Rant 20 December 2004: Process, not product

I get very many kind emails that assume I am some kind of champ. Big Mistress smooches go out to the guy who wrote me to settle a bet with his buddy about how much I could squat: both proposed numbers were much higher than I could ever expect to see without the assistance of vitamin T, but the fact that they assumed I could do it was extremely gratifying.

I often get asked how I manage to stay fit with the burden of a full-time job plus teaching plus training clients plus not being a total social recluse. Well, I won’t bullshit you: it’s not easy. The temptation to sit on my ass in front of CSI and shove Guylian chocolates into my gob is pretty strong when the days get dark. Nobody pays me to spend a few extra hours on Sunday shopping and cooking lunches for the upcoming week so that I don’t have to rely on the cafeteria swill at work.

But just because staying fit is not easy doesn’t mean it’s not very do-able. After years of training, my number one goal is not a particular achievement, it’s a process: I am committed to regular training and eating well, no matter what that looks like. So if my squat isn’t amazing and I never conquer the world, I don’t care (of course, I would not reject an awesome squat and world domination). I am first and foremost concerned with the process, not the results. Many athletes, if not the majority, have difficulty with a regular fitness program after their competitive career ends. Their training is a means to an end: a faster time, a harder throw, or perfect tens. Their programs are highly structured and frequently controlled by other people such as coaches and nutritionists. Once they’re done, their motivation for training is often done too.

We frequently see fitness as something that is out of reach of the average person. Oh sure, that type A executive can go out running when it’s minus a zillion degrees outside, but that’s because they’re driven and insane and probably repressing some childhood trauma. And our mass media models of fitness are “perfect”: there’s no flab on them, they’d never let a gram of saturated fat pass their lips, and for sure they never sit in front of the TV on a Friday night playing video games on the Xbox, drinking beer, and crunching their way through a bag of chips. Their perky asses filmed through gauze never see the business side of a La-Z-Boy. (Actually, many fitness magazine models look as if they would crumple beneath the onslaught of a manual chore or two. Give me a sweet-faced built-for-comfort-not-for-speed farm girl any day for toughness).

Noted website author busted while engaging in nutritional crimes! Achieves high score on SSX!

Once, when I was invited to talk to a group about fitness, I arrived to meet a skeptical audience. One woman looked at my hobbitesque self with surprise. “So you’re the weightlifter,” she said. “I imagined you as an enormous blonde.” Someone in the audience asked me how often I recommended working out. I said I thought that the average person should have daily activity, but could do fairly well with three to four workouts a week. I could see people in the back shaking their head like three bouts of activity a week involved hiking to Tibet to do it.

Well, news flash. Most of us schmos trying to get and stay in shape aren’t star athletes. We’re just average folks trying to stave off decay and gravity as long as possible. Many of us have an injury or two that we have to work around: perhaps we got a little too overzealous with running, or had to move a couch up a circular staircase. On a December evening, I look around the gym changeroom, and I don’t see a lot of supermodels (although I do see some cool tattoos). I see folks who, despite pressures to do otherwise, hauled their butts to the gym on a cold winter night. We aren’t perfect, and sometimes it’s an effort to get out and do something physical, but we share a common contention that the alternative—inactivity and poor nutrition—sucks worse.

Here’s my average weekday morning.

6 am: Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.
6:10: Alarm goes off again. Groan. Pull pillow over head. Realize I forgot to set the timer on the coffee machine again. Consider blaming husband for coffee crimes. Crawl out of bed.
6:20: Coffee is brewing, thank Gawd.
6:30: Stumble around a bit, attempt conversation with husband. Glance at the paper, throw down some cottage cheese slurry.
6:40: Fire up a taped episode of my beloved CSI, haul out the weights, set them up on the living room floor, and get ready to spend half an hour pumping iron, shadow boxing, jumping rope, and dusting for fingerprints with Gil Grissom and the night shift crew.
7:15: Leap in the shower.
7:45: Grab a prepacked lunch that includes veggies, protein, and nice whole grains from the fridge, throw the container into my knapsack, and out the door I go.

Throughout the day: squeeze in a walk or a flight of stairs wherever possible. Play “I’m Late”: Run for the bus and train even if I don’t need to — this gets my heart racing, and usually this also scores me a pretty sweet seat.

Stellar? Hardly. Routine of champions? Probably not. But guess what: I do this every day, and that’s what really counts.

The process is more important than the product. The product can be fantastic! But it’s the commitment to the process that truly defines fitness as a lifestyle and a mindset.

On a seasonal note: A choice that I’ve made this season, for the past several years, is that I don’t participate in the mania of consumerism that is North American Christmas. I don’t buy any gifts. I don’t get any gifts. After a particularly flatulently baroque Christmas past, with a shriveled bank account, a pile of junk that I didn’t need or want, and spiritual nausea setting in, I resolved that I would no longer participate in the capitalist hysteria. My family thought I was nuts at first. Now they all do it too, and feel much better for it. I’d rather have a nice meal with loved ones than spend my time in line at the mall being driven mad by the sound of some pop star’s mangling of holiday music. My stress level is at rock bottom, my finances are happy, and I feel groovy as hell. Next year, consider scaling back or (gasp) cutting out the purchasing altogether. Spend $15 on a nice bottle of plonk, bake up something tasty, and visit someone you love to bring them genuine cheer instead of another fugly reindeer sweater.

Also, if you’ve enjoyed and benefited from this free, noncommercial site (ok, I did whore my book a little bit, but give me a break), consider spreading the good karma by donating something to your favourite charity in return. You can even do it online! Try CanadaHelps.org for ideas.