They say that those who don’t like to read, it’s because they haven’t found a book they like yet. Maybe at school they were forced to read books that bored them and that put them off. I think the same can happen with exercise: those who say “I don’t like to work out”, it’s actually because they haven’t found an exercise that goes with them yet. And, is that their fault? Maybe they’ve fallen victim to one of these harmful ideas:
1. Working out = losing weight
First of all, we need to get rid once and for all of the idea that if you work out it’s exclusively because you want to lose weight. Phrases like “Why do you work out, if you’re already thin?” or “You don’t need to work out” have to disappear. Working out isn’t a punishment for fat people, is a chance we all have to gain physical and mental health. Notice: the main purpose is to gain something, not to lose something.
2. Working out = suffering
Related to the previous one, but even more pernicious, is the idea that exercise = suffering and the more, the better. It’s a painful torture, but you need it to get to a certain physical goal; once you achieve that goal, of course, you can finally end the torture. Although most people will leave earlier. That’s normal: subjecting yourself to physical and psychological stress isn’t usually the best way to make progress in life, and less when the goal is supposedly health.
These are some —theoretically— motivating quotes, seen on fitness social media accounts. Unfortunately, some of them even belong to professionals. For each one, I want to offer a positive, healthy and inspiring alternative:
NO: “Suffer the pain of working out or suffer the pain of regret”
YES: The second part is real, either now or later, when age does its things. But the way to motivate someone that already feels guilty or worried to change isn’t to tell him that the other option is almost worse! The good news is that it isn’t true that you have to choose between to pains to suffer. We must distinguish between effort and suffering. Working out implies making an effort, but one that results in happiness and greater quality of life from the first minute. Perhaps you don’t like to work out yet, but surely your brain does, since it releases endorphins, the hormones that give us a feeling of happiness and wellbeing. The only way to compensate that is to insist a lot on spoiling it.
“Enjoy the happiness of working out (with a little effort) or suffer the pain of regret”
NO: “As much as this hurts, quitting hurts even more”
YES: What really hurts is not to quit when it’s needed and therefore get injured and damage your muscles and bones. Just because you don’t want to quit earlier in a session, are you going to risk not being able to work out for a long period of recovery? It makes no sense.
“As much as quitting hurts (your pride), getting injured hurts even more”
NO: “Don’t stop when it hurts, stop when you’re done”
YES: It’s true that the body can do everything the mind decides, but that isn’t always a positive thing, since it can lead to a disconnection between them and to neglect the real needs of the body. It’s good to take the body to do things it finds hard, but that are going to be for its greater good; it’s not good to be tyrannic. Listen to your body. Working out must be something you do with and for your body, not against it.
“Stop when your body tells you so, not when you obsessively determined you’d be done”
NO: “Crawling is acceptable, falling is acceptable, puking is acceptable, crying is acceptable, blood is acceptable, pain is acceptable. Quitting is not”.
YES: Quitting is acceptable, taking some rest is acceptable, reducing intensity is acceptable, give up your way of training and experimenting with another is acceptable, burning less calories is acceptable, letting your muscles recover is acceptable. Not doing so is only acceptable as long as your body gives you green-light to continue.
“When working out, making an effort is good, stopping is acceptable and enjoying is compulsory”
NO: “Oh, it hurts? Keep going! It’s just your body changing!”
YES: Make an effort, do those last reps that are hard or run the last miles sprinting. But it’s not about pushing yourself to exhaustion. That isn’t going to get you better results; if anything, just the opposite, getting worn out is only going to hinder your progress. Overtraining makes you feel tired, doesn’t let your muscles recover and in the end your performance is affected and you can even get injured. Moreover, during the rest of the day you’ll feel worse and your NEAT (non-exercise active thermogenesis) will decrease. Your NEAT means how much you move and the physical activity you do when you’re not formally working out – it is even more important for your wellbeing than the training sessions.
“Oh, it hurts? Don’t keep going. Is it your body changing? Yes. For the worse”
In short, working out should never be considered as a short-term thing, that’s going to make you have a terrible time, but then you’ll achieve your physical goal and be happy. On the contrary, it’s a long-term thing, that will to your health and happiness for all your life.
3. Working out = not for me
Thirdly, there are limiting beliefs about working out that can become excuses, or even moral convictions, not to do it. Once we’ve debunked the myths that it is just for losing weight, and that it must cause suffering, what else do we have to refute?
The fact that you were bad at PE doesn’t mean you’re bad at working out.
This has happened to a lot of us, with this or any other subject: we believe that what we’re thought at school is the whole picture of the topic. If we have a good teacher and we’re good at the subject, then it’s something good; if not, something bad. But it isn’t like that. Dare to explore fitness from a new perspective. You don’t have to get a certain mark in different tests to pass. You don’t have to compare yourself to your mates. You don’t even have to limit yourself to traditional sports. If you find something you have a good time doing, you’re able to do consistently and improves your health, you’ll graduate with honors.
The fact that you’ve tried to run for 2 hours on the treadmill and you’re sick of it doesn’t mean working out is horrible.
I know there are people who really like that. I know most people don’t, but they do it anyway. My advice: choose an exercise you’ll do even if it didn’t burn calories (anyway, food plays a much more relevant role if this is your objective). That way, you’ll end up having the body you want, because it will be the most suitable body to perform as best as possible at the activity you like most.
The fact that you find [insert fashionable exercise] boring doesn’t mean working out is boring.
Find an exercise that you like and motivates you, and don’t let anyone put yourself down for it. There are hundreds of options, you don’t have to follow the predetermined plans of the fashionable apps, or do what youtube videos tell you you should do. You don’t need to have a certain body type to do any exercise. You don’t have to be a woman to do pilates, or to be a man to lift weights. And don’t be afraid to look foolish if you think you’re going to make mistakes at the beginning!
The fact that [insert limiting belief about yourself] doesn’t mean that you’re unable to get down to working out.
“I have no willpower”, “I’m not consistent”, “I’ve tried it before and I failed”, “I never find time”… Look, whoever you are, I believe in you and I know you can. Could it be that sometimes we’re so overwhelmed by everything we should do or we see others doing… that we aren’t even able to take the smallest step? Something is much better than nothing. The key is that that something, no matter how small it is at the beginning, must be a priority just as much as the highest priorities of your life. Then, if you follow the advice above, it will give you so much satisfaction and results that it will become something indispensable for you.
The fact that in the past you’ve used exercise to harm your body (as in an eating disorder) doesn’t mean working out is bad.
This is a sensitive point. Those of us who have abused exercise need to be careful and examine our true motives when we want to do it again. There are people that become so scared of it that develop an attitude of rejection. I’ve even heard criticism from recovered people to others equally recovered that work out, telling them that they’re only camouflaging their obsession. I won’t deny in some cases it’s true, but I don’t believe that not doing any kind of physical activity is a sign that you’re “more recovered”. It’s necessary to start with caution and always under medical supervision, but the goal should be to learn to use exercise for the good, not to quit completely. That’s like swapping one illness for others.
To sum up: no matter your physical goal, your body type, your personal experience and your likes and dislikes, give working out a chance with an open mind and a positive attitude. Your present you will enjoy it, and your future you will thank you.