We tend to shy away from challenges — or, at least hope not to encounter them. Most of us prefer things to be easy, simple and predictable.
But what if you made the decision to put yourself in a physically (or emotionally) challenging situation? An exercise class, a weight loss program, a 5K? Imagine if you embraced these seemingly scary scenarios and thrived on the uncertainty and newness of them, rather than bolting in the opposite direction. How different would your body — and life — be?
I avoided strength-training for many years because I felt dreadfully self-conscious, insecure and out of place at the gym. I wanted a strong, sculpted body but was afraid of lifting weights with the big boys.
After months of slinking onto the elliptical machine in the far back corner of the gym, then darting out the side door when I was finished, I decided enough was enough. With great ambivalence, I hired a personal trainer who could show me the ropes and help me get comfortable with the machines and weight rack. For months, I had watched him training others. He was a professional bodybuilder and had his clients doing exercises I felt certain I could not possibly do. Nevertheless, I swallowed my fear and enlisted him as my coach.
For eight months, he challenged me to my limit, three times per week — and my, oh my, did my body respond. I leg-pressed 360 pounds, chest-pressed my body weight, and dead-lifted well over 100 pounds. I was never so strong and lean.
I was miles out of my comfort zone every time he trained me, but I grew to love the challenge and the remarkable changes in both my body and my confidence. This seemingly small decision to face my fear (weight training at the gym), ask for help (hire a trainer) and embrace the challenge (letting said trainer kick my glutes) changed not just my physique, but my entire life. It lead me to discover my passion for health and fitness — and with my trainer’s encouragement and support, I did a full-on career change and became a trainer myself.
We learn and grow through challenges, and our bodies are no exception. No challenge means no growth. You certainly don’t have to blast into body-sculpting like I did, but start somewhere. It might be a 10-minute walk after years of being sedentary. Perhaps try a kickboxing class — who cares that you are utterly uncoordinated? Simply challenge your body to do more.
Already working out regularly? Make sure you are not just going through the motions of exercise, lest you fall short of your goals. Signs your workouts are no longer challenging:
Your mind wanders while you exercise. I know I am not working as hard as I could be when in the midst of my workout, I start daydreaming or thinking about dinner, work, my next pedicure. When you push yourself out of your exercise comfort zone, the mind stays remarkably present.
You don’t feel the muscles that are being worked. If you get through 12 bicep curls and don’t feel a gentle to moderate burn in that area of your arm, you are missing out on muscle growth. Up the intensity by grabbing a heavier pair of weights.
You are bored during your workout. Moving out of your exercise comfort zone is challenging, maybe a bit scary, but it is never boring. If you feel bored, it’s time to take it up a notch, be it with a new workout format, interval training, a higher step bench — the options are endless.
Remember: Challenging your body does not require darn-near killing yourself with jump squats, super-heavy lifting or frantic speed work. It simply means pushing yourself a bit harder than you have before. Try it with your next workout, and let me know how it goes.
Catherine Bongiorno is a personal trainer, nutritional therapist and owner of Lift To Lose Fitness & Nutrition. Email her at email@example.com or visit www.lifttolose.com for more information.