Training for fat loss is so boring. It’s boring because you’re not really doing anything. Now, maybe I should be more disciplined and shit, and maybe then I can push through, and maybe I sound precious complaining about boredom, and maybe I should apply my awesome force of will power to my belly fat, but – it’s so boring.
The other way to combat boredom is to do something that’s engaging. That sounds like much more fun.
The thing with conventional fat-loss styled training is that it’s based on the most unsophisticated of methods. It’s basically about burning calories – doesn’t matter what you’re doing – just burn the damn calories. It’s about the ‘energy deficit’ – but if a study involving 48,835 women showed that calorie restriction does not work in the long term, what are we expecting long term calorie expenditure to do? It’s still based on the same idea – getting yourself into an energy deficit. The (slightly) more sophisticated fat-loss systems will have you performing resistance training – compound movements (movements where you use a lot of muscle mass all at once, such as bench press and squats, as opposed to chest flyes and leg extensions) – but again the explanation is that using more muscles means you’re burning more calories, and with resistance training, you’re magically burning more calories for up to 72 hours after training, so if you add up all those calories you’re burning – squee! What a lot of calories! Oh yeah, except that calorie restriction doesn’t work.
And what about reducing the complex, educational joy of exploring one’s physicality to a plus and minus game? Where notions of success and failure are based on diminishing oneself? Where is that supposed to get us?
The actual reason resistance training is healthful is because of the hormonal benefit. It changes your hormones, for the better. It increases insulin sensitivity, promotes natural production of growth hormone, stimulates testosterone (at least for men, but I think it works a bit differently for women), and it’s in these areas that the actual health benefits, and the metabolic advantages, lie.
But even then – what’s going on with your metabolism? We’re told that we should try to put on more muscle mass, because even when you’re not training, that extra mass will ‘burn more calories’, it will increase your metabolic rate, and that’ll magically make it easier to stay thin! Because if your metabolism’s going faster, it’ll be easier to be thin, right?
Why then, does it actually get harder to lose fat, the more muscular you get? Why do bodybuilders alternate between bulking and cutting phases? If it’s easier to be thin when you’ve got more muscle on you, why isn’t it easier to be thing when you’ve got more muscle on you?
There’s a kind of logic in it – muscle is metabolically expensive – it takes a lot of energy coming in before the body will willingly build very much muscle. So it actually kinda goes the other way around – to build muscle, you need to be eating a helluva lot. If you’re perpetually depleted because you’ve been dieting too much – your body is going to resist building extra flesh. It needs that precious, scarce food for maintaining what flesh it does have – not for building more.
Training for fat loss is boring because you aren’t actually doing anything. When you jump on a treadmill and count the calories as they pass by, your soul dies a little bit. I wish they had a warning about that on the treadmills themselves. It’s boring because you’re not working on anything – you’re not developing a skill, you’re not building your capacity, you’re not developing body-awareness, you’re just counting. And we expect people to keep going back to the gym for more of that? It’s an easy out – make exercise – this thing that’s intrinsically rewarding, that’s naturally fun and engaging – make it boring and then blame the individual for not doing more of it.
If you stop counting the calories burnt, if you stop paying attention to your heart rate, if you stop measuring it, you might notice that it’s fun to run. If you stop pressuring yourself to always do more, to always work harder, you might find that it’s actually enjoyable to move. Or you might find that you hate running, which is totally cool, because it’s your choice whether or not to run. That’s the blessing and the curse of freedom – nobody gets to tell you what to do. You’ve gotta make up your own mind.
But you can’t teach people to despise their bodies, and then expect them to enjoy spending time being reminded that they have one.
You could start working on something. Be curious – what engages you? When you have progression in mind, you move the focus away from your body and onto a task. When you focus on developing a skill, making a better time, progressing your strength, extending your range of motion – suddenly there’s a reason for everything you do.
Will it make you thin? Maybe a little, but not so much as you want. But if you can move the focus away from weight (no easy task in itself), and onto performance and development, you won’t mind so much.
That’s what it means to build your body. A coach once said he loves weightlifting because it’s the only thing that adds to your body, rather than takes away from it. There’s also food and sleep, but I get the point, and I like it too. I’m sorry – I don’t know who said it first.
If you just enjoy moving, running, walking, lifting, whatever – do it. That’s a great reason. If you want to develop a skill, you need to practice the skill – you might need to break it down into components, you might need to address certain weaknesses or imbalances, but there’s a reason for each exercise you do. Each repetition, the way you structure your training – all of it. It’s not random. It’s not just – do whatever and we’ll see how many calories you burn this hour. How much resistance, how many repetitions are required to help you to progress? How much is too much? – how much is unnecessary and how much will impair your progress? – how much will only interfere with your body’s ability to recover? Where are your limitations? If you want to do more, do more. Respect your limitations as you’re trying to exceed them. That’s how you avoid overtraining. Your muscular limit is going to be different from other limitations – patience might be one of them. And the concept of working to failure changes if you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, asthma or diabetes.
If exercise is boring, but you kinda want to do it – try working on something. Or maybe the opposite – don’t measure anything. Play and be free, free to finally ask – what if there’s nothing you can do? In which case – maybe you can do anything?
Interested in a sorta-kinda part two? Read the Fundamentals of Strength Training.