Less Is More With Essentialist Fitness

Essentialism Is Doing More With Less

These days everywhere we go we are inundated with options and excess. Endless streams of information and a constant barrage of choices can quickly overwhelm and distract us. In response to this cultural phenomenon, a growing number of people look to reevaluate their priorities through the concepts of essentialism. The word “essentialist” might elicit images of someone living off the grid with no possessions or attachments to material goods. While this might be an extreme case, the true essence of essentialism lies in embracing what is useful, and discarding what does not bring value into your life. There are many facets of essentialism, today I want to talk about an essentialist perspective on fitness and how you can apply it in your own life.

Fill Your Life With Value

Essentialist fitness is about demystifying the gym and/or getting creative outside the gym. The modern gym is packed wall to wall with specialty equipment and tools. This massive array of options leads to many distractions and unnecessary choices. Having spent a lot of time training and coaching in all kinds of gyms, I’ve amassed enough stories of “exercise gone wrong” to fill a book. A phenomenon that I call “gym ADD” occurs where people wander around dabbling in everything but not mastering anything. Your workout shouldn’t confuse you. Essentialist fitness is about making movement straight forward, personally relevant, and above all, effective!

A fitness essentialist focuses on the workouts that offer the highest return on investment. This is going to be different for everyone but here are 2 questions to explore that may help you find these highest value practices:

1.) What are the physical demands of your life?

2.) What physical activities do you love or have always been interested to try?

The answers to these questions will have a huge impact on what type of training is relevant to you. The workout regimen of an elite athlete probably isn’t a good fit for a business person. Fitness for a construction worker may look a lot different from that of a programmer. Essentialist fitness is about training for both the life you have and the life you want to build.

Along the way, it is important to check your ego and make your health your priority. Essentialist fitness focuses on building a foundation of skills that will serve you across the different environments and situations you will likely find yourself in. Activities like carrying a load over challenging terrain, hanging, squatting, balancing, getting up & down from the floor are all examples of movements that should be comfortably mastered before running marathons or building a huge bench press. These are examples of movements that work the body as an entire system and involve mindfulness. Isolated strength training or cardio machines may have their place, but high-value movement practices are the foundation of lifelong health.

Keep It Simple

Essentialism aims to simplify your fitness. The upside of simplicity is less decision making and more overall effectiveness. By spending more time on fewer tasks you’ll optimize your growth. You can always switch your focus every few months or with the changing seasons.

The downside is simplicity might be mistaken for monotony, and boredom sets in. I don’t want you to stick with the same 5 exercises for the rest of your life. Our bodies actually benefit from a lot of physical variety. No need to be bogged down with dozens of different exercises and concrete rules. Start with basic movement patterns and find variety by getting outside the gym. You’ll quickly see how much the environment shapes how you move.

Gain inspiration in the gym by thinking of movement in terms of play, sports, hobbies, and chores. Don’t get hung up on all the rules behind exercise. Within a simple structure, there is a huge possibility to explore and understand the movements that make up your life.

Lifestyle Integration

Essentialist fitness can be woven into your lifestyle to save time, resources, and increase your consistency. Think beyond the gym; it’s not the only place where fitness is built. Fitness follows your habits. Look to every environment that you inhabit and consider 1–2 small ways in which you could move more. In the privacy of your living space is by far the easiest. Reserve some of that space for ground movement or calisthenics, install a hanging bar or gymnastic rings, lift your jug of drinking water, use household chores as a way to practice a more diverse array of movements. Get creative and build an environment that prompts you to move.

Work and public spaces may be a little more challenging; start out with small and discrete changes. Reconsider the role of movement in the middle of your work day. Fitness does not always need to be intense, but it can be a form of play and recovery to boost your productivity and creativity. “Soft skill” movements like balancing, crawling, and throwing & catching reactivate the body and stimulate cognitive functioning all without breaking a sweat. Invest in business attire that is designed with movement in mind, materials that are breathable and have some stretch. Set a reminder 5 minutes out of every hour to loosen up your shoulders and hips or take a 5 minute walk. If you find yourself waiting in line, balance on one leg. If you’re doing computer work, rotate between standing, chair sitting, and ground sitting. Visit a nearby park and venture off the beaten path to interact with nature. In time you’ll begin to find the balance between social norms and staying healthy on your own terms.

Essentialism is defined by you!

One of the biggest challenges in the information age, is managing the massive amounts of data and options at our disposal.  Essentialism is not about depriving yourself of anything, it’s about filling your life with the people, work, play, possessions, and practices that foster personal satisfaction and happiness. When applied to fitness, essentialism promotes training with a purpose, simple & effective workouts, and putting your fitness to use in your daily lifestyle.

There is no singular way to approach essentialist fitness. The real takeaway here is that fitness has the potential to enrich our lives, when we own it. That fact is so often lost in a fitness industry that has made movement a confusing and unpleasant experience. Essentialism is a concept to define your fitness based on your life and goals. If you have the privilege of being able-bodied, then movement is a part of your human experience. Embrace it! The details will get sorted out in the process. In the meantime, move in the ways that you love and in the ways that allow you to live your life to the fullest.

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