There are a lot of things you can do to improve your inner monologue, but there are also any number of things that can produce “noise” that inhibits that improvement. We’ve discussed how one’s physical state can affect the mind, so naturally improving one’s physical state allows one to more easily improve one’s mental state.
Working out is intense, hard, and immensely rewarding. There’s nothing quite like lifting your body weight from the floor all the way up over your head, but daily exercise is excellent in its own way. For one, starting your morning with a quick exercise gets the blood flowing much faster, which starts the day much more quickly and extends viable hours. The quick burst of adrenaline and positive hormones don’t hurt, either.
I tend to recommend a quick callisthenics routine that hits the biggest muscle groups.
The pushup motion targets the entire upper body, from the shoulders to the pecs and from the triceps to the biceps. While most people have a vague idea of how a pushup should work, there are a few basic tips that often get ignored:
- Look forward, not toward the floor. This helps compress the shoulder blades and puts greater strain on the stronger pectoral and shoulder muscles than on the comparatively weak arm muscles.
- Keep the back absolutely straight. Your posture during pushups should match proper standing posture, meaning the back is straight and the chest is out. A reasonably fit person should have the chest and hips reach the floor at roughly the same time.
- Lower slowly, explode up. There are two kinds of strength exercise: explosive and restrained. Explosive motions build burst strength, while restrained motions build endurance strength, so they should be tied together in one’s workout. For best results, we resist gravity going down and explode against gravity going up (as opposed to following gravity down and only fighting it up).
- Breathe. I find I get best results when I exhale over two “down” motions and inhale quickly at the top of the second. For each exhalation, I “grunt” it out, as opposed to continually exhaling in a controlled manner – this is similar to the “Ki-hap” or “Kiai” of martial arts, which passively exercises the abs and increases explosive power.
Start with ten pushups a day, and add to it as necessary to produce one set of reasonably difficult, yet not overly strenuous exercise.
The deep-knee bend is a classic calisthenics motion. As the motion incorporates the whole of the lower body muscle groups, it’s a perfect complement to the pushup. Video tutorials are among the best ways to develop proper squatting technique, but here are some tips from my experiences:
- Keep your feet just slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Angle your feet such that, in the deepest part of the squat, your knees point out directly over your toes.
- Squat backwards, as though you’re trying to sit on a really short stool.
- Keep your posture straight and head up.
- Use your arms either to counterbalance your weight through the squat (i.e. straight out in front of your face) or keep your hands out of the way on your hips or head.
Twenty squats is a great place to start, but for better exertion you can do jump-tucks. The initial motion is the same as the squat, but instead of standing back up you jump into the air and attempt to tuck your legs to your chest before you land. This imploys the same principle of explosive-restrained balance as the pushup before.
Finally, we need to focus on that important muscle group between the upper and lower body: the core. I don’t employ situps, because there is a possibility of spine or lower-back injury and I have a pointy coccyx. Instead, I do planks and leg raises.
Planks are a lot like pushups without the actual pushing part. You start in the proper pushup pose, but lower yourself onto your forearms instead of just your hands. Then you maintain this position for thirty seconds to a minute. When you do it right, it starts to get unpleasant after the first ten to fifteen seconds.
Leg raises are the opposite of situps. Instead of curling your chest up toward your knees, you bring your knees up toward your chest. Lying flat on your back with arms straight down by your sides, you lift your feet three inches off the ground, then bring them up to the ceiling, then slowly lower them back to three inches above the ground. Generally you want to do ten leg raises, then hold the “down” position for thirty seconds, then repeat as necessary to feel properly exercised.
Callisthenics are highly effective for preserving and improving your physical strength and endurance, getting your blood flowing first thing in the morning, working off excess energy that prevents nightly sleep, and providing a quick natural emotional boost. I highly recommend adding them to your morning routine.