By Michael Krueger
This morning, I was at a stoplight while returning from a client’s home. I was waiting for the light to change as a young woman came out of an apartment building stylishly dressed to go for a run. She took a few steps, then abruptly skipped three times, jumped up into the air, threw her arms triumphantly over her head and began running.
It was one of the most wonderful displays of spontaneous enthusiasm for the physical act of running I’ve ever see.
So that’s what she does to get herself going; what gets you excited to train?
We’ve all got our own way of doing things. You may be like the woman mentioned above and just have to let it all out. Then again, you may be more reserved, preferring to go about your business without drawing attention to yourself. It really doesn’t matter so long as you are able to embrace who you are and make it work for you.
I know long-term runners who have never entered a race, preferring to simply record every run in their own private log that will never be seen by anyone else. I also know runners who can’t imagine a weekend passing without running in a race complete with a festival afterward where they meet up with runners familiar from previous runs and making acquaintance with runners they’d never met before. Some people thrive on taking classes at the gym, switching to something new every few months, never wanting to repeat an exercise experience. Then there are people who pop in the same DVD or video they’ve been doing for years and are perfectly happy to follow along to a routine they know by heart, still smiling at the same joke at the same time they’ve heard hundreds of times.
Some people really enjoy investigating and collecting the accoutrements of working out, and buying new stuff gets them excited to train. They like the latest clothes, shoes, apps, or whatever. Nowadays, if you don’t use an electronic fitness tracker of some sort, you’re pitied as a lost and confused Luddite. Personally, I don’t need new clothes (although my wife probably would disagree) to train in, nor do I need the latest electronics to tell me how I’m doing. If looking stylish is important to you then, by all means, go shopping. If new tools and toys help motivate you to train, certainly use them; whatever makes you happy and gets you to where you want to go.
There are lifters who toil away in their garage or basement, never lifting in public. Some will achieve great things regarding bodybuilding or power lifting of which no one else will ever be aware. I am also acquainted with lifters who can’t imagine ever lifting without an audience. They thrive on holding court, flexing, and regaling the newbies (who are hanging on their every word) with tales of their exploits (both real and imagined) under the iron. They strut and preen, fully expecting every eye to turn their way. Some of these people have in fact produced prodigious lifts or sculpted impressive physiques and more power to them, although others are simply posers or are still milking achievements of many years past.
Who you are and what you do is entirely up to you, and I really don’t mean to judge, although reading back what I’ve written it might not seem that way. What I believe is that it’s important to find what motivates you. What makes you lift, run, bike, swim, dance or compete? What gets you to do what you need to do?
If you work out only to look good, win competitions, and impress others, then you’re a person who is motivated by externals. There is absolutely no problem with that, despite what some people might say. Let’s face it: Most of us want to make a good impression and we want to be successful. We try to dress in a way that shows off our assets or minimizes our perceived faults. We might wear clothes that show off our arms or legs or highlight the color of our eyes. This isn’t narcissisms per se; it’s simply our way of showing ourselves in the best light. If this is what gets you in the gym, good for you.
On the flip side, you may be a person who would continue training even if the results are never seen by or impress a single soul. You train for the sheer joy of the effort. If you happily train in your basement (as I do), you may rip off a personal record on the bench press, but oddly enough your water heater and furnace are not impressed, and that’s fine with you. You like the feeling of being spent after a hard training session, or you feel the joy of running through the woods on a brisk autumn morning; that in and of itself is reward enough. The idea of working out in public is something you really don’t even like to think about. If someone comments on your physique, strength, or prowess on the training ground, you downplay it and are genuinely embarrassed by the attention.
I’m not a fan of bodybuilding, and I don’t train people who flat out say that they want to be a professional bodybuilder. Although I admire the effort and dedication of bodybuilders, the dark side of the sport of bodybuilding (harmful and illegal substances) is more than I care to deal with. But the effects and results of progressive training will in fact bring you to the fringes of bodybuilding. Everyone I train does add muscle and lose fat, and by extension they look better, so by definition they are “body building” even if that isn’t the driving force behind their working-out. So, whether body building is intrinsically healthy or not depends on where your motivation lies and what you are willing to do to get where you want to go; only you can answer that question.
Usually, I feel that why you do what you do is of the utmost importance, but in the case of training—at least at the beginning—I’m sort of on the fence. I think that whatever gets you in the gym or out on the road is a good thing. Oftentimes, people start out just wanting to lose weight and then find that the positive emotional and psychological effects on their life are bigger than just losing weight. Sometimes, we accomplish really important things, learn very important lessons about ourselves, and get what we need despite our original motivations. As long as you are comfortable with what you are doing and you are happy with the results you’re getting, you’re on the right path.
Why I Train
Lastly, no matter how and why you train, I offer what I have found to be the most satisfying path: train because it works for you, because it excites you, because it makes you humble, because it makes you a better person, because the discipline brings order to your days, because being fit and strong is important to you ,and because it brings you joy and happiness….
…And if it makes you happy to buy some new clothes and toys, go for it!
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 MKPTLLC@gmail.