I encounter this guy, Fred, everywhere. Fred very much wants to get back in shape, lose weight, regain his fitness. He hasn’t exercised in years. He’s tried. He laces up his old Keds and runs a few miles, he hurts himself. He gives up. I suggest to Fred that he try something a little easier, kicking laps in the pool. No, he’s not getting in the pool with a lapboard. I suggest to Fred he try an elliptical machine. He crosses his eyes. No. Videos, no. Aerobics class, heckle no.
So, I have to ask, “Fred, by any chance were you at all athletic while you were growing up?”
The answer, of course, is yes, absolutely. Fred was a part of one team or another from about the age of 10 until marriage, the job, the kids came along. Fred can tell me his handicap, his averages, his speed, his distances, his events, his medals, the big game, the big night, the things his coach would say to him. He can recall to the most infinite level of loving detail the special piquant smell of his own beloved high school locker room, the taste of the victory steaks, the feeling of the pads as he geared up for a game.
Fred can’t exercise now because anything short of his early performance just feels ridiculous. He’s an athlete. He doesn’t belong on an elliptical machine. He’s a jock, he doesn’t belong in a therapy pool.
For Fred getting in shape involves exercising until you puke. His recollection of “workouts,” meant wind-sprints until he fell over, teammates fainting in their gear in the heat, running endless laps, doing endless pushups. Hours of practice every day, for a season. He tries to go back there. And of course he gets hurt. Or he makes a valiant effort for about the length of one season, and then his inner clock tells him to stop.
Just try to get this guy to go for a half-hour brisk walk every day, forever. Just try to hand this guy a set of 10-lb. dumb-bells for a few reps. A maintenance level of exercise does not compute. A metabolism-boosting level of exercise has no place in the mental model for “workout” that Fred locked into his brain many, many years ago.
You may at this point have a pretty clear picture of Fred in your mind. But I need you to understand I meet Fred in the most surprising places. I meet Fred in high school girls. I meet Fred among girlfriends at lunch. I meet Fred at the retirement village. I even meet Fred among fitness professionals. You might have a little Fred lurking inside you somewhere.
And I say to your inner Fred, and mine, and to all Freds: Just get over yourselves.
Your body needs to move every day. It doesn’t have to move perfectly, dramatically, endlessly, or until you throw up or fall down. It needs to move some. Every day. Some movement every day, some strength work, some sweat. A bit. It never, ever has to hurt you.
Just, get over yourself, Fred, and move today.