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Fitness Maintenance Musings

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lately my fitness thoughts have been focused on rehabbing the bad foot so I can get back to running. I've blogged several reminders to myself to be patient about this. Today I'm thinking forward to when I can run consistently. What will maintenance of fitness look like?

Most of the easily located material on fitness talks about *improving* your fitness level. Get stronger, become more flexible, run faster, improve your endurance, lower your blood pressure and resting heart rate. For the average American, these are worthy objectives.

But it occurs to me that improving fitness is a bit like losing weight. If I'm successful, there will come a time when I'm as fit as I need to be. At that point, the challenge will be to maintain my fitness level. Aside from the fact that I can't run regularly right now, I'm pretty close to that point.

The classic response to a statement that I want to maintain fitness would be to point out that there's always something that can be worked on. To a certain extent, that's true. But there are limits to what is practical. At some point, the risk of injury outweighs the gain of shaving a few seconds off my running pace or deadlifting or benching 10 more pounds. When I get to that point, I'd like to maintain my strength, flexibility, speed, endurance, blood pressure, and resting heart rate without necessarily becoming stronger, more flexible, etc.

I want that magical exercise regimen that keeps what I have without injuring myself striving for more. Unfortunately, I don't know what that regimen is, or even if it really exists. I suspect that this is something like a maintenance diet; what works for one person probably won't be the same thing that works for another person.

One of my personal challenges for maintaining fitness is the voice of Mr. Testosterone telling me I'm not doing well enough. I caught him at it today. I was feeling like I wasn't doing much, as this is a non-running day. But when I look back at what I have done, I see three sets of 12 neutral grip pullups this morning that went very smoothly. The pushups were easier than a couple weeks ago, too. And I got in my TGUs and snatches while the steel cut oats cooked this morning, which hasn't been a given for me lately.

Maybe this is what fitness maintenance looks like. Do something every day, even if I'm not terribly motivated. Let the amount be steady for a while, and then switch to other exercises (e.g., DB renegade rows trading off with KB TGU/windmill combos) instead of straining for more and more weight. And live with the doubts about whether I'm working hard enough.

I don't know. I can push the hard thinking about maintenance to the back of my mind as long as I'm trying to improve. And right now I'm certainly trying to improve my running by gently rehabbing that bad foot. But eventually, when I can run regularly, I may face this same issue: Where do I stop pushing for more, and what does maintenance look and feel like when I get there?

Some people live with fitness cycles. They train for an event, be it a marathon or a triathlon or a 100 mile bike ride or a weight lifting competition. This produces a cycle of trying to get the fitness to peak for the event. Intellectually, I understand this. Done accurately, fitness reaches an attainable but not sustainable level for the event. Then there is post-event rest and recovery, before training for the next event.

I'm not opposed to participating in events, but I don't think that training for the next big event is going to be an ongoing way of life for me. I might end up putting a half marathon or even full marathon on my bucket list and training up to it, but I can't see myself in an ongoing event training cycle as a way of life.

So I think about what maintenance of fitness will look like if I'm not training for a big event, I can do everything physical I want to do, and I need to keep what I've got without risking injury trying to become higher/stronger/faster. It's a puzzle, and I hope I can stumble my way into a solution when I need one.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Lots of food for thought in your blog. I'm relatively new to maintenance and have concerned myself more with the nutrition part. I'm still trying new exercises and sports to see which I enjoy and would like to continue with. It seems like it's an ever changing set of nutrition and fitness goals.
    1851 days ago
    emoticon You'll probably have to figure this out more than once as life throws you hurdles and as you change. For myself, I like having the event.
    1894 days ago
    You put in to words my not-so fully-formed thoughts about exercising for events. While training, it helps motivate me and push me but I have had trouble going back to a regular training (and I'm not even training that hard like one would for a marathon or tri).

    Very interesting.

    Let us know if you find that "magical exercise regimen that keeps what I have without injuring myself striving for more."

    Thank you for sharing with us!
    1910 days ago
    I guess I am a bit of an oddity. I love having "events" that push me to my peak physical state. Without an event, I feel a void, but I have no trouble continuing to work out and doing the things that give me joy. I love cycling - the freedom it offers and the fact that it's less body-impacting than running.

    Since I live in Colorado, my cycling is affected by the weather. But then I switch to other sports, like snow-shoeing or hiking. And I continue to cycle throughout the winter, but just less often and shorter distances. I most love being outdoors, but I have a nearby club that offers me plenty of classes and other opportunities to get in weight-training. Look towards your passions to help motivate you to keep in shape. Plan a vacation where you can do the things you love to do, especially if you can't do them where you live. Now that you're an empty-nester, you might have more time to get away and enjoy an active vacation!
    1913 days ago
    Great blog! As I approach 65 years of age its something I have to continually remind myself of!! I ran 5 marathons in my younger days before being sidelined with a knee injury. For now I'm sticking with half marathons (which are MUCH easier to train for!) but I have to admit the old marathon bug has been buzzing around in my brain! As if to remind me I am no longer 40 I'm experiencing a small knee issue now. I consider it a healthy reminder - I really don't have anything to prove to anyone, INCLUDING me!!
    1914 days ago
    I've been a yo yo dieter and weight loss person my whole life. This was a unique perspective to me because my exercise / fitness goals have always been to improve in some way. I've never reached or come close to the question of what happens when your goal is not to improve but maintain. Tripped me right up!! So I'm sorry to say I can't answer your question. Maybe maintaining is just like a habit, something you do to keep the status quo, so you might not necessarily feel like you worked out harder. Hope you find your answers and I hope your foot is back to 100% soon. Have a great day! :)

    emoticon emoticon
    1914 days ago
  • OOLALA53
    Glad you're having fun.
    1914 days ago
    I really appreciated this blog as this is precisely what I have struggled with over the past 3 years. As a former competitive athlete, SP was my first experience in dieting and exercising for (post baby) weight loss....and now, 3 years into maintenance I struggle with staying motivated to exercise - keeping it interesting and challenging enough to keep me coming back and at the same time maintaining a satisfying level of fitness. With no 'end point' such as an event, there seems to be little sense in 'peaking' either.....

    Great blog and wonderful to have this perspective! Thank you for sharing!
    1915 days ago
    Best wishes on your recovery and rehab of the foot. Like everything else in this program, I think it all boils down to keeping things in balance and in the proper perspective. Tough call.....thanks for leading the way!

    1915 days ago
    Hope your foot is back to normal soon. Foot injuries can take so long to heal. Wonderful blog and great perspective. Thanks for sharing it. emoticon
    1915 days ago
  • KANOE10
    Good blog. I am not sure where my fitness will end up either..I like what you say about always trying to improve. That is my goal also.
    1915 days ago
    It's interesting reading this after realizing just the other day that we sometimes have to handle "maintenance" in other areas of our life as well. Even if we're doing well financially, we have to work to maintain that and avoid pitfalls that could lure us back to an unhealthy financial state. Even if we're in a successful relationship, we have to work to maintain that and avoid pitfalls that could damage it.

    And like you're describing with fitness, it is possible to push for peak performance in an unsustainable way (misers come to mind, putting so much effort into savings they do without needed things now) or in cycles (couples who go all out for holidays, but barely acknowledge each other day in and day out).

    One key I would say about this level of maintenance that sometimes is forgotten: Maintaining is not about staying ~exactly~ the same. Nothing stays exactly the same. Goals change, circumstances change, the environment changes, we change. A couple coming up on their 40th anniversary is not the same as they were as newlyweds, even if their relationship is just as strong.

    Oh, and one thing that several other replies bring up - purpose. Sometimes it is a matter of finding the physical activities we want to be doing (aka kayaking or rock-climbing or hiking). Consider ... what's the purpose of a pull-up and the stronger shoulders and arms it produces? To flex in a mirror? To see that we did 2 more than a month ago? Or to lift a kayak onto a car, pull ourselves up a cliff-face to a new ledge, or dunk another 3-point shot? Find the purpose to the fitness and that becomes the goal rather than "just five more".
    1915 days ago
    Like some of the others, I have been in maintenance for 14 months, still working things out. I feel like since this is a way of life, there will be changes along the way. Sometimes what we want to do doesn't appeal to us down the road. there are so many options available now that we have got control of the weight, it's just keep trying what works and life will get more comfortable and normal feeling as time goes by,
    Be strong, stay positive.
    Tisha emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1915 days ago
    emoticon emoticon
    1915 days ago
    I agree about training for the next event. When it comes right down to it, the only reason I ever run is to get ready for an event, but I dislike running, so as soon as the event is over, I stop running...until someone talks me into another event.
    1915 days ago
    Good read!! A lot of positive and thats always good to hear. Sounds like you'll be planning and plotting along the way here.
    It'll keep your brain "toned" over the winter!
    Good health in all area's is whats its all about so keep at it.
    Have you tried (or do you already have) a Fit Bit?? I love mine! It's given me a whole different approach to keeping in shape. : )
    1915 days ago
    You have given me much to think about Mobycarp! Hmmm! Maybe things I don't want to think about. It will come. Keep up the good work!
    1915 days ago
    Fitness maintenance- where you are at -at times makes the most sense. Thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts. Good blog.
    emoticon emoticon
    1916 days ago
    Very good blog. Right now I'm training for my first half marathon. Don't think I want to do a full marathon. Might go for a triathlon. After that, I'm not sure. Perhaps staying in shape to run a 5K monthly or a little less frequently. I've been thinking about trying a personal trainer for more intense strength training. But you've got a good point. At some point the goal becomes maintaining fitness. And, of course, with age reality is we are not going to maintain. We are going to get a little slower, and strength may diminish a bit. But at least at events there are age group competitions. Staying fit for our age may become the goal.

    As you find the answers for you, I hope you will continue to share. Very interesting. Thanks for raising this issue. I had some thoughts along this vein, but you have helped me think a bit further. -Marsha
    1916 days ago
    Interesting ideas, both in your blog and in the comments. Like the others, I haven't figured it out either. There are certain activities that I enjoy and others that I wish to try. My definition of fitness is a level where I can participate in those activities, feel satisfied with my level of effort, and not become injured.
    1943 days ago
    When you figure it out, let me know. I have
    been working on this for some time and have
    no firm conclusion either.
    1943 days ago
    I figure it's about doing what makes me happy.

    Kayaking makes me happy. Therefore, I train to sustain a level of fitness necessary to enjoy that, as well as I can. For me that involves a particular strength to weight ratio and flexibility.

    For someone else it might be about a certain running speed, or being able to lift a certain proportion of their body weight, or looking good for a bodybuilding competition.

    Unless you work at it, fitness does tend to slide. And the line between sustainable and achievable is a personal one, depending on how hard you're interested in working. This is why I suspect most of the resources out there are about improving fitness, just as most resources about weight are about losing it...
    1943 days ago
    Interesting thoughts and perspectives!
    1943 days ago
    Very interesting thoughts about fitness maintenance!

    I have a mental image or perception of being fit, and a general good mood associated with fitness. My body feels right, so I'm happy to be like this.

    For strength training I do the same basic exercises, swapping one or two at a time, but length and intensity is about the same. It keeps my core and upper body muscles toned and shaped, so I'm content. Running does the same for my legs. May sound too easy but when I stopped doing it for just one week, I lost muscle tone rapidly and had to work to get it back!

    There is more pace for improvement in running as my pace is still quite slow, but I'm not working on that, as hopefully I have 25-30 years of running ahead of me, and my pace will improve anyway over time.
    1944 days ago
    you raise good questions here - i need a goal, whether an external event (not to excel, but to get it done), or a personal challenge type goal. but maintenance is a phase like weight loss - it needs its own strategy, it's just (?!) a matter of figuring out what works! emoticon emoticon
    1944 days ago
    1944 days ago
    I liked this blog . . . maintenance is not just about maintaining weight loss, it IS about maintaining fitness at the sustainable (not highest achievable) level. I don't compete and I can't run anymore (having overdone that in the past and ground out a hip and a knee), but I do love "changing it up": golf in the summer, cross country skiing in the winter, and varying my gym routine all year round. Right now I'm trying the rowing machine for cardio (instead of the elliptical cross trainer) and really liking that.
    1944 days ago
    Some of fitness is just fun. I really love my yoga, and spin, and weight lifting. I hope I will continue to get fun out of fitness so I will continue to do it. Nothing is going to keep me alive forever, but I want to be fit enough to do the things I enjoy doing.
    1944 days ago
    If you figure it out before I do, let me know! I don't have Mr. Testosterone, but I do have Polly Perfectionist, and the competitive "a bridge too far" syndrome. I seem to need to have something to be training for because I won't do the activity "just because". I have to be scared to death of embarrassing myself in six weeks or some such!

    emoticon That said, I don't train for peak performance. I train not to embarrass myself. And to not get injured. And to keep wanting to do it again.

    What happens as a disaster is that I listen too much to Polly and take on one more goal than I can juggle. Then it all unravels.

    Something I HOPE I've learned in the past three years is how to draw "a line in the sand" and allow myself to drop back to a basic level of fitness activity that I *will* not give up, no matter what. For me, that has been 30 minutes worth of brisk walking a day, and some strength training thrown in. But I've noticed the line has shifted a bit since the Summer's highly athletic time... I don't want to lose the triathlete edge.

    What's a body to do, as the light begins to wane and the hibernation temptation kicks in? Stay tuned... we'll see how a trip south and a half marathon on the opposite end of the calendar works out!

    Great to see you trying to figure it out, too, though. We SHALL have lives worth living... one day at a time! emoticon
    1944 days ago
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