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Wasting Time at the Gym

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So today I’m taking my Motivator, Story-teller, Drill Sergeant and Politically-Incorrect-Rude-Bloke hats off and putting on my Exercise Scientist beret.

Yep, you read right; beret. Ready, steady, go.

If you want to change your body in some way, then today’s chat might be of interest to you. I get a bunch of letters every week from lots of frustrated “my body’s not changing and I need help” people, so those letters have been the catalyst for today’s article. For some of you, this will be revision. For some it will be a revelation. And for others, it will be of no interest at all. See ya tomorrow.

Coming from a bloke who owns a couple of gyms, the title of this piece may seem dumb or a bit contradictory. Perhaps. You be the judge.

The truth is that many of us are wasting our time and money at the gym (or any training environment for that matter; not just gyms, but I couldn’t fit all that in one title). For some of us, a trip to the gym is little more than a social outing. We spend months, sometimes years going through the motions — doing the same things, the same way, for the same amount of time and producing the same result: zero (or very little) change.

There was some initial change when we first started but for a long time we have felt like we’ve been standing still, as opposed to making any significant progress or seeing any real physical change.

If you’re exercising to get a bit sweaty, increase your heart rate, move your limbs and have a social outing on a regular basis, then you’re not wasting your time; you’re right on track; but if your goal is to look amazing (or different at least) and create significant change, then it may be time to re-assess the way you approach your workouts.

If your motive for hitting the gym (or wherever you train) is to maintain what you have (in terms of fitness, size, shape, weight, appearance etc.), then doing the same and producing the same result is great. But the truth is, most of us exercise because we want to change; we want to experience a ‘new and improved’ version of us. Simple. Not rocket science. We hand over our ‘hard-earned’ because we want “different.”

We don’t walk into a gym and say, “Here’s a thousand bucks. I wanna look exactly the same (or maybe worse) in twelve months.” But that’s exactly what many of us ‘achieve’.
Not what we wanna hear — but true. Just take a look around most gyms and typically you’ll see a whole lot of… same.

Day in, day out, regular exercisers jogging up and down on the spot; literally and metaphorically. Doing the same. Looking the same. Which is fine. If that’s their goal. But it ain’t.

Wanting different, producing same. Frustration, disappointment.

While most people want to feel different (energy levels, emotional state) and function better (strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity, overall health), nearly everyone wants to look different. (And yes, do-gooders we all know that having a great body alone doesn’t equal happiness or success, so please don’t inundate me with those “how could you be so shallow” letters).

See, readers? Gotta cover all my bases. Anticipate and negotiate. Sorry. I digress. Something new for me.

So if you and I went to any gym in our local area tonight and we interviewed a hundred people about their reasons for exercising, we would probably find that at least ninety-five of them want to change their appearance in some way. Some of them, drastically. We’re also likely to discover that more than half of them are, or have been, frustrated with their lack of results or their level of change over the preceding months/years of exercising.

Now, if we came back to that same gym six months from today, what we’d probably find is this:

1. More than half of them wouldn’t be working out any more. (Keeping in mind that the biggest mistake we make from an exercise perspective is spending half our lives stopping and starting a myriad of programs; also keeping in mind that many people don’t make it past week four). Did you know that gyms can actually ‘over-sell’ memberships because they know that a large percentage of people who join will rarely (if ever) rock up? Great for the gym owner; not so good for the fat bloke with diabetes.

2. Of those who are still working out (with the goal of changing their appearance) the vast majority will still look the same or very similar.

Today’s key message: Our body will only change (look different) when we give it a reason to do so — and many people don’t.

Doing the same things (workouts, activities, classes, exercises), the same way, with the same intensity, for the same amount of time will consistently produce the same result; maintenance. Not change. Do the same, you get the same. Do different, you get different.

If we want a quality return on our investment (real change) then we need to make sure that we spend our exercise time and energy wisely. We need to regularly manipulate the training variables (type of activity, intensity, duration, recovery, overall volume, set, reps, weights, distances, surfaces, machines) if we want to see our body continue to change.

Most of us are creatures of habit, even when it comes to our exercise. And while the ‘habit’ of regular exercise is great, the ‘habit’ of always stimulating your body the same way (constantly doing the same or similar workouts) isn’t great, if it’s change that you’re after. Still with me ?

Your body will only adapt when it has to. When you give it a reason. So give it a reason.

Exercise is a form of stress (good stress mostly). And improvements in fitness and strength and decreases in body fat and weight are (some of) your body’s responses (physiological adaptations) to that stress.

Here are my ‘how not to waste your time exercising’ tips:

1. Vary the intensity of your exercise program. Harder and easier sessions.

2. Don’t (always) do what you enjoy. Do what works; what creates change. Sometimes the most effective activity / exercise (for us personally) is what we enjoy the least. I’m not a massive fan (personally) of running but it’s very effective for me, so I do it three days every week; the process ain’t always fun, but the outcome is.

3. If you don’t have any pre-existing risk factors then get accustomed to working when you’re hurting (sometimes, not constantly). A little discomfort usually equals a little change; don’t kill yerself but give your body a reason to change. Stop going through the motions.

4. Do different stuff (technical, I know). When we do the same kind of exercise all the time we become specifically conditioned to (fit for) that activity. Take a swimmer for a run and they may not look so fit (or vise-versa). Or the bodybuilder who can lift a Toyota but can’t run out of a burning building without having a heart attack. Instead of doing the exact same run around the ‘burbs five days a week (for example) you could invest the same amount of time in a) some stair running, b) a boxing class, c) a swim, d) some skipping, e) a class of your choice — and get much better results.

5. You won’t ‘accidentally’ end up with an amazing body. The hit-and-miss training approach doesn’t work unless you’re after hit-and-miss results. Creating your best body needs to be a strategic, intelligent process, and following some generic training program ripped out of page seventy-two of ‘Meatheads R Us’ probably ain’t gonna do it for you. This doesn’t mean you need to be obsessive about your training; it’s simply means train smart.

6. De-emotionalise the process. Don’t let your head get in the way of what’s possible for your body. Bodies are very adaptable. Heads take a little longer.

Okay groovers, there you have it; some food for thought. Now, go and do something amazing. And different.

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About Craig Harper

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Great Article…

    “Don’t (always) do what you enjoy. Do what works; what creates change.”

    Yea, like eating right. Getting with a nutrionist is just as important as “Hitting the Gym”. Don’t wanna spend the big bucks for Gold’s? Try some Calisthenics and Cardiovascular workouts.
    Chin-ups,Pull-ups,Push-ups,crunches(not too many) are great ways to kick your own ass. The best exercise of all?? Swimming! And I mean correctly.
    Its almost like using free weights…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *OH* I forgot… Leg Lifts & Mountain Climbers(aye,aye SIR!)