This is the gist of how my conversation went with a local business owner.
“I hate exercising.”
He said he prefers long bike rides over training. He’s in his mid-50’s, and nowadays, he rides a bike, and he’ll ride 40-60 miles leisurely, without breaking much of a sweat.
While he’s thin and looks pretty healthy for his age, you’ll take one look at him and won’t assume he’s strong and powerful. He’s 6’2 or 6’3″ and weighs 200, with long limbs and a small paunch. No risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and he’s not on medication.
When I asked him why he doesn’t like training (for the record, I don’t necessarily love training; I do it because I have to in order to be effective for my job), he said it’s “boring”. He recently had a phone call with his sister who lives in Italy, where she was telling him about how she went to the gym, and he said to her, “you’ll probably see me in your gym halfway across the world before I step in the gym next to my cafe.”
After some more probing, I found out he played various sports growing up, including soccer, football, and tennis. In other words, he got his activity from organized sports competing with other human beings. He threw his body around instead of throwing weights around.
Why do many people dislike training?
I think this is a very big and important topic for the obvious reason: the United States has an obesity epidemic where people are moving far too little and eating far too much. And they hate exercise. There’s nothing ‘natural’ about going to the gym and lifting weights. It’s the furthest thing from natural you can get. Natural is going out into nature, hiking, climbing trees, and chasing deer.
On the other hand, we are now a society of convenience, ease, and efficiency, and the gym is an ‘unnatural’ way to become a more natural human being: strong, fast, powerful, resilient. It’s not feasible to swing through the trees anymore. Additionally, humans have discovered, in the past 100 years, that lifting weights imparts unique benefits. There is research and science showing that if you exercise in specific ways, you can drastically reduce the chances of dying early and painfully.
Unfortunately for most people, lifting weights is akin to gouging their own eyes out. Among people nowadays, this is quite common and logical. People generally hate exercising, at least formally. Playing (even watching) a sport is more fun for most than going to the gym and hoisting weights, hence why you see people kicking back brews while watching the game (maybe even playing). The problem is, watching an athlete doesn’t mean one will turn into one.
Like our friend said, training can be boring. It’s repetitive. It’s not dynamic enough like sports. But asides from training being boring? The simplest answer is many people want to avoid unnecessary discomfort. Even though we have a strong feeling that being strong and healthy will help us out later, we still do our best to avoid it.
What about people who are active yet not into weight training?
Sports and competitive play, and even watching a game with your friends, can release more adrenaline. Probably the thought of competing against other people in a high stakes game can get your blood and adrenaline rolling. You try to get into the heads of your opponent, deploy strategy, and for the most part, there’s a clear win-lose proposition.
Sports can be dynamic and unpredictable, thus making it less repetitive and engaging. Imagine playing tennis. Since you’re playing a different person, you probably won’t know where the next shot is going to go (unless you’re Roger Federer), which heightens your senses, sharpens your acuity, keeps adrenaline elevated, and heart pumping. Playing a sport can be extremely fun and enjoyable.
There’s also the fact you and your team members (if you play a team sport) are striving for the same thing: victory. A common goal and mission has the uncanny ability to unite people of varying backgrounds, shapes, and sizes.
With training, not so much. It takes a special person to really enjoy taking time out their day to go to the gym for an hour, meal prep, go to sleep on time, and take their supplements. Unless you plan it out yourself or you’re part of a ‘challenge’, there’s no trophy or belt waiting for you at the end of your sessions.
Training is far more predictable, repetitive, and can be boring. You’re doing similar exercises over and over again in hopes of building muscle, getting stronger, and burning some calories; the fat burn comes later. It’s a voluntary effort and you have a general idea of what’s going to happen during the training session. Even though you are most likely going to feel great afterward, the problem is… it’s afterward.
During a game of basketball, you’re feeling jazzed up from the first play. Not so with lifting. When’s the last time you watch someone bench press and a thought struck you: “I’m itching to get on that bench press!”
Additionally, sports may not necessarily be as strenuous as training. Playing baseball with your friends and having fun may not actually involve getting better at baseball.
With training, you want to consciously improve, and for that to happen, you have to consistently push yourself, little by little. The act of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is not terribly pleasant. There will be days when you’re sore, tired, and weak, yet these may be the days that are most important. What do you think you need when the going gets tough? You need more than just the goal of looking good for summer. Like athletes, you need to incorporate a higher ‘purpose’, a meaning, of training. Otherwise, you’ll fall right off once the warm season is over.
Means to an end
Our friend said, “you have to enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise you won’t stick to it.” I agree for the most part. The least part, I disagree, because there are plenty of people who do things they don’t enjoy, because they’re going for the payoff. Enjoyment is also subjective. Outside of work, someone can enjoy sitting on the couch watching The Simpsons; something we don’t want to encourage too often.
For most people, the stakes aren’t high enough when it comes to exercising for health. Training is difficult, and there are very few situations in life that calls for someone to get stronger and look better out of necessity. For pleasure? Sure, plenty of reasons. Going to the beach, the club, fitting into skinny clothes. The problem is, ‘want’ is generally a weaker reason than ‘need’. We are most definitely living in an age of ‘want’.
Many of my previous athlete, law enforcement, armed forces, and even personal trainer clients didn’t like training, despite being burly, strong, fast, and tough. They were able to sling the weights around, make some noise, and work up a sweat. However, without the proper prompting and cuing, they couldn’t get themselves to buy in without the assistance of a coach.
While I’m sure there couple of a multitude of reasons why, my primary theory is because they only trained because they feel they had to, similar to how I feel I have to train for my personal training job. The stronger and faster they were, the more effective they were. World-class athletes like LeBron James spend millions of dollars on physical therapy, training, massage therapy, nutrition, and recovery because he gets millions more to play at the elite, professional level. Though I don’t know for sure if LBJ ‘loves’ training, I know many other people don’t.
While most people see training as a means to a superficial end (losing weight, gaining muscle, getting stronger), those who see training as something they ‘want’ to do stick to it longer (duh!). But how do you make training more enjoyable so you can ‘want’ to do it?
I don’t there is any magic or real answer. If there was, I’m sure someone much smarter than me would have already come up with it. And… I’d be rich. However, there are a couple of ‘tools’ I use to help my clients make a mindset shift:
Find a more meaningful ‘end’ – such as health. Resistance training has been shown to have numerous health benefits. If you’re young, this might be a hard sell; if you’re older and decrepit, it may be a better pitch. While ‘health’ is a vague and enigmatic term because we can’t really measure health against what we’re doing in the gym (we ‘feel’ healthier), many of us want to be healthier.
Use training as way to improve your sports (or leisurely activity) performance. Proper training can make you a more athletic cricket player, which can make you more desirable and allow you to have more fun when you play with the boys on Saturday. It can also make you a stronger (and safer) mountain climber. Imagine the leg and arm strength required to traverse rough terrain on the side of a thousand foot ascent.
Enjoy watching yourself get better. As humans, we can get motivated by knowing we’re getting better. While training probably isn’t as fun as playing a sport, it can still be quite motivating to see yourself getting stronger, lifting more weights, and improving the way your body looks. Seeing yourself get better at something is the same as improving a skill, or acquiring a new one. Being able to achieve your first ever chin-up can be a massive confidence boost.
Delaying gratification. In clinical psychology research, the ability to delay gratification is considered one of the hallmark signs of future success and fulfillment. Outside of studies, this has been known for thousands of years, dating back to Buddhism and Confucianism. The central tenant here is: life is suffering. But it’s through this suffering that we learn how to live. Since proper training is difficult and uncomfortable, you can see it has voluntary suffering right now to reap the rewards of a more resilient body later.
Build a stronger ‘character’. It takes will and commitment to carry through with a training program. And in a modern society where many things are made as easy and convenient as possible, the value of will and effort are decreasing. As such, people aren’t nearly as committed in themselves as they used to be.
The other day, I ran into a flaky client who complained that he needed my accountability and motivation because he was twelve pounds overweight since we last worked together. A few days later, I ran back into him, and asked, “next week?” His response was: “I don’t like committing.”
I believe committing to something builds character. While I’m sure many of us have little to no problem committing to something we really enjoy, it takes more guts to commit to something that we don’t enjoy but is good for us.
I know this was a long article, but I really hope you enjoyed it. Please share if you think this is helpful or valuable, and let me know if you have any feedback.
Until next time, have fun.
Yours in strength,
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