[15 Nov 2003] My Mum takes part in her second UK national
rowing time trial pulling a 9:30 2000m. The last one her team can top in the UK for women's half marathon.
[01 May 2003] At last, there's a photo
of me lurking on the site here...
[04 Feb 2003] I've had several people contact me now and all are doing
well. Like visibly well: I've seen the pics. I'm so stoked.
Keep it up!
N.B. You are reading a DRAFT right now. Suggestions welcome!
This page describes how I figured out a way to not only consistently
show up at the gym and work out but to develop a deep-seated and genuine
enthusiasm for busting my ass for 45minutes most days of the week.
What follows is obviously incredibly personal and specific to me but
since explaining these ideas to a couple of other people they've told me
it's helped them so I've been spurred on to write it up.
At worst, I can recommend a couple of really good books at the end. If
it does help I'd love to hear about it!
The toughest bits I think are initially starting, and then keeping going
for the first couple of months. After that, it's quite straightforward
- you're in the pattern, enjoying it, seeing results, people flatter
you, you feel wonderful, you bounce up stairs, sex is incredible, none
of your software has bugs... OK, that last one's not
Of those two challenges, the first couple of months I think is the
most difficult so most of what I'm about to say is focussed on getting through
that initial period.
How it all started
I've been going to the gym since I was about thirteen years old. I don't
think however I've ever managed to attend for more than about a month,
if that, at any stretch. And the intervals between those momentary blips
of effort have generally been of the order of years. You could quite
reasonably call me "a slacker".
In June 1999 I started going to a local gym in Houston and didn't stop
working out until I arrived back in England in Feb 2002. It was very
nice of them to let me take the weights on the plane. But seriously
A seemingly innocent conversation
In February 1999 I was walking down Alvarado St in Monterey, California
chatting with a friend of mine Jonathan Jaffe
. We were
discussing my imminent move to Houston and Jonathan's opinion (for he
has many) on the effects it would have on my physique. Specifically,
that I'd "turn into a fat pot-bellied Texan software developer."
Naturally I laughed this off, although a sneaky voice in my head teased
me about the fact I'd done no
exercise for over a year since
leaving university. We went back and forth and it escalated into a bet,
to the tune of a ticket to Burning Man, which I think that year was
around US$125. I happen to think the placing of a substantial wager is
an excellent means of resolving an argument that is quantifiable. I
really like it too because I always win.
Paul's Method #0: Place a bet. Applied more generally, create a scenario in
which others are expecting you to fulfill some outcome.
This could be getting your family to cheer you on, or showing someone
that looks up to you (son? daughter?) that you can succeed. This last
one is extremely powerful. It's also rather daunting but that's OK as
I'll show shortly.
Why are you doing this?
Decide and know why you're doing this. For me the key was the bet, but
there were a bunch of other subsidiary reasons which collectively "did
it" for me. At your lowest, suckiest point you need to pull out a
barrage of rock-solid personal causes that you care
Saying to yourself "I'll be healthy" doesn't mean squat – I think
99% of people not suffering from an illness care more about almost
anything else. Be honest, you probably don't give a shit.
You can classify motivation in a couple of ways: "toward" and "away".
Toward motivation is aiming for some outcome, away is
recoiling, running ... away from some outcome. Here are some ideas for
your "why". Again, be honest. If you want to train because you want to
get laid more, that's a great reason for you, so use it. It is pointless
making judgements on your motivation at this point. Besides, no-one has
to know what a vain, shallow individual you really are...
I put Away first to leave the positive vibes in your thoughts.
- I don't want to be hated for being fat
- Not exercising allows bones to rot away. If you're a woman this
is an especially serious issue
- Arteries really do get clogged. It's not a joke. And a
heart attack would suck...
- ...and I don't want my cause of death to be my final epitaph that I was a fat, lazy bastard
(Incidently, I have nothing against fatness. In fact I think it's quite
depressing this society is so bothered about it other than from a
healthy standpoint. I just list those reasons as ideas and examples that
motivate some people.)
- Feel better about myself
- Losing weight (fat)
- Gaining weight (muscle)
- Develop a life pattern
- Improve my sex life
- Sorting out my insane sleep patterns
- Challenge myself
- Help me kick smoking once and for all
- Impress someone
- Impress myself
- Able to run for a bus
- ...and enjoy the sensation
- Improved self-confidence
- Satisfaction of achievement
- Look amazing
- Endorphin rushes
- I care about myself
- Reconnect with my body
- ...and relish living in it
- ...and god can you then imagine what the sex'll be like?
So obviously away is negatively focussed and toward positively. Some say
away motivation is unhealthy; I say: be pragmatic, if it works for you,
use it. Away motivation can act as a useful kick up the butt to scale
that first hill, and the toward as a longer-term, sustaining, and
realistically more sound assistant. Regular gym attendance and your
resultant gorgeous bod will fix those residual self-esteem issues
Framing your why
Bit of fun: instead of saying "I'm going to the gym because [...] and
[...]" try saying "I'm on a freakin' mission, baby! Watch me [...]! This
is an unstoppable
crusade to [...]! YEAH!" If you know any
military terminology you can go nuts here.
Life is way too short not to have fun with this stuff!
The next step: A Plan
Clearly, all you need to do now is spend money
on a gym membership
and some trackpants then watch those pounds just magically melt away!
No, what you need is a plan, both exercise and nutrition. This page
isn't about that so I'll simply fob you off with a couple of good books
on the subject (see later) and suggest finding a
trainer. But! You absolutely must have a plan; you almost certainly will
not succeed without one. Your plan does several things:
- Structures your workouts
- Removes the mental burden of figuring out what's next
- Prevents you looking like a putz wandering around the gym
- Is one less thing to worry about
- Gives you a sense of purpose and reassurance
- ...and on and on
Paul's Method #1: Get an exercise plan and a nutrition plan. It'll tell you what to do.
One thing to note is that everyone is different as human beings.
Multiplied by their different desired outcomes means you need a
personalized plan. Anyone trying to shoe-horn you into a particular
category or regime without a good deal of listening is doing you a
disservice. Find someone else!
The shine wears off
. All these exciting resolutions made by those of
us still naïve to think they mean anything. We sign up at the
local gym, go a few times and then gradually, excuses and
rationalizations abounding, it all peters out and stops. With nothing
more than to show for it than a vague sense of guilt and those monthly
debits on your bank account.
The "Health Club" business model
The essence of the "Health Club" business model is the idea that you, as
business operator, allow and indeed rely on dramatic over-subscription to
your service. How can this work? Quite simply because most of the
subscribers won't use it.
Hi. My name's Paul Makepeace and I signed up for
three years at the Q-Club in Houston.
Yup, they got me too.
(Incidentally, this is also I believe a big reason why health clubs put
massive pressure on long contracts because they all know damn well
statistically people will only show up for a few weeks, so better to
sell those same few weeks at $1,000 than at $30.)
Make a choice, but only one
When I took up the bet with Jonathan I made a choice to get in shape and
work-out. Thankfully I count myself amongst those in the right half of
the bell curve that realize this will actually take some work. This is
important - there are no instant remedies
possibly liposuction, but that is much more expensive and more
importantly hugely less fun.
So I'd made a choice to work out. But every time I left for the gym I
had the opportunity to make another choice. A choice not to
go. I've got a headache; my stomach doesn't feel quite right; I'm deeply
engrossed in this bit of software that obviously cannot possibly
wait. I was lucky to realize at that point, probably since I'd
acted out the scenario countless times already, that this is the big
killer: Once you miss one session, you'll miss another, and
another. Uh oh.
I did this: the very moment I even contemplated bailing on a session,
despite having already made a pact and a promise with myself that I'd
keep this whole shebang up, I would immediately go. This one
idea is central to where I've reached so here it is again, framed in
the second person: the moment the possibility of making some kind of
cop-out decision enters your head, nix it immediately: you are going to
Oddly enough, once you give up the responsibility and torment of faffing
over that one nasty laming-out choice, life is a whole lot easier!
Being male and susceptible to these cheesy ploys, I played macho mental
games with myself like even if my car broke down I would call a taxi to
get me the rest of the distance; if my hand got chopped up in a blender
(I've done this) I would simply do a leg work-out. I was, in my head,
some kind of unstoppable gym-attending machine. Rarrr!
Another "trick": I would also displace the thought of not going. The
thought displacement technique is pretty effective. For example, try
this: don't think about the color yellow. No, really, no yellow! It
doesn't work; you have to replace or displace it. Some thoughts I used
were "where is my gym bag?" (practical; moving in the direction I want
to go), "What am I doing today?" (focuses me on the particular
exercises; triggers gym-going psychological responses), "I wonder if
there'll be any cute girls there..." ('nuff said ;-). All the time now
moving inexorably towards the gym.
Paul's Method #2: Don't give yourself the opportunity to break your own
agreement. If you do, shoo it away with another useful thought.
Go to the gym right now. No question.
DRAFT: something about being aware of mind games and psychosomatic
responses but also paying attention to genuine problems/illnesses. If
you've been up and about all day and then mysteriously "feel ill", guess
what. On the other hand, if you've been laid up in bed with a thermometer dangling from
your mouth the last nine hours, guess what.
I said this was a personal account which is why this section is short. I
don't train with other people generally. Working out is somewhat
meditative in a bizarre way and my motivation comes from a fire within
me rather than without. That all said, I think having a training partner
people is incredibly beneficial for some. And if you're that type of person
don't hesitate to get one, ideally someone who's at about the same level
so there is a greater shared experience. The same thing applies to a
personal trainer, especially if you're struggling with some of the
frankly overwhelming literature, need a boost, progress overview,
different perspective, a shapely body to remind yourself why you're
doing this or whatever. From talking with other people it's clear to me
for some a personal trainer is a worthwhile investment. If you don't know how
to do the exercises you must
find someone to show you.
This is, or should be, included in the otherwise scam that is the
gym membership "set up" fee.
Keep on truckin'
Within a couple of weeks you will feel different. Depending on your
physique you will probably start seeing changes too. After a month you
see a change if you have been following a decent plan.
It's starting to pay off! And how about those work-outs where you left
the gym and were buzzing for hours afterwards? Or someone says, "wow,
you been at the gym or something?" All of those are positive
reinforcements and are fantastic both for immediate gratification
(nothing wrong with that!) but more importantly for long-term
motivational fuel. Seize that feeling and consciously associate it
with your work-outs. Imagine and mentally walk through getting ready
to go to the gym, then being in the gym, then doing your exercise and
now see what the result of that is, that result you've just right now
been made aware of.
OK, great, but what does that get you? You have effectively just
programmed yourself with a positive emotional response to something you
regularly do, i.e. working out. So that activity is now tied to a good
feeling, and real, live results. It has also partially
displaced some of the negative aspects of going to the gym you may've
had. I have since learnt the field of
psychology has figured this out already and called it "anchoring".
This anchoring is also a gift for when you're really not feeling like
hitting the weights. You can draw on those positive vibes you had
earlier and say "So I feel crappy right now but just think what the
pay-off is!" Just recently (October 2002) I had a couple of sessions
preceded by some of the most powerful feelings ever to stay at home, and
this got me through that.
Incidentally, both those work outs turned out pretty well. Who'd a thunk?
Paul's Method #3: Associate the "highs" with the every phase of working out
by walking through those phases and feeling the activity and
your buzz. Associate the highs with your original goal.
So that's pretty much how I do it! Here are some other ideas and general
tips that have helped in concert with the above.
Don't flay yourself
In retrospect in my early days this tendency to over-do it undermined my
long term success. I would be chill for the first couple of workouts and
then in a teenage testosterone-driven frenzy completely destroy myself,
several times in a row each time coming away partly buzzed but also
mentally drained, exhausted by my own over-exertion. The aim is not to
come within a physiological hair's breadth of collapse but to
stress muscles, a little extra each time. I
didn't have a chance to see the benefit before the dread and fear of
these self-imposed torture sessions took their toll.
Realize your body takes time to learn and respond
If you've never been in a gym, your muscles don't yet understand what
you're doing with them. No-one learns to skate backwards the first
time they put wheels on their feet -- you have to train the whole
apparatus to operate in synch. It's the same with weights. Despite
the apparent simplicity of hauling a chunk of iron into the air it
does require muscular coordination. Even though the primary
, the main muscle or set of muscles doing the work, can
figure it out the supporting and synergistic muscles need training.
Take it easy! Have fun!
If you're bored, you're not doing it right
With what I know now the idea of the gym being tedious is so
far-fetched and ridiculous I'm actually laughing out loud thinking
about it! There is nothing mind-numbing about challenging yourself,
seeing if you can better yourself, locking into your own psyche and
seeing what your own self is made of. By corollary if you're finding it
boring then you aren't challenging yourself.
Hopefully you have a plan that is well-designed for you so this issue
should never come up since you'll never be idling in the gym but I put
this in here since I quite often hear this objection, typically from
people who sit on their butts all day and like to give themselves
excuses. Ha! You know better!
Reading and talking with people about physiology, psychology, protein
metabolism, exercise regimes, lifting techniques, effects of nutrition,
supplementation and so on provides me with perspective, knowledge and a
sense of control. The more I know the more I can understand what's going
on and how to steer my course. Beware though, speaking from personal
experience it's easy to get overloaded and, paradoxically, even use it
as an excuse to procrastinate: "I'm not prepared enough, I need to read
some more." (This is an ongoing battle in other parts of my life too
especially when confronting big jobs.)
This leads conveniently onto...
First of all I should preface this by saying that my recommendation of
these books and websites is based partly on my own experience with
weights and also having studied to become a Certified Fitness Trainer
while I was in California. There's a stereotype of trainers as affable
but generally brainless muscle-heads rapping on your front-door dancing
about in lycra at six in the morning, nauseatingly chipper and smiley
all the while. Believe me though being a CFT is no joke. I enrolled with
the International Sports Science
who duly furnished me with a 550-page
dense training manual the size of a metropolitan phonebook. And a five
hour video. There is a seriously large amount of material to learn.
Maybe just being a brainless muscle-head I'm easily overwhelmed.
Aside from all this fascinating information one thing I discovered
indirectly is the staggering quantity of utter horseshit that
is touted by diet companies, training magazines, supplement
manufacturers, and other purportedly trustworthy sources. So when you
occasionally stumble on something that is full of quality material it
does rather stand out.
So my hot picks are... (and if you buy through these links I get some
tiny kickback from Amazon which helps me pay to keep this site online;
wah wah, can you hear those wailing violin strings? :-)
Bill Phillips is probably the most famous advocate of weight training
besides Joe Weider and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He prescribes a regime of
weights and what he calls aerobics which is actually more like interval
training (multiple peak or close to peak efforts). One of his key ideas
is the High Point: intensity of mental and physical focus. This is in
contrast to inordinately long, drawn-out, vague and exhausting sessions
which we tend to for some reason instinctively suppose is the right
thing. His work-outs he suggests are 45 minutes.
One of the most valuable aspects of Bill Phillips's work I think is his
yearly contests he runs which have generated an enormous collection of
motivational stories with "before and after" pictures. If you have any
doubt at all that anyone can achieve their goals this book will banish
them. Check out the Champion
Tips. Great stuff!
Joyce Vedral's guide is aimed squarely at women and is cheerful and to
the point. Joyce Vedral is in her late fifties and hot
(tantalizingly with the suggestion of being unmarried, hmmm...). Plenty
of relevant info and refreshingly not full of ra-ra. It's the first book
I read that really aligns with what I've learnt from the ISSA
literature. Like Bill Phillips's, her work-outs are characterized by
intensity and surprisingly short duration. She also debunks the myth
that automatically weights = bulky muscles, something that seemingly
large numbers of women are quite concerned about. (There are all us guys
thinking "jeez, if only it was that easy!"). She also explains that
doing only cardio -- or more and more of it -- isn't the answer.
She also has videos which she recommends over the books, if you're only
able to get one. (I haven't seen the videos myself.) And of course, Joyce Vedral.com.
In case you couldn't tell, I love talking about this! I'd be more than
happy to chat so drop me an email
quick one-liners. Hope this helps, lemme know how you get on!
I have to thank my parents for whatever they did bringing me up and
whatever genes they passed on to provide me with the resources and drive
I've developed to work at this. To my Dad whose own weight-training
seeded my interest at a young age, and more recently my Mum to whom I
think I blurted my first approaching-coherent summary of what I've now
expounded on, and for subsequently unwittingly becoming a guinea pig.
Note to parents: remind me to sit down with you and figure out what
you actually were doing all those years, 'cos I think it worked out
Also to Karen
for asking me questions about training and making me think. And
obviously to Jonathan for losing such a great bet!