Regression is Good for the Soul

maxresdefault “Go Hard or Go Home!” 

“Beast-Mode Activate!” 

“Be Stronger than Your Excuses!”

First, let me apologize for the excessive exhortative nature of my industry, the fitness industry.  So many of the messages contained in Pinterest memes, advertisements and (eek!) even trainers’ Facebook posts sound like a locker room pep talk for the state championship.  Leading you to believe that if you are not working out so intensely that you either collapse when done, or limp for 3 days afterwards, it does not count.

Not true, it does count.  Lower intensity workouts have their place: they are good for your body and your soul.

Good fitness training does not mean going “all out” all of the time.  In fact, most experienced personal trainers write workout programs for their clients that include a week or a phase of pulling back and doing a bit less.  A lower intensity week gives your body a chance to recover from prior workouts, and to get stronger.

So this week, I was in the midst of a pull-back phase; I decided to regress.  Regressing, or regression, in training means to go back a step, to reduce the intensity or complexity of an exercise.  For example, a standard push-up is done on hands and toes on the floor.  A regression of a push-up would be to place the hands on an elevated surface; raising the upper body reduces the difficulty of the exercise.  It makes the exercise easier, but more importantly, achievable.

This week, my workout regressed from adult to child.  Usually I work out in the gym; this week, I took my workout outdoors to the playground.  No headphones, no bro-dudes, no sports drinks, just sunshine and an unscripted afternoon of play at the Kid’s Kingdom, a giant playscape of forts, ladders, ropes, slides and sand.

At first, I just watched the kids play, observing how they approached new challenges. What I noticed about most of the children (if they were not coached by parents):  they did not quit.  If they tried something and it didn’t work, they tried again.  If they looked silly, if they flailed about, they kept going.  If they could not achieve getting up a tall obstacle, they looked for another way to conquer it.

Almost intuitively, they did “intervals”; worked hard for a short period of time, and then rested or played.  They climbed up the side of the fort using great effort, and then stood at the top looking out, shouting in excitement to their parents who were watching below, about their accomplishment.   To the kids, though, all of it . . . the climb, the rest . . . was play.

And regression was the name of the game.  A toddler, feeling unsteady on her feet while climbing up an inclined web of ropes, instead, squatted down onto hands and knees.  Instinctively, she dropped her center of gravity and adapted to the activity by finding her ability level.  She regressed.

imagesSo I followed their lead.  I tried and tried again.  I fell down and started over.  I flailed about and didn’t care, but kept up my effort until I figured it out.  When I got done climbing up a rope and  brachiating (going hand-over-hand) on an overhead ladder, when I was just a bit breathless, my hands burning from my effort, I rested at the swingset.  I sat in a swing, pumped my legs back and forth, flying into the feathery clouds of the blue sky, and enjoyed the little tickle in my stomach as I dropped back down the other side of the pendulum.  I felt the breeze in my face, watched strands of my hair stream out beside me, and forgot about muscle building, protein shakes and PRs (personal records).

It was one of the best workouts I have ever done.  It wasn’t work, it was play . . .playtime that was deeply soul-satisfying.

Which made me think, why are we so afraid to regress, to go backwards, to go back to what works?  Although, forward seems to be equated with success, forward does not always mean progress. Progress is not an arrow-straight trajectory on a chart.  Forward can be fraught with obstacles that may take more skill and energy than we have available.

Regression can mean rest and recovery.  It may mean returning to a level of exercise that helps you build a better foundation for future endeavors.  Regressing back to what we know builds confidence, grounds us and offers us a chance to slow down, reflect and plan.    When you get lost, you retrace your path back to a place that is familiar, and then use that spot to orient yourself.

When I was about 35, after a very bad break-up, I was lost and unsure about the next step forward.  I happen to re-read my old diary about a time previously where I was content, noticing some common factors contributing to my state of peace.  They were: God, Exercise and Music.  During that happy time in my life, I was actively pursuing a spiritual relationship; I was physically active every week; and I listened to music (a natural mood elevator) daily.

Going backwards is not failure, but, at times, fortifying.  Many times over the years, I have returned to those three cornerstones, reminding myself they will give me the support to go forward.  Building strength is a life-long process of forward and back, progression and regression.  And sometimes, to make progress, we have to regress, gathering our internal strength by feeding our soul.

How could you make a workout more like play?  What are your cornerstones that you can go back to?  What feeds your soul?