Want to lose weight? Want that awesome six-pack? Need to "work off" that holiday season diet? No worries just hit the gym! Over the next couple of paragraphs, I'll provide you with a program guaranteed to get you shredded in as little as 6 weeks if you just stick to the routine and hit the gym hard!
I am guilty of falling for this absolute insanity. I used to think that an ab heavy routine would have me looking like a Calvin Klein model or just a couple of extra fancy curls in a recline position would bring out all the veins in my biceps. Time after time the lack of results would have me searching for the latest shortcut to cheap aesthetic goals.
I hope this article provides you with a new mind frame around the gym and empowers you to stop googling weight loss routines, targeted muscle training, or crash diet hacks. Society has led us to believe that all of our vanity issues and health problems can be solved simply by 1-2 hours a day of commitment in a building full of machines specifically designed for us to move in dysfunctional movement patterns. It took me years to understand and appreciate that the real work to ensure true health and wellness is done during the other 22-23 hours of the day.
We need to appreciate the gym for what it is. It is a modern-day location that gives us a place to express our human body’s abilities as we no longer have to hunt for our own food, build fires, or do much of any manual labor these days. Building muscle and achieving aesthetic goals are only recent developments in the story of our human evolution and many achieve these goals but with a sacrifice to their true health and longevity. Don’t get me wrong, the gym serves its purpose for those looking to excel at sports and athletic endeavors, as a place to release energy, or a sanctuary to enjoy the company of others. However, this is not how the majority of people see the gym. Many have the misguided mindset that it is the only path to their “dream body” and healthy life.
Over the last 10 years of my health journey, I have had memberships at various gyms with different fitness objectives (Globo gym, personal training, TRX, and CrossFit). I’ve even spent time away from the gym engaging in a year and a half of distance running chasing what society has coached us to chase: athletic performance, perception of health, and aesthetics. It’s funny and sad to think back at all the time wasted, money spent, and stress created when all these attempts proved to be futile, as my approach to the time and activities spent outside the gym was misinformed and misguided. I fell victim to the notion that as long as I put in my time, did my run, or hit my weight goal each day, what I ate, drank, how I slept, or even my stress levels didn’t matter. Looking back, I was missing 99.9% of what truly moves the needle in terms of achieving true health and wellness. Thus, it is my goal to educate others and prevent them from falling victim to this pervasive cycle. I want to shift our obsession and meticulous dedication away from our daily exercise routines and apply the same focus and preservation to the other activities during the day which undoubtedly lead us to true, measurable health.
The gym centric, “expert” guided class routine approach to fitness is only a recent phenomenon. Think back to your grandparents or even ask them directly how many of them had rowing machines, exercise bikes, weight racks, or the latest vibrating belts in their basements. Chances are it’s a very slim few that were rushing off to a spin class or suspended yoga session. Exercise was left to the athletes and military, yet society was essentially free from the levels of obesity and chronic disease that we see today. it’s incredibly telling in the black and white photos of social gatherings and family events where an obese person is nowhere to be found. Similarly, there aren’t groups of buff, muscular people either. They are all just healthy humans. So if the magic pill really was the gym, how is it that our fitness class and gym membership centric society is so sick today. Well, we’ve been sold the wrong pill.
The tricks our grandparents had in their back pockets that we don’t have today are a food system free from processed junk, homes void of tv screens, hands-free from cell phones, true social connection with loved ones, and appreciation for their personal time and energy. Even for those that did regular exercise, they were able to take advantage of the other hours of their day free from foods causing metabolic harm, stress levels causing elevated cortisol, having a sense of purpose in their work, and freedom from nonstop materialistic marketing trying to compete for their time and energy. Taking a step back, it makes you think how much better they must have had it and how much simpler life must have been. I am not discounting that there were real stress and anxiety surrounding parenting, providing for a family, or even achieving success; however, without our modern-day sickness rooted by materialism and cheap, short pleasure, they were able to be more intentional and focused in life. The question now becomes, how do we return to this way of life?
I think we can all admit that we have a very long way to go and need to dive into many areas of our lives; but, given this article’s title and my audience, I want to address our relationship with the gym or chosen exercise routine. I want to reframe what this time in your day should serve as and give you some new ways to think about your hour(s) spent doing these activities. As a reminder, I am an absolute advocate of the gym and am a regular attendee; however, my new mindset has given it a renewed purpose and deeper appreciation.
The gym or chosen exercise routine should first and foremost be a source of enjoyment, not punishment. If this hour has been mentally framed as a way to “earn” your worth or your meals or as a means to “undo” the harm of previous activities (meals, drinking, etc) this should be perceived as an unhealthy and harmful relationship. In order for this hour to be of most benefit to you personally, it must bring you joy. Therefore, it is always my recommendation that the “best” exercise for an individual is the one that is going to keep bringing that person back.
Once we have found the activity that works best for us, it’s important to recognize the benefits of the activity beyond the physical. If the activity is in a social setting such as a yoga or spin class, the true value of the time can be achieved through social connection with your peers. The surface level, the physical benefit can be multiplied simply by engaging in real relationship development with others in the group. It’s a unique opportunity in today’s society to connect with 15-20 people from all walks of life with different occupations, cultural backgrounds, and even age groups. It has been proven that the shared suffering of accomplishing the daily exercise challenge and demands with these individuals will create an instant bond and sense of responsibility towards one another. This social connection a gym provides significantly outweighs the health benefits of any ounce of muscle gained or fat lost. The gym can be analogous to the modern-day coffee shop where people can catch up on each others lives, find their soulmate, or even develop a deeper sense of community and purpose. If we were all able to relate to this mindset, gyms would be a more inviting place.
Many who join gyms or dive into exercise routines are unfortunately there for the main goal of losing weight. I’ve written about how shallow and meaningless this “health” marker really is; however, it is the reality. Given modern society’s attachment to this dogma and its harmful association, it might be best to reframe this mindset. A valuable way to reframe this approach is to view the chosen exercise routine not as a means for weight loss but as a method for muscle gain. Muscle mass is the most protective form of tissue that we can put in our bodies in order to ensure longevity and wellness. More muscle is protective for our bones and vital organs and as we age, is needed to ensure a mobile and working body. Further, the more muscle mass we have on our bodies, the bigger the capacity for glucose storage. As mentioned in previous articles, maximizing this storage space will be protective against the development of diabetes as insulin will not work as hard to put away all the excess glucose and won’t have to turn to fat tissue for more storage capacity. Lastly, with the emphasis on muscle building rather than fat loss, a healthier relationship with food can be developed. We will now be able to appreciate and value food as fuel and as a means by which we can protect the muscle mass that we have worked so hard to preserve. This is the time to create a new mantra around going to the gym to preserve longevity, not to chase cheap body image goals.
Finally, our exercise routines must serve us beyond the physical benefits. Today we are bombarded with stress and seldom are able to enjoy time to ourselves. There is true value in dedicated time to serve selfish endeavors. Whether this is a walk free from kid responsibilities, a session on the spin bike where you release pent up anger and aggression, or a long run that just helps you clear your mind and reflect. It is these outlets that truly let you enjoy the remaining time in your day and clear your mind to be at your best for all others in your life.
Weight loss and diet culture have taken over our perception of many of our daily activities. It is time to recognize that the gym and exercise are not magic pills for weight loss, but should be viewed as means for self-improvement and a way to enhance ourselves to more fully serve our other areas of life.
As always, thanks for reading.