by Robert Maxwell
If we human beings were more like Vulcans (Mr. Spock in Star Trek), I expect many more of us would train regularly. In my work as a strength and fitness coach, I’ve noticed my most important role often isn’t providing clients with reasons they should train, or even knowledge on how to do so properly. These things are important, but ultimately they’re not most people’s limiting factor to physical strength and fitness. Motivation is. Many articles on this website and others like it present information on why strength training and general fitness is a good idea. I’ve also written about why good nutrition is critical for health. I’ve presented these facts not because I believe they’re entirely new to my readers, but because I hope the information will lead to motivation. For some, this motivation might come through reading about the many health benefits of barbell training, and wanting to experience them. Others might feel a sense of guilt or fear when they read about the long term effects of a sedentary lifestyle. I’m not opposed to harnessing these negative emotions in my readers if it achieves something positive – a willingness to begin some form of regular physical training. But this article isn’t another look at facts or statistics about strength training, Instead, I’ll be examining the issue from the other side: reasons why most people don’t exercise enough, or sometimes at all. Every situation is different, and some would argue that I can’t possibly make such a sweeping generalization as to compile a list of the top 4 reasons most people neglect their fitness. I disagree. People aren’t that different, and in my experience, not very creative with their excuses for not exercising.
REASON 1: NOT ENOUGH TIME
This is an extremely common excuse. “I’d love to get to the gym,” folks will often explain when asked if they exercise, “but between work, chores at home and family time, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.” On the surface, this sounds reasonable. There’s only one problem – 95 percent of people who use this excuse are mistaken. To be fair, many of them don’t realize this. More often than not, they truly believe they’re making full, efficient use of their time from the moment they wake to when their head hits the pillow at night. Trouble is, they’re usually wrong. Often, they’re filling portions of their days with wasteful activities that could be used for keeping their bodies fit and healthy. Television is one of the biggest culprits. If you spend several hours each week in front of the tube or engaged in other types of passive leisure, but don’t exercise in a serious way, you don’t get to use lack of time as an excuse. Even if you’re not in the habit of doing something so blatantly wasteful as taking in hours of mindless television when you could be exercising, you’re not necessarily off the hook. Physical fitness is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself and your loved ones. Even if you spend most hours productively, in my experience there’s almost always a little more time that can be squeezed out of the day. Whether that means getting up half an hour earlier, going to bed half an hour later, shortening your lunch break, or simply working faster so you can make it to the gym, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.
REASON 2: THEY PUT IT OFF
Human beings have an amazing capacity to lie to themselves. “I’ll get around to it” is probably one of the most pernicious self-lies around, and it’s never more dangerous than when applied to physical fitness. This line is usually spewed by those who know they should be exercising, and are convinced of the benefits, but dread the discomfort of burning muscles, shortness of breath and sweaty clothes. This is understandable. What they fail to realize is that starting won’t get any easier by waiting. In fact, it’ll get harder. Inactivity has a way of growing in strength the longer it remains unbroken, and you’re not doing yourself any favours by growing a little more moss. There’s no doubt exercise is hard. All the more reason to start now, when you’re younger and less stagnant than you’ll be a week or month or year from now. Stop feeding yourself the lie that you’ll get around to it later. Even if you defy all expectations and do so, by waiting longer you’ll lose valuable time you could have used to improve your body sooner.
REASON 3: THEY’RE TOO CONTENT
Historically, the advantages of being strong and fit were even more obvious and important than they are today. Back when the survival of yourself and your family depended on your physical ability, strength wasn’t something passed over with a dismissive grunt. It was necessary and expected, and most working men had it in abundance. Did they get that way by pumping iron? Almost never, but before the industrial age and the host of modern conveniences we enjoy today, most work men did was hard, long, and very physical. There’s a reason they call it manual labour. Today, some men still work this way, but many more live what Henry David Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation”, spending their careers in offices and cubicles, hardly ever leaving their chairs until they punch out at the end of the day. This is the perfect breeding ground for mental and physical weakness. Trouble is, many men in such situations consider themselves perfectly happy, at least on the surface. Our modern world has insulated them from the harsh physical realities of life, allowing them to build absurd amounts of ease and leisure into their daily routines. If your work isn’t physically strenuous, it’s crucial to your health and development as a man that you add something to your life that is, and barbell training is the perfect candidate.
REASON 4: THEY THINK THEY GET ENOUGH INCIDENTAL EXERCISE
In spite of the ease and leisure of our modern world, there are still a fair number of men who have embraced some form of physicality outside the gym, even if their money-earning work isn’t strenuous. Chopping wood, playing with their kids or grandkids, or golfing once or twice a week. Maybe even a home reno project, if they’re especially ambitious. Very often, guys who engage in these activities feel they’ve got the fitness thing covered. They’re not completely wrong. As someone who’s grown up doing lots of manual labour around my home, and watching my dad do the same, I know for a fact that men who do regular physical work have a huge advantage over those who don’t. However, there are problems with making physical chores your main and only form of training. I’ve written about this in detail here. The short version is that manual labour never works your entire body evenly, as a properly designed strength training program will. Without exception, strenuous chores will strengthen some areas far more than others, leaving your body imbalanced and prone to injury in the neglected spots. The other problem is consistency. If your career isn’t physical, you’re probably not doing strenuous things often enough. My dad’s the perfect example. Even though fixing fences, cutting firewood, building things, and many other physical jobs have always been a big part of his life, he realized several months ago it wasn’t enough, and asked me to start training him in the gym. Since then, he’s reported huge gains in strength and vigour. “Everything becomes easier”, he said, when I asked him about the benefits of training.