What Makes a Workout?

Photo of an old time gymIn an article I wrote over on my coaching blog, I gave a brief history of the gym (or the “health club” as it was known). In my research, I discovered that it was in about 1977 that the majority of the population slowly started to be introduced to the idea that gyms were a place that you could go to “get fit.” But it didn’t really catch on until the 1980s.

I was 6-years-old in 1977 (and honestly didn’t step foot in a gym until the 1990s) and yet, many of you reading this and many of my peers still have the idea that you can’t get fit if you can’t afford, don’t like, or don’t have time to get to the gym. Or more recently, don’t have a Peleton, treadmill or visit a yoga studio (real or virtual).

Interesting, eh? It really didn’t take us very long to somehow lose our innate ability to maintain our own fitness without outsourcing it to someone or someplace. And never has this lack of understanding been so pointed and obvious as it has been during this current viral lockdown.

Everyone and their dog is currently sharing their workouts on social media, asking people like me to teach some workouts they can do at home, and online workout services are gaining more traction than ever because of this lack of understanding of how to stay fit on our own. And I am not trying to shame anyone. This is a good and natural reaction but …

Give a person a workout video and they are sweaty for a day.
Teach a person how to exercise and they are fit for life. 

So, I want to make it simple for you. Are you ready?

The three criteria that a movement needs to fill in order to qualify as an exercise are:

  1. Raise your heart rate (a little or a lot)
  2. Challenge your muscles (a little or a lot)
  3. Move your body beyond your comfort level (a little or a lot).

That is all.

Here’s an example: let’s say you are carrying the laundry basket up some stairs, how can make that into an exercise?

  • Go up the stairs quicker or two steps at a time,
  • add more weight to the basket,
  • hold the basket in a different way than usual,
  • go up some of the stairs sideways.
  • Boom – you are exercising! And getting the laundry done!

Now you may be thinking, “that sounds too easy, what if I am more fit than that?”

Well, there are three factors that need to increase to create fitness, and they are:

  1. Distance
  2. Duration
  3. Intensity

That is all.

Here’s an example of this: let’s say you have been carrying that same laundry basket up the stairs for a few weeks and it is feeling easy now. Then you could:

  • increase the intensity (by adding more weight to the basket),
  • you could increase the distance (by going up and down the stairs a few times),
  • you could increase the duration (by taking each step slower and more controlled).
  • Boom – you are getting more fit from the same task!

Sure this is overly simplified. There are a lot more factors you can add in (like which body parts you want to develop) and more considerations that are fun to focus on (learning to do a pull-up) but when it comes to doing nothing (because you feel so lost) and doing something simple like this (because let’s face it, we all need to do laundry during the pandemic) I would choose this every time!