How to Build a Fitness Routine that You'll Love (and Do) for Life!
By David Drinks
You may have noticed that I like to write about the mental side of fitness in addition to the physical side of fitness on this blog. But, why should you care about the mental side of fitness?
Well, if you don’t have a grip on the mental aspect of fitness, then nothing else really matters. Sure, we can tell you what exercises to do and what foods to eat, but if all it took to achieve fitness goals was knowing what to do then fitness would be a lot easier!
For the most part, you know what choices in life are healthy and which ones are not, and if you don’t know, the information is easily accessible (on blogs like this one, for example!). However, the part that most people struggle with is the mental battle that goes on every time the thought of exercise pops up.
Let’s face it, exercise is not inherently fun for most people, it’s work. It’s just as much a mental challenge to show up and do your workout as it is a physical challenge. But before you can conquer the physical challenge and meet your goals, you must own the mental challenge, and that’s what I want to talk about today.
Not many people get into regular exercise routines because of the joy it brings them, they do it for the results. They exercise because they recognize the benefits that they’ll get from doing it. In other words, they are thinking in terms of the outcome, not the process.
This is a natural thing to do, and many of us do this in other areas of life as well. For example, many people work a job because of the paycheck, not because of the inherent joy they derive from working at that job. However, the paycheck is not nearly as satisfying if you don’t enjoy the work you’re doing.
If you hate going to work each day, but you keep doing it for the paycheck, you’re not going to be very satisfied with your work life. And if you hate your job, you’re not very likely to produce quality work at that job either.
Faced with this situation, the advice of friends and family often is to get a new job. Stop banging your head against the wall at a job you hate just to get a paycheck when there are lots of jobs out there that you would inherently enjoy.
Lo and behold, when you find yourself in a new job that you enjoy, you also find yourself enjoying life much more. The quality of your work and your productivity increase. You have more energy and feel more purposeful with what you’re doing. Plus you still get that paycheck!
In both circumstances, you still get the main outcome of working: the paycheck. However, once in a job that you enjoy and find purposeful, you get a ton of additional benefits.
The same is true of exercise. Many people try to grind through workouts that they don’t enjoy week after week just for the outcome. They don’t even realize that there’s another option. While they may still get some benefits from this kind of exercise (if they can stick with it long enough), they’re missing out on many more.
In addition to missing out on many of the benefits of exercise, trying to push through workouts you don’t enjoy can also lead to a counter-productive scenario.
Trying to grind through workouts you don't enjoy may leave you with the feeling that you need to reward yourself just for getting through the workout. After all, you put in the hard work, you got to the gym, you sweated through your workout, and now you deserve a candy bar (you need to replenish your energy anyways, right?).
Unfortunately, this counter-acts many of the positive benefits of exercise, especially if weight loss is one of your goals. This phenomenon of feeling the need to reward yourself after a workout, known as hedonic compensation, was highlighted in an article on precisionnutrition.com by Craig Weller titled, “Why working out causes weight gain. (And what to do about it).”
In the article Weller states: “The theory of hedonic compensation suggests that if we feel like we ‘lose out’ on pleasure in one area, we look to compensate for it elsewhere. (Thus, the thought process of ‘I’ve had a lousy day, I deserve a treat.’)”
Weller also says, “If you see ‘working out’ as an unpleasant chore, you’re more likely to make poor nutrition choices and undo your efforts. But if you have fun with physical activity, you’ll get better results, more quickly.”
So, the question remains, how can I enjoy exercise if I currently hate it? I’m glad you asked.
When it comes to getting the most out of your exercise routine, the first thing you must understand is that there isn’t one best exercise program. Despite all the one-size-fits-all programs out there, and the claims by fitness “experts” that they have the best exercise program, it’s simply not true.
The best exercise program is the one that you will do. After all, you may have the best exercise program known to man, but if you don’t want to do it then it’s not best for you. Of course, some forms of exercise are going to benefit you more than others, but doing anything that you enjoy is better than doing nothing.
And, as we’ve learned, doing an exercise routine that you hate in some cases may be worse than doing nothing, since it can lead to poor choices in diet.
So the first step to enjoying exercise and getting the most out of it is to find the kind of exercise that best suits you. Take a moment and think about it. Do you like being indoors or outdoors more? Do you like lifting weights or doing cardio? Do you like practicing the same things over and over until you master them, or do you crave variety? Do you like exercising alone, with a friend, or in large groups?
After taking some time to think about it, and maybe doing some experimenting over the next couple of weeks, you may find that there’s a form of exercise you haven’t tried yet, but that you enjoy.
Unfortunately, many people are quick to write off exercise altogether because they don’t like the gym. They don’t realize that the gym isn’t the only place you can exercise! Once they expand their view of what exercise is, they realize that they can find a form of exercise that they enjoy.
For others, the gym might be a small piece of their larger exercise program. They may need to get to the gym a couple times per week to perform specific exercises that will help them get stronger and remain injury-free, but most of their exercise is performed outside, walking, biking, running, or doing any other form of exercise that they enjoy.
Personally, I enjoy being in the gym, and I enjoy lifting weights. Not only is it enjoyable for me to get stronger, but I also enjoy the process. I like the challenge of learning and performing different lifts. It forces me to learn proper movement and continually work to improve my technique.
In fact, focusing on technique during a workout, rather than just the outcome is a great way to enjoy exercise. So many times people just try to grind through their workouts for the result, but they give no thought to how they are performing their workouts. Instead, try focusing on making each exercise perfect. This method of focusing on specific goals within the workout can help make exercise inherently more enjoyable.
Allow the outcome to take a back seat, and simply focus on how you perform your workout. If you focus on consistently improving your workouts, the outcome will follow. But if you just focus on the outcome, your workouts will end up being sub-par and not enjoyable.
Ultimately, finding a way to derive intrinsic joy and reward from exercise rather than just extrinsic joy and reward can make all the difference. By that, I mean that you gain pleasure and reward simply by taking part in the exercise you’re doing. You don’t need to see outward results like a loss of body weight, or a change in body composition. You don’t need compliments from your friends about how good you look to make it all worth it.
When you get extrinsic rewards, that’s great. Just like getting the paycheck from work, getting results from your exercise is important, and it keeps you going back for more. After all, not many people would keep going back to work if they don’t receive a paycheck (like Milton from Office Space).
However, if the only reason you’re exercising is for the extrinsic rewards, you’re not likely to stick with it for long, and you’re more likely to reward yourself in other areas of life, such as in your diet.
On the other hand, intrinsic joy in your exercise will lead to long-term success along with many other positive benefits. You’ll find that you are rewarded with the positive mental benefits of exercise along with the physical benefits. You’ll feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally!
So, the key to getting the most out of your workouts and not sabotaging your efforts is to enjoy your workouts. How you enjoy exercise may look very different from how I enjoy exercise, and that’s okay.
The most important thing is that you find a mode of exercise that you like and that you will do regularly. If you feel the need to reward yourself after a workout for getting through it, that’s a good indication that you don’t enjoy the exercise you’re performing.
In addition to finding the right type of exercise, finding the right environment for exercise can make a big difference in how much enjoyment you get from it.
Some people may enjoy exercising in groups because of the feeling of camaraderie and motivation. Others (like myself) may enjoy exercising alone or with just a couple of people so that I can focus on my technique, optimize my workout, and not get distracted.
Another key to your workout environment is ensuring that you have a space that is set up with the right equipment and the right "vibe". Maybe it's a space in your home, a gym that you enjoy going to, or getting out in the fresh air. Whatever you like best, recognizing that your environment can set you up for success or failure is a huge key to enjoying your workout routine.
One more tip: find music that you enjoy to get you through the workout! If you don’t listen to music that you enjoy while you’re working out, you might be amazed at the difference a quality playlist can make. Find a good way to mix music into your workouts, and you’re bound to have more fun doing them!
So, all that being said, I hope you can find the type of exercise that you enjoy doing. Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore; you just need to find what works for you.
If you need help crafting your ideal workout routine, then get in touch with one of our Med Gym coaches! We can work with you to design a safe, effective exercise routine that is focused on getting you to your goals.
Contacts us here to set up a free consult today!