Three reasons you are not motivated for strength training

This is number seven in a series on the Real-time Results* of exercise,

the ones that will make your brain want to exercise.

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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.   

As an Exercising WELL member, you learn how to do strength training in the way that eliminates these drains on your body and your motivation. The combination of coaching and online videos makes it easy to keep you simply strong and your brain simply motivated.

 

*With so many healthy reasons to exercise, motivation should be easier! The fact is, your brain is most easily motivated to do what makes you feel better now, not what might make you feel better in the future. The problem is we mostly talk about exercise in terms of the long-term results.

Strength, beyond your muscles. 

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As we discussed with cardio, we often talk about strength training in terms of the long-term benefits. Yet your brain really cares about the instant rewards of doing something. But what if the instant ‘reward’ you get from lifting weights is muscle soreness and fatigue? Sure, you could tell yourself ‘no pain, no gain’ and convince yourself that it is a ‘good sore’ and all that discomfort means you got a ‘good workout’. Your brain, though, is most concerned with you feeling good now and it’s designed to avoid things that are painful or uncomfortable. When your willpower to endure the discomfort runs out, your brain will start to plant excuses in your head about why you need to skip strength training today (and the next day, and the next).

Eighty percent of people are not doing strength training. Like you, they probably know the benefits—stronger bones, better aging, stronger metabolism—but the brain has some concerns—injury, weight gain, getting ‘too muscular’, or looking like a weakling at the gym. This keeps many people living in the ‘should’ when it comes to strength training.

Are you ready to get out of the ‘should’ when it comes to strength training? Ready to reassure your brain that it is all good, because you are going to work with how your body is designed to be strong? Let’s cut through the marketing- and myth-based ‘facts’ and clear the path to your strongest possible muscles, bones, and metabolism now and every decade going forward.

What is strength training? Strength training is also known as weight training, weight lifting, and resistance training. Basically, it’s when you challenge your body to be able to move your body or objects more easily against gravity. If you are thinking the things you do in your daily life like housework, child care, and yard work mean you don’t need strength training, click here to see why these physical activities are different than exercise.

Making your brain want to strength train. From the very first time you do a strength exercise, you set into motion a cascade of events that produce unique and powerful events in your whole body. Yet, most of the effects of doing or not doing strength training are not noticeable right away, so it’s easy to forget why it is so important. In the next few blogs, I’ll show you the Real-time Results of each strength training session, and why pain and discomfort are not necessary. This way, your brain will be more confident that doing strength training will help you feel and function better now, without having to first endure pain, discomfort, or embarrassment.

Why strength is not from your muscles. Although we most equate strength with big muscles, that is not where strength comes from. Before you even move, something very important happens. Your brain is activated and ‘plans’ what muscles will be needed to create the intended movement. It estimates how many muscle fibers are needed to create the force you need to move against gravity. Then your brain sends a signal through your spinal cord to the muscles you need to do that movement. Without this nervous system signal, muscles can’t move. This pre-planning of movement makes it much smoother and more efficient.

The pathway to strength: Just like the first time you take a trip somewhere, the first time you perform a movement, your brain has to work harder to find the most efficient pathway. Over time, it becomes easier as your brain remembers the pathway. Think about how your body learned to walk, ride a bike, tie your shoes, swim, or play sports. All of these are examples of this process we call muscle memory. This building of muscle memory is what makes movements more automatic, so you can gain coordination, balance, agility, and strength.

Confusion about muscle memory: There is some talk that muscle memory is bad, because you burn fewer calories as your body gets used to an exercise and that you need muscle confusion to keep your body burning more calories. Honestly, the calorie-burning difference is minimal and probably won’t add up to any change on the scale. Muscle memory is what allows you to function. If you are exercising to lose weight so you can feel and function better, muscle memory is your friend.

The strength of your brain. Since the brain and nerves are what tell your muscles how to move, strength originates in your brain and nervous system, not in your muscles. That means you need your brain for building strength. You can see why present moment awareness is so important to get the most from strength training. It ensures you are creating the nerve pathways you want, the ones that allow you to access your strength by positioning your body in the right way, and creating nerve pathways so that strong movement becomes more automatic (more on that later). If your brain is distracted by a TV show, or other people around you, it won’t have as much ability to put into building your strength.  If finding the time for strength training is a concern, choose high-quality strength training by focusing your attention on your body rather than trying to save time by multitasking and doing it while watching TV

Bottom line: Your full mindful attention is your best strength training tool!

In the next blog, we’ll look at what happens in your muscles when you strength train that continues the cascade of events that leads to you feeling and functioning better.

Cardio: beyond your heart

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In abbreviating the name used for cardiovascular exercise to just cardio, some confusion has arisen about what cardiovascular exercise is. Because the word cardio means heart, and heart rate is used during cardiovascular exercise, the common thought is that cardio is about strengthening your heart. We often refer to good cardio as ‘getting your heart rate up’.

Let’s take a little stroll through what happens in your body when you do cardio and see if there is more to cardio than its name implies.

The start of movement: When you start moving, your brain initiates the action by sending messages to your muscles to move. Therefore, cardio starts in, depends on, and changes your brain and nervous system.

The fuels: As your muscles start to move, they need fuel. There are two main systems for producing fuel for muscles: a long-acting, with-oxygen (aerobic) system and a short-acting, without-oxygen (anaerobic) system.

Since oxygen is carried by the blood, and at rest, only about 20% of your blood flow goes to your muscles,  when you start to move your body has to shift your blood flow to those muscles. It takes a few minutes for your muscles to get enough oxygen to use the longer-lasting system for fuel production. So for about the first three minutes of movement, your muscles get their fuel from carbohydrates stored right in the muscles.

Once your body redirects more blood to your muscles, your body can use the longer-lasting, with-oxygen system to keep you moving. This system uses mainly a combination of fats and carbohydrates to fuel muscles. But to do that, it needs the oxygen sent to it from the lungs, pumped through the heart, and transported through your blood vessels.

The equipment: Once your muscles are using the aerobic system for fueling your muscles, you are able to sustain that movement as long as that system has the equipment and fuels it needs. The equipment includes enzymes, mitochondria in cells, glucose, and blood supply, just to name just a few.

Use it to keep it: This equipment is kept sharp by use. If it is not used regularly, it starts to fade. In fact, this starts to happen after just three days of not doing a cardiovascular-type exercise. (If you are on bedrest, it happens even sooner.) This is why cardiovascular exercise is recommended at least three days a week to keep this equipment sharp and working well.

The heart: When the muscles are moving, they are contracting and pressing against your veins. This continuous, rhythmic movement helps the blood travel back to your heart after your muscles have used the oxygen and nutrients they need for that activity. When that blood comes back to the heart, it causes a little stretch in the heart muscle. Think about a balloon filled up with air without tying it. If that balloon has a little bit of air and you let it go, it does not go very far. But if that balloon is filled with a lot of air, and you let it go, it has power to go all over the room. When your heart fills with more blood, that stretch causes it to contract harder. Just like the balloon filled with air, the more blood that returns to your heart, the stronger that contraction.

A stronger heart: This stronger contraction is what is making your heart muscle stronger. The more muscles that are moving, the more blood gets sent back to your heart for that little stretch and stronger contraction. Moving your fingers continuously would send just a very small amount of blood back to your heart. Dancing using your arms and legs sends a much greater volume of blood to strengthen your heart.

Way beyond heart rate: Many things get your heart rate up—stress, caffeine, medications, even just thinking about exercise—but that does not make your heart and cardiovascular system stronger. What makes something good cardio is this challenge to your whole cardiovascular system. Every part of that system gets stronger when you do continuous movement using a large amount of muscles at a level you can sustain.

That sustainably of movement is what makes something cardio. There is much information about how hard you should push your body when doing cardio. I’ll talk about this aspect of cardio in the next blog.

Why the reasons to exercise are not enough to get you to do it

Years ago, as a ‘green’ exercise physiologist, one of my favorite posters hanging up in the cardiac rehab unit was this one:

To me, this was so convincing. Why wouldn’t someone want to exercise?

What I know now is that if you are an exerciser, these are great reminders of why you are exercising.

If you are stuck in the Shoulds with exercise, these only make you more stuck.

It is counterintuitive, but these big-time reasons to exercise are not the ones that will make you do it. These are big things that we all want, but they are oriented to a healthy future. What’s more important to your brain is how you feel right now. If exercise does not make you feel better now, your brain will find other things that will.

Your brain constantly gets messages from your body about how you feel and uses your memories and experiences to decide what to do to make you feel better now. No matter how logical it is to exercise for those very important future results, they will just not get you to exercise on a regular basis if right now you don’t have the time or energy to exercise.

If there was a fire in your home, you would not go organize your closet. You would put out the fire! This is how your brain makes decisions about exercise. If you are not feeling well in your body now, if your mind is overwhelmed with too many things to do, your brain will seek a way to put out that fire. The future results are not as important. Your brain needs you to feel better now.

Sure, you can override this and make yourself do activities with delayed rewards. The tradeoff is it takes a lot of brain energy. There are many parts of life that need that brain energy and making yourself exercise so some day you are healthy and well is low on that priority list compared to taking care of loved ones or making enough money to pay the bills. To your brain, the big-time future results from exercise are something that can be put off until later.

It’s the Real-time Results of everything, exercise included, that are most powerfully convincing for you to take action repeatedly. Yet those Real-time Results are often invisible. Instead, we focus on seeing future results like weight loss, finishing a 5K, a smaller size on the tag of your clothes, or a better report from your doctor on your next physical. We need convincing it is all worth our time.

If you want those big-time, far-off benefits from exercise, join me on a journey that reveals the Real-time Results from exercise. When they are more visible, your brain knows that exercise is a resource for being well now. In my next blog series, I’ll talk about exercise in the way that gets your brain’s attention now, so it is easier to take action now. You will Rethink Exercise from a present-moment perspective that makes your brain want to choose to exercise more often.
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One more thing: this will be done with a No-Should Guarantee. Should is the one word that destroys motivation more than anything else. I promise to talk about exercise in a way that helps you get out of the Shoulds and wanting to exercise now.  

Whole-heartedly,

P.S. If you want to Rethink Exercise to get out of the Shoulds, sign up for my blog on the right side of this page, so each Real-time Result is delivered right to your inbox!

How to drop the ‘should’ in exercise

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If we know we should exercise, why do we struggle with it? The answer is complex, but as I said in my last blog series there is one word in that statement that changes everything. ‘Should’ makes exercise an externally-imposed activity with future results. Why does that matter so much? Your brain’s job is to pay attention to what is most important to you right now, what will keep you well right now.

Yet those of us in the healthy-person business keep telling you all the great reasons why you should get more exercise.

Exercise regularly to reduce your risk of

  • colon cancer by over 60%
  • recurrent breast cancer by approximately 50%
  • Alzheimer’s disease by approximately 40%
  • heart disease by approximately 40%
  • type II diabetes by 50%
  • death from any cause (overall mortality) by 40% 1

No matter how powerful these statements are, they are not enough to keep you motivated now. When you are feeling tired at the end of a long day or overwhelmed by too many things on your to do list or comfortable in your bed when the alarm goes off, what you ‘should’ do does not hold much power. What is ‘good for you’ at some point in the future just does not get top billing compared to these more immediate challenges to your well-being.

In the last blog, I simplified all the science-based factors for self-motivation into the Exercise Motivation Equation.

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What is important right now and doable right now will be most motivating right now. The trick is keeping exercise important and doable in the present moment.

Step one: Importance. When businesses are clear about the company’s core values, know their ‘why’, and communicate it well, they are more successful at motivating you to buy what they are selling.2  This not only works for successful companies, it works for successful individuals. This is why a personal coaching call is the first step in my Exercising WELL program. When we use a coaching conversation to clarify your well-being Vision and uncover your most value-driven Why for exercise, you’ll find your self-motivation for exercise ramps up.  In the coaching conversation, we transform exercise from a ‘should’ to a ‘want to’.

Once you know your Why for exercise, you are ready to discover what is most doable for your body and life now.

Step two: Doable. When your brain knows exercise will leave you feeling better now, it will want to do it. But knowing how to exercise in the way that is right for your body right now, rather than for the body you want in the future is not so easy. Many of the marketable future-based results like melting fat, having long lean muscles, and enjoying toned arms are not even doable because they ignore the natural laws of the body. Other results like six pack abs, reaching a goal weight, or completing a fitness challenge only distract from your Why.

Once you know how to move in the way your body was designed and are focused on what you can do now, exercise will immediately make you feel better right now.

In my next blog series, I’ll talk about the Real-time Results of exercise. When you know what is happening in your body with exercise now, you have the best chance of knowing how to get the results that are most important for you now, and leave you feeling better now.

Rethink this Week: Take a moment to explore your Why for exercise. Ask yourself ‘why is exercise important to me?’ Now, ask yourself ‘why is that important to me right now’ four more times. This seems a bit silly—repeating the question—but it is based on the well-established process of Motivational Interviewing3. Asking the question repeatedly, and answering it thoughtfully, will get you closer to the most value-driven reason for exercising. This is your Why. It is the deepest source of energy for your motivation in the present moment. With this motivation energy, you will be ready to use the Real-time Results of exercise that are most important to you to stay out of the ‘shoulds’ and in the ‘want tos’ for exercise. This process is more effective in a coaching conversation but doing this for yourself is a great way to get started with getting to your Why.

Enjoy Exercising WELL,

Janet

 

  1. Exercise is Medicine 
  2. Simon Sinek TED talk
  3. Instant Influence, by Michael Pantelon, PhD