Lifelong Fitness – Habit Forming for Strength Training
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Staying dedicated to strength training as a lifelong fitness plan is not an easy task. After a hectic 10-hour work day, you might find that you only have an hour of free time between getting off at work and heading to pick up your child from the babysitter. Having the discipline to use that hour to get in a needed strength training workout instead of plopping down in front of the TV requires mental toughness.
While there are hundreds of articles written about techniques and methods for strength training, very few people take the time to develop the mental resilience that is needed to maintain a strength training routine. In this short article, we offer three habit coaching techniques to help you mentally prepare for long term strength training routines.
Task Orientation Over Ego Motivation
According to the a recent study done by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research on the motivational factors of women ultra-runners, it was found that women who trained for ultra-marathons were more motivated in task orientation than in ego orientation. Put in another way, these women were more motivated to simply finish the race rather than place in the top three in their age group.
When it comes to strength training, many of us have well defined ideas of how we want our bodies to look. The chiseled, muscular body of the man in GQ magazine, or the sculpted physique of the woman who dutifully shows up to the gym every day at the same hour are obviously enviable. However, getting to that stage takes years of effort, persistence and hard work.
Instead of focusing your efforts on trying to gain the body image you so desire, it's best to focus your energy on more immediately attainable goals and tasks that you can incorporate into your lifelong fitness plans. Making it your goal to look like a bodybuilder (ego-orientation), will quickly disappoint you as you find that the visible changes to your body aren't appearing as quickly as you hoped.
If, however, you focus on more immediate task-oriented goals such as increasing the number of squat repetitions or making minor improvements in your overall balance and coordination, you will see results faster. Since all of us need the positive feedback loops that come from being successful in the short term, setting attainable task-oriented goals is an important mental coaching habit to give you the confidence needed to continue with your strength training.
Strength Train to Feel Good, Not to Lose Weight
Thousands of people, and especially the female population, turn to strength training as a strategy to lose weight. While losing weight is certainly an important part of your overall self-care, it can become an all-consuming aspiration that ends up eclipsing other, more essential components of strength training.
An article by Sima Zach and Tal Adiv in the Journal “Sex Roles” similarly finds that participation rates in strength training among the female population is considerably lower than that of men, despite the fact that both men and women understand the scientific evidence regarding the benefits of strength training.
Our society is too overly focused on attaining the perfect weight. While it is obviously important to avoid obesity and all the health complications this can cause, strength training should be more about feeling good rather than getting skinnier.
By making weight loss your main ambition or purpose for strength training, you may lose your initial enthusiasm when you don't see the pounds start to fall away. Achieving a sustainable weight loss requires the combination of several factors including diet change, strength training, and overall activeness. Too many people who turn to strength training with the hope of losing weight are essentially avoiding the necessary work of making fundamental changes to their lifestyle.
If you approach strength training as a practice and routine to help you feel better, weight loss will generally follow course. For example, if you feel sluggish and lethargic throughout your day because of a sedentary job that keeps you sitting in an office all day long, committing to even a short strength training routine every evening will help to boost your energy levels. The higher your energy levels, the more physically active you will want to be which in turn also affects your internal motivation. All of these factors will eventually contribute to helping you lose weight in the long run.
Consistency Over Intensity
For those of us who have an extremely hectic schedule with our agenda hours packed from sunrise till sunset, it can be a temptation to try and increase the intensity of our strength training workouts. If we can't make it to the gym for a whole hour, we might think that by increasing the intensity, we can make up for the extra time loss.
Similarly, if you've missed a day or two because of some unexpected business trip, it can be a temptation to hit the gym on a day off of work for several hours to “make up” for lost time.
With strength training however, consistency is much more valuable than intensity. An extra forceful workout might end up causing your body more harm than good. A muscle strain or worse will even put you further back in your overall strength training routine.
Committing to a consistent, strength training plan over the long run is by far much more valuable than trying to make up for lost time with extra intensity. If you're only able to make it for half an hour, then enjoy your half an hour workout and don't overdo it, knowing that tomorrow you'll be back at the gym anyway.
The Importance of Mental Toughness
Getting fit begins developing a mental toughness that will help you find the motivation to make it to the gym after long hours at work. Implementing these three simple habit-coaching techniques will help you make strength training an essential part of your healthy lifestyle.