Why Workouts Fail #2 – The Scale

I tried incredibly hard – probably WAY harder than I should have – to come up with a catchy title for this article…but when it comes right down to it…it’s really simple. The Scale – the common bathroom scale – is a major reason why workouts fail.

Yeah, you heard me right. The Scale is a problem. There are a few reasons why, but The Scale is Public Enemy No. 1 in workout world. The Scale contributes in a HUGE way to what I’m calling “Perceived Lack of Results”. “PLOR” is why an incredible number of people get frustrated and just give up.  The scale can make you think you’re on top of the world or a complete and total failure.

It’s all. About. The Scale.

The Scale Doesn’t Lie – 

As a matter of fact, The Scale is incredibly honest. Too honest. The Scale doesn’t know how to lie – It knows how to do one thing: Tell you exactly what you weigh. 

Isn’t that the point?

Yes and no. The Scale will tell you what you weigh, but the problem is there are a lot of factors that play into how much, exactly, you weigh RIGHT NOW. How much you weigh over time. Your weight loss or gain trends. Stress, sodium intake, hydration (or lack thereof), sweating, fat loss/gain and muscle loss/gain all affect what you weigh. And don’t forget – the food you actually eat throughout the day weighs something too! All of these things can play into a false sense of where you’re at when you step onto the scale.

So far I’ve thrown a lot of information at you, even though it may not seem like it. Let’s take it one bite at a time (hah, I made a funny).

Stress – 
Being under high levels of stress, which isn’t uncommon these days, can lead to weight gain (or to the scale staying the same – we’ll come back to that) as discussed in this article on WebMD, this article on MedicineNet, and this post on About.com Health. I’m taking away three distinct factors from all these (and more) discussions about stress and weight gain –

1. When you’re stressed your body enters a primal “fight or flight” mode and generates a number of hormones, including Cortisol. Cortisol serves to facilitate fat and carbohydrate metabolism, but it also triggers insulin release to help regulate blood sugar. The end result is YOU craving more high-carb high-sugar foods. Helloooooo tub-o-ice cream.

2. Cortisol, a result of stress, causes your body to store fat deep in the abdominal area. This not only produces an INCREDIBLY attractive gut-like appearance in the belly, but it’s also the kind of fat store that can lead to health issues.

3. When you’re stressed there’s lots of nervous energy that needs to be expended – your body and mind have to find a comforting activity. Many times, eating becomes that comforting activity and, HOW CONVENIENT – you can go ahead and nom on that high-sugar high-carb stuff you’re craving as a result of cortisol release. Perfect.

Sodium Intake, Hydration / De-hydration and sweating-

Where does all that salt come from?

The ideal daily sodium intake is around 2,300 mg. I don’t know if you’ve looked at sodium levels in some of the foods you eat, but it can be INCREDIBLY difficult to keep sodium levels low…especially if you eat out at all. The chart to the right shows you where all the salt in your food comes from – if you look at it you’ll see why the more “processed” food you eat, and the more “processed” it is, the more salt you can’t help but take in. Increased sodium levels make you retain water (don’t believe me? Google it). Retaining water makes you weigh more – water has weight, right? Totally makes sense. If you decide you’re gonna stop drinking water and get pretty dehydrated – yeah, the scale is probably going to look a little bit better, but you’ll be disappointed next week/month when you weigh in and you’re hydrated differently than the last time.

And just like taking in or not taking in enough water can affect your weight – you’re obviously going to weigh less after you’ve just gotten done sweating out a bunch of water. In my experience, I can sweat out 1-2 lbs of water (maybe even more) during a super-intense workout (1+ hours), yours may vary, but that IS a significant amount of weight just from sweating. Your body will replenish it when you have that post-workout “oh-my-god-I’m-dying-of-thirst” water guzzle, so this is an even more temporary fluctuation than the others, but it is a weight fluctuation just the same.

Food Weighs Something – 
This one’s quick, easy and obvious – the food you eat weighs something. If you weigh yourself before you eat in the morning you will weigh less than if you weighed yourself after eating. Every time. There is no food out there that makes you lighter after you eat it (and if there is, tell me!). 

And this leaves me with my favorite point to make, and the one that, I think, really brings this whole article together:

MUSCLE WEIGHS MORE THAN FAT –
No, this is not just some kind of corny line – volume-wise, muscle weighs more than fat. Think of it like a pound of feathers and a pound of gold – it’s gonna take a super-huge pile of feathers to weigh a pound – that pile is going to take up a lot of space. The same weight of gold is small, sleek and in a tight tiny package. Same goes for muscle and fat. Fat is less dense than muscle, thus 5 lbs of fat takes up a lot more real estate than muscle.

Let’s put it another way that’s easier to understand:

  Starting to get the picture?

Muscle is tighter and denser than fat – same weight, smaller package. If the scale doesn’t move, or barely moves, it’s likely because you’re building muscle while at the same time burning fat. The more muscle you have in your body the more calories you’ll burn – your body has to burn calories to feed all the muscle on your body.  That’s a good thing. Don’t be afraid of building muscle.

No. Not necessarily.  Wasn’t the goal to burn fat? Get healthy? Get fit? Yes, you’ll lose some weight, but it’s going  to come to a point where you stop losing weight so rapidly. You might even stay the same for a while. This could be a true plateau or it could just be some muscle gain (I’ll cover true plateaus in another article), but either one can be overcome. I lost 107 lbs so far – it did not steadily come off 5 – 10 lbs per week. There were weeks I didn’t lose weight. There were weeks I GAINED a little. You have to think LONG TERM with your weight-loss and fitness goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was your body. Be confident in what you’re doing and believe in yourself. If you get so frustrated that you want to smash the scale and throw it out the window…well…I’ll pretend I didn’t see you do it.

So, what? I can’t trust The Scale?

Like I said – The Scale will ALWAYS tell you exactly what you weigh…at that moment…with no regard for muscle vs. fat, hydration, stress, etc. Weigh yourself at your own risk. Don’t weigh yourself more than once a week – definitely not daily. The number The Scale tells you is NOT the only number in the world that matters. Trust other measurement methods. How do you FEEL? How do you LOOK? Are your clothes fitting looser? Can you tighten your belt more? Do you see more muscle definition when you flex? Has your body fat % gone down? Don’t let the number The Scale tells you skew the image you see in the mirror.

When you start a program and take your “before” pictures, whip out a measuring tape and get your measurements – neck, chest, waist, hips, thighs, biceps, calves, etc. You’ll be glad you did, because THOSE are the measurements that count. If those are changing in a positive direction, the weight will follow. Believe in yourself and stay positive – don’t let The Scale make you think you’re failing.

Conquer – The Truth About Motivation

6:20 AM. Only slept about 5 hours. Do I want to work out right now? No. Is it Leg Day again? Yes.

Sh!t. It’s gonna be one of those days.

I would honestly love nothing more right now than to just go back to bed, pretend it’s a rest day, and just relax. I’m tired. I don’t feel like it. Wah. I just lack motivation right now. As I sit here writing an article for my fitness blog. Ironic.

Or is it? How many people out there in fitness land suffer from this exact same issue at LEAST every once in a while? How about every day? How do people motivate themselves to continually plug away at it. Day in and day out. Throwing themselves at a workout, hurling themselves down the pavement, turning on that motor that never seems to run out of gas?

Maybe it’s the knowledge that if we don’t get moving – if we don’t kick-start ourselves – we’ll regret it later. This is a post both for the fitness freaks and the workout newbies. Why? Because we all fight the Siren‘s Call of our pillow, of the couch, of anything that ISN’T our running shoes, dumbbells, bike…or otherwise sweat-related item.

In my last post (Defeating Demotivators #1 – The Fear Monster) I mentioned that for newbies or pre-newbies suffering from The Fear Monster being surrounded by positivity and encouragement was key to getting them to stick with it. I said it was incredibly important to be gentle. What about for those of us who are already hardcore into fitness? Or who have broken past the fear barrier and do work?

 We reach a point where “gentle” doesn’t WORK anymore.

Sometimes a soft nudge doesn’t do it anymore. Let’s be real – if you’re that guy on the lookout for people who can’t get the courage to work out, if you’re the person helping others…and YOU can’t get yourself to the gym / road / mat / etc…maybe a shove is more like it.

Or maybe it’s not.

What really motivates people?

I am not a psychologist, but there is a real psychological science to motivation. This, above, is called Maslow’s Hierarcy of Needs (created by Abraham Maslow – an American Psychologist). It breaks down the structure of people’s motivation. It’s not designed around fitness, but we can definitely apply it for our purposes. People work out for different reasons, and I would say these reasons all fall into the top four parts of the pyramid. Moving forward, an important principle of this hierarchy is to understand that Maslow said people will be more motivated to fulfill lower-order needs before higher-order ones – we’ll also assume that you’re properly fed, hydrated and rested so we can ignore the bottom tier (I’m REALLY simplifying this).

Safety Needs – This is INTENDED to talk about people taking care of their own personal safety and security – ensuring they are not in immediate danger. Makes sense, right? Tough to paint a picture if someone’s pointing a gun at your head. That’s the idea here. Let’s adapt this tier for fitness.

This is where people who have a dire health issue from lack of fitness/nutrition get their motivation. When your doctor looks you in the face and tells you that you’re so overweight you’re going to get diabetes and potentially lose your sight or your foot…well I think that’s enough motivation to get to the gym, don’t you? These people generally don’t need much more of a kick in the pants than that. I was not quite that large, so this wasn’t enough for me.

Belongingness and Love Needs – This is people’s need for friends, intimate relationships, love, etc. We are social creatures, and once we’ve taken care of the basic “survival” needs of food/water/rest and the safety need of not being in immediate danger we move on to the need for other people.

This is one of the biggest motivators out there. This is why Crossfit is so successful. This is why so many people can’t get off their butts and do work without a workout partner. People need people. So many people can’t/won’t do it for themselves, but if they can become accepted and part of a community…we have found the key to the kingdom. Crossfit (from my outsider perspective) is a community of people helping each other and kicking each other’s butts into gear. People like to be a part of something. That’s why people join clubs in school. If you know the other guy is going to give you a whole world of hassle for not showing up at the gym today, YOU’RE GONNA GO. People who feel they are physically unattractive and want to be able to land a girlfriend/boyfriend would also fall into this category, but I am inclined to think most people who feel they are physically unattractive fall into the next tier.

Esteem Needs – This tier is about people who have met the basic survival needs, who feel like they belong and have their people-needs met (for the most part, at least) and can focus on themselves. They can make themselves feel better. They can focus on their own self-esteem.

These are the people who are not happy with the picture in the mirror. These are the people who want that ripped six-pack and are tired of the gut. The people who want to accomplish something. These people sometimes need the MOST motivation of all, because in general…they’re pretty satisfied. I’m pretty sure I fall into this category. The health issue wasn’t enough for me, I was already in a committed relationship and had friends and family all around me, so I know it wasn’t the other two tiers. So how do I know I’m not the next tier? There are days when I’m just not feeling it. I don’t WANNA. I’ll be bold and say that these are the people who, when they don’t get off their butts, need a swift kick in the tail to get moving. These are the people who can do it, who usually want to do it, and generally are doing it – for themselves. When you’re not doing it for someone else, for acceptance, for belonging…it’s easy to skip a day. When you’re the only one holding you accountable you’re more inclined to cut yourself some slack. It’s OK…you’ve been working hard. You deserve a break. I won’t tell the boss.

GARBAGE.

Get up. GET OUT. And do work.  You’re not going to feel TRULY FULFILLED unless you go do that workout! Run that 5 miler. Whatever it is, it’s for you. Make you happy. Because, really…

Your excuse is invalid.
Self-Actualization – This tier is my favorite. The whole rest of the pyramid has been “extrinsic” motivation – people getting their motivation from outside sources. Something is pushing them to do their workout. People who are in the self-actualization tier are doing it from a completely intrinsic motivation. 

These people love to work out. They are doing it for the sheer joy of it. They’re trying to reach their full potential. They’re trying to make their masterpiece. They don’t need a self-esteem boost – they’re already awesome. They don’t need acceptance. They’re not facing a health risk. These are the “obsessed nutballs” who do an hour workout, run 5 miles in record time then come back and DO ANOTHER WORKOUT. They are climbing Mt. Freaking Everest and loving every minute of it. If you are one of these people, congratulations my friend – 
You have reached the mountaintop.
I HOPE that I get to this point. Yes, I really enjoy the workout program I’m doing right now. Body Beast is freaking AWESOME. It is, however, still work. And work sucks. For the “obsessed nutballs”, workouts are not work at all. They are fun. They are playtime. They are recreation.
Whatever tier you fall into, whatever it is that motivates you…one thing holds true for everyone:
You need to get out there and DO IT. 
Be healthy. Be accepted. Be happy. Be awesome.  
 Take today by the balls and own it.

Defeating Demotivators #1 – The Fear Monster

In the spirit of “Motivational Monday” I want to take a moment to touch on something I was talking about with a fitness friend at work over the last couple of days. It’s actually a loose end I need to tie up from the last couple of articles I wrote. In The “I Don’t Feel Like It” Syndrome I talked about people who just won’t get off the couch, can’t/won’t get motivated to work out in the first place, and never take that all-important first step. In Why Workouts Fail #1 – The Napoleon Complex (my favorite article so far) I talk about people who take the leap, try going to the gym or working out and run into a big issue that drives them away.

Ok…what about the people in the middle?

The people who aren’t entirely opposed to working out, but haven’t taken that step yet? Who haven’t braved the gym, the home-gym, the pavement, trail, pool, whatever? Or tried and gave up? If these people aren’t against it…and they might have some motivation to do it…why haven’t they gotten to it yet?

Fear. Fear can stop the most powerful locomotive in its tracks. Fear is, I think, one of the biggest demotivators out there. Fear of what, though? Fear of failing. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of embarassment. Fear of disappointing yourself or others. Fear of doing it wrong. Fear of the unknown.

Fear can be one of the toughest demotivators to beat. Especially if someone doesn’t have friends or family around them who are “into” fitness. Unfortunately, unless those people have a big life-altering event or a breaking point like I had (see My Story) that fear can be so paralyzing and show-stopping that they just never leave the safety of “not trying”. I would go so far as to say that over time, those people can start to suffer from The “I Don’t Feel Like It” Syndrome, forgetting the curiosity or motivation they had in the first place and losing it entirely to fear. It’s tough to get past the fear when you’re on your own little island and there’s noone around to help you ease into fitness. If you ARE a fitness type, be on the lookout for these people. How do you tell who these people are, though?

For one, they’re not already a fitness freak. They don’t work out, they probably don’t eat “right” (but might try to or make half-efforts), and for all intents and purposes they closely resemble the people suffering from The “I Don’t Feel Like It” Syndrome in all areas except their attitude towards fitness.
Though, I will say, that doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t, at some point, attempted to do it on their own. Remember that part where Joey Howyadoin shows up and offers a spot (IDFLI Syndrome)? Where I’d say “Yeah, that was just a warm-up set, let’s DO this!”, someone suffering from this demotivator would probably say “Actually, that was my last set, I’m all wrapped up. Thanks though!” while they’re thinking sweet Lord, get me OUT of here! 

Aaaand that was probably the last time they set foot in anything resembling a gym.

The biggest tell, though, is that they’re curious. They’ll poke their head in while you’re working out. They’ll ask you questions about your workout for the day or the program you’re doing. They’ll make little comments that could be a conversation starter. In some form or fashion, they come to you. This is very important – as mentioned before…you just can’t force someone to get fit…they have to want it…and if they’re curious, any traumatic workout attempt they might have had in the past is far enough out of their memory that now they’re open to it.

So how do I help this person defeat the demotivator?

GENTLY. First off, yes – they’re open to it, and that’s incredibly important, but don’t forget…the demotivator we’re trying to beat is FEAR. I feel silly saying it but please don’t forget that you can…well…scare them away if you’re too aggressive. I know, seems obvious, right? What you might think is easy beans might be momentously challenging for them, so keep that in mind as you try to help them, and think of super-easy ways to ease them in.

Considering that they either have never worked out before or tried something and got scared away you might need to help them figure out what exactly works best for them.  

PRO-TIP: Something is better than nothing.

You might be a little disappointed when they seem like they’re trying something that doesn’t, to you, seem like a “real” workout – but again…what YOU think is easy and a waste of time might be super-challenging for them. ***Go at their pace*** There is no faster way to lose them to the fear than to go beyond their comfort zone. Too fast too soon is a recipe for disaster. I did this exact process with my mom – I started by working out and setting the example. She saw my transformation as it was happening and was there as my story was unfolding, so she was proud of me and wanted to see how I was doing it. I eased her in with Tony Horton’s 10 Minute Trainer. Literally 10 minute workouts. Over time, she started working in Cardio X from P90X (a 40 minute relatively easy cardio routine), and not too long after that she took on P90X in its entirety and was talking about doing Les Mills COMBAT with me and my fiancee. For your fitness-fearing friend or family member it may be running that does it for them – start with walking. It may be biking – start with a couple miles. Whatever it is (and I can’t say it enough) ease them into it.

This may be a slow process. STICK WITH IT!

What’s going to be SUPER IMPORTANT with these people is to keep them surrounded by positive images, encouragement and support. If they’re fighting against fear, its not going to be easy for them, and they’re going to need continued support until they finally break past the wall and get confident. It could very well be the case that not only do they need a cheerleader on the sidelines, but they need a teammate right there next to them on gameday. If they need a workout partner…be that partner or maybe find one for them. My fiancee was side by side with me throughout four workout programs and 103 lbs – it DEFINITELY helps. Everyone has something that will help them break through the fear barrier – whatever it is, help them find it and make sure they understand that there’s nothing in their way.

At the end of the day it will all be worth it. Don’t worry – given time and support, they can and will get there.

The “I Don’t Feel Like It” Syndrome

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about all the reasons why people don’t work out. I know I covered the Napoleon complex in another post, but that’s just one of many reasons. While there are many people out there who suffer from the issues of the Napoleon complex, there are even more who didn’t even get that far…they don’t try to start working out in the first place (hence why I didn’t even call this “why workouts fail”…we didn’t get to the workout yet!). But WHY?

The short answer is – It requires work, involves change, and people just don’t feel like it. Why do we need to when everything is more or less handed to us and made easy? The average American eats what they feel like when they feel like it (and if cooking is required, it can usually be microwaved). They watch a lot of tv, relax on the couch, and don’t do a whole lot of physical activity (unless required at their job). Yeah, there’s yard work or some light home / car maintenance to do, but once in a while, or in short bursts of a couple days – nothing regular and routine. They go out for drinks when they feel like it or come up with reasons to have a drink or two (or three) almost every night at home “because it was a rough day”. Maybe they’re carrying a little extra weight. So what? All in all, life is good. Nothing stellar, but it’s not awful.We have achieved mediocrity. Mediocrity is easy.

So…why change that?

Because, honestly…getting fit, eating right and making a change requires work. And this isn’t just any kind of work – we’re talking a complete lifestyle change. That kind of work is hard. People would have to give up or severely limit some of their favorite things – use free time they’d otherwise spend watching the 100+ hours of DVR’d T.V. shows they have to, instead, work out and sweat balls.

All manner of excuses come up at this point – on the surface they’re all invalid and complete BS as far as I’m concerned. I won’t bother listing them all, but suffice it to say – “I don’t have time” is not nearly the most creative one. People will come up with any reason to get people off their case about working out, and if that doesn’t work, they’ll either use humor or get hostile until you leave them alone. I was like that for a long time. There are just so many things that can demotivate a person, and they got me.

So how do you change that? How do you convince that person to start working out or get healthy?

Generally…you can’t.

I know…not the revelation you were hoping for. Problem is, these people can’t just be forced to do it. It’s a big change, and they have to want it. There’s way too much effort, change and plain ol’ work involved in something like this for it to work without SOME level of personal stake being in it. You can try to drag them into a workout with you, and they might go with it reluctantly…for a while. In the end, it just won’t maintain. They’ll complain and find reasons why not…and the first time you don’t work out with them, they just won’t do it. Why? Too many people are perfectly satisfied – or at the very least, able to accept – mediocrity.

This is the part where something has to happen within them.

I talk about what happened for me in My Story – and boy was it bad – but it’s going to be different for everyone. In the end, something has to happen – some kind of personal revelation or big change – to make them want it. The best you can do is keep making it appear as appealing as you can, lead by example. When they’re ready, it’ll make the whole thing much less intimidating. Many times these people will be hesitant to recant and join you since they’ve been so adamantly, sometimes vocally opposed to this whole process – they can’t just admit they were wrong and join you (what a blow to the ego!). So be there and be available. When the time is right, they’ll come to you. It takes something different for each individual person, but when the right motivation hits, they’ll finally want it.

On that note – I’m gonna go for a run before I work all day. What are YOU gonna do?

Why Workouts Fail #1 – The Napoleon Complex

Napoleon Bonaparte

So I got to thinking about why workouts fail – ultimately, why people don’t work out. I was one of those guys for a long LONG time. I just…didn’t work out. I’d go to the gym with my Delta Chi brothers and do…kind of a workout. In the end I’d only go a couple of times a month. I’d try going on my own since there was a gym conveniently close to my dorm…didn’t stick with it. Obviously there’s a LOT of reasons people don’t work out. Many of these reasons are completely lame and not an excuse…but some are actually pretty justifiable. My workout for today got me thinking about this…and about one reason in particular – the Napoleon complex.

That’s him, right at the top of this post – Napoleon Bonaparte. I linked to Wikipedia for those of you who weren’t in school that day, but the short version is, he was short and didn’t like it. Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

(A Napoleon complex) is characterized by overly-aggressive or domineering social behaviour, and carries the implication that such behaviour is compensatory for the subjects’ stature. The term is also used more generally to describe people who are driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate in other aspects of their lives.

 See that part I made bold? There’s the workout problem right there. I think nearly every time I’ve gone to the gym I’ve seen other people working out, and I feel like as soon as I start putting weight on the bar I’m going to be judged. And I sit there, with what I feel like is dinky weight, feeling like everyone’s looking at me like…

Seriously, Bro. Do you even lift?

At that point many people just kinda…leave.

“Whoops! I forgot about an appointment!”

“Crap! I totally midjudged my time, I’m late for work!”

However, it is at precisely this moment that people like me do something stupid. Because it is at precisely this moment that Joey Howyadoin shows up like he’s God’s gift to lifting and goes

“Hey Bro, you need a spot?”

OF COURSE! Because that was just my warm-up set. Let’s crank this up! Aaaaand on goes the weight. Next thing you know I’m putting myself in a really bad position where best case scenario I embarrass the ever-loving bejeezus out of myself and worst case I end up hurting myself. Why? Because everyone else in the place looks like they’re lifting this:

Over 1000 lbs on a barbell

and there I am with my two marshmallows on a straw. So the Napoleon complex kicks in and I try to go hard. Whoops…guess I’m not showing my face in the gym for…ever. It’s ok…my pals Mr. Couch, Tony the T.V. and Chester the Cheetah (Cheetos, anyone?) will comfort my ailing ego.

So what’s the moral of the story?

Don’t worry about what everyone else in the gym is doing. Don’t worry about that guy benching 400 lbs like its boring. Don’t worry about the people on Facebook posting pics of their one-handed handstand when all you seem to manage is somersaults. Worry about YOU. Because at the end of the day, what they did doesn’t matter in YOUR fitness world, and their mind-bending workout isn’t what’s building muscle on YOU. Or burning fat off YOUR body (even though watching them might make you feel worn out). Don’t be afraid to start with (what you think is) light weight. Don’t be afraid to take it easy the first time you do something. It’s good to feel out your abilities and test the water. If you do it right this will not be the last time you do this workout. You will have the chance to up your weights next time…when you have a better idea of what’s ACTUALLY a good idea.

During every dvd at-home workout program I do, the coach/leader/whatever basically says this same thing in different ways, but I think Tony Horton (creator of P90X) said it best:

Do your best and forget the rest!