One of the most popular topics in the fitness industry is the problem of exercise adherence. A gym can be outfitted with tons of Eleiko equipment and staffed with highly educated personal trainers, but none of this matters if you don’t show up. Let’s take a closer look at the problem and what can be done about it.
An estimated one-third of American’s don’t exercise, and many successful gym chains have financially benefited from this neglect. Seriously. The retention rate at commercial gyms is extremely low, so club owners have no problem overselling their memberships and offering great specials because they know that most of their clients will seldom use the facilities. In one study it was found that half of those who signed up for a gym membership quit within the first eight months and 80 percent quit within two years!
It’s not just newcomers who have problems getting involved in pumping iron, but even those who have been exceptional athletes or weight trainers in the past. Life gets in the way. Chronic injuries, especially those that result in neck and low back pain, are certainly valid physical excuses for this lack of exercise adherence – but you also have to consider mental 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 that these individuals often avoid training altogether. Case in point: Olympic swimmers.
Sherm Chavoor, who coached Mark Spitz (7 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 extraordinarily long and rigorous, and the swimmers knew that once they hit the water the hard work was about to begin. In other words, the problem is not being unclear about goals but developing a negative mindset about the work needed to achieve them.
If you find that it’s a challenge to start training or get back in the gym after a long layoff, consider one solution. It’s called “The Comeback Workout” and is based on the concept of intervention.
Getting Back in the Saddle
The word intervention in popular culture refers to the idea that to treat disruptive behavior, such as excessive drinking, you can try doing an “intervention” that interrupts the behavior. Maybe this involves family members making sure that one of their own doesn’t drink, or checking into a rehab center where the individual is closely monitored with medical doctors and mental health care professionals. The point is to break someone of their bad habit. In this case, the disruptive behavior is an unwillingness to work out.
What we’re proposing for someone who has difficulty making a comeback to training is to try a short intervention program that makes weight training enjoyable again. It’s even good for personal trainers who find it hard to train after working in a gym all day. After a few weeks, those 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 for a beginner or a detrained individual to work out. To add muscle mass and lose bodyfat quickly, a trainer would often design workouts that focus on multi-joint free weight exercises such as squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, and bench presses – he or she might even throw in some strongman work. They would probably use supersets, relatively higher reps, and short rest intervals. Not so with intervention training.
We would have you perform single-station training, include popular machine and dumbbells exercises, use extremely light weights, and perform low reps to avoid any sense of a pump or a level of volume that would activate the sweat glands. Supersets are to be avoided in commercial gyms as there is a possibility that you may have to work in with someone, thus increasing the workout time. A higher-rep, isolation exercise to correct a structural balance problem can be thrown in, and the training sessions are short, as brief as 10-15 minutes.
Of course, when you start such a program you may get comments from the front desk people or gym friends such as, “Done already?” or “Hey, didn’t you just get here?” Appropriate comebacks are, “Broken water pipe!” or “My kid is sick!” Nobody needs to know the details of your diabolical plan!
To get you started, here is a sample 4-week Comeback Workout. It’s divided into four, 1-week workouts. The first week you only train twice, but this training frequency is increased to 3x a week for the rest of the program. If you can only make it in twice a week on one of those final three weeks, that’s fine. Just avoid training only once as such an extended break can cause you to become sore.
Each workout is progressively more difficult than the previous one. When you’re finished, you should have enough motivation to get back into your conventional workouts.
Week 1, 2x Week (Total commitment: 10-15 minutes)
A. Squat, DB, Heels Elevated, 2 x 5, 4021, rest 120-180 seconds
B. Lateral Raise, DB, 2 x 5, 3011, rest 120-180 seconds
C. Lat Pulldown, Medium-Grip, Supinated, 2 x 5, 3021, rest 120-180 seconds
D. Bench Press, DB, 45 Degree Incline, 2 x 5, 3011, rest 120-180 seconds
Notes: You can take up to 3 minutes rest, increasing the workout time to about 15 minutes, but the low reps and light weights probably make any additional rest unnecessary. One of the goals is to get in an out of the gym quickly. As for the weight to use for each exercise, guess what you can do for 5 reps in each exercise and do about half of that for both sets.
Workout 2, 3x Week (Total commitment: 15-20 minutes)
A. Squat, DB, Heels Elevated, 3 x 5, 4021, rest 120 seconds
B. Lateral Raise, DB, 3 x 5, 3011, rest 120 seconds
C. Lat Pulldown, Medium-Grip, Supinated, 3 x 5, 3021, rest 120 seconds
D. Bench Press, DB, 45 Degree Incline, 3 x 5, 3011, rest 120 seconds
Notes: One more set is added to each exercise and the rest time is slightly reduced. You can still use half of your max for reps for your first set of each exercise, but for your second increase it about 5-10 percent. For a machine exercise such as lat pulldown, often this translates into one more plate.
Workout 3, 3x Week (Total commitment: 20-25 minutes)
A. Front Step-up, DB, 10,8,6, 3021, rest 90 seconds
B. Overhead Press, DB, Single Arm, 10,8,6, 3011, rest 90 seconds
C. V-Handle Pulldown, 10,8,6, 3021, rest 90 seconds
D. Bench Press, BB, 10,8,6, 4011, rest 120 seconds
E. External Rotation, DB, Arm Abducted, 2 x 12, 2020, rest 120 seconds
Notes: This workout contains new exercises that are slightly more challenging, along with a higher-rep rotator cuff exercise to keep the shoulders healthy. The set/rep sequence for all other exercises is 10,8,6. With this method, you start with a weight you know you can comfortably lift for 10 reps, so about 50 percent of your best for 10 reps. Increase the weight and do 8 reps, then increase the weight again and do 6 reps. If you’re feeling good, make big jumps; if not, do only a bit more – the idea is to ease you back into the mindset of using more challenging weights.
Workout 4, 3x Week (Total commitment: 25-30 minutes)
A. Front Step-up, DBs, 10,8,6, 3021, rest 60 seconds
B. Overhead Press, DB, Single Arm, 10,8,6, 3011, rest 60 seconds
C. V-Handle Pulldown, 10,8,6, 3010, rest 90 seconds
D. Bench Press, BB, 10,8,6, 4011, rest 90 seconds
E. Row, DB, Neutral Grip, 10,8,6, 3021, rest 60 seconds
F. External Rotation, DB, Arm Abducted, 2 x 12, 2020, rest 90 seconds
Notes: The differences between this workout and the previous one are the rest intervals are shorter and we’ve added one more exercise.
After four weeks of intervention training, your conditioning level will have improved to the point where you can jump into conventional training without too much huffing and puffing or suffering uncomfortable post-workout soreness. It would also be a good time to find a training partner at your level to help motivate you to stay with it.
In all seriousness, this wimpy workout is designed just to get an individual whose motivation has stalled back in the gym. After a few weeks on the Comeback Workout, the weightlifting bug will bite again and you can get back to serious training. Just remember, it’s only an intervention!