June 24, 2014

Fitness Isn't a Goal, It's a Side Effect

In what I can only imagine is a very late New Years resolution my friend has started cycling to get into shape. Yet sadly after only a few rides she's losing her initial enthusiasm. She's discovered that when you're starting out, cycling can be hard work and to her it doesn't seem to be getting any easier.

I know how she feels. When I first took up running I was all enthusiastic, but running is hard work and its difficult to stay motivated. Running for fitness seems pointless, you have no destination, you're running for the sake of running, the stronger you get the longer you must run, you might as well be going around in circles. It's madness, and worse is that if you miss a running session you may start feeling guilty and nobody needs that kind of artificial pressure in their lives. Before long you justify quitting by concluding you just don't have time in your schedule for running.

Someone who has no love of cycling or bicycles who takes up cycling for fitness must feel exactly the same. Its a chore and we already have enough chores to get through each day.

This is why you need to turn your cycling time from dead time into meaningful time. I do this by cycling to work everyday. I'm getting daily exercise but the reason I'm cycling is to get to work, not to get fit. I cycle to the supermarket, I cycle to pick my daughters up from after school activities, I cycle with them to the park on weekends, I rarely cycle without a reason.

So, my friend lives in a small country town with a single main road and quiet backstreets, perfect. The town has a pub, a general store and a post office. So my suggestion to her was to forget cycling to get fit, instead decide that whenever she goes to the post office or general store she'll go by bike. Weather permitting, forget that the car is even an option for short trips within town. Before long whenever she leaves the house to go to the store she'll subconsciously head in the direction of her bicycle rather than the car.

Once you've established that pattern, you're getting exercise while actually getting something done. Your ride isn't as pointless as before, and the excuse "I don't have time for this" is no longer valid because going to the store is something you have to do anyway. Once cycling around town becomes second nature you'll never feel pressure to ride, you may not have to cycle every day either and as a result won't feel guilty about missing a ride because you're cycling when there is a real need, not an imagined one.

Before you know it your fitness will improve and you may even develop a love of bicycles and recreational cycling. But in reality, like millions here in Japan, you don't need to be on a fitness kick or even have an opinion of cycling in order to make the bicycle part of your daily transport mix.

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