Note: if you have no interest in exercise or physical training, this post isn’t for you.
I had a lucid realisation recently.
I remember a time when all I wanted was to be able to run a single kilometre without stopping. I also remember a time when I wanted to be able to run five kilometres without stopping. I remember this for ten kilometres, and even fifteen kilometres.
I can do all of those distances now, and yet every single time I go running, it never feels easy. Sometimes, I’ll have a great run where I just feel good and the kilometres melt away. The majority of the time though, I’m in a constant battle: one part of my brain is pleading with me to stop - making up every possible excuse or justification for it. The other part of my brain is me consciously and viciously ignoring the weak side, and trying to use my past experiences to push through and run further, or run faster.
I’ve also experienced the same thing with weightlifting. There are days when I feel weak and can’t lift weights that I was lifting months previously. Other days I’m able to tear through the gym breaking PB after PB.
It never feels easy though. There’s always some sort of a fight happening internally. A part of me always wants to give up before I actually need to, and another part of me has to be aware of this and keep pushing beyond that point.
I understand why my brain constantly tries to get me to stop. It’s still running software from two hundred thousand years ago when we didn’t have supermarkets nearby and didn’t know when our next meal would be. It’s genetically programmed to minimise energy usage.
I’ve gone through lots of peaks and troughs when it comes to maintaining physical strength. There were times when I was younger where I had no muscle and I desperately wanted to be able to bench press with even a single big plate (20kg | 45lbs) on each side of the bar.
For the last six months I’ve been weightlifting consistently again, and enjoying the gradual changes in my body and strength. Over Christmas and New Year I had a 3 week break from weightlifting, and I was staggered at the deterioration that occurred in that time. My strength decreased by 10%, but the most surprising decrease was my stamina. Where merely weeks previously I was able to do 8-10 reps of an exercise, my muscles were now completely gassed after 6.
I find this rate of decline to be really disheartening. It’s disheartening because it highlights the force of entropy at work. As soon as you stop putting in the time and effort, your work will immediately begin to be undone. This force is always there. You will always have to fight against it if you wish to maintain physical fitness and strength.
So… what’s the point then?
This post isn’t to try to convince anyone that exercise is good for you. The benefits of exercise have been extensively researched so you can accept or reject the results of that research as you wish. In order to enjoy those benefits though, you need to accept that they have a cost. That cost is exertion and it needs to be paid in perpetuity.
That’s the lucid realisation I had.
I realised that being “fit” isn’t a state that you eventually achieve. There is no finish line, and you’re in a campaign against an uncontrollable force of nature for the rest of your life. No matter how much work you put in, no matter how much time you put in, no matter what level you rise to… the second you stop fighting against entropy and you stop exerting yourself, you will start to lose all of the progress you’ve made.
This realisation surfaced some anxiety in me, but I’ve quickly overcome it by acknowledging that like any pursuit, often the journey is far more exciting than the destination. In this instance there is no destination, so I just need to enjoy the journey.
If this resonated with you - reach out to me on Twitter - @SeanBarryUK.