How to Make Exercise Addictive
You’re running as fast as you can. Your friend in front of you is moving from side to side, avoiding your reach. He makes a quick left, but you’re not about to lose him and you stay on his tail. You see he’s about to make another left toward the opening in the trees, and catch up and touch his shoulder. “Tag, you’re it!” The warm sun is glowing against your cheeks...You’re climbing up the playground ladder and swooping down the slide. You’re beaming and giggling and spinning in circles. When did moving our body start to feel more like a chore and less like a game?
My job as a personal trainer and nutrition coach is to achieve my client’s health goals. Their expectation is usually that we’re going to be doing all kinds of exercises that are uncomfortable and over-challenging. And to be honest, this is how I’ve worked with a portion of my clients at the beginning of my training career. But I noticed that, when I followed-up with my clients after we'd finished our sessions together, they hadn't continued with an exercise program. Why is that?
Because exercise is supposed to be exciting and addictive, not repetitive and painful. If it’s anything less than addictive, you’re not doing yourself a favor. You probably believe the problem is you need more motivation to go to the gym (read more about how to gain amazing workout motivation). You find your workouts and idea of what exercise should be is BORING or ANNOYING or JUST PLAIN SUCKS. We need to find the movements, exercises, and workouts that not only achieve your fitness and health goals, but are ones that make exercise the time of day you look forward to.
The most important aspect of a successful fitness program is not how fast you can achieve your goals while hating every minute of change, but how long you stick with a program that excites you. We’re not going for six pack abs in a month, we’re going for looking and feeling great for a lifetime.
Of course exercising will sometimes not be enjoyable. Certain days and certain moves will need some willpower, but we’re moving towards an exercise program that will keep you engaged. We want it to feel like that game of tag you used to play as a kid. You’re invested because it’s fun.
Here, I’ve included some general tips that most people aren’t doing that you can use to start making exercise more enjoyable:
1. Don’t kill your body every workout:
Most people go to the gym and completely obliterate their muscles a few times a week, pushing themselves to their absolute limit every set. This type of training, I call ‘masochism sets’, is enjoyable for some people, but probably not for you. There are benefits to going to failure and really pushing yourself, but then again, I can guarantee it’s not the best way to train for most people. Let’s do the math:
Let’s say you can do 10 push-ups. I ask you to do 10 push-ups and the last rep is so challenging your form is suffering. Now, you won’t be able to train push-ups again until our next session because you're sore and your muscles need to recuperate for 3 days (yikes!).
Let’s take the same session and you only do 7 push-ups. It was challenging to get to 7, but relatively easy compared to getting to 10. For the next few days, you're not sore, and can continue doing 7 push-ups everyday.
With failure, you can only do 20 push-ups a week, you pushed yourself way outside of your comfort zone, and you were in pain for days afterward. That’s not a program that sounds fun to me. Training more often with less reps you can do 49 push-ups in a week (almost 2.5x as much!) and gain the cognitive and energetic benefits of working out everyday. Now you're looking forward to working out everyday. That’s a workout I could see myself doing!
2. Be in flow:
In the previous example we saw the negative affects of pushing yourself too far outside of your comfort zone. But what about making workouts too easy? As far as I can tell this is less common, but it can really make exercising terrible. Not only is it boring and not fully engaging, it’s not achieving your goals. To get the most out of exercise, you need to be in a state of FLOW. Right between anxiety and boredom is your flow state, a place where it’s just the right amount of challenge that you need to be fully engaged.
3. Work on all areas of fitness:
Most athletes around the world specialize in one type of athletics. Long distance runners have the best endurance, but lack strength and speed coordination. Sprinters focus on agility and speed but are deficient in endurance and flexibility. Even on the football field you can see players who are hyper specializers: linebackers with power, quarterbacks with coordination, wide receivers with speed, and water boys with stamina for taking insults.
Not only will working on all areas of fitness be extremely helpful for achieving your health goals, it's also more fun! You can do a huge variety of different exercises and workouts that are building different areas of fitness. You need to incorporate each of the 7 components of fitness: strength, speed, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, agility, coordination, and balance.
4. Learn from an expert:
A personal trainer that is worth your time will help match you with exercises and health tips that progressively move you toward your goals while making it an enjoyable experience. (You can learn how to pick the perfect personal trainer for you here.)
5. Reward yourself for hard work (point system):
This little-known secret allows you to reward yourself for exercising. When you do a certain workout over a certain amount of time, give yourself some credit towards something enjoyable. Example: For every hour you exercise, pay yourself minimum wage to spend on something enjoyable, like going on a beach trip or watching a movie (but not buying unhealthy food :).
For further information or to learn more about my in-home custom workouts and nutrition plans, feel free to contact me at 240-380-8022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.