My husband Derick was talking a good friend in Texas recently. Our friend Lance asked if I was taking some time off from training right now (having finished my season in Arizona on November 20). I’m admittedly rather terrible at doing “no” exercise at all, as it makes me cranky, moody and antsy. I always prefer to be doing something active even when no races are around the corner. I guess you could say I just enjoy it! That said, I don’t always enjoy it feeling like ‘grind’ and ‘having’ to do such specifics most the year. Derick responded to Lance that I was indeed chilling out, not doing a lot but that I was being a “spontaneous exerciser”. And this phrase just stuck with me. It got me thinking, when it comes to advising athletes about “how much should I be doing right now”, I think this is the time of year to make it a goal to be a Spontaneous Exerciser.
Now what does this exactly mean? If indeed you’re one of those who train consistently most of the year and compete with goals in mind, it’s very healthy to loosen the reins a bit and take a different approach for a few weeks of the year. This time often coincides well with the holidays, as many of us are fitting social engagements and travel into our regular schedule. I rarely recommend doing nothing, unless you feel your body and mind really need this; then go for it. But you may find it’s even more refreshing for you to seek out new and different challenges and ways to stay active during the month of December (give or take; late November, early January). Now I’d be contradicting my Spontaneous Exerciser recommendation if I gave you too many guidelines, but I can at least explain a bit more what I mean by this.
Do what sounds fun on the given day. Try not to plan too much and too far ahead. Aim to stay away from ‘scheduling’ your exercise sessions weeks in advance. This can be tough for us Type A personalities who thrive on schedule and planning. I recently got hit with a nasty flu that left me in bed most of one day, and resigned to walking our dog the next few days as my only “activity”. When the weekend rolled around, I had the urge to go and do The Incline. This is an infamous hiking trail in town which is made up of an old railroad cog, starting at 6500 feet, rising less than 1 mile and topping out at 8590 feet. It sustains an average of 45% grade. Suffice to say, even doing The Incline easy is a lot of work. It was probably a bit lofty given what my body had been through the days prior, but the sun was shining, I was craving moving and being back in the mountains, and it just sounded like fun. So, Saturday morning I did The Incline. It was challenging and I was a little tired that evening, but then I got up again Sunday I did The Incline again. My legs paid for it the next week but it just sounded fun to do it two days in a row! So, I did. Then two days later, Derick and I took off to the mountains for 3 days of cross-country skiing. By the time my legs were un-sore from The Incline, I was waking up new muscles (glutes, triceps!) from the skiing. It was awesome! It is amazing what a lack of structure and variety in exercise modalities can do for your motivation; and simply opening your mind to new things.
Spontaneous exercising can also prove to be therapeutic; and depending upon what you’re doing, meditative. Let yourself get lost in an activity just for the sake of moving; not the sake of tracking and recording. I often find when the weather turns colder, my body craves yoga classes. Another advantage of spontaneously finding new things to do is you realize muscles you may not regularly use! Being sore in different ways from other challenges is a nice change. You may also discover things you enjoy that you never realized. Perhaps you take a hike with friends, or someone invites you out on a mountain bike ride. I guess my advice for your “off-season” is, say yes to more options. Try things you’ve never done. See what sounds appealing on the day. And by no means does it have to be ‘epic’. One of my favorite go to’s is a simple easy 2-3k swim. Swimming is what I grew up doing and it is always the one thing that, no matter what, makes me feel better. Just do what moves you each day; with less planning, less pace-checking, more spontaneity. I’m willing to bet you’ll discover something new; something fun you never knew you enjoyed. I guarantee your head, your heart and your body will thank you for the change of routine.
- Kelly H Williamson