Exercising is a skill

Hey guys,

in this blog I’d like to spend some time talking about a preconceived, and incorrect, concept when it comes to the gym and exercising in general.

Many people find exercising in the presence of other people very intimidating. I know I get the sads when I rock up to the gym and it’s packed. Not just because it means I have to structure my workout around what’s available, but (most of which would be in my head) I feel the prying eyes judging me on my exercise selection, execution, weight, reps, rest, drink bottle, choice of clothing and anything else I happen to be doing/wearing/saying at the time. I feel this pressure and I know what I’m doing and I know why I’m doing it. For someone who is new or still learning the intimidation factor is shocking. It feels like every other gym goer is part of the club and you aren’t. There are many reasons why it feels so intimidating, but one is because of a misuse of wording and an unrealistic expectation. In my experience a lot of people seem to view exercise as functional movements that we should be inherently able to perform correctly. Everyone should be able to do a bicep curl because it’s just swinging your arm, right? Categorically wrong. I think exercising is as much a learned and practiced skill as any sport or art, and it needs to be treated as such.

There are many factors working against this concept though. I’ve talked before about how I see myself as an educator as much as a trainer. I firmly believe that. However at this stage my circle of influence is a bit too limited to completely change the sweeping views of the casual gym goer. Whilst it is not impossible to teach yourself a skill and become technically correct and excel at it without any professional coaching, it is far from the norm. If you wanted to play soccer, or do karate, would you watch a few YouTube videos and then hit the pitch or walk into a dojo and start sparring? You could, but it might not end as you’d hoped and dreamed. This is no different to walking into the gym for the first time. Yet it seems to be acceptable that people can gain their wisdom from the internet, uneducated friends (who got their wisdom from the internet) and magazines, believe this is enough prep and go and try and get built or lose weight at the gym. This has as much chance of sustained success as a teenage girl keeping her cool if a One Direction member smiles at her. One of the main reasons the gym and exercise is so intimidating is because you DO NOT inherently know how or what to do when you start, but you’re expected to.

How many times have you seen or heard, “just do something, anything is better than nothing.” Or someone well-meaning individual profess that to put on muscle you just need to “lift weights”. This advice is the equivalent of someone telling you that if you want to be good at soccer, you should “just play soccer.” I think most people are across that part. Unfortunately for people in my line of work, this kind of works. Truly, doing something after doing nothing will get you some initial results. You’ll plateau pretty quickly but you’ll get just enough of a sniff that you think you’re a boss. Then nothing will happen and you’ll get discouraged and give up…perhaps not for the first time. You have given yourself zero chance of success and feel disappointed when you fail. This is the pattern that you will see many casual gym goers fall into. I know that it took me probably until my 3rd “start” at the gym before I really knuckled down and actually put in the effort to learn what to do to be successful, and it took a long time until I began to see results and even longer before I felt confident to go into a gym full of jacked dudes by myself, plug into my tunes and just go about my business. I’m talking years. Like I said, I still don’t particularly like it if it’s crowded, but I don’t let it ruin my workout like I used to.

So, what I am taking a long time to get around to saying is that exercise is not an inherent skill. It is very much a learned skill. It’s also a pretty hard skill. I would say to learn to work out your entire body effectively and safely is one of the more difficult things we can attempt to master. I’m very far from perfect and it shouldn’t surprise you but I learn heaps from teaching all you guys stuff, probably just as much as you do. Also worth noting is that I’ve been working at my craft for the better part of a decade. Like any athlete trying to improve at their chosen sport, it takes time and dedication to get good.

Exercise should be treated exactly the same as a sport or hobby. You start out with the basics, you won’t be good at it, but with correct training, coaching and progression you will get great rewards. As a personal trainer, I feel like I am a coach to you. I’m not just a trainer telling you to do an exercise, I’m a coach who is there to unlock your best from within yourself. If you rocked up to a soccer match with no coach and all the players just sort of doing their own thing, it’d suck. You wouldn’t know where to play, what the gameplan was (hot tip: in this analogy and for most casual gym goers, nobody else has any idea what the gameplan is either, they just know the rules) and your team would most likely lose by a lot. If you expect cohesion and coaching from a soccer club you are considering going, it is nonsensical to expect anything different from a fitness institution who you are considering giving a large chunk of change to. Don’t accept that you do or should know what to do. Don’t accept that it’s supposed to be intimidating. Don’t accept that “just doing something is better than doing nothing.” If you want to get serious results you have to take it seriously. You have to feel comfortable, you have to enjoy it and you have to know the ins and outs of what you’re doing if it’s going to work and you’re going to stick with it. If you don’t have a good trainer, get one (on a completely unrelated note, my free spaces for new clients is quickly disappearing). Get yourself a coach who’s going to help you excel at your sport. If you aren’t working out with a great group of people, find one (our group of people are the best, just saying). They are your team. It’s nearly impossible to do it alone, so get good people around you and be serious about what you do. Exercise is difficult skill which can only be learned by correct practice and repetition. It will not just come to you in time. If you don’t take anything else from this blog, memorise the two sentences previous to this and adjust your expectations accordingly. Remember, in exercise, in life, you’ll get what out what you put in. A couple of YouTube videos and a magazine article won’t be giving much back. It’s your call.

Yours in training,

Dan