When a person first starts to exercise, they are focused on getting accustomed to it. It’s all new to them, and nothing feels easy. After a while, however, they get into their groove, and exercising is a habit. This is when they are in danger of stagnating. Some people end up doing the same things, over and over again. They stop making progress, and they often feel bored.
I’ve talked to people who do the same spin class three times a week. That’s literally their entire program. When you’re not used to it, that’s probably a good way to get fitter. However, fitness is simply your body adapting to a new stress. Once something is no longer stressful, it’s not driving adaptation, i.e making you fitter. Mark Rippetoe has a good analogy in one of his articles about tanning. If you’re very pale, then sunbathing for ten minutes will make you more tanned, but only to a certain point. You’ll never end up with a super dark tan, because you’re only spending ten minutes in the sun. Your body is used to it.
A lot of people end up in an exercise rut. They do the same thing over and over, but have stopped seeing results long ago. Or they’re just bored by what they’re doing. There is only so long that you can keep pushing yourself hard for no reason. Once motivation drops off, then so do your results. You can just feel mentally burnt-out.
A good solution to these problems is to enter a competition. There are a lot of benefits to competing. Justin Lascek has written several articles urging people to compete, which I’d definitely recommend reading.
I think that it’s a pity that most people stop competing once they become adults. Going for a run or going to the gym becomes something that ‘I should do’ so that you don’t feel guilty. Once you start training for a specific competition, your whole mindset starts changing. Training becomes an opportunity to improve yourself, rather than a chore.
Giving yourself a specific date will force you to take a step back and consider how you want to prepare. Too many people can’t justify why they exercise the way that they do. They just do a random bunch of stuff, and when questioned about why they’re doing a particular thing, will often respond with ‘… um… cause it’s good?’
Take each part of your program, and then ask yourself what the reason is for it. Why is it in there? Is there something better that you could be doing?
Competition will give you a reason to push yourself. It can be hard to keep doing that, year after year. An extra hour of sleep in the morning can start sounding very appealing. Maybe you have a few drinks with dinner on Friday night. It’s not hard to end up just going through the motions with your training. When you’ve got a competition coming up it’s a lot easier to be disciplined.
In terms of what to compete in, there are so many options. If you’re more focused on strength and lifting weights, then you can enter a powerlifting meet; or a strongman competition. Strongmen, despite looking like bikies, are some of the most welcoming people you’ll ever meet. There’s nothing like carrying stones, flipping tyres, and dragging trucks to make you feel like a Viking. If you always wanted to learn the Olympic lifts, then find a weightlifting meet and then find somebody to teach you.
If you love staring at your muscles in the mirror (hey, no judgement here) then you could enter a physique competition, where you get to put on fake tan and have other people stare at your muscles for you. There are literally thousands of websites with advice about entering a bodybuilding or physique show.
If you’re more of an endurance person, then you can enter a 10km, half-marathon or marathon. There are triathlons or cycling races pretty much every weekend.
If you like crawling through mud and pretending you were in the Army, then between Tough Mudder, Spartan, Tough Bloke, and True Grit you can race every month now.
Competing: you too can be this happy…
When you do compete, it’s also a great way to meet people involved in the sport, and to make new friends. My first fight was in kickboxing, and I lost. Afterwards my opponent found me in the crowd to shake my hand and we sat down and talked about the fight over a beer.
Most sports are extremely welcoming to new competitors, and the more experienced people will go out of their way to congratulate newbies on their performance and give them a few tips.
So don’t let your nervousness of failing or embarrassing yourself hold you back from competing. If it’s going to be your first competition, then just treat it as a learning experience. If you come last in the race, then who cares? You still beat everybody who stayed on the couch. You still gained valuable experience. Nobody ever won without losing first. Usually a lot.
Training towards the goal of an upcoming competition is always going to be superior to just going through the motions. A lot of people have a fear of failure, and unfortunately that keeps them away from what is almost always a great experience.
I’m going in my first powerlifting meet next weekend. Powerlifting isn’t my sport, but I’ve been lifting for years, so I figure ‘why not?’ It should be fun.