I confess, I’m not really a minimalist. But I do believe in “optimizing what you have,” and at times that can resemble a bare-bones approach. For instance, one aspect of my life that I have always had trouble in is health. As a youngster I got too engaged in the internet and video games, and neglected much physical activity. Over the last couple of years I have made a somewhat conscious approach in trying to exercise more and take better care of my body, but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done (and most of it is mental, not physical).
I believe that unless I can integrate a healthy attitude long-term, there is no point in pursuing a healthy lifestyle. How many people do you know who literally work their butts off to lose weight, but then have trouble keeping it off? What happened is they overcompensated in order to meet a short-term goal, but they ultimately tired themselves out. They aimed for short-term gratification over long-term growth and sustainability. Thus, the results of their efforts didn’t last.
This is one pitfall of making any health-related goal that aims to meet a certain deadline. Sure it may motivate us up until a point (it’s an external motivator), but it may not instill the internal motivation we need to become a truly healthier person over the course of our lives. I find that health isn’t so much about a gym membership, or joining a sports league, or buying a treadmill, but an attitude we create about our bodies, one which greatly influences our habits.
In this post I am going to go over the bare essentials toward cultivating a healthier lifestyle. In the second half, I will go over some of the ways I apply these skills, as well as a couple material possessions I think will greatly aid any workout.
Bare Essentials of My Minimalist Workout
Yes, awareness is important. If not for any other reason then because it is the one constant in all conscious action and decision-making. The more aware you are of your body, the more attune you are to its needs and demands. When I go extended amounts of time without exercising, I feel and notice my body getting weaker and having less stamina. On the other hand, when I am working out on a frequent basis, my body feels stronger and my stamina increases. This is just one example of how your body sometimes signals whether or not you are treating it right. Eventually, you’ll notice more subtle things. After sitting at the computer for an hour or two, you’ll notice your muscles begin to ache because they want you to move around. The more aware of my body, the more I know when its a good time to get up, go for a walk, or do some stretching.
Enthusiasm is just another word for drive, passion, or intrinsic motivation. It’s commonsense: if we are going to commit ourselves to something, then we need to have the desire to do it. It is much easier to stick to an activity when we don’t think of it as a chore or obligation, but it is something we derive joy just from doing it all on its own. You can integrate enthusiasm into your health life in a number of ways. First, you can identify physical activities you already know you love – maybe you like nature walks or a particular sport you used to play a lot as a child. Secondly, you can create your own fun activities: maybe you can challenge someone to a competition, or make a game out of your work-out routine. You can also instill enthusiasm by listening to music that pumps you up (studies show this can work) or finding a workout environment that inspires you. Find ways to make health fun and it’ll become second-nature.
I imagine that because we are all unique in different ways, we each should have a slightly different workout routine. Some people like running in the mornings, others at night. Some like team sports, others like going solo. Other preferences may include outdoors/indoors, what exercises to do, what machines to use, how often to work-out, how long is each workout, etc. You can’t go into your healthy lifestyle with a predetermined blueprint of how you should act; you need to explore these options on your own, find what works and what motivates you personally. Take suggestions from your friends, family,coaches, and fitness gurus, but experiment with advice before making it a fixed part of your routine.
This is related to exploration, because you should always be testing your limitations and working to overcoming them. All the hurdles and obstacles you encounter help define your path toward improvement; don’t be discouraged when you find your abilities limited, instead use that limitation as a measuring stick for growth. When you overcome it, you know you are putting in the right work.
I think if you get these 4 attitudes down in regards to health: awareness, enthusiasm, exploration and boundary pushing, then you are well on your way to living a healthier lifestyle. Over time, you will cultivate new habits, see the costs and benefits, and know what works best for you. Most importantly, you will be in it for the long haul.
Some of my personal applications of these tools include:
Mindful Stretching/Yoga – This is one of the best ways to start increasing awareness of your body. When you stretch, you automatically turn your awareness to your muscles, joints, tendons, and posture. You’ll be able to identify the boundaries of your stretching, and over time notice yourself becoming more flexible and fit. With some exploration, you’ll discover stretches you never knew you were capable of, so be ready to experiment, but don’t do anything that causes too much pain or discomfort. Start with the main muscles and go lightly, then as you become more stretched out explore your boundaries. I prefer to stretch every morning to help wake myself up and get the blood flowing. When I do, I am usually more aware of my body throughout the day as well.
Use your body weight – You really don’t need much more than your body and some space to start working out. Pushups, crunches, planks, side planks, knee bends, squats, lunges, etc. Find ways to use your weight and gravity to work out different muscles. Here is one really inspiring video of some exercises this guy does with just his body and a living room. You can tell he knows how to have fun and be enthusiastic about his practice:
Use stuff around the house – I bet you I can choose almost any furniture in the house and come up with 3-5 exercises. I know it sounds silly, but we really don’t need to go to Sports Authority to pick up an exercise machine if we want to start building strength. Some common things I use are: chairs, backpacks, stairs, jugs of water, etc. It takes a bit of creativity and exploration, but you can come up with a full body workout if you put your mind to it.
Use anything else available to you – As I said at the beginning, my approach to minimalism is essentially “optimize what you have.” If there is a track a couple blocks by your house, use it to run on during the weekends. Or, if you are like these guys, you can use a local playground to do some serious muscle-building.
I like sharing videos like these because I think fitness is something we can all be more innovative about.
Isometric exercises – These are certain kinds of exercises involving the static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint. You can do many of them with just your own body, or you can do them against a wall. Here is one example of an isometric exercise designed to tone your chest. Here are some other isometrics you can do in your car at a stop sign or red light. You can find many more of these by searching on YouTube or Google.
Although this article is mainly about optimizing your fitness without the use of weights or machines, I think there is a lot of diverse stuff you can do with just 2 or 3 sets of dumbbells. Here is a great resource that shows over 75 exercises you can do, including exercises for your shoulders, biceps, triceps, back, legs, and more.
In addition, I like having hand grips around, just because they are so easy to do while surfing the internet, or reading, or watching TV.
I also highly recommend working out where there is a full-length mirror (if you don’t have one, I would suggest picking one up). This is crucial if you work out alone (like me) because it’ll help you correct your posture and body awareness.
Now that you’ve found out a little about what I do (and some others), it’s time you start cultivating your own fitness practice. If you are someone who already goes to the gym several times a week or plays sports, you can add some of these ideas into your day to help bring your fitness to another level. If you are someone who has very limited experience with fitness, these are some great starting points.
Please share some of your own tips in the comment section. And if you are interested in more content about self-improvement I recommend joining my newsletter.