By Michael Krueger
I asked this question once before, “Why do you train; what are you trying to accomplish?” It has recently come up again as a number of people I know, both clients and acquaintances, have fallen off the fitness wagon. Right after the first of the year, most of them had made a grand, and more or less successful, effort to improve their fitness.
Some of these people made real and measurable progress toward personal fitness goals. They were training consistently, working hard, and appeared happy with the whole experience. They saw results and were excited to continue … then something happened; but what?
It wasn’t the first time this had happened to them, so I guess the real question that needs to be answered is, “Why did you quit … again?”
Just the word “quitting” has such a loaded and negative connotation that we use euphemisms when “quitting” is a very serviceable word to describe that very activity. Very few people readily admit to quitting; they paused, lapsed, or took a break. When pressed, they have a reason that they stopped working out, and to them it’s a really good one too. The reasons generally fall into a couple of categories.
First on the list is an injury, which can be a very valid reason indeed. But even an injury, unless it’s really severe, shouldn’t preclude all exercise. A minor lower body injury doesn’t usually prevent the upper body and core from being trained just as an upper body injury doesn’t prevent lower body exercise. If it’s serious enough to consult a physician, talk to her about your training and express your desire to continue your physical activities. They are usually very happy (even enthusiastic) to give you guidance and often a referral to a physical therapist so you can begin rehab or participate in appropriate activities such as nonload-bearing pool workouts. Continuing to train in some way will actually speed your recovery, but it’s important to stay within your prescribed limits to allow for healing. It’s also important to review your training to see why this injury occurred and to set some new goals for when you are healed. It’s also a good idea to just keep moving and looking forward to ensure that your head stays in the game.
In the case of injuries, the willingness to continue training comes down to motivation. How quickly do you want to return to your normal routine and get back to working toward your goals? Many people look at their recovery time as a vacation from exercise. They will be very disappointed when (or if) they come back to the gym and realize how much of their hard-earned strength and fitness has vanished.
I could divide up the other noninjury excuses into a myriad of categories, but why bother? For the most part, they are at best self-indulgent and at worse delusional. They generally come down to some variation of “I’ve just been slammed at work,” “My kids/husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/parents/dog/cat/house/car/Netflix have just demanded so much of my time you wouldn’t believe it,” or “I just haven’t felt too good lately, my head/stomach/foot/arm/hair hurts.” When I hear any of these I smile, nod, and try to look sympathetic. I then ask what’s really going on. Is this a temporary situation brought on by unexpected stress, or is it going to be ongoing? How has it affected the rest of your life? Are you eating and sleeping well? Does missing your workouts bother you? Why has your health and fitness dropped so low on your list of priorities? These are questions that need to be answered if they are going to regain control over their life. This really is about control, and if they give up that control now, it’s all over.
Unfortunately, after one missed workout turns into two and weeks into months, good intentions and excuses can only carry one so far. Reality rears its ugly head, and they need to answer the big question. Are they going to assert themselves and get back into training or are they going to quit? And if they quit, do they realize they will eventually just have to start all over again or admit that their health, fitness, career and, by extension, their life just aren’t that important to them?
We all have a story to tell when it comes to training history. Some people never miss a day and have ongoing uninterrupted streaks of many, many years. Others seem to streak for a while then stumble along before either getting back in the game or quitting. Still others start and stop so often that they seldom see any appreciable progress, but they don’t seem to mind and just plug along.
Then there are the people who set their training schedule and stick to it. They rarely miss unless it’s a scheduled break. They always seem to be able to make the space in their life to get in a workout, even if their world seems to be tumbling down around them. Sometimes it may be a modified version of their normal training, but they still get it done. These people are always progressing. Sometimes it’s slowly and other times they make great strides, and they are good with that. They are realistic about and dedicated to their goals. In short, they are happy, grounded, in control, and successful.
My story is simple. I’ve had a couple of breaks in my training in the past four decades. Three surgeries and a couple injuries have cost me a few weeks here and there, and I had one longer break due to a job change. The time off due to the surgeries, while frustrating, just had to be dealt with like a mature(?) adult. But, I was very disappointed in myself for the couple of months I didn’t train due to the new job. I had to switch from being an evening runner to morning, and I had issues adapting because I wasn’t applying the proper discipline. I was surprised at how quickly the missed days added up. When I finally put my running shoes on again, I was horrified at my loss of fitness. My lungs burned and my body ached and at that point I swore I would never let that happen again … and it hasn’t.
So, how about you? Are you a regular trainer making your fitness a priority or maybe a dabbler who goes to the gym or out for a run just often enough to be able to claim that you exercise? Or, more likely, you don’t have a real training regimen and just don’t like to think about that.
I’m sure that many of you were high school athletes and a few more were even competitive in college. Perhaps you were in the military where you were forced to learn how important fitness was to your daily life. You may have gone through a fire department training academy where you had to prove yourself every day. You worked hard to be the best you could be but then afterward just couldn’t or wouldn’t make it part of your life when your life and career really got going and distractions and complications set in.
Whatever you story is, whatever your exercise history might be, you can still write a new chapter starting today.
…to Only Come This Far
My favorite motivational mantra starts as the title of this column and ends in the above heading: “You haven’t come this far to only come this far.” My head will quit a million times before my body does. When every muscle is screaming, when my lungs are burning, when my head wants me to give in to fatigue, I repeat that phrase over and over, digging deeper and deeper, remembering all the effort and training that went into being able to perform this hard for this long, and I simply refuse to give in.
Train hard, train smart, train consistently, and you will create not only a fit body but a strong mind and an indomitable spirit that that will serve you well in all aspects of your life …
…and take you as far as you want to go.
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.