Not long ago my husband asked my daughters to clean their rooms. There was a fair bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Not because they hate cleaning their room, although that is true. They were upset because it was Monday. They clean their rooms on Tuesdays, they exclaimed. It’s just how things are done.
Some routine in life is good. Studies have shown that routines can provide comfort and security for children. Routines calm babies and assure adults. Many of us fall into natural routines as we figure out how to fit a busy life into seven days each week. Having a routine keeps me from losing my keys daily.
But often we let routines take over. We shut off our brain and do something because it’s what we always do. We move through our days in a fog, with no conscious reason behind our actions. Ask any driver’s ed teacher, fog is dangerous.
When it comes to fitness, moving with intention is the only way to move. The majority of members who attend my classes begin their fitness journey with clear motives. The most common motive is weight loss, but quickly transforms to something deeper: clarity of thought; better sleep; more confidence; more patience. These positive changes motivate them to make better daily choices.
After some time, working out becomes habitual. That’s what we want, right? We want to form good habits. But when we replace focus with habit, we risk becoming complacent. Complacency is where progress goes to die. After putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations, it’s normal to crave the familiar, so we attend the same classes. We use the same weights. We perform the same exercises day in, day out. Week after week. Month after month. Because it’s what we do.
I found myself in this complacent place a few years ago. After teaching fitness classes for more than a decade, I felt strong enough. I was working out every day, in better shape than I’d been in my 20s. But I’d grown stagnant. The days of marked progress had become a hazy memory. Not because I was old, but because I was going through the motions. I was lifting weights because that’s what I did on Mondays. I was practicing yoga because it was Friday.
How did I shift from moving through a routine to moving with intention?
First, I found a deeper reasons for pursuing fitness again. I couldn’t change the daily nature of my job. People were counting on me to teach certain classes on certain days. I had to pinpoint what initially drew me to group fitness. The answer was clear. I craved the strength and confidence I gained when I first began teaching. I hungered for that time when every format was new and the physical progress I saw as I tried to master them was a weekly victory. The desire to conquer a challenge was still inside me, and I wanted to challenge myself again.
Second, I targeted a specific goal that would elicit that strength and sense of accomplishment I craved. Last year I separated my shoulder in a cycling accident. The subsequent recovery set me back in terms of upper body strength. I wanted it back. As much as I hate push-ups, I hate not being able to do them more. I wasn’t sure my shoulder would let me do them as well as I had in the past, and that’s what drove me forward. Tell me I can’t, and I’ll show you I can.
Third, I identified a timeline. I wanted to do the class’s push-up sequence on my toes before the one-year anniversary of my accident. It was slow going at first, and frustrating throughout, but I’m happy to say that I’ve done it with three months to spare. But I’m not done.
Fourth, once I achieved that goal, I immediately identified another. Rinse, lather, repeat. My current focus is upper-back strength, specifically bent-over rows.
When we move with intention, we focus on the moment. We push away distraction. We discard excuses. The result is increased strength in body and mind.
My class members hear this lecture daily. If it’s time for bicep curls, we focus on engaging the biceps. We’re not there to throw weight around. It’s about muscle, not momentum. Swinging hand weights around won’t get you stronger biceps. Engaging the core, squeezing the triceps at the bottom of the bicep curl and not allowing the torso to throw the weight up and letting gravity pull the weight down will get you stronger biceps. Our intention is to work the bicep, and for those few minutes, it is our sole purpose.
I still love routine. Tuesday is for cycling. Saturday is long run day. Wednesday is all about Total Body Conditioning. But every day has a goal. Every exercise in every class is done with focus. Every push-up has a purpose. Don’t get lost in the fog. Move with intention.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor, marathoner, and Feetures! ambassador. Follow her running and fitness adventures at www.kiminthegym.com.