I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving – I sure did. I passed the day with loved ones, watching football, reading next to the fireplace, and eating so much dank vegetarian food. Naturally, I’m feeling the post t-day bloat, so in honor of that I present you with another fitness post.
To me, one of the greatest challenges of working a full time job is deciding how to spend your free time. You don’t want to waste it all away, passively consuming crap you don’t need. But you also don’t want to commit to too many things and overextend yourself. I tend to fall in the latter camp – there are just so many awesome things I want to be apart of and new experiences to be had! Having to pick and choose breaks my heart, and is a main motivator behind my decision to retire early. Sadly though, as I have found out, it is impossible to work a full time job, run a homestead, eat an immaculate whole foods plant based diet, travel to the mountains for outdoor adventures, meditate daily, party with your friends, AND stay in top physical shape.
This is why I need efficiency in every aspect of my life. Naturally, as an ex-mathematician/ philosopher, I systematically subject various aspects of my life to the efficiency test, and fitness is the latest subject. I’m already working on fostering motivation in my personal fitness practice. In addition to all the ideas I talked about in that post, bringing efficiency to my practice is a fantastic motivator. Knowing that I’m getting the most out of my practice helps me feel like my time invested is worthwhile, and is actually providing me with a healthier and happier life. Here’s what I’ve been trying.
My beloved car and I went through a pretty bad breakup a few months ago, after I spent over $600 on repairs and maintenance in the span of five days. I was heartbroken, but I knew what needed to be done – time to start riding my bike to work. I’m four full months into my biking to work experiment. My route is very short (only two miles each way), but has a lot of hills, so it’s a short and sweet workout for my legs. I moved into my new office this week, and my commute has doubled. To give you an idea, I’m looking at about two hours per week of biking on hilly terrain.
This is one of the most efficient decisions I’ve ever made, both in terms of money and time management. I’ve gone from filling my tank up twice a month to once per month, saving me about $30/ month. It does take me about twice as long to ride vs drive to work – but instead of sitting on my ass in my climate controlled car for an hour a week, I’ve now got a built in two hours of cardiovascular exercise. Also, hello – biking is way better for the environment! Saving money + building endurance + compassion for the planet = trifecta of efficiency! This new routine also boosts my mental health. Traffic stresses me out, big time. Driving gives me headaches. Biking feels good though. It stretches my legs on my way into the office, and gives me a rush of fresh air and relief at the end of the work day.
With regular biking, I can run less. Both running and biking are cardio exercise that build endurance and strength. I mentioned in my last fitness post that cross-training is actually more effective than training at only one type of activity. Here’s a nice article on why cross-training works. I love to run, but my knees and mind can’t take the pavement, so I try to always run on trails. This usually involves getting in my car and driving to a trailhead – and driving to a location to work out has always felt wrong to me. With regular biking, I can drop one run a week, which easily makes up for the extra hour it takes me to bike to and from work.
Unfortunately, switching to biking to work involves a major lifestyle change for most – you must live within *safe* biking distance of your job. We chose the location of our current home exclusively based on location. If you are close enough to bike, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation (this can be intimidating!). I only bike on average three days a week to work. I like to think of it as an adventure, not a sacrifice. If biking to work is impractical, for example if it’s raining, or I need to run an errand after work – I skip it! I’m not trying to make my life harder on myself … I’m trying to find ways to use my time more efficiently to improve my health and well being. This means knowing when to say no, and just get behind the wheel instead.
Building a home gym
I used to be a gym rat. Driving fifteen minutes each way to the gym made me feel gross – it seemed wasteful and clownish. It was also a time sap, which killed motivation. I knew I wanted to get out, but at the height of my gym-going heydey, I was using all kinds of weight machines, the treadmill, and the rowing machine. I can’t exactly replicate that in my home. I began by weaning myself off the machines, and instead focusing on exercises I could do with body weight and free weights. This took some research, but there are great resources on the internet, such as BodyBuilding.com, where you can search for exercises by targeted muscle group. Eventually, I realized that I could perform a sufficient full body workout using just a few free weights, a kettlebell, and a bench.
We have a kickass Wellness program at work, and you get all kinds of incentives for logging heath-related activities. I ended up with about $70 in gift cards to a sports outfitter, so I went ahead and bought a quality kettlebell. I also picked up a couple free weights used on Craigslist. You will not believe the deals on these things! [I’m still eyeing CL for a bench and bar set]. And voila – I had a home gym for less than $100.
I bet it’s surprising to hear that my home gym only consists of three pieces of equipment. Again – maximize time and money. You don’t need fancy clothes and a gym membership to stay fit. I don’t waste two hours a week commuting back and forth from the gym anymore, which saves on gas. I also don’t have to experience the self-consciousness of a gym environment. But the best part is, now I can work out whenever I want! It’s hell of a lot easier to motivate yourself to go upstairs than it is to get in your car and drive to the gym.
Timothy Ferriss and the Minimum Effective Dose
I’m not sure I’ve revealed on this blog that I am a full on Timothy Ferriss fangirl. The Four Hour Body changed the way I think about fitness, and the Four Hour Chef changed the way we think about cooking. I highly recommend both!
In the 4HB, Ferriss discusses a concept he calls the “minimum effective dose.” The idea is that you want to maximize efficiency by doing the least amount of work required to achieve a desired effect. He expounds upon a litany of experiments he performed and consultations he had with fitness professionals around the world to determine that the most efficient strength training exercise is the kettlebell swing. It has to do with the range of motion and the fact that performing KB swings is both a strength and cardio exercise. Form is essential though, and there is quite a learning curve. It took me months of practice, reading, and watching videos to find my form. Once you have the correct form down, the KB swing will work every one of your major muscle groups.
I “swang” only twice a week for less than half an hour each session, and started seeing definition in my abs. I NEVER achieved this through a traditional strength training program focused on isolation exercises. I’ve taken a couple months off due to a back injury at work, but I can’t wait to get back to it.
Once I adopted the minimum effective dose philosophy, I went from three hour long sessions of strength training per week to two 25 minute sessions. I felt stronger and had better muscle definition overall. Seeing results from such a small amount of effort is a BIG time motivator.
Breaks at work
I’m fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to be outside, but on days when I’m stuck in the office, I try to use my lunch hour as time to work out (don’t we all eat at our desks anyways?). Sometimes I go to spin class and sometimes I run. Sometimes, I just take 5 minutes for a little neck and shoulder yoga at my desk. I’m planning on keeping a mat in my new office for spontaneous work-day yoga breaks. I don’t get my lunch hour paid, so I figure I better take advantage of it and use that time wisely!
I talk more about integrating fitness and mental health into the workday in this post.
Rethink what “exercise” means
Working out doesn’t have to mean lifting weights or going for a run. In fact, when we limit our concept of exercise to these traditional methods, we are killing our motivation and missing out on a holistic approach to health. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need gyms and running tracks, because we would be getting sufficient exercise just by living. Unfortunately, that’s just not a reality for most of us who are tied to a desk all day. If you are like me, and feel constantly on a time crunch to fit in a work out, try finding opportunities for exercise in the day to day.
For me, this has meant becoming mindful of my body. If I have to bend down to pick something over, I try not to do it the lazy way, putting all the strain on my back. Instead, I use my legs, to move me – kinda like a lunge or squat. I also take the time to do as much as I can by hand – for example, kneading my own dough or grinding my own coffee with a hand-powered mill. I’m not trying to provide a list of daily chores you can turn into exercises – I’m trying to point out that by bringing attention to how you move your body through daily life, you might be surprised at the opportunities you find.
Ah, the last and most precious suggestion – try yoga. Yoga not only stretches and strengthens the muscles, but it relieves stress, sharpens the mind, and helps us reconnect with our bodies. Mental health and physical health in one practice? Now that’s efficient.