Exercise isn’t always easy. If it were easy, we would all do it and personal trainers wouldn’t even exist. But the truth is, that exercise can be hard. But this is kind of a general way of looking at it. Let’s break it down into the mental, neurological, hormonal and other physical reasons that exercise is perceived as being “hard.”
Exercise Pulls You Out of Your Comfort Zone
This is actually a good thing – once you’re in the gym.
If you want to increase your fitness, you’ve got to do more physical activity than you have been doing. For example, if you walk about 3,000 steps per day, then walking 5,000 steps could be said to be working outside of your comfort zone.
If you then make 5,000 the normal amount, then you’ve expanded your comfort zone.
It is a simple example, but one that is very important to understand. The key concept here is gradients.
Gradients – The Most Common Mistake When Starting in the Gym
A major reason that exercise gets a bad reputation is from the horror stories of muscle soreness. People like to complain when they can’t walk the day after a rough workout.
But should you really be that sore? In most circumstances, I would say no.
You shouldn’t go from 3,000 steps to 12,000 in one day. And you shouldn’t go from being a couch potato to doing 100 lunges and 100 push ups. THAT is why exercise is perceived as being hard.
Yet, for some reason, people don’t think they are working out unless they are killing it like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Jane Fonda.
As a fitness trainer, I am constantly telling people to back off. It isn’t something that personal trainers advertise, but we have to be able to stop you from exercising when you’ve had enough. If you’re not able to walk tomorrow, then you won’t be walking back into the gym.
Soreness is a normal part of exercising.
Part of why it can get so bad is lack of hydration, stretching, and movement in general.
Hydration. If you’re not hydrated, your muscle soreness will be much, much worse. Think about it. Every chemical reaction that takes place in your body, happens in an aqueous environment (water).
You must drink enough fluids to facilitate the repair of your muscles and to dispose of waste. Otherwise you’re just going to be in utter pain for no reason.
Stretching. The best time to stretch to prevent soreness is right after a workout. Static stretching and foam rolling directly after exercise significantly decreases the soreness you would have had. I’ve learned this through training myself and others. It ain’t no lie.
Moving around. If you’re sore, you’ve got to get the blood flowing. Taking a long walk on some sore legs sounds painful, but you’ll feel better. And – whether you like it or not – doing some repetitions of the same exercise that got you sore will leave you feeling better. You experience a little short term pain while you’re doing it, but it is better for hours and hours afterwards.
Whether you want to exercise with sore muscles or not is a matter of judgment and a broad look at your own fitness level and goals. Sometimes it is appropriate and sometimes you should just rest or do light physical activity.
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Exercise and Your Nervous System
Nerves are the communicators. They connect your brain to your muscles and tell them to fire.
Your nervous system has fluctuations of activity. When you’re sleeping in bed or after you’ve stretched really well, your nervous system is relatively quiet.
But if you’ve had a bunch of caffeine and just walked four blocks in New York City wearing heels in the winter, your nervous system is very, very active.
Various preworkout drinks have caffeine in them for the sole purpose of stimulating your nervous system. It honestly helps get over that “I don’t want to exercise” funk that we sometimes get stuck in.
If you don’t want to drink a cup of coffee or take a preworkout drink, then just get moving a little bit. If you dance, start dancing. If you have laundry to do, get it started. The idea here is to move your body around and increase the activity in your nervous system. Then it won’t be so “hard” to exercise.
Getting your nervous system up to a high state of activity should be done on a gradient and exercise only seems hard when you try to force yourself from “sleeping in bed” to “Olympic rock star” in a twenty minute span.
Those guys have hours of warm up before their performances.
Hormones Can Cause Workouts To Be Tough
As we get older (both men and women), our hormones change. It is common for low testosterone to be present in both men and women – and it has huge effects.
Human growth hormone and testosterone levels decrease as we grow older and it can have a significant effect on our drive. It gets harder to get up and going, we lose muscle mass, and generally become more and more sedentary.
A lot of the answer to this scenario is to get exercising again. Exercise boosts HGH and testosterone, so this is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario.
Some people go to doctors to get hormone therapy and I absolutely agree that it is needed for a certain amount of people. BUT, it is common knowledge that exercise corrects a lot of hormone issues. The amount of research on the subject is massive and as simple as 1 + 1 = 2.
So why don’t more people get their hormones tested, get on a supervised exercise program, get their hormones tested again, and – ONLY IF NEEDED AT THAT POINT – get medical intervention?
Exercise During a Menstrual Cycle
I am not a female so I do not have my own subjective experience with this. But…
I usually take it easy on females going through that time of the month. “Usually” is put there because I’m not always made aware of it (which is fine). Some women don’t have a problem exercising with it, others do.
What’s happening during a menstrual cycle is somewhat of an internal renovation of the uterus. This takes up resources and energy that would otherwise be dedicated to physical activity and repairing the muscles we’ve damaged through normal exercise.
Exercise stresses the immune system. If your immune system is already stressed, just do your best to make smart decisions. Age, weight, existing medical conditions, type of exercise being performed, etc. all play a part in determining whether or not it is right to push harder.
Changing Habits is Mentally Painful
Sometimes it is pretty rough to get the idea of exercising in someone’s head (or just your own).
I have found that this scenario requires the babiest of baby steps. For example, their first workout might be going into the gym and walking on a treadmill for five minutes. Or just walking into the gym and walking out. Or just seeing a picture of the gym.
Sounds funny. But it is true.
If you’re completely unaware of fitness, haven’t ever been fit, always been the fat kid, never touched a dumbbell or jumped rope, then start by watching a one-minute video about exercise. Build up some familiarity with the subject a little at a time, then build it up.
I’ve always said that the biggest jump is from no exercise to a little bit of exercise. Then the move from a little bit of exercise to Olympian is easy. And that statement is completely in reference to a mental state of affairs. It is the biggest mental jump.
One book that I have to recommend here is Atomic Habits.
If I could have had this book my entire career, both me and my clients would be better off. It is a book about changing habits one tiny bit (the size of an atom) at a time. After a while, you’ll make big progress.
At this point, I consider it required reading for my clients.
How Consistency Relates to Exercise Difficulty
Consistency is king.
You don’t move a mountain in the blink of an eye. It takes a dedicated campaign to do so.
For example, let’s say that you have 100 pounds to lose. That means that you’re trying to metabolize (burn) 100 pounds of fat. Since one pound of fat equals 3,500 calories, then you have an ultimate goal of burning 350,000 calories in excess of what you eat. Unfortunately you can’t just stop eating and switch to “eating from reserves” mode.
In this example, you have to lay out in detail how you are going to increase the amount of calories you burn (exercise plan), how much you are going to decrease your caloric intake (diet plan), and remove other barriers to fat burning.
The fat burning route needs to be grooved in and cleared of obstructions completely. For many people it would start like this:
- Drink at least 3 liters of water per day
- Sleep at least 7 hours per day
- Carbs/sugar limited to 40 grams per day
- Exercise every day (even if just a little bit)
Your ability to stick to a plan and be consistent will determine whether or not you burn those 350,000 calories.
You could work out a plan just the same for building muscle. Anything can be done with a body by modifying diet and exercise.
Exercise Isn’t Hard Once You Get Started
A whole host of changes occur when we start exercising. And they stay there so long as we keep at it.
So exercise really isn’t hard all the time. It actually gets pretty easy. And you’ll eventually find it hard to stay still.
Once you start exercising, you have more energy, you sleep much better, your balance and coordination improves, your strength and endurance improve, and you generally are much more capable of controlling your environment.
This isn’t just in relation to you. Your family and job also end up benefiting. You’ll wonder why you took so long to start.
Exercise and Laziness
What is laziness?
Laziness is usually a combination of the above factors. I bet that if you tested nerve activity in the muscles of “lazy” people vs those who regularly exercise, that you’d find quite the difference.
I also bet that if you tested the exercise knowledge between those who are “lazy” and those who regularly exercise, that you’d fine quite the difference as well.
These people can be encouraged to exercise with the right kind of help. Lots of times exercise is a total unknown to them and they are embarrassed to even admit it.
Sometimes gimmicks work: One trick that I’ve found to work is to workout in a lazy manner. It sounds stupid, but just do it when you’re feeling lazy. Walk to your car slow and lazy. Get out slowly. Walk into the gym and get on the easiest cardio machine and go rather slow. Then move over to the ab mat and be lazy about working your abs. And lazily go from machine to machine.
No one is telling you that you can’t be lazy and slow. You’re feeling what you’re feeling. All I’m saying is that at some point, the lazy haze will go away and you’ll have an increase in energy.
It happens like clockwork to the clients I can get in to try it. But talking a lazy person into getting into their car is sometimes a task.
Exercise Isn’t Actually Hard at All
Exercise isn’t hard when done right.
I stand by that statement from the beginning to the end. If you know how to navigate the potential traps, then you’ll make it through just fine.
There are, of course, a number of ways that you can increase the intensity and put a person through hell. But it isn’t necessary.
Increase the intensity of your workouts by baby steps and you won’t even realize that you’ve reached superhuman status.