What’s the Motivation of a Gym Junkie?

This week saw many gyms in Australia start to re-open their doors with the easing of covid-19 restrictions. With this good news I had to plan and organise my schedule that allowed me to juggle my time between clients needing me as a Counsellor, Coach or Personal Trainer.

Exercise is, and always has been, a big part of my life. As a Personal Trainer I was excited to re-establish connection with my clients after such a long break. While sitting in traffic on my first commute back to the gym I started reflecting on how things use to be pre- lockdown and what to expect moving forward. Curiously, out of nowhere, I had this random thought:  

“I wonder if the gym regulars are still doing the same workout they have been doing for the last decade?’  

Now to many reading this, you may be asking: “why does this matter? “

I asked myself the same question, but then I got thinking a little bit deeper around the subject. . I witness seeing individuals repeating the same exercise routine they have been doing week after week, month after month, year after year, but who am I to pass judgement on what people do while they are exercising at the gym? They pay their membership and can do what they want. However, then I came to realisation.

My viewpoint and frustration was born from my knowledge and expertise as a Personal Trainer. I needed to re-evaluate my opinion from a counsellor perspective. I needed to acknowledge the physical gains, but also assess the mental benefits from their actions. It’s not all about what happening on the outside. Sometimes what’s happening on the inside is just as important.

Humans are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to exercise and working out.  From my observations, as a Personal Trainer, their workouts generally look the same. Strength training enthusiasts tend to follow a set routine each time they enter the weight room, whereas cardio lovers gravitate to their favourite machine most times. Group class fans always do the same class with the same instructor every week. From my experience you can know on a weekly basis where and when an individual is going to be in the gym and what they will be doing.

Now, in reality there is nothing wrong with this, however if you are hoping for improvements or changes in body shape, weight or fitness level you will be sadly disappointed.  In his best-selling book, “What got you here won’t get you there”, Marshall Goldsmith highlights the point that doing the same thing over and over again will eventually lead to a plateau. If nothing changes, then nothing is going to change.  The human body is a master at adaptation. When it is asked repeatedly to do the same thing again and again it becomes very efficient at overcoming the challenge. This means the physiological benefits become limited over time. What was once a kick arse workout now becomes no more than a walk in the park.  Numerous researchers support the fact that workouts that challenge your body in new ways over time are the most beneficial ways to see improvements and change.

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Now knowing this, why do people keep doing the same thing week in, week out?

In his book “Atomic Habits”, James Clear offer some valuable insights that may help us better understand our choices around human behaviour and change. He highlights that we put pressure on ourselves to make improvements that people will notice. However, when those changes do not happen quickly enough we become disappointed and slip back into old habits that have a sense of comfort.

Generally, noticeable change or progress can take anywhere between 12 to 16 weeks.  Until we can overcome that critical threshold point, there can be no improved level of performance. As James Clear articulates, “People make a few small changes, fail to see a tangible result, and decide to stop.”

OK- so how can we explain or understand peoples motivation to keep going to the gym and doing the same workout?

It’s also worth considering that not all people go to the gym with goals focused on physical and performance outcomes. Many seek the reward from a psychological perspective. Maybe their focus is based on how they know they will feel following a workout.  

Over the last decade there have been several extensive reviews of the exercise psychology literature. Together they offer positive support for the role that exercise can play in the promotion of positive mental health. In an article called, “Physical activity and psychosocial outcomes,” the author, McAuley identified the positive correlation between exercise, self-esteem, self-efficacy, psychological wellbeing, and cognitive functioning. Also, he highlights the positive impact of exercise relating to anxiety, stress, and depression.

No doubt no one comes to the gym with the intent of working on psychosocial outcomes. Nevertheless, the general population have become very educated around the benefits of exercise that suits their needs. On reflection, my years pushing myself offer good insight. Back in the day my focus was 100% external outcomes. Looking, and feeling strong. Now, 20 years on, my fitness goals concentrates totally on mental balance and body flexibility.

What have I learnt?

I have come to realise that without knowing what motivates an individual to go to the gym, it’s not for me to question what they are doing. Until someone asks for, or seeks my knowledge to help them, then my time is best served admiring their discipline and consistency to keep showing up.  

Do you follow the same routine every time you go to the gym or do you mix it up?

What type of benefits do you seek with your workouts?  

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