Sustaining a fit lifestyle: The value of Primary Experience
Those of us in the fitness business are constantly trying to understand why people abandon fitness programs. In my view, part of the cause is using artificial realities for training where people do not experience fitness as a real-life activity.
IMHO most current sales hype misses the most important element of being a fit personthe deeply personal experience of training and how it activates and sustains your feeling of being alive and living in the real world.
In our tech driven society there seems to be a belief that creating alternative artificial realities around being physically fit will cause people to lose fat, exercise regularly and sustain a healthy lifestyle. Emphasizing alternative reality to promote fitness seems to me to be complete rubbish.
In altered reality fitness will supposedly come about by creating treadmills with computer screens that allow us to run on a coastal trail in California while physically residing in a duplex in Cleveland. We can also experience the thrill of virtual surfing, lifting weights that we could never move if they were not stabilized by a machine, or rowing in a simulated regatta on the Thames River.
The ersatz experience seems to have little staying power. It becomes both artificial and remote. Linking workouts to artificial environments may sound good, but apparently the personal satisfaction that comes from doing virtual training sessions diminishes rapidly.
In part I suspect that this is because the trainee is a spectator rather than a participant. Cycling against a competitor on Zoom feels dramatically different than cycling on a real road. All you really did on Zoom was beat (or lose to) an artificial person.
This is not to say that you wont sweat just as much in a virtual race as in one against another human. What is missing in the virtual world is the primary experience of being outside in nature when all these events are happening. The virtual experience omits all the things taking place around you that are part of a real-life activity.
IMHO the only thing that will enable you to maintain training consistency and achieve difficult goals is to be completely present and aware during every moment of your workouts. That means not just feeling your own movements but being tuned in to the context around your activity, but the sensations of moving real weights, driving a real cycle course, or running on a real street in the weather.
Being fully involved in the sensation of lifting, running, or another activity tends to sustain that practice for a very long time because you are doing something real rather than artificial. Real experiences are things that you participate in. The activity becomes part of who you are and what you do.
Take running for example. Since 1966 I have run 3-5 times a week for all but 3-4 weeks. Each run has its own special feel and sensations. I dont wear headphones (for zombies). I go out in the weather except in the most extreme situations.
There is something life affirming and nearly mystical about this primary experience of being out in nature as I run. The late Dr. George Sheehan used to write a column in Runners World about the magic and wonder of running outside. His words resonated with millions of runners.
Note: I have used a treadmill for running exactly twice in 56 years: Once during a snowstorm in Moscow, Russia and the other at midnight in the Frankfurt Airport (Germany).
Being present and totally involved applies to weight training as well.
As many of you recall, I have been lifting weights since 1955. Each of the training sessions was enjoyable because it was real as opposed to contrived. The weights weighed the same for me as for the next guy who lifted them. Doing an Olympic style snatch demanded every ounce of concentration I could manage. It had a completely unique feel. Pulling a max deadlift the same. No computer augmented reality.
What does this have to do with sustaining a fit lifestyle?
IMHO the exhilaration of consistently heading out into the world of physical sensations and natural feedback is something that enriches and sustains my lifestyle as a fit person. It is intensely personal as no one else knows what I am experiencing on any given day. However, other long term fitness people have told me they have a similar experience.
One of the main things is that training in real life means that I have a continuous connection throughout the day to my own physicality in the real world. Fitness is not something that happens when I put on my virtual reality headset.
Bottom line: Ignore the hype about fitness breakthroughs and amazing innovations. Focus on the many physical sensations you experience during your training and use them to your best advantage.