This is number seven in a series on the Real-time Results* of exercise,
the ones that will make your brain want to exercise.
What made you click on this blog? What makes you eat breakfast? Have a cup of coffee? Phone a friend? It’s the same instinct that makes a bird build a nest and a beaver build a dam. What makes us take action on something is the desire to be well. This is where the word motivation comes from: “motive: a need or desire that causes one to act”.
You’ve probably heard that strength training has many great benefits for bones, balance, and metabolism. Who wouldn’t want to stay healthy and age well and keep weight in check? From the statistics, though, it looks like 80% of us don’t really care about those things. But if you ask anyone, they would say, “Yes, of course I want to keep my bones and body and metabolism strong!” What gives? Why is it so difficult to motivate for strength training?
Here are three main reasons:
1) It doesn’t ‘work’. Let’s say you see an exercise on social media that promises to slim your thighs or tone your arms or flatten your stomach. You start doing it diligently every day for a month. But nothing seems to happen. Your body, no matter how much you do, just does not look like the body of the person doing that exercise. You decide it’s not working and continue your search for an exercise that will ‘fix your body’. The problem is not that strength training doesn’t work, it that your body doesn’t work that way. Targeting, toning, slimming, sculpting—all are terms invented by marketing science, not exercise science. Strength exercises do not cause you to lose more fat in a specific area. Maybe your muscles will tighten (or just feel tighter), but you cannot target fat loss in certain areas.
The fact is strength training, done correctly, will work. Really! It instantly activates your metabolism in your whole body, helping you with weight loss and more importantly, maintaining weight loss. But the promise that exercise works like Michelangelo creating the statue of David is honestly just there to make you buy an exercise program. When there is a mismatch between what your brain expects from exercise and how your body responds to exercise, staying motivated for strength training is very challenging.
2) It’s painful. The no pain, no gain phrase is so catchy and believable. Yet your brain is hardwired to AVOID what is painful. Suffering through pain and telling yourself it is a ‘good sore’ might work for a while, but over time, it comes up against your brain’s instinct to avoid pain. Eventually it will create all kinds of excuses why you can’t do strength training today, and the next day, and the next day.
The fact is there is no gain in pain when exercising for health and well-being. Really! There is no such thing as a good sore. If you are an athlete, pain is part of the package. It’s the consequence of pushing your body to gain a competitive edge. But if you are strength training for the great health benefits, pain is a sign something needs to change. It means you did too much too soon and your body is letting you know it cannot adapt that quickly. When you learn to work with the natural rate of growth for your body, it will thank you by staying strong because your brain will stay motivated to strength train this week and each week going forward.
3) It’s complicated. Walk into most gyms and you will see a gazillion weight machines, racks of dumbbells, and people looking like they are being tortured. If you get past that intimidation, then there are all the choices of what to do for strength training. Is it better to use machines or free weights? Is it better to do lower weight and higher reps or the opposite (and what is a set and a rep, again? I always get them confused)? Let’s face it, even if you want to strength train, figuring out how to do it is enough to make you turn around and just go for a walk instead. Cardio is so much simpler, which is why 80% of people skip strength training.
The fact is the way your body moves to be strong, and keep your metabolism strong, is not all that complicated. Really! What makes it complicated are programs that are offshoots from bodybuilding or sports training. For feeling and functioning better, aging well, and activating metabolism, it can be simple. When you strip away all the marketing-based exercises and focus on exercises that keep you functioning the way you want to now, and each day going forward, it is not only simple, it is motivating. Your body feels good right away, strong because it is moving well, and your brain sees the value in what you are doing. Strength training becomes time efficient, energizing, and motivating.
Why not do strength training in the way that works with your body and brain?
It starts with giving strength training an upgrade for those of us who just want to feel better now and be confident we can move to keep feeling better in the future.