Most people hate exercise.
It’s painful and boring, and results often happen at a glacial pace, making it near impossible to stick with it through the painful and boring parts.
This is such a common association with exercise that when we talk about making exercise fun and actually enjoying what you’re doing, a lot of people don’t even know what to do with that. How can something so awful be enjoyable?
- Are we masochists? That’s up for debate.
- Sadists trying to trick thousands of people into torture? Nope, we’re not that sneaky.
The benefits of exercise for both physical and emotional health are undeniable, and you want those benefits. Let’s reframe things a bit so you can get those benefits without continuing to force yourself to do this thing you hate.
Exercise Does Not Have to Be a Punishment
We’ve been conditioned to hate exercise, from our very early days in middle school P.E. where “drop down and give me 20” was a common punishment for showing up late or failing to run fast enough around the gym.
Even for many (if not most) “gym nuts,” that association of exercise with punishment is still present.
So many people view exercise as a punishment for other behaviors about which they are ashamed, usually eating-related behaviors.
- Ate an entire pie of pizza? Your penance is 90 minutes on the treadmill.
- Enjoyed some delicious ice cream cake at your son’s birthday party? Burn 500 calories on the elliptical, say three Hail Marys, and call me in the morning.
You hear phrases like “embrace the suck” all the time. That’s an interesting one, because there is some value in that statement—just not the way most people mean it.
Here’s how most people mean it:
Exercise sucks and it has to suck. You’d better embrace how shitty it makes you feel, or you won’t be able to get that rockin’ summer bod’ you’ve been chasing and wrapping all your self-worth in for the past who-knows-how-many years.
Here’s how that phrase can mean something much healthier:
When you’re learning anything new, there’s inevitably going to be a period of time where you “suck” at that thing. No one likes sucking at things, so there is a certain amount of “embracing the suck” that you have to do to get from those initial learning phases to the next phase (at which point you can start sucking all over again!).
That doesn’t mean that the experience has to suck.
If you’re trying to learn something you’re excited about and enjoying (which we’ll get to in a few minutes), even if you have to embrace the process of sucking at something new, the experience doesn’t have to suck, nor should it.
There are MANY Ways to Get Exercise
One of the fallacies about exercise is that it means something really specific—going on the treadmill or elliptical (or other cardio machine); doing weight machines at the gym; running; yoga; etc.
Many people see exercise in a very narrow light, so if they don’t like doing those things they associate with exercise, they assume they have no option but to hate exercise (or skip it altogether). Thus perpetuates the vicious cycle of committing to a new training program, hating every second of it, and giving up after a week or two… only to start again a couple of months later.
But there are so many ways to get exercise! And limiting yourself to seeing it as only one or two things just means you won’t ever get where you want to with it. Here is a (very, very, very incomplete) list of possibilities, just to show you some of what our staff members do for exercise:
There’s no way for us to know exactly what you might enjoy, but the point is to open your mind a bit. It’s worth trying different things and seeing what feels right. That could mean finding an active hobby that you support by building the attributes you need to do that hobby well (attributes like strength, flexibility, motor control, balance, etc). Or it could mean finding a particular approach to training that you just really love.
How to Have Fun with Your Training (Without it Being a Free-For-All)
So, here’s where things can get a little dicey if you don’t have the right approach.
It can be easy to think that choosing activities that are fun for you means throwing all structure out the window. It’s just one, big, kindergarten recess party!
But, in the context of training, fun without any structure at all isn’t going to get you closer to the goals that are important to you. (In case you’re not sure why we keep harping on doing things that help you toward your goals, or what that even means for you, read this article and and this article).
The sweet spot is finding ways to merge a healthy dose of fun with the right amount of structure to help you achieve what you want with your training.
Here are some ways to do that.
Expand Your Movement Vocabulary
Most people are doing more or less the same few exercises they’ve been doing since high school. If you can’t even think of any exercises you enjoy, it’s probably time to learn some new stuff.
We’ve got tons of different movement ideas over on our YouTube channel and on our Instagram and Facebook feeds, so go check those out if you’re looking for some different ideas. Here’s one video that might give you a different way of looking at things. Ryan goes through movements from our Elements program, with lots of different variations.
I’m guessing that looks pretty different from your typical “workout.”
Obviously, we find this kind of training to be a lot of fun (while being very useful and effective), but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you. I’m sharing this just to give you some ideas and different things to play around with. If you’ve only been working with a narrow selection of exercises, trying something new can make a huge difference in your exercise experience.
Learn How to Play With Yourself (Productively)
Of course your training’s gonna feel grueling if it’s all about pushing harder and harder and harder, which is how most people approach exercise.
There’s a time and a place for pushing your body. What most people don’t realize, though, is how beneficial it can be to sometimes take your foot off the gas and add an element of play into your training. In fact, it’s actually a fundamental building block of good training and learning skills.
We’ve got a whole article that talks about this in detail, but the most important thing to understand is this:
What that means is that you put work into learning skills or exercises you want to learn, then you drop those down a level (to a level you’re comfortable with) and play with what you can do with those skills or exercises. This brings a whole new layer to your learning process, and makes things a whole lot more fun and enjoyable.
That’s a lot different than forcing yourself to do a few extra minutes on the treadmill, isn’t it?
Exercise You Enjoy Beats Exercise You Hate Any Day
A lot of people might think that exercise isn’t supposed to be enjoyable, that it has a purpose and it doesn’t really matter if you like it or not. If you hated taking medicine for your dangerously high blood pressure, you’d still have to take it anyway, right?
But exercise doesn’t exactly work that way.
Yes, it’s an essential part of keeping you healthy, but for most people, that’s not enough to motivate them to keep doing it consistently if they hate every second of it.
A physical practice you enjoy—that you’ll find 10 minutes for even on a really busy day because it just makes you feel better—is gonna take you a lot further than a “perfect” workout you hate doing. Consistent practice is the key to long-term success and making a significant impact on your health.
Our Vitamin program has helped 16,897 people (and counting!) with making exercise a fun and useful part of their daily lives—something they can look forward to ever day!
We’re in the midst of doing a full update to Vitamin, including moving it over to our Praxis platform, so it’ll be an even better, more enjoyable experience. If you’re interested in Vitamin, sign up below to find out when the new version is available.