I used to stand on the balcony overlooking the free weight area at the 24 Hour Fitness in Santa Monica watching the action figures, as my friend called them. I had noticed that every time Muscle and Fitness, Flex, or Men’s Fitness came out with a new “hardgainer” program or summer abs collection that the whole room would embrace this new “breakthrough” with the tenacity normally reserved for Dobermans or Gila monsters. I marveled at the apparent inability of anyone to stick to a program for longer than a few weeks. This was before attention deficit disorder was the go-to excuse for anyone who couldn’t concentrate for longer than a few minutes.
As is usual, I notice problems with other people long before I identify things as a problem in my own life. Often my own personality or character defects show up as a glaring deficit in someone else before I am willing to see them in myself. What is now painfully clear is that I, too, am afflicted. I have what I could previously only see in others – the syndrome I call Exercise ADD.
The lack of focus and inability to follow something through to the finish is, I believe, partly due to the age in which we live. It is an age of instant gratification, 140-character Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and thirty-second TV commercials. This onslaught carries over to every aspect of our lives. This is a convenient way to blame an external stimulus for an internal lack of intestinal integrity.
There are a lot of exercise programs out there, too many to list, and they all look fun. I have spent the last few years justifying switching programs every few months by declaring that I am process oriented. It is, as Tom Waits said, “The pursuit you see and never the arrest.” I managed to convince myself that all, not just some, but all, of these programs had validity and should be given their time in the spotlight. This, of course, absolved me of any responsibility for following anything through to the end. I never had to worry about getting to a weight that was seriously challenging because I could, being process oriented, just move on to another program and start from scratch. This, and a lack of any clear goals, allowed me to spend all my time seeking.
The obvious problem with this approach is that I will never be as strong as I could be, I will never have as much endurance as I could have, and I will never be as flexible or as mobile as I should be. Jim Wendler said, “The game of lifting isn’t an eight week pursuit, it’s a lifetime pursuit.” I could pick a new program every eight weeks and never repeat one for the rest of my life. I would then stay weak, out of breath and inflexible for the rest of my life. Being process oriented is just not a good choice if I ever want to get anywhere.
Andrew Read pointed out in his article Oog Make Fire, Man Make Fitness Cults, when discussing fitness trends, “… even more importantly, I believe, is the complete lack of ability people show in sticking to things. “ This was comforting to me. I was not alone. I grew up with people who were “changing it up” and “confusing their muscles” and none of them, including me, ever seemed to achieve any level of mastery. The key to mastery is to have a goal and stick with it. Lacking either of those will doom a person to second-rate performance.
How to solve this? First, be aware there is a problem. Second, do something about it. I believe the best advice I was ever given is, “Shut up and dance.” I have now determined that there is a difference between sifting through mountains of material to arrive at a workable program and just floating through program after program, hoping something sticks. Bruce Lee said, “One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.” I have now, after years of floating, begun to finalize a functional program that will make me stronger, develop skills, and allow me time for my current sport, which is indoor rowing.
So it appears I finally have this thing under control. I have established a program that gets me in and out of the gym in a little over an hour including some flexibility, mobility, and foam rolling. I feel good about this and it’s a great burden off my shoulders.
But wait, what’s this? Breaking Muscle. A site with more workouts than you can shake a stick at, if you’re given to shaking sticks at things. There’s so much here, there’s kettlebell workouts, bodyweight workouts, Primal Move workouts, MovNat workouts. It’s too much. I can feel myself slipping. The ground won’t support my weight. The rabbit hole is opening up and the slide begins again – but only if I let it.
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