And easy not to do.
The 5BX Fitness plan is a set of very basic exercises (one is compelled to call them “calisthenics” and have visions of Jack LaLanne in his stretch shirt and stretch pants doing high steps and arm swirls) that were designed to help maintain a degree of physical fitness when A) Equipment was at its most basic, B) Time was a factor and extended sets of exercise were not practical, and C) Motivation was not exactly peaking. It was designed to whip the Canadian Air Force back into shape when 1/3 of their pilots were considered too overweight and out of shape to effectively fly their planes. And who can blame the poor pilots? It’s Canada, after all. Until the US runs out of wood, nobody’s going to be invading, and certainly not offering aerial combat over the Arctic Circle. All the same, the routines that were established for the pilots became very popular in the civilian market and were probably very beneficial as well. George Burns claimed to follow the routine and he lived to be 100, cigars and all.
5BX – 5 Basic Exercises – offers 6 levels of effort for the 5 basic exercises, which are always done in the same order. Starting at level 1 and progressing up each level is supposed to provide a reasonable level of fitness for the average person, and can be accomplished in about 11 minutes. And really, aren’t we mostly just average people, with about 11 minutes to spare? The exercises aren’t difficult; we probably all did a variation of them in P.E. class. There is sun-salutation-style stretch and touching of toes to start, crunches (it used to be sit-ups, but most programs go with the safer and more effective crunches), Superman-style back arches (again the caveat that there are safer, less stressful alternatives), pushups, and running in place (or going for a walk or run). Do this every day for 11 minutes, and it is supposed to improve your flexibility, your strength, help you lose weight, and be more fit. Once you get to a maintenance level, you only need to do it three times a week to maintain the advantages. All you need is a bit of floor space and 11 minutes. Easy to do.
And… easy not to do. What is 11 minutes going to benefit me? I need something that is going to “torch the fat off my midsection” like the Muscle&Fitness programs promise, and the ones that want to melt fat away in 30 minutes a day, and OMG do you see how fit Paul Ryan is and you know he uses P90X and all. I want to lose 12 pounds in 14 days, I want to reprogram my Caveman body, I want to eat my way to fitness… I want an exercise routine that asks me with every 3am infomercial “Are you tough enough for the Spartan/Templar/Marines workout?” 11 minutes is nothing. I spend 11 minutes coming up with reasons not to work out. I spend 11 minutes deleting email or listening to voicemail or thawing bread from the freezer to sop up bacon grease from the skillet with. 5 exercises that don’t target my lats or isolate my rhomboids and take less time than it takes me to drink a 64-oz super slurpee, brainfreeze included? No 11-minute exercise is going to help me, I need hours of exercise.
That is how part of my mind thinks about it, anyway. And that is why I roll through routine after routine without getting the results I want, I think. If I look at it more closely, 11 minutes a day of some kind of exercise is 77 minutes in a week. Over an hour of exercise per week. Over two hours in two weeks. Five and a half hours in a month, 66 hours in a year. Can I truthfully say I’ve devoted 66 hours in the last year to fitness and exercise, and had the kind of results I wanted? Or do I put in a hard 35-40 hours in a month, then slack off for six weeks, then spend 5 hours regaining lost ground, then put in another 10, then fall off again…? And these exercises only offer to provide a baseline of fitness. I can always increase diversity and effort from there. The exercises themselves are set up to be increasingly difficult, but there is always a stage from which a person can continue doing them regularly. They don’t require days of layoffs to heal and build muscle, they don’t require power fuel to push through those last reps. They require 11 minutes, roughly the time it takes for The Weather Channel to cycle through the local report. So, why do I fight the idea of a low-stress, effective, equipment-free, time-saver workout?
Because in my mind I should sweat, I should pant, I should shake and ache and limp away from exercises. I shouldn’t be done in 11 minutes. This from the guy who will just not buy what he came to the store for if it means standing line behind more than 3 people. From the guy who still uses a timer to see how fast he can peel and dice 50 lbs of potatoes or breakdown a case of chickens. I should jump up and down that there is an effective routine that only takes 11 minutes of my day to perform. It is exactly the kind of 80/20 percentage I seek to include in my life. Thing is, it is only effective when compounded upon day after day of routine. And I hate to wait.
I wouldn’t see loss right away, I wouldn’t see improvements right away. I wouldn’t hurt or burn or stiffen or limp. It might take weeks, or months, to feel like I was making progress. But the fact is that the progress would be there, it would have been built by small, dedicated, compounded efforts and choices. Those days and months and year are going to pass by whether I establish a basic routine or not. 11 short minutes and 5 basic exercises might do more to benefit me over the course of a year than any other single thing I might do, or might not do.