I saw a commercial yesterday that got me thinking.
It was of those stock, constantly recycled advertisements for yet another at-home workout system that shows a room full of people smiling and sweating. There's nothing really new in these ads - they simply change the overall tone, swap out some terms, and give it a slightly different theme.
In fact, it seems as though they're just cycling through themes: this one was “shadowboxing,” which in practice is no different than the old cardio-kickboxing routines that have been popular on-and-off since the nineties.
To say that this was a new exercise program would be like painting your walls a different color and claiming you bought a new house.
So why do these “new” systems keep popping up? Is it because they're so effective?
We keep seeing these dime-a-dozen, bop-around-and-sweat home workout routines because they sell. Plain and simple.
The viewer at home sees a room full of attractive, fit people doing an exercise routine, smiling and laughing, and they think “a fun workout, that I can do in the privacy of my own home, and get results like that? Where do I sign up?!”
Mission accomplished (a mission that, if you notice, has nothing to do with delivering results). They've made a sale and can move on.
And that brings me to my main question here:
Do your workouts have to be fun?
I know it's been said that having fun can increase workout program adherence, but I think the application of that information is mistreated. After all, a program's “funness” has absolutely zero to do with its effectiveness. It is not a good approach to say “this program is fun, therefore I should do it.” Rather, the approach should be “this program is effective, so how can I make it enjoyable?”
The easiest solution here might not necessarily work for everyone, but it's one way to think about it. We’ll call it the “who cares?” method.
It goes like this: "Is this fun? No. But who cares?"
Exercising might not be fun for you. But neither is brushing your teeth, doing laundry, or getting your oil changed. As grown ups, we face a litany of tasks that we know we have to do, might even complain about from time to time, but do anyway.
I'm not saying your workouts should be boring or a chore, but it might help to start viewing them in this fashion. If you don't tell yourself they need to be fun, then it's not so terrible when they aren't.
For those who find exercising an appalling task—more akin to spending the day in line at the DMV than to washing a few dishes—there are ways to frame both your mindset and your workouts to make it a little more tolerable (while remaining effective).
A Perspective Change
The first step is to switch up how you think about the whole idea of enjoyment. Rather than thinking “how can I have fun by working out?” you can switch it to “how can I have fun while working out?”
This completely removes any emotion from the actual task, and leaves you with room to get creative.
Here are a few ideas to play around with. Try a few, either in isolation or mixed together, and let us know how it goes!
Minimum Effective Dose
If exercising truly isn't your bag, try viewing the whole thing as a puzzle. “I don't enjoy this, so how can I spend as little time as possible doing it?” In other words, what's the minimum effective dose of exercise?
There are two easy ways to mitigate the amount of time you spend in the gym: reduce your rest periods and up your intensity.
Now, there's a limit to each of those things, of course, but I doubt any of the decidedly non-hardcore are at risk of overdoing it here.
The main point is to try and get the same amount of work done in less time.
Bring a Friend
Having someone to cheer you on, challenge you, and, perhaps most importantly, talk to in between sets, can make your gym-going experience much more enjoyable.
Try inviting someone you know along with you next time you plan to hit the gym. You might find that the time goes by a little more quickly.
Do the Same Thing Over and Over
"Wait...don't you mean 'DON'T do the same thing over and over'?"
Hear me out.
As we've discussed, having a solid routine creates a state of mindlessness: a pattern that flows with almost no thought.
If you enter the gym and do the same routine over and over, your mind is free to wander and be somewhere else. Perhaps you're listening to music, a podcast, or a book on tape. Maybe you're daydreaming about winning the lottery. Or you might just be having a conversation with a friend. Either way, you’re able to focus less on what you have to do and more on...well, anything else.
This also plays into last week's discussion of willpower: if you have no decisions to make at the gym, it's easier to decide to go to the gym.
Now, anyone who knows me at all knows this strategy comes with some caveats.
- You cannot be so absent minded that things become dangerous (regarding both your movement patterns and your physical surroundings).
- Doing the same thing doesn't mean always doing it the same way. You should at least loosely keep track of your weights and/or intensity (so you can progress), and feel free to change things up every now and again.
- If you take this approach, make sure to not overwork any muscle groups. Instead of a full-body routine you repeat over and over, perhaps you repeat the same workout for each body part: the same leg day, the same chest day, etc.
As an old college professor used to say, “It’s all about the treats.”
Keep in mind, though, that in this instance I am NOT talking about food. Rewarding exercise efforts with food falls more into the realm of moral licensing, which can hold you back from your goals over time.
Instead, reward yourself with a different kind of treat. Maybe making it to all of your planned workouts for a month means a new workout outfit. Maybe you have a spa day. The list could easily go on, but the point is don't do it with food.
And as a side note, the opposite case is NOT true: you should reward yourself for completing positive behaviors, but you should absolutely NOT punish yourself, in any way, for not completing them. No negative self-talk, no deprivation. Just move on.
Exercising can be fun, but it doesn't have to be fun. If you can't find a way to make what you're doing enjoyable, then the answer might not be "find something you enjoy more," but rather "suck it up, buttercup."