Why do you hate exercise?
If there’s one consistency I’ve found in listening to people’s questions around exercise and health over the past few years, it’s an abundant and over-resounding “How do you have so much motivation?” It’s something I often get asked about and it’s a hard one to answer, because (she says seemingly smugly) I have never had a problem with getting motivated to exercise.
Now, you might be sitting there reading this, thinking, “Well, geez – if I knew this was going to be a preachy article about how easy exercise is for one woman and how it’s hardly applicable to 200,000 others; and why the fuck did I waste my precious mouse clicks on this random girl’s blog?”, but hear me out. I certainly never had a problem becoming motivated to exercise once I became educated about it. And you don’t need a heavy textbook, personal trainer or nutrition coach to teach you a few simple things about pumping blood a little faster around your body.
Why we’re hardwired to hate exercise
Before my 17kg weight loss journey in 2013 – I really, really thought that I hated exercise. I had a pure loathing of the thought of putting myself through torturous programs that left my sweaty, writhing body in a completely deflated state for up to a week after. I had no desire to go out jogging, or to stand in front of a fogged up mirror in a large room full of smelly men grunting viciously as their forehead veins squeezed to pop out of their tight, cling-wrap like skin. I desperately wanted to be thin but truly believed the output of my efforts during exercise were not worth the pain I was certain to go through to reach ultimate goal.
So I had to really reassess why I hated exercise, so I could find a way to love it.
Hating exercise has been hardwired into our brain. Negative reinforcement has proven through countless scientific studies that its impact is largely ineffectual when it comes to exercise. Let’s take this example of Jillian Michaels, coach on the Biggest Loser US.
Jillian is known for her army-style, get-down-and-give-me-twenty type training. She yells at her clients and is famous for coining herself as the ‘toughest trainer ever’, pushing some clients to very public breakdowns mid their last set of treadmill sprints.
“Watching Jillian Michaels be a badass trainer and wiping the floor with her overweight ragdolls really makes me want to go and get me some of that.”
SAID NO ONE EVER.
A study in the American Journal of Health Behaviour depicted just this, with an assessment of those who watched the Biggest Loser and how their motivation to perform exercise either increased or decreased. You might have guessed it, the study revealed that participants who watched The Biggest Loser “may result in lower motivation to participate [in exercise] because of the anticipation of an unpleasant experience“.* I don’t blame them. Check out Exhibit B to see this poor soul being dragged through the pool that is negative reinforcement.
It’s not just the impact of the entertainment industry that’s having a negative correlation with exercise – it’s the type of vigorous, sweat-drenching exercise endorsed by personal trainers everywhere and as a result, perpetuated in mediums we can’t escape. Magazines, radio, gyms and of course, television. These types of exercises (and I’m talking, the hours on a treadmill, jumping, boxing, sweating profusely, etc.) are coined the most effective because of the counteractive effect it has against how much food we consume in regular, 21st century life. It’s ironic considering what we know about health and exercise is that you can’t outrun a bad diet, and if we all just ate a little less and a lot better, our training efforts wouldn’t have to be so ridiculously un-enjoyable.
Realistically, if we ignore the media’s clever play on us gullible, info-hungry humans, the things we know about exercise with absolute certainty are this:
- Consistency and progressive-overload are the keys to long-term success
- Enjoyment of exercise leads to consistency with exercise
- The two points above are equivalent to the chicken and the egg, and the best kind of lists come in threes
So when I see Jillian Michaels screaming to her client that “it’s damn-well gonna hurt” in that fist-clenching, cringe-inducing American accent, it is no surprise to me that people hate what they perceive to be the only form of effective exercise, and additionally, why nearly 65 percent of dieters return to their pre-dieting weight within three years**. There’s no enjoyment. And you can only dis-enjoy life for so long without,
- Becoming a grumpy old maid with no friends and lots of cats
- Reaching an unhealthy point of dissatisfaction with yourself, and only finding love amongst your many cats
- Falling off the bandwagon and driving right past the pet store and instead, to McDonalds***
And this accumulation of statistics brings me to my main point (if you thought I was never going to reach it). Exercise needs to be enjoyable to be effective. Ultimately the right kind of exercise for you will be the one that reaps the most positive effects, both physically, and mentally.
At the start of my journey, I assessed the times when I really enjoyed exercise – which was mainly in primary and high school, being involved in every sport known to man. I really enjoyed the competition, the drive, strategy and the feeling of the sun on my back. The exhaustion and satisfaction after a hard soccer game. The positivity I felt in reaching new goals, showing improvement and feeling my body growing stronger with each training session. This is the kind of positive reinforcement I was seeking now.
Lucky for me (and you) the health and fitness industry is one of the fastest growing in Australia, with the sector’s profits spilling into the billions when 2014 ticked around. Come 2016 and Health and Fitness is in the top 5 fastest growing industries worldwide. That means whilst you might not know where to start, you’re at least spoiled for choice when picking which routine you decide to go with, and because you’re reading this – you have the resources to find it.
Many people (women, mainly) suffer from being faced with gorgeous people around us all the time. Not in real life, obviously – if that were the case there’d be a whole lot less on-looking and a whole lot more shagging. No, I’m referring to unreachable standards that exist on every single media platform, and the infiltration of these images into our gyms – a horrible, fluorescent room full of mirrors watching your body twist and writhe in the most unflattering of positions. Not only that, but those around you always seem to be well-versed with the bulky machinery and it’s the all-too intimidating combination of these factors that discourage people from exercising. And in complete fairness, how horrible is it watching yourself fail at something (very literally watching – all those damn mirrors) on a regular basis, and knowing you potentially won’t see results for at least another 6-8 weeks? Sounds to me like the equivalent of walking into work in nothing but my laundry-day undies. Which brings me to my next point…
Feeling uneducated about exercise can often lead to a sense of that you dislike the activity – it comes down to the same principle as pride. When we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re being watched by seemingly, hundreds of others performing admirably better than us, it’s an incredibly off-putting feeling. Exercising for the first time, or committing to a new type of exercise can be daunting and make us feel like we hate it, but once you self-educate on the type of exercise you’re in for before you even begin, you can offset this and start to love the effects that exercise brings. Which is really the point of the whole thing in the first place.
Find what works for you, which may not be what works for Sam, Kate, or Claire. It’s your body, and your prerogative. Once you begin to disassociate exercise and weight loss, and begin moving your body for the benefits that it brings in terms of strength, mental clarity and cardiovascular health, then you can begin to enjoy it.
Nutrition should NOT be a compensation of the calories you’ve just ‘burned’. Eat well to fuel your body – for energy, for micronutrients and brain power. Eat to fuel your exercise and not to reward yourself for performing exercise; the reward is in the exercise.
Educate yourself about the kind of exercise you want to try. If something like barre sounds appealing to you, research the methods before you head into your first class. You want to avoid feeling that sense of negative reinforcement before you it attempts to creep in, so the exercise is a pleasant experience.
Find the things you love, and utilise that in your training. I love the feeling of competition, for example – but I also find that as someone who has been independent for a long time, I like working out alone. I like the feeling of loud music fuelling my workout. I like the feeling of smashing a new PB. I love feeling proud of myself for new accomplishments and I’ve implemented that with a weekly checkpoint system. It’s what works for me, but maybe it won’t work for you.
I have a friend who was paying a hefty weekly gym membership, but she hardly went, and when she did, she walked briskly on the treadmill in sheer lack of motivation to try anything new. Under the influence of her PT boyfriend, she joined F45 – and that high-fiving, teamwork, spirit-fingers kind of workout is exactly the kind of community-based exercise she needed to get her mojo back.
Maybe what you need is a group of supportive new-starters. Maybe you need to download Kayla’s guide and try it in your living room with only your cat watching you**** before you have the confidence to hit the gym. Maybe you can just start by going for a walk around the block, feeling like a king because you’re lapping those suckers on the couch.
So go on, write a list. What do you love doing? What makes you feel good? How can you achieve feeling that with regular exercise?
Take that list and your swift little fingers and do some research and give it a go. Better yet, give me a buzz, and I’ll give it a go with you.
*Source: American Journal of Health Behavior, Volume 37, Number 1, January 2013, pp. 96-103(8) http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/png/ajhb/2013/00000037/00000001/art00011
***Source: Primary evidence. I’d like to point out here that I actually own a cat, so if anyone has valuable insight into latching onto their felines for love, it’s me. Cat owners need not be offended.
****Source: Primary evidence. My cat actually does this.