By Justin Gibson, BS, CSCS
I hate the way most people work out.
Runners, for example, confound me. I can’t see how anyone could willingly put themselves through a process biologically designed to either escape from predators or catch dinner–two things I hardly ever do anymore. I have a similar aversion to spinning classes, where you’re on a bike three times more expensive than the one I had in college but specifically designed to go nowhere. I’ve tried boxing (too aggressive) and yoga (too mellow), group classes (too self-conscious) and home workouts (too lonely), bodybuilding (couldn’t afford the food) and Crossfit (couldn’t afford the shoes). Odds are, if I were to go along with someone who “works out”, I’d probably hate it.
However, I don’t hate working out. I just found a way that works for me. Specifically, I love picking up really heavy things. That’s why I fell in love with the sport of powerlifting, a sport devoted entirely to heavy things and the different ways in which you can pick them up. It’s a way of training that has me doing more of what I like and less of what I don’t. And since I actually enjoy powerlifting, it gives me a reason to show up to the weight room on days I could be home playing video games.
Running, boxing, and Pilates are all great ways to exercise; they’re just not great for me. If my only option to stay in shape was to run, I can’t say that I’d stick with it for very long.
Now, late in January, many people are in the same boat. They made a vow to start exercising, and went with the first thing that came to mind: Zumba, maybe. After a few weeks they discover that they don’t much care for dancing sober, and they give it up. This wouldn’t be a problem if it led to a second option (like, say, kettlebell training or bullfighting), but too many people give up on exercise altogether after their first choice doesn’t pan out. Just because this particular way of working out isn’t for you doesn’t mean working out isn’t for you.
We all know that exercise is important, but “exercise” can mean just about anything that gets you moving. Keep that in mind and consider the following tips:
Know your goal, and pick accordingly.
Make sure your method of exercise goes in line with your reason for starting. If you’re trying to lose weight, you need something that kicks your heart and lungs into a higher gear to burn calories; maybe rethink that pre-natal yoga class for something more like the aforementioned Zumba or something with a name like “Cardio-tastic Boot-Camp Ripper X”. If you’re just looking to move better and live longer, you don’t need to follow the program Mr. Olympia used to pump his arms up to 24 inches; maybe go for a hike twice a week instead. You’ll be much more likely to stick with a successful program, and “success” is based on what you wanted to accomplish.
Keep an open mind.
Don’t put arbitrary restrictions on what methods you’re willing to try. Every single exercise program that has achieved even a modicum of popularity got that way because it worked for somebody. Somewhere out there, there exists a program perfect for you, and you’ll never find it if you’re afraid it’ll make you look silly or girly or manly or that people will make fun of you. There are countless machines to try, trails to walk, barbells to lift, kettlebells to swing, trucks to push, and bulls to fight, so if looks interesting, do it.
Don’t do things you absolutely hate.
There’s this weird mindset some people get where they think that if they hate life during their workout, they must be doing something right. Working out should not feel like an offering to the god of human misery. That’s not to say you shouldn’t push yourself -you should- but there is only so much barbed wire most of us willing to crawl through before reaching the end isn’t worth it. If you enjoy your workouts, you’ll put forth the effort to make progress. If you’d rather pull out your own teeth than climb onto that treadmill one more time,
Hate working out alone? Grab a friend, or join a group fitness class.
Can’t stand the gym? Clear some space in the basement and order one of those 90-day home fitness DVD programs.
Do you only have about 10 seconds worth of good effort in you before you gas out? Consider anything above 3 reps “cardio”? Then chalk up and meet me for some powerlifting!
Do you abhor human happiness and possess a tolerance for monotony worthy of guarding the Holy Grail? Consider running.
Whatever your goal, there’s a way to get there without the need for psychotherapy when you’re done.
Stick with what works.
If you find what you’re looking for, don’t keep looking. Every program needs time and dedication to be effective, neither of which you can provide if you hop trains every week. If you started using a rowing machine to help you lose weight, and you’ve lost weight after using the rowing machine, you can make the logical connection that it’s working! Keep it up! Maybe, down the road, you’ll stop seeing progress only using that rower, and it’ll be time to shake things up. Until then, you’ve found something that works for you, so stick with it.
There is no universal “right” way to work out. You can lift, you can dance, you can bike, climb, swim, throw, punch, row, and push. You can even…dare I say it…run. The important thing is finding what you enjoy, and using it to reach your goals.
Justin is a personal trainer at Body Structure Medical Fitness in Lexington, Kentucky.