Not all or nothing – sometimes (physical) change is effortless and incremental


A few weeks ago I read a blog post titled “All or nothing thinking will always (eventually) get you nothing” which was about how that particular axiom relates so well to diet and exercise approaches. How we set ourselves up to quit from the very beginning when we demand only unbroken training streaks or obsessive adherence to the latest eating plan. Just this morning I found myself thinking that since I didn’t go to the gym yesterday and I couldn’t go today for my regular pilates workout, there was no point going for the rest of the week because I’d already lost two gym workouts. Which makes no sense, of course, if the overall goal is fitness. But if the overall goal is finding excuses, well then we’re all capable of waiting for another day to get started or re-started.

A bit before I read that article I saw a fitness instructor to get some postural advice. Since I’ve been walking a lot (6-12 km 4 days per week  since the beginning of April and from March to April  6 km per day 3 days per week) I wanted to make sure I wasn’t  compounding any posture or gait problems that might have been held over from breaking my ankle in 2002. For the most part it turns out that my posture is fine, but I have a weak core which causes my pelvis to tip forward. This was something I had already discovered in pilates classes. Another thing that my trainer pointed out to me is that I didn’t move my arms when I walked, which she told me might account for my very weak shoulders (my shoulder girdle never being activated for days at a time).

She gave me a bunch of exercises and we also focused on how to incorporate some better practices into walking on the treadmill (like swinging my arms – how novel!)   At the time the exercises seemed very do-able when we discussed them, but because of lots of overtime and work stresses these days I am having a hard time getting to the gym. Instead, I am making sure I walk to work every single day and home 1-2 days per week because if that’s all I do alongside my regular running around I’ve gotten at least 8 km of walking into my day and that’s better than nothing.

Since that’s all I’ve been doing, plus pilates twice a week – I have focused on bringing the gym exercises into my walking. That is, I concentrate for bursts on swinging my arms, drawing my pelvis into a neutral position, drawing in my core, pulling my shoulders back and holding my chin level. And although that sounds all very simple, it does two things 1) intensifies my walking by a factor of five and 2) allows me to work on my core and other problem areas outside of the gym and during what has become a routine commute.

Guess what? It turns out that without doing anything else, after a month of this concentration, I have stronger shoulders (as evidenced by greater ability to do push-ups and planks without dying) and my pelvic adjustment into neutral (that is into proper posture) feels small and natural rather than large and difficult to hold. And I’ve noticed that overall I am more attentive to my core and that I am unconsciously making adjustments into better posture all the time.

Point being? These are changes that have taken more intention than effort, and even these incremental adjustments have lead to real fitness and health outcomes which I intend to build on.

Just this morning I found myself balking at taking the stairs at work because I knew I couldn’t make it up all 16 flights. Which is silly because even taking them two flights and then hopping the elevator is better than nothing right? So I took them four flights despite my critical voice, and hope that by next week it will be six, then eight, then fifteen – because I will work them incrementally into my routine.

If four days a week I walked 6 to 12 kilometres and focused on good posture and gait for at least some of that time, plus took the stairs up and down 15 flights once or twice a day – not to mention two pilates classes per week – I would imagine that over time I would get into pretty good shape. None of those things is particularly dramatic, but I’m confident that I can keep working my way up to good fitness by simply altering my small practices one movement at a time.

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