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You know you should exercise. But it’s so hard. What if I told you about a simple mind trick that will motivate you to push through any workout, no matter how grueling? Too good to be true? Not if you’re willing to go all in.
Working out is tough. That’s why it’s called work. It’s human nature to avoid things that are unpleasant or painful. I think that’s the number one reason people don’t exercise: Exercise makes people uncomfortable.
In this day and age, discomfort is something we don’t have a lot to do with. If it’s hot outside, we turn on the air conditioner. If a place is far away, we hop in the car and drive (with the AC on). If we want to know pretty much anything, we Google it. If we’re bored, even for one second, we grab our phones and get lost down a rabbit hole of Instagram hot butt shots. And so on. But with fitness, there’s no short cut. You can’t pay anyone to go out there and get results for you. You have to put in the work yourself. I know.
Quitters Never Win
I’m a group exercise instructor and I teach mainly HIIT classes. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and it’s one of the most uncomfortable workouts around. Aptly named, HIIT works because it’s intense. You go really hard for a short period of time and then take a brief (and I mean brief, like 10 seconds) break before plunging back into the agony. When I first started teaching, back when HIIT was a relatively new idea, I used to watch people give up all the time because they were uncomfortable. They were uncomfortable because they were out of breath or burning up from muscle fatigue. They were giving up because they wanted the discomfort to stop more than they wanted results. No amount of yelling or cheering could get them to try harder. They were just too uncomfortable.
So, I decided to try a new approach. Instead of asking people to fight through discomfort, I asked them to try and learn to embrace it. How do you learn to embrace discomfort? It’s just a simple mind trick that’s kind of like reorganizing your expectations. Here’s how my class worked together as a group to learn, not only to embrace discomfort, but to enjoy it.
The Nuts and Bolts
First, we each picked an exercise we truly detested because it made us so uncomfortable. I picked low pulsing stationary lunges with weights. I’m cringing inside just thinking of them, they burn so badly. A lot of the class picked burpees. Then, we did 4 sets of the exercises for 50 long seconds with only a 10 second rest in between sets. Instead of gritting our teeth and counting the seconds until it was over, we decided that when it started to burn we were going to say (either out loud or in our minds), YES!!! Then we repeated the YES!!! until the 50 seconds were over with the understanding that we were welcoming the pain. We were welcoming it because it meant that change was happening to our bodies. And change was our goal.
It felt silly at first, especially the people who were actually yelling at the top of their lungs. And people passing by the classroom gave us some weird looks. But laughing made the time zoom by. Seeking that pain instead of trying to avoid it made most of us feel more positive and like we had more endurance and control. After a few weeks of YES!!! I really started to see some serious change. People who were giving up before started hanging in there. With fitness, the more you do, the more you get. Once people started seeing some results, they really got motivated and tried even harder. As the class’s ability grew I had to make the workouts more challenging every week. What was difficult before started to seem easy. I saw waistlines shrink, muscles swell, and confidence levels soar.
Burn Baby Burn
Why should we want to to feel the burn or to work through it? To simplify, oxygen helps convert nutrients from food into fuel for your muscles. It’s why your breathing gets faster as you exercise. Your body is trying to increase the amount of oxygen circulating in your body to get as much fuel as possible to the working muscles. But the oxygen-converting process is the slowest way for your body to make fuel. When you’re exercising for a longer period of time, particularly at high intensities, your body calls on other, faster ways to convert nutrients into fuel. When that happens you’re crossing over the anaerobic threshold, and your body uses other fuel sources that don’t rely on oxygen for the energy conversion. For a faster conversion, the muscle calls on stored glycogen (and after that, fatty acids) to produce more energy. When this glycogen is broken down, it produces lactic acid. The lactic acid is what causes the burning sensation in your muscles.
And I Care Because…
Training at or above your anaerobic threshold (when you’re feeling the burn) can increase your aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold level. That means you can do more, longer without tiring or feeling that burn. The more you do, the more calories your burn. The more you break down your muscle, the stronger it becomes. And that’s how you build a lean, muscular physique and improve your health and fitness.
Mind Over Muscle
It’s an old adage in the fitness world that when you’re trying to get results, nothing is more important than your mindset. But is that really true? Not only have I seen this theory play out in my own classes, but a 2007 Harvard study shows how powerful the mind is when it comes to your body’s health. For the study, 84 women who were working in 7 different hotels as room attendants were split into 2 groups. One group was told that the work they were doing was great exercise. They were given specific examples of why this was true and sent on their way. The other group was not given this, or any information. After 4 weeks of doing the exactly same activities they always had, the group who was told their work was exercise “showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index.” Isn’t that incredible? Absolutely nothing was different except for what they perceived to be true, but it had real, physical effects.
Although my YES!!! mind trick theory is different from the Harvard study (I did get people to do more work), the basic idea is the same. If you can control your mind, you can control your body and get real results. If you think you can, you will. I also think that when we feel positive about something we’re doing, instead of negative or neutral, we’re more likely to go about it with gusto. That can make a huge difference in energy and caloric expenditures. When we’re happy, we just live bigger.
If you want to try my YES!!! theory for yourself, it’s easy to practice. And the more you practice, the better you’ll get at helping yourself to seek out that uncomfortable feeling. You can pick an exercise you hate and practice at home, or sign up for a class you know is gonna be brutal and try it there. I’ve found that yelling is somehow generally more effective than just saying it in your mind, but I understand if you don’t want to be the class weirdo. If you live in the Los Angeles area you can just come to my class. We’ll welcome you and your weirdo yelling with open arms!
Remember: when you want to quit, that’s when the good work is happening. Don’t give up!
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