#3: From Couch Potato to a Moving Human Being
From playing computer games indoors, to doing CrossFit three times a week.
In addition to this story, there’s also a contributing episode which you can listen to in the Capiens podcast with Asaf Raz, a Crossfit trainer, and a life coach in the making. 📣
I grew up in a small town in Ukraine, and I wasn’t the most active kid on the block. But still, the only after-school activity for us was playing outdoors with friends, running around, riding our bicycles, and going to swim in the local river.
When I was eleven, my family moved to Israel. The adjustment was as hard as it gets for a sixth grader — the language and cultural differences have left me with almost no friends. In case that wasn’t enough, August heat in Israel can climb up to a whopping 40℃ (104℉). In this sunny hell, I wished to be anywhere but outdoors. My folks just got me my first computer (back in 1997 it was a thing), and so I became a couch potato - playing games and the piano… and that’s it. Looking back, I suspect that this state must have been some kind of mild depression.
I turned to food as my outlet, and during the years of my adolescence, I gained significant weight, reaching a peak of 113 kg (~250lbs), which was a BMI of 29.4 for me — not cool.
First Makeover Attempt
Around the age of 22, I decided that I needed a change. I went to meet a personal trainer and nutritionist who set a goal to return my BMI to a healthy range (18–25). He created a detailed diet and workout plan for me to follow, and so I began my makeover sprint. I was working out at a gym two to three times a week and followed my nutrition plan strictly with no exceptions. I would then come back every month to measure myself and monitor the progress towards my goal.
I enjoyed none of it. Both the workouts and the food were annoying and tedious as hell, but I had made that commitment to myself, so I went through with it.
Nine months later, I went down to 88kg (183lbs), which was 22.9BMI. Mission accomplished! Was I happy? Mostly not, to be honest. I mean, I did have some sense of accomplishment for reaching my goal, but it was blurred by how exhausted and anxious I was both physically and mentally. That’s when my workout routine ended.
Things I’ve Tried So Far
Over the years, before and after my first makeover attempt, I’ve tried different activities to maintain and improve my physical health. Here’s a quick recap:
I would go to work out at the local gym off and on. It always felt tedious and uninspiring — hence the poor adherence.
At some point in my life, I bought a mountain bike (trying to recover my childhood experiences, I suppose). I used to take ten-minute-rides to work a couple of times a week. Through all the years I owned that bike, I only took two off-road trips. Eventually, I stopped commuting via cycling, and sold the poor thing, after realizing that it would do no good collecting dust in the attic.
For most of my life, I had a fear of being underwater, due to an incident which happened when I was four (or five, was it?) when I almost drowned. Despite this fear, I’ve always felt some kind of natural connection to water — I just knew that I would enjoy swimming. I then went to take a T.I. class to fight the discomfort and improve my technique. For more than a year and a half, I went to a local pool about twice a week, getting more and more comfortable with water and better and better at swimming. That felt really good! Eventually, I stopped going, once I moved to a non-walking distance from the facility. I know I will get back to it at some point.
Even before attempting yoga, it always had an appeal to me. It gave the impression of a perfect balance between ones’ mind and body. Starting with the Vinyasa class, it was my first experience of exercising within a group, which I used to avoid so that I wouldn’t compare myself to others. It took me two classes to realize that I was still working alone, though. Eventually, I implemented some yoga elements in my morning stretching routines.
Crystalizing The Purpose of Exercise In My Life
About a year ago I finally asked myself one simple but crucial question: Why do I want to work out? A few automatic answers came to mind:
- “I want to be strong.”
- “I want to look fit so that I’m not shy to take off my shirt at the beach.”
- “I want to be healthy.”
All of these made logical sense but didn’t really click. I called bullshit! It appeared that I was exercising for the wrong reasons. Let’s examine them and disqualify one by one:
- “I want to be strong” — how strong is strong enough? Is it bench-pressing 300lbs? Or is it carrying your child with ease? Or maybe carrying two large grocery bags without losing your breath?
- “I want to look fit” — by whose standards exactly? Who do I compare myself to? Is it Instagram stars who make a living from their bodies and work out six times a week? Unless that’s the lifestyle I’m committed to, what’s the point?
- “Be healthy” — again, everything is relative. How active should I be to lower my chances of getting a heart attack one day? Read a dozen researches and you’ll get a dozen answers to this question.
If there’s anything that I’ve learned from my experience as a product manager it’s that I can’t get anything started before I know what the goal is and what’s the next action required to achieve it.
Clearly, the reasons listed above didn’t qualify, since they were too vague, not measurable, and not actionable.
The Secret — Fall In Love With The Process
It occurred to me that if I ever wish to have exercise (or anything else) as a part of my lifestyle — I need a different goal. I should find whatever it is that I like doing, and I should not rest (pun intended) until I do.
The second I lifted all expectations, I started enjoying the process and it finally stuck.
If I were to advise a friend, here’s what I’d say: Try as many things as you wish until you find something you really love. And you will. If you try something and don’t like it — just try something else. Be it yoga, jogging, running, swimming, cycling, weightlifting, whatever! What’s the worse that can happen? That you’ll become more capable while trying?
So here’s how my exercise routine looks like these days:
Part 1/3: Morning Stretching
My morning starts at 5:30AM (*cough* *cough* a teaser for upcoming stories on productivity). I stretch my whole body, head to toe, just to get the engine running. Next: strengthening my weakest links, like abdominal muscles and quadriceps. All in all, it takes no more than ten minutes.
Part 2/3: I Utilize Random Everyday Walks for My Benefit
Whenever an errand is within a range of 30-minute-walk — I choose to go by foot. It’s an opportunity to listen to my favorite podcasts, audiobooks or music. It also allows me to switch my mind between different states, such as decompressing after a long deep-working session, preparing myself for a meeting, or just clearing my mind. I still hate the heat, but it’s not an excuse for me not to do stuff anymore, because now I utilize my walks in ways which are beneficial and pleasurable for me.
Part 3/3: CrossFit
I do CrossFit two to three times a week. Yes. Me — the Soviet couch potato. Now I know it’s a controversial kind of sports. It’s a trend for some, a cult for others, and it’s allegedly associated with some very nasty injuries. Let’s address those for a sec:
- The injuries — Studies show that in fact, injuries occur in CrossFit with no higher frequency or severity than in many other types of sports. If you’re mindful to your technique and know your limits — you lower your chances of injury down to zero.
- The cult part — Like every good tool given to us humans, we will always find a way to turn that tool into the essence itself and therefore will lose sight of the core purpose this tool was made for.
Let me be clear about what CrossFit is for me, just to show you that the joy is in your own and unique way, and not in someone else’s playbook.
- I don’t work with the maximum weight recommended, I push myself only as hard as my heart physically allows me.
- I don’t mind not finishing a workout within the time cap, no matter what the coach says.
- I’m not going to the FMAs.
- I don’t do after-workout selfies, not even for the sake of this post.
The Joy I Find in CrossFit:
Working with body weight always feels natural to me, very close to our sapiens roots. More than anything, it feels like it develops a true capability rather than just increasing muscle mass.
In all the sports I’ve tried — I worked alone, even in yoga classes. Part of CrossFit’s culture is to encourage and push each other. I get that kind of help when I struggle, and I find it very pleasing to encourage others myself when they are in need of that mental push. Besides, some of the workouts are done in pairs and teams, where you have to complete an accumulative workout with a partner. That’s where I enjoy my responsibility for the team’s success and the fact that I can count on others to pick up the baton at my points of weakness.
The first pull up, first toe-to-bar, first double-under — are forever memorable. Each of them is a goal to work towards, a new capability under my belt, an enormous sense of accomplishment. When achieved — each of them gets me one step closer to becoming more and more capiens.
The Immediate Effect — Confusingly Positive
I started feeling good just for the fact that I’m active almost daily. As simple as that. Comparing to other people? Doesn’t matter when I enjoy working out. Being ashamed to take off the shirt at the beach? Gone, right after my first workout. Funny enough, I started feeling comfortable with what I see in the mirror way before there was an actual change to see. This proves what most of us know but find so hard to apply:
The world is always as good (or as bad) as we interpret it. If we forever judge ourselves by someone else’s standards — we will never live up to them.
The Future of Human Movement
I believe that the future of a healthy lifestyle for non-athletes lies within the freedom to vary. For example, memberships which allow access to a variety of gyms, pools, classes, courts, and boxes. Such approach unleashes the ability to combine multiple sports, juggle between them according to one’s desire, and to choose a different activity each time according to one’s availability, preference, and location.
Capiens Lessons So Far
- I realized that I started loving my body way before I started seeing any results, proving that the problem was always in my mind.
- A workout buddy is a great great idea. I try to find one in every workout.
- Setting a specific quantified goal can only get you so far. The purpose should be to find your way to enjoy the process. Accomplish that, and any goal can be achieved.
- I no longer need to compare myself to others to see that I’m getting stronger. I notice the change in day-to-day tasks like carrying patients and equipment as an EMT, or simply lifting grocery.
- The weightlifting skill taught me how to minimize the margin of error and prevent common injuries.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Back then, when I was a kid, I sure didn’t appreciate how precious my active lifestyle was. Seeing the benefits I get from my various activities today, I’m confident that incorporating movement on a daily basis is something that I would wish for my kids, and would encourage anyone to try. Implementing an active routine is not only a way to balance our fast-pace lifestyle but is also a perfect contribution to our minds’ wholeness. That’s what makes us capiens.
‘Till next time! 💪🏻
This is a very beginning of me, sharing my journey as a capable human being. If you’re human — get onboard, it’s going to be a hell of a ride! If you’re like me, and prefer listening to reading — this story is also available as an episode on my podcast, including an interview with Asaf Raz 📣.