by Robert Maxwell
I've written lots of articles on strength and fitness training and why you should do it. I've come at the subject from many angles: physical and mental benefits, motivation or lack of it, and dangers of not doing it. I've used these techniques with many people in person, too. There's only one problem – it almost never works. I consider myself a crusader for strength and fitness, preaching a consistent message to the lazy and out-of-shape. But if this approach most often fails to get weak, untrained people hoisting barbells regularly, perhaps it's time to adjust my strategy. It was thinking along these lines which recently caused me to consider why so few people start a structured training program, and of those who do, why even fewer stick with it long term. After years of observation and research, I think I finally have the answer. It's surprisingly simple. The reason most people fail at fitness is that they don't like it. Not many people haven't ever tried any form of exercise. That's why we can reasonably assume those who choose to avoid fitness do so because of a bad experience in the past. Maybe more than one. Maybe it was sweating and straining in high school gym class. Or perhaps the cause of their reluctance is more recent. An overly zealous personal trainer who pushed too hard. A well-meaning fit relative who talked them into joining a fitness bootcamp which left them sore, frustrated and embarrassed. Maybe even an exercise related injury. Whatever the cause, these non-training folks feel they have no reason to torture themselves, so they don't. Even so, deep down, most of them know they should be exercising their weak, flaccid bodies. That's why sale of diet books, gym memberships, and exercise apparel skyrockets every January 1st. Of course, these purchases ultimately lead nowhere. These folks try for a while, and maybe even enjoy some positive changes in their minds and bodies. But the fact that they sincerely dislike what they're doing always catches up with them in the end. For some it takes a week, others several months or longer, but they all quit eventually. If you're doing a self-pitying nod right now, you're probably also wondering what you can do to break this unproductive pattern. It's very simple. You have to like the training you do. Want more specifics? Keep reading.
Experiment With Different Training Styles
Yes, loaded barbells are the best way to get strong, and strength is important. Vitally so. But if you've tried barbell training for long enough to know how it makes you feel, and genuinely hate it to the point of quitting, don't give up on strength and fitness altogether. Try a routine involving bodyweight or kettlebells instead. Do some push-ups, chin-ups, and bodyweight squats. Maybe get a set of adjustable dumbbells. Take up CrossFit. In past articles, I've taken a hard line against these other styles of training, and I still believe barbell resistance training should be at the core of everyone's program. But if for you it's either something other than barbells, or nothing, something is obviously the better choice. Force yourself to keep experimenting until you find a style of training that you really enjoy. If you want to stick with fitness long term, enjoyment is a must. It'll get you through when motivation runs low, and keep you enthused as you sweat and strain when you could be relaxing on the couch.
Force Yourself to Give Training a Decent Try
Sure, enjoying what you're doing in the gym is important, but don't be too quick to decide the training you're trying isn't for you. Very few people who go from lifting no weight to lifting weight leave the gym for the first time thinking "man, that felt great!" Especially if they're exceptionally weak and out-of-shape. More likely, they'll be mopping sweat from their brow as they limp to the car, massaging stiff, burning muscles they didn't know existed an hour ago. This might seem like pure torture, but it can be surprisingly enjoyable. Trouble is, the enjoyment takes time to develop. If you hit the gym wanting to dislike training, you probably will. If you go knowing it'll be painful and challenging, but believing you have the power to improve your body, you'll make this the reality. You have no business ditching a training method you've tried for less than a month or so. If you do, you'll probably never find one you like, and stay weak and winded your whole life. Training is hard work, even when you love what you're doing. If you choose your fitness style well, you won't need to force yourself to the gym most of the time, once you're past the initial adjustment. Just remember – no one gets away without forcing themselves to train sometimes, even when they like what they're doing.