a time in the day that should work for yoga, and I’m going to try to stick to the planned time.
Now, I’m not sure I’ve got it right even now with that yoga goal - only time will tell. I’ve a sneaking feeling I need to tweak it yet, maybe something will come to me.
All in all, though, I definitely feel more energised about my new plan.
And finally: be realistic - and enjoy your summer!
Now, you’re probably thinking that 4 goals is more than enough for anyone, and you’d be right. I described all of them to give a range of examples of how you can deal with goals: swap them out when they’ve outlived their usefulness, make them a lot more concrete - even keep them if it turns out they’re serving you well.
What’s realistic for me or you isn’t necessarily realistic for anyone else. Nobody should be setting fitness goals that are going to completely stress them out.
I’ve set goals that I hope will enhance my summer, not spoil it - and I hope your goals will do the same, whatever they are.