Small Steps

Small steps lead to great strides

June 8, 2020

It was four days before the national championships and I was in excellent condition. When I awoke the next morning I remember thinking to myself ‘Oh, well, no Nationals for me’. I knew I had the flu. After three days in bed the recovery began with a very slow ten minute walk around the block at a pace that made me feel like I was 90 years old. That was my first workout on the road to a successful decathlon 10 weeks later.

I’m not sure why the belief exists that bouts of exercise (aka workouts) need to be one hour long but that is the dominant perception out there. The truth is it all depends on where you’re starting from. In the example above I was starting from illness so that short slow walk truly was a workout. When you are new to an activity, perhaps you’ve decided to take up strength training, and are deciding on how much you should do, be very cautious in following the crowd. You need to make a rational decision for yourself. Here’s a simple guide to help in that process:

  1. Consider how much of a given activity you think you can do and not feel at all tired, sore or stiff the next day.

  2. Divide that amount in half and cautiously go do it.

  3. Take note of how you feel the next day.

The truth is, if it’s a new activity or something you haven’t done in a long time, you really have little idea how your body will respond to it. In that first workout you have everything to lose and very little to gain. If you do too much you run the risk of seeding an injury that will stop your exercising before it really begins. If you do too little, who cares! The key is you’ve learned a little about what your starting point is. From there you can intelligently and patiently build. Consistency is the key to success in training your body and patience feeds consistency. Never is patience more important at the start of the process. Begin by leaving your body wanting more.

Once you’re on your way, workouts still don’t need to be an hour – five minutes can do wonders. If you are not very physically active and haven’t raked in a year, just a few pulls through the grass will send positive signals to your body. Your neuro-muscular system will interpret this raking as its new reality and it will adapt and prepare for more. If you haven’t required your body to move in a given manner, it takes very little time doing that activity to begin the process of change.

The next step is to identify where it is you want to go with that activity. If you only ever want to be able to rake for 5 minutes each fall, then a five minute workout is all you need. However, if our goal is to be fit enough to be able to rake for thirty minutes then your workout duration and frequency should suit that goal. Five minutes once a week isn’t going to get you there. Replace ‘raking’ with ‘running’ and read that again. This goes for any activity.

The bottom line on duration is that just a little bit is massively better than none. And if that little bit features a variety of movement patterns, our bodies are left much better prepared to function in life, be it in work or play. Start conservatively then patiently build to an amount that suits your goals.

Geordie McConnell, Head Coach