For staying healthy and well, exercise makes sense. However, the way we tend to approach exercise does not. Exercising WELL is based on scientific principles of exercise training, distilled for you here.
There are four guiding principles of exercise training. They can be summed up by saying: Your body gets used to what you give it.
- Specificity. Your body gets used SPECIFICALLY what you do for exercise. If you walk, you will get better at walking. If you do a biceps curl, your body will get better at biceps curls. One does not improve the other, though. Doing only one type of exercise does not give your body everything it needs. To keep your body strong, with stamina, energy, and freedom of movement, do exercises for strength, stamina, and mobility, all of which require different types of movement.
- Progressive Overload. Your body GRADUALLY gets used to what you give it. Like a plant, your body has a natural growth rate. Give it too much too soon, and growth is impeded. Give your body just enough of what it needs and it will thrive. The body can adapt to a 10% increase in exercise a week. More than that puts it at risk of breaking down.
- Individuality. Your body UNIQUELY gets used to what you give it. Your body responds differently from other people’s. What worked for someone else is not guaranteed to work for you in the same way. Your body is also unique day to day. What felt great one day is not guaranteed to feel great the next day. The only way to know what your specific body needs is to be guided by how it feels and responds to exercise.
- Reversibility. Your body gets used to what you give it IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. This is the whole reason you are given the advice to not just exercise, but exercise regularly. When you give your body more time of stillness, it gets used to being still. Give it more movement and moving will be easier. Even when it has lost strength, stamina and mobility, this principle reminds you that you can regain it as long as you follow the principles described above.
The first three have to do with how your body adapts to exercise. But the last one, reversibility, has more to do with how easily your brain convinces you to exercise. For that simple reason, these exercise principles are not enough to get the benefits of exercise. Simply stated, if you are not exercising consistently, your body does not get the benefits. So exercising is not just about applying these principles of exercise to your body, it’s about how your brain thinks about exercise, so it keeps you coming back for more.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of information from motivation science about what helps our brain choose something on a day-to-day basis. They explain why knowing the health benefits of exercise and setting exercise goals are not enough. There are four motivation science models that explain what makes you choose to exercise regularly, even through the challenges of life events.
1. Internal and external motivation
- External motivators are not only things like rewards, money, and awards, but also body weight, steps, peer pressure, trainers, and compliments. Studies show they work, but only temporarily. Once the external motivation goes away or is not as important as something else in that moment, motivation to exercise is greatly reduced or eliminated.
- Internal motivators are things like feeling better, connection to others, being safe, your values and your passions. They are a constant source of motivation for everything we do in life because they are always there, in the present moment, inside. No matter what the external rewards are for doing something, motivation for these internal rewards remains constant.
- The problem: external motivators work, so it feels like the way to motivate. But they keep you focused on the reasons to exercise that are outside of yourself, and thus outside your control. Internal motivators are not as tangible, so it is not as easy to know how to use them to stay motivated. In Exercising WELL, we make internal motivators very clear and tangible so you can use them to stay motivated.
2. Self-determination theory
- This theory says that when a person feels a sense of autonomy or freedom to choose, relatedness or connection to values, and competence or confidence they can do something, motivation will be high. When someone is doing something out of guilt, peer pressure, fear of consequences, does not feel capable, or the activity does not connect to their internal motives, they are much less likely to be motivated
- The problems:
- Choice/Autonomy: Even the government recommendations use the wording “Americans should get 150 minutes of physical activity”. When exercise feels like something you should do, autonomy or freedom to choose is violated and our instinct is to avoid it.
- Confidence/Competence: With so many myths and marketing-based exercises available and a deficit of science based exercise programs, you are stuck with exercises like planks, sit-ups and triceps kickbacks that go against how the body was designed and don’t make you feel stronger and better. This lowers your sense of confidence that you can exercise to feel better, thus lowering motivation.
- Connection/Relatedness: Weight loss, toning, even health are great goals but they aren’t necessarily connected strongly enough to what you personally value, to the reason you want these. When exercise is strongly connected to values, it is naturally motivating.
3. Mindful self-compassion
- Focusing on long-term goals, enduring pain, and receiving criticism from yourself or others may work temporarily but then motivation is more from willpower and like the flame from a match, it is more likely to burn out quickly.
- Present moment rewards, positive feelings, and kindness and compassion are like a long-burning log and more likely to sustain motivation
4. The habit loop
- Negative experiences signal the brain to naturally avoid repeating an action.
- Positive experiences signal the brain to naturally seek and do that action again.
- Mixed experiences take more brain energy or willpower to do or avoid the action again.
This is the Exercising WELL difference
Most exercise advice is focused on what you should do to improve your body and your health. And while that is full of research-backed reasons to exercise, it often skips over the science of motivation. Yet when a motivation expert tries to apply their expertise to exercise, they lack knowledge of the exercise science. When these two fields of science are blended, you have a powerful source for helping your body get and sustain the benefits of exercise because your brain is choosing to exercise regularly. This is the Exercising WELL difference. You get exercise advice that considers what will keep it motivating. You get motivation advice that considers how your body is designed to move well. Together, they make it possible to exercise for health and well-being consistently and confidently, feeling good all the way.