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Good Soreness and Paying Dues

This morning I stepped to the floor awash in good soreness after re-introducing kettle bell swings into my workouts. The workout started with a 5000 meter row, three sets of alternating two and one arm kettle bell swings, dead lifts and some dynamic stretching. Then a long, brisk walk on soft beach sand to really emphasize the legs workout.

You know when your body needs a break, or at least you should know if you’re listening to it. Living with pain is a good indicator, signaling a need for adjustment to either your body or your routine. Pain is generally bad. But what do we make of sore? Exercise-induced soreness is the good kind of sore. It signals your body is adapting to change, flushing out lactic acid and repairing muscle fibers. And it signals dues paid towards a more vibrant tomorrow.

Changing up exercise is a great way to keep the body guessing. Adding good stress to your body flushes out the bad stress, keeping that stack of organs and muscle you walk around with healthy. We intuitively know this, but most of us sit around too much anyway. If we know that sitting around too much is bad for the brain and the body, then we ought to get up and get moving more often, right? I tell this to myself all the time, but don’t always listen enough. I’ll present a convincing (if misguided) argument that I’ll get to it later. But later is just deferring our well-being. The body doesn’t care about your next meeting, it needs to move more often.

“The more you move yourself by your own muscle power, no matter what form that movement takes, the surer you will be of the result.” – John Jerome, The Elements of Effort

Jerome points towards the confidence that builds up inside of us when we do the work to build our better selves. Sports and nutrition guru Chris Carmichael calls people who are fit and vibrant as they age the defiant minority. We all know where we’re heading, but why not be fully alive when we get there? Adding a rigorous program of weight lifting or kettle bell swings to surprise the body offers day-after soreness but for-a-lifetime benefits. So embrace the soreness.

“People who lead a physically active life have a lower risk of cognitive decline, and research is now emerging to show that greater fitness is correlated with maintaining better processing skills in aging brains.” – Sanjay Gupta, MD, Keep Sharp

As I was finishing my workout yesterday I thought about the similarity between the kettle bell swing and a rock scramble in the White Mountains. The strength, endurance and mental toughness built through a workout like kettle bell swings translates well to other activities like hiking, offering yet another reason to add them to your routine. That soreness you feel the morning after a workout will translate well towards doing more, with less soreness, in those other activities you’ll do later. Pay me now or pay me later.

And that pay me now or pay me later rule is really the point, isn’t it? If we continually defer our health and fitness through undisciplined exercise and nutrition choices now, we’ll pay for it with a shorter window of cognitive and physical well-being later. We’ll accomplish less in the time we have than we would if we’d simply invested in ourselves with exercise and disciplined consumption today.

That soreness is yesterday’s glow of accomplishment. But today is a new day, requiring its own payment of dues. Keep the streak alive, pay today’s dues. Tomorrow will thank you.

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