Monday, June 20, 2016

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

For someone who doesn't exercise, or only exercises erratically, the hardest part of working out is getting started in the first place. The second big challenge after that is forming a lasting routine. After that, the remaining challenge is avoiding burn-out.

When I say getting started, I'm not talking about the first couple weeks. Usually folks will get a burst of motivation and they will be really excited in the beginning. This may be due to an ad on TV (does anyone watch TV anymore? Maybe I should say an ad on Facebook), a friend who just started a new program, a new Crossfit studio opening down the street, or whatever. And of course New Year resolutions are a classic.

I started karate because my mom thought Bruce Lee was - like - super cool (he totally is). I started lifting weights in college because I had no life and a lot of free time. Considering I had a demanding program at an Ivy League university, that means I really had no life. I started running because I got a husky and either she got exercised or she literally devoured all of the furniture.

So, you know, reasons.

But for many folks - if I was a dick I would say most folks - that motivation runs out and they quit. They make an excuse like, "oh, I got this thing at work and my aunt is visiting and my toes got sore... But I'll totally get back into it, like, super soon. As soon as my toes feel better. And I'm no longer working. And my aunt moves to another country."

Excuses are easy.

It's not an excuse if it's true!

I constantly have excuses floating around through my head. For example last Wednesday, I got up at 6am, lifted weights, and ran 2 miles before work. I left work early and bicycled to a lake, swam for 45 minutes (and didn't drown!) and then bicycled back (22 miles total), and then I ran 2 more miles. All in all I exercised for 3 hours in the middle of a work week.

At 6am my brain said, "sleep in! You'll need strength for later!" At work my brain said, "you can't go home to exercise, you should stay and do more work!" At home my brain said, "you should drive to the lake instead of bicycling! This is your first open water swim and you should be fresh!" When I got home my brain said, "are you f#$king kidding me? You want to run now? I literally can not feel the rest of my body!!"

With such a constant barrage of bullshit pummeling me at all times, it would be really easy to cave and just eat ice cream instead.

But I don't.

The next challenge, once you've started a program and survived your waning motivation, is to form a routine. Running every week is great, but it's hard to maintain if your schedule is constantly changing. Even if you've decided that it's super important for you to do, and you ignore your brain's constant whining, and you "just do it", real life can still get in the way.

That's why it's important to have a set time every day when you exercise: A time that's set in stone. This could be in the morning before work. It could be at lunch time. It could be after work. Or it could be in the evening after whatever creatures reside in your house have gone to bed. I personally work out both before and after work. I don't have a "work" on weekends, so I just exercise for a really long time at whatever time I sufficiently hate myself for still being in bed.

Although nobody could hate me as much as these horses.

A routine can be hard to form because it may force you to do something you're not used to (yet!). A morning routine requires you to get up earlier. Exercising after work requires you to wait longer before you get to jam your face with sweet sweet calories. Exercising at any other time will require you to finagle whatever else you did at that time. It takes about a month for a new thing to become a habit. And during that period you'll be forcing yourself to get up while other sane people are still sleeping, or what have you.

Interestingly, the solution to the first problem - getting started - is to make yourself do the second one - form a routine. Don't wait until you're motivated to start exercising. Instead, look at yourself honestly, and decide - logically - if exercise is something that would add value to your life. Pick the thing that seems the most engaging (running, biking, swimming, lifting, martial arts, or in my case all of those things). Pick a time during the day when you can best stick to. Then just start doing it, every day.

Some folks will tell you not to run, or lift, or whatever, every single day. Fine. But if you decide to exercise at X time 4 days a week, then pick something else to do at X time the other 3 days. If you run 4 times a week at 5PM, then do some sit-ups, or planks, or stretching the other three days a week. The point is to maintain a routine where - every day at 5 - you have to do something. It's like brushing your teeth, going to work, or keeping the creatures in your house alive. It's a thing you have to do.

Once you've formed your routine and gotten used to it, you should be pretty golden. You'll see improvements, break previous records, and watch your body transform into a gladiator's. That will let you know that you're on the right track and will keep you going forward.

"I'm just a crocodile. I have no reason to be here."

The third problem is one that you probably won't encounter for a while. But, believe it or not, at some point you will have met many of your goals. You will be toned and sexy. You will be blasting races faster than you'd ever imagined. Your colleagues will be awed by your achievements - I mean, secretly awed at least. And then one day you'll think, "umm, ok I'm pretty awesome now. I've pretty much plateaued on the race times. I'm pretty sure I can stay skinny with only half this exercise. And do I really need to spend 10 hours a week breaking my legs? There's a lot of streaming TV to catch up on. I hear there's a good show about zombies out there."

And those nagging excuses that you've learned to ignore suddenly come roaring back. "That's right!" Says brain. "You don't need to keep nuking yourself all the time! You're great now! In fact, you can afford to put some weight back on! You know, in case all the food in the world vanishes and you need to survive on your fat stores. And really, all your friends are tired of you constantly flaunting your superheroic victories. When's the last time you even saw your friends?"

Don't listen to brain! Brain is an asshole!

Instead, do something new. Something different. You've kicked ass on your last half marathon? Do a full marathon! Full marathon no sweat? Do an ultra! Not your cup of tea? How about a triathlon! Prefer to do something with obstacles? How about a Tough Mudder or a Spartan! Or maybe you'd rather put on some muscle and fill out all those race shirts that take up half your bedroom. Start lifting!

There's a ton of options. Even a slight change to your workout routine can add a whole new level of vigor and excitement.

And then you can keep pissing off your friends and loved ones for years to come.
Keep pissing them off
with sexy towel pics.

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