These days it seem to be all the rage to leave yourself in a bloody puddle at the end of your workout. Many of us who keep up with the up and up in the fitness interwebs have seen the images inscribed with the *fitspirations*:“Do more. You can always do more.” “Suck it up now and you won’t have to suck it in later.” “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the life of a champion.” Alright, listen. I don’t know about ya’ll but if you put the word *suffer* with the word *workout*, the only workout you’ll see me do is run in the opposite direction of where you’re standing.
Running far away, to the place where I don’t have to hurt myself to make progress. Actually, running is an overstatement; I hate to run. Let’s say a brisk walk instead. Oh, but Jennifer, you laugh. Don’t you know the saying no pain no gain? You gotta earn it! Listen up. I DO earn it. Three to five days of the week I earn it. I have a butt you can bounce a quarter off, thanks very much. But I didn’t have to kill myself to get it. And neither do you. Ok, let’s play around with this a little bit. What is that most people want, when it comes to health and fitness? Fat loss? Yes. Strength? Yes. To not feel the need to turn their back to the mirror when getting out of the shower or getting dressed? Yes. There are many things that motivate people to flock to they gym every January 2nd (Not the first, gotta nurse that food and booze hangover first!) with a purpose in their step and best intentions in hand.
There are so many reasons but if you peel away all the b.s., what people really want is to FEEL BETTER; whatever that looks like for them at that particular time in their lives.
Average Joe joins a new gym January 2nd. He gets the latest and greatest workout from a magazine geared towards making him a lean, mean fighting machine; a magazine that tells him high intensity interval training (HIIT) is all the rage, the best way to shed fat and gain muscle. OR, Joe signs up with the club personal trainer who guarantees that he can get Joe into the best shape of his life; Joe just needs to buy 3 months worth of training to get started! Joe doesn’t have to worry about anything because this trainer has a plan. That plan being the same as the magazine: to keep Joe coming back. They want him to FEEL the workout, because after all if you’re not feeling it, it’s not working. Right? So Joe does his HIIT or he meets with his trainer 3-5 times a week (ok, maybe Joe isn’t Average Joe, he is RICH Joe) and either way, at the end of his workout he wants to puke. He can’t walk the next day because his legs feel like they’ve been filled with cement. He’s got T-Rex arms because his biceps are so sore he can’t fully extend at the elbow. He goes to bed exhausted and gets up hurting, each and every day. He can’t play catch with his son in the backyard because his shoulders ache. He can’t bend over at work to load boxes because his back is sore. But he keeps going back to the gym because this is what he needs to do to get the body in shape right?
Eventually he’ll get stronger and he won’t be in pain anymore. Right? Wrong. Come February Joe starts to give his trainer excuses to why he can’t make his workouts. The magazines start to gather dust or end up in the recycling bin. By March Joe quits his gym membership, spends his summer relaxing on his boat (now THIS feels good!) fishing and eating potato chips and then when New Years eve rolls around he vows to get “back on the wagon” again because no pain no gain, right?
Let’s pause for a second and think about this: Why do we keep going back to that which makes us feel bad? Why do we believe that we need to hurt ourselves to be healthy? In this blog post I’m mainly focused on workouts but this can apply to food, too. Why do we think that deprivation (calorie restriction) is the way to go? How easy is it to restrict your calories? Not very, if it was easy we would all be thin. And when we fail, because invariably a high number of us who try to restrict our calories do, how does that make us feel? Like giving yourself a high five? Not so much. But let’s save that for a different blog post.
The question here and now remains the same: Why do we think we need to hurt to feel better? Many of you reading this do belong or have belonged to a gym. And every year starting in January–hey, when did YOU join?–the gym is packed, right? The crowds start to thin out in February and by March it’s back to the regular gym rats, breathing a sigh of relief that no one is stretching in the free weight section and no one (for the most part anyway) is bicep curling in the squat rack.
(GYM RULE ETTIQUETTE #1: DO NOT BICEP CURL IN THE SQUAT RACK)
Now, people will quit for a variety of reasons: they’re unsure what to do, they’re tired of walking like a hamster on the treadmill. . .they ran out of paper towels in the restroom and the fans are too loud. Seriously, I’ve heard and seen it all. But I’ve also heard, “This such-and-such exercise my trainer had me do made my knees hurt” or “That boot camp class I went to was so hard I puked in the trash can!” It’s no wonder people quit. One of our self-preservation instincts as humans is to avoid that which causes us pain at all costs. To our brain, this is just common sense. And it’s true: if it hurts, don’t do it. I tell this to my clients all the time. BUT. What if I said you can work out, make progress, lose fat, be happy naked, be a functional fit human OUTSIDE the gym. . .all without needing to grip the side of the sink when you sit down on the toilet because your legs are so sore they can’t support your body weight?
Well. You might just think I’m a gosh-darn magician.Well, I’m not. But it’s time to flip the switch don’t you think? Obviously the way we’ve been trained to think about movement and exercise isn’t right; all you have to do is look around you. How many apparently fit people do you see? Hm. On the other hand, how many obviously overweight and deconditioned people do you see? Yeah. It’s time to clear our minds and work with a blank slate. Go back to the drawing board. Experiment with what DOES work and discard what doesn’t. But more on that below.
SIDENOTE: On the subject of pain as it relates to a workout: for some people puking at the end of a workout is a badge of honor. They LIKE to brag about how sore they are after Leg Day and how swole their chest got after that drop set on the bench press last Monday.
Monday is National Bench Press Day, didn’t you know? Too bad they can’t lift their arms up to put on their shirt on Tuesday. If you are one of these people, this blog post is not for you. You don’t think I’m a magician, but you are pretty sure I’m full of crap. That’s cool. A year from now when your CNS is over-stressed and you can’t sleep because your rested heart rate is 120 BPM or you tore your bicep muscle when your ego told you to deadlift that 600 lb. barbell of the floor, I’ll be here and happy to help without saying I told you so. I won’t say it, I swear.
DOUBLE SIDENOTE: There are, happily, people who really CAN deadlift a heavy barbell with grace and without injury. And they have the beautiful physique and self-confidence that comes as a result of consistent progress.
This blog is not about you; you did it the right way. You’re who I follow and gather real, valid information from. You keep me studying and learning. You keep inspiring me to be better (there’s that phrase again). So, thank you for that.
Ok, back to business. Get fitter. Get stronger. Get leaner. Stay out of pain and keep moving forward because pain=time off from getting better. So how do we do it?At the gym I where I train there is one thing we do and have all our clients do to make sure we are always making progress and are never derailed by pain or injury: biofeedback testing. Using biofeedback (how your body responds to a given movement) we test every movement, every time. If it tests well, you do it. If it doesn’t, you don’t. That means if I really wanted to back squat that day; if it doesn’t test well, I don’t do it. Simple as that.
Your body will tell you whether it’s ready for a movement or not; you just need to ask first. This also means checking your ego at the door and paying attention to what you’re body is telling you it needs, not the other way around. The experimenting I was talking about above comes in right about here—> training the movements that test well results (because results are what we’re after right?) in getting stronger. Stronger=better. Better=happier. Happier=consistency. Consistency=not quitting the gym in March but always coming back for more, day after day, week after week, year after year. . .forever. It’s not hard to keep doing something that feels good. And there is nothing that feels better (there it is again) than being strong. P.S. Being stronger, better, happier and consistent all ties into helping you feel comfortable and sexy naked.
You know, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.Um, duh? Who isn’t? Seriously though, my life doesn’t allow for pain. I do not have time to limp around because I didn’t listen to my body but listened to what someone else thought was best for me (hint: no one knows what’s best for you better than you.). I like to walk into the gym with confidence, not fear. I like to look at the workout that my trainer (yes, I have a trainer. Every trainer should have a trainer.) has planned for me and all the variations we’re going to test with a “Oooh, yay!” instead of an “Oh, f@ck.” I like to rack the bar and spin around with a laugh, a smile and a “Did you just see what I did?!” I like to train so that I can keep up with my life, my kids, my job; not in way that makes me slow down. My strength makes me capable. Being capable allows me to live a life filled with variety and being pain-free lets me enjoy it.
Winner! Notice every time I said like in that sentence. Look at everything I like about my gym. The question to ask me isn’t how much I hate to workout but how often I count the hours until I can go back again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not hard to keep doing something that feels good. And like I said in my post, What If Everything Was Simple, when one thing starts to feel good somehow everything else starts to not feel so bad. Funny how that works.