The Successful Physical Practice

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Well designed physical practice is incredibly powerful, for health, happiness, and for getting things done in life. Here are some observations I have made from my lofty perch at  the head of FIF for twenty years:


  1. People who exercise most regularly get the best results.


      2. People who exercise regularly through distracting times get the best results.


I’m going to expand on this so you can more easily do the very things those successful people do. Just in case you also want to get the best results for your time, money and effort.

This country is close to dying from obesity and other diseases brought on by sedentary life. A number of studies have been done recently to determine why people do not exercise. If you are reading this you are probably not one of those people. However, you are affected by the same challenges. Perhaps you have a sense that your life would be better if you exercised more. Exercising and not exercising is not either/or. The picture is a continuum, with people who are always active in the smartest ways possible at one end and people who never move for any reason at the other. The rest of us are spread out in between.

25 % of Americans do no activity of any kind. That is deeply dysfunctional. I estimate about 2% of Americans are maximizing their potential in the physical realm. These are not people who have become exercise hermits with no job and no social life. I mean people who have balanced lives, work, family, social life, vacations, education, and use their physical practice to maximum efficiency supporting that life. Most people are somewhere in the middle, sometimes doing an excellent job, sometimes not.

Americans claim a number of different reasons for why they do not exercise, or why they do not exercise more:

  1. No time.
  2. Don’t know how.
  3. No benefit.
  4. Weather too bad.
  5. Weather too nice.


No Time? The average American watches video 6 hours per day. If 6 of those 42 hours per week could be set aside for exercise and travel to a likely gym or beautiful outdoor location, a person could not do much better. You could still watch 36 hours of video per week. Oh joy.

Don’t know how? Observing the actions of people in various gyms, health clubs, exercise studios and etc shows that about 95% of people exercising do not know how to exercise. However, a full third of these appear to be accomplishing a beneficial result. So a person can know nothing, but just getting busy creates one chance in three of getting good results.

No benefit? A full 10% of those who do not exercise report the reason they do not is that they, and the majority of their friends and acquaintances, do not achieve any benefit from exercise. This makes perfect sense to me. If I did not benefit from physical practice, I would not do it either. I urge these people to try something different, and keep trying.

A cursory look reveals an endless variety of exercise available to us, try them all. There are many aspects of exercise that may be changed, each one having an almost infinite variety.  I find in my conversations with people who have given up, that they imagine they lack choices. They tried one or two things, were not successful, and they gave up. This can be an insidious process.

For instance a very typical and harmful self talk goes like this: I decide the best way for me to lose weight is to start a running program. A mistake made by many. Also like many people, I find running to be slow, painful, injurious, demoralizing and awkward. Instead of trying something different, I hate myself for being weak and inept. I then use running as a kind of self punishment. Since I believe I “should” lose weight by running I won’t accept that it is not working, even though I hate running and I am 100% unsuccessful for years or even decades. Positive reinforcement from well meaning but clueless friends who admire my “grit” and “spirit” can keep this sort of horror show going indefinitely. The problem is that I have functionally forgotten about the goal to lose weight and running has become the goal, or proving I don’t give up. Or proving I was right about running, or impressing my friends with my grit and spirit. The truth that can set me free is this: exercise can be almost endlessly modified in the following aspects.


  1. Location.
  2. Type of exercise.
  3. Desired result.
  4. Instructor.
  5. Mode (group class, private, self guided, online)
  6. Timing.


It appears that two thirds of exercisers in the USA achieve either no result or a negative result from their practice. By result I mean your health, body shape or physical capability changes in the way you intend. The good news is that unsuccessful exercisers have many different and better choices to discover.

Weather too bad? In Nevada County sometimes the weather is too bad to travel. Every year there are some days of being snowed in, and some days of being trapped in your house by the smoke of forest fires. Certain people miss their exercise class every time the weather is anything other than perfect. Others, certain of my students come to mind, will not miss exercise no matter what the weather does. The weather may actually stop the determined student from traveling, but the resourceful student is ready  to exercise in place, wherever that may be.

A number of FIF students missed no training during both long fire seasons of last summer, or during last winter’s massive snow storms and flooding. These people are in superb physical condition. Instead of finding excuses to not exercise, they find excuses to exercise, and they enjoy all the advantages of an effective physical practice. This type of action only requires an uncomplicated adjustment to mind set.

I do not urge people to travel in bad weather, quite the opposite. However, the successful student is ready to do a decent replacement session when he or she can not travel to exercise class. In the fire seasons we always turn down the heavy breathing levels of our classes. If traveling feels dangerous to you because of smoke, stay indoors, and confine your exercise to the most low intensity practice.

Weather too nice? Well, I would never suggest somebody delay a trip to the river in order to come to class at FIF. In fact this is why we exercise, so that we may enjoy beautiful weather more thoroughly. I submit that even on a day of perfect weather an early morning or late evening class may be enjoyed. Alternately the resourceful student can wedge in a short but superbly effective exercise session at home or at the river. The excursion itself can be an excellent physical practice: swimming, hiking, climbing, playing games, this is what we live for. Finally there is nothing wrong with chilling 100%. In fact many health experts claim we must purposely set aside time for exactly that.

The point here is we should all review why we exercise. Is it because we are constantly told we should exercise? Because we feel insecure about our appearance? Because we feel guilty if we do not exercise? Because we should be punished for not being good enough? Strong enough? Pretty enough?

If those feel familiar to you it is time to change your mindset. Your physical practice should make your life better. Better how? You should feel stronger and be demonstrably stronger in everything you do, labor, sport, recreation or emergency. You should have more stamina in all situations that are important to you. You should be always getting healthier and more physically capable. You should not be in pain while exercising. Your exercise should not expose you to greater risk. In fact since you control every detail of your exercise it should be one of the safest times in your life.

If your exercise program feels like a chore that interrupts your life, you are doing it wrong. Change it. Fashion your exercise to improve your life. When you exercise you should not be wondering if it is doing any good. If you do not have certainty in that area, keep changing things until you do. The enjoyment of your exercise should be in the result and in the knowledge that accomplishing the result is a sure thing.

Life is almost never perfectly orderly and predictable. If you require life to be orderly and predictable in order to do a regular exercise practice, you are setting yourself up for failure. The mindset of success prioritizes physical practice, and allows imperfection in timing, and variability in type, location and other aspects. There are many distractions in life. Don’t be distracted from improving your life.

Pro snowboard racer Evan Strong, Form is Function athlete since 2011.