The second truth is that individual workouts don’t matter much, but regularity does. Most of us are training for a specific sport even if we don’t realize it. If you’re puking occasionally and scraping all the hair off your shins while deadlifting in a CrossFit workout, you’re training for CrossFit at that point in your life. If you want to get better at shin-hair removal, then you’re going to need to do it regularly. Specific sets, reps, and weights are all less important than showing up regularly. Miss a workout and you don’t progress. Do some weird-ass version of your workout in a hotel room using the towel rack (I ripped one out of the wall once, it was expensive) and you’ll at least maintain…and likely get better.
The third truth is that your sports and interests will change over time, and fighting that natural arc is counterproductive to staying fit. I used to travel with a pull-up bar and a piece of wood with small finger-holds on it. I’d hang the fingerboard in hotel room doorways; that exercise mattered to me more than anything. I haven’t done it in 20 years, and I’d likely shoot myself if I had to do it today. Hanging on to what was important in the past isn’t conducive to lifelong fitness. It’s more important to follow your interests, stay active and explore new physical skills and ideas. A little or a lot of obsession is essential for high-performance competitive sport, but life changes, and we have to change our physical expressions as well, or we’ll get bored. People who are bored with moving, stop moving. When I see a pack of elderly folks busting a move through the mall wearing coordinated track outfits, I cheer them on, and use their motivation to get my own sorry ass to a workout. Those folks probably weren’t doing that in their 20s, but they look and feel better than the other elderly people reclining in the food court.
The fourth truth is that the most important movements are less about strength than understanding the movement itself. I recently taught a climbing/training clinic where one guy in his late 60s intrigued me. I noticed that when doing pull-ups, he always pulled the rings down to his pecs, not the usual half-hearted chin-fuzz over the bar. There were a couple of hipster post-CrossFitters in the clinic, who started showing off by doing sloppy muscle-ups. The older guy asked, Is that valuable for climbing? I replied, Probably not directly, but it does show you have good range of motion and strength. The old guy then did the cleanest, smoothest muscle-up I’ve ever seen. He was a gymnast in his youth, and still coached. His arms were twigs, like mine, but he understood how to do a muscle-up in the same way old mountain guides know how to walk smoothly through rough terrain. Being strong is less important than understanding how to move. And moving is everything.
The final truth is that fitness is worth sacrificing less important things for, and most things are, long-term, far less important than fitness. Fitness is really health, after a certain point, and being healthy requires exercise. There is very little that exercise doesn’t help alleviate, from depression to diabetes to osteoporosis. Find a movement that feels good and do it with regularity. Thirty minutes of running through the streets and a fast bowl of soup is a far better use of an hour than looking at new sofa fabrics or whatever else we do at lunchtime. Blow off that work meeting to hike up a hill; when you’re 70, still being able to hike up a hill will be far more important than the meetings you missed.