Ditch Limiting Exercise Mindsets

Happy Friday, League of Wildness!

Have you ever had a plan for your workout only to have something go wrong, and instead of doing what you could, you just gave up and did nothing? 

Yesterday when I opened my phone, I saw this awesome comment on Facebook from Olivia, who has been part of our League of Wildness outdoor workout challenges for the past several months:

“This week I was thinking a lot about a friend in college who would get excited at every opportunity to carry other people's bags or walk somewhere to get something for them. Not only did she want to be helpful, but she saw it as a chance to work her muscles. Back then I occasionally rolled my eyes at her. Now I realized I'm like her! Instead of trying to find ways to get more comfortable, I see opportunities everywhere to get "free" exercise. There's the classic "parking farther away from your destination for the extra walk," but also seeing heavy bags of groceries not as a burden but a nice challenging load to train on as I walk through the store. Putting laundry into the washer means getting in more squats. Sitting on the floor with the kids, I can sneak in some stretching.

Rucking is an example of this because it fits into my life so easily. I just add it on to activities I'm doing anyway. Now every walk (or even doing regular chores at home) can be turned into bonus exercise. I was skeptical at rucking daily, but I've felt great!”

I think about labels and words a lot. It can be really easy to limit a person or an idea because of how we define them. Of course, labels serve a purpose: they facilitate communication and more importantly they help us to find community. I’ve been so blown away by the community that the League of Wildness has been building! One of the words that is thrown around a lot in our sphere is “exercise” and we all have our own ideas of what that means. For some people, exercise is enjoyable and something to look forward to each day. For others, it’s something they know is good for them, but they don’t enjoy it and can’t wait for it to end. And yet other people hate the idea of exercise so much that they don’t do it at all.

For me, exercise was always about some sort of competition, often just with myself. Growing up, my sister and I used to hold workout competitions, seeing who could do the most pull-ups or pushups or climb to the top of the slide the fastest. For me, it was never really about winning, but about seeing what I could do and where my limits were. 

My biggest limit is my mindset and the way it can restrict the definition of what counts as exercise. I’ve come to prefer the word “movement” because while it encompasses exercise, it doesn’t have that faint ring of competition. It also doesn’t exclude the many other beneficial types of human movement and keeps my nagging mind from telling me that what I am doing doesn’t count.

As Olivia’s comment mentions, exercise can be anything. There is no reason we should feel weighed down by the expectations of a word. We have almost limitless opportunities to move our bodies in a variety of ways every moment of every day. We don’t have to feel confined and restricted, it’s a choice in mindset. Our homes, yards, offices, and even our desk spaces offer opportunities for movement. 

My preference is always to be outdoors and I am lucky to have a job that allows me to work outside (weather-allowing) and with people who prioritize health and movement. Today, it’s snowing and the wind is blowing and our patio is covered in feet of snow, so here I am sitting at the dining room table tapping away on the keyboard. When house wolf Gizmo grumbled to be let out, I used that as an opportunity to “reverse” the position I’d been sitting in. I stretched my arms and shoulders overhead and to the side using the edges of the doorway. I did some cat-cow yoga stretches on the floor and walked around for a couple of minutes just swinging my arms and stretching my neck. Eventually I’ll get uncomfortable sitting in the chair and I’ll move to the floor, where I can stretch while I type. When I am on the phone I pace a lot, and so I pick up my ruck bag and do farmer carries while I chat or I go outside and walk around in the yard. 

I wouldn't call those things “exercise.” But it’s movement, it adds up, and it matters. I am also a fidgeter and was suspicious when I started to see articles suggesting that fidgeting could burn calories. You aren’t going to lose 50 pounds playing with a ball of putty, but it does add up. Chris, another challenge participant, noted an increase in his calories burned standing on his Stoic standing mat.

For me, one of the biggest benefits is simply that a variety of movement keeps my body feeling mobile and fluid rather than stiff. I spend a lot of time on the computer some days, and taking a break to ponder and fidget gives my hands some extra movements and stretching.I don’t substitute my daily walk for clicking a pen but, fidgeting is just another opportunity to move parts of my body.

I’m new to rucking, but I am delighted to have found, like Olivia, that it makes me feel good. How many times are we walking for a stretch of time without thinking about it? Walking is our most natural form of human movement and our ancestors did a lot of it. Rucking turns walking the dog, running errands, and doing chores, into a workout. Once you find your preferred weight you can leave your ruck pack somewhere visible and make use of it several times a day. Loading our bodies with weight has so many benefits to our cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and bone density so we need to ensure we are prioritizing it.

Great! But what is the best way to start adding these to my day?
It takes some conscious thought to start seeing movement opportunities everywhere. But once you do, it’s all you see. Kind of like “blue car syndrome” where once you notice something, it’s in your awareness more often so you see it everywhere. Eventually, you no longer have to think about it and movement variety just comes naturally.

Some easy things you can start being aware of:

*Change positions. Even if you are stuck at a desk, you have opportunities to stretch your arms overhead and rotate in your chair to stretch your back and neck. You can keep some fidgets in a desk drawer. You can be mindful of your posture and allow your body to support itself rather than relying on the chair. You can use your walk to the breakroom as an opportunity to throw in some walking lunges or do some stair sprints.
A great, short Ted X Video about proper sitting posture with some seated stretches.

*Change locations. Consider using a work break or lunch period to take a walk. Bonus points if you add rucking! If possible, move to the floor once in a while. When you are watching re-runs of The Office, take the foam roller out and use it on the floor instead of collapsing on the couch for hours after work. Here’s me hard at work in our living room:

*Stretch your arms overhead.
As adults we should be able to support our body weight when hanging from something like a set of monkey bars (or monkii bars!) or a tree branch. But how many of us can’t do that anymore? Beyond body mobility and strength, being able to hang from our arms expands our chest cavity and stretches the intercostal muscles between our ribs. For children, hanging by their arms helps to develop their thoracic cavity as well. Play on the playground equipment with the kids, it’s good for you!

I like to hold a MassCore in each hand and do static holds and arm circles. You might be surprised how hard it can be to hold a 5 pound weight with your arm stretched in front of you or to the side.You can also rotate your hands to get some extra movement in your wrists. I also like to use a yoga bolster or foam roller for an awesome chest and front shoulder stretch. It feels so amazing after a day on the computer. You can also adjust so that your lower back gets more, or less, stretch. It looks like this:

*Don’t forget your hands and feet! They both do a lot of work on our behalf, so make sure to give them some attention. Get on your Stoic mat, use massage balls, MassCores, and other objects to massage, stretch, and strengthen the bottoms of your feet. Stretch your fingers, wrists, and forearms, especially when you’ve been on your phone or computer a lot. Here are a few good stretches for the hands and feet:
Video with Katy Bowman for some simple foot exercises
Another Katy video for hand and wrist stretches

*Add weight. Give rucking a try. It might feel strange at first, wondering what people will think if they see you walking with a backpack. That’s another place we limit ourselves – in what other people think. What we should be thinking is how bizarre it is that we spend 8-10+ hours a day sitting at a desk and then another hour sitting in our car only to come home, make dinner, and sit for 4 hours in front of the TV before we go lay in bed for hours. That’s a mindset worth challenging and changing!

Exercise is a wonderful thing, but it can be easy to fall into limiting mindsets about it. We often think that if we aren’t in the gym or out walking for an hour then it “doesn't count” and then we end up doing nothing. You might not be able to hit the trail for hours today, but you can do something. Even in this moment reading this, there is an opportunity to do something good for your body. 

There have to be a million ways to add movement to our days and to stop limiting ourselves to what we believe exercise is. What works for you? I’d love some more ideas! 

Make it a wild weekend! 


Reading next

The Weight on Your Back

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.