Play Has a Place in Any Fitness Plan

Horse LaughIt’s easy to get waaay too serious about fitness and exercise.  I need to have goals!  I need to know if I’m making progress!  After all, workout has the word “work” in it, right?  I won’t triumph without the “umph”!

Hold it!  I put this picture in because it’s silly, AND because I ride horses as a way to add variety to my fitness plan, and as a way to unwind.  When I ride, I have gotten accomplished enough with my skills that I work on specific training goals with my horse during each session.  If I don’t pay attention to these training issues, and honor their importance, I can face some serious consequences.  If I’m lucky, the effect of blowing off my training goals will be a slight loss of sharpness or refinement in how my horse is able to do her job.  If I really decide to ignore the training goals for each ride, I can create extreme soreness, pain, and even lamenss in my horse, and make it so she cannot do her job for weeks or months at a time!  How can this possibly be relaxing and fun?

The answer: I bring an attitude of play to each ride.  Every time I ride my horse, it is with an attitude that we will play with the skills we need to work on.  We can play with stretching.  We can play with seeing how many ways we can change directions, and change up the sizes of turns we make to keep my horse’s body and mind supple.  We can play with turning the incorrect response from the horse into an exercise that makes her work and think differently, and make the desired response easier.  We can play with standing still while other horses run around and learn that standing and chilling out is also an option … we don’t have to be going ALL the time during the ride.

What this opens up is an amazing opportunity for my horse to relax and enjoy her job.  When I turn her loose in an arena, she runs up to me and is ready to play.  To catch her again, I don’t have to chase her around until she pouts in a corner and lets me put a halter on … she wants to work with me because it is fun!  During the ride, her muscles are loose, relaxed, and better able to function and carry both of us with greater ease.  She can use her body with the greatest efficiency because she’s not stressed out, stiff, and fighting herself or me through the whole session.

I am realizing that I can take this attitude of play to my exercise.  I am taking time to add some play to my workouts this week.  The DVD routine has its place, but I am also seizing the opportunity to have workouts with scenery other than a painted wall and monitor.  Is my workout as intense as the DVD routine?  Maybe not, but my overall wellbeing is doing great.  My jaw muscles have relaxed, the chronic pain in my neck is lessening, and I’m seeing how my body responds to power walking and jogging … exercises I haven’t done during our cold and damp Seattle winter.

How do you incorporate a spirit of play into your exercise?  Some people reserve one workout per week as a “play day”, but what would happen if you brought the spirit of play even to your “serious” workouts?  What could open up for your body’s ability to perform if you entered into your workout with an attitude of play and fun?  I’d love to hear what opens up for you.