I stumbled upon an interesting theory in the NYT recently that suggests the brain has more influence over our athletic performance than we give it credit for. A research team from the Northumbrian University in England had a group of cyclists pedal as fast as they possibly could in a series of time trials designed to determine the limits of their speed. Then they had them race an on-screen virtual cyclist, who researchers said were riding at the participants’ top speed. In fact, the avatars were actually riding slightly faster than that. Still, in every case, the participants matched or beat their virtual competitors, setting personal best times across the board.
One obvious explanation is that competition pushes us to perform better, but researchers wondered how the body was actually able to extract that extra bit of energy when we believe we’ve gone as fast as we can go. Their conclusion: Our brains tend to conserve fuel. They don’t want us to work too hard — unless we absolutely have to.
So I dedicate this past week of my fitness challenge to my compassionate brain.
Day 12: Monday, 9/19
There are Mondays and there are Mondays. I awoke early this morning and got my entire zazen and workout routine in before breakfast. Did three rounds of my kettlebell circuit, which ramped up my heart rate in a good way. You know, it might just be me, but I never really feel like swinging a kettlebell around in the morning. In fact, several times during my meditation session, I consider rising and moving on without all that exertion. Sometimes my rational mind wins and I just walk away, but more often than not (though I’m not really keeping track), once I lean into those pushups, I get on a roll and happily push through the routine. And I always head off to work feeling pretty great. Blame it on the endorphins.
Day 13: Tuesday, 9/20
So much of what passes for motivation — or lack thereof — depends on how we feel in the mornings. And today I awoke with a gnarly throat and a head full of something that felt like congealed gravy, so I stayed home from work and called it a recovery day. By evening I was feeling good enough to help MLW plant our first tree in the backyard, so you can’t say I was a slug all day. A good night’s sleep, I think, is all that stands between me and a fabulous Wednesday.
Day 14, Wednesday, 9/21
I slept so well last night that I didn’t wake up until it was too late for my normal morning routine. So I grabbed my giri and did 15 quick girevoy moves to get my blood flowing, wolfed down an egg and some toast and hit the road. An evening meeting kept my butt in a chair for an extra couple of hours after work. Not a great day, fitness-wise.
Day 15, Thursday, 9/22
Yoga day!! MLW and I arrived early to class — until I discovered that I had left my keys in the back door and decided it would be too much of a distraction to just leave them there (I can’t practice yoga and practice non-attachment to my household goods at the same time), so I went back home to retrieve them, which made me 10 minutes late to class. Thankfully, JS is less formal than your average yogi and simply waited for me to show up before getting things started. She also added a few moves this week, the most interesting of which were the boat pose and a kind of upward plank that I found I could actually almost do. Also worth noting: I touched my toes (though I confess that my knees were slightly bent). All in all, a very vigorous session, which I suspect I’ll be paying for tomorrow.
Day 16, Friday, 9/23
Sure enough, I was plenty sore today. Let’s call it a recovery day.
Day 17, Saturday, 9/24
Pulled out all the stops on my morning workout today — even adding a couple of new moves after three full circuits with the kettlebell. Wasn’t wearing a heart-rate monitor, but I would guess my HR was up in the 140s. Worked up a good sweat before breakfast and then climbed on my bicycle for the 3-mile ride to the farmer’s market. Tacked on a couple more miles later in the day. Felt good.
Day 18, Sunday, 9/25
I really debated whether to run this morning, but lost the argument. I’m really having trouble motivating myself to get out there and jog. Partly, I think, it’s a question of practicality. I seldom have time to run before work in the morning — assuming that it would require about a half-hour of getting dressed, running, getting undressed, showering. Can’t really use that excuse on the weekend, so how about this one: I have to admit, it just feels kind of dorky to be out there on the sidewalk huffing my way around the block in front of my neighbors. Maybe I have self-esteem issues….