No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

Never gymless (part 5)

Posted by Ben on Thursday, March 5, 2009

Recap: In part one, I announced the cancellation of my gym membership after continuously having one for the better part of eight years. In part two, I mentioned some of the responses I received from friends and acquaintances, and from those, I began to wonder aloud about the replies that more or less expressed confusion and even sympathy and at the people behind those particular comments. In part three, I summarized my reasons for leaving the gym and started looking at why people should feel “never gymless” based on what they likely already (un)learned earlier in life, namely the concept of failure. In part four, I touched on some common mental hurdles facing fitness newbies.

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I have to admit that I struggled a bit to come up with a way to talk about some of issues that searchers face, mainly because it’s usually a much more personal, internal situation—it’s easy to observe newbies in the wild, but searchers are likely also regulars (though not always) and appear to have their routines in place, but are they attacking their workouts, or are they just going through the motions? Let me qualify this by saying that all the enthusiasm in the world, despite its unmatched importance in getting everything you can out of your training, doesn’t automatically mean your workouts are smart or even good; if you also make the newbie mistake of not planning properly, it just means your workouts are hard. Unbridled, directionless enthusiasm runs a real risk of resulting in all sorts of physical and possibly mental problems. I don’t want to get all hooey-blooey on you (yet), but true fitness lies in the confluence of body, mind, and spirit.

A semi-recent post from Andrew Heffernan includes a great quote from Bruce Lee regarding body movement:

When I first started training, a punch was just a punch, and a kick was just a kick. Then I got to a point in my training when a punch wasn’t just a punch and a kick wasn’t just a kick. Now, I’m at the point again where a punch is just a punch, and a kick is just a kick.

In fact, if you haven’t already, go read that entire post from Andrew. Seriously, if you have time to read all this drivel I’m churning out here, then you have time to go read a better, more informative, more focused post elsewhere. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here babbling when you get back.

So, what exactly are searchers searching for? The answers are as varied as the people looking for them, but whether newbie or not (newbies and searchers do well as a Venn diagram, by the way), it seems to me and my completely subjective and anecdotal opinion that it has a lot to do with acceptance and/or avoidance:


I can’t begin to get into all the ways this applies, but by way of a couple examples: you might have a group of friends who are fitness enthusiasts and may ask you to join them in whatever exercise they do, so even though you wouldn’t have worked out on your own account, you like hanging out with these people enough that you go ahead and jump in. You might just want a group of friends like this in the first place, so you decide to get involved in an exercise class or other group in hopes of making these connections. You might have a reunion of some sort coming up and want to (re)gain acceptance into that group. You might just want to “belong” to some esoteric group of people who “workout” whenever the subject comes up in conversation because, like, ya know, um, like, EVERYone else is, like, um, doing iiiiiiiiit, and junk. And let’s face it, people tend to be more immediately accepting of those who are thinner and appear to be fit.


I want to call this a case of “if you don’t something now, something worse will happen,” and how many times do you hear this in a day? If you don’t buy this gym membership, if you don’t buy this piece of exercise equipment, if you don’t buy this program, if you don’t buy this diet, if you don’t take this pill, if you don’t do this or that, something worse will happen, even if that something is nothing. We always have to be doing something, right? Then tomorrow, it has to be something different, right? Because if we’re not doing something, then we’re doing nothing, right? And if you’re doing nothing, then you’re a lazy, good-for-nothing sot, right? Every day, the next best thing comes out, and if you don’t act right now, not only do you forfeit HYOOGE monetary savings (nevermind that you’re still spending money), but you also risk not getting the full benefit of whatever it does while others zoom past you on the way to physical perfection. Right? RIGHT??? Or, in a vein similar to the acceptance stuff, maybe you want to avoid missing out on a group activity and thus distancing yourself from friends, and by extension, you want to avoid solitude. Maybe working out allows you to avoid something else in your life that you’d rather not face. Maybe you want to avoid any social or professional stigma associated with being overweight and out of shape. Maybe you just want to avoid being winded and sweating at the slightest exertions.

I’m not saying any of this stuff is the wrong reason to (attempt to) start training—there is no “wrong” reason to start training, just like there’s not really a “right” reason, either, but whatever the reason, you started, and that’s always the hardest part. I also generally agree that doing something is better than doing nothing when it comes to physical activity. However, if you’re going to invest the time (and likely money) into this stuff, why waste it? If you’re the gung-ho type, why risk injuries of all sorts by not taking a little time to think about what you want to accomplish and research some safe and proven ways to do that?

Walk with me here a second. Think back to your childhood, or think about your own kids or someone else’s kids you know. Imagine you gave a child an option of either (a) playing a game of freeze tag or (b) running eight laps around a track. Which do you think they would pick, and why? Which one would you pick, and why? If you picked freeze tag (the same as the child), then you still find physical activity fun. If you picked the track, then chances are you’re looking for an easier path. Now look at the time requirements: freeze tag is over when it’s over (or when you’re called in for supper), but left to their own devices, I can’t imagine kids playing tag for more than maybe a half-hour. Similarly, the typical weekend warrior runner might also spend a half-hour once a week thinking they’re running (I’ll bet dimes to dollars that they’re not). Who do you think enjoys their half-hour more? Hang on to that thought. We’re starting to get somewhere.

* * * * *

Now with the main challenges identified, we can now start to look at a common path of moving past these hiccups and getting into the proper framework for starting and keeping up your training and also how to maintain constructive momentum while avoiding both overdoing and underdoing.


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