Act First, Think Later…

One more re-run this week while I settle back into my post-holiday routine.  Please check back Friday, January 21 for a fresh column on a fitness subject yet to be determined. 


In any field of invention or application for early man, actions preceded structure. In the dawning age of man, this applied to everything. That is, things happened first and man, as his intellect grew, applied rules to his actions. After he recognized what had transpired from his actions, man then considered how that which had transpired might be improved upon and/or communicated to others. He applied structure to his actions to enable this. We call this institutionalism.

The (crude) analogy is this: Maybe 100,000 years ago an upright hominid may have hit a stick on a rock several times in succession. The she-ape beside him might have heard this and moved her hips to the rhythm and the sound. He might have noticed her movement, liked what he saw, and chose to hit the stick on the rock again in similar patterns. This course might have been observed and copied by others. The beginning of music might have been born this way – everything else after would be derivative of that.

 As man evolved, music evolved and expanded, was more widely practiced, and along the way became institutionalized. Evolved from and applied to music, long after the fist stick hit the first rock, were patterns, time signatures, notes, scales, bars, measures, etc. Over time the evolution of those boundaries became primary to music, and now the great majority of creation in music is taught to begin from within those literal borders. The initial act though, the stick on the rock, preceded these rules and was free to go wherever it might have gone, without fear of violating institutionalism.

 This applies to all avenues in life; faith, business, politics, science, art, and sport. First there was action; a stone thrown through a basket from a great distance away. Then there was the institutionalization of that action; the foul shot at the free throw line. Institutionalization is the largest part of the process — the process of how we have learned, and how we have advanced as a species. However, institutionalism is also how counter productive paradigms have been created. Actions born of those paradigms, can be why we have often faltered as a species. It takes free thinkers to identify and break from stale, or counter productive paradigms.

Like these other areas, fitness and exercise have been excessively institutionalized into a rainbow of paradigms. Some fitting and appropriate paradigms offer utility for the improvement of a man, and provide a reasonable path he can walk upon in achieving his goals. Others, stale and counter productive, silently steer a man away from his goals, despite his best intentions and the intentions of those directing him.

 Man has likely been taking inventory of himself and striving to improve himself with exercise since shortly after, or perhaps even before, that first stick was hit against that first rock to create music – exercise is that historic, and for many reasons. The act of exercise, be it for testing, for competition, or for self-improvement, had to be born of man’s inherent movement and abilities. I am not convinced that the institutionalism of recent science and research can contribute as much to a man’s exercise and wellness, as an individual man can contribute to himself by way of his own trial and observation – the scientific method on a very personal level. That is just my belief.  

I think of the elderly woman who came to work with me a few years back because she was having trouble getting in and out of her car. So we exercised. I took her to her car, supervised her, had her get in and out of her car cautiously several times during her first workout. We continued this over many weeks. In time, her ability to get in and out of her car improved markedly. I have little doubt that an educated physical therapist would have not used this approach. More likely, he would have just slipped her into a physical therapy paradigm, with minimal results.

On a large scale, the body doesn’t know 6 repetitions from 12, nor 3 sets from 5. What the body understands much better is fatigue, range of motion, and reasonable exercise form. Much can come from applying fatigue, range of motion, and proper exercise form within whatever number of sets, reps, poundages, and days per week one chooses – relative to one’s goals. Form is key. If one practices exercise form, based on what his instincts tell him about how that movement should transpire, he will likely move properly.

Though I appreciate the value of structure in exercise, I don’t always follow the traditional rules of exercise and encourage many of my students to do the same. Much of what I do and what I teach in the way of movement, I invent. Movements should be born of consideration for the objective one trains for – how exercise might help enhance and protect our lives, or allow us to reach our goals. This desire differs with each individual. 

Even standard exercises have less rights and less wrongs about them than one might think; a bench press done to the neck versus one done to the base of the chest. Lunges done in conjunction with a dumbbell arm curl, an overhead press, or juggling chainsaws. Proceed with caution, and mix things up. Explore range of motion.  Pay attention to form. Don’t cheat an exercise. Breath fluidly. These are the primary rules of exercise. Most every other rule is just someone else’s agenda – rules which limit possibilities. 

I’ve recently come to believe the world would be better served if individuals spent more time writing bibles than reading them.  That is, defining who one is in this way might serve the individual, and the world, better than copying who someone else is pretending to be.  Those who suggest that certain rules should always be applied to certain actions in exercise might be limiting your exercise progress. Further still, those rules might be limiting your enjoyment and your creative outlet with your exercise and your own body. Of course the same could be said of your faith, your business, and your politics. Be well. rc


As always, thank you for dropping in.  Please check back next week.  Oh, and there is this, from the genius that is Knut Reiersrud.  Few color outside the musical lines as well as Knut.  Enjoy…..

8 responses

  1. Very nice! I think often we all overthink exercise and in a rush to lose weight (or whatever the primary goal is) we lose sight of how exercise can enrich our life. Instead we perform the exercises we hear are the best in the fashion we are told will yield the best results and then find ourselves losing interest – and then give up.

  2. I really like this post.
    Our lives are becoming less and less natural. Fitness used to come from daily activity one had to perform to survive: we had to run, throw, bend, lift, walk, climb, reach. Now for most of us in order to be fit we have to engage in exercises that don’t always translate to functional fitness. I love it how you taught the elderly lady learn to perform tasks she had trouble with. I am sure that was the best and the quickest way to overcome her difficulties.
    I think what I am trying to say is that the more we stray from what is natural to us the more we try to second guess Nature the more artificial all becomes infused with dogma and egos.
    I like to look back at where we came from before deciding if any advice on fitness or nutrition makes sense. Our pre-ancestors had no choice but to live in harmony with Nature. We can certainly learn from them.
    Maybe they did not need to get out of their cars 🙂 but I am sure they had plenty of challenges getting out of other tight places and they did not need physical therapy for that.
    Looking forward to your new post.

  3. I’ve done this before – tried doing yoga without focusing on the form. Partway through the exercise, I would just feel awful. And I usually wouldn’t bother finishing the routine.

    Not only does appropriate form improve physical muscle, it also improves mood and can help the emotional/mental aspect of good health.

  4. Form & doing what is right for you. I have often tried moves that were supposed to “be the ones” & found they just were not right for me. I do things based on what feels right & works for me, not my neighbor or that other person in the gym. If I try something I see & like it.. all the better. A learning process!

    How come you don’t stop by anymore?

  5. Thank you Jody! I agree so much that it’s important to “connect” with an exercise — it’s almost like a relationship. If there is no connection, the relationship is not likely to succeed.

    I read you every night — every night at about 9:02 when it comes in 🙂

    I hope to get back into more commenting as some things in my life clear up a bit more, but I assure you always read!

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