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The Privilege of Movement
By Neghar Fonooni
I have to workout is not the same as I get to workout.
I’ve repeated this to myself and to clients and readers so many times that it’s become sort of a mantra. What this mantra does, in it’s beautiful simplicity, is offer perspective. And perspective, when it comes to living a life of our own design, is everything.
We get to move our bodies, lift things, and run fast. It’s not an obligation or a begrudging requirement–it’s something to be eternally grateful for. Movement is a privilege, and one which we should honor daily. But by honor daily, I don’t mean constantly performing intense workouts and always going balls to the wall at the gym. I mean listening to your body and giving it what it needs; I mean making fitness enrich your life, not detract from it.
This wasn’t always my thought process. Coming up in the strength and conditioning world, I was taught as a coach that there was a right and wrong way to do everything, and if you weren’t training with a perfectly periodized and meticulously designed program, then you were clearly wasting your time. I worked in an environment where certain lifts were heralded as king, and if they weren’t included in your program, well, your program sucked. And worst of all, I worked with coaches who put play and enjoyment at the very bottom of the totem pole, preferring to spend hours on perfecting movement and chasing lifts, rather than simply enjoying the process.
At times, I was so stressed out about my program that I would have anxiety leading up to my training sessions. I’d beat myself up if I missed a lift, and PRs were everything to me. Everything. I thought, if I couldn’t squat and deadlift heavy, what kind of coach was I? In short, I was taking the whole thing far too seriously.
A few years ago, however, my mindset shifted dramatically–and it all began with travel. I had always traveled about once per month, but now I was traveling about 50% of the time. I had gym memberships in Baltimore and NYC and I saw more hotel gyms than ever before. Sometimes I couldn’t squat and deadlift. Sometimes I couldn’t get my hands on a kettlebell or a pull-up bar. Once, while in Germany, I had access to a solitary pair of 8kg dumbbells. I had to adapt. It was either that, or make myself crazy with the fact that I had to “go off my program.”
I began to learn over the course of the next few years how to workout anywhere, with any equipment, and any amount of time. I learned to find joy in strength and to give up allegiance to exercises. I learned to adapt to any environment and to make exercise a fluid part of my life, rather than a stressor. Most of all, I learned this:
It’s just exercise. It’s not that serious.
Don’t get me wrong, I still thoroughly enjoy writing programs and coaching clients. I am still completely in love with the pursuit of strength, but that love has expanded from what was a narrow-minded view, to one that emanates and flows. Instead of teaching clients to stick to their programs with 100% compliancy, I enjoy teaching them how to adapt and be malleable, and most of all, how to allow fitness to be something that effortlessly integrates into their lives, adding rather than subtracting.
Bodies in Motion Stay in Motion
People often ask me what my #1 tip for getting shape is, and I used to find it difficult to answer that question without alienating someone. With a myriad of fitness intentions, starting points, and circumstances, there’s really no “best way” to get into shape, as the path can vary greatly from person to person. But there is one thing that universally will lead to sustainable results, regardless of style, duration, intensity, or load. It has nothing to do with how you choose to be active or how heavy you lift. It’s all about consistency.
This is the first step towards making fitness a part of a well-rounded life, because consistent movement will spur a desire for more movement. Likewise, consistent inactivity doesn’t inspire movement, because overcoming the inertia to move after being inactive requires far too much effort. Sporadic inactivity usually leads to perpetual inactivity, until before you know it, you haven’t worked out in 4 weeks.
Remember Newton’s first law of motion: objects in motion stay in motion. Essentially, the more you exercise, the more you’ll want to exercise. Stay in motion, no matter what, and working out will become a habit, not an obligation.
Regardless of travel, work projects, studying, kids and family obligations, be sure to move every single day, and you’ll find that constant movement will actually fuel your life. By exercising daily, you’ll increase energy, immunity, release more dopamine and serotonin, and add positively to your overall well being. Does that mean you have to dedicate 1-2 hours of exercise every single day in order to thrive? Absolutely not. Some days I might do a full strength training session, and other days it’s a walk with my dogs or 20 minutes on my yoga mat. Consistency simply means that no matter how busy life gets–just keep moving.
Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Working Out
Consistency of movement plays right into the next subject: time. You might be thinking to yourself, I don’t have time to exercise everyday! You’ve got so many things on your plate that the idea of fitting in exercise just seems like more stress than it’s worth. But you can fit it in, and here’s how:
By letting go of the idea that a workout should last a certain amount of time.
I was discussing this very issue with two of my best girlfriends who constantly lament their lack of time and woefully inform me of their bouts of inactivity. One of them has recently finished grad school and started a demanding new job, the other is working full time and going to nursing school at night. They’re drained from the hustle, and I can totally relate. So I asked them, after a series of questions on their schedules, can you wake up 5 minutes earlier than you normally would?
Obviously, yes, they could. “Good,” I said. “Tomorrow you’ll get up 5 minutes earlier and do 5 sets of 20 kettlebell swings, every minute, on the minute.”
Puzzled, my friends asked, “Is that really going to do anything?”
And they aren’t alone in that thought. We’ve been programmed to believe that a workout has to be long in order to be worth it–that we have to spend hours at the gym in order to see results. But isn’t a short workout better than no workout at all? And don’t you think that exercising 5 minutes every day will lead to prioritizing movement, and gradually finding more time to dedicate to workouts?
The truth is that efficiency is far more important than duration when it comes to making exercise a fluid part of your life, and efficiency has nothing to do with how long you’re able to workout. It’s all about how well you make use of that limited amount of time. Only have 5 minutes? Great! Work as hard as you possibly can in those 5 minutes. Sometimes it’s challenging to convince people that they can find the time to exercise, and further more that a short workout is going to provide them any real results. That’s why I started my quickie series on You Tube, to show people how to make the most efficient use of their limited time.
Are 5-minute workouts a long-term solution? Of course not. But often the simple act of moving will inspire more movement, and little by little you’ll find the time to prioritize workouts. Letting go of the idea that a workout has to be a certain length of time will allow you to approach exercise in a more adaptable manner, ensuring that fitness doesn’t take over your life, and instead integrates seamlessly into a full, happy lifestyle.
All Hail the Deadlift?
When people ask me which is the king of all lifts, squats or deadlifts, my answer is always the same: neither. They’re both great lifts and boast a myriad of benefits, but when it comes to exercise, allegiance can be pretty dangerous.
What happens if one lift suddenly irritates your hip, or if an injury keeps you from performing a certain movement? What if you’re traveling and don’t have the necessary equipment to perform the lifts you think are mandatory? Worst of all, what movements could you possibly be neglecting all because you’ve committed heavily to certain lifts?
When we pledge allegiance to an exercise, or a certain way of lifting, we run the risk of our own rigidity stifling our growth. By being open to different lifts and training styles, we can fully experience movement in all its forms, allowing for further exercise-induced gratification.
The truth is that no one exercise is going to make or break your fitness efforts. There are a variety of ways to accomplish any goal, and being open to exploring them will diversify your life as well as create more flow within your fitness regimen.
Enjoyment and Play
I didn’t realize how much play was missing from my life until I took my son to a local trampoline park a few months ago.
I jumped, and laughed, and sweat my crazy ass until our 60 minutes were up–at which point my husband had to drag me home. Jumping on those trampolines was pure joy, and I really didn’t want to leave. Since then, I’ve incorporated physical play into my life as much as possible, either by returning to the trampoline park, playing Just Dance on the Xbox with my kiddo, stand up paddle boarding, playing catch on the beach, or even rock wall climbing. Play is an important part of a well-rounded life, and it reminds us that not only do our bodies want to move, but that movement is so good for our souls.
With that line of thinking, I began to take an honest look at my own workouts. Were they fun? Was I finding enjoyment through movement? Was I maximizing my experience at the gym by being mindful, staying present, and enjoying the process? Or, did I see my workouts as a necessary chore to cross off my list?
I’ve always enjoyed working out, but what I realized upon deeper inspection was that I was often doing things I thought I had to do, instead of just doing what I wanted. When I began to prioritize play, I figured out that my workouts could be playful too. I could find enjoyment in even the most challenging of physical tasks, and by doing so, I allowed exercise to seamlessly integrate into my wholehearted, vibrant lifestyle. Like I said, at the end of the day it’s not that serious–it’s just working out!
By moving consistently, letting go of exercise “musts,” and prioritizing play, we can fall into a fitness groove that adds value and meaning to our lives, without obsessing over it. Remember–you get to workout, you don’t have to workout. Treat movement like the privilege that it truly is, and you’ll never go a day without gratitude for your body.