As humans, we can sometimes gravitate to two states in our fitness, like we are a light switch: On/Off.
We go all beast mode or all couch mode.
100 miles per hour or parked.
That’s not always the smartest way to be, is it?
We see this often in the fitness arena. (Oooh, did you just think like Gladiator Arena? I did. Open the doors, release the barbells and the lions! Okay, back to what I was saying.) People decide they’re going to be all super-healthy-crazy-obsessed-fit … or they’re just not going to try. (In fact, some people seem to intentionally try to make their fitness experiences so unpleasant that they have an excuse to quit and retire to the couch. But that’s a whole other story for another time.)
Neither of these extreme states is the smartest, right? Uber-Fitness Mode might give you an amazing body but it can also result in unhealed injuries and (eventurally) misery and abandonment if you don’t listen to your body. Meanwhile, Super Sedentary Mode gives you the Couch Body which eventually leaves you cranky with friends and family, and also unhappy when the extreme carb rush is over. (“Oh no. Look at me. What have I done? And why am I covered in powdered sugar?“)
We know this, and yet we might find ourselves careening between the two states. Why? Because it’s kind of fun. PRs are great and addictive, and so is Netflix and cookie dough ice cream. We want it all, but having it all requires a little tinkering with our routines and our lives to achieve a proper balance for each of us.
But that tinkering is good, because you don’t have to be at extremes. There is a way to achieve a decent level of fitness and enjoy your life, and it’s summed up in this four-word philosophy: Use The Dimmer Switch.
If you’re using fitness/no fitness like a light switch with on/off periods, just stop. Realize fitness doesn’t have to be an on/off switch, and use the dimmer switch instead. Slide that lever to whatever position it needs to be in that moment on that day. Sometimes, you flood that area with light (PR Day!) and sometimes you roll it back a little bit (soreness, injury, emotional upheaval, etc). Sometimes you go HAF (figure that one out on your own) and sometimes you go mild AF, because that’s what your training or your body or your mind calls for.
But no matter what, you keep moving and doing your work. That’s the important part. And we all know that, sometimes, just keeping moving is the best you can do.
I used to have this 6am coach at my gym in Connecticut. It would be 10 degrees out and we’d roll through those snowy pastoral scenes to hit the ice-cold gym and start the day. It was brutal, even inside that old factory building.
Coach Tooner would say, “Just keep moving.”
Tooner didn’t judge your warm-up, and he didn’t judge your effort in the workout. He coached you, got you warm, kept you safe, and that was enough. He knew that sometimes the goal of the morning was to just keep moving—and that goal had to be enough. If you showed more life and like you wanted to take the world on, Tooner coached you to that level too. But often “just keep moving” was enough to get you in motion, and then you would find your own rhythm for the day.
Finding your rhythm for the day: that’s the key. That’s using the dimmer switch.
Like Coach Tooner, I want you to do your best all the time, but I also want you to remember that your best is going to change from moment to moment, from hour to hour, from year to year. Your best is not a finite, fixed moment. Your best is fluid, and dependent upon so many factors, including your nutrition, your sleep, and your emotional health, in addition to your physical state. You can do your best on one day and set a PR, but you can also do your best on another day and come in last.
So, pay attention to all those factors, and use the dimmer switch as you need to. Turn the power up, and then turn it down. Let it hover in the middle sometimes. But you have to figure this out for you. No one else can really tell you what level to be at, or how to get yourself there. A coach can help, but it’s really up to you to figure out what you can handle and how hard you should go.
And there’s one thing I want you to remember: you won’t PR every day, and that’s okay. In fact, you shouldn’t PR every day. If you do? You might be going too hard. You might have taken the exit for Wreck Yourself City. Evaluate what you’re doing, and make sure you’re getting rest and recovery.
Because (mostly) life is not PR after PR after PR. (Although that does happen at times! Yeah, baby!) Life is usually more like this:
The important thing is not where you are this moment in the “no work—good work—great work” continuum, but that you keep working. Like Coach Tooner would say, “Just keep moving.” And wear the heck out of that dimmer switch. You’ll find your way.
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