Exercise Routine! Part 3: Tasty Ideas

And without further ado, let me present to you the final part of this short series!

The 10 minutes

Have you ever felt like a session of exercise is just going to be too hard to get through? Well, I have. And in fact, today is one of these days. My body is worn from all the traveling about, and my mind’s been duly exercised throughout the day. I just want to head home and sleep.

But there is one trick to get you looking forward to the exercise even when you don’t. I present to you: the 10 minutes.

All you have to do is set a timer on your phone, clock, or watch, and let it tick down to 10 minutes. When the time is up, you can go do anything you want. But before that happens, you must promise to get off your couch and move your body! Do whatever you want, do what you feels fun. Just make sure that you move, and very importantly as highlighted in part 2, accompany this move session with a deliberate practice to feel your body. It might take a bit more brain juice than you are used to, but it is only for 10 minutes.

Plus, you’ll reap the benefits immediately. Sometimes the workload for the day divorces our minds from our bodies, and this short period of time helps you reconnect to your primal, sensual, physical parts. You might actually begin to feel more relaxed than when you first started.

And slowly as you move your body, you might feel that you want to do more with this new momentum generated by the first 10 minutes. Go ahead then – it may even become the most productive workout session of the week yet!

Lifting Randomness

For those of you bored stiff of lifting plain ol’ dumbbells like me, there’s good news – there are many ways to keep your upper body pumping while challenging your arms to adapt to new shapes and weights.

The solution is to set down your dumbbells, and embrace all the random physical things around you. Yes, literally embrace them! Put your arms around the dinner chair and lift it up. Grab hold on the ends of the legs, and behold – more leverage! Grapple on the edge of the sofa and lift it slightly. Carry the side table and do pumping squats with it. The possibilities are quite endless.

When we lift dumbbells or barbells, we isolate specific muscle movements and train them repetitively. That is very effective for body sculpting, but not particularly so for a functional workout! If you want your arms to be relevantly functional, you need to keep forging new connections with how your body reacts with the randomly-shaped, not always ideal-for-carrying objects in the world. It is in fact, as much a brain workout as it is a physical one. You don’t want your mind to slouch in a corner while you train your biceps, so find a way to work those muscles while keeping your brain awake.

One way that works for me is to aim for a specific degree of muscle ache on any part of my body that I’m looking to train, and use non-standard weights like parts of my drumset, the piano chair, or even weighted discs unmounted from adjustable dumb bells, to attain that goal of muscle ache through whatever movements feel natural at the time.

If the weight is too light, sometimes that could mean that I ought to change object, or it could also mean that I could change my grip on the object (like holding the legs of the chair) to increase the load. Sometimes, it could mean that I could offset the lightness by doing more reps, although technically this would train endurance rather than strength; yet both are important and a mind-engaging workout like this should demand active balancing during the spontaneity of the workout. The reason why this works is because ache often correlates to growth; so as long as you are sensitive to not tipping over to the other end of injurious pain you should be doing good!

Movement Complexities

The modern gym-goer is conditioned to think in nicely structured, cleanly defined pigeonholes of compartmentalized movement. “Do tricep extentions for tricep strength! Do squats for leg power! Do high reps low weights for endurance!” And that is really quite the fundamental base of knowledge for every cause-and-effect believing exercise buff. In fact, those with more experience and expertise have a whole host of “moves” that are geared towards specific muscle groups, right down to the modification of each exercise for the particular purpose of the week.

And all that knowledge is really quite splendid. It saves time, allows you to move these building blocks of ideas around to arrange custom-made routines.

But there is one thing that it often misses, and that’s the avid cross-fertilization of specific movements across muscle groups. The average gym-goer tends to build up reps and/or weights over time, and that’s often the effect of settling into a too-comfortable pothole of linear growth and unchallenging, mindless repetition. To help offset this tendency towards mindlessness, I’d suggest an active reconstitution of the moves that you usually do, and combine it with some other movements.

For instance, the pumping squats listed above. That’s essentially a combination of carrying something heavy above your head, squating, and pumping it as you stand up. The reason why it’s such a favourite is because it is easy to do, yet challenging to do properly – you need to pay attention to the co-ordination of the pump up and squat so that you match the bottom and tips of your leg and arm movements together. No longer is this a plain ol’ exertion exercise, it also demands that you pay close attention to the speed of your limb movement relative to each other, with that added load to boot!

Another example of complex movements can include carrying an easily grippable weight, and performing unscripted movements based on the pressure it exerts on your muscles. You could experiment with punching motions, swinging around in arcs of varying arm-length, or slow down and speed up the movements to increase and decrease the difficulty where necessary. Sometimes slowing down the arm movement in an extended swing exposes certain muscle instabilities that need to be strengthened – as can seen by muscle trembles despite what you might think is a very light weight and a simple movement. Repeat the movement slowly and try to get that area strengthened up; this is when play can turn into practice!

Benchmark

Finally, you might be quite concerned that if you took all these suggestions to its full extent, you’ll end up with a different exercise routine every session, and it becomes terribly difficult to maintain any semblance of continuity or trackable growth between them. While I’ll argue that the sanctity and focus of each session should be sufficient to bring you back into the mode whereby you can recall past sessions and build on it, I’ll be the first to admit that the wear and tear of each day usually works on our memories as well, and in a state of low energy, past recall becomes a chore to do with sufficient fidelity, if any.

Hence I’ll recommend one more practice to add on to this completely non-exhaustive list of practices: benchmarking.

Pick any exercise or groups of exercises that you think are indicative of how you feel your goals would look like. For instance, you might want to be able to do one-handed pushups, lift heavier weights, or perform a complicated movement. With that as a benchmark, it should guide your smaller exercise decisions. You can still implement all the creative ideas in this post while working specifically towards your goal.

In fact, this serves to sharpen your exercise routines. You may perform creative, non-standard movements that are fun, enlivening, and mildly different every session, but ultimately they are all focused towards strengthening a particular muscle group and all the relevant supporting muscle groups. This prevents stymmied growth caused by scattered focus.

More importantly, it gives you a sense of continuity – even if you’re lifting other objects in a slightly varied manner each time, so long as it activates the necessary muscle group, you know that you’re building towards the same goal, and you look forward to strengthening that core group of muscles each time their relevant training cycles come along.

To find out if you’re improving, you may want to perform a benchmark test once a a week or after each training session depending on how much time it reasonably takes for your muscles to recover after each exercise period. Perform the exercise if possible, and note for any changes, such as more reps or increased staibility. If the movement cannot be fully completed, don’t push it. Either it takes a longer time to do (like a one-handed pushup) or you need more recovery time. If it is the former, then you may want to break down the benchmark into smaller goals that are doable and visable (like assisted one-handed pushups).

A benchmark need not be linearly marked. It is not necessary that you increase in reps or weight each time you do a benchmark test; you may improve in terms of control, or flexibility, and those can be important too. So it’s vital that you expand your goals if it is too constricted, but of course not to the point of crediting growth when there is really none.

With all these tips, I hope your exercise sessions improve in variety and effectiveness!

For a brief introduction to tthis 3 part series, check out this post: Exercise Routine! Part 1
For a list of good reasons to get your body pumpin’, check out this post: Exercise Routine! Part 2

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Do the Other Thing

Star

Before I continue with part three of Exercise Routines!, which should ideally include some tasty ideas for planning your exercise, I’ll take a break and, like this post’s namesake, do the Other Thing!

The past few weeks have been quite a hectic rush for me, with deadlines piling skyhigh in my daily and weekly planner. To get everything done, I have employed a simple planning list that orders and captures all the activities that I intend to do for the day. The good thing about this list is that it makes sure I don’t miss out a single thing, or get my activity-order messed up. The bad thing though, is that it gets a bit dry and tiring after awhile. Can I really cram to-do’s into each and every free slot in my day?

Heh.

Of course not. In fact, my list lacks the usual time schedule; meaning that the corresponding column that includes what time is required for what activity – that chunky thing is completely out of the picture. While I have a general projection of how much time is needed, and that affects the order and scheduling of tasks, the freely-floating tasklist lets me organize my time organically. If an activity captivates me, great! I can just focus on it for awhile longer (until the hard schedule kicks in, like appointments, or non-negotiable time limits). If it took a shorter time than anticipated, then I can just move on to other things. Without a suffocating schedule to nail my task list to, I can avoid the usual dictatorship of blanketing everything as a must-do when the activity is more of a good-to-do or even just a fun-to-do.

Speaking of which, there comes a point of time in every organized person’s life where the drudgery of listed tasks, whether scheduled or not, bogs you down and you feel like just escaping it all. Well, what do you do? Even the fun things – being in the list – are not quite as fun anymore.

This is when the Other Thing comes in handy. The Other Thing is that which exists outside of the norms of planning and routine, and it refreshes you exactly because it is novel, unexpected, and spontaneous. It could be as simple as taking the Other route to work, or as scary as talking to the Other person you don’t usually talk to. It could be a bit more time consuming, like trying that new method of working that you heard about from your colleagues the other day. It might take more energy too, like running up a flight of stairs when you’d usually just walk. Whatever it is, it should be something you want to do, but aren’t doing because of routine and habit!

You may ask me, can an organized person with a tight schedule ever get to indulge in the Other Thing? And my answer is: unpack your schedule! Because otherwise, it is usually an uncompromisingly dull No. Either you stick to the plan, or you diverge and feel bad about it. The solution is to have a more flexible plan like what was outlined above. Having no hard timings on the schedule (except those that are truly necessary) will give you a fluid, organic experience that enables you to fill up the little pockets of free time with energizing, refreshing, and enriching Other Things.

Seeding – A Way to Build Content Reliably

seeds

Having had many false starts in the past to get my blog up and running again, I realized that I kept getting waylaid by the same problem of a lack of energized, stretches of time. Either I’ll have energy to get something written, but it’s just a tiny chunk of time – barely enough to finish anything, or I’ll have an entire stretch but it’s better used recovering my energy instead of bleeding out words on the screen. So I end up with a number of half-written drafts, or nothing at all. I used to never have to bother with this obstacle until school and work started. Travel time, fixed schedules, and multiple objectives fighting for attention in my mind makes it terribly challenging to keep up a consistent habit of word-production.

Yet I am quite sure that there are many writers out there with schedules 10 times crazier than mine, but they manage to freakin’ publish novels (e.g. lawyer, politician, and author, John Grisham). So there must be a way to grow reasonably good content in a consistent manner, busy or not!

Here is a method that’s worked for me thus far: seeding!

What is seeding? Most of us don’t have the luxury of growing our own food. But the concept of farming has lent us timeless metaphors that can empower our productivity. For one, a farmer doesn’t simply plant one seed and wait for it to grow – that’s a gross misuse of land, time, and potential. What farmers do instead, is to scatter many seeds over a large area, letting the ones that do grow flourish in great numbers when they do. Likewise, jotting down idea-seeds in fair enough numbers will give us more avenues of success; I usually start with at least five (too many can choke the ground too).

To create your plot of seeds, get a sheet of paper or empty word-processor page, and turn-off your inner critique (well, not too much, just by a bit will do)! Now, just spit out a couple of potentially valuable ideas, and summarize them under 10 or so words. It’s important to keep it short enough to prevent not get sucked into any single idea, but long enough to remove unnecessary ambiguity and shape your direction. Stop when you have 5 or so seeds (the number depends on your ability to manage and juggle ideas). Voilà, your first plot of seed-ideas!

But sometimes just ideas alone aren’t enough; what I do is to expand each seed, and from there, outline a very basic structure to guide my thinking. These structure-points are also seeds in themselves – their emptiness begs to be filled, the words are content-magnets in your mind, and with enough time for incubation, it will attract the raw material it needs to grow. As you continuously return to these points over time, the empty page tends to fill itself up, guided by your structure-seeds.

So what you can try doing after your initial stages of seeding, is to tease open each of these ideas a bit, and pull out a few areas of interest that you can explore and elaborate upon with regards to each seed-idea. Sometimes the elaborative structure is sequential in nature e.g. first do A, then B, then C. Sometimes it’s thematic in nature e.g. what is seeding? And sometimes it’s a debate e.g. A vs B. There are virtually an endless number of forms that can tickle your fancy; choose one that can carry your idea across most effectively and interestingly.

Whatever it is, these forms are the structure points that you can begin to work with. For instance:

What is seeding?
Explain the need to seed
-qwerty
-uiop
Explain how to seed
-asdf
-ghkj
Elaborate on the mechanics
-zxcv
-bnm

Already you can see that guided structure can inspire you to start building content around it. Just like a seed, you need to give yourself time for the content to grow (unless it’s an idea that’s been in your head for a long while, bursting at the seams for want of expression!), so be patient. You may realize that the day-to-day experiences of your seemingly mundane moments of life may start to become fertile collecting grounds for your seed-ideas. That’s when you need to return to your plot of land and begin jotting down points under your structured form. Behold, they grow!

You may discover by now how reliable these seeds can be. You don’t have to finish your entire writing-piece in one sitting, or return to it only to learn that you’ve forgotten what it was that you initially were excited to write about. With all these structured idea-points written down, you are all primed and ready to write at any time, for as long as the moment affords you; whenever you return, you can just pick off easily from where you begin. No hassle, no undue chunkiness, just streamlined seeds of self-growing inspiration.

The seed-ideas even serve as a form of focus that can channel your thoughts – they frame your perspective and outlook on the world so that you can gleam way more information than you usually would without having these guiding points to help you out. Busy schedule? No problem. These seeds grow almost by themselves; it doesn’t take that much effort to have a quick glance at your idea-outline before starting a busy day. Who knows? By the time you get through that tiring session you might have collected enough raw material to get ’em seeds growing! This can work for blog posts, short stories, novels (with a bit more complexity of course), and whatever your writery-fancies see fit.

So clean the dust off your notebook, and start seeding (: