A Thought Experiment For Long Term Health And Fitness
By Coach Bryan Pyle
January and February have come and gone. Did your focus on health and fitness go with them?
Many new health and fitness adventurers began their journeys in January. They were likely very excited about starting to exercise and achieving their desire to make a change. Some had a rough outline of how they planned to achieve their goals while others used a S.M.A.R.T. framework to clearly lay it out.
Regardless of how they planned to do it, they shared the same overarching goal of making a change. The reason individuals set health and fitness goals, or any goal for that matter, is because they fundamentally believe that their life will be better for having achieved that goal. They believe that the effort is worth the pay out.
One common goal that is a high priority for many novice fitness enthusiasts is changing their body composition. Generally speaking, this change can be achieved in a relatively short time frame (under 2 years) given great consistency and adherence to the fundamentals. But what happens once you achieve this goal? What next?
If you are one of these new fitness adventurers, you may be thinking that you can worry about all that later. Why worry about the next big thing when you haven’t achieved your current goal? Fair enough. And I agree that you need to focus on your current goal before moving onto the next one. But it is still a worthwhile question to ponder. What do you do three years down the line after achieving the initial changes you wanted?
I won’t pretend that I have THE answer for everyone to the question I proposed above. So instead of trying to answer it outright, I’m going to ask a few questions and share some insights about thinking long term when it comes to fitness. Hopefully by doing so, you will find some value and gain a perspective of what it means to be fit for a lifetime.
The Thought Experiment
There will be a day when the numbers on the scale don’t change for months on end. You won’t be losing any more fat or gaining significant amounts of muscle. In the beginning, you saw rapid change every two months, but now nothing much changes even though you’re working just as hard. Is there something wrong with you? The way you’re training? Your diet? Sleep habits? Or maybe that new pre-workout is what you need?
Yes, it might be true that you need to learn more about how to effectively create an exercise plan, make higher-order nourishment choices, or improve your sleep hygiene. But what is false is that something is wrong with you. It is also certainly false that you need a new pre-workout or any other supplement for that matter!
Yet still, the changes you used to see are no longer happening. Why? If you take a step back and think about it, you can’t infinitely put on pounds of muscle and infinitely get leaner and lose fat. It all has to come to an equilibrium at some point. So you should potentially congratulate yourself on reaching this point in the fitness journey.
Now you’ve earned the right to ask yourself “What does health and fitness mean to me beyond changing my body composition?”
To be frank, this can be quite a jarring question to be faced with if you’ve dedicated yourself deeply to the goal of body composition change over a few years period. Certainly a worthy goal, followed by disciplining yourself to make it happen! For now, we’ll assume that you decided to make changes in a self-affirming way and not a self-deprecating way.
So then, what will you do? How will you continue to exercise for a lifetime if you are no longer making the ‘gains’ you once did? If you find these questions demotivating, don’t. They are actually quite freeing. So many possibilities open up for what you can learn and do beyond body composition changes! Perhaps you will fall in love with the small details of perfecting a new skill like a turkish-get-up or a dragon pistol squat. Or maybe you want to move everyday because you notice how much better your mental state is when you exercise regularly. Or possibly you want to experience something new like a backpacking trip or grand canyon hike.
I’ve been weight training for 12 years, and at this point when I take measurements of my bodyweight, muscle mass, and body fat, they are more or less the same month to month and year to year. Partially because I intend for it to be that way given my training style and lifestyle, but also because I’m relatively near my physiological limit. So I’ve had to wrestle with the question myself. What will I do now?
Here are some things that I’ve done. I was an awful distance runner my whole life. Awful as in 3 miles was my limit. So I decided to learn how to run better with the motivation of completing a Ragnar race with my friends (shout-out to Connor, Ryan, and Birk). The Ragnar unfortunately never happened, but I carried on learning, and over the past two years I’ve completed the “10 Tough Miles” Conestoga Trail Run twice (shout-out to my OPEX crew) and a five mile Ephrata Firecracker Run (shout-out to Megan). Possibly more important than that, I’ve also found a joy in running that I never had before.
After my football playing career, I explored powerlifting as I tried to rehab my hip from an injury in college. Thinking back on it now, it was a terrible decision to powerlift and rehab a hip at the same time. But nonetheless, I was eventually able to heal my hip and hit some heavy numbers for me that I am satisfied with. I also fell in love with the small details of moving a barbell as efficiently as possible.
I also picked up the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (shout-out to my Jiu–Jitsu One crew). I’d never done any sort of martial arts growing up aside from a brief one year stint of wrestling in the third grade. Now, a large portion of my training week is spent on the mats developing my skills, training for tournaments, and roughhousing with my friends.
My intent with sharing my experiences was to illustrate one way that an individual’s fitness can evolve. We all start somewhere, and if you’re one of the new health and fitness adventurers, welcome. You are totally justified in setting your focus on adjusting your body composition. However, you should also recognize that it won’t last forever. It’s okay! There is a world of possibilities of new things and new experiences you can have with your fitness beyond the way you look. So…
What will you do?