Back to Fitness: Differentiation

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By John Andersen

A hot topic in education over the past decade is that of “Differentiation.”

Differentiated instruction in schools simply refers to providing different students with different avenues of learning, i.e. realizing that not all students learn the same way. Attention should be given to help each individual student maximize their learning vs. forcing all students to learn a subject in the exact same manner.

On this same note, much could be said of evaluating all students with the same criteria, such as with S.O.L. testing.  A great cartoon was floating around the Internet recently where there was a bird, chimpanzee, penguin, elephant, fish, seal, and a dog, all lined up in front of an instructor. The instructor says, “For a fair selection, everyone has to take the same exam:  Please climb that tree.” That comic sure speaks loudly to our culture’s propensity to evaluate and judge people with the same criteria, even though we are all so incredibly different from each other. Every person has great worth, every person has their own talents, and every person can contribute much, just all in wonderfully different ways.

And so of course I’m going to apply all of this to our fitness! I think that sometimes when we start a “back to fitness” program, we often feel like we have been time-warped right back into middle school. We are self-conscious about our bodies, and we compare ourselves to others and to mythical standards. We form cliques and “us versus them” mentalities. We are inspired, intimidated, and sometimes lost, all at the same time.

But let’s back away from these middle school mentalities and really focus on what matters—getting everyone to become healthy and improve their fitness. And here’s where my point of differentiation comes in. We can consider “getting healthy and improving fitness” as the subject, and we must realize that each person is going to get there differently.

Although I’d like to think that running is the best way for everyone to achieve and maintain fitness, the reality is that it just doesn’t work for some people! Some people HATE running (gasp!), or some people’s bodies just reject it and make it miserable.  So, thank God, we have walking and hiking! Or Melissa Miller’s boot camp class. Or incredible road cycling all around us. Or ACAC with its really nice gym equipment. Or swimming at the YMCA. Or P90X videos. Or Yoga. The list goes on and on.

Of course we all know this, but my point is that over time, each of us can find some innate avenues towards reaching fitness that just speak to us for some reason. Maybe it’s the way you were raised, your body-type, or your current living situation—there is a path to fitness for everyone as long as we are open-minded.

Let’s say you have that classic “Dad physique.” You know the one I’m talking about. You’re ready to make a change and get back to how you looked and felt in the glory days. You used to run, and all your friends run. So you start running. But it’s tough. It’s beyond tough.  You’re not excited about it, your knees hurt, and each run leaves you feeling worse than before you started. Do you quit? Do you just throw out all your mediums in favor of larges?  Well, let’s first just change the avenue; let’s differentiate!

Maybe you should try cycling, or sign up for boot camp.  Maybe you get a map of Shenandoah National Park and start planning out some AT section hikes and make that your fitness goal.

We’re not the same as we were when we were 20, both in fitness, and in life stage. So open up your mind to different avenues towards fitness and I bet you’ll find something that will stick and allow you to reach a new state of fitness that can then open up new doors.

And last, how about the “climb a tree” test.  What if everyone’s “fitness” test was to run a marathon or do a triathlon or bench-press 220 pounds??  I think it’s safe to say that we have all been on the judging side of this as well as on the judged side of this.  Who is more fit, someone who cycles for 3 hours every Saturday morning, or someone who walks for 30 minutes every day?

The point here is that all exercise is good and we should encourage everyone who is out there moving. Don’t compare yourselves to others, or you’ll get discouraged. I consider myself a pretty good runner, but there are so many runners who are so much faster than I, and if I focused on that it would just bring me down.

Instead, find your avenue, put your head down, and get to work.

The beauty of exercise and fitness is that hard work is rewarded.  Your fitness doesn’t care if you wear a fitbit, if your shoes are new, or if you go to the gym.  It only cares that you are trying and making an effort, and making it a regular part of your life.  Remember that, like it or not, you are a role model for all the people around you.  Hard work and perseverance are virtues that make anyone a good role model!

For the next several months, I’m going to get some help on these Back to Fitness columns from various experts in the different avenues to fitness—cycling, boot camp, swimming, etc.—to see if we can inspire each of you in your own way to add some new tricks to your game.

Remember that this is your one life to live here on this earth, and you live in an incredible place!  So let’s make the most of it. (in our own individual ways of course!)

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