Weight Training Bit by Bit

by Martin Wandering
(The Wild West)

Growing up, I never considered myself athletically inclined: I didn't enjoy playing sports or running around outside much, and I wasn't strong or at all muscular. However, in high school I began seriously practicing martial arts, not because I had become interested in getting more exercise, but because I was interested in the practice.


Now, when I say "seriously practicing," I don't mean what many athletes seem to mean by 'serious practice:' frequent, long hours of grueling training early in the morning or late into the evening — that is, a serious time commitment. For the first few years of my training, I spent from three to six hours a week in class, and only rarely took any additional time to practice at home. By any kind of rigorous standard, I was fairly far from 'serious.'

However, to me serious commitment didn't necessarily entail huge time consumption. What made my practice serious for me was my determination to never give up practicing, no matter the circumstances. My teacher used to tell us that getting just ten minutes of practice in a day was better than none at all. Taking this to heart, I stuck with my training through high school, and began teaching when I went to college.

Somewhere along the way, I was surprised to find that my relatively light exercise in training had given me some muscle tone and increased strength. Over the years, my practice led to better and better fitness, and I became more deeply committed to training because I came to realize how much it contributed to keeping me generally in shape — and moreover, how much being fit brought me good health.

In college, interested in taking further steps outside my martial arts practice to maintain and increase my fitness, I began joining a friend of mine for his exercise routine, a pretty intensive hour-long strength training battery with a generous helping of stretching. The routine was hard at first, but after awhile I got a grip on its exercises and could make my way through the whole thing (though usually not its full complement of push-ups). The benefits of this regimen quickly became evident: greater muscle mass and tone, and the accompanying increase in strength. However, everyone who participated in this routine — including my friend who devised it and taught it to us — found it sometimes difficult to commit ourselves to the hour-long workout, not only because finding a suitable chunk of time might be challenging, but because the magnitude of the workout was itself more than a little daunting.

Again, by any 'serious' athletic standards, our reluctance was pathetic. However, the fact of the matter is we're not all professional athletes, and we don't have all the time and stamina (psychological as well as physical) to face what seems like a long and demanding workout. One thing teaching martial arts has shown me is that no matter how reasonable the time you ask of your students may be, many will have a hard time showing up. On one hand this really is just an issue of commitment (or lack thereof), but on the other hand I've trained plenty of folks who really were interested in practicing for many good reasons, but just wouldn't summon up the resolve to consistently show up and stick with it.

Building that kind of resolve is what practicing martial arts is all about for me, and that mindset is just as applicable to any other kind of exercise. Accordingly, when it comes to strength training, I encourage everyone to consider the benefits of doing a little at a time, whether or not you also have a longer workout routine.

Feeling like I wasn't getting quite enough exercise recently, but disinclined to do a big workout, I started just doing a few exercises every day. When I find myself with a spare moment, I'll just get down and do a mess of push-ups or sit-ups (the exercises which form the core of the workout routine I mentioned earlier). Just a few seconds, a minute at most, then I get back to whatever I was doing. Just like my teacher said, a little bit is better than nothing. On top of that, I say it's easiest for most folks to exercise bit by bit, rather than set up a big workout they might not feel much like doing most of the time. This is a great way to overcome the inertia we all feel sometimes, and make progress toward staying fit without much of any time commitment.

Of course, the more you put in, the more you'll get out. While a little bit every day does add up, it can only add up to so much. Then again, working out bit by bit is not only a good way for beginners to start exercising: it helps me get a little bit of extra strength training to supplement my regular exercise.

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