Damon Young is one of Australia’s most celebrated philosophers. He recently put out a book called How to Think About Exercise, which explores the link between fitness and mental wellbeing. We enjoyed it so much that we reached out for a chat.
What is the relationship between exercise and the mind?
It’s more than we often think. There’s plenty of scope within exercise to encourage imagination, to prompt thought, and offer meditation. There are even opportunities to develop virtues, such as courage and discipline.
You seem to be a particularly big fan of walking as exercise. Why?
When you’re walking you can encourage a state called Transient Hypofrontality or – as I call it – “walker’s reverie”. It’s a creative state that allows ideas that were previously kept apart to intermingle. It’s almost like meditation. Charles Darwin was someone who knew all about this. He would go for a walk every day on a path he had around his home. The walk, and the state of mind that went with it, helped him to do a lot of hard creative work and ultimately change millennia of dogma.
There’s no doubting that exercise equipment has progressed along way since its invention in the 19th Century by the Swedish physician Dr. Jonas Gustav Wilhelm Zander. But just when we started getting swallowed up by our own machines, savvy fitness experts are returning to core basics. The shift away from static and machine based resistance exercise is thanks to the rise in dynamic focussed strength training. Skill development in this area is a vital key to harnessing and maximising one’s development.
The problem with the old machine approach is that it’s a symptom of our society's obsession with sitting: First at your desk at the office, then commuting to the gym and finally on the equipment itself where you’re sitting down again while pushing weights.
Improving body movement, technique and stability to increase strength and power is now a welcome change to the very “unfitness-like” training of the past. We’ll outline three key ways you can contribute to the downfall of machine and eradicate the static in your routine.
The basis of Calisthenics boils down to this: the ability to control your own body weight in various movements and angles. And it’s benefits are manifold. The lack of equipment required, the opportunity to develop huge strength improvements, show off eye-catching movements, and develop a lean physique has inspired many to take up the gymnastics-inspired discipline. A Professional World Cup Circuit is now in full flight and there’s resurgence in the sport thanks to social media heavyweights such as Barstarzz and Frank Medrano inspiring thousands to incorporate it into their fitness repertoire.
2. Olympic Lifting
Olympic Lifting is experiencing a similar uptake in mainstream popularity primarily due to it being a vital component in Crossfit Training. And rightly so; the method can develop dramatic increases in power and strength. The aim is to attempt a maximum-weight lift in a single go. The key lifts, perhaps amusingly named (snatch, clean and jerk and power clean), are not to be underestimated in their ability for developing the body’s major muscle groups. It takes time and dedication to master the method, but the payoff is functional strength and increased mobility. Find an experienced trainer to get you started and get those hands powdered.
3. Kettle Bells
Originally developed in 18th Century Russia, these dense little hooped iron or steel cannonballs are an increasingly common sight these days. While not a sight for sore eyes, they’re definitely a tool for sore arms – in a good way. Also known as the Girya, they allow the user to carry out varied swinging or ballistic exercises that combine the holy trinity of cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training. For those of a more competitive bent, Kettlebells even have dedicated sport known as Girevoy, which involves 10 minute snatch and / or jerk routines. Leading Educators in the field, such as Strong First, showcase the true precision and versatility of this classic piece of training equipment to develop a truly functional lean physique.