ShapeMichigan and Jeff Smith’s Inspiring Tips for Sticking with a Workout

Pushing into the backcountry with your grown-up kids, one more reason to stay fit and strong.

The other night at the Great Wolf Lodge, I attended a regional kickoff of a health initiative called ShapeMichigan, the two main local sponsors of the event being Priority Health and Munson Healthcare. 

The purpose of the event was to address what’s being called Michigan’s biggest health problem: an overweight population. We’ve all heard plenty over the years about how today’s populace is dangerously larger than previous generations, but some of the statistics are so chilling they deserve repeating. For me, the most compelling fact is that doctors say our children will be the first generation of Americans to live a shorter lifespan than their parents.

Combine that with a second compelling fact: Michigan is the fifth fattest state in the nation, and you have plenty of reason to take action on this issue.

If you happen to be more fiscal minded than health-conscious, then take a look ahead at skyrocketing health insurance and Medicare costs—the national debt also presents very compelling reasons to get our people fit.

Keep an eye out for ShapeMichigan initiatives in coming months as employers and schools and hospitals get the word out about the joy of being healthy.

So, full disclosure here. I am an annoying fitness workout encourager and enjoy prodding my family and friends to do their workouts. Really annoying. So I’m taking this ShapeMichigan moment to put this character trait on display and share some of my tips for keeping workouts a part of your life.

I think a lot of people who stop working out think that for people who are able to sustain good weekly workout regimens it’s somehow just easier, like they don’t have to battle the inertia factor. Not true. I’ve found the inertia factor never goes away, so I have had to develop an array of mental tricks and sayings to keep myself on track.

The most perplexing thing about fitness is you’d think evolution would have made it so that we are driven to be fit, that our minds and bodies would say, “Oh, I can’t wait to get in there and exercise!” because, of course, doing so increases our health and in theory our longevity, and evolution is about all that, right? But instead, our minds and bodies say, “Oh man, I just don’t want to workout today.” And “today” means basically every single day. I don’t know why this is, but I think understanding this is really key to heading down the workout path. The inertia hump never goes away—ever, but likewise, once you actually start the workout, you are over the hump for that day. You have triumphed over the inertia hump! You feel awesome! Next day, the inertia hump will be back—always.

More about ShapeMichigan fitness campaign on MyNorth.com

These tips are fundamentally about overcoming the inertia hump.

  1. Never use the fact that you missed some workouts as an excuse to not workout. (That is, never say to yourself, “Well, screw it, I haven’t worked out for two weeks, so what’s the point.”) This is one of the single most important tips. Viewing your workout as a lifelong goal helps with this.
  2. Set a goal and keep it in your mind as you map out your week. Say you want to workout four times a week. By Thursday night, if you’ve only worked out once, you know you have to workout three more times by Saturday at midnight—you have to. So make it a week-by-week goal so you can easily assess if you hit it. One mental trick that worked for me here is if I knew I had to workout to meet my weekly goal, but I really didn’t want to, I’d project myself to the coming Sunday and look back on the week and think how I’d feel saying “I hit all my workouts” vs “I only got in three.” I dunno, for some reason, that was compelling for me and it pushed me to many workouts I would have otherwise skipped, and the inertia hump would have prevailed.
  3. Set a low bar to trick your brain. I had a requirement. On days I really didn’t want to workout I said to myself, “you have to at least get dressed and stretch out.” That was a low bar that I could fool my inertia-laden brain with. Once I was dressed and stretched out, I always did the workout.
  4. Another low bar trick. I found that during times when I did fall off the workout wagon, it really helped to set a very low bar to get started again, even a ridiculously low bar. So I’d say, just 5 minutes on the Nordic Track, or heck, even 1 minute. And then I’d move it up from there, but slowly. Easy, low bar, so you can get over that inertia hump and get the habit re-established.
  5. Understand that fitness is about living every single day in a more elevated, happier state. Like that old Sting song, “every breath you take, every step you take.” It’s not about delayed gratification, it’s about instant gratification—feeling good and strong as you move through your day. So, it’s not about adding a few years to your life, like living till 84 instead of 81. Sure, that might happen, but it might not. Either way, that’s not the main point.
  6. Know that other stuff in your life will not get done or will have to be set aside because your workout is now taking up time in your day. This is really, really important. You have to admit this up front or else it will be a constant source of frustration. Let the dishes set a bit, let the house clutter remain a bit. Get okay with it. Whatever, you know you will get to those things—I mean, you have to do the dishes at some point, right? But once you miss your workout for the day, that opportunity is lost forever.
  7. Know that your workouts might be inconvenient for other people. You might show up late for a party, get dinner on the table a little later, maybe skip an event all together. So what. Your workout has to take precedence in your day. If you view your workout as an option, the thing that gets done when you have the time, if you have the time, it will not happen. I guarantee it 100%. Fail.
  8. Make a point to focus on the good feeling you get from working out, like remind yourself how good you feel multiple times during the day or evening. Reward yourself with compliments. “I worked out; I feel great.” That will help overcome the inertia hump when it returns (which it will, guaranteed) the very next time you work out.
  9. Sometimes, allow yourself to think long term. When I was a young dad, I thought, I want to stay strong so when my kids are older, I can do things I love but that take a certain amount of fitness to pull off, like backcountry trips. Now I’m 54 and this August I did an outstanding backpacking trip to South Manitou Island with my 27-year-old son and his girlfriend. Then in September I did another amazing trip with my 20-year-old son to the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. Lots of positives to remaining fit.

Feeling good from being fit is an end in itself, but beyond that, fitness is a tool that opens doors to amazing experiences like this—an island beach all to ourselves in Sleeping Bear Dunes national park at the height of summer. We got it just because we were willing to backpack a few miles, past two full campgrounds to the empty one.

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