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Need vs Want

By Ryan Burgess

As we grow, it’s human nature to avoid things that cause us discomfort, and instead seek out things that we find pleasurable. Part of this is biological: we are literally hard-wired so that once something has caused pain, the brain will help steer us away from that particular cause in the future. A large part of it, though, is behavior-related, driven by what are now societal norms. You don’t need an in-depth study to tell you that we are currently living in the “Age of Comfort”. From the cars we drive, to the way we design our living space, to the food we eat, and even to the way we now seek and gather information, everything in our lives is about convenience. Instant gratification, it appears, isn’t even fast enough anymore.

I could write an entire article on why this is a very dangerous path for our society to be heading down, but I wanted to instead relate this specifically to training and activity. When people stop training and cease to be active, it’s usually due to one of the following reasons: they burn out, get hurt, or plateau (stop seeing progress). Given the number of people in our country facing serious health issues, many simply cannot afford to stop exercising or training once they have begun. It’s hard enough to start once, so if a person can find a way adhere to a program instead of stopping and facing the psychological hurdle of starting once again, they stand a greater chance of seeing long term success. There is a way to improve adherence, but like many things in life, it’s going to take some hard work to see it through.

One of the biggest mistakes a person can make is doing what they “want” to do instead of doing what their body “needs” them to do. While I’m all for people being active, this is a very slippery slope to head down. This type of training can lead to some short term success, but it definitely sets the stage for long term failure, whether that be an injury, burn-out, or seeing progress stall. You hear stories like the following all the time: a friend who hasn’t walked more than 100 consecutive yards in 10 years decides all of a sudden that they want to run a Marathon, so they just go out and start running a lot; your buddy from high school wants to lose 20 lbs. so he starts working out the same way he did in high school; or your cousin who has been religiously working out now for the past 2-3 months, but is also now constantly in pain. People take pride in their planning and preparation in so many areas of life, yet when it comes to training, too many people have a “just wing it” philosophy that will eventually catch up to them.

A few simple steps before embarking on a training or exercise program can go a long way in making sure you don’t fall into the aforementioned category. Step 1 is figuring out what your goals actually are, but in detail. You can’t just say “I want to lose weight” or “I want to feel better”; how much weight do you want to lose, and how are you going to quantify “feeling better”? Step 2 is writing them down. Putting pen to paper makes it more real, so you will be more inclined to stick with it. The final, and arguably the most crucial step, is to seek out the best means to achieve your specific goals. If you were taking a cross country road trip, you wouldn’t just blindly start driving in a random direction; you would at the very least know the exact side streets to take you to the highway, which highway to take you to the freeway, and which freeway to take to the appropriate interstate. The same applies to your training: if you walk into the gym and just blindly start moving in any direction, you’re bound to get lost. No matter your training goals, there are thousands of resources available to you, many of them free, so seek them out and utilize them! This is one of the biggest areas where hiring a qualified personal trainer or a coach can be hugely beneficial. I say qualified because unfortunately a lot of trainers are guilty of sending their clients down the aimless path I speak of. Do your research: contact gyms where you can get a free consultation to discuss goals and training methodology, and then don’t settle until you’ve truly found a place that fits your needs.

To all you trainers and coaches out there, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to heed this advice. Anybody can put someone through a “hard” workout: I could tell you to go run around the block 50 times, and that would be hard, but would it really help you achieve anything? Always think “individualized, intelligent, and challenging” when it comes to programming for your clients. If you think that’s too much work and still have your clients show up and “do stuff”, then you’re flat out stealing their money and should re-think why you got into this business in the first place. By going the extra mile in the early stages, not only will your clients still get their desired results, but you will have earned their trust (and hopefully their business) for years to come. For all the weekend warriors out there, if you do choose to hire a trainer or coach, you have to be willing to listen. If you did your homework, you should have found someone you feel comfortable with to guide you, so trust your decision and listen to what they tell you to do! It’s always surprising to me the number of people who invest in a trainer or coach, only to try to dictate what they do and the pace they go. I’ve seen people come in with a laundry list of goals, but when we start training and they realize it’s not going to be an hour of bench pressing and curls, they actually get frustrated! You always need to listen to your body, however a good trainer will prescribe the appropriate exercise and push you at a level they feel best suited to reach your goals. Arguing or fighting this is akin to going to a doctor, having them prescribe you medicine, and then turning around and telling the Doc “No thanks, I’d rather take this other medicine instead because I like it more.”

I’m not saying that training should be a mind-numbing and tedious experience, and that you shouldn’t include some variety in your training; on the contrary, when you put some thought behind it, varied training can be hugely beneficial. And there is nothing wrong with using training as an escape from the daily grind. Everybody needs an outlet to blow of some steam, and exercise is one of the best ways to do it; if you have specific goals though, you simply cannot throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks. You also need to keep in mind that progress takes time, and you’re going to have tough days. You’re training and moving to achieve something, not to be entertained; if you want entertainment, go to a movie. You absolutely have to be willing to sacrifice in the short term for the sake of the long term, something that so many people have lost the ability to do these days. Lasting change does not happen overnight. It does not happen in a few days. It doesn’t even happen in a few weeks. It takes a tremendous amount of hard work, discipline, and patience for, at the very least, a few months to truly instill the habits you need for a lifetime. Spending just a little bit of time on intelligent planning in the early stages will ensure that when the going gets tough, you will not fall of course, and you will most definitely achieve whatever it is you desire!

Ryan Burgess is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and the Director of Football development at Fitness Quest 10.  He enjoys working with and training people from all walks of life and lives to motivate, educate, and inspire people to work hard, persevere, follow their heart and pursue their dreams.  He believes firmly in the quote “Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart is in it, and live the phrase ‘the sky’s the limit’”.

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