Is your training a form of self-love or self-hate?
Joe (not his real name) was in his 50’s. Riddled with all the usual aches and pains; a “bad” low back from years of sitting at his office, achy knees from years of abuse, and busted up shoulders from his glory days of playing football. Over the years he had gained 20-30 pounds of “fun” as we called it around his midsection and it was time to get rid of it for the family summer vacation. He no longer wanted to be “the fat guy on the beach” (in his words). Over the years he became a very avid runner and was also looking to get his first sub 50min 10k that year. When we started our program together and I set him up with the nutrition program, laid out his new running regime so we could break through that barrier (He wasn't a fan of hill intervals, but who is) and we laid out the next 12 weeks’ worth of strength sessions. Everything was going according to plan, he was dropping weight, running faster and his strength was going through the roof! Bonus, his wife even complimented him on the way his arms and shoulders were starting to look! I was stoked for him, he had been putting in the work and was getting the results! Then one day he came in for his session and mentioned that he had a work trip coming up and wanted to make sure he “didn’t screw things up like normal”. So, we talked about what strategies he could use to stay focused and on track. When he left that session before his trip he was confident in those plans and off he went. I sent him a text the next day after his big event to find out how it went...crickets. I wasn’t too worried though as he had a session with me that Monday anyway so I decided I wouldn’t keep hounding him...
Up to this point, this type of scenario had played out many times over the years for me and was very common. You may even feel a connection to Joe as where he was at in life was what most would consider "Normal". I knew how to help him, was confident in his mindset going into his trip and was excited! What I was about to go through with Joe was something that changed how I trained my clients in a deep way.
The story continues…
Monday morning I got a text message that told me I needed to plan a “harder than normal workout” for that night. I thought that it was a strange request but made a few adjustments to the session and was happy with what it was looking like and thought he would agree. A few minutes before our session he arrived sweaty because he just ran to our session, once again not unusual as he would typically run to at least one of our sessions each week. After he went to the bathroom to clean up a bit he then walked over to the scale, got on, immediately stepped off, mumbled something, and started doing his warm-up routine.
I finally finished with my other client and was able to meet with him and asked him how things were going. He replied “not good” in a very terse and short tone. I knew right then something was off. After a short conversation, he finally told me that he had gained back 6 pounds from the weekend trip. I said that’s ok, no worries, a little extra salt and some retained fluids from the trip, it’ll come off no problem! I could tell he didn’t believe me. I then asked him how his run was, he let me know that he had just completed a 12-mile run (his normal was 3-4miles to the session and 3-4 back)!
I immediately put the brakes on the session
in an attempt to try and figure out what was going on. This wasn't the same Joe who had left the session on Thursday afternoon. Something clicked for me, he was literally punishing himself for the weekend! Punishing himself for retaining some extra water that would come off over the next week with ease. This was no longer about exercising to be healthy, he was literally throwing everything out the window, all the hard work and progress we had made on eliminating his pain over this 6 pounds, he was exercising because he was punishing himself. I spent the next 45 minutes getting him to refocus and understand that this wasn’t healthy and that for his long term success he can’t keep doing this. While he wasn't convinced immediately he began to see what was going on and how this self-destructive behavior truly was. It took more than that session to help him see how he was using exercise as a form of punishment for when he gained a little weight. Over the course of these sessions, we made good progress, but as with all things of this nature, it takes time.
He eventually stopped signing up for running events and cut back on his running as he discovered that he was running most of the time angry at himself for some transgression versus going for runs because staying active was important to him for the long haul. When we started to eliminate these self-punishment sessions, many of the nagging overuse injuries that he had picked up over the years began to vanish and he no longer needed to take Aleve to get through the day. In essence by healing his relationship to exercise his body was able to heal itself.
To say I learned a ton from this experience is an understatement. It fundamentally changed how I approached each session with all my clients. In fact, over the years I have been able to pick up on this behavior quicker and have even implemented tools and questions into my onboarding process that helps me look for this prior to starting the clients that I work with now.
Early on in my career, I didn’t know better. I would let my clients weigh themselves and if the scale reflected an increase in weight, I was going to give them the hardest workout they have ever had because that is what some of them wanted in addition to letting them do whatever they needed to do after the session so that they can feel even better. I thought that by doing this and making the client happy that I was doing what was right. BOY WAS I WRONG!
You see, what I failed to recognize at the time and what Joe helped me understand was that exercise, and training was for some people a form of self-punishment and self-hate. It was my job to move them towards working out for the right reasons and not for the wrong ones. Therefore when you SHIFT THE MENTAL GAME of the intention behind exercise you begin to fix the relationship with your body.
When you shift from using exercise as a form of self-punishment and start looking at it as a form of self-love... your results improve and the sessions aren’t as burdensome.
So I want to challenge you to check your intention behind your workouts. If anything, never workout upset at yourself because you failed to execute on your plan. This will help transform not only your body but your mindset around exercise.
I am on a mission specifically to help BUSY DADS who are tired of being tired, stressed, and struggling to get back on track with their health and nutrition. If this is you or someone you know CLICK HERE to schedule a 30min Strategy Session and I will help you get going in the right direction