The words you use to discuss something, even if it is just with yourself, can have significant influence on attitude, motivation, and results. Too often the vocabulary used when speaking of building an aerobic endurance base is limited to the concepts of slow and fast. In the running world, and any other sport where participation is timed, fast is assumed to be “good,” but slow is “bad.” The truth is that slow and fast are only generally comparative terms and tell us little about the long term condition of a person and the sustainability of the acclaimed “fast” pace. This is especially true in the sphere of the recreational runner, where many times only the “fast” times are shared, with little background information or insight into repercussions a given person is dealing with in attaining a comparatively “fast” time in an event.
I do not use the term recreational runner in a derogatory manner. I proudly consider myself a recreational runner. No one pays me to exercise. I do it for fun and health benefits, and no one is signing me up for magazine covers. I find the status to be rewarding and comfortable. A lot of that comfort comes from now understanding how to run within my personal ability, while at the same time reaping the rewards of increasing that ability with minimal stress. If I have been understanding what I have been reading, it is apparently something I have in common with elite runners! Judging by my results, it is working.
While on one hand, people may have to be encouraged to slow down, it is only compared to a “fast” pace that is too likely some combination of both a counterproductive and injurious training pace. I say “training pace” to refer to the average and goal paces that people set for themselves. I, like many others, have succumbed in the past to the thinking that unless I am straining to my limits regularly I am not really trying hard enough and am not going to get results. Another unnecessary stressor and disappointment for many people in adopting this approach is that any run of lesser speed is a waste, and a sign of loss of previous gains. While this article is not a thorough discussion of the hows and whys of building your endurance base, let me just say for now that there is scientific reason and observational evidence to question this presumption.
When I rediscovered the concept of aerobic base building about two years ago, I was delighted to also rediscover a revitalization of fitness enjoyment. Still, the ideas of “slow” and “fast” are so engrained that it can be helpful to expand and refine the vocabulary regarding exercise. So, what positive words and concepts should we use when making our goals, engaging in our activities, or explaining the benefits to others? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Stimulatingly comfortable effort. Obviously if you are going to be running, or moving in any way, it is not the same as sitting on the couch. It takes some effort. However, it should be a comfortable in the sense that to keep going is more a matter of easy choice and less a sense of desperation to be done.
2. Maintainable and adjustable form. Running, or engaging in any movement, more slowly does not mean plodding. Or at least it doesn’t have to and should soon progress beyond any problems with that. Working at paces and speeds that allow you to think about your form allow you to be more naturally light footed, in the case of running. For something like swimming, it gives the time necessary to manage balance in the water, make better use of stroke power, and breathe in a realistic manner. Pushing your speed limits all the time or for long distances will usually lead to moving in what I think of as survival mode, wherein the mind and body pay little attention to being careful and efficient.
3. Working with natural rhythms. When you go out predominantly thinking of speed goals, warming up is an impatient chore that can actually end of being too tense. If you allow the warm up to occur more naturally, only increasing speed as it feels fun and exhilarating, it can seem almost effortless. If you also allow yourself to slow down just because it seems like time, you are more likely to avoid strains and injuries from pushing too hard for the sake of “reaching goals.”
4. Keeping adequate oxygen intake. Aerobic endurance is built on ability to utilize oxygen. To increase the ability, you need to let the body gradually adapt to increased need for consumption of oxygen. If you are constantly pushing to anaerobic levels, you are not building the aerobic system, but kicking the body into gear to deal with anaerobic stress. The body can only do that for a very limited time.
5. Having fun within current limits. No one should feel discouraged because their current limits are different than someone else’s. Current limits are a very changeable thing for everyone over time anyway. No one is always at their peak, whatever their idea of that is. No one has started from the same exact place as you, or has to deal with the exact same set of life variables. Enjoy what you can do at any given moment!
6. Gradually testing limits and increasing effort. You don’t become a great dancer the first time you step out on the floor, no matter what beautiful moves you can envision in your head. It takes consistent repetition of movements and a gradual strengthening of the body to allow it to do what the mind would like. You can’t just be a better dancer by dancing faster. And you will probably hurt yourself if you try. It’s really not that different with any movement. All movements are a type of dance, a coordination of form and physics, with a different array of muscles and in various environments.
7. Being wise with complications. Inconveniences, such as injuries and illness are a part of life. Whether you have found your limits and suffered a set back, or have to take time off to help someone else in need, there is no reason to give up or expect to start in exactly the same place you were before. An understanding of the benefits of comfortable effort can get you right back to enjoying your activities instead of spending a lot of time depressed by what you were able to do “before.” Chances are that all your previous consistency in endurance base building has left you stronger than you think, too.
If you speak to yourself in these or similarly positive terms, you will probably feel more encouraged about all your physical activities. It may also help you have responses for those who might, however unintentionally, discourage you with comments like“those slow joggers,” or any opinions that since we aren’t Olympians our efforts are less meaningful. Our physical activity is very meaningful to each of us individually. No one else’s exercising needs to make a difference in how we feel in our bodies enjoying the God-given ability to move.