The Philosophy of Fitness Minimalism

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My whole life I have been obsessed with growing up. There was a freedom, discernment, drive and ability in it that I felt was inaccessible to my scattered and emotionally immature child’s mind. This is, I believe, a natural instinct most children possess. However, it can be suppressed or derailed, by family, culture or circumstance. In every culture around the world there is a concept of ‘spoiling’ the child i.e. depriving it of the tools and abilities to grow up and enter the real world. In other words, infantilizing the child to it’s detriment.
In modern society there’s is a grotesquely extended adolescence due to the consumer culture’s pandering to the weakness of human character, thereby extending infantile state well into adulthood.
This means that in some areas of life (notably health and fitness, the areas most pronounced by their commercialisation in the West) people mature very slowly, if at all, and stay infantile for much longer, for some it’s deep into their 30s and 40s.
In nature there wouldn’t be many infantile people in their 30s and older because they would have died off first. However modern medicine helps the infantile who wouldn’t otherwise survive, stay alive for longer.
This also means that people are on average softer, more disorganized, dependent and lacking self control in their approach to life, and especially to fitness and health, which are originally the primary aspects of survival in the wild.
The reason such practices are minimalism and stoicism have become so popular nowadays, I believe, is due to the attempts of a modern mind to push back against the ‘spoiling’ and infantilizing effects of consumer culture. Qualities such as self control, delayed gratification, focus, attention, commitment etc are necessary for success, yet are being increasingly eroded by the distraction-rich, instant gratification, quick fix culture.
Have you ever noticed that there are not many (if any) children who naturally practice minimalism? Children don’t yet possess the qualities listed above and depend of their adult caregivers to teach them such qualities, for which purpose minimalism happens to be a very useful vehicle.
There’s a degree of relativity and progression in both maturity and minimalism, as in, we can be more mature in one area of life and less mature in others. Everybody’s flavor can be different and everybody is moving at a different pace. Yet in my nearly 15 years of practice, I am yet to meet a person who is struggling with their health and fitness who wouldn’t benefit from a little more maturity in that area and a little less ‘stuff’ in their heads, lives and homes.

One thing has been proven beyond reasonable doubt however, and that is increase in maturity in keystone areas of life, otherwise called ‘keystone habits’ create ripple effects into other areas of life. In other words, becoming more mature in a keystone area, you’ll eventually become more mature in other areas by osmosis.

Physical Fitness (exercise, sleep and nutrition) has been shown to be the most influential keystone area in human existence, which makes sense since it’s the primary survival mechanism in nature. If you can move and feed yourself, your brain is relatively mature. If you can’t, you’re an infant. This explains why the level of maturity around fitness so deeply affects other areas of life.

You can strengthen the maturity muscle in any area of your life through progressive learning of focus, commitment, self awareness, integrity, goal achievement (otherwise known as delayed gratification), minimalism, self control, patience, and perseverance. If you apply this in the context of physical training, you’re on your way!

Practicing these qualities through the vehicle of fitness minimalism will not only ensure success in the arena of life-long fitness, lasting body transformation, nutrition, health, life, work and relationships but develop tremendous levels of confidence and self belief, which are the necessary qualities for living life at your fullest potential.

How to practice fitness minimalism:

1. Have a long term goal, a short term goal.

2. Know your ‘why’, your ‘who’, your ‘how’ and your ‘what’. Find multifaceted motivations for achieving your goal. Yes I said motivationS. There must be many. If you are to win against the instant gratification urges and distractions that will undoubtedly come up, you need several compelling reasons to stick to your plan. Thinking that you will not come up against any distractions is failing before you even started.

3. Know yourself. While there is no substitute for self reflection, there are many resources out there to help you get started, such as ‘The 8 Colours of Fitness’ by Suzanne Brue, the MBTI personality test, Strength Finder 2.0 etc. Again, those tests aren’t definitive guides to your innermost self, however they help you begin asking the right questions. The better you know yourself, the less time you’ll waste on pursuits that just don’t work for you.

4. Set limits. Limits are the healthiest way to promote achievement, growth, creativity and getting things done. Limit the time of your workouts. Limit the amount of equipment you use. Limit the amount of exercises you do. Limit the amount of mental energy you use on training. Limit, limit, limit.

Example: all my workouts are 30 min long, and I use only kettlebells, pullup bar and rings. If I muck around, I still only do 30 minutes, whatever I can get in. I also only rotate 7 exercises in a 12-week block, about 4 exercises per workout. My plan is set for 12 weeks at a time. I get in, train, get out, with minimal thought, confusion or set up. I focus on performing my current exercises with the best technique. Every single excise is part of a bigger plan that I set at the start of the year, there is ZERO randomness. I progress very fast, and I’m really, really strong and fit by now. I’m not bragging, this is just reality. I have no injuries, ever. I go in, put in quality training and get out. Then I live my life and focus on more important things. Progress happens naturally and without my thinking about it outside of that 30 min window.

5. Go for quality. Minimalism is ALL about quality vs quantity. The only way you can set limits and still achieve anything is if you increase the quality of the workouts. Learn movement technique, learn which movements are the best for your goals, learn how to progress. Go for depth rather than breadth. This will create amazingly fast progress in a very short time. The biggest mistake people make is diffusing their focus across a million useless exercises that they do badly. There’s a huge waste of mental energy, lack of progress, waste of time, and a high risk on injury on top of it all.

It’s like going for the cheapest lowest quality clothes and expecting them to last you for a lifetime. In Russia we have a saying: a miser pays twice.

Go for quality. Use a coach of your time is precious. If you have plenty of spare time on your hands, then spend a few month/years on research in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and exercise science. And no, I don’t consider watching YouTube videos for workout inspiration ‘research’. Whatever you do, don’t compromise on quality. The whole concept of minimalism rests on it.

6. Dial in nutrition. If you aren’t supporting your training with nutrition, it’s like pouring cheap and nasty petrol into a high quality car. Think of it this way: exercise tells your body WHAT to build, nutrition provides the building blocks for the project. If you’re trying to build a magnificent skyscraper with a glue gun and some duct tape, expect it to crumble, if it’ll stand at all. Dial in your nutrition. Use research or coach, as per above.

7. Make it ALL a habit. This one is the most important step. Habits are the ultimate energy and time savers. They free up our mental resources so we can use them in other things. If your fitness isn’t a habit, then any life challenge will extinguish it and kill your progress. Have you ever been really busy and yet you still kept on brushing teeth every morning and evening? That’s what a habit is. Until it’s that with daily exercise, there will not be any lasting success.

Making habits isn’t new. You already created many habits in your life, 70% of everything you do in a day is habitual. These habits got you to where you are now. So all you’re doing is changing a few of them.

In his great book Compound Effect, author Darren Hardy says that the compound effect of every single decision operates on you whether you like it or not. What IS in your power is to decide where to aim that effect. Your choices today play a bigger part in what you’ll be 10 years from today than you imagine.

8. Be flexible. In light of the above, you need to have a Minimum Baseline level of exercise that you will never go below. For me it’s 15-minutes per day. Walking, stretching, jumping rope, etc. I haven’t gone below this baseline in over 15 years now.

I have witnessed mindblowing results in fitness and tremendous benefits spreading into life and work, when everyday people adopt this mature state of mind and body, and it is this love of growth and helping others grow (up) that drives me to continue my work with Kettlebell Academy.

Now it’s your turn.

What is your version of fitness minimalism?

Kat Tabakova 2/4/2019

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