In the 1977 cult classic, Pumping Iron, now California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger titillated (and horrified) the world with his famous line about weight-lifting:
It’s as satisfying to me as coming is, you know? As having sex with a woman and coming. And so can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like getting the feeling of coming in a gym, I’m getting the feeling of coming at home, I’m getting the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up, when I pose in front of 5,000 people, I get the same feeling, so I am coming day and night. I mean, it’s terrific. Right? So you know, I am in heaven.
Whether you’re repulsed by his bravado or not, you have to admit, it would be pretty damn awesome to be so drawn to a particular form of exercise that you’d literally elevate it to the level of orgasm.
Well, what if you could make that happen?
Okay, okay, maybe not the orgasm thing (not ruling anything out, though), but what if you could find a way to exercise that was so outrageous, so exhilarating, so much fun you couldn’t wait to do more of it every single day. What if it became such a treasured part of your life, you actually had to pull yourself away from it to make time for other pursuits?
Sound impossible? Not at all. I’m about to reveal the master key and then deliver…
The secret to making exercise not only highly-effective, but incredibly fun.
But, one thing you should know is that, if you’re over the age of 25, you’ll very likely not find it your local gym.
Exercise & the “Ugh!” Factor
When you were a child, you ran around all day, played catch, climbed trees, swam, danced around, jumped rope, hopscotched and bounced off walls until you passed out. Back then, you called it play and you loved it. But now you call it exercise . . . and you loathe it. Indeed, every time you think about working out, your entire body forms the word, “Ugh!” What changed?
What most people don’t realize is it’s not the work part of exercise they hate, it’s the boredom!
Somewhere in your journey from kid to grownup, you went from mind-engaging, ever-changing, attention demanding activities to mind-numbing, repetitive movement. From kick-the-can to the treadmill. From jazz to the stepper. From play to exercise. Why?
Because, as life becomes fuller and schedules get tighter, you turn to the seemingly easiest, most efficient option to satisfy your fitness needs. This inevitably leads you to the steps of the nearest gym. In an effort to maximize returns and get as many people in and out as quickly as possible, however, most facilities allocate the majority of floor-space and budget to legions of treadmills, rowers, steppers, weight and other repetitive-motion machines. This mode of exercise squeezes in more members per square foot and requires fewer staff. And, while it yields admirable profits and offers workout efficiency, it is also excruciatingly, relentlessly dull.
The industry knows this and has responded primarily by adding reams of televisions, radios, web terminals and computers. Again, this simply treats the symptoms and leaves the disease untouched. Facilities spend vast amounts of money to distract you from the fact that the options they provide, while efficient, are astoundingly devoid of joy. They lead to early dropout, derail health goals, create a strong aversion to exercise and lead many to dispense with a part of life that, approached differently, would be a source of great joy.
Like it or not, most of us are not elite athletes looking to jump higher, sprint faster or pummel more defenders.
We just want to look and feel great, be healthy and have the ability to live life to its fullest. And the more fun we can have along the way, the better. After years of relenting to typical mind-numbing exercise, however, we have all but given up on the possibility of using the words “fun” and “workout” in the same sentence. Exercise, to us, translates to drudgery and our mission is simply to get it over with as quickly as humanly possible.
Interestingly, the gym industry is not any happier about this than we are. With a nearly 40% annual drop-out rate and an inability to attract and satisfy 150 million adults desperate for a solution, the current mode of operation costs facilities tens of millions in extra advertising and lost revenue every year.
So strong is the aversion to gyms that, according to American Sports Data, 93% of Americans believe exercise will improve their lives, but only 15% can bring themselves to join a gym. Even so, the industry continues to squeak out a nice profit and, with rare exception, hasn’t been willing to take the extra steps or invest the funds necessary to transform the typical gym experience into something outrageous. So, where do we go from here?
Engage the mind and the body will follow!
If you want to love exercise again, you need to break out of your exercise box. Shift your mindset away from the futility of the pure “physical efficiency” model of exercise and back to the mind-engaging ambrosia of play.
Indeed, the demand for “play” or “activity-based” exercise has begun to fuel a recent explosion in alternative forms of movement among adults that actually engage the mind, cultivate passion and inspire joy—activities like martial arts, power yoga, dancing, team sports, boxing, badminton and rock climbing.
This renewed mindset is also inspiring a return of many distraction-based exercises, like the treadmill and stationary bike, back to their mind-engaging roots. More people are walking, cycling and running outside and on trails where the mind becomes much more involved, challenged and focused on the activity and the ever-evolving environment.
And, as demand for this style of movement grows, the industry is starting to listen. Indeed, there is a movement afoot to cut deeply into the status quo. The commercial fitness companies who “get it,” the handful of visionaries who have been willing to take big chances and create a wealth of innovative, fun, exciting programming are now emerging as the industry leaders.
A small number of big box solutions, like Equinox, have stepped up their game and brought a better balance to their offerings and, in the process, demonstrated to the industry that this approach not only adds life to members’ lives, but is fantastically profitable. And, we’ve also seen a bit of a re-emergence of boutique studios that devote themselves to creating experiences steeped in joy, engagement, delight and community.
So, then how do you apply this understanding to your own fitness quest?
First, we shift your focus away from minutes, miles per hour, repetitions and calories. We figure out your Motion Profile—what makes you tick, what jazzes you from a movement standpoint. Then we build on this to find or create the most mind-engaging and downright “exhilarating” workouts of your life. We find things that require you to pay intense attention, change constantly and challenge your mental as well as your physical abilities.
Remember what you loved to do as a kid.
Think about all the great options available to kids now. When it comes to exercise, your psychological need for engagement is no different than when you were a kid. In fact, with the added stresses of adulthood, your need for activities that not only get you healthy, but clear you mind is even greater. You need to regress to progress. I’ll help you out with this process below. Once you have found your activities, you can do them alone, with a partner or a group. You can do them at home or at a facility, whichever works best for you.
But does it really work?
Will this mind-engaging movement be as effective as your typical gym-based exercise? Absolutely! Even more so. Look, there may be more traditional or “scientific” ways to exercise that are slightly more effective at burning calories or building strength in a given time frame. But, if you hate them, you quit and lie on your couch after two months, those super-efficient exercises end up being no more effective than a tub of wings, a bucket of bon bons and an e-z chair.
Think about it:
- Option 1: Run for thirty minutes on a treadmill every day, hate it so much that you quit, never to return to the gym after six weeks. Total calories burned after one year—10,000 = 3 pounds burned off.
- Option 2: Dance/play for thirty minutes a day for six weeks. Bump it up to 45 minutes after that because you are having so much fun and continue indefinitely. Total calories burned after one year—50,000 = 15 pounds burned off.
It’s time to shift your focus from what works in a controlled, “test tube” environment to what works in “in the real world!”
And the key here is not what burns the most calories in the lab, but what makes exercise so enjoyable, engaging and fulfilling that you will do whatever it takes to add more to your life every day.
Create your personal Motion Profile.
Now, it’s time to learn a little more about your personality, your likes and dislikes and your current physical state. Below are a host of potential types of activities. It is only a sampling, so if there are activities you are drawn to outside this list go for it. Each one has the ability to be incredibly fun and also form the foundation for a highly-effective
Activities are broken into two categories: Cardiovascular (C) and Combined Cardio & Resistance (CR).
Browse though the list below. Note any option that sounds like it might be interesting, rewarding or fun. Look for anything you might like to try. When choosing, don’t think about whether you’d be embarrassed or afraid. Put those thoughts out of your mind and react on more of a split-second instinctive level. Make sure, however, that you select at least one activity from the Combined Cardio & Resistance category.
Each activity has a link that will provide more information about the activity. But, remember, very often, the best way to learn about an activity will be to find your local resources. For example, to learn about cycling you might go to your local bike store and find out about clubs, terrain, trails, etc.
- Walking C
- Outdoor / trail jogging/run C
- Crossfit CR
- Ropes course CR
- Rock climbing CR
- Indoor rock climbing CR
- Mountain biking CR
- Road biking C
- Adult Gymnastics CR
- Mini-tramp aerobics CR
- Hiking C
- Swimming C
- Pogo sticking C
- Freestyle dancing around home C / CR
- Obstacle course (check local park/recreation org) CR
- Cardio boxing CR
- Aerobic Kickboxing CR
- Karate/martial arts CR
- Recreational basketball C (check local sports store0
- Tennis CR (check local club, tennis store, academy)
- Dodge ball CR
- Fencing CR
- Recreational soccer C (get a ball and go kick it around)
- Volleyball CR
- Badminton C
- Swing dancing CR (find local schools or check out videos below)
- Hip-hop C (find local schools or check out videos below)
- Ballroom dancing C (find local schools or check out videos below)
- African dance CR (find local schools or check out videos below)
- Handball C (Go to local playground alone or with a friend)
- Play catch C (dudes, you don’t really need a resource, do you?)
- Calisthenics & power-lifting R
- Free weights R
- Circuit training CR
- Aerobic step C (local studio/club & dvd source below)
- Indoor group-cycling/Spinning C
- Horseback riding CR – (Find local equestrian center)
- Flag football CR (Check local sports store for league)
- Recreational track & field events CR – (Check local running store/web)
- Yoga CR
- Tai Chi CR
- Pilates CR
- Agility/boot camp CR – (Classes often at local studio/club)
- NIA CR
- Yoga/martial arts hybrids
Narrowing the activity field.
Now, we are going to create or find your activities and design a program based on them. If you are like most people, you have probably chosen activities that:
- Engage your mind,
- Constantly change or have high-levels of novelty and variability, and
- Require your absolute attention.
And, you have probably pictured doing them with at least one other person. For sure, most of us are social beings. We may not like large groups, but, in the end, most people enjoy sharing experiences with others. If not, do not be alarmed, be glad. You are actually much easier accommodated than most.
Narrow Your Motion Profile
As always, before beginning any program of regular activity, I strongly advise you to seek the advice of a qualified physician or health care professional and, if advised, participate in a pre-exercise evaluation. And, of course, always start slowly. Remember
how long it may have been since you last exercised. Start smart and you’ll have the rest of your life to excel.
Your job, over the next 24 hours (no, you cannot take longer) will be to look on the web, click and of the resource links above, look in the phone book, papers, periodicals, call friends and family and find out how you can sample each of the activities you checked. You may resort to an activity club, a private instructor, gym, studio, league, stable, local Y or any other qualified place.
Or, you can put together your own group. A fun, easy home option is activity/exercise videos. Just google your activities or search youtube, where you’ll likely find a ton of free instructional videos as well.
If you are drawn to weightlifting, and just like Arnold, a certain percentage of people will actually really love pumping iron, it’s always best to work with an expert, but you can get some great information and pointers online.
Very often, people are drawn to walking outside, either alone or with friends. This, of course, is among the easiest of all activities to try. Look for a setting or video that offers both the activity and the interaction level that stimulates you. Remember, it’s all about finding a selection of activities that you want to do.
Get the schedules for any potential places, get the videos delivered overnight or try renting a few at your local video store and commit to sampling at least 2 and up to 5 different kinds of activities from the above list in the next 7 days. You may find your activity immediately or it may take a few days.
It sounds like a bit of an effort, but, for crying out loud, we are talking about creating massive change in your life, so make the effort! If you are not willing to commit to this small challenge, how do you imagine you will commit to changing your life? Make this small effort your first challenge. As I mentioned before, many of you will enjoy power walking outside from the beginning. Try classes, traditional exercises, dancing, whatever you raised your eyebrow from the above list.
Do not delay. Do not procrastinate. Do not futz around.
Do not give up here! If you are able, find an expert who can help guide you in this endeavor. Remember, this program will change your life if you do it, but it’ll get you nowhere if all you do is read it. Act on it, now!
And, of course, remember, you are just beginning, keep your level of exertion down to minimum and keep the time frame short (often a few minutes will suffice). Focus instead on whether you enjoy the “style” of movement. As you try each activity, rank your general enjoyment of the activity from 1 to 100. Once you are done, the top two to three activities will form the foundation for the physical part of your program. We will return to these later when we create your actual Plan of Action later this month. If you need, try the next five activities from the list.
Transforming Boring Exercise
For a very small percentage of you, there will be few, if any, activities that truly engage your mind and are fun to do. I spent a bunch of years as a personal trainer, yoga instructor, founded two “alternative fitness” facilities and oversaw a lot of lifestyle pros and have yet to work with the person whom I cannot introduce to movement that is fun.
Still, if you believe, after a serious effort, you are one of these folks, don’t despair. You have two options.
Option 1: If it takes a village, assemble a damn village. Bring together or find a group of people whose company you really enjoy and tap the opportunity to engage with them as the primary motivator to get the job done. Truth told, I’ve always felt this was a big part of the secret behind places like Curves, where the exercise intensity level is generally low enough to keep a very easy conversation going.
Option 2: Take the least “offensive” activity you can find (this will almost always be walking) and add in the most-portable distraction possible. For most people, this is will be a portable tape, CD or MP3 player or radio. Play music, books on tape or any other content that engages your mind and makes the time spent more enjoyable. I recommend a portable distraction, because it is easier to travel with and makes it more likely you will stay active when you are away from home or the convenience of a TV.
While this will never be as much fun as movement that, by its very nature, engages your mind and makes you smile, it is the next best thing. Just be extra careful to pay attention to your environment, especially traffic and others around you, when using your tapes, CDs or a radio outside.
Option 2: Transform repetitive- motion exercise into a moving meditation. For a precious few, this comes naturally, for most others, you’ve gotta train the effect.
Turn off the TV and induce something called the “relaxation response” during the exercise. Induction of this mental state is actually one of the reasons you feel great after mind-engaging exercise. Athletes commonly refer to this as being in the “zone.” When you are there, nothing else exists, nothing else matters. And even though you are exercising, your respiration, blood pressure and heart rate are measurably lower than they would be doing the same exact thing without the mental focus. This extraordinary state has been shown in a myriad of clinical studies to reduce stress and anxiety and increase immune response and the duration and quality of sleep.
Mind-engaging exercises induce this state almost automatically. The very nature of the activity requires intense focus. When I was in high school, I was a competitive gymnast. I specialized in parallel bars. Every time I began a routine, the second my fingers felt the bars, the world vanished. For the next two minutes, I lived and breathed only the rapidly changing movements of my body. There was no crowd, no music, no gym. In fact, I knew that if I heard anything before my routine had ended, my concentration had broken and I would fall. Same thing with ball-based sports like basketball. The nature of the game demands that you focus intensely on the elements of the game—the ball, the players, and the hoop.
Distraction based exercises, simply by their nature, do not induce this same level of concentration. Running on a treadmill, for example, does not require intense mental focus. You can, however, train yourself to enter into the “zone” while running. For a lucky few, this happens naturally. For everyone else, you do it by focusing your mind on your body, your steps or your breath. You actually create a sort of moving meditative state.This is very different than distraction, because instead of tuning out, you actually go deeper into the movement and breath.
This is a topic that is beyond the realm of this article. But I would encourage you to explore it further. You may want to begin by reading Dr. Herbert Benson’s breakthrough book The Relaxation Response or Jonathan Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living.
Music & Movement.
Music, by it’s very nature, is not bad in conjunction with exercise. In fact, it is often wonderful and sometimes even necessary. You should feel free to bring music into your activities when (1) it is used as an integral part of the form of movement itself and (2) it simply enhances an activity you already enjoy. Dancing, for example, is certainly not much fun without music, but, for most people, with music it is wonderful.
Wrapping it all up.
It all comes down to this. When you are younger, the quest to enhance appearance and performance will motivate you to exercise, often regardless of whether you enjoy the mode of exercise. Later in life, though, with far more on your plate and a shift in emphasis to getting the most out of life, it takes something more to draw you in and then keep you committed. Simply put, it’s got to be fun. It needs to add to the experience of your day. If you can crack that nut, then integrating exercise into your life will be monumentally easier.
So now, let me leave you with a question – what types of activities are you going to try? What makes you smile just a little bit when you think about it?
Please share these activities, along with your thoughts, questions and ideas, in the comment section below…
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