One of the most popular topics in the fitness industry today is exercise adherence. You can have access to the best-equipped gym close to home, but often life gets in the way and you find yourself taking extensive layoffs. You want to get back into the gym, but something is holding you back. Let’s take a closer look at this problem and what can be done about it.
It’s no secret that the retention rate at commercial gyms is extremely low. Gym owners know this and thus have no problem overselling their memberships (because they know that most of their clients will seldom use the facilities) and offering great annual rates. In one study by the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association, it was found that 80 percent of those who signed up for a gym membership in January 2012 quit within the first five months—18 percent quit by the end of February!
It’s not just newcomers who have problems getting back into the gym – it’s also exceptional athletes. Elite gymnasts and figure skaters who have to take long layouts to recover from injuries often have trouble getting into the mindset to return to spending as much as 30 hours a week to their sport. Or, when they retire to pursue other interests, often they often find it difficult to get involved in any type of exercise program. Chronic injuries, especially those that result in low back pain, is one common excuse for this lack of motivation. But you also have to consider emotional trauma.
Anyone who has ever trained hard may have a difficult time getting started again if all they can remember is the negative memories of how difficult and painful their workouts were. The bad times outweigh the good times, you might say. The result is they often avoid training altogether. Case in point: Olympic swimmers.
Sherm Chavoor, who coached Mark Spitz who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics, observed that one of the most difficult parts of training for many of his elite athletes was the simple act of getting into the water – they would procrastinate by the edge of the pool before finally jumping in. The reason was that Chavoor’s workouts were extremely long and rigorous. The swimmers knew that once they hit the water, the hard work was about to begin. Again, the problem is not being unclear about your goals, but developing a negative mindset about putting in the hard work once more needed to achieve them.
Now that we’ve identified the problem, let’s look at one solution. It’s called The Comeback Workout, and it is based on the concept of intervention.
The word intervention in popular culture refers to the idea that to treat disruptive behavior, such as drinking excessively, you can try doing an “intervention” that interrupts the behavior. Maybe this simply involves family members making sure that one of their own doesn’t drink, or checking into a rehab center where the individual’s condition is closely monitored by medical doctors and mental health care professionals. Although alcoholism has a medical component that should be addressed, the point is to find ways to break someone of their bad habit. For our intervention, the disruptive behavior is an unwillingness to train.
What we’re proposing for someone who has difficulty making a gym comeback is to try a short intervention program that makes weight training enjoyable again. After a few weeks, the person engaging in these easy workouts will once again get bitten by the weightlifting bug and will be intrinsically motivated to work hard again.
In comparison, let’s first look at the optimal way to train. To make rapid progress with a beginner who wants to add muscle and lose bodyfat, some of the training methods recommended in a typical workout might focus on multi-joint free weight exercises such as squats, deadlifts, chin-ups and bench presses – maybe throw in some strongman training. Supersets, along with relatively higher reps and short rest intervals, have the added benefit of being able to perform more hard work in less time. This approach certainly works, but for intervention purposes it might be better to hold off a bit before engaging in such a challenging exercise protocol.
As an intervention, it would be better to use a workout designed for a beginner in poor physical condition. Perform single-station training, focus on machine exercises, use extremely light weights, and perform low reps to avoid any sense of a pump or training volume that would activate the sweat glands. A higher-rep, isolation exercise to correct a structural balance problem can be thrown in, such as some rotator cuff exercises to deal with that chronic shoulder pain. And the training sessions are short, like 25 minutes. Here’s a sample Comeback Workout:
A. Leg Extension, 2-3 x 4-6, 4021, rest 2-3 minutes
B. Seated Vertical Press Machine, Neutral Grip, 2-3 x 4-6, 3011, rest 2-3 minutes
C. Lat Pulldown Machine, Neutral Grip, 2-3 x 4-6, 3021, rest 2-3 minutes
D. Vertical Press Machine, Neutral Grip, 2-3 x 4-6, 3011, rest 2-3 minutes
E. External Rotation with Low Pulley, Standing, Arm in Low Position, 1-2 x 10-12, 2020, rest 2 minutes
Here’s another version using primary free weights, which will work well for home gym training.
A. Front Step-up, Dumbbells, 2-3 x 4-6, 2011, rest 2-3 minutes
B. Dumbbell Lateral Raise, 2-3 x 4-6, 3011, rest 2-3 minutes
C. One-Arm Dumbbell Row, Hand Neutral, 2-3 x 4-6, 3021, rest 2-3 minutes
D. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press, 2-3 x 4-6, 3011, rest 2-3 minutes
E. External Rotation with Dumbbell, Arm Abducted, 1-2 x 10-12, 2020, rest 2 minutes
Because the Comeback Workout is so easy, an appropriate warm-up would consist of chalking your hands, and the cooldown would be to wipe that same chalk off your hands. A post-workout shake? Sure, if you’re thirsty.
In all seriousness, this wimpy workout is designed just to get someone whose motivation has stalled to get back in the gym. After a few weeks, the weightlifting bug will bite again and you will want to start pumping iron seriously again.