At some point during your fitness journey you will probably realize that reaching your goals is going to be harder than you thought, or take longer than you want. Unless you happen to be one of the genetically gifted few, that’s normal. Faster isn’t always better as much as we’d like to believe that it is. If results came too quickly they would have less value and taking a step back would be easier and in some cases more likely. The harder you have to fight for the results you want, the more you will appreciate them and be determined to hold on to them. A lot of the best things about fitness have little to do with the visible results. But you will only learn that by putting in your time in the trenches. Those are things you risk not learning if the results come about as quickly as we want them to.
You have to find a way to enjoy the journey enough to stay on the path. As much as you want to push yourself each workout, as much as you want to dedicate yourself to the best nutritional practices, you can’t burn yourself out with your efforts. You are not a machine and you can’t be so methodical or become so lost in the process that you set yourself up for a crash. Keep it fun. Don’t risk making yourself hate the lifestyle that should remain enjoyable. You may need to balance your approach and pace yourself. You may need to constantly remind yourself of the big picture and not allow your journey to take over your life, just to be a positive part of it. Keep it in perspective. A bad workout is not the end of the world. Eating off plan is not the end of the world. The body is pretty smart. It still knows how to respond with you being less than “perfect”. Sure, if you stray too far, too often, you can bring your progress to an abrupt end. But remember, the body is designed to change at its own pace and pushing yourself too hard, physically, mentally or emotionally, will propel you backwards not forward.
I remember running into my friend Jonathan once. By the look on his face I could see he was surprised. It was the first time we’d seen each other since we’d got back to school and we we’re definitely sizing each other up. “What are you weighing now 230?” he asked.
“228,” I replied, a solid 10 pounds up from the last time he’d seen me. All Gains! :)
Jonathan looked a bit down. I’d practically taught him how to train and in a few years he’d shot right by me, lifting weights that I could never touch. But now he was burning out. The chemicals he’d taken for awhile didn’t help his situation as once his cycle was done he’d plunged back to earth pretty hard. He didn’t want to listen at the time and was now paying the price. He was smaller, softer, and weaker than before. He hated going to the gym now when once he’d drive me crazy talking about every set and rep he did. “How do you stay so motivated?” he finally asked. “How do you stay with it day after day and not get burned out?”
I smiled at him as I adjusted my brand new Gold’s Gym cap, something I knew that no one else in my college town would have. “It’s not hard man, just make every small step be a part of the dream.” I’m not too sure he understood. It was more about a feeling I had that just taking the right steps, the ones right in front of me, would eventually lead me down the road way further than I could ever see.
Some of my workouts by design are not quite as long or difficult. My Friday workout for example is usually just biceps, forearms, calves and a minimal amount of cardio. The energy cost isn’t overwhelming and it’s definitely not emotionally taxing. Having a workout like this allows me to enjoy what I’m doing as opposed to always challenging myself. It keeps me connected to the past and to the reasons I started this in the first place.
In college, my training partner and I would often take a break from the gym and just hit arms in his neighbors garage with some very basic equipment. We would do barbell curls, handing the weight back and forth as we completed set after set. I remember my arms screaming with lactic acid and pumped beyond belief. Neither of us wanted to be the first to quit as we ground out the reps, and forced reps, and negative reps, until we simply couldn’t lift the bar. We could push each other, and ourselves, to go beyond what we wanted to do. And the energy we created and the sense of accomplishment afterwards made it fun in a weird, hardcore sort of way.
I remember those days during my current Friday workouts and it helps me enjoy the fact that I’m still in there pushing it after all these years. A few extra reps usually come from those memories. The walk through the parking lot once it’s over is always satisfying. One more down, one more to go for the week.
Some things you simply cannot buy, you have to earn. If you don’t protect your passion along the way, you can wind up like my friend Jonathan did. Stay positive and pace yourself for the long run. That feeling of joy you get while chasing your fitness goals is one you don’t ever need to lose.
Photo: Terry Goodlad Model: Valerie Annunziata