Tag Archives: comfort zone

When To Push, When Not To Push

Exercise is good! There is no doubt to that statement. Can one do too much? Absolutely! In times when one is feeling too good or just being stupid, too much exercise can and will become counterproductive to the original course. But how much is too much and what about all this rhetoric about pushing it to the limits? Do you need to always keep the pedal to the metal so to speak when it comes to exercise or is there a happy medium?

When To Push

In my many years of being a fitness professional, I’m convinced that many have no idea what it means to increase their exercise intensity let alone understand what that means. In simple terms, intensity is simply a term used to describe how hard you’re working. It can be measured subjectively (“Man that kicked my ass!”) to being measured objectively (heart rate, time of rest periods, watts, etc.). What matters most about intensity is that if you’re someone who exercises regularly expecting some sort of result, you need to have an objective measure of intensity. Whether it’s for health reasons, aesthetics, or performance, at some point you have to push beyond the “comfort zone”, a term used to describe where most find solace in their exercise routine. The issue with “comfort zones” is that nothing happens there. The individual who exercises by just going through the motions falls into this category. Some would say something is better than nothing and while that is only mildly true, most who exercise do have a goal or agenda that will yield something. Going through the motions and not pushing a little more effort is going to yield zero to minimal results. So how much do you push and when do you do it? First, establish a goal. Why do you exercise? Next, establish what it is you wish to accomplish through exercise. Be leaner? Decrease blood pressure? Be stronger? Run faster? Third, determine that your exercise needs are met by the exercises you choose to engage. Once you have established all three, then you can look at how to push and increase your intensity. Maybe it’s five more minutes on the treadmill at a slightly higher speed. Or it’s an increase in reps of a strength training exercise. Or it’s a decrease in time with more work being done. There are simply thousands of ways to push it but it has to be objective and measurable. Then you can truly track and see progress.

When Not To Push

Aside from the obvious, exercising through pain is never a good thing. Pain is your body’s signal that something’s not quite right. But I will also warn you that muscle soreness and pain are not one in the same. How do you know? Well, experience will tell you a lot but most times the complete range of motion of a muscle is not completely inhibited. Being sick is also a good sign to not push it as not all sicknesses require a cessation in an exercise program. There are going to be days that are harder than others and that’s to be expected. Listening to your body is a skill that gets perfected over time – knowing when to take it easy or a day off. When you start to think of every little thing to “skip” or “delay” a workout, chances are good that although the intentions were good initially, they quickly became lost and excuse making becomes the norm. Exercise is a stress; a stress that evolves and adapts. If you don’t evolve, the impact, the positive effect of exercise, becomes lost.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

87802688Everyone has a favorite: a favorite place to eat; a favorite place to hang out; a favorite movie; a favorite song, and so on.  Even when it comes to exercise, we all have a favorite: a favorite piece of equipment, a favorite move, or even a favorite type of exercise.  There is certainly nothing wrong with doing what you enjoy and as is generally our nature, we tend to gravitate towards the things that we feel most comfortable with. When it comes to exercise however, playing favorites may be the one thing holding you back from achieving real success.

Like a big blanket and roaring fireplace, few things bring feelings of comfort this time of year.  Exercise rarely if ever conjures up feelings of comfort, yet it is comfort with exercise, or exercises, that most are guilty of indulging in.  As a fitness professional and avid exerciser, I have observed and learned a lot of things by simply putting my time in at the gym.  For many years, I was under the impression that Mondays were designated bench press days and that treadmills and Stairmasters were designed to be used strictly by women.  Now you may laugh at that observation, but I will bet you anything that the next time you go to the gym, specifically on a Monday, you too can make a similar observation.  But even if you fail to notice that trend, I will bet you can witness those that on any given day and time are exercising the same way they always do.   Perhaps you are even one of them. By now, you may be starting to ask yourself, “Isn’t it good to be in a routine?’. Yes, but not exactly.

An exercise routine more appropriately defined is the consistent act of performing exercise and not a personalized script of specific exercises.  While maintaining consistency is a key to success, it is the performing of the same exercises repeatedly where most make their mistake.  Make no mistake about it. Exercise is good for you, no matter what it is.  Physical movement is what we need and exercise unfortunately is the only way most of us get it.    But as is customary with a lot of things in our lives, we tend to stick to the things we like, or more specifically feel comfortable to us.  From an exercise standpoint, doing only the things that we feel most comfortable with greatly limits our potential. When you understand that exercise is a stress and that in order for that stress to continue to cause change, it too has got to change. Change can be daunting, but stepping out of your comfort zone certainly makes a lot more sense.

Case in point, let’s take a look at bench press Mondays.  Guys that spend a lot of time in the weight room generally focus a lot of their attention on the bench press. There is certainly nothing wrong with doing bench presses, but in their quest to get bigger and stronger, centering on them will do little to bring their goals to fruition.  Bench presses represent a comfort zone; an exercise that in their mind is a sign of strength and masculinity.  However, what’s often found missing in their quest for strength is the understanding that overall strength is more effectively developed through “meaty” exercises like squats, deadlifts, cleans, pull-ups, dips, etc; typically left out because they are hard and not just physically, but sometimes emotionally as well.  One of the most common weight room injuries are shoulder injuries; not necessarily caused by lifting too much, but by overuse and lack of paying attention to the support muscles.  Most of which could be avoided through change and variety. Furthermore, familiarity with certain exercises such as the bench press blindfolds lifters from the vast array of other options and opportunities available to them while still working towards the desired goal.

Conversely, there are the “cardio-holics” as I like to call them that spend endless hours doing nothing but cardio every time they come to workout. More specifically, they generally spend the majority of their workout time on one particular piece of equipment only, such as the treadmill. Again, while there is certainly nothing wrong with using a treadmill, just like with weight training, overuse injuries are also just as common among cardio enthusiasts.   Most cardio-holics love of the treadmill or Stairmaster however most likely comes from the comfort of thinking that by doing hours of cardio they will burn more fat.  Unfortunately, that could not be farther from the truth.  Fat loss is consummate with a balance of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and of course dietary intake.  The only people who stand to benefit the most from extended bouts of cardio are endurance athletes, such as marathoners, cyclists, or triathletes.  As with weight training, variety in exercise type will lead to greater results and a decreased likelihood of exercise burnout.

Aside from just trying other exercises to step out of the comfort zone, it also involves being able to work a bit harder than is perceived comfortable.  Exercise while important also needs to be a bit more than just going through the motions of doing an activity. The topic of exercise intensity, while not the topic of this column, is a key component of coming out of the shell so to speak. Stepping it up a bit, whether it involves super setting or decreased time between sets, is a good place to start. Monitoring exercise intensity by either using a heart rate monitor or through perceived exertion are time and tested valid measures of working harder. That is not to say there should be pain, but a little sweat, a rapid heart rate, and slightly labored breathing is a real good indicator.  After all, they don’t call it working out for nothing!

Mind you, due to physical limitations, there are those who have to do the same exercises and have no choice in the matter.  But to those of us that do have a choice and feel like they are stuck with their progress, stepping out of the comfort zone is not only the necessary thing to do; it is the right thing to do.  If it is change you seek then it is change you must cause.  Change things up a bit and step out of your comfort zone.

Featured in March/April 2007 of Philly Fit Magazine

No Pain, No Gain: Myth or Truth?

400_F_54184437_5HceCfzh1jgdfOipzWNlDs7oTVIGBxS6No pain, no gain.  For decades, this was the accepted mantra of those who competed in bodybuilding or power lifting events, which was then passed on to and assumed by the general population as the only way to exercise to improve health, lose weight, or change the shape of their body.  As years of research and a better understanding of the effects of exercise on the body have shown, the “no pain, no gain” theme is not really fair or accurate. Or is it? Most exercise “novices” or “naysayers” would say it is bad advice, but as a fitness professional I have another perspective to offer you.

Success, whether in life, your career, your relationships, and even your body is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone and that may require embracing some pain.  To reach high levels of physical and personal success you must approach your training, and your entire life, as an endeavor in constant growth. The ultimate truth is, you are either moving forward or moving backward; growing or dying. There’s no such thing as comfortably maintaining. To grow, you must step above past achievements; beyond your perceived boundaries and limits. That means stepping out of the known, into the unknown; out of the familiar and into the unfamiliar; out of the comfortable into the uncomfortable. You must get out of your comfort zone.

Cavett Robert, who was founder of the National Speakers Association, said, “Most people are running around their whole lives with their umbilical cords in their hands and they’re looking for some place to plug it back in.” A majority of the population is scared of the new, unknown and unfamiliar. They prefer to stay in that womb of comfort. When the going gets tough, when the effort gets painful, when the work gets hard, they always pull back into safety. But the extraordinary people do the opposite. They know they have to get out of the comfort zone, and into new territory or they’ll stagnate and die. You can’t grow or change by doing what you’ve already done. You’ve got to train just to prevent yourself from going backwards. Maintenance doesn’t occur when you do nothing. Maintenance is working to fight entropy (the tendency for things to naturally deteriorate).

Nevertheless, most people still will not leave their comfort zones. They won’t do it in business, they won’t do it in their personal lives, and they certainly won’t do it when seeking REAL change in their health and fitness. Why? Because it hurts, it’s uncomfortable, and it means more work beyond what they consider to be hard work already.  And that’s what it means to step outside the comfort zone. It is uncomfortable. Change is uncomfortable, whether it’s physical mental, or emotional.  It requires discipline, sacrifice, uncertainty and fear. To say, “no pain no gain” is bad advice is admittedly accepting things for the way they are, and if you are happy with that then no one or nothing can change your mind. The fact of life is that you don’t grow unless you are constantly stepping outside the comfort zone, and outside the comfort zone requires a little discomfort and pain.

The statement “no pain, no gain” has been misinterpreted, criticized and labeled a fallacy by many. However, those doing the criticizing are almost always the pretenders, the “comfort zoners” who haven’t achieved much. My advice to you is to ignore them. Step out of your comfort zone and follow the small percentage of people who press on and achieve great things. Embrace the “good pain” of growth and when it subsides, enjoy the benefits of the change. But I forewarn you. Enjoy the view for a short while because it’s not long before that higher level becomes your new comfort zone and then its time to press on again.

Featured in October 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor