Sports as exercise

A FB friend who has been successfully losing weight was speaking of finding an exercise he enjoys to support his maintenance program.  Racquetball was mentioned.


This is smart.  I might offer that he can be even smarter, though  Some thoughts:


  1. The Western approach to exercise is somewhat disassociated. You exercise your body while your mind is occupied elsewhere.   The Eastern approach is more to strength the link between mind and body, which demands focus, often through concentrating on your breathing during movement or stillness.  It is hard to focus on breathing when you are trying to beat someone’s pants off.
  2. The  “Performance Pyramid” is a fascinating structure. From the bottom (foundation) to the top it goes:
    1. Emotional health.   This is foundational.  Negative emotions and value/belief/goal conflicts will destroy your attempts to create anything of real value and beauty in your life.
    2. Physical health.   People often mistake “fitness” for health.   Nope.  Health is how your organs function, how your joints feel, how you feel when you wake up in the morning.  Vibrancy, resistance to stress and illness.  Sex drive fits in there, as does overall mood and capacity to live life with joy and pleasure.
    3. Fitness is specific function: how high, how far, how heavy, how fast, and so on.   Generally muscle or cardio function rather than organ.
    4. Skill is the way these first three are coordinated to produce a specific task with maximum efficiency and minimum effort.
    5. Competition is when you test all of these.


Now…if you accept these, where does racquetball, or any sport, fit in?   By the time you step onto the court against an opponent, you are in competition, even if low-level and friendly.  And in that competition, you are USING all the previously acquired capacities.  For peak function:


  1. Your emotions  must be aligned and positive
  2. You should be healthy enough to provide a platform for your fitness
  3. You should be fit enough to provide the gross muscle/cardio function that allows you to express
  4. SKILL without the interference of fatigue, and with the body functioning as an effective enough machine that it can execute your mental plans


What does all of this mean?  Well…

  1. Sports are not the most effective/efficient way to achieve fitness.  Fitness is best developed separate from your USE of that fitness to express skill.  
  2. Sports are also problematic in that you are competing, and your attention is on hitting the ball, running into position, or whatever.  For most efficient fitness, your attention must be on the functioning of your body.  It is “practice”, not a mere “workout” where you can watch television while your body functions like a hamster on a treadmill. Do this properly, and an hour of exercise PER WEEK can create amazing transformation.
  3. Sport-as-exercise is dreadful for the “weekend warrior.”   Yeah, you used to be able to do it as a kid.  Get over it: your body has changed.  Competition specifically demands that you extend beyond the comfort zone. Heck, your opponent certainly will!  The temptation to extend to injury is huge.   You aren’t connected to your body, and your last memory of it was when you were 18 years old and didn’t need to warm up before exertion.   Recipe for disaster.
  4. The better you are at a movement, the less work it is.  That means that as you get better at your sport, it is less and less exercise.   This is where you get your big-bellied martial arts masters.  They are so efficient and effective that they can thrash their students without raising a sweat.  Unless they have a totally separate workout discipline, the body de-conditions.  We are neurologically programmed to find a way to make any repeated movement EASIER.
  5. A smarter arrangement is to practice a sport as the REWARD for your exercise.  It is where you express and enjoy the new body you’ve created, the new capacities you’ve fought for.  The sport is DESSERT.
  6. If you can’t discipline yourself to do an hour a week of serious exercise, even if it isn’t fun, allow me to ask yourself: is everything you do in life fun? Cleaning the toilet?  Working your job or driving there through heavy traffic?   
  7. When  your kids have homework do you say “only do the fun stuff” or do you use a combination of punishment, reward and persuasion to get them to understand the adult world demands doing things that AREN’T fun to get to the stuff that is?  If you’ve had kids, you know they have every argument in the world to explain why they can spend five hours playing video games, but can’t focus on homework for 10 minutes.  
  8. If you think it HAS to be fun, all that means is that you don’t have enough motivations.   If I ask you why you want to exercise, and it’s “my doctor says I should” your chances of staying on a program beyond the exciting weight-loss period is pretty slim. On the other hand, if you have five pages of reasons involving your self-image, ability to serve your family and community, being able to learn new skills or have fun dancing all night or climbing Kilimanjaro…if you have reasons that range from survival to sex to power to emotion to self-expression to intellect (yes, you’re smarter if you exercise!) to spiritual connection…THAT is a set of motivations that actually moves to a different level.  Connect it on all those levels and you no longer need to remind yourself to do it, any more than you have to remind yourself to eat ice cream. It is who you are.  It is what you do.    Chop wood, carry water.    


Just thoughts.   The more you focus, the less time and energy it requires to produce “fitness”.   The fuzzier and warmer you have to feel about everything, the more time and the less efficient and effective your efforts are.


And, frankly, the more you are indulging that “child” self rather than being an adult about adult matters.





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