Move Your Body: Minimalist Fitness for Maximal Well-Being
I am realizing that there are two ways to look at my approach to achieving my goals, especially when it comes to today’s topic of physical fitness and training: there is the positive interpretation, or “efficient,” and the negative way, or “lazy.”
But it doesn’t matter how my behavior is interpreted, as long as it is getting me the results that I seek! In order to achieve my most important goals, I need to prioritize, and along the way I have learned to find the least amount of effort to accomplish what I desire. Even big goals begin with these small steps!
Here I’m sharing my current minimalist workout or cross-training regimen, future fitness goals, and ideas for creating your own custom plan, and you can also check it out in audio format on my Podcast 042: Lazy Minimal Fitness – Cross-training for dance and overall well-being.
What makes you feel good?
That’s right, we’re talking about exercise and working out, and I want to be clear that I am not not necessarily recommending that you exercise like me, or suggesting that the way you appear, function, move your body should in any way resemble the way I do. You are beautiful as you are, there is nothing wrong with you, and I just want to share tools that have helped create better balance and well-being in my life. Body positivity all the way!
What I want to encourage is your own discovery of what brings you joy in movement, what makes you feel good and capable, and what expands what your body can do, in the ways you want to.
Taking control of your movement, your yoga practice, and your dancing can be incredibly liberating and can ripple out to the rest of your life. Maybe for you, minimal movement involves doing a favorite stretch each morning, a walk around the block on your break, or another action you will enjoy and that cumulatively, will make you feel good!
For myself, I currently enjoy a combination of daily short yoga sessions, weekly longer practices, short physical therapy and callisthenic/cardio bursts, teaching ballet and yoga, and other leisurely activities to complement, like walks, hikes, bicycle rides, or swimming as well as plenty of rest, massage, and the like.
Squeezing in well-being
Back in my Whitman College Admissions days, I had the least amount of time to exercise in my life so far, and so cherished very occasional visit to the yoga studio, but more often turned to my Crunch Fitness “Pick Your Spot” Pilates workout DVD. With it, I could choose what area to focus on (I believe it was belly, buns, thighs, or full-body), and in only 15 minutes get a decent workout that helped me deal with tons of time spent at the computer, desk, airplane, and car.
Working as a life coach, many of my clients have had physical well-being goals, as well as facing real health challenges, and I have supported them in creating habits that transformed their life experience, such as in the case of one client, whose results including having, “[…] begun a simple exercise routine and have completely changed the way that I eat and cook — I’ve even lost weight without once experiencing hunger. My pain levels have decreased, I have more energy and I can sleep through the night…”
Choosing from the cross-training menu
I have collected many exercises over the years from dance, yoga and Pilates classes as well as physical therapy from a variety of practitioners, and have developed a minimal and evolving plan that allows me to do what I need to do (teach ballet and yoga, bicycle, walk, sit to create content, coach, and study on the computer), feel able, minimize my stress, and care for my nervous system. I do have lingering pain from accidents and injuries of the past, so there is a certain amount of maintenance I require to minimize the effects of old whiplash and other injuries.
To my students and dancer friends who struggle to participate in other kinds of activity aside from dancing, I share Eliza Gaynor Minden’s words from The Ballet Companion** section on Cross-Training:
“It may be that all you want to do is dance, but the well-rounded dancer can benefit from a variety of training tools. Pilates, resistance training, the ancient practice of yoga, along with thoroughly modern forms of exercise such as Gyrotonic and Floor-Barre can improve overall strength and stamina, help overcome specific weaknesses, and generally complement a dancer’s regime. You can become a better, stronger, more capable dancer by doing more than just dancing.”
So how do we get the benefits of a variety of cross-training exercises or workouts, with the least expenditure of time and effort?
Consider starting with short and simple yoga
Yoga makes me feel good, and I finally developed a consistent personal practice starting three years ago with the Yoga with Adriene YouTube Channel 30-Day Challenge and monthly calendars.
I found that doing short, 15-30 minute practices daily, in addition to weekly full-length in-person classes at local studios, made me feel amazing! It manages my pain, balances my strength, and gives me time for self-study and relaxation. Over time, my own personal practice has grown, and I continue to learn more through teaching others.
I agree with yoga teacher Georgina Berbari, in the article “How Long Should a Yoga Session Be? A yoga teacher shares some thoughtful insight:” “The beauty of being a yogi who practices at home is that some days, your practice is five minutes long, and others, it’s nearly an hour — and that’s totally cool. When you’re not in an actual studio, and you’re flowing freely without instruction, there’s a lot more flexibility in terms of how long you remain on your mat.”
In the same article, Sara DiVello, a nationally recognized yoga and meditation teacher shares that, “Though there’s no yogic handbook detailing the designated length you should make your practice in order for it to “work” (whatever that means), she’s no stranger to feeling obligated to remain on her mat for a certain amount of time.” But obligation and long duration do not a happy practitioner make.
Indeed, rather than starting with an hour or more of yoga every day, what worked for me was to practice consistently at least 5 minutes a day, focusing on specific areas of the body or themes that are relevant to me that particular day (quick wins, reinforcing the practice with how great it could make me feel in minimal time), and that once I was doing so regularly, it became easier to add in more.
This insight that I was more likely to practice more often if it were for less time per session, I then applied to my meditation, physical therapy and cross-training.
Minimalist approaches to fitness
Last year, I added a little cardio/full-body workout to my habits, inspired by reading The Minimalists’ book Essential**, of which Joshua Fields Millburn’s essay “18-Minute Minimalist Exercises” was a part. I appreciated his applying a minimalist and enjoyable philosophy to fitness, and the example of committing to only 18 minutes daily of exercises he enjoys, outside in the park, to get great results!
Fields Millburn recommends doing exercises you like, using movement to de-stress, and building in variety. For example, “I do only exercises I enjoy. I don’t enjoy running, so I don’t do it. I attempted it for six months and discovered it wasn’t for me. If you see me running, call the police—someone is chasing me. Instead, I find other ways to do cardio: I walk, I get on the elliptical machine at the gym, I do bodyweight exercises that incorporate cardio.” I laughed at that description, as I feel quite the same way about running, but also need to keep my endurance up in order to be able to demonstrate dance and yoga as well as speak in class.
Continues Fields Millburn: “Variety keeps exercise fresh. When I first started exercising, I used to hit the gym three times per week, which was certainly better than not exercising at all. Then, as I got more serious, I started going to the gym daily. This routine became time-consuming, and doing the same thing over and over eventually caused me to plateau. These days I mix it up: I walk every day, and I still hit the gym occasionally, but the thing that has made the biggest, most noticeable difference has been the variety of daily eighteen-minute bodyweight exercises.”
I really got jazzed by their podcast “Ep 174 Minimalist Fitness.(with Ben Greenfield),” and subsequently adapting my own minimalist fitness regimen. I learned the details of the “10-Minute Workout” from the Optimal Living Weekly newsletter of the Optimal Living Daily podcast by Justin Malik in February 2020, and it is also featured in the article, “Study Finds 10 Minutes of Exercise is All You Need.”
The article states, “There is an ongoing debate on the effectiveness of short workouts and whether or not longer is better. We do know that short bursts of high intensity interval training can be more effective than 45 minutes of moderate cardio, but longer workouts can help us build endurance. Ideally, we could do both — a couple of lengthy sweat sessions every week mixed in with a couple of short workouts leads to long-term fitness.”
Sounds like a manageable combination for me- regular, short bursts of activity, whether they be yoga, walking, resistance training, or other cardio, mixed with longer sessions when possible.
My current “Micro-Workout”
The minimal program described is designed to be simple, minimal, and adaptable, and as the research found, “Not only are 10 minute workouts effective, but in some cases, you don’t need any equipment or room to complete them. Ben Greenfield, fitness and triathlon expert, recommends completing these moves three times:
- 50 jumping jacks
- 15 body weight squats
- 15 push-ups (on your knees is fine)
- 15 reverse lunges per side
- 15 tricep dips (using a chair or bench)
Try doing this workout every morning and see if you notice a difference in a couple of weeks. Your results might surprise you.”
Last year, I chose versions of each of the basic exercises that suited me at that time, and also recorded videos for each element with a variety of fun variations and modifications to try. Maybe you don’t feel up to jumping today (or ever), then consider my side-lying jumping jacks. Or perhaps your aversion to push ups could become delight with the right variation.
“Micro-Workout” YouTube Playlist:
[Side note: how can it be nearly a year since I created these videos? That was before my website and blog were yet up, and they were among the first I shared on my new A Blythe Coach Channel! I can see in these videos the difference improvements to my camera, microphone, editing, and more have made! But I think the message and variations in each are still worthwhile, keeping in mind that I’ve brought the quality of my videos up a lot since then and seek continual improvement with each one that I make.]
Full disclosure, though I tried to do the workout daily at first, it was certainly correct to say that it yields results! I was super sore after just one round (not the recommended three) in the beginning, and after nearly a year now, I have worked my way up and settled into doing the workout the recommended three times through, but only 2-3 times per week. I saw results right away, particularly in my arm strength, and am much fitter than if I didn’t do it, with a minimal expenditure of time! As I plateau, I’ll keep trying new variations of the movements to add challenge, but not increase the time spent.
On a weekly basis, I also do my mini physical therapy practice (distilled down to two exercises) about twice, and you can see me doing both workouts live from time to time on my Instagram and Facebook Lives as accountability and inspiration 🙂
More movement motivations
Or maybe none of these exercises is right for you, but the idea of coming up with your own edited capsule or micro-workout inspires you! There are other fun ideas to move your body on my “Wonderful Dance Warmup” playlist, “Ballet Barre” playlist, “Sumptuous Stretching,” and “Concentrated Core Conditioning,” “Arm Artistry,” “Foot & Ankle,” “Legs, Legs, Legs” specific groupings. Or maybe a focus on your breathing through yoga pranayama practices from the “Beautiful Breathing” playlist is something you want to add to the mix.
In the spring/summer/fall I do more bicycle riding and I enjoy long walks and hikes all year round and swimming when I can get it. My next goal is to be able to do a pull-up, and perhaps to work in a minimal jump rope regimen at the park (like Fields Millburn, I hate running, but used to enjoy skipping rope), will keep you posted on my progress!
Tips to customize your fitness fun
Make it minimal with “atomic” habits
Want to create your own minimal routine to achieve well-being, physical or dance technique goals? I’ve benefited greatly from reading the book Atomic Habits** last year and a couple particularly valuable takeaways for me were to make the habits truly manageable and small (“Atomic”), and to make sure they are relevant to your identity (an enjoyable expression of who you are!), or that which you are wanting to manifest.
Thus, I recommend making your new habit as tiny as possible at first, so light and low-commitment that you can find no excuse to wiggle out of doing it and can build a regular practice to see results.
You could commit to five minutes of yoga or stretching daily, a walk around the block, or take the stairs when you see them…so that it’s downright silly to skip it no matter how busy you are. If you skip a day, you genuinely miss it, and you just might get carried away and want to do more!
Don’t skip more than one day in a row
I really like Matt D’Avella’s “The Two Day Rule” rule of not skipping more than one day of a habit. This way it’s not perfectionistic 100-percent-ism or failure, rather you can take breaks when needed, but it still creates that consistency and results that will keep you going.
Habit tracking and giving yourself credit
As I shared in my “Healthy Habit Building” Blog, I learned to track my habits while training with Accomplishment Coaching, and in recent years I have established new habits, stacking them, and tracking them. I’ve become a consistent journaling, gratitude, and meditation, German language learning, a short sequence of Physical Therapy exercises for my knee, a minimal full-body workout, and more.
For me, it is important to give myself “credit,” preferably colorful, playful, celebratory credit, to track the new habit(s) visually and with analytics over time. It is so satisfying to color in squares or check off boxes, or even use stickers, it makes me want to leave no empty boxes in the row!
I have enjoyed the Atiliay.com Monthly Mindset + Goals Sheet and monthly Habit Tracker as well as creating a similar setup in a notebook or bullet journal, and electronically on apps like the Today Habit Tracker App which lives on my phone’s home screen. I have also enjoyed working with an accountability partner and briefly reporting to each other daily on our performing our promised habits and actions. What appeals to you?
What will your own minimal cross-training plan look like?
Is it irresistible and in small enough increments where I can find no good excuse to skip it?
Does it feel good, make you feel stronger (or more flexible or more relaxed…) and encourage you to keep going?
What structures of support and accountability do you need in place to guarantee consistent practice for guaranteed results?
Go ahead and tell me at the A Blythe Coach Facebook Page or on my website, ablythecoach.com
Blythe Stephens, MFA
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A Blythe Coach:
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