Jan 03, 2022
Get back to basics.
Crossfit, Pure Barre, SoulCycle, FightCamp, HIIT...
A lot has changed in the fitness industry since I graduated from the kinesiology program at McMaster University 20 years ago. When I started out, we were doing the basics – weight training in the gym and then hitting the treadmill for some cardio. Now, the options are so endless, it can be next to impossible to know where to start. So, I’m going to share a little secret with you. It’s something my dad taught me when I was little. And guess what? It is just as relevant today as it was then – when all else fails and you feel like giving up…
In other words, Keep. It. Simple. Sunshine.
Now, when my dad used this acronym, he went with the O.G. phrasing, noted by the U.S Navy in the 1960s, but I like to put a more positive spin on it by incorporating “sunshine.”
That said, this principle still applies to fitness today. No matter how many fab fads we come up with, we must master the basics first. In the words of Aerosmith frontman, Steven Tyler - “You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk.”
I’m not saying we should ignore innovations in exercise science, but I am pointing out that when we make things harder than they need to be it often leads to being so overwhelmed that we end up on the sofa because: a) getting started feels insurmountable or b) Crossfit kicked your rear so hard that you’re working out another acronym – RICE – because you either tweaked your back or your knee.
Get to the Core
“There is nothing wrong with being basic,” agrees master trainer and power yogi Joselynne Boschen. You can get flashy, but you have to earn it. “Earning your progression is a term we used at TRX suspension training - it means you have to master the core movement before attempting to increase the intensity.” Core as in foundation in this case. You can’t build a house on a faulty foundation. Everyone knows that.
(Suddenly this article is making me realize just how much my dad managed to get in my head.)
When we’re talking about basic, core movements include squats, lunges and planks, just to name a few. If the framework isn't solid (there’s that house analogy again) and the targeted muscles aren’t being activated, the movement falls apart, leading to over-compensation – other muscles and joints incorrectly taking the brunt of the effort – and injury.
The goal is to figure out where you’re supposed to feel the work of an exercise and to make that mind-body connection. This will enable you to perform the movement with precision. Do that again and again until it becomes second nature.
Think Before You Add Weight
If you’re struggling to keep your weight in your walking heel while in a lunge, or you're bending at the knees instead of hinging at the hips during a squat, you’re not ready to add any weights to the movement. Think about it in terms of footwear – are you going for a run in a pair of sneakers or stilettos? Even S.J.P. (Sarah Jessica Parker) admits this ruined her feet - to say nothing of her hips and knees.
Pondering the Plank
Planking is even more fraught with peril. The problem? If it looks like a plank and smells like a plank, that still doesn’t mean the proper muscles are firing. “From the position of the feet up,” says Boschen, we need to constantly be checking in with the integrity of the movement. Are the glutes engaged? Are the abs braced? What are the shoulder blades doing? Where are your hands? Are the fingers spread wide? “If someone hasn't mastered (all of) this and held it for at least a minute, why would you want to add a row or any sort of rotation that would set them up for failure? If the strength isn't there it becomes dangerous.”
So, yes, it might look like fun to coordinate your beach workout with your bestie for the IG, but you should probably stay a spectator, at least until you figure out the fundamentals.
Remember that practice doesn’t make perfect, what it makes is a habit, so if you’re doing something incorrectly, you’re reinforcing movement patterns that will hurt you in the long run.
Sound boring? Ignite a kickass soundtrack, don some sparkly stretchy pants, and maybe hire a professional to simply show you the rudimentary ropes.
As intense as this all sounds, anything you do over and above sitting on the sofa binging Ted Lasso is a form of exercise. Movement is exercise. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking the dog, hiking with the family, paddle boarding at the beach. Just being active is the goal here.
Don’t like the gym? Don’t go!
Hate HIIT? Take a pass. But honestly, this one is really good, so perhaps think about working up to it – baby steps.
You can do anything for 10 minutes. Figure out how to find joy in the process, rather than punishing yourself for having unrealistic expectations.
Remember Steven Tyler’s words of wisdom above? He also said, life’s a journey, not a destination.
Revel in the ride.
Amanda Fletcher is a writer, editor and coach whose personal focus is recovery and wellness. A prolific travel and freelance feature writer, her work has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Orange County Register, FAR & WIDE and many more. You can follow her story on Instagram @theamandafletcher and find her at http://amandafletcher.me