Where Many Exercise Programs Miss the Point (And Why I Still Run Occasionally)

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160 pounds again! Damnit!

I was slightly down last week when I hopped on the scale. Despite my best efforts to gain a few pounds, I was stunted at a five pound growth. Yes, 160 pounds is five pounds heavier than my normal weight. It’s a bit sad for someone that’s 5′ 11″.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ll probably recognize that this isn’t the first time I’ve ever tried to gain weight. When I left high school, I was a scrawny 120 pound weakling that hadn’t even counted to 135 let alone seen that number on the bench press. Along the way (and with the help of a bit of beer I’m sure), I catapulted the scale from 120 all the way up to 150. I sat stagnant for awhile before settling in at 155 pounds.

Now, it was happening all over again.

Here’s the thing: I know everything I need to do to gain weight. I promise.

I know that I need to eat more first and foremost. I know I shouldn’t be afraid of carbs or sleep. I know testosterone levels are important. Food intake should be high and stress levels should be low. Intermittent fasting may potentially help when you get stuck to reset hunger levels. I know that most hardgainers fail because they aren’t consistent enough with a program, and they can’t set a firm goal. More than anything, I know it just takes lifting some heavy weight, skimping on the cardio, and to quit the bitching.

I’ve read enough of Jason Ferruggia’s posts to know all that stuff.

That second-to-last part is the deal breaker – skimping on the cardio.

If you’ve known me for any length of time or just taken a second to look at my body frame, you’ll remember that I used to be a pretty competitive runner back in high school and in college. I spent weekends going on 12-15 mile runs early in the morning then taking a nap until mid-afternoon. I ended up putting an end to the whole running thing sometime in college in an effort to gain a few pounds.

But, the hard part is that I enjoy running. It’s part of who I am and what I like to do.

So, a few days a week, I’ll hop out and go for a run despite it being severely contradictory to my goal of gaining size.

Enjoyment – The Missing Piece

Let’s forget about me for a second and skip to the initial consult of virtually any personal training session anywhere.

Half-way through, after they’ve talked about their families and backgrounds and dietary habits, they get on the topic of exercise. The trainer naturally brings up what kind of exercise the client actually likes to do. The rest of the conversation goes like this:

“Zumba? Ah yeah well Zumba sucks because…”

“Step class? Well, you know step class doesn’t really…”

“Running? Heaven forbid. Have you heard of the benefit…”

“You just do yoga? God bless. Have you thought about…”

Every potential answer has a caveat. Unless the client replies that they love lifting heavy weights consisting of multi-joint exercises three to four days a week supplementing with some interval cardio and some foam rolling and stretching on the side, they’re doomed to hear the compliment sandwich.

“Congrats on setting up such a successful Zumba routine! Zumba is great for getting you ready for the dance clubs, but it doesn’t do squat for building muscle, which will actually help transform your physique. But, I’m sure you’re absolutely fantastic at dancing to Ricky Martin!”

Imagine heading to a restaurant and telling the waiter that you would like the prime rib, side of veggies, and a double order of mashed potatoes (because after all, it is post-workout) only to hear him lecture you about how carbs are ruining America as we know it?

I’ve never been to a restaurant where I was told what to order unless I asked for suggestions.

However, I have listened to what clients enjoy doing, only to throw it all back in their face and suggest something totally different.

That’s missing the mark.

With so many clients having a hard time sticking with an exercise plan, the first point of attack should be enjoyment. If you can create a new habit – one that involves coming to the gym more than once a week and actually enjoying it – you’ll be one step ahead of the crowd. The first step to getting your clients to improve on anything is getting them to show up. When you tell them all of their favorite exercise routines are garbage, what kind of message are you sending?

One that says, “Exercise shouldn’t be enjoyable.”

Listen, I know Zumba probably isn’t the most effective method to lose weight just like I know Pabst Blue Ribbon probably isn’t the best beer I could find in the beer cave. But, that doesn’t change the fact that 75% of your female clients like to go in and shake their hips every once in awhile nor the fact that I like PBR. By shunning them from every going to Zumba, you may be taking away the one part of exercise they really like.

Every time I go out for a run, I think to myself how it’s contrary to many of the things I’m trying to accomplish. Rather than make myself feel guilty for indulging in a little steady state cardio (gasp!), I put on my tunes and trot around for a few miles. I feel refreshed. Endorphins start flowing, and I get the “run” out of my system. Then, it’s back to heavy lifting and eating animal flesh.

Sure, my progress might be slower than most, but it’s enjoyable. Most of the time, the enjoyable factor is what keeps me going, and it’s the fun factor that will keep your clients training for the long haul.

Have you ever done something completely contrary to your goals? How did it feel? Alternatively, is PBR the best beer out there or what?

Photo credit: Soundcloud

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