“Spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.” ― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
After 30+ years of all-but-living-at-the-gym, I find myself wanting to get back in touch with nature and enjoy time outside again. Now the changes in my workout routine are based, not on a group fitness schedule, but, on the changing of the seasons.
by Leigh Crews
Maybe it’s a side benefit of moving to the country where, at any moment, I may find a wild turkey strutting his stuff down the middle of the road to my house, (think Pharrell’s “Happy” with feathers) or maybe it started with the remarkable view from my “outdoor gym“. Whatever the reason, I find myself wanting to go into the gym less and less and seeking ways to burn those calories outdoors. Exercising outdoors, not just the lifting weights kind or the cardio kind, but also the digging, planting and building things kind, gives a perspective and appreciation of life and nature’s abundance that you just can’t get in even the best equipped gym.
Now that I’m more active outside, I’ve noticed a natural “periodization” thing going on. In the gym, my overall workout intensity doesn’t vary that much, month to month. (It was always on HIGH! ) Outside, I’ve noticed a celestial shift to vigorous work in the spring and fall, more moderate, water-based activities in the summer and a restoration and recovery attitude about my winter workouts. Not only do my choices change with the seasons, so does my timing. For example, in winter, I typically wait until the warmest possible time of day to take a long walk with the doodle. In the summer we avoid the Alabama heat waves and transition to early morning, even before breakfast. The same is true for TRX, yoga, yard work, you name it.
All that may seem like no more than common sense. But, I’ve noticed something else that makes my eyebrows go up. Organically, without conscious intention, my approach to outdoor exercise falls in line with the Five Elements of traditional Chinese medicine. In case the topic is not familiar enough to be in your repertoire for cocktail conversation, it works something like this:
- Wood is the element of spring. Wood relates to living, growing entities and spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. Think spring cleaning, lemon water, eggs and light raw foods. We categorize January as “resolution month” and everyone knows there will be a brief increase in gym attendance, but it is in spring that our thoughts turn to swimsuits and a re-dedication to a vigorous exercise program after the hibernation of winter. Spring is my favorite time time for long hikes and bike rides.
- Summer is appropriately represented by fire. Fire relates to the heat of the sun and summer is a time of outdoor activity and spicy and/or cooling foods, like peppers and ginger, cucumbers and watermelon, and cardiovascular exercise is my big thing when the days are long.
- Earth is the element of late summer (in Chinese medicine, summer is split in two). The earth element is a stabilizing, grounding force during the transition from the last hot days of summer to cooler fall weather. The ideal seasonal foods are apples, pears, sweet potatoes and squash. Take some walks. Maybe we’ll meet. Sit on the porch and reconnect with friends.
- Metal is the element of autumn. Fall table fare includes the root veggies, Brussels sprouts, apples and pears. It’s getting to be the time of year for hearty foods. Like me, the Chinese system suggests a greater focus on strength training in autumn, building muscle mass ahead of the more sedentary winter to come.
- Winter is the season of water. This is the time for restoration, rest and recovery. Enjoy warming foods, such as soups, roasted nuts, hot ginger or cinnamon teas. This is the best time of year to practice fluid exercises like Tai Chi and Yoga or rhythmic outdoor activities like cross country skiing (snow permitting, adjust accordingly).
Each season offers its own unique opportunities to move, to feel and to be. Changing with the seasons provides an escape from the boredom of doing the same routine for months (Years? We all know at least one!) on end.
So, how about a little seasonal shake-up? Even if you are still convinced down to your DNA that you’re a die-hard gym rat, it’s food for thought. And, that’s what I hope you’ll do. Are any of you doing “Chinese Medicine” workouts? Jump in the conversation and add a comment, below. Let me know what you think and how you change up your routine, outside or in, as the seasons go by.