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#Take it to the limit, one more time... - John C. Kirk — LiveJournal

Sep. 14th, 2007

06:18 pm - #Take it to the limit, one more time...

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Virgin Active have put a quiz on their website: Are you a couch potato? Unfortunately it doesn't work in Firefox or IE7 (on my Vista machine), and the questions aren't particularly insightful, but I think I do tend to be too sedentary.

I've recently been making an effort to go swimming more often, to help me get back in shape. However, it can sometimes be hard to summon up the enthusiasm for this, particularly if I've had a long day at work. A couple of weeks ago I'd planned to go for a swim in the evening, but I was yawning on my way to the gym and I really just wanted to go home and slump in front of the TV. I decided to go anyway, on the basis that I could always just do a few lengths and then sit in the jacuzzi for a while. The interesting thing is that after the first 10 lengths (200m), I actually felt more energetic than when I'd arrived, so I wound up swimming for my usual 30 minutes. So, the real problem (for me) is inertia: once I actually get going, it's quite rewarding.

Thinking about cycling, there are times when you can just coast along (particularly if you're going downhill). You don't need to use the pedals, and if you turn them around slowly then it doesn't have any effect; you need to get the "bite" where you're actually pushing the back wheel around. Something similar happened when I was swimming on Wednesday: I was going along, and I suddenly felt that I was doing it properly. I certainly wasn't breaking any speed records (or even accelerating), but I was using my arms to pull myself through the water, and meeting real resistance; at the same time, my legs were kicking hard enough to keep my body more or less horizontal. It's hard to explain, but it is satisfying.

Meanwhile, the gym are quite keen on getting people to sign up for training sessions. I did try one of the freebie sessions in April, but I didn't like it much. That's partly because it wasn't all swimming: the guy wanted me to go jogging through the water and then jump out to do press-ups at each end. However, it's mainly because he was quite pushy, e.g. he'd tell me to do 10 press-ups, and didn't want to take my word for it when I said that I couldn't. (At my peak, that wouldn't be a problem, but I know from experience that I have to work up to it, starting out with 1 a day, then gradually increasing the number as I get stronger.) Something similar happened when I went snowboarding: I got so frustrated with the instructor that I wound up unstrapping the board and walking down to the bottom of the slope, because it simply wasn't fun.

One of my teachers did something similar when I was at school. Our boarding house was doing a cross country run, and I'd normally walk most of the way, but on this occasion he ran beside me for the whole thing, thus forcing me to run it too, so I went far beyond what I believed my limit to be. The odd thing is that I remember the housemaster with affection; I haven't stayed in touch with him, but I owe him a lot for the way he influenced me.

I'm not sure why I react differently to the personal trainers I've met more recently; maybe it's just that they don't know me, or that I now have a more realistic idea about what I'm capable of. I think the main problem is that (in my perception) they're just using their own abilities as a guideline and they're obviously a lot fitter than I am. Mind you, I wonder what would happen if I did IT training the same way? The conversation would go something like this:

Me: "Right, I need you to select those three files, copy them to your USB memory stick, open them in Word, and print out two copies of each, one copy to the laser printer here and one copy to the printer downstairs. Go!"
Trainee: "Erm, hang on, I'm not very good with computers. How do I select those files?"
Me: "Come on, you can do this, it's easy."
Trainee: "No, I really can't, I don't know how!"
Me: "Pfah, I could do it with my eyes closed! Go on, you can do it if you really try! Faster, faster!"

If I acted like that, I'd expect to lose my job and possibly a few teeth. So, I make an effort to be patient when I'm teaching people what to do, and I recognise that there are other things they can do far better than me; I think that fitness trainers might benefit from the same approach.

Having said all that, I think it can work quite well to have a "gym buddy". That's partly because it makes me more likely to turn up (rather than skiving off) if I've arranged to meet someone, and also because a bit of friendly competition can help (e.g. racing from one end of the pool to the other). Ultimately, though, I think that self-motivation is the key, and that's a lot easier if you actually enjoy what you're doing.


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Date:September 14th, 2007 07:12 pm (UTC)
I've had people try to push me beyond my limits with physical exertion, and I'm learning to differentiate between my body saying "I'm tired", and it saying "no, really, STOP NOW!". It's an important differentiation, but it's not always obvious. Sometimes it is (extreme pain), but the last time I ever did yoga, I was pushed too far with the breathing control exercises (being told that it didn't matter that I was feeling odd, it was good for me). I ended up in an ambulance, and then sitting in casualty until 3am on a work night.
I think that I would have enough confidence now to "just say no", but my main thing is just to avoid likely situations, which I'm not sure is really a solution, as it all of the responsibility for motivation on my shoulders.
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[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2007 12:13 am (UTC)
I remember hearing a description of rowing - I think it may have been from pozorvlak: The trick to rowing is realizing that our bodies lie to us. They tell us they can't do any more, when really they can.

I think that's true more of the time, and with more of the population than it isn't. I don't necessarily think that the best way to show people what they're capable of is by shouting at them, but I do think that most people are capable of lifting more and for longer than they think.

I've seen the same thing in intellectual places too - people who will believe themselves to be ignorant of how to do something (like copy files), but are actually capable of doing it with maybe only a couple of false starts - if they can be encouraged to try. When teaching maths or CS to students who're finding the worksheets challenging, you don't let them give up and you don't do it for them. You ask them leading questions, and help them figure it out. I've never taught gym, but maybe those guys have similar tricks to figure out how much you can or can't do. I know that it's safe to stand in a low taichi stance until your whole body is shaking with the effort - and then stay there some more. It doesn't feel like it's going to be safe (or sane) when you start, but it doesn't damage you - it makes you stronger. You just have to trust that the teacher understands what he's teaching better than you do.

I like what susannahf said about learning the difference between being tired and being incapable. I think that's actually a really difficult and subtle thing to learn, and I don't think I've got it right yet. I think a big part of any physical training is going through that learning process with yourself - and you have to do it on your own, because no one else can feel those feelings for you.
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[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2007 07:50 am (UTC)
You just have to trust that the teacher understands what he's teaching better than you do.
That's where I have the problem. I've had one that didn't, and made me very ill, so I find it very difficult to trust that others won't do the same.
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