No, this isn’t some quirky, witty way of tricking you to read about the benefits of exercise. I’m not promoting some new program that’s “anti-fitness,” or uber-ultra-functional in nature. It’s a call to action regarding your own personal motivations when it comes to fitness.
Having a motivated mindset and adopting the fitness lifestyle is a noble cause. Obesity, metabolic disease, and many other forms of physical disability are growing global epidemics. It’s better to be “into” fitness than the alternative: laying around and practicing laziness to an art form.
But what if you’re flying too close to the sun? What if you went all in, drank the Kool-Aid, and now you have the feeling as if something’s amiss? You might need to quit fitness and hold a self-intervention of sorts.
Are You an Addict?
When I was in college, all I could do in class was think about how I could improve my training. I would visualize myself performing squats, bench presses, and pull ups. I would imagine how my muscle would expand and contract and grow. I was on autopilot through my day until the moment I walked through the gym doors. And this was before social media and the advent of the selfie.
To some this may sound outlandish and obsessive, but to others it will resonate deeply. Are you in the latter category? Do you constantly and painstakingly obsess over the minute details of training, diet and supplementation?
Looking back, that mindset was not only too much to bear, it was downright damaging to the rest of my life. I was passing up social engagements, not participating in other sports and was extremely narrow-minded. In short, I was in too deep.
Take This Test
The easiest way to find out if you’re caught in the same trap is an honest self-evaluation. Answer the following questions and see if you need a fitness intervention. Afterwards, I’ll break down what you can do to help rehab your way out.
- Do you painstakingly track every detail of every workout, every morsel of food and closely monitor fluid intake and body weight?
- Do you carefully regulate extracurricular activity to make sure it doesn’t affect your gym results?
- Is training the first thing you think of when you get up in the morning and the last thing on your mind before you sleep?
- Do you secretly judge others on whether they go to the gym or the style of training they practice?
- Are you unable to pass up a mirror without looking?
- Do you take countless selfies per week? Per day? Per hour? Are most or all taken in the gym?
- Is all of your social media fitness-related?
- Do you wear workout clothes wherever you go?
- Do you feel like a motivational workout meme?
- Do you wish someone would complement you on how great of shape you’re in already?!
Is your last thought at night about tomorrow’s workout?
Check Into Fitness Rehab
So, you’ve taken the test and found a few eye-opening things about your so-called dedication to fitness. One possibility is that all of these issues are related to ego. We sometimes feel the need, for example, to bench press a certain amount of weight. This, we believe, will bring respect and notoriety from our friends. Or perhaps your identity is wrapped up in social media, and you feel the need to be validated. You’re addicted to that small rush of dopamine you get as you count how many likes your latest gym pic received.
The first step to correcting any problem is acknowledging that you have one. You may realize something needs to be done, but are a bit daunted by the task. The key isn’t to quit training and dieting. It has more to do with calming the obsessiveness outside of the gym so you can lead a fruitful life which will include more (real) social engagement, meaningful non-fitness-related discussion, and the will to try new things in general.
The goal isn’t literally to quit fitness, it’s to quit “fitnessing” so much. It’s this all-encompassing, self-absorbed lifestyle that is the real problem. How many “likes” will it take to make you satisfied?
Your New Fitness Perspective
Now that you’ve realized there may be more to life than squat PRs, low body fat, and the perfect Instagram filter, let’s look at ways to shift your mindset to improve your life outside as well as inside of the gym. Let the rehab begin.
Leave It in the Gym
Many gym-goers tend to bring the gym with them wherever they go. You see these guys and gals carrying around gallon jugs of water, wearing gym clothes 24/7, and uploading a steady stream of bathroom mirror six-pack pics.
When it’s time to train, train. But lead a balanced life outside of the gym. There’s an old saying that an artist seldom talks about his work. Your energy is best kept inside so that it may build up and be released when the time comes. This will enable a sense of pent up excitement in your training that will flood you with energy and intensity. Constantly thinking, talking, and imagining your training and nutrition will leave your motivation diluted and your mind exhausted.
Have a Plan, Set It in Motion, Then Let It Be
You’ve seen these guys: program jumpers. They go from one plan to the next barely giving any one program a week to work. They are constantly searching for the perfect program, technique, or trick to give them that secret edge.
The big “secret” is this: Pick a program, stick with it for a significant amount of time (at least two or three months), and then track your progress honestly and realistically. Only then will you truly give any program a fair shot. You can’t just press a button and get instant, overnight results. The body takes time to adapt, grow and progress. Give it a fighting chance.
If You Must Post, Be Helpful
Filling your day with social media posts about fitness (especially self-centered stuff) isn’t a healthy habit. Countless selfies, six-pack shots and triceps flexes only feed your ego and not much else. If you must post, do it to help others. Give advice, motivate the right way (selflessly), and interact with your audience. Be authentic and separate yourself from the pack of the wannabes. Over time many will see your genuine, unique way of communicating.
Get Out of the Gym
Gym rats pride themselves on marathon workouts. You tend to see these guys at the gym at all hours of the day and night. You train in the evening, and they’re there. One day you need to get in a workout in the morning, and they’re there. You drop in for a quick session at lunch, and you guessed it… For some odd reason, they see this as some sort of badge of honor.
Simply being in the gym isn’t an effective way to seek results and progress in your training. Be succinct, efficient, and effective. Get the work done and then go outside and enjoy the world. Don’t be a slave to the weights. Shoot some hoops, go for hikes, ride your mountain bike, or go to the park with your family. Have a life in the real world.
Try New Training
We go out of our way to label people and put them into groups. Bodybuilders, powerlifters, CrossFitters, weightlifters; these are all definable, discernable terms that instantly cultivate specific images, practices and beliefs about yourself and others. These tribes tend to live in a box regarding their training habits.
Mix up your training and adopt some other techniques and modes of training. If you’re into a bodybuilding style of training, then mix in some power movements such as cleans or push presses. If you’re deeply entrenched into pure weightlifting, throw in some muscular endurance moves for a new challenge. Get out of your stagnant box and try something new for a change.
Get Another Hobby
Train, diet, recover, repeat. That is the cycle of thought so many fitness freaks possess. They live, breathe, think, and talk about fitness and only fitness. It is their hobby, their habit, and their life. If you ask them what other interests they may have, you will either get a blank stare or some snide remark such as, “I also like to give fitness advice to others.”
Having other interests outside of the gym won’t threaten your dedication to your fitness goals, but enhance them. Ask your family or friends what their interests are. Put yourself in their hands and participate in activities you’ve never thought about before. You will find that you may have needed a break from the constant stream of fitness-related thoughts; a proverbial breather from the familiar and comfortable.
Chase Your Goals, But Live Your Life
All this isn’t to say that you should quit chasing your fitness goals—far from it. It’s just to help shed some light on the possibility of an ironically unhealthy relationship with fitness. Make fitness a part of your life, not your entire life. Cultivate balance and variety, and explore uncharted interests. This will only enhance your fitness experience without the threat of the fear of missing out.
Being fit doesn’t mean you’re healthy: