Today, I’m going straight for the amygdala.
Or maybe the nucleus accumbens…or the ventral tegmental area…or the cerebellum…or maybe I’m going straight for the pituitary gland?
[Believe it or not, I’m not a brain surgeon, so I’m not exactly sure. BUT, I’ve heard these parts regulate pleasure, so I figure I’ll cover all my bases.]
Wrap your “pleasure circuit” around this harsh reality:
If it doesn’t suck sometimes, you’re doing it wrong.
There. The secret is out.
Can working out be fun? Absolutely!
Should it be fun? Absolutely!
Will it be fun always? Not if you’re trying to make real progress.
As the reality sinks in that it is now February and most of us who set out with huge aspirations of fitness greatness have thrown in the towel, it’s only appropriate to address the myth that it doesn’t have to be terrible to be effective.
Caveat: All of those “if it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t work”-types of sentiments–they aren’t true either.
Here’s what IS true: It has to be at least a little bit terrible sometimes.
Workouts are sometimes boring.
Getting stronger means repetition. You don’t get a stronger front squat without front squatting a whole heck of a lot. You have to do it slowly, you have to do it explosively; you have to do it with lots of weight, you have to do it with a little weight; you have to do a lot of sets, you have to do a lot of reps. You have to front squat a lot. If you’re front-squatting 3-4x per week, you just might get bored of it.
That’s totally okay, though. You’ll find motivation by tracking your progress. Three sets of 5 with a 24-kg kettlebell is not particularly exciting — that is, of course, unless you’ve only ever done it with a 20-kg before.
Workouts are sometimes painful.
Workouts should not injure you nor always require a epsom salt soak and a glass of wine.
However, they should pretty much always be uncomfortable. Sometimes the pain is mental and sometimes it’s physical, but if you never push yourself out of your standard threshold, you will not make gains. Sometimes we need to push the limits.
If you can comfortably keep a 7-min/mile pace, you need to aim for 6:50 in order to keep making *progress. If you can confidently achieve 10 military presses with X amount of weight, you need to squeeze out 11 even though it hurts. (Obviously, this is within the realm of good–or at least not detrimental–form.)
Workouts sometimes suck.
Again, sometimes they suck physically. Other times they suck mentally. But a good workout routine require a sucky workout every once in a while. They can suck because of the two reasons above, of course, but they can and should also suck because…
You don’t get better if you only practice what you’re good at.
Bonus: Diets sometimes suck, too.
In case this is new to you, just expect this. Research shows that not eating pizza and drinking beer whenever you feel like it is, in fact, much suckier than eating pizza and drinking beer whenever you feel like it.
*I’m not sure about my audience here. Do I need to say this?
If you are running for pleasure, you can run 7-min miles all day every day, as much as you’d like and as comfortably as you’d like. If you’re trying to progress, though, or see improvement in your running, you’ve got to change it up.
With full acknowledgement of guaranteed misery at some point during pursuit of fitness progress, I conclude with this:
Workouts should be mostly enjoyable.
Even if the burn in the moment is not particularly delightful or feeling that jolt of dread when seeing your day’s workout is not what you’d call a gleeful surprise, you should finish your workouts with an undeniable sense of accomplishment, i.e., enjoyment.
If there’s no enjoyment, you are DEFINITELY doing it wrong.
Your goal needs to be worth the suck.
If you’re not enjoying training to be a faster 5k runner, just STOP.
STOP training for that. START training for something else!
(But don’t just stop training whenever it sucks a little. Know when it sucks because it’s supposed to suck–because you’re gaining ground– versus when it sucks because you aren’t finding enjoyment in the grind toward greatness.)
Want a 5-minute bursted lower body workout that will torch your glutes into submission before you can even adequately grasp the suckiness of it?
30s single-leg glute bridge raises L
30s single-leg glute bridge raises R
60s glute bridge raises
30s plyo lunges
30s single-leg glute bridge raises from toes L
30s single-leg glute bridge raises from toes R
60s glute bridge raises from toes
30s squat jacks (like a jumping jack, but you land in a wide squat)
P.S. Strength training is, typically, a lot less fun than metabolic conditioning. The randomness and fast-pacedness of metabolic conditioning should keep things fun and interesting, like the icing on top of your workout cake! If you can’t say you’re having fun with your kettlebells, you’re going to want to grab Pat’s new e-book; it’ll be sure to add some flair. My weekly 5-Minute Sweaty workouts offer a spicy sprinkle, as well!