I Know Why You Go To Extremes

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Why did I post this awesome song that formed a musical bridge between the decades of the 80s and the 90s? Easy, because the tagline is exactly what many people who workout do without even knowing it. Like an internet message board, life is all about moderation (remind me to quote myself later, I like that one).

With exercise it is very easy to get caught up in THE BEST EVAAARRRRR syndrome that permeates out marketing driven society. Whatever we use has to be the best in our eyes. We also like knowing what the purpose of something is if it requires effort. Otherwise, we’d rather do something with no purpose that requires no effort (Research what myosin is? Why do I have to know that? I could be playing Angry Birds).

Most purchases and commitments we make result in us getting what we wanted fairly quickly. Fast food that takes more than 2 minutes to throw out the drive-thru window is an abomination. We verify instantly that the book we ordered is being shipped and when it will be delivered down to the second (I’ve never seen such neurotic monitoring of packages as I have in the past 5 years. When I was a kid the UPS man would leave a box at the door and that was it). Even buying a car rarely takes more than a day if the consumer did research ahead of time. Significant material changes can take place in one’s life literally in less time than it takes to write about it.

Fitness on the other hand is a long term commitment. It is a slowly changing relationship you have to be patient with and nurture for optimal results. Like relationships between people, there is often an illogical attraction to that which is new, intense and exciting. Boring and repetitive is the relationship that will support your goals, but it’s soooooo boring! Thus, you dump boring for extreme because it is the aforementioned new, intense and exciting. It is only after a month or two of dating a base-jumping-race-car-driving-shark-wrestler that you realize that the very thing that drew you to them is the very thing that is going to make you leave them. Here are two fictional but otherwise realistic examples:

 

There is no science, physics, quantum mechanics, alchemy or sorcery that will make you shed 12% bodyfat and gain 30lbs of muscle in just one week of going to a gym. Your logic tells you every single time you see one of those Ultimate Mass Gain ads in the muscle mags that there is no way that you can end up looking like Johnny Giantarms in 3 weeks. But your imagination, the resident troublemaker in your life, chimes in and says “Dude that is totally doable! The program seems easy enough, you just drink shakes and do a 6 day bodypart split. Nothing but volume sets of forced reps”. So what do you do? You start the program and swear by it. You give sermons at the gym about how well its working for you, how everyone should be doing it and that its the only thing that works, blah, blah, blah. Then week number 3 rolls around…

You’ve lost 2% bodyfat and gained a pound of muscle. Looking in the mirror, you feel that you look pretty similar to who you were 3 weeks ago. You look nothing even remotely like Johnny Giantarms! However your friends all notice a difference. Maybe your shoulders have more definition, or your lats flare out a touch more. You also bench, press and squat more weight than before. Nope, doesn’t count. You wanted to gain 30 lbs and even though you made good progress for someone without any “help”, you’re peeved. Livid, you fire off angry emails to the company complaining that even though the fine print said that the advertised results were not typical, you’ve always been an overachiever and therefore should have had even better results. They politely ignore your rant while you now tell everyone at the gym that the program sucks. Your new muscle messiah is a program that has you eating 7 vegetables a day while doing nothing but 50 rep bodyweight squats and pushups.

 

Maybe your goal wasn’t bulking but “toning up” your butt and thighs. Fearing “fempertrophy” (the immediate and explosive growth of muscle that occurs whenever a female touches a dumbell over 5lbs), you decide to buy $150 worth of “Hollywood Body Double Celebrity Workout” DVDs. And since the DVDs are worthless without the $300 juicer, $25 meal plan notebook, and $49 monthly online subscription to a 24hour virtual trainer, you end up shelling out quite a bit of money before doing your first jumping jack.

Speaking of jumping, boy do you jump in! For the first few weeks, you do the workouts everyday. Then its every other day. Then there’s late work meetings, having friends over or just being tired. By now you’ve done the workouts so many times, you know what the instructor is going to say by heart. At first what was cute and endearing is now enough to send you into a raw juice fueled murderous rage. The peppy, upbeat dance music now grates on your very last nerves and at this very instant, you realize the thrill is gone.

Sure, you lost 4 pounds in a month guzzling juice and staying active. But your body doesn’t look like that model who did the infomercial. What a ripoff! Discouraged, you sell the DVDs on eBay, the juicer sits unused in a hallway closet and the meal plan notebook becomes the most expensive loose leaf binder in your house. And that 24hr virtual trainer got more than a few profanity laden instant messages before you cancelled the service. You cease all physical activities until the next craze hits the market. THAT one will work. It WON’T be like the others.

 

What do all these examples have in common? Extremes of course. Extremes of diving into something that was too much to do. Extremes of thinking that slick advertising was a shortcut for consistent hard work. Extremes of not giving the body a chance to change by believing ridiculous transformation time estimates. And the extreme of changing your entire life to fit around a workout in one fell swoop.

Going to extremes leaves no room for balance in your life. Enthusiasm and energy are not endless resources. Run out of either one and you will become depressed, tired or sick. For the record, there is nothing wrong with workout videos or celebrity endorsed workouts. However you should understand something about the human body: it is not a damned Transformer. If you expect to go from Dwight Schrute to Dwyane Johnson in 2 weeks, you have bigger issues than what any trainer can or should help you with.

So how do you avoid going to extremes? Recognize exercise programs for what they are: a blueprint for a new you. They are not the 15th Commandment and they are not federal law. They are not magic and they are not revolutionary. At best, they are simply new presentations of the same basic functions that our bodies have been doing for eons. Never let the “fun” aspect mask the motions. In both cases, there were verifiable changes but the magnitude was lower than expected, therefore the false assumption was that the programs didn’t work. The mechanics worked even when the novelty wore off.

Find a program that is SUSTAINABLE (that’s the new buzzword that people throw around to make other believe they love the spotted owl and rain forests). In the two examples, the programs were not sustainable for the users. This lead to disillusionment and abandoning of the activity. If a program is designed for last for 3 months, make sure you can handle 6 days a week if that’s what it calls for. Make sure you know how to do an RDL if its in the exercise list. If not, pick a different program that you will stick with. Your goals should drive what program you select for yourself, not how ripped/hot/skinny/popular the trainer/model/child-actor-making-acomeback selling the program is.

 

Next time you see something on tv or in a magazine, I hope you’ll think twice before spontaneously reacting just because it’s the new craze or it’s been proven to cause some elite athlete to do some elite athletic thing even more elitely. All you need to know is if it will work with your goals and personality. Why? Because you know why you went to extremes.

And you aren’t doing that anymore.

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