It’s most people’s highest aspiration to be someone who is “in shape.” We worship people who are fit, we take their health advice without question, we do their exact workout routines and eat what they eat in hopes that if we were diligent enough, within only one year we could look exactly like they do. This of course, is an absurd notion.
Getting in shape is a by-product of a certain lifestyle and is something that takes years to build up and maintain. Because fitness is a long-term investment, most people have a difficult time imagining the end results and hence, struggle to exercise consistently.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret about people who are in really good shape. There are usually four causes for why people are able to maintain a consistent level of fitness, which are:
- They have deep insecurities surrounding body image
- They were bullied for being the short, skinny, or overweight kid.
- They began training for a sport or athletic endeavor
- They’ve had a health scare
Now, if you don’t fall into these categories, you probably struggle with exercising consistently. You may get temporary motivation, such as an upcoming wedding or the “beach” season, yet this isn’t enough to get you to workout year round. We know that exercising would give us more energy, we know that if we were fit we would have far more confidence and we also know that we would probably live longer and have less instances of disease if we could simply get in shape. Yet the struggle to establish a consistent workout routine continues, despite the knowledge of these benefits. I am going to try to get to the bottom of why this is. Here are five reasons why I believe people struggle to exercise and how to fix it.
- It’s Boring!
There’s a reason why every gym wall and treadmill has a television. It’s because exercising in a gym is incredibly boring! Who in their right mind would want to spend an hour a day doing a monotonous, painful, and exhausting workout that doesn’t give you instant results? Who could ever be expected to keep that up for more than a few weeks? The problem with the current perception of exercising is that way too many people think that the only place to get in shape is a gym. This makes people think that if they don’t like going to the gym, they must not like exercising.
Working out in a gym has become so boring that people are now turning exercising into a competitive sport… which is called cross fit. Unfortunately when you turn something like lifting heavy weights, which can be quite dangerous and relies greatly on proper form and you turn it into a competition, the results can end in devastating injuries.
Do you know what else is like competitive exercising and are far safer then cross fit? Sports! We’ve become so brain washed that the gym is the only place to exercise that we’ve forgotten that playing competitive sports is also a workout. Imagine if you told your 12-year-old self to go to a gym and lift weights and run on a treadmill. They would look at you like you just assigned them math homework.
There’s a reason why you don’t have to force kids to exercise. It’s because they turn exercising into something that is fun. When you’re having fun you’re not thinking about how many calories your burning or how much weight you’re able to lift compared to the other kids. All you’re focused on is having fun in the moment. Yet, as we get older we slowly phase out the fun part of exercising. We take away recess, we take away gym class, and then were told that the only way to exercise is to lift weights and run on a treadmill… how exciting!
How to Fix it
The reality is that we need to bring fun back to fitness. Think about the funnest games you use to play when you were young and go and play them. Find a community dodge ball league, go to a trampoline park, or sign up for a martial arts class. By following this strategy, getting in shape will be a by-product of having fun instead of banal and monotonous work.
Now if you’re someone who is committed to going to the gym, one way that I have found to make the experience far more enjoyable is by listening to podcasts. Podcasts I find to be far more entertaining than music and they can also teach you new and interesting things. If you would like a my list of top podcasts then check out my post on Top 14 Podcasts you NEED to Listen to in 2016.
- You Think You Have To Workout A Lot To Get Results
There is a pervasive belief that to get in really good shape you have to workout a lot. This is a belief that I held for a very long time until I found out about the minimum effect dose for exercising. The MED is the smallest dose that you can use that will produce your desired outcome and anything more can be a waste. It’s like if you had a headache. You could get rid of it with one Advil and you could also get rid of it with five Advil. However, five would be excessive and wasteful. Yet this is the strategy for most people in the gym.
We tend to workout way in excess of what is necessary for our desired goals. Most people would just like to be lean and toned yet, they are told to work out like professional athletes or body builders. These workouts of course are difficult to maintain, take up way too much time, and produce diminishing returns.
How to Fix it
In my post How to Hack Your Fitness, I lay out a protocol that uses the MED to your advantage. This protocol is a once a week, less than 20 minutes per session, full body workout that in my experience, gives you the results of an avid weight lifter in a fraction of the time. I’ve been doing this workout for the past three years, and I’ve experienced tremendous results. I also have yet to reach a plateau that I couldn’t break through. If you want to build significant muscle mass while spending the least amount of time in the gym as possible, this is the workout for you.
- You Think You Need To Use The Treadmill
One of the worst pieces of health advice a person can give you is to use a treadmill to lose weight. I despise treadmills. It is the most laborious and boring piece of workout equipment in the gym, while simultaneously being the least efficient. It simulates the motion of running yet, it isn’t running. It’s more of a stationary bouncing motion that doesn’t translate to real running at all. It also does a terrible job at burning calories. The amount of time and effort that goes into running on a treadmill compared to the physiological benefits that you get is pathetic. In fact, it can actually hinder your results if you overdo it or combine it with a calories restricted diet.
Focusing most of your attention on the treadmill to get in shape is unsustainable. It gets more and more difficult mentally to find the motivation to do it, and physically it gets harder because of the constant and repetitive wearing on your joints. Then once you finally give up or lower your consistency, you end up gaining weight again and your back to square one.
How to Fix it
Building muscle is a far superior way to lose weight and stay fit long-term. When you lift weights, your body can burn calories for up to 48 hours after you’ve finished your workout. Also, when you have more muscle mass your body will naturally burn more calories on average. This means that the more muscle mass you have the easier it will be to fend off fat from accumulating. This makes lifting weights one of the most efficient ways to lose weight and get in shape.
- You Don’t Feel Like You’re Doing The “Right” Workout
If you don’t feel “right” it might be because the place you are exercising at feels wrong. The gym is not for everyone. If you feel uncomfortable in a gym setting then pick somewhere else that feels better to you.
How to Fix it
You shouldn’t pigeon hole yourself to just one modality of fitness just because it’s the norm. Today there are more ways to exercise then there have ever been in history. It’s up to you to explore your fitness horizon, get out of your comfort zone, try something new and find out which ones feel best to you.
- You Use Exercising As A Way To Punish Yourself For Poor Eating Habits
There are a lot of people who believe that they can work off a bad diet. They end up having a cheat day or week and feel that they need to repent their junk food sins in the crucible of the gym. However, your diet will give you 80% of your results so what you’re really trying to do is fight an uphill battle with this approach. The thing about junk food and specifically refined carbohydrates and sugar, is that it actually can have a productive place in a healthy diet if you were to simply switch this cycle around.
How to Fix it
When we consume refined carbohydrates and sugar, our body breaks these foods down into glucose. Once this food has become glucose it can then be used for energy and any in excess will be converted in glycogen and store in the liver or our muscles. However, if the liver and muscles are full, (which they will be if you haven’t been exercising) then the glycogen will be turned into triglycerides and be stored as fat. So, instead of eating junk food, having that junk food turn into fat and then trying to burn that fat off in the gym, you could instead do the opposite.
Glycogen is the fuel that allows our muscles to work. When we lift weights we deplete the glycogen stores in our muscles. Since there is a glycogen deficiency, the body now needs an excess of glucose to fill them back up. An effective way to get an excess of glucose is of course through refined carbohydrates and sugar. This strategy is known as Carb Back Loading and is a style of eating that I have found to be very effective and also makes a lot of sense.
If you were to simply go for an intense workout, which would burn body fat and create a glycogen deficiency and then had a cheat meal, you would effectively diminish the likelihood of that meal turning into fat because now that excess glucose will have a place to go. Plus, since your building muscle and hence burning more calories on average, those cheat meals will become less and less effective at becoming body fat.
I believe that the ideal situation is to find a healthy balance between building muscle and challenging your cardiovascular system through sports or other physical activities. Building muscle will give you the physique that you desire, however, it can be very boring and requires a lot of will power. Enjoyable activities like sports will keep you exercising consistently but you will not be able to build significant muscle mass.
By combining these two ways of exercising you can create a synergistic effect. Lifting weights will effectively improve your athletic performance. Then your natural desire to win and be better at your sport or activity will motivate you to lift weights. This strategy becomes like a positive feedback loop of self-improvement.
Finding a balance that works for you is the key and once you find that balance, fitness will become an enjoyable part of your lifestyle which you look forward to instead of dread. Then before you know it, you will possess the physique and health you’ve always wanted with relative ease.
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