Fitness

How to get gung-ho about fitness

Do you look at really fit women and think that you could never achieve that? You're wrong! Find out why you can do it too, and how to get there

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Fortes fortuna adiuvat!

This Latin proverb translates to “fortune favours the bold.” As I write these words, twenty-two years ago today I met an amazing, brilliant and beautiful woman and boldly asked her to dinner. To my great fortune, she accepted.

I say that to point out that life can be a series of adventures, missed opportunities or both. I want to take you on an adventure. Trust me that you don’t want to miss this one. However, like any trip worth taking it requires planning, preparation and a positive attitude. This trip can last the rest of your days.

Getting started with your adventure

Many people get bogged down in the finer details of fitness and miss the opportunity to fully embrace the bigger picture. They count how many calories their underwear can burn, believe that eating Chef Boyardee can cause weight loss, jump on the latest fitness bandwagon or spend too much time willing the numbers on the scale to move.

They are missing the bigger picture, which makes all of that micro garbage mentioned above irrelevant. If you are struggling with adhering to an exercise regimen and eating a healthy diet, it’s time to clear your mind of the minutia and begin to imagine how things could be different. Imagine what it’s like bolt out of bed in the morning anxious to exercise. Think of how free you could be if you didn’t continuously crave high-calorie junk food. Consider the life you would lead if you were healthy, strong, energetic and thrilled with the way you look and feel.

The rest of your days can be truly awesome if you are ready to get gung-ho.

I know some people consider me a bit of a nutbag when it comes to fitness. The grapevine feedback I’ve heard from some people in regards to talks I’ve presented use words like “hardcore” and “intense” and “really gung-ho.” I’ll admit that I’m a bursting-with-energy and excited-about-healthy-living kind of guy, but I certainly was not always this way. I used to be an overweight couch potato who hated the idea of exercise — a fun afternoon for me was chugging beer and plowing through Doritos while watching a Star Trek marathon. 

It took a gradual mindshift for me to go from doughnut-scarfing couch potato to diet-conscious workout warrior. I went from hating healthy living, to barely tolerating it, to thinking it did not completely suck, to actually not minding it — and then to can’t imagine living any other way because it’s so freakin’ awesome!

Hint: You don’t go from hate to freakin’ awesome overnight. The path is gradual and filled with baby steps, and even road blocks. The thing about baby steps is that they still get you there faster than you might think. Think of how fast the last few years have flown by and what the next few years could hold in store for you.

Here are my suggestions for your path to gung ho:

1. Life without limitations
That header up there seems like part of a cheesy quote someone would post into Facebook, because we all have our limits. Lord knows gravity has limited some of my ambitions in the past. What I’m talking about are those self-imposed limitations that you can control: things like time, effort and mindset.

In regards to mindset, when you see a super-fit, healthy and happy woman and think that you could never be like that, ask yourself this question: Why not?

Twenty years ago I never dreamed I’d be the way I am today. I didn’t even like guys like the one I’ve become. The first step is to accept that you can set ambitious yet still achievable goals for yourself, and then begin a long-term process of achieving them. Don’t hamstring yourself before you even start by having a negative attitude. Positive thinking is required.

2. Find an exercise that defines you
Or two or three.

I know some women who feel that yoga is part of who they are, and they are good at it. They study it. They think about it. They push themselves to get better and better. It has become part of their personality. Among their friends, their name almost becomes synonymous with it. Other women I know are hardcore runners, and I know a few who are running yogis.

These women have found their true exercise passion. It doesn’t have to be the best muscle-builder or calorie-burner — it just has to be that thing that you love and you endeavour to get better and better at. For me, those defining exercises are weightlifting and running. Everyone who knows me knows I love these things. They know it’s a part of who I am.

Experiment to find your exercise Zen, then make it a part of who you are.

3. Test your limits
Now I don’t want anyone to hurt themselves, which is why I’m a big fan of baby steps. When you give your body time to adapt, it does. I remember when I started running I had okay cardiovascular capabilities because of weightlifting. I was able to manage almost 5K my first time out, and I hurt from the eyebrows down for almost a week afterward. It took a couple of aborted attempts to realize that I needed to start with just 1K and then add a quarter of a kilometre a week. Now I regularly run 50K a week.

Your brain doesn’t know what your body’s limits are, so you just need to experiment and find out. Push out of that comfort zone, and then when things get comfortable, push again. Keep pushing until you’ve reached that state of awesomeness where others talk about how gung-ho you are. Then fight a valiant delaying action against age. There will be plenty of time for rest when you’re dead.

4. Gradually start to look at food as fuel instead of a source of pleasure
Food is the toughest battle because giving up cookie-dough Haagen-Dazs is difficult. There is so much pleasure to be derived from eating highly palatable food; it is an addiction that is hard to break.

And this is why it’s critical to really start to see yourself as a workout warrior, because not only do the “feel good” chemicals that you get from exercise help to replace your need for the “fix” you get from eating junk food (exercise, gambling, drugs, alcohol and junk food all affect the same neuro-chemical reward pathways in the brain), but it gives you the opportunity to start viewing food from the perspective of fuelling ever more exercise butt-kickery. When you’ve got a run, bike ride, hike, Pilates class, weightlifting session etc. planned, you need to fuel that with nature-made rocket fuel go juice. Not Twinkies.

To conclude, I’ll reiterate that this is a very slow process, but you’ll barely notice the time because you’ll be having fun. It doesn’t matter how old you are because those days are behind you. You can only live in the future. Decide what you want that future to look like.

Be bold when facing this future, and fortune will favour you.

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. He writes the column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Los Angeles Times and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get a free metabolism report at Body For Wife. Email James at james@bodyforwife.com.