Exercise was something that I always enjoyed. It was just playing with friends at break time, after school and at the weekends. Then things got serious, training as an elite athlete there was always a performance goal to be met, every session was always pushing your body to its limit to find any small improvement. I began to stop looking forwards to it and started dreading it, I’d feel great afterwards but the sessions themselves were always gruelling.
As an athlete I learned that there were many ways of achieving the same goal, provided that you identified the component of fitness you were to work on, overloaded your body and allowed recovery, there was no right or wrong training session. But some were definitely more fun than others and when I got the chance, I’d always design them to be as enjoyable as possible.
When I left elite sport I was amazed by how narrow the exercise experience was for adults. There’s no need to do any specific training, periodisation or to work within any constraints. But most exercise products I found are presented in a very similar format to that of an elite athlete, focused around performance rather than long term enjoyment and sustainability. It’s possible to sacrifice the results for the journey in the short term, but to make any real change you have to accept the journey as part of your everyday for the rest of time. And for me that meant enjoying it which meant timed intervals, circuit training, repetitive movements for the sake of exercising didn’t make the cut.
“When I left elite sport I was amazed by how narrow the exercise experience was for adults.”
It was important for me that what I designed was enjoyable and that it should be a real workout. For me an enjoyable workout meant that it needed to be immersive, it would be improved by doing it with friends, and that it wouldn’t actually seem like a typical workout.
For most adults the goal is simply to improve general health; usually by burning energy, and improving cardiovascular and muscular strength. Since all movement fulfils these goals, why not do something that doesn’t require you to count down the seconds until it ends? I wanted to be as fit as I’d ever been and loving it. The obvious thing to do was to return to playground favourites, Tag, British Bulldogs, Capture the Flag, Dodgeball… you know the rest. They were a great part of my day and a workout in disguise. They were immersive, social and different every day. So that’s how Rabble came to be.
“It was important for me that what I designed was enjoyable and that it should be a real workout.”
As a former athlete it’s important to me that what I designed felt like a real workout. I didn’t want to have to supplement it with additional workouts that I didn’t look forwards to nor did I want to leave feeling unsatisfied having not had a good workout. I wanted to include all the exercise principles, giving participants a rounded workout – including coordination, reaction time and agility as well as the usual cardio, strength and speed. I designed the games to disguise the exercise principles in the aim of the game and as a result we didn’t need to tell players to work harder or keep pushing, they would naturally push as hard as they could until the game ended. I found that it was possible to immerse myself in the adrenaline of the games, forgetting that I’m working out and I surprised myself by how quickly I got fast. It was perfect.
We’ve been running games several times a week since that first session where I ran an adapted game of Dodgeball, have improved many relationships with exercise, seen many smiles, built many communities, run many miles, made many friends and even initiated several marriages. In Rabble you can see the power of a positive community of which exercise is central but backstage to real life.