I’m a negative person. I tend to take a pessimistic view on issues. I see the worst in situations and people. I’m quick to attack a different perspective than embrace a new idea. Offer me a new perspective and, in my head, I’m doing my best to pick holes in it. While I’m hesitant to add things, I’m quick to subtract them.
Our culture has a thirst for innovation and novelty. In the fitness industry, there’s always a new fad diet, a new exercise, or a new system with a 3 letter acronym. Especially around the new year, they always have the answer to the one thing missing from your routine. I once heard Rafe Kelly point out all the “Top 5” exercises for each body part that you needed for health, function, and a well-rounded physique. If we were to put the 100+ combined exercises they all recommended into a program, it would take forever. What was his suggestion for training all the angles, vectors, planes, and functionality of the body? It was simple: just skip the gym and climb a tree. Nature offered all the movement requirements our bodies were adapted for.
If you think about it, the original reason we were prescribed exercise was to supplement the movement no longer in our lives. This is nothing new. As technology and our mechanistic understanding of the world advances, we always find ways to “fix” things and make life “better”. We offer time-saving and energy-saving tools that allow us to be more sedentary. When this causes certain ailments we are provided medications that may come with a laundry list of additional symptoms. Now think of seemingly innocuous prescriptions like orthotics, therapeutic mattresses, or even rest. No matter what your issue is, there is always something you can buy that will take care of your symptoms or something additional you should be doing in order to counter it.
“The source of harm lies in the denial of antifragility, and to the impression that we humans are so necessary to making things function“- Nassim Taleb
It seems with more research we always find benefits of removing things, as well as consequences for those which we’ve added for the sake of convenience. We are always finding ourselves coming back to the answers that were always available but became hidden in exchange for comfort and efficiency. Do all these things we add in attempts to save ourselves trouble or heartache just create another layer of problems we have to fix? I hope not. I mean, I love my phone, my computer, my car… I think the problem might be with only adding more. There has to be a balance. We should be able to flow both directions.
What happens when we do the opposite? When we remove the crutch that makes us weak? When we actually chose discomfort over comfort? When we chose non-action over action? Instead of giving you a list of things you need to add, my challenge to you is to find things to subtract from your life. These are things that we have outsourced our physical work, our range of motion, and our movement to.
Here are some Ideas:
- Handles- Try lifting something without the convincing of handles. Maybe it’s a rock, a sandbag, or another human. For many people, grip is the limiting strength factor. Let’s get Farmboy Strong with some real-world, open-hand grip work!
- Squat Rack- Want to become a strong, well-rounded lifter? Get rid of that squat rack! This will limit the absolute strength you can do on squats but it will fill in a lot of gaps in your strength. In order to get something racked, overhead, or on your back, you have to earn it! If you want to press it, you have to clean it. If you want to front squat it, you have to clean it. If you want to put it on your back, Google the Steinborn Lift. Really, there are no rules how you can get something off the floor and on your body.
- Couches- Want more squat mobility? If you’re only training your hip range of motion for 5 minutes at the gym, not much change is gonna occur. Next time you’re watching a Netflix series, sit on the floor. It’s okay to change positions and shift to something more comfortable. I’ve already said too much. Remove the couch and the rest will happen on its own.
- Bed- It’s now been over a year and a half since I’ve got rid of my bed. The results have been amazing! First of all, I don’t wake up with kinks in my neck or shoulder anymore. Second, I’ve increased the number of times I get up and down from the floor daily. I don’t recommend getting rid of your bed completely. If this is something you’re interested in trying, start by slowly lowering your bed closer to the floor in layers.
- Shoes- The foot is our connection to the ground, our source of stability, and offers loads of proprioceptive data. A small heel lift can cause your joint alignment to be off by 20-40 degrees! If you are used to a high heel lift, start by slowly working toward a more minimalist shoe. You could also start adding short barefoot walks outside on safe but uneven terrain.
- Air Conditioning/Heating- Saunas and Cryotherapy are all the rage these days. It makes sense after hearing the many health benefits they offer. Instead of adding artificial heat and cooling, I try to take advantage natural climate changes that occur throughout the year. Where I live, it can regularly reach over 110 degrees in the summer. I leave the AC off in the car and spend the day in a gym without AC (yay free sauna!). In the winter, I sleep with the window open and the heat off. It usually never drops below 30 degrees where I am so you may have to adjust accordingly. It’s true I’m not reaching the extremes of a sauna or cryo-chamber but I think there’s something to be said for the total amount of time spent exposed to these conditions.
- Food- Are you able to skip a meal without having your day thrown off? Are you able to skip a whole day of eating and still function? Planning a fast is a great way to learn the difference between habitual cravings and true hunger. While there are many health benefits associated with fasting, I see the value in the practice of willpower and the taste of discomfort that humans were all too familiar with at one point.
- Electronics- Many of us find ourselves searching for more time in our day. The funny thing is, technology is thought to be a time-saving device. It allows us to get so much more done and in an incredibly efficient way, yet we use the extra time affords us to work even more! Even when we’re not busy, there’s an endless supply of distraction to keep us occupied. Set a time, even if it’s just 5 minutes, to unplug. What are you gonna replace this time with?
- Movement- Try standing, just standing. Prevent any movement that wants to arise, except breathing. You may find yourself wanting to shift your weight to one foot, scratch your nose, or look around. I’m not going to tell you to add meditation to your routine; I’m going to tell you to remove what is preventing the stillness already there.
- Exercises- Sometimes what we need isn't a different exercise, it's approaching an exercise differently. As I've become older, I've gained more respect for the basics. There is a richness of exploration available when you revisit an old exercise with fresh eyes and new intensions. Try restricting yourself to just one exercise in a session and explore all the ways you can approach it.
Of course, it’s not necessary to totally remove these things to see benefits. Maybe you block out windows in your schedule to remove certain things. And, in reality, we aren’t just removing things, we are creating spaces. In these spaces your body doesn’t have to be told what to do, it will figure it out. The wider the spaces we can enter, the more room we allow ourselves to expand- physically and mentally. By all means, try out new things and keep what’s useful but don’t forget to experiment with the opposite.