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Six ways to fall in love with exercise

If you want to get in shape you simply have to embrace fitness…

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I am not crazy.

I have run outside in minus 30C.

I have skipped out on free lunches to hit the gym.

My workout equipment is worth more than my car.

You could say I’m crazy for exercise and this is because I’ve got a positive mindset about exercise. I have a desire to be a workout warrior and you can too. Here’s how:

1. Stop looking for a quick fix
Have you ever heard the expression, “Only 20 minutes, three times a week” and you’ll have a fabulous body? Well, not only is it a lie, but it’s bad math. Infomercials that promise their complicated contraption can get you in shape with minimal effort promote a terrible mindset: they give you the idea that exercise is a punishment to be endured by promising you only need to do a little to achieve your goals.

2. Forget about weight loss… For now
A recent study proves what I’ve believed for years: that it takes a long time to become a dedicated exerciser. You can’t just jump into fitness and expect some “miracle transformation” program and be in fantastic shape in 12 weeks.

Your overriding goal needs to be about becoming a regular exerciser, and to heck with weight loss. Just going from couch potato to being someone who exercises two or so hours a week is a major accomplishment that you should be proud of. Any weight loss that takes place in the early stages is just a bonus. Once you get an active lifestyle ingrained you can start thinking about pushing exercise further and incorporating the dietary changes necessary to achieve the body you want.

3. Get professional help
One of the many problems with get-fit-quick schemes is they ignore the fact that, regardless of the activity, exercise is a set of skills that requires time, effort and education to learn. If you’ve never lifted weights and walk into a gym totally clueless then you’ll at best hate it, and at worst injure yourself. However, reading up or hiring a qualified instructor to guide you through the process of a new activity builds what is called self-efficacy: a situation-specific form of self-confidence that reduces your initial anxiety with tackling a new activity so that you can approach it with a more positive, can-do attitude.

4. Understand the psychology of exercise motivation
Self-efficacy is an important aspect, but there is more. A desire to get in shape often starts with fear of disease or the consequences of inactivity, but this is a terrible motivator, so get past it. A sense of duty often comes next: a desire to be healthy to be better able to look after one’s family. This is OK, but not nearly as good as your ultimate goal, which is to develop serious passion for exercise.

Passion comes from achieving positive reinforcement. If the “stimulus” of exercise elicits a positive “response” like feeling good, then the behaviour becomes reinforced and you keep doing it. Over time, by actively looking for things regarding exercise that make you feel good, you create a mindset where you are passionate about exercise. Hoo-rah.

5. Take advantage of extrinsic motivators
An extrinsic motivator is an external pressure to exercise. For example:
•    A dog holding a leash in his mouth and giving you “the look.”
•    A friend who will give you heck if you don’t meet her at the gym.
•    A boot camp class where you’ll be missed if you skip.
•    A personal trainer who makes you accountable.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to develop intrinsic motivation where you can kick your own butt, but extrinsic motivators often come first.

6. Start slow, but always progress
Yoga or an aqua fit class aren’t going to do a lot to help you lose weight, but they can be “phase 1” in becoming a regular exerciser. You don’t have to start off with the hardest exercise that is the best calorie-burner. Instead, adopt exercise at a pace that is only somewhat uncomfortable, and when it becomes comfortable, try another challenge; get uncomfortable again.

And then do that again. And again, until one day someone calls you crazy for being so dedicated.

James S. Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. Visit www.bodyforwife.com or email him at james@bodyforwife.com