Friday, September 20, 2013

Is Fitness your Sport, or is SPORT what your Fitness Plan is Missing?

Feel like you’ve hit a training plateau?  Can’t bear the thought of another boring bout of cardio on the treadmill?  Does your pending workout session loom over your head like a rain cloud all day long?  Why not do something about it so you actually look forward to your workout because you know it is going to be the highlight of your day?   Why not rediscover an old sport or learn a new one?  Joining a competitive sport’s team will instantaneously renew your exercise regimen with fun, motivation, accountability, intensity and passion! 
While there will always be a need for traditional exercises, both resistance and cardio, in any holistic, well-rounded fitness plan, playing and competing in sports can also be an outstanding path to achieving fitness while bringing some excitement back into your training.  Playing a sport or competing, can also give you something more tangible to train for, other than a scale or the mirror.  Some folks are lucky enough to view traditional exercising as a sport in and of itself, and actually enjoy exercising in the purest sense – they actually trigger a dopamine-neurotransmitter reward response, in their brain simply by going for a jog outside, spinning to good music or busting out a heavy set of squats.  CrossFit for example, once just considered a form of boot camp-style exercising, is now a niche sport followed by thousands.  The best of the best CrossFitters now compete in the national CrossFit Games, broadcasted by ESPN.  However most of us view working out as just that – more work, and just another hour taken from our day that we’re just trying to get over with.
This blog post was originally written for & published in Four EL magazine by me, SEPT 13 issue.

     Playing your favorite sport, especially when you’re part of a team dynamic, will bring that missing physical passion and intensity back into your training plan.  You will be accountable to your team or teammate, and you won’t want to let them down on the court – whatever court it is you choose.  Perhaps your sport of choice is a solo one, where it is more about you taking on Mother Nature, such as surfing or mountain-biking.  Whatever your sport, you will be rewarded with passion and enjoyment because your mind will also be engaged and you will be focused on a challenging task under dynamic circumstances.  You will be focused on the ball, your opponent, the wave, the mountain…focused on winning or even survival for some weekend-warriors.  A barbell doesn’t try to run away from you.  A treadmill doesn’t  get any more stationary or predictable.   And while the initial goal may simply be to have fun or get fit, you might be surprised what happens when you re-awaken your inner-athlete and truly desire to win again.  That’s when you may find yourself laying it all on the line – just like you did back in high school sports.  That’s when you will become totally immersed in that play or that game, or in that race.  That’s when you become fully present and aware, and the mental and even spiritual magic happens.  Totally immersed in the present moment, where nothing else seems to matter and you will feel so invigorated and alive.  Powerful neurotransmitters like dopamine, and endorphins, and just the right amount of adrenalin will be making you high on life, in every sense of the expression.  You will be using your mind and body to their full capacity and going for it, giving 100% effort without even having to pay for a trainer to scream at you.  You’ll be stretching, flexing, lunging and gunning and will re-discover your physical prowess.  Dare I say you may even feel like a kid again?

Normal fatigue barriers that would usually impede you during blander, traditional workouts will simply be non-existent!  You will surprise yourself with your newly discovered energy reserves while on the court, that you assumed had vanished with your youth.  You’ll be incinerating calories, sweating out buckets, gasping for more oxygen, and yet the only reason you will be looking at your watch is because you fear your allotted play time is coming to an end.  I don’t even have time to mention all the friendship and camaraderie that will develop as a side benefit.  Nobody has your back like a teammate who has gone to battle with you!
Even at age 43, for me, surfing, beach volleyball & skateboarding are 3 sports I'm passionate about that I regularly add into my workout routine, and I can do with my family!
But there is one small price to pay – one string attached.  There always is, isn’t there?  In your new found, all-out, 100% physical effort, level of play, you will be pushing your body to new extremes.  So you will be very sore the next day or two or even three, especially when Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) sets in 36 to 48 hours after.  A lot of this new type of soreness comes from the hyper-stretching, flexing and fast-twitch muscle use that comes with all-out bouts of effort during super challenging and very, high-intensity levels of movement.  Playing sports will push you to the ‘edge of your physical envelope’ so to speak – a place where most will never venture into during their adult lives, either due to complacency, apathy or fear.  Kids and professional athletes occupy this risk-reward zone all the time, and it brings huge benefits.  I say benefits because all of the soreness you may experience is directly triggering new muscle growth, and honing a leaner, toner physique.  This is mainly due to the prostaglandins associated with inflammation associated with DOMS and the micro-tears in soft-tissue that intense exercise causes.  These prostaglandins along with lactic-acid accumulation within the muscles, both trigger Growth Hormone and to a lesser extent Testosterone, both powerful, lean-body, tissue-healing, anabolic hormones.  Intense exercise also increases insulin-sensitivity and glucose metabolism, and leaves a long-lasting, metabolism-boosting, EPOC effect, (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption.)  But if the soreness your experiencing is more than acute post-exercise soreness, then by all means break out the ice, ibuprofen, and the compression wrap to treat a possible injury!

So don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort-zone and go for it.  Feel what it is like to truly give and all-out, 100% physical effort again.  Experience what it is like to be fully engaged in the present moment again, where nothing else seems to matter but getting to the ball, or getting up the mountain.  Feel what it is like to have your senses hyper-awakened by dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and adrenalin again, all naturally produced in healthy amounts and ratios, as Mother Nature intended.  You may wake up a little sore, and your ego may take a beating at first, and you may even have to sign-up for some lessons to knock the rust off at first, but trust me it will be worth it! 


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