Superman’s home planet sucked.
The air on Krypton was noxious, the radiation was intense, and the gravity would have flattened you like a space pancake. I imagine Krypton as a pressure cooker — a meaner, less habitable version of earth. Yet, Superman’s ancestors survived and his family did just fine there — at least up until the planet exploded.
By the time that Superman arrived on earth, the most intense and hostile things humans could throw at him pretty much felt like a backrub. Superman hadn’t changed. His environment had. His body was adapted to a certain level of environmental stress. So, when the environment changed, he experienced better performance.
Adaptation is a double-edged sword
If you’ve ever felt winded going up a flight of stairs or felt your blood pressure skyrocket after someone failed to signal, it’s probably because Earth’s demands have begun to feel a bit extreme. After all, the hardest physical challenges you experience in your day-to-day life are your adaptive triggers. So, if your toughest daily stresses are slinging around logs and boulders you’ll adapt to that. And if your toughest daily stresses are walking from chair to chair, you’ll adapt to that too.
If you want to avoid adapting your way into lower physical function, you need to spend time on Krypton. These experiences can be described as brief periods of discomfort that pressure-treat you into a stronger, more resilient version of yourself. So, how do we make the journey? Good news, everyone: you don’t need higher gravity when you’ve got a barbell on your back. You don’t need thin Kryptonian air when you’re working hard to oxygenate your body during aerobic work.
Exercise is just a series of stresses that disrupt your earth physiology. When we work out, we spend brief periods of time on Krypton. It’s stress — yes — but a specific and highly-targeted type. Unlike getting poked in the eye or waiting in line at the DMV, this stress triggers favourable adaptations. Combine it with rest and nutrition and modest superpowers begin to sprout.
The way we perceive day-to-day stresses ultimately depends on what we’ve prepared ourselves for. This is where exercise comes into play. These experiences make other physical challenges seem gentle in comparison. The alternative is spreading that discomfort out across your entire life and adapting in the wrong direction — softening instead of hardening. Retreating instead of advancing. I think the moral of this particular comic is that you can’t avoid discomfort but you can choose your moments.
Just in case you’re not feeling super right this second…
I want to remind you that you’ve got some tremendous genetics kicking around in there. Your ancestors survived floods, famine, predators, and disease. Nature spent a long time trying to snuff your whole family line. Yet, here you are, you highly-durable so-and-so! Some incredible combination of strength, savvy, grit, and smarts carried your DNA to the present day. Your very existence is proof of a hard-coded badassery. Nobody can take that away.
Consistency beats intensity
Exercise should not crush you. After all this dramatic talk, I feel like I need to point this out. You have to be uncomfortable — that’s just how human physiology works. However, there is a giant gulf between where discomfort begins and where you feel too shattered to come back and do it again the next day. Do not get suckered into that mentality. Exercise that beats you up completely misses the point of what exercise is supposed to do in the first place.
Dip your toes in the Kryptonian waters
It’s very tempting to come charging out of the gate. More! Faster! Heavier! There’s a problem, though. One does not simply move to Krypton. That’s why it’s so important to show up with the discipline to not do very much on your first day. Really, a 6 or 7 out of 10 effort. That’s what we call an Inoculation Workout.
An Inoculation Workout is not dramatic. You are not showing up to Krypton to fight villains or avenge injustices. You’re simply giving yourself a moment to acclimate. Your first sojourn to Krypton is more of a spa day. Many people believe that their first workout back after a hiatus needs to be intense. To counter that idea, I’d like to bring up the scientific principle of who gives a shit?
A single workout — no matter how effective — will not transform you any more than eating a single quinoa bowl. However…a single workout can suck the fun out of things and reduce motivation. So, instead of trying to do anything creates excessive levels of soreness, fatigue, or demotivation, your job is to first probe your boundaries.
Locate the transition points between easy and not-so-easy. Dancing in that zone will stoke the fires of motivation and make your next workout even more likely. Momentum is everything here.
Metaphor or no?
Think about this as a literal inoculation. When you get a polio shot, they don’t give you all of the polio; just the minimum dose required trigger adaptation. You expect low-key symptoms as a sign of success. A bit of soreness. Greater awareness of your body. A feeling of, “Please sir, may I have another.” I’m not sure if that actually works for the polio example, but you get the idea. Ideally, you’ll work hard enough to feel like you’ve made a bit of progress. You’ll then walk out feeling like you could have done more. You can and you will become more super — one visit to Krypton at a time.