All Work and No Play
We are motivated to exercise or workout for various personal reasons as adults that are often not grounded in the functional dynamics of a body in good health and working order. Often we are pursuing unrealistic goals and unsustainable patterns of living so that we can- often only temporarily- fit in (always trying to “fit in”) to a bathing suit or look slim and trim for an important function, however nonfunctional or unsustainable. In these situations, the mirror is our constant companion, reminding us of our shortcomings and disproportions, and then sometimes we may get a brief sense of accomplishment when we discover muscle tone or a visible reduction in waistline overage.
We may also be drawn to mimicking particular body types we find appealing and attractive (more often just trendy) yet these photo-shopped body specifications are not so easily imitable. In fact, they are NOT really attainable due to a genetic impasse that is decisive and final, determined at our conception, unless you’re willing- and financially able- to pay for costly cosmetic modifications that merely create an illusion of beauty or strength requiring ongoing maintenance with aging. Even still, there is no surgical procedure that can increase one’s stature from 5’9” to 6’4” or radically improve your sprint time in the 100 meters from 13 seconds to 10 (although you can be sure that some geneticists and chemical engineers are expertly working on the coding).
The three body types that have been used as a reference to compare ourselves to in terms of bone structure and muscularity have been:
Thick rib cage
Hips as wide (or wider) than clavicles
Mesomorph– Wide clavicles
Long and round muscle bellies
Ectomorph– Narrow hips and clavicles
Small joints (wrist/ankles)
Stringy muscle bellies
We are usually comprised of aspects of each body type and not singularly one or the other. It is unfair to force the uniqueness of each of our bodies into these three molds, although it is likely we may feel a resemblance to one more than another. Instead of relegating our self-image to fat, skinny or muscularly proportional, think of your particular body as carrying aspects of all three. For instance, we ALL carry fat deposits stored around certain areas of our body causing some of the imbalances and excess in our “perceived” disproportion. We are also ALL guilty of lacking strength or muscularity in some areas causing frailty or weakness. And we ALL have a functional, muscular frame that is the sturdy machinery for the manifold operations that we are busy with on any given day, which can become viable foundation for a more developed, athletic commitment. Hence, we are all fat, skinny AND muscular. So what do we do with it?
Let’s assess the motivations for our commitment to exercise. There are five that I have discerned for any individual who desires an improved physique.
- Military and martial arts (Battle and man-to-man combat)
- Athletic competition (Sport)
- Vanity (Hot, desirable body)
- General health and wellness (Extension of [good] life)
- Play (Fun)
Military training might not be what most of us have in mind when we exercise, but the regimen of a soldier preparing for mortal combat is definitely a fiercely physical and psychological programming and is a good reason the “boot camp” phenomenon is so popular. You might not want to be a Marine, but many of us train like we’re “going to war”; a no-holds barred workout that often requires the facilitating of an instructor (drill sergeant) to kick us in the ass when our brains might be telling us to quit.
This “fight for your life” conditioning is quite useful as we advance on the “battleground” of our mind and body. It is not a passive defense but a violent offensive that will enable us to reclaim our body strength and stamina. We cannot be apathetic in our movement or timid in our response. Our purpose and our actions must determined and vigorous.
Martial arts (e.g. boxing, taekwondo, jiu-jitsu) as a man-to-man, weaponless combat is cut from the same cloth, but as it usually implies competition it will lead us into the second motivation.
Athletic competition is similar in intensity to the military requiring the same practiced discipline and mental acuity to perform at a high level. Whether you’re training for a team sport or individual event you practice deliberately and consciously to equip yourself with, not only the skills, but the physical conditioning to execute and sustain the specific operations that your sport requires through an entire game or particular event. Simply put, you train, or practice (exercise), to improve your game or level of performance.
I will assume most of us have played an organized sport, maybe as youths, and have enjoyed the camaraderie and exhilaration of winning, or wallowed in the agony of defeat. Yet, where youth sports are animated with more innocent ambitions and experiences, the graduation into amateur and professional levels becomes burdened with the stress of high-intensity performance and high-stakes competition. It becomes a very demanding job that may- in rare cases- pay lucratively, but deteriorates the original enjoyment.
With athletics there is also fall out from season to season when a sport goes “dead” and may go unplayed for two-thirds of the year (as in football, for instance). Ageism associated with certain games like tag- for the yougsters- or golf- for the adults- and the player requirements of certain team sports where large groups- of ten or more- are needed to actually play a game can also prevent a more consistent experience of a game. (This is an important topic for another time when we can discuss play conceptually and the impact of team sports on the individual.)
The third motivation, vanity or self-appearance, is one most (or all) of us can be grouped under. There is no shame in wanting to look stronger and shapely as these are attributes that promote an appearance of success. We should also not be too quick to discount the relevance of attractivity in natural selection that is subsequent of strength and beauty (mental, emotional AND physical), though they may be only pretentious projections of self-confidence and self-worth- for exhibition only.
There is a reality of societal judgment and conversely self-depreciation that surrounds our appearnace, superficial or not. Consequently, millions of people crowd the gym factories looking to shed excess pounds and create a more attractive manifestation of themselves- usually around the new year- only to slip back into old habits and behaviors as soon as the results don’t arrive immediately like their fast food at a drive-thru window. Many still are drawn back day after day for the gimmicky promises of “six-pack abs”, “ripped pecs” and a “beach bod” that so many get-fit-quick marketing schemes thrive on, feeding on our own foolish aspirations. This less than noble quest to be “hot” and “desirable” is not really tangible as it is illusory; we will never be satisfied with our reflection if we are insecure and unhappy in our thoughts.
As the fourth motivation, good health and wellness is a practical induction into the world of fitness, though it is usually reserved for an older, more responsible population, i.e. one that sees a doctor regularly. You will not find children or young adults exercising to ward off heart disease or alzheimer’s. They are not concerned with their mortality or mental and emotional state. As we age we become painfully aware of the wearing down of our bones and joints and immune systems and the sobering reality of chronic ailments. This is usually when a doctor strongly recommends a regular aerobic exercise routine- walking, cycling or swimming. And nowadays more doctors are prescribing a moderate to strenuous strength training program to counteract osteoporosis and arthritis. Too often we allow decades to pass without such a regular routine. It soon becomes unfamiliar to our bodies and, while it is never too late to start, we have hardened, to an extent, to the flexibility and mental vigor that is derived from continuous exercise.
Our fifth motivation, play, is a two-way function, an end, in and of itself, AND a means to exercise. It is not an extrinsic motivation as with the previous four, although it may be conceivable that a person “trains” to improve his level of (non-competitive) “play”, like if a parent were to exercise to be better able to play with their child. Where military exercise was to succeed on the battlefield, athletic training to succeed in competition, vain exercise to improve our superficial appearance and doctor- prescribed exercise for improved health, play is intrinsically beneficial by creating an enjoyable experience through imaginative, liberating fun.
If we are immersed in an environment where we are captive to our own amusement, we become unwitting to the passage of time, in effect, warping (at least in our perception) space-time continuum. How often have we spent time playing some game with friends or doing something we love and realized we had unconsciously exhausted hours unaware saying, “Where did the time go?” In this childlike dimension of play- a field of dreams- we are seductively swept across the minutia of hours of tick-tocking seconds and enveloped in a timeless other world of rhapsody in full bloom. Sound like some sort of psychedelic nirvana? Or is it really just as simple as acting silly or “rough-housing”?
Now, I in no way suggest that playtime is easily arrived at, especially as serious-minded adults with jobs and bills and kids that demand an exorbitant amount of energy to pull together in an orderly manner. These are enough to derail whatever good intentions we have for having fun and playing around. Isn’t reclining into the armchair after getting home from work clearly favorable to what may feel, at first, like forcible prodding into a vigorous workout routine? Until we desire those activities over the recliner we can’t expect anything to change, gym or not. Sometimes it will feel painfully deliberate, putting one pant-leg on at a time, tying one shoe and then the other and sometimes it will feel like we’re ripping our clothes off and brimming with exhilarated energy, jumping into the atmosphere. Maybe we’re somewhere in the middle.
So, for the moment, let’s leave the first four motivations behind to consider more closely play and enjoyable movement and seek out what we enjoy doing, because enjoyment will keep us coming back. We may think of activities such as sky-diving, roller-coaster riding or driving really fast cars, but these are not the types of activities we are interested in. Thrill-seeking is not sustainable- or safe, for that matter- or always readily accessible, nor are any of these activities exercise, per se. We are desirous of activities that fulfill certain requirements that will provide us with viable options to keep us active on a regular- even daily- basis.
I have a formula based on four factors, for any given exercise, from swimming to climbing, chess to sexual intercourse. Based on these factors we will arrive at a score which will qualify an exercise with an honest rating of the activity we are doing or want to be doing and provide evidence to justify the ones we ought to be doing. I call this evaluation the EFQ, Energetics Fitness Quotient. It sounds more scientific than it really is. It’s actually very simple.
The four factors rated from 1 (least) to 7 (greatest) are:
1 Exertion (“burn”/ pain intensity)
2 Enjoyment (reward/ pleasure intensity)
3 Environmental Expression (A binary value based on quality of environment where you are active and the impact on said environment)
4 Accessibility (proximity to exercise or [financial investment for] equipment required for the exercise)
For any given exercise, these factors will assess its value in terms of our relation to it. The exercise, however effective or awkward, will produce a positive value of the exercise as described by the individual, meaning you; what you like to do may be entirely different than what I like to do. The scoring is purely subjective and will help you evaluate your options and effectively direct you toward your own personal fitness ends.
I’ll demonstrate, choosing from any given exercise, biking, for instance (it will be made evident soon enough I am not choose biking randomly here). If I consider biking, it can be considered generally or specifically as in off-road mountain biking, cross-country road cycling, or casual cruising along a seaside boardwalk. The specifics certainly clarify the occasion and circumstance and directly affect the metrics with greater personal relevance. So if I were to consider “bike-riding” “through the city” my EFQ would look something like this:
Environmental Expression: 7
Taking the four factors together, we arrive at 26 out of 28, which is exceptionally high (I will hold back the description of each factor for the next module when I will expand on my personal process).
We will now take a look at another exercise that will elucidate the process even further. What would the board game of chess rate on this scale? Chess is by no means regarded for its physicality giving us all the more- albeit exaggerated for effect- reason to use it to demonstrate the process.
Chess is generally reclined, sedentary mental activity that achieves very little in the way of exertion or excitement (perceptibly). It is a deliberately slow, methodical contest that has no time restriction except when a timer is introduced to force a player to move so as to minimize time for calculating, thereby increasing the level of difficulty. This does not, however, always lead to a shorter overall game time. Some chess matches have take hours, even days.
Some of us may thoroughly enjoy, an engaging game of chess, say on a quiet Sunday evening, while spinning records of Chopin’s Nocturnes on the phonograph. Sound appealing? Maybe not. Well I, for one, am given to a board game from time to time and chess is certainly one of my favorites. So, with my positive perspective, let’s look at chess through the lens of the EFQ.
Zero is an appropriate nomination here, but I prefer a positive integer to represent here “least exhausting” rather than zero which signifies “no exertion” at all. Chess indeed activates the brain, stimulating it through infinite possibilities and reactive strategies, ever-changing in a simple and controlled environment, requiring cognitive processing to calculate and counter-calculate for several moves out, thereby producing something close to, what I would consider, physical exertion.
And depending on the skill level of the player and the degree to which they mentally deliberate, the exertion level might even produce perspiration on the brow of a player. But, though the range of exertion might spike into the 2’s and 3’s- if the stakes are high, the heart-rate escalating- it is often not the norm. Nevertheless, zero is not conceivable here.
I would speculate that everything we do even to the lowest degrees of exertion, whether unconsciously, like sleeping, or deliberately, like sitting, is still an active bodily process that requires breathing and otherwise minimal operations to be active in order to sustain the outward result or manifestation, which may, however, appear minimally exerted. Therefore, I propose there is nothing that has zero exertion. Everything is exerted. Hence, the 1.
Here, the pleasure is still below average, but at least it has more of a pulse than was witnessed in the exertion department. I speak of the quiet satisfaction that is rewarded to a player successfully advancing the board. It is not a roaring or even a visible response necesarily, but is definitely an elevated feeling.
This factor may glide upward if the game were to become clear and less variable, more controlled, which is what should happen when you improve your tactics and projected calculations. Presumably, expert chess players would experience a higher pleasure factor here, maybe a 6 or 7 (but it’s hard to say as this is the most subjective factor of the four).
The score could similarly fall to a zero if no enjoyment is being had; no sophistication of tactics results in unsophisticated failure. And that’s where a lot of people are resigned in their appreciation or enjoyment of chess, as suspicious bystanders.
I’m accustomed to winning sometimes and taking mild delight in the ordering of the game as it evolves. (When I lose- it should be noted- I am filled with bemused hostility and contempt for my opponent.) I do not confuse the enjoyment here as a rush of excitement or in anyway arousing, which would nudge its score closer to four. I am sometimes almost amused, but not really ever so much.
Believe it or not, chess is completely flexible for ambience. Just as biking affords us the choice of where we ride, chess is a game that can be played contentedly next to the bear-rug adorned fireplace, snuggled up with a liqueur-tainted hot cocoa in hand, or in the park amongst a plethora of chess-provocateurs, or atop Everest’s summit, for novelty’s sake, in a rain-battered tent with campmates. (I’ve played some heady games on a crab-fishing boat and sometimes an ocean swell would mercilessly shipwreck a game)
For these reasons I place this particular factor right in the middle to average out the wide variance that accompanies the mobility and range of a game like chess. It is light-weight and bears little to no impact on surroundings. It is earth-friendly and vastly improved by its setting.
I average this variant in the same way I did above due to its situational circumstance. For instance, I may own a board but not know a friend who would play a game with me. Or maybe I have several chess friends but we can’t all play at the same time; it’s a two-person affair.
It becomes immediately apparent that chess is more than just possessing the board and pieces, but requires an opponent. Where biking takes right off (inasmuch as the bike- and the body- are in good working order) chess- and the majority of competitive games, for that matter- requires opposition, meaning you need another person to play against.
This can be overcome by playing both black AND white as a single player, though this has obvious limitations to any legitimate strategizing, as you’re right hand is quite obviously aware what the left hand is plotting. There are also online chess forums or applications that allow you to play against shades of something like Deep Blue (IBM’s monolithic, supercomputer-chess-master that famously contended with Garry Kasparov in the mid 90’s), but they are devoid of the human quality, the shared experience between two people. Yet, this computer proxy is more than an adequate adversary and often serves as a better teacher, depending on the application used, than a person would. All things considered, it’s a commonly accessible form of “exercise”, but you can easily see the fluctuation from 0 to 7 in this department.
This amounts to 11 on the EFQ scale. This is a generous rating, based on an averaging for the last two factors to allow for the wide range of possibilities that these factors anticipate. This score is, as with any exercise, variable according to the person scoring it and could likely drift downward to the lower single digits for the majority of people. It is quite obviously not in the realm of exercise or physical activities that we are delving into, but all the more reason to use it as a baseline for our purposes. My personal score is based on my own subjective experience and is therefore higher because I enjoy chess.
In the next module we will examine biking, running, team sports and sex, as they are regarded by the EFQ. We will also investigate an idea that emerges from the EFQ, Super Exercises.