When I talk to people about exercise and personal training, it’s remarkable how many of them reject them out of hand, saying that exercise hurts. It’s roughly similar to the reaction you get when you offer someone a liver sandwich with chocolate sauce. It’s hard to get past that reaction, and usually that’s the end of the conversation.
It’s disappointing to me, given the health of the American public, not to mention the amazing potential for fitness in the human body. But it’s understandable to a degree – if the only exercise you’ve done was painful, avoidance is a reasonably logical reaction. It should also be noted that if you truly have acute pain while doing any exercise, see your physician.
I love exercise, but it wasn’t always that way. When I was in elementary and secondary school, it seemed to me that the physical education teachers were, by turns, cruel, incompetent, or just lazy. For some reason, several of them felt that humiliating a student in front of the entire class was necessary. I never quite figured out what purpose this served. I wonder if they had been hazed themselves as students, and were carrying on some grand tradition. Maybe they were simply failed pro athletes who resented teaching. Who knows? In retrospect, admittedly they had a tough job trying to teach physical education to kids who often weren’t interested.
The good news today is that many schools are coming up with creative exercise programs that kids actually enjoy, instead of the one-size-fits-none Boredom Meets Misery programs of old. An important component of this is to acknowledge that different students may respond well to different types of activity. The previously unknown concept of variety! So there is hope!
Another problem today is the type of exercise being done. Because most people are out of shape, advertisers try to capitalize by selling Magic Machines with extravagant claims of quick and easy results. So somebody buys the latest Bewtock-Master 5000, uses it for maybe two weeks, and then finds out that not only is he bored, but no noticeable results have been achieved. So like most exercise equipment, it’s relegated to clothes-hanger status. That person’s dislike of exercise may stem from boredom rather than actual pain.
Watching people exercise may also give one pause. If you watch someone cranking out a very heavy lift with a barbell, their grimaces, sweating, and shaking muscles may seem painful even if you’re not experiencing it directly. Or if you’re watching someone working the Stairmaster or spinning machine as long and as hard as they can, this may look as fun as volunteering to get caned.
So for many, a negative image of exercise has been burned into their braincells. But for the favored few, exercise has a very positive connotation. I would guess that most people can think of at least one pleasurable activity that often involves some quite vigorous exertion, right? (No, I’m not talking about being lectured for 6 hours by a time-share salesman with halitosis) Just think about the good feeling you had when your muscles felt well-used and stimulated; a good type of exertion. True, it may not be possible to get that form of exercise regularly enough, and it shouldn’t necessarily be the only exercise you do. But the idea is that if you have some positive exercise experiences, it doesn’t seem horrible anymore, and I know it’s hard to believe, but you may actually look forward to it!
The number of ways to exercise is unlimited. One person may find that exercise of low-to-moderate intensity for long periods of time gives her a blissed-out feeling afterwards; she may find very intense, rapid exercises distasteful. Another person may enjoy exercise where you go hard and fast for a short time, and you’re done quickly; this person would find the first scenario too time-consuming and slow. Yet another person may not be able to exercise without being with others. Variety – you get the idea. It’s possible to work with a trainer to find out how physical activities you enjoy can be incorporated into an effective exercise program. It’s easier to stick with activities you enjoy.
I’ll close with a nice unconventional exercise that my wife does (along with her more traditional exercises): she deliberately parks her car farther from work than she needs to. She usually doesn’t give herself extra time to get to work, so she needs to hustle, and this gives her a very brisk walk for several minutes a day. It’s also hilly, which provides some resistance.
Maybe exercise isn’t so terrible after all!