Our 1 year old German Shepherd, Sochi, sleeps in his pen each night. Around 4:30am each morning as I’m getting myself ready for a day of work, I let him out of his pen to give him the chance to relieve himself outside before I leave. The first thing that I see Sochi do every morning since we’ve had him is to go into the downward facing dog and then upward facing dog yoga poses immediately upon waking. Our Australian Shepherd, Sammy, who sleeps at the foot of our bed does the same.
We could all take a lesson from watching the dogs. Tight hips and lower backs, and tight shoulders and upper backs cause movement restrictions that make it impossible to do certain exercises correctly and prevent us from maintaining a good posture. Deep squats are cool, and so are full snatches. Good luck trying to do either one correctly if you are overly tight. AM yoga would probably be a good idea for most of us. When it comes to stretching worry more about the consistency with which you stretch and less about the time invested in stretching. I’d take five minutes every day of the week over fifteen minutes several times a week. Stretch what is tight and stretch often so you can begin to move and feel better.
2) Eat only what you need. No more and no less.
We have a blue British Shorthair cat, Tillie, who owns the upstairs of our house. Fortunately for us her prime playing grounds are right above our bedroom. She is most active at night, so we get to fall asleep to the sound of her sprinting back and forth across the upstairs chasing after the inanimate mouse toys that litter the floor. I’ve never seen the toys run away, but you’d never know it listening to Tillie run. We keep Tillie’s food bowl accessible at all times, and keep it topped off with food each day. When Tillie runs hard, the next morning the food bowl is low. When she has a sedentary night, the food bowl barely gets touched. I’m always amazed at how perfectly she adjusts her food consumption to her activity level.
If we all ate like Tillie, achieving your ideal body composition might not be as elusive as it tends to be. Changing our body composition, whether it be to gain muscle or lose fat, is a multifactorial process. However, at the root of it all is controlling our energy balance. A lot of us consume more calories than we need and watch as our waistline grows. We get caught up following meal plans that espouse regimented meals at regimented times often not at all controlling the portion sizes based on our activity level. Start trying to eat only what you need, only when you need it. The mirror, measuring tape, and the scale will let you know how you are doing.
3) Don’t forget to play.
Our Australian Shepherd, Sammy, likes to train. If we go for a several mile run, Sammy is leading the way. If we want Sammy to jump over hurdles to increase her jumping power so that she grows up to be a great frisbee dog, she springs into action. If we try to teach her agility drills weaving in and around cones and poles, well Sammy doesn’t quite get that yet but she does run circles around us like a maniac. The point is that she likes to train just as much as us. However, no matter how much we train, she always finds time each day to play. She is a happier dog for it.
If you are reading this you probably train, and take your training seriously. You might train because you are still an athlete or just train because being good at exercise is partly how you define yourself. At the end of the day it is still just exercise, and we can’t forget to play. Think bigger than being in shape just for the sake of being in shape. Be in shape so that you can go play and have fun. If you are an athlete, don’t forget that many of the best athletes in the world spend most of their time playing their sport and a lot less time at the gym. Strength and conditioning enthusiasts often forget that and hold their physical stats in a higher esteem than their actual athletic performance. Train so you can play better. If you aren’t an athlete, try your hand at recreation. If you have a strong back, see how you do kayaking. If you fancy yourself an endurance aficionado, see if you can hike a mountain. Use your fitness to play better and have fun.