People tend to think of fitness as a monolithic activity. You’re losing weight. You’re getting stronger. You’re looking and feeling better. It all falls under the umbrella of “getting in shape.”
But in practice, fitness has two modes that work in very different ways.
The first mode is fitness as hygiene. As annoying as it is, you have a physical body made of meat, and if you want that meat to function well and support the things you want to do, you’ve got to put in a certain amount of effort to maintain it. This means eating some food that has nutritional value without deal-breaking caloric density. It also means moving the meat, giving the joints, tissues, and circulatory system a chance to go through their processes. Also known as exercise.
Here’s the kind of activities that are in the “fitness as hygiene” mode:
- Making sure there are some vegetables on your plate for most meals.
- Drinking water instead of caloric drinks.
- Getting 30 minutes of light-to-moderate physical activity in a day, or “getting your steps in” (fitness tracking watches are good for prodding you to do this bare minimum).
- Choosing to walk or take the stairs when the option presents itself.
- Sleeping enough.
The thing about hygiene is that it isn’t supposed to be particularly noteworthy. Do you get hyped up and high-five your family after brushing your teeth? Do you post on Instagram about how you rocked your daily shower? No. You just get it done, usually out of sheer habit, and move on with your day.
When you're doing well in life, hygiene is unremarkable. This is a good thing.
When things are on track, your fitness hygiene should be seen as nothing special. Pass on the heavy drinks and desserts. Eat some vegetables. Go for a walk around the neighborhood. Take the stairs. Don’t stay up too late. It’s nothing to be proud of. It’s just hygiene.
Next, we have the second mode of fitness. This is fitness as a hobby.
A hobby is something you choose to spend your time on that isn’t directly related to your work or family. They’re something extra in your life that brings you pleasure and satisfaction. Research shows that hobbies are extremely impactful for mental well-being. Everyone needs something that they do just for fun.
People often think of a hobby as something crafty, but a hobby is anything you spend time on for the pure enjoyment and growth of the activity.
When you’re going above and beyond the fitness-hygiene basics outlined above, you’re moving into hobby territory. Here’s what “fitness as hobby” mode looks like:
- Following a planned and controlled diet.
- Looking to do a deep body fat cut, into low body fat percentages that show abs and other musculature in sharp definition. Having a clear aesthetic goal.
- Adding muscle mass above and beyond what you need for daily life. Seeking large, dimensional defined musculature.
- Being able to maintain intense exertion such as a sparring match, spinning class, or HIIT session.
- Looking to improve endurance past the needs of daily life. For example being able to run, bike, or swim long distances in one go. Trying to make and break personal endurance records in these areas.
- Looking to lift heavy amounts of weight, make and break personal bests on your lifts.
You can see the theme here is that you’re not looking to maintain basic body functionality, but to take on a challenge and see where your physical limits are. Like any hobby, this takes time, investment, and forethought to do right.
Here’s where things get nuanced.
In a given year, you’ll need to transition in and out of both modes.
Perhaps you have an active summer planned, filled with beach trips and outdoor activities. You want to shape up so that you’ll look and feel great for your summer adventures. In the early spring, when you’re starting to plan out your diet and exercise, you need to make the mental shift that you’re about to start a new hobby. Planning healthy meals takes time and money. Getting in focused exercise takes disciplined scheduling. These aren’t things you can just squeeze in when you have time. These are things you build your daily schedule around, just as you do with the other meaningful hobbies in your life.
Let’s say you get fit, have a great summer, and now it’s fall and you have a busy quarter of work ahead of you. It’s easy to become intimidated by the thought of continuing your springtime fitness routine. It was so hard! You really missed your favorite foods and drinks! It took so much time! When you’re in this mental state, it’s easy to throw your hands up and give up completely. Diet control goes out the window. Days and weeks go by between exercise sessions. Your fitness deteriorates until you find yourself gloomily making New Year’s resolutions about getting back in shape, and are into a yo-yo pattern with your fitness.
A smarter approach is, after the summer is over, to switch your mentality to fitness as hygiene. You’re no longer actively training, with all the time and willpower that takes. But you’re not abandoning your body altogether. You’re just downshifting to the basics. Your food choices are good but not overly strict. You get your half hour of exercise every day, even if it’s just a walk. You have good sleep practices. We see that people have a lot more success staying on track when they think of less intense times as hygiene rather than “maintenance”, “rest phase”, or “off-season”. You don’t have an off-season for brushing your teeth or showering, right? Same for basic food and exercise practices!
The words “hygiene” and “hobby” get you in the right frame of mind for the different modes that your year will take you through.
Hygiene isn’t hard, but can’t be skipped if you want to have a functional body.
A Hobby is fun and rewarding, but takes time and commitment if you want to see real progress.
This exactly outlines how fitness works in the real world! Use these terms in your internal dialogue and you’ll find motivation comes organically and consistently all year long!
You've got this!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder