Fitness Should Be...Fun?
It may sound counter-intuitive (depending on the ideas you already have about what "fitness" is), but I'm going to make a case for why it should be fun...at least a little bit, sometimes.
We can probably all agree on that last part--"fitness should be fun, at least a little bit, sometimes."
Where I tend to lose people with this is when I start saying crazy shit like "fitness doesn't have to suck," and "you shouldn't hate your workouts," and "it's ok to take it easy sometimes."
In fact, last Saturday I ended our 8:30 "Move" class at the Academy with a little spiel about building a better relationship between our minds and bodies and having some fun over the weekend.
It wasn't long before eyes started rolling--some folks couldn't wait to get out of there!
Granted, people have places to be and things to do, and I was getting a little long-winded (as I tend to do), but I think it also highlights the fact that many of us still think that fitness is all about using our minds to grind our bodies down until "no weakness is left."
We think that unless it sucks, unless it's painful, unless we want to quit...it isn't worth the effort.
It's not even really our fault.
It's what we've been conditioned to believe by well-meaning coaches and fitness companies for years.
"Intensity trumps all," they say.
"Kill me more," we reply as we continue to sacrifice our bodies for "more intensity."
I'd argue that this couldn't be any further from the truth.
Joy is one of the big missing components to most fitness programs, which is a shame because it's one of the first things personal trainers are taught when studying for their certifications.
It's called the "FITTE" principle, and it's meant to represent the different variables that make up an effective fitness program:
F - Frequency (how often)
I - Intensity (how hard)
T - Time (how long)
T - Type (lifting, cardio, etc.)
E- Enjoyment (what's that?)
We're pretty good at managing the first four. We seldom even consider the last part. I suspect that some of it is because we trainers get confused about what our job actually is.
Trainers who start out in corporate gyms (24 Hour Fitness, LifeTime Athletic, California Family Fitness, etc.) are taught that they are in the service industry--that their job is to please their customers above all else. So we start catering to what people think they want, which isn't always what they actually need.
I'm not trying to knock corporate gyms or trainers who work at those gyms. I know several excellent trainers who happen to work in commercial settings, and I've been plenty guilty of this myself, even though I didn't start in a corporate gym.
That's how pervasive the "customer is always right" mentality is in this profession.
"What's wrong with that?" you may be wondering. That's a fair question, because on the surface, it does seem like personal trainers are here to provide an excellent service to their clients. And we should be.
We are a luxury expense, after all. But I don't believe that it should come at the cost of doing what's right--which is understanding that we are coaches first, and service providers second.
People come to us for our expertise and to help them get from A to B, and from B to C, and so on. It's our responsibility to get them there as safely and as efficiently as possible.
This means not letting the client dictate everything that we do, but also not doing all of the dictating ourselves.
The best coaching relationships are collaborative, where both parties learn and benefit from each other. If the relationship is too one-sided (either way), things start to fall apart with the quickness.
Have you ever seen a flustered parent try to argue with their kid's little league coach about how to do their job? How does that usually end up turning out?
There are trainers who try to create dependency from their clients by making things so hard and/or confusing that the client feels like they can't possibly navigate this journey without their "all-star trainer."
Maybe I'm just a weird weirdo, but I'd be really hesitant to try to make anyone believe that they couldn't do something without me. At best, I'm a guide who can show you what's possible, and how to accomplish it. I'm fully aware that nobody needs me in order to achieve their goals; but I also know that I can significantly "shortcut" the process for them.
What am I getting at with all of this? Let's go back to where we started: the premise that fitness can--and should--be fun and enjoyable, at least to some degree.
This doesn't mean that it shouldn't be challenging and that it won't push you to your limits. But we should be careful not to assume that all challenge creates the type of change that we're looking for.
If we're not careful, we can even push ourselves in the wrong direction.
There's research that shows that the harder we push ourselves in training (especially without enjoying it), the more likely we are to reward ourselves with extra food as a result.
This isn't true for everybody, but it's true enough for some people that it can keep them trapped in a cycle of grueling training sessions followed by compensatory eating, resulting in little-to-no net progress.
It happens all the time.
Even if we don't compensate with extra food after a particularly grueling and less-than-enjoyable training session, we'll still compensate unconsciously by conserving energy. We effectively "blew our load" in the workout, and compensate by moving around less afterward.
And even if we're consciously aware that we're more likely to be sedentary after grueling workouts and make a conscious effort to move more anyway--our body regulates and brings down our energy expenditure regardless of whether we try to move more or not.
Nobody fully understands how or why, but there seems to be a cap on how much energy our bodies will let us burn. Hence the old adage, "you can't outwork a bad diet."
Let's not forget in our mad pursuit of lean, toned physiques that our bodies were built for survival, not aesthetics.
We've evolved to be efficient energy conservers to buttress against the potential of starvation that our ancestors certainly contended with.
Sorry, but hundreds of years of industry isn't going to overcome millions of years of evolution, no matter how much we want to believe.
If killing ourselves in training isn't the solution--perhaps finding meaning in our training is a better option, which can still be plenty intense.
What do you think?
1. Finlayson, G., Bryant, E., Blundell, J. E., & King, N. A. (2009, April 20). Acute compensatory eating following exercise is associated with implicit hedonic wanting for food. Retrieved March 20, 2018, fromhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19419671
2. Pontzer, H., Raichlen, D. A., Wood, B. M., Mabulla, A. Z., Racette, S. B., & Marlowe, F. W. (2012). Retrieved March 21, 2018, fromhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3405064/
3. Pontzer, H. (2012, August 26). Debunking the Hunter-Gatherer Workout. Retrieved March 21, 2018, fromhttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/opinion/sunday/debunking-the-hunter-gatherer-workout.html