Saturday, January 28, 2012

5 Tips to Avoid Discouragement in Exercise

The Wall. I firmly believe that this eventually hits every one of us; the athletes, the iron-pushers, the cardio bunnies, and the fat shredders. All of us come to the point where we stop making progress, and the questions will follow. "Is it something I'm doing wrong?" "What am I missing?" "Is this as good as it gets?" To the last question, I answer "No." There is always room for improvement, you just need to learn how to get there. This article will address many of the barriers that we face by proposing some practical habit changing solutions that will break them. The first tip is really the only one that applies directly to the gym. More often than not, the plateaus that we run into that ultimately discourage us are created by our minds. Thus, it takes a strong will to beat your brain into submission. Let's get into it.


1. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Let me say it one more time for clarity; LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. You will hear this from me until the day I die. I actually would like this on my tombstone (consider it officially in writing) so that people do not forget the number one method to getting results and achieving the body you always dreamed of. When you pay attention to the signals that your body is trying to send to you, you save yourself from a heap of headaches and frustration. More importantly, your body will reward you by continuing to change to your liking. I mean this statement in two ways:
  • Adjust to avoid plateauing 
  • Don't try to kill yourself (Stupid!)
"Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." While I doubt that Albert Einstein went #BeastMode in the gym, there is an awful lot of truth to this statement in application of training. Simply put, things change. You'd be surprised to find out how many people go to the gym and do the same thing with the same weights in the same order and think that they are getting somewhere. In all fairness, there might have been a time when what they were doing did work, but things change. I could go into boring terminology like neuromuscular adaptation but I'll break it down for ya. The more you do something, the better you get at it, and the more effortless it becomes, right? That's true in everything, but it's not always beneficial, especially in exercise. After about 4 weeks into a new program, your body will become acclimated to the stress of that particular exercise and you are more efficient; stronger yes, but also not burning the same amount of calories as you were before. Stuck in that rut? Well here's your remedy:
  1. Change the movement. Go do something else or adjust the exercise (incline, decline, one legged, whatever).
  2. Up the weight/resistance/intensity. Self explanatory.
  3. Increase duration. Go longer or perform more sets/reps.
Pay attention idiots, I'm talking to you now. I know, I know; Pain is weakness leaving the body, and that's true to a degree. Your tolerance for pain does go up, but so does the potential for something to go horribly wrong. Sure it's pretty bad@$$ to fight against your body and win, but these victories are only temporary. You can only make your body submit to your will for so long before it revolts and says "Screw you too, buddy." Enter illness, stress fractures and other injuries. But I'm only 22, don't take my word for it. Walk up to your typical old guy in the gym that has been training all his life and start a conversation. Eventually you will hear "If I had known then what I knew now...", so stop falling asleep on his ranting and listen to what he says. I'll bet he'll say something about not being such a knucklehead and thinking he was invincible because then he wouldn't have to deal with *insert ailment here.*

2. LOSE THE SCALE
Oh blast that dastardly deviant, Mr. Scale!! Unfortunately, this little instrument is the bane of so many people's existences and it's responsible for the perpetuation of so many cases of eating disorders. As someone who exercises it can be even more frustrating. We know that we have been gaining muscle all along (good thing) and yet we STILL get pissed off and depressed at our weight gain!! There is something about a few pounds that sets us off, even if they're good pounds. The scale is that monster in the closet that everyone lets in, and it can easily deceive us into mistaking our progress for setbacks.

So here's my proposal. I know you dropped $139.99 on your scale that shows your body fat% (inaccurately), BMI (don't even get me started...), and tells your daily horoscope and stock prices, but throw it out and follow the things that actually hold significance like body fat percentage and inches lost around your body. For those losing weight, go by how your clothes fit. If your clothes are looser, crack a smile because you're making progress. Eff a number.


3. DON'T BRAKE FOR MIRRORS (See what I did there???)
"But mirrors are a losing game; they only show you backwards anyway." -John Mayer

Yes I quoted John Mayer, deal with it. This is just a simple fact; you may not see results because you look in the mirror and analyze the everliving crap out of yourself on several occasions, every day. No change of true significance comes overnight, except maybe babies or something. But your body sure as heck doesn't, so why pretend like it will? Invest in a good facial mirror (still gotta get the early morning eye-crud out) and check up on your body less frequently. Besides, you are your own worst enemy, which is exactly why you should...

4. PAY ATTENTION TO COMPLIMENTS
dysmorphic disorder is so prevalent in gyms everywhere, exacerbated by the aforementioned mirrors. The chances are that you may actually look better than you believe you do. People seem to have a warped perception of themselves, and when they receive compliments on how they look, they don't accept them. Somebody with a perspective outside of yourself is probably looking at you more clearly than you are.

Here's a tip. Find a few acquaintances, people that you only see once in a while, and use them as your success gauge. Dramatic weight loss or muscle gain is guaranteed to become a topic of conversation for someone who does not get the chance to look at you often. Aside from being more legitimate, it can give you a nice dose of the feel-goods.

Oh, and never ask for compliments. That's just vain, desperate, and annoying.

5. STOP COMPARING!
"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." - Oscar Wilde

This is an easy trap to fall in without noticing, and everybody does it. When you grow and put on a little muscle, you start sizing up every person of your respective gender. The same goes for someone who is losing weight. And to be completely honest, it's okay to do that. It's alright to have our heroes, someone to look up to and aspire to be. The key is to forbid it from becoming an obsession. Not everyone is going to look like Phil Heath or Jillian Michaels under the same workouts; it's not realistic to think that training like Usain Bolt will have you hot on his heels. No two people are alike. So why do we act like all of these playing fields (age, genetics, metabolism, activity, lifestyle) are even? Embrace your individuality. The truth is that you can only be the best you, and the sooner you can get that through your head, the more you will enjoy your progress, your gains, and your life.

In conclusion, most of these walls that we run into are mental, thus simply beating and bloodying your body may not necessarily be the answer. The more you delve into successful training, the more you will realize that these physical movements are cerebral in nature. So with this new-found (or rediscovered) information, let's take a wrecking ball to our barriers and press on!