Sport for the uninitiated: Fitness when it seems futile
Freddie Crawford discusses how Michael Jordan reignited his fitness journey and what he’s been doing to keep fit in lockdown
As someone who throughout his first year concerned himself with, quite frankly, more convivial pursuits than self-imposed exercise, I feel I’m not quite at liberty to discuss such matters. Yet here I am, writing this article.
The gym is therapy for some, and a nightmare for others. The thing is, I’ve always remained half in half out. I liked the idea of going, until it was time to go. And the bounty of opportunities that presented themselves to indulge in university’s finest pursuits of merriment, so common amongst first year students always cruelly managed to pull me away. That was of course, until lockdown.
At the end of March, (last year), the country went into its first National lockdown. Many compared the struggle of spending a few months at home to the Blitz. An interesting concept. But boredom was a uniting factor for the country nonetheless.
At first, I exculpated any forms of exercise: telling myself I had exams, or couldn’t find any decent weights online and thus couldn’t perform good exercise. It was only a few weeks after exams, having finished everything I thought there was to watch on Netflix twice, I stumbled across a documentary called The Last Dance which chronicled Michael Jordan’s rise to superstardom. As Obama said when awarding Michael Jordan the medal of freedom, “There’s a reason people describe you as the Michael Jordan of something, if you’re the best at it”. Whilst watching the documentary, something inside of me suddenly clicked; the greatest basketball player of all time wasn’t born, he was made, through hours and hours of training and hustle. With the vague hope of trying to ‘Be Like Mike’, I finally turned myself to the horrors of exercise. It was time.
Below I’ve outlined some of the things I did, how I got into them, and how you can perhaps apply them yourself. They aren’t formulas of any kind, just the story of a lazy person turning by chance, to exercise.
I was shocked upon stepping out of my house, donned in full Lycra and tightly-laced running shoes, to be met with what appeared to be a fitness revolution occurring. Everyone was running. It was like something from a distant, much healthier future. MJ had stirred my spirits to take myself off of the couch and out the front door but it was really at this moment that the latent sportsman deep within, whose competitive spirit couldn’t allow Judy from No. 53 to outdo me, took over. If I was still half in, half out of the metaphorical gym, then this was me closing the door behind myself.
There’s a walkway near my house, which stretches for around 10km or so and I attempted this route on my first run. I don’t mind saying that in my first attempt of this, after months of sedentary self-surrender and pity, I couldn’t even make it to the halfway mark. My lungs burned, I hacked and wheezed my way along, and my knees felt like they’d shatter at any point. After finally hobbling home, like a caricature of a pirate with a wooden leg, I used whatever object was nearest as a crutch to brace my aching body for the next few days.
In need of some serious discipline and inspiration, I turned to Google and discovered David Goggins, ex-soldier turned ultra- marathon runner. Listening to his audiobook, Goggins effectively summarized the essential nature of all philosophies, religions, self-help books, mantras and tough activities, through his own life story. And that is that life is suffering. Buddha said that. Appreciating this simple notion, even whilst running, allowed me to run further than I ever had. It was tough, and it really, really hurt whilst I was doing it. But this was enough, I knew how much better I’d feel, both mentally and psychologically, having done it. I’ve concluded the reason that people get so into exercising is because of the psychological aspects of it which help so much.
Having washboard abs is nice, but it’s the confidence which comes from knowing you’ve got abs which is actually nice. The same with smashing out a 10k run, when a few months earlier you couldn’t do 2k.
Embracing the struggle is the best way to get better
Saying to yourself, this will hurt, but I can do it, will change your perspective of exercise. Don’t allow the ‘I’m not going to today’ thoughts to even enter your brain. You’ll feel better for it. As I said, it probably sounds rather cringy, but I’m giving an honest account of how I got out of my rut, and sometimes a little cringe is needed.
In Exeter, the run along the Quay is a really nice one. Similarly, if you want to get out into the country a bit more, there’s quite a few tracks in Dartmoor to choose from.
Anyone who tells me that they weren’t spurred into playing basketball after watching The Last Dance, is lying. With the spirit of ‘97 Chicago Bull’s team in my veins, I headed to the local park to shoot some hoops with a good friend.
In the first few weeks, particularly due to the intense summer heat, these pick- up games were virtually impossible. Basketball is a fast-paced sport, especially for the uninitiated. The nature of jumping high, combined with the sharp angles, the positioning of dribbling and shooting are so different from others sports, that often one’s muscles aren’t conditioned in a way that could potentially negate the difficulty of working them so intensely, mid-game.
However, whilst we started at the point of being laughed at by other players in the park, as we air-balled and missed open baskets, by the end of the summer, we were being asked by the same players to play games with them.
It’s easy to see how addictive sports like basketball can be. Not only do they require a good level of fitness, but are actually great fun. You are forced to get fit in order to play. But you will, because it is so fun to play. A self-enhancing cycle.
I would really suggest anyone reading to go to their local park and shoot some hoops. Basketball’s finally starting to get the credit it deserves now in the UK, particularly because America’s far reach has stretched even further due to social media, making mainstream acrobatic dunks by the likes of Zion Williams common on Instagram feeds, or Netflix pushing documentaries like The Last Dance.
I’d find myself looking forward to my daily basketball games with my friend, and as we got to know how each other played, found myself thinking about moves which I could use which could keep me scoring, and him losing (sorry Neelesh!).
Basketball became as much mental as it was physical, and it was this synchrony, when I was able to appreciate the nexus between body and mind, that basketball, for me, became truly enjoyable. There are a couple of basketball hoops at parks in Exeter which can be found on the local council website.
Calisthenics never appealed to me- I tried a pullup regime on a branch in the garden in the holiday before arriving at university, which was successful until my Dad cut the branch during a summer session of garden-refinery.
But I was swayed to returning to body weight workouts when I read online, that NFL legend, Herschel Walker, aged 50, who’d recently turned his talents to the Octagon, after an illustrious career with the Dallas Cowboys, credited his impressive physique to a strict regime of press ups, sit ups and pull ups. He’d started in his early teens, as a pudgy youth, and continued ever since. By his late teens, Walker was doing thousands of these a day, he didn’t go into a weight room until he was in college.
In my years of sixth form and school, I had been a gym goer, not quite often enough to receive the honourable nomenclature of ‘gym lad’, but enough that I got into decent shape. Obviously since heading to university this had disappeared, but I was sure it was under there, somewhere. Inspired by Walker’s story, I tried to enact my own daily regime of callisthenic exercises.
Every day, with the help of an excellent YouTube channel called ‘That’s Good Money’, I did a variety of press ups.
With all the grunting coming from my room due to the various contortions I was in, I’m surprised my parents didn’t ask any questions. Just like with the running and basketball, for the first few weeks, I ached. But this faded, and rapidly I saw progress. Diamond and decline press ups no longer presented a challenge, so I upped the number of how many I did.
Admittedly, the results weren’t as fast as they would’ve been had I been at the gym, but they were still significant, considering their basic nature and my lack of adequate equipment. And the best part? You don’t even need to leave your bedroom to do them, so nobody will be there to see the moment that you fall on your face, as I did, when attempting your first diamond pressup.
What I’ve realised from my experiences of lockdown exercise, is that the more you do the better you feel. It’s really that simple. We’re not sedentary creatures by nature; our ancestors crossed continents by foot, hunted game, and foraged for food. As far away socially from them as we may now be, biologically we’re pretty similar. It’s a part of us that many have lost touch with, especially over lockdown, but it’s in there, deep within.
Exercise is not about looking good, but feeling good. What it does to your mind can transform the way you see yourself and the world.
If you were to take away one thing from this article, it is to step outside, and give it a go. Who knows? Maybe with a bit of hustle and grit, you too might find it an integral part of your day.