It takes a special type of exercise program to help you reach your goals. But it takes something else altogether to get you bought into the process, and to stay engaged for the long haul.
You can have the perfect program written up for you, but if you don’t do it, you’re not going to get anywhere. The best form of exercise is the one you can stay consistent with.
On one hand, for example, you have the fact that if you want to build a ton of muscle, you’re going to have to lift weights. If you don’t like lifting weights, are you willing to sacrifice your feelings of affinity towards the iron in order to achieve your greater goal?
Right now however, I’m focusing on the idea held in the other hand: that the majority of us just need to get moving, and moving more consistently in the first place. And this can (and should) look different to us based on our lifestyles and interests.
The problem here is much more systemic: As long as we continue to live in an environment that pushes us towards a sedentary lifestyle, anything that pushes outside of our current level of comfort is going to be met with resistance. Exercise starts feeling like a chore.
So let’s try to break the barrier to entry down, because in all honesty if you have a pair of shoes and clothes on your body, you can go and do one of the greatest forms of activity there is: walking.
However, in an age of boutique exercise equipment, expensive fitness classes, and hearing our friends crush themselves in another bootcamp workout, some of us can feel like we’re not actually healthy in comparison to them. As if we’re missing out on something, or aren’t good enough to be on their level.
Well, the only thing you’re missing out on is the benefit of getting up to move in the first place. And that’s half the battle for most of us.
So it’s time for a different approach. Whether you’re new to working out or are a fitness fanatic, I think there are lessons to be learned here.
Activities you inherently enjoy are the ones you’ll stick with for the long-haul.
It’s common sense, but doesn’t seem to be common practice. We continually do things we don’t enjoy because we think that’s the only path to achieving our goals. But if you want to burn some fat and get in better shape there’s more than one way to do so which isn’t pounding pavement for hours each week.
Let’s explore some ways to help you find an activity you might enjoy.
Find a way to stay engaged
Wherever you are on your journey, you need to figure out what’s engaging for you. If you’re completely new, it’s important to keep an open-mind, and experiment as much as you can - free from judgement. As Adam Grant says in Think Again, have strong opinions but hold them loosely.
When I started, knowledge is what engaged me, along with a sense of progress that weightlifting provided. I would read and read, and implement what I learned into the weight-room. It was a magical thing.
That might sound boring to you. That’s okay. What engages you?
Do you love being around other people?
Are you into gamification and data?
Do you enjoy the peace and creativity that comes from “slower” activities such as walking, or yoga?
Is making measurable progress important to you - something that training for a big event provide?
Is the flexibility of doing shorter bursts of activities throughout the day more appealing than long bouts?
There are so many ways to get engaged with exercise. You might be someone who enjoys the feeling of yoga and pilates and how it helps you mentally. You could be the person that throws the hoodie up and head phones on and proceeds to pick heavy things up and put them down for an hour. Or you could be the type of person who loves the solidarity of cycling indoors at home, so you find a program like Zwift to make things extra fun.
Do something that aligns with your goals
Next, whatever you chose to do it should be something that will actually help you reach your goals. If you want to pack on 20 pounds of muscle, but all you do is run and hot yoga a couple times per week, you’re not going get there. You probably need to lift some weights.
If you’re looking to improve your aerobic fitness substantially, you’re probably going to need to elevate the intensity up from knocking out a few push ups here and there throughout the day.
This is a common myth I see with strength & conditioning. People assume that they need to, “shock their body” every time they step foot into the gym, and end up doing programs that are random with no rhyme or rhythm.
They want to build strength, but they don’t give their bodies enough time to learn the proper movement skills and to adapt to the specific demands.
Instead, they’re left doing arm curls while standing on a Bosu ball one day, and wobbly split squats with their feet in a TRX strap the next.
If you’re not sure what you’re doing is actually going to help you achieve your goals, please find a coach who can help!
Don’t confuse boredom with consistent effort
Just a quick note to end off on.
I tend to hear people say, “I get bored easily.” They seem to want programs that are more entertaining than about doing the work that’s required to pursue a specific goal.
At first I resistant to this idea, but over the years I’ve really tried to understand and embrace it. Not everyone wants to track their heart rate and set and reps every workout. I think it matters in some contexts, but it’s not worth it in the end if this all creates a sense of anxiety and poses as a barrier to exercise for an individual.
The point I want to make is that when it comes to achieving our goals, consistent effort is what matters. Sometimes that might look like tracking our weights, measuring progress, and doing the same exercises over and over again. Other times it might just be showing up on days we don’t feel like.
Just don’t immediately take this as a sign of things being boring or bad. The second that happens, you’re probably not going to stay engaged. Embrace consistent effort as something to look forward to, not something that’s boring and needs to be avoided at all costs.
It’s a crazy thought:
When you do activities that you enjoy, you’re more likely to stay consistent with them.
When you stay consistent with exercise, you reap the rewards physically, mentally, and emotionally.
When you feel these rewards and become intrinsically motivated, you create a powerful feedback loop - one in which you want to continue to exercise for its own sake.
When that happens, nothing can stop you.
It’s a crazy thought, but if you don’t actually enjoy what you’re doing for physical activity, find something else.
I recently got a rowing machine and I’ve been hooked. I look forward to it, unlike last winter when I tried using a stationary bike.
Indoor bikes? Nope.
Ellipticals? No way.
But this machine? I’m never going to stop.
Experiment. Try new things. Don’t knock something until you give it a chance.
Move onto something better if it's not feeling right. You can always try it again later.
What to do next
Figure out what engages you. Are you a people person and want group workouts? Do you enjoy the outdoors? Are you looking for something with more gamification, or less? Experiment with new activities to find out what you enjoy.
Make sure it aligns with your goals. It wouldn’t be all that fun if we did something we enjoyed, but never achieved the goal we set out for. Better to find something we enjoy, and that actually helps us reach our goals.
Focus on consistent effort. The best program is the one you can stick to. If you feel yourself getting bored, ask yourself honestly if it’s really just the consistent effort that’s required to reach your goals that you’re sensing. Because reaching our goals takes time, and it’s not going to be all puppies and sunshine every day. Consistency isn’t boring. It can be thrilling, especially when you start crushing your goals.