According to Wikipedia, ‘”It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is a popular Christmas wrong written in 1963 by Edward Pola and George Wyle, and recorded and released that year by pop singer Andy Williams.’ Thanks for filling in my knowledge gap, Wikipedia.
This song has been playing in my head a whole lot recently because the holidays are here and they’re the most wonderful time of the year. Yesterday was a poignant day for that song, because yesterday was my favorite day of the month. The version I sang to myself yesterday was:
It’s the most wonderful day of the month
With Ninjas ket’tle-belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful day of the month!!!!
Okay, so I’m no Lin-Manuel Miranda, don’t hold it against me. My excitement is for Day 1 of Week 1 of new classes at Mark Fisher Fitness. Let me give you some background to explain why I’m so excited.
At Mark Fisher Fitness, we teach four different classes in four week cycles. During Week 1, we have more time to learn new exercises and review our technique, and classes are relatively easier. As we progress into Week 2 and Week 3, classes become progressively more challenging, so that we can challenge our fitness by progressing with the weights lifted during class, doing sets that are longer in duration, or doing more sets over time. By Week 4, classes are at their most challenging, giving everyone a chance to really get after it when the exercises feel the best. That four week cycle is a way that we bring the idea of “periodization,” or systematic increase in intensity over time, to our class training.
The energy in the Clubhouse changes from Week 1 to Week 4. During Week 4, the atmosphere is more serious, and Ninjas are there to do work. During Week 1, it’s inquisitive, and we’re all learning new classes together. I love getting after it during Week 4, but I really love teaching new classes during Week 1, and if Monday of Week 1 is my absolute favorite. It’s the most wonderful day of the month, for one big reason:
Classes are new for everyone.
On the Monday of Week 1, the first day of the new class cycle, the playing field is level for everyone. Nobody has a pre-conceived notion of how easy or hard class is. There are exercises that nobody has done yet. There is an incredible opportunity for us to learn new exercises and how the sequence of different exercises effect each other, and set the intention for the coming weeks.
If there’s a good time to do this, it’s in the last class cycle of the year, which would mean that Monday, December 5th, was my favorite teaching day of the year. Learning new exercises is probably the second best thing I believe you can do for your movement practice. It allows our brains to do what they’re truly intended for:
We have a brain for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to produce adaptable and complex movements. There is no other reason to have a brain.
In neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert’s TED talk, he explains that the incredibly powerful human brain is so evolved because we’ve used tools and machines throughout our evolution. I’d highly recommend checking out his full talk here:
The real reason we have brains is to produce adaptable and complex movement, and adaptable and complex movement requires tremendous problem-solving abilities, which means that are brains are nature’s most refined problem solver ever. During a normal day, most of us are using our brains for problem solving rather than adaptable and complex movement. There are significant benefits of moving our bodies during repetitive exercises, but when it comes to exercise selection and program design, I feel strongly that we should regularly learn new exercises, or add variety to old ones, so that our brains have to work a bit more for their evolved abilities.
The nuances of a kettlebell swing are not as complex as the dexterity required to play a violin or type on a keyboard like I’m doing as I write this. Fine motor skills, or coordinating small muscles and movements with our eyes, is where the human brain truly stands apart. We also shine with gross motor skills, or movements of the arms, legs, and large parts of our body. It’s the ability to coordinate our movement, feel certain amounts of movement variability, and develop a refined control of that movement, that makes exercise an on-going process of refinement and improvement.
John Ratey is a doctor who wrote the book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science Of Exercise and the Brain, which tells the incredible story of the Naperville, Illinois phys ed program. Designed to focus on aerobic exercise, their program was shown to bring Naperville High School’s science test scores to the best in the nation. The book offers many insights into the benefits of movement, but I’d prefer a different subtitle:
SPARK: The newly-quantified understanding of how our brains and body have been working in unison since the evolution of our species.
I have a feeling that one won’t fit on the spine of a book, and won’t sell very well. Still, we’re constantly refining our understanding of how important aerobic exercise is for the body, with the overwhelming conclusion being Nike’s longterm slogan:
I’m not sure if our mitochondria know the difference between slogging away on a treadmill or swimming lap after lap, but I do think that we’re selling ourselves short if we’re considering only how our cells are responding. How is your mind responding? How you are you, as a person, feeling? Barring personal preference, I don’t think doing the same thing time and time again is as innately satisfying as learning, practicing, and performing new exercises.
One one end of the spectrum, we can model modern society’s fast-paced and frenetic style by switching things every day. On the other end, we can choose several exercises and stick to them with not a single change or variation available. Ideally, we live in the middle.
For me, the four week class cycle at MFF is living in the middle. Month in and month out we deadlift, swing, squat, row, push-up, split squat, and bear crawl. We emphasize continuous long-term improvement. We know that these exercises do the body good, and that variety treats the mind well. We use ample variations over the course of the year, practicing them long enough to demonstrate a degree of mastery, progressing to related exercises, and revisiting them over time to see how we’re doing. The four week cycle allows us to balance how we train our brains and how we train our bodies, for the best experience possible.
I’m writing this on Tuesday the 6th, after my absolute favorite Monday of the year. Coach Fury, who wrote the newest class cycle we’re using at MFF, has set us up to nail some really great moves in the last cycle of the year. If you’re a Ninja, get your ass to class and check out these sweet new moves! I’d love to see you in class this week.
If you’re in New York and haven’t checked out the Clubhouse yet, MFF is running a sweet deal during which you can save up to 75% on your first month if you join by Dec. 31st. Check it out HERE. Then get your ass to class and check out these sweet new moves!