Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Strangers with candy

Today was a tough day at the gym. I missed or skipped 25 reps out of a possible 65 with my target weights over 3 exercises. It was absolutely brutal. It was my own fault -- I only got about 5 hours of sleep last night and I'd eaten very little all day, but it was still rough.

But it was also one of the best days I've had at the gym in a long time.

When I arrived at the gym, a middle-aged couple was using the only squat rack. I asked how much longer they had, then went and warmed up while they were finishing. They let me know when they were done, I started squatting and they went over to do some other exercises.

The squats were brutal. I only got 4 reps on my first set, then another 4, and then only 2 on my third. I was furious at myself, but I calmed down and realized that today was obviously an off day, so I dropped the weight by 50 lbs and started doing sets of 10.

After my first set of 10, the wife who had been using the squat rack before me came over and complimented me on my squats. She was impressed with the amount of weight I was squatting and the fact that I was squatting below parallel. We talked for a while about lifting -- she and her husband have been lifting weights together for over 20 years!

That little conversation was the boost I needed to get through what was, up to that point, an extremely frustrating workout. While I was busy berating myself about my poor performance, that couple was watching me work out and saw me working hard and moving a respectable amount of weight.

It's a reminder that we're always our own harshest critics. Sure, I didn't do as well as I'd hoped to do today. I failed miserably by the standards I set for myself. But the important part, the part that that nice couple saw, was that I kept working hard despite the frustration and turned what could have been a completely wasted workout into something productive, at least.

Sometimes it's nice to be able to get a glimpse of yourself from a stranger's point of view. It's even better when that glimpse shows you something better than you expected.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Exercise Crack

Inspired by Mac's post today at Get Fit Slowly.

Everybody knows that they should exercise, but it seems that only a small percentage of the world population acts on this knowledge. If you're one of those who knows you need to start but just can't seem to drag yourself into the gym, try a few of these ideas to motivate yourself:

1 - Write down every reason you can think of that you should exercise. Fitness reasons, health reasons, body image reasons, social reasons, family reasons, mental health reasons, etc. You'll be surprised how long the list gets. Then write down every reason you can think of that you shouldn't exercise. When you compare these two lists, you'll see that the "should" list will be much longer. And the "shouldn't" list will consist mainly of variations on "I don't want to."

3 - Find an exercise buddy. It can be a neighbor, coworker, friend or dog, but if you have somebody who you know is depending on you to show up, lots of excuses go away.

4 - Tell people you're starting an exercise program. That way you'll be motivated because you know they'll ask you how the program is going.

5 - Read health studies. Seriously. If you keep on reading about how good exercise is for you and how eating crap and sitting on your butt will kill you, you'll want to act on that information. Charlotte at The Great Fitness Experiment will hook you up with more studies than you can shake a stick at.

6 - Give yourself a "carrot." Do you love lattes? Make it a rule that you can only get one after your workout. Had your eye on a new pair of shoes, video game, etc.? Tell yourself you can buy it if you work out 3 times a week for a month.

Once you've started exercising, tracking your progress will help keep you motivated to exercise for the long haul. Mark every day that you exercise with a big X on the calendar and keep a written record of how far you walk/jog or how much weight you lift. Seeing your progress over time can be a powerful motivator to keep on exercising!

DON'T TRACK YOUR BODY WEIGHT. Weight fluctuates from day to day and hour to hour based on a whole schmorgasboard of variables, and is a very inaccurate way of measuring fitness and health. If you must track a physical attribute, track body fat percentage. Even better, take a picture of yourself in your favorite outfit every week or so to see how much better you start looking after a few weeks/months of regular exercise.

Everybody should exercise. That includes you. So go do it.