“Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.”
We all get stuck in a rut sometimes when it comes to exercise. Seasoned athletes and weekend warriors alike.
Maybe you’re experiencing it right now. Maybe you’ve hit a roadblock in your training. You can’t seem to progress any further, or break the plateau. You can’t find the motivation to get up and move. When you do eventually force yourself to train, you feel completely distracted, and can’t wait for it to be over. You may even cut your workouts short, or avoid them altogether.
This is pretty common, and it happened to me fairly recently. It seems odd, as sport and exercise have always been a huge part of my life. From football back in the day, to martial arts and strength training. Being active has always given me a focus and meaning. It’s almost something I define my character by, in the story I tell myself.
But I’d reached the point where I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. Training felt like a chore. Every session was a struggle to get through. I had completely lost my motivation. Why was I feeling this way?
Training was no longer fun. It had lost that buzz of excitement, that little something that always used to draw me back. I was no longer enjoying it. You’re on Earth in this physical form for a limited time, so it’s important to enjoy what you do. Most people forget that.
So how did I get through it? How did I break the plateau and regain my love for moving my body? Read on my friend, and I’ll tell you how…
1. Mix it up.
It’s cliché, and you’ve probably heard this one before, but we’ll go through it again anyways. A good way to rediscover that fire is to mix it up a little. Play around with different exercises, explore different movement patterns. Try a new sport maybe. Go crazy.
Instead of doing what the latest internet guru says you should be doing, do what feels right for your body right now. For example, I’ve recently brought back some olympic lifting into my training, along with bodyweight strength stuff. I’m really enjoying cycling too. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve managed to let go of the notion that I have to do anything other than what I feel like. I’m trying my best to go with the flow, and I’m now looking at exercise as play and experimentation, rather than ‘training’.
2. Be in your body, and let go of the mind.
This realisation helped me a lot, and was likely sparked by reading Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. Most of us have our lives dictated by that little voice in our heads. The annoying voice that worries about the past and frets about the future. The one that tells you that you’re too weak, or that you’ve done enough for today. You can use exercise as a chance quieten that voice. It sort of becomes a spiritual practice.
Next time you train or compete, focus intensely on what you’re doing in the present moment. On eat turn of the pedal, or step of your foot. Feel your body. Feel the muscles working together in unison to create movement. Feel your lungs and belly expand as you take deep breaths. Feel the pavement against your feet, and the wind against your face. Be consciously aware of your posture as you lift that weight.
That little voice will creep back in now and again, worrying about the work you’ve gotta get done later. Telling you that your legs ache, and that you should probably stop soon. Wondering what you’re gonna eat for dinner. Acknowledge the voice, then bring your attention back to your practice. Back to the feeling of your body. And repeat.
The more you practice, the more you can choose to silence the little voice in your head, and the more enjoyable your training will become. And perhaps most importantly, the more you will be able to carry this no-mind state into your everyday life.
3. Let go of results.
I used to set goals, record every workout, and track my progress on fancy databases with loads of graphs and shit. Whilst this can definitely be useful for some, and I don’t completely discourage it, you can easily fall into a trap.
In that trap, you end up focussing more on the results and the nitty gritty minor details, that the actual process itself. The left brain has taken over. You’re chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, rather than enjoying the rainbow for what it is. You set big goals, and get disappointed when you just miss them, despite the improvements you have made. Training often becomes nothing more than a means to an end.
Instead of fixating on the future, why not just focus on the journey? Let go of the results, and focus on enjoying the process, and having fun. Enjoying what you’re doing and not putting so much pressure on yourself often produces great results anyway, and it cuts out all that unnecessary stress.
4. Don’t use exercise to vent.
There was a point in time where I would use training as an escape from stress, and to bury the perceived problems in my life situation. This can be useful for some, but for me it became unhealthy. Yes exercise can be a great release, but like anything, it can be abused. I found that the negativity I brought with me was increasingly infecting my training, and made it into almost a weird masochistic ritual that I felt like I needed to stay sane. Not good.
It’s only after a few health problems took away my ability to train for a while, that I realised I needed to deal with my issues up front, rather than use exercise to mask them. It really makes me think that whenever the body presents symptoms, it’s trying to tell you something. Often to slow down, and deal with the stuff you’re putting off, the stuff that scares you.
5. Minimise distractions.
I do the majority of my strength and flexibility training at home, which has it’s benefits and drawbacks. Running my own business from home too, I had gotten to the point where I was checking emails, replying to comments or even preparing dinner in between sets of deadlifts. Pretty sad isn’t it?
We’re the generation of lifehackers, always looking at new ways to take shortcuts and free up time so we can get more done. But whatever happened to just going slow, focussing on one thing at a time, getting things done properly, and not stressing over the million and one things that you should be doing?
For me, paying too much attention to the distractions was a big part of my lack of enthusiasm with exercise. I always had that nagging feeling that I should be elsewhere. Somewhere other than the present. Instead, I now take as long as I feel like to work out, sometimes half and hour, sometimes two or three. And when I’m training, I’m focussed only on training. My phone is off, and food prep can wait for later.
I’ve adjusted my music too, and found that quite beneficial. Instead of the same old workout playlists that I’d use in an attempt to get me fired up, I now go without music, or I listen to something chilled out like Hans Zimmer or a bit of Passenger. Something that allows me to focus on what I’m actually doing. When you’re enjoying what you do, I find there’s less need for something external like a workout play list to get you motivated. You’re already inspired.
6. Dial it down.
Overtraining is definitely a reality, and it comes with some pretty serious risks. If you’re at the stage where you’re constantly feeling burnt out and dreading your next session, it might be time to dial it down a little. It took a while for my ego to accept that it’s much better to slightly under train and be well rested, than to burn myself out.
Listen to your body, and always put your health first. If like me you have had the ‘go hard or go home’ philosophy drilled into your head, try your best to let it go. I preach about sustainability a lot on this blog, and going balls to the wall all day err’day is definitely not sustainable.
You may get away with it for a few weeks, months, or even years if you’re young. But eventually something’s gonna give. If you continue to ignore the warning signs of tiredness, irritability, and persistent muscle soreness; your body will likely throw you a bigger problem to deal with, a big injury or chronic illness. Something that will make you really step back and realise that you need to treat your body with care.
And don’t get worried that you’ll turn into a sissy. Slowing down with your training isn’t the easy way out by any means. It’s training smart. You can still go hard on the hard days, but you need to make sure you go easy on the easy days, and you give your body enough rest and proper nutrition to allow it to recover.
7. Don’t let your injuries bring you down.
No matter how smart you train and how in touch with your body you are, you’re bound to pick up a few injuries here and there. Being sensible and present will definitely reduce the risk, but life’s still unpredictable, and shit happens.
But just because you’ve got shoulder impingement or a sprained ankle, doesn’t mean you should use it as an excuse to stagnate. Keep moving forward, and work around it. Sure, you can rest up for a bit and give your body a chance to recover, but you don’t have to use it as an excuse for doing nothing for ages.
As a good friend told me:
Don’t let what you can’t do, stop you from doing what you can do.
Improvise, and work around your injury. Can’t run on that runners heel? Try swimming or biking instead. Can’t push overhead because of that shoulder impingement? Use a narrower grip, or skip the pushing altogether and opt for corrective exercises instead. Can’t do much on that sprained ankle? Focus on core work and correcting your posture. Can’t physically do anything at all? Work on meditation, or improving your nutrition.
Life’s full of unexpected changes and obstacles. It’s your job to adapt to the changes and find way around the obstacles, so you can keep moving forwards.
Over to you
And I think that’s all for today folks. If you’re feeling a bit stagnant or if your in a bad place right now, I hope this post might help you in some way. The main message to take away is just to do what you need to do in order to find the enjoyment in what you’re doing.
Realise that the difficult times will still pop up, but they’re useful. Essential even.
They let you know that you need to adapt and change something, which means you get a chance to grow. They also provide a contrast for the better times, making them that much sweeter.
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