By Michael Krueger
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where the line is between judiciously pushing yourself and coddling yourself. I know people who wouldn’t miss a scheduled workout unless they had a high fever or were bleeding badly. I also know people who miss a workout because it’s cloudy and that makes them sad.
This same thinking affects the food we eat. If you have a bad day, you’re more apt to go for sweet, fatty, and salty foods–not to mention a stop at “Happy Hour.” We’re feeling sorry for ourselves, so we make a dash for comfort foods rather than hitting the gym or eating more nourishing fare and going for a walk.
So, what do you do and why?
What Do You Do?
I don’t pretend to know how people feel or what they are thinking when they decide to miss a workout. If they say they are ill or that something hurts, I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong. That being said, I’ve never known anyone who was successful who regularly complained about being ill or injured … cause or effect?
Of course, if you’re ill or injured, you shouldn’t be training; that’s an obvious fact. There are illnesses that you can train through if you so desire, such as a simple head cold, but don’t do it if you train in a public gym. It’s common sense and just plain considerate to stay away and not spread your germs all over the place. It’s easy enough to pick up the “bug du jour” during the normal course of your day, so you don’t need sick people smearing snot on the equipment and sneezing and coughing all over the gym.
Now that I’ve mentioned the obvious times when you shouldn’t train, what about the gray areas? These are the times when you feel sluggish or tired for no apparent reason. You’re not physically ill, but you lack energy and motivation. Do you dig deep and get your workout in, knowing that you’ll feel better once you get to it, or blow it off and do something else? This is where honesty, motivation, discipline, and self-knowledge enter the picture.
Are you the kind of person who avoids owning hard choices? Would you rather look for excuses or, even more telling, do you make up excuses? In the years I’ve been training, I’ve heard a lot of excuses. Some are better and more creative than others, but they were all designed to justify the clients’ forgone desire not to train.
It all backs up to the question, “What is important to you; what is your priority?” Every day, we all have a finite amount of time and energy. We make judgment calls all day long as to how we are going to get everything that needs doing done. If you don’t have a history of making the right (but tough) decision based on your long-term best interests, you’re more likely to make a bad decision based on what you perceive to be your best short-term interests. Unfortunately, most people decide to take the easy way out.
I mentioned a hard choice–this is when you need to make a choice that has consequences. When you don’t want to make the choice, you make an excuse instead. When you don’t want to work out, you might decide that you don’t feel well so you can’t train. The most popular rationalization is that you just don’t have the time today, so you’ll just have to skip the gym. Next time, rather than make an excuse, just look in a mirror and say out loud, “I don’t want to work out today because I’m not willing to be strong and do the right thing”… and see how that feels.
Figure It Out
By deciding to be honest with yourself, you can avoid the mental gymnastics of coming up with a convincing or novel excuse. This can really simplify your life. It does take a little work, a little planning, and a lot of self-awareness.
So, let’s start with the tough one: self-awareness. In the context of fitness, there are the active workout parts and the dietary parts. You may have issues with both or just one. It doesn’t really matter, since the fix is the same.
If you find yourself skipping workouts, you’ll need to understand why. It might be that you are doing the wrong type of training. I know people who feel that they must run, but they hate it. For a few weeks they can make it work, but then something comes up and they miss and that’s the end of it. Obviously, they aren’t cut out to be a runner. It doesn’t matter how many good reasons there are to run or how much they “want” to; it isn’t going to happen.
So, in that case, you need to find a different mode of cardio, something you are willing to do. It could be anything from biking to swimming to dance aerobics. It doesn’t matter, so long as you can get your heart rate up high enough and maintain it long enough to have a training effect. There is only one perfect form of cardio, and that’s the one that gets the job done for you and that you will do consistently.
Other people hate lifting weights. Once again, you need to figure out why. Is it because you are afraid of hurting yourself? Do heavy weights and low reps make you dread going to the gym? Maybe high-volume training is too boring for you? Do you need a partner? Or, conversely, maybe the gym is intimidating and training alone would make the difference. There is no one and only way to train. Just as with cardio, the best way for you is the one that gets you the results you want and that you are willing to do on a regular basis.
If after trying a lot of different protocols you still can’t manage to get in even the minimum amount of training, then you may need to consult a professional. I have always been able to come up with something that will work for a client (so long as the client wants to make it work too).
When it comes to diet, you take the same steps to figure out what the problem is. Are you an opportunistic eater? Some people just find that if food is available, they will eat it. In that case, you need to avoid situations that will tempt you. Don’t go to the bakery. Clean out all the junk food from your house. Find your triggers and eliminate them. Do you overeat? Is a portion size whatever your stomach can hold and then some? If that’s the case, make or take less food and then (literally) walk away. It’s not a matter of still being hungry; it’s a matter of habit, so change your habits.
The work and planning part of this strategy is that it takes real effort and discipline to find your path. It’s not simple and it’s not easy. It is worth the effort, though it might take a while to realize this. If you look for an easy answer, it will probably be the wrong answer. If you mindlessly buy into something you read online or something that worked for someone else, it probably won’t work for you. And if you can’t be honest with yourself and do the required work, you will definitely fail.
It Does Work
In the long run, self-awareness and hard work will pay off. You will learn why you do (or don’t do) the things you do (or don’t do), and this will lead you to what you really want and need. Hard work in the gym and at the dinner table will provide the results that half-hearted efforts can’t. Dedication and consistency will lay the foundation on which to build the life you want. No longer will you have to deal with making excuses to get you through your day just to start the same disheartening process all over again tomorrow.
Creating change involves hard work and tough choices. Being honest with yourself often starts with staring in the mirror and not liking what you see and then having the courage and fortitude to replace that image with something that makes you proud.
So the next time you find yourself making up excuses and behaving in a self-destructive way, take a step back and think ahead to tomorrow morning. In the glaring light of another day, no one ever said: “Boy, I’m glad I skipped my workout yesterday and instead ate greasy burgers and drank beer until 3:00 a.m.” …
no one, ever.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at [email protected]