Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

11 Jan 2024, 11:08 a.m.

A Few Athletic Lessons

I have learned or re-learned a smattering of lessons in the last few months, concerning athletic activities and inhabiting my body in general.

Sometimes, when I do crunches or sit-ups or similar abdominal exercises, my neck tenses up and gets stiff. I mentioned this to the trainer who leads the weekly videocall strength training class I take. He suggested two tips. One: imagine myself leading from my sternum, not my head. Two (and he prefaced this tip with "this one is weird"): put the tip of my tongue between my teeth. Basically, it's a feedback mechanism. The jaw and neck tend to tense up together. So if I feel my teeth getting a bit bitey on my tongue, that's a reminder to loosen that up, which generally also relaxes the neck. I tried both of these and they definitely worked for me!

I am incrementally getting stronger and otherwise fitter. Consistent guided strength exercise works! I can lift heavier things, spend longer in a plank pose, and bike better and longer and harder.

Stairs are inherently hard, especially while wearing an N95 mask. There's usually no need to rush, and if I'm going up several flights, it's okay that I need a little time at the end to gather my breath.

I got to try outdoor top rope rock climbing for the first time last year, and then got to do some outdoor gym bouldering. I had a great time, and one particularly cool aspect was the puzzley, problem-solving aspect of it. I've heard that from a lot of rock climbers before, that they liked learning how to solve a climbing problem. But until I got into it, I didn't internalize a crucial part of the whole hobby: the validity of route ratings or "grades". At climbing gyms and outdoors, local consensus arrives at a numerical score for how difficult it is to ascend a particular route, and I can feel some reasonable assurance that there is a path for a novice like me to climb a 5.1 or a 5.2. The problem is soluble, though it offers no visible pointers on how to solve it. This feels like a rare, interesting experience in my life right now. I have problems that I know are soluble and where I'm fairly sure I know the steps, and problems that don't have guarantees of being soluble at all.

Puzzles as a social hobby often don't work for me, but rock climbing seems to be an exception. I am dubious about computer games, or most competitive board games, or puzzles within scavenger hunts, where I'm asked to put my trust in the creators that they've made a fun pathway, yet it might be buggy in some hidden way that will make it unplayable/unwinnable -- and I won't find out for a while. It's hard for me to have fun like that. In contrast, rock climbing on well-known graded routes feels more like chess: thoroughly debugged through a zillion people's experiences, and thus more emotionally safe, and thus fun-able.

My function and my mood improve significantly when I attend to adequate rest, hydration, food intake, protein intake and electrolytes intake in particular, and intentional movement. Adequate hydration is much more than I was used to, especially in winter, and drinking an entire liter of cold herbal tisane within an hour upon waking up is a marvelous pick-me-up. (And I'm now even more critical of my mother's habit, back when I was a child, of criticizing me at dinnertime for drinking too much water.)

A day with a bike ride in it has a kind of floor to it; it's very hard for a day with a bike ride to feel particularly bad, all in all.

If I'm a bit upset, I can work out about it, and it usually helps. Getting sweaty is helpful in completing a stress response cycle (per Emily Nagoski).

I aspire to be a jock, in the sense that I aspire to regularly rejoice in intentional movement, improve my physical capabilities, and bring lessons from that fitness practice into other parts of my life. And I figure I'll be living in this thing till the end of the line and I may as well make friends.


11 Jan 2024, 23:09 p.m.


I particularly like your last line there: “I figure I'll be living in this thing till the end of the line and I may as well make friends.”

14 Jan 2024, 20:49 p.m.

One of the phrases I have enjoyed that sprang from the discord around Casey Johnston's newsletter is "adult-onset jock"--as many of us realize that we have started to do physical movement and like it and rearrange other parts of our lives to do athletic things even if we had no history of it before. And that this is Good, Actually. (I am in my jock era right now, somehow, and I am still allowed to sit at the nerds' lunch table, which is not what the media of my youth led me to believe.)