Go Hard, or Go Home

I have a categorical hate for the expression, “Go hard, or go home!”

It is categorical because there are situations in which the phrase is very appropriate. If you’re a competitive athlete, for instance, you do need that attitude to win your competitions. There, it is appropriate.

If you are someone who is just bloody well trying to maintain fitness, it’s a load of crap.

Now before you say, “No! No! No! I did a hard-core twelve week program and I was in the best shape of my life!” I want you to consider something: Did you continue that program for a period of more than three years, or has it been awhile since you’ve been active?

If you did remain regularly active, more power to you. You found something that works, and I think that’s great. Don’t mess with it and keep doing it.

If you didn’t, maybe you need to stop approaching exercise like a competitive athlete.

I didn’t swim today. My husband needed to use the family car and I chose not to walk to the gym when it was below 30F and still dark. I could have chosen to. I just didn’t. I did a 30 minute exercise video instead. Not my first choice, but the goal is 30 minutes of working out a day every week day, rather than a specific training activity. So, I forged one more link in the chain of habit.

In my competitive athlete mode, I would have been going to heroic efforts to get the right workout in. Friends, if I were training for something, that would be an appropriate choice. Right now, I really don’t want to spend heroic effort on exercise. Professionally, I’ve got a lot going on, and I’d rather pour energy for heroic effort into that.

That’s where the “Go hard, or go home” attitude can be non-productive. You might be pouring heroic effort into something, but if it’s not exercise, the “Go hard or go home” attitude says you shouldn’t be working out at all. That’s not very helpful, now is it? It implies that if you don’t want to be an athlete, you don’t deserve to move your body.

That’s nonsense.

It’s not that I never work out hard. Sometimes I do. I did yesterday. Well, okay, I did today. (Yoga is very challenging for the inexperienced, just sayin’.)

Moderation: Harder than Dramatic Effort

I’ve mentioned before that my fitness goal is to show up every weekday for half an hour. Ideally this means a swim first thing in the morning. There is a class schedule coming up that means that either I swim after I teach, or I do something else before I open the gym. It may mean something else, because I tend not to want to work out after being around people a whole bunch. We’ll see.

So, the goal? Show up, get blood pumping for half an hour. That’s it. This is not to make myself work out, per se. It’s to contain my enthusiasm for days like today and prevent burnout.

After a couple of weeks, I’ve gotten to the point where I hit that endorphin high in a swim.1 I’m swimming about 1,000 yards in half an hour on more days than not, 2 and I got to thinking:

Me: Hey, if we could do 1,000 in half an hour, why not do another 20 minutes and swim a mile? We’ve got time this morning, because our meetings don’t start till later!

Myself: No. Half hour’s up. Out of the pool.

Me: Aw come on. Let’s prove to ourselves we can swim a mile.

Myself: You already know you can swim a mile. That’s not a great athletic feat for you; it just requires patience. Stop it. Out of the pool.

Me: But it’s cool and intense and stuff! And we feel good.

Myself: Yes it is, and yes, we feel good. You’re not here for cool and intense. You’re here to learn consistency. Get out of the damn pool, right now. You’ll feel good from a workout again, I promise.

Me: But lots of people here are working out for a whole hour and do every day.

Myself: OUT. OF. THE. POOL.

Me: Fine! (Gets out of the pool).

Myself: (Softening a bit) Your problem isn’t whether or not you can swim a mile or work out for an hour, or reach an athletic goal or any of that. You’re pretty good at dramatic, short-term effort. Your problem is consistency of moderate effort. You have not yet proven you will be consistent over the long term with exercise. That’s your goal. Giving in to swimming that mile would interfere with that. After you’ve solved the consistency problem, and that’s going to take at least a year, we can revisit athletic goals. (Muttering) As if you won’t be swimming a mile in half an hour after a year of this, anyway…


I’m not by nature a moderate person, nor do I really have any middle gears. I’m intense. I have a bad temper, and I throw myself into joy with absolute abandon. While there are advantages to this in many ways, in terms of the dailyness of life, it can interfere.

I also got to thinking about this for people with a lot of the “invisible” illnesses people can have (CFS and its derivatives, and so on). I have one – arthritis, and swimming is a fine work-around for me on that one. But I got to thinking about small consistencies. And I mean really small, like 5-15 minutes of a workout routine each weekday. (Strength, stretching, whatever).

I know for a fact that there are healthy people who do this and have seen fairly dramatically positive results over a period of several years. Of course, I don’t live in other people’s bodies, but I wonder if it’s anything anyone who has one of these invisible illnesses has tried it over a period of a year or more and liked the results.


1 Swimming is the most reliable way for this to happen, because it doesn’t hurt like many land-based exercises do.

2 I’m not permitting myself specific distance goals. The goal is to swim half an hour.

Health and Fitness Lies

I really wish that health publications would quit lying when trying to encourage people to be more active. Many say that feeling tired when you exercise is a myth and that you feel wonderful and energized when you work out.

That’s not what’s going to happen when you start out sedentary – not right away.

At first, maybe the first week or two of starting a daily exercise program, you’re going to be tired. Depending on other factors you might actually want to sleep as much as an hour and a half more each day. The good news is that this phase is pretty temporary.1

The next week or two, you’ll gradually start feeling better. Probably you’ll be sleeping a lot harder than you’re used to, and won’t toss and turn quite so much.

It’s when you’ve been doing it three to six weeks that that energy burst kicks in. And yep, that does feel really great.

It drives me crazy when people are told that they’ll feel great right away. Many people, maybe even most, don’t. The thing is, we’re not stupid, we’re not children and we know how to endure a certain level of discomfort to get to a desired goal. Why don’t you idiots pushing the exercise tell the truth about this? It’s really okay. But when you tell someone that if they exercise they’ll feel great right away, and they don’t, you’re killing your credibility!


1Barring some autoimmune issues, mind. CFS and related diseases are outside the scope of this article. They’re real, they exist, and I don’t know enough about them and exercise to give any sort of moderately useful advice about it.

All Science, No Philosophy

This weekend I:

  • Re-wrote some handouts for an Excel 2010 class to reflect the course material I’m now using.
  • Cleaned All the Things
  • Gave myself manicure. (I wear a French. This actually takes a while.)
  • Gave my hair an olive oil treatment.
  • Continued re-reading Shōgun. Oh stop laughing at me. I love the book.

No, I didn’t do much else. Yeah, I know, wild times at the Figart household, huh?

My son has informed me that his school is offering a new language and that instead of studying Spanish next year as originally planned, he wants to study Greek, because he sees a lot of Greek letters in Doctor Who, and it seems cool. Me? I think that’s as good a reason as any to choose a language to study, as long as he’s studying one. I took French, because my Dad insisted that the top students studied that or Latin, but what I really wanted to study was Spanish. My second year in high school, I had to fight to do that, because I was told that studying two languages at once would confuse me. My thought was that I had to be at least as smart as European kids, and they seemed to handle the multilingual thing okay. I don’t know if my parents got involved in this debate, but I expect if they did, it was along the lines of, “What? She’s excited about something in school? Dear Lord don’t discourage her. Are you crazy?”

Next week is a busy week. Classes, meetings and writing, oh my! I’m even dusting off my web skilz to do a webdev job to earn some gym time for my family. I know it doesn’t sound exciting on the outside, but I’m having fun.

Though, isn’t it goofy that I feel some need to apologize for enjoying myself. As if I have some responsibility to have a life that’s “cool” from the outside. I expect at least in part because I do have an alternative lifetstyle voice, I feel a bit weird at how quiet my daily life is. I almost feel like fraud because I don’t have much of a rock star lifestyle.

My son and I got to talking about something tangentially similar this morning while we were Cleaning All the Things. I had kind of hurt his feelings by playing The Knack for him. I meant it as gentle teasing, but it turns out he’s a bit angry at how little general culture values science and engineering – the very thing that keep such large populations as exist on Earth… well, alive! He didn’t even realize that in general, engineers make pretty good money, and that in the US, we’re hurting for people well-educated in the sciences.

I explained that yes, the sciences are incredibly important, but that no, they’re not going to be valued like being a rock star in terms of admiration, and that yes, it’s human to want that admiration, but that real, tangible value to the human race is important. It’s why studying the arts and the sciences are sooo important. (Yes, I do think the arts are important, which is why I encourage his musical studies in Chorus as well. “All science and no philosophy?”)

I just hope the boy doesn’t grow up with the level of rage I have at our self-defeating cultural values. It might mean I’m a thinker, but I can’t say it’s necessarily contributed to any real good.