Okay so never is a bit dramatic but many do seem to be unhappy with their current fitness level. Have you ever wondered why? You work so hard hit the gym, weights, the treadmill but still year after year the desired results have not manifested. The internet is full of headlines “get fit now”, “25 tips for bigger, stronger muscles”, “5 moves you must do for a better butt” even I’ve been tweeting my blog posts (mostly to try to drive more traffic to this site). The tags #fitness #fitfam and #fitfluential have been consistently trending every day since I started paying attention. This tells me that either trainers are flooding twitter with our posts or people are looking for ways to get fit even if they aren’t flocking to the health clubs or hiring trainers right now.
In the years I’ve worked in health clubs and fitness studios I have noticed a pattern in health club attendance. The cycle seems to repeat itself year after year on a grand scale and it occurred to me that of course it must be happening on a more individual level. Most people know that working out once a week will not likely produce significant changes and results. What they don’t understand is that one day a week is better than no days a week of physical activity. People decide ‘well I know what I have to do, but I don’t have time because of…’ (fill in silly reason here) whatever the reason is and they don’t even try. While an all or nothing approach is understandable (no one appreciates halfhearted efforts) it is counterproductive when it leads people to choose nothing.
Feeling like one does not have enough time for workouts is the norm for many more people than not. Working a 40+ hour week, add in a commute longer than 15 minutes and even the most dedicated fitness buff can find themselves regularly skipping workouts. I don’t even know how people with children do it. Seems like the only people who can stay “in shape” are fitness industry insiders or rich and famous celebrities. Truth is many fitness goals require both a lot of time and total commitment. Sometimes it can feel like trying to climb a giant mountain with no gear. This is why the “quick fixes” out there that don’t work are still mad sellers.
Since the commercialization of fitness there have been a number of quick fixes. These companies are banking on people’s desire for the instant gratification. Never mind that it doesn’t work, they will come out with a new improved product to sell you that really will work this time. Have you seen the shake belt from the seventies? You don’t have to work for it just stand there with this belt wrapped around you and it will shake the fat off you. Right, and when was the last time you saw one of those? In the seventies? They came out with something new right after that. Ahem, Thigh Master.
New Year new you; it begins
Most people fall into the same patterns prevalent in the health clubs. In January health club membership and class attendance sharply increase due to New Year’s resolutions. Recognizing this, the health club industry and all others even remotely related, begin promoting their fitness regimen in the hope to capitalize on everyone’s post-holiday season guilt and resolution “to get in shape” in the new year. The health clubs, fitness classes and personal trainers’ schedules fill up faster than my cat running to hide upon the vacuum coming out. Even if people aren’t going to the health clubs and signing up for a year membership plus all you can take monthly classes, many start some type of exercise regimen at home.
For many formerly sedentary people home exercise is as helpful as the shake belt. Not to say that a workout dvd and a few hours aren’t beneficial, the problem is most people without someone or something (ie. the financial commitment that signing up for a gym membership entails) to hold them accountable fall back into old sedentary habits when they do not get the results they were hoping for fast enough. Others choose to push through figuring the ‘no pain no gain’ adage must have some truth. They push themselves into longer or more frequent workouts prematurely until they get to a point the pain from injury sidelines them maybe permanently. Either way by Mid-March all the New Year’s resolutions are out the window along with regular health club attendance. There is a small push of activity in mid-April to about May when people realize summer and therefore “swimsuit season” as every fashion magazine on the planet calls it, until people give up to “work on their tan” (since when does a tan require work?? Is laying around at the pool or beach the new work out?) during the summer months. June, July and August are the slowest, least busy months in the fitness industry. Not only have people given up on the “beach body” for the summer but with children being out of school and summer vacations excuses abound for fitness avoidance.
In the fall when children go back to school or maybe start school for the first time all that guilt of blowing off the entire summer of working out hits and there is a resurgence in gym activity. Even with Christmas bells tolling in the background classes and schedules start to fill up again. Fall specials are run, article headlines are focused on how to avoid ‘the holiday 7’ (the seven pounds everyone has a supposed tendency to gain during the season known as the holidays). With a major push from the fitness industry comercials are run until they fade out and there is nothing but Christmas ads that mark the inevitable holiday slump in November. This slump lasts from mid-November to January when the cycle begins again. This happens year after year and with all the start and stop and inconsistency it is not surprising it is so hard to see results. A good start must be followed by a strong middle that stays solid until well, your last breath, ideally. There is no doubt that success requires sweat, coincidentally so does exercise!
Quit eating your kid’s Halloween candy!
“Success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.” And other variations on the famous quote place obvious emphasis on the perspiration part. What they don’t recognize is that [discounting] the 10% of inspiration because it’s only 10% is like finally buying that ridiculously expensive ride and not having any more money to buy the gas. Inspiration is the gas in the vehicle. If you only have a gallon of gas in your shiny new 8 cylinder truck you better know exactly where the nearest gas station is and have something to exchange for fuel. The alternative is you will go very fast for a very short distance. Hence how most people start an exercise program and fail to continue the program. They thought the excitement they had over “finally doing something about this weight” (or any myriad of statements that mirror the sentiment) would carry them through the tediousness that is cardio vascular work without any solid motivation to stick to it. Most people don’t really believe they can be where they want to be physically and that also works against them. It makes them less likely to stick to a program they don’t enjoy, but someone somewhere said was good for them, and more likely to slip back into the cycle.
Wow, seems like we’re back to celebrities and fitness insiders, how in the world does any “normal” person reach their goal? I have heard it said that the answer can be found in the question. The answer is the concept of the goal. Maybe the ultimate goal is to get into that near impossible move, run a full marathon, or lift weight three times your own body weight. What people fail to understand is big, huge goals have many mini goals, milestones and stepping stones along the way. Some of those stepping stones aren’t very exciting are they? And really can that “inspiration” stand up to that Thanksgiving truffle? What about that ice cream pie cake thingy with almond hazelnut crunch topping? Yeah, so maybe not.
Inspiration is fuel
So how in the world do you deal with this seemingly inevitable cycle? Now that you are aware of it and can see how it happens in your own life you can plan ahead, weeks, months even the whole year at a time if you choose to. It’s now summer’s end and autumn for most of the country will be here in a couple weeks. You may be considering a signing up for a fitness class or hiring a trainer right now. But if you’ve been reading so far you know odds are in less than 3 months you’ll be blowing off the gym, snacking on the children’s Halloween loot, eating pie at the holiday party and feeling that guilt that goes with holiday excess.
Here are some suggestions to fight it. Plan out your late October-Mid November activities now. Sign up for that indoor sport that has games all the way up until the last two weeks before Christmas. Hire a personal trainer for just the months of November and December, then resume with your trainer in April through the summer. Get together with a few friends and sign up for group training but specifically with the start (and if you want end) dates around the slump times. Check out sports specific studios, many of them offer sessions lasting anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks where classes meet at the same time and day(s) every week for the duration of the session. The trainer or class is for the inspiration and accountability part.
Come up with a challenge that will require work. One popular online pole dancing forum challenged people to get their splits by Christmas and post their progress. As flexibility is use or lose people find out quickly range of motion is lost faster than gained without consistent work. Participating in this challenge ensures at least a stretching session and physical activity. It’s not for everyone, pick a challenge relevant to you— run an extra 5 miles a week by Christmas, add 20lbs. to your bench press by Christmas. Having a challenge to meet by Christmas is not only a great present to yourself when the challenge is met, but a great motivator to keep working through the holiday season.
Finally, celebrate little wins. Celebrate that extra inch of flexibility. Celebrate needing to challenge yourself by lifting heavier weights because your muscles have adapted to your starting weights. Celebrate that extra 5 minutes you were able to stay on the elliptical. You are not going to start out where you want to be, but starting now with consistent effort you can get there.