Thursday, 29 May 2014

Exercise is Addictive... Find your addiction

Exercise... why do some people hate it, while others love it, and others can do it sporadically as they feel obliged to exercise?

Are some people doing it wrong? Are some people just wired "that way"?

In my view, exercise can be addictive. It can be taken way too far and cause serious danger for the person taking it too far such as crash dieting, steroids and over-training. However, if you can manage this addiction it can be a highly beneficial part of your life offering improvements in energy levels, body composition, movement, mental clarity, bodily functions and internal health.

I think... you just need to find YOUR addiction and focus on that. Once you start to see progress and improvements in your specific area of interest then you'll have the bug in no time. If you've exercised and not fallen in love with it, here are a few things to focus on and see what flicks that switch in your mind and gets you hooked.

If you think you might be driven purely by improvements in your body composition then it's important to track progress in this way. Track measurements using a tape measure for your chest, stomach, arms and legs. Also track body fat percentage using skin fold callipers and take monthly progress photos. These pictures will need to be roughly the same time of day, in the same room with the same lighting. You'd be surprised what a good bit of down lighting can do for "progress". Be sure to follow a structured program tailored to your specific aesthetic adjustments.
NB: Ask someone trained to take specific measurements, it's difficult and often inaccurate to do it yourself.

If you take enjoyment from seeing progress in your strength and lifting multiple repetitions of a previously unmovable weight then try to follow a strict strength program. There are thousands of programs available but if it's your first time following a strength program try the 5x5 program devised by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mentor, Reg Park. You can read a detailed blog about it here: (5x5) - This is used by many people worldwide and has been around for years. Though recently it has been suggested that it won't offer significant gains for experienced athletes that have done a lot of strength work previously.
NB: Quality over quantity... train your body not your ego etc etc - Make sure your technique is of a decent standard before aiming to follow any strength programs. The majority of people with less than 5 years of regular gym work under their belt will not need such a regimented or intense program to achieve strength gains.

Perhaps your body doesn't move like it should and you would like nothing more than to move more freely, have more energy, carry less tension and improve your mobility? Think outside the box and move away from traditional, isolation movements. Focus on exercises that will target multiple muscle groups and also allow you to move away from the restrictions of a resistance machine; for example, working with kettlebells, Bulgarian bags, battling ropes and crawling variations. You can still use traditional barbells, dumbells and medicine balls but think full body such as dumbbell snatch, lunges with rotations and squats into overhead press/thrusters. Also focus on improving your mobility outside of sessions with regular (daily if possible) SMR and foam rolling work. This can be done in just a few minutes a day so there's no real excuses.

Perhaps competition is what drives you? If you feel the need to compete against others to get the most from your workouts then try training in a small group. Alternatively a competitive team environment, sports team or a CrossFit gym might be the solution for you.
NB: If you choose any of these it's likely that you will still need to do some complimentary gym work away from your chosen route. However, having something to focus your own training on is likely to improve the quality of solo training sessions.

If you need something to focus your gym efforts then why not sign up for a challenge? There are plenty of non-elite challenges to aim towards from "Tough Mudder" (a muddy, long distance, assault course), to middle-distance runs, mini-Triathlons, amatur strongman/woman etc. Make yourself accountable and run the risk of failure and it's amazing how your training can improve. Set your targets high and watch as a structured training program and you might be pleasantly surprised at how "into" your training you get and what you can achieve.

Get outside
Take your training outside. You don't just have to go for a long distance run! Try sprint intervals, bodyweight movements, crawling (again), take some equipment with you such as a kettlebell and/or a TRX and get creative. A change of environment, sunshine (potentially) and some fresh air can do wonders for your mind, body and mental clarity. I'd always advise that everyone should train outside at LEAST once a week. The impact outdoor training can have on your mood is well documented (for example: article ), it has also been suggested that exercising near to water can increase well-being even further. Exercising outdoors is hugely under-rated and might be just the change you need to get hooked.

When you exercise your body will release endorphins; a chemical in the body linked to the masking of pain or sadness. "Runners high" is a term used by many that have engaged in long-distance running and this is exactly that: the endorphins at work. Exercise can significantly impact your mood, well-being, productivity, energy levels and decision making (see "Executive Decision Function"). Don't believe me? Keep a daily tally of three things: Mood, Productivity, Energy for the 24 hours following exercise using your own scoring system of 1-10. Compare it on non exercise days to the days when you exercise. There's usually a pretty strong correlation.

For me it's about the endorphins. I've had my days of wanting to get bigger, leaner, stronger etc and obsessing over the best way to achieve this. These days I sometimes find myself wanting to exercise when I've been lethargic for too long or on days when I'm feeling less positive. It's taken me a while to realise, but my "buzz" is the endorphins... go and find yours.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@MichaelD_PT) and YouTube

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