According to Google, the most commonly sought topics for health and fitness last year included Tabata workouts, burpees, the “Murph” CrossFit routine, and even the “Tom Brady” diet. While these searches correlate to the latest fads and trends, what’s really behind the latest thing in fitness are same the age-old dilemmas—losing weight and toning up.
With such a constant and insatiable public appetite for newfound answers, the culture of fitness media reads much like a how-to manual for the issues of getting lean and fit. Glance at a Muscle & Fitness or Cosmopolitan magazine from 30 years ago, and then compare them to a fitness website today. The trends and fads have changed, but the sought-after answers are the same. The bottom line for many is, “how can I find the holy grail of being fit, looking great, and feeling well?”
Unfortunately, such a desired transcendent destination is a fallacy perpetuated by the “before and after” myth of perfection. States of health, wellness, and fitness are moving targets when one considers that life is an ever-changing and temporary destination. Yet the primal urge to find the genie in the bottle remains.
The persistent nagging to seek convenient answers will stubbornly endure until we find the courage to ask the right questions. “What” and “how” may dominate the headlines, but “why” is the much more important dilemma. As with any successful fitness routine or purposeful spiritual journey, sitting with the right questions isn’t comfortable or necessarily fun, but the rewards can be life-changing.
Instead of spending your energy seeking perfectly packaged solutions to your health and wellness challenges, here’s a cheat sheet to help you form the right questions.
Why Did I Gain Weight?
“How do I lose weight?” is a popular question which has many answers. A much more important query is “how do I keep weight off?” The question of how to live at your goal weight versus reach it is one that has far fewer and more difficult answers. But the essential question that really unlocks the right formula is to address the question of why you gained weight in the first place. (Hint: it isn’t about calories or being lazy).
The obesity epidemic has much to do with our toxic food supply and the subsequent addictive behaviors of much of our populace. Sitting with the questions of craving, compulsion, and avoidance are much more important questions than determining which exercise routine burns the most calories. Until you face such self-directed questions, you may lose weight, but you’ll be hard-pressed to stay that way.
What Way(s) of Moving My Body Brings Me Joy?
Joy is not synonymous with fun. Fun is found in amusement, distraction, and pleasure. This notion of entertainment is a popular one, and the fitness industry is more than happy to deliver copious amounts of fun-filled, music-pumping, endorphin-inspiring bells and whistles.
While these shiny distractions may be initially appealing and even provide a temporary state of euphoria, only joy brings a lasting sensation. Joy is the culmination of commitment and purpose. Joy is demonstrated by the artist who expresses a truthful performance, or an athlete who endures years of sacrifice to finally make the team.
As is the case to solving the riddle of weight gain, the litmus test of joy is found in asking the right question. The gist of joy is a variation of the question: “What makes time stand still for me while I do it?” Joy may seem hard to quantify, but when you see or feel it, you know it. When joy is manifested, the expression is one of being wholly present, content, and complete.
Am I Getting Better at Something?
Your goals are the reason you start a fitness routine; people are the reason you stay there. Burning calories does not form a common bond, the common pursuit of perfecting a craft does. The things that good martial arts schools, CrossFit boxes, and yoga studios get right is they teach you to get better at something—a skill, craft, or technique. Doing so fosters community.
Conversely, the desire to look better isn’t something that connects you to another human being. Before embarking on your next fad diet or fitness craze, do yourself a favor and find a tribe that will teach you to develop, hone, and perfect a craft.
Do I Move Well?
That circuit of machines you’re doing sure seems efficient and safe. While that may or may not be true, one thing you’re not doing on the bicep curl machine is getting your body to move more effectively or economically.
I’ve heard countless individuals over the years tell me they weren’t coordinated, naturally athletic, or graceful. But such a blanket statement assumes that we humans have no capacity to grow in such arenas. If you can get stronger and leaner, then you certainly possess the ability to improve at moving your body more proficiently, be it through sport, dance, yoga, or martial arts. The bottom line: a stronger bicep will not help you live longer, but getting up effortlessly from a seated position on the floor will.
Is My Fitness Routine Also Making Me Healthier?
When is the last time you checked your blood pressure, your resting heart rate, or your cortisol level? How is your heart health, gut health, or mental health? Unfortunately, such questions are too often an afterthought, until life dictates that health becomes an important consideration. In designing a fitness routine, aesthetic results often dictate one’s approach, versus determining what will drive real results in long-term health and wellness.
I get it, you want to look your best, complete with six-pack abs and ripped arms. I’ve been there and can relate. Pretty much all of us want to like what we see in the mirror staring back at us. But behind the desire to look well is the authentic desire to be well. Working from the outside in can only last for so long without addressing what lurks beneath. By starting from the inside out, you’ll not only address your health, but you’ll assess your true readiness to train or play. Your blood pressure or heart rate variability may tell you a better story of your fitness than simply relying on willpower and peer pressure to perform.
A good way to differentiate a fitness fad from a lasting trend is to determine whether the modality in question is providing you with a convenient answer, or helping you ask a deeper question. The former will provide you with temporary success at best, while the latter will provide true growth and lasting progression. One of life’s greatest ironies is that we spend much of it seeking poignant answers, yet we often know the solution, if we’re only willing to ask the right questions.