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  • Writer's pictureScott Francis

Curiosity in the Gym

Targeted fitness programs litter the internet. 8-weeks to your Beach-body! 12-weeks to a Bigger Squat!! 4-minute Abs of Steel!!!

They have a couple things in common: a clear destination or result, a time-frame, and exclamation marks. They promise to guide you smoothly to your goal, along a logical step-by-step process. The programs set our work in front of us in a clear order, like the dotted line on a treasure map. Follow the directions precisely, reach the goal, enjoy the treasure!

But the map is not reality. The map is a tool. Maps are abstractions, grossly simplifying the world into the important elements for specific types of navigation. Road maps show highway exits, but don't include the locations of really great trees to climb. Hiking maps show the trails, but not the views you'll see. Abstractions have limitations.

Likewise, fitness programs are missing certain relevant information. The plan doesn't know how well you slept this week, doesn't know whether stress is sapping your energy or fueling your resolve, doesn't see your form, doesn't know your injury history. Unlike a GPS, a map won't recalculate on the fly. And a set fitness program won't adjust to your changing circumstances.

Another issue that plagues those on fitness templates is applicability. Templates are a clear route from point A to point B, that has (hopefully) worked for at least one other person. But what if I'm not at point A? We often see what we want to achieve, but not where we're starting. Have we done an assessment? Do we understand the movement skills or capacity requirements for beginning a given plan?

Neither of these criticisms is meant to suggest that we never use another plan to achieve a specific fitness goal. I have in the past, and will in the future. But only once or twice a year. The reason is that I have uncovered far more benefit from less-structured exploration.

I tend to get fascinated by some aspect of a movement, or a breathing pattern, or the interplay between two exercises done back-to-back, or the affect of different torque patterns, or a shift in mindset. I try little variations and see what happens. I explore. I play. I indulge my curiosity.

The net effect is that I have learned a lot about human movement, and the inputs that affect it. I've uncovered ways to gauge or manage my response to stress that I have applied outside the gym. And you can, too. I have no special talent for physical pursuits. I'm moderately athletic. My one advantage is that I listen to my curiosity. When the little voice says "What if...?" I listen & try it. I ask others about it, and some of them try it.

Curiosity is a sound strategy for learning in any environment, including the gym. Especially in the gym. Coaches often advise athletes "Listen to your body!" But what does that mean? If you're not curious about your body's capacity for work, its needs for recovery, and the little adjustments you can make to both; then you don't know how to listen to your body.

Gaining that ability takes curiosity. Be curious. It will help you avoid big injuries, because you'll learn to pay attention to the warning signs unique to your body for under-recovery & overuse when you experience little tweaks and dings.

Sometimes we need the treasure-map, to achieve that on, critical goal. But the rest of the time, consider exploring. Pay attention to your body as you move, and as you recover that night. Learn to listen to the one body you've got. Find capacities you didn't know you had. Learn the tricks you can use to keep your body healthy. Be curious.

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