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!