My good friend Bob Bobrow volunteered a guest blog. A major stimulus for my entree into words stems from many hours traveling to races with Bob. He is a lawyer so is better with words than I.
Take your time with these words. They are the essence of what I tell patients about exercise.
Once home, we boys took showers, got dressed for bed, read, and decided to wait up for mom. Will asked to watch The Universe. So we turned on the TV. It was tuned to NBC, and The Biggest Loser came on. And we left it on.What grabbed us both was a scene in which a trainer was screaming at a very obese female contestant to “keep running!” The woman was screaming too and crying. And she was generally miserable. She was way over threshold as Dr. John would say. She desperately wanted to stop. But her trainer kept screaming, “gut it out,” “give it 110%,” “don’t let yourself down,” and similar things.The woman obeyed and “gutted it out.” And then she nearly collapsed. The trainer was very pleased with himself for pushing the poor woman “beyond her limits.”Sometime during all of this drama, Will asked, “Dad, why is she crying? Why is he yelling at her?”Where to start? I lamely answered, “Well, she’s crying because she’s not enjoying her run, and he’s trying to help her.”We watched the rest of the show. Much of it was as disturbing as the scene recounted above. There was some good stuff, but the message was conflicted. On the one hand, there was a lot of reasonable advice about “making healthy choices,” “lifestyle changes,” and “sticking with it.”But the trainers’ actions, which spoke much louder than their reasonable-sounding advice, were awful. The trainers put the contestants through workouts that were, to me, over the top–way over threshold. It was no pain no gain. Suck it up. Tough it out. Push beyond your limits. More is better. Give it 110%. Defy your threshold.And then at the end of the show, a week’s time in real life, they weighed the contestants to determine whether they achieved anything.All I could think was, other than for drama, why do this to these people? Why put these people through a routine that is wholly unsustainable? Sure, they’ll lose weight for TV, but how long will they stick to an exercise routine that makes them miserable? How long can you live over threshold?And why measure every little thing? How far did you run? How many crunches did you do? How much weight did you lift? And most important, how much weight did you lose?Who cares?Why not just exercise? Sensibly. Consistently. At an effort level that you might actually repeat daily for life–below threshold. Weight loss would happen. Right? It would just happen. Without gutting it out. Without 110%. Without measuring. It would just happen if we exercised sensibly, consistently, and enjoyably. No gutting it out. No super-human effort. Sub-threshold.Unfortunately, that’s not good TV. I understand that. But even worse, it’s not our culture. It’s not what we believe deep down. We believe the Biggest Loser. We believe that you can only get worthwhile results when you gut it out, push beyond your limits, give it 110%, suffer, drive, live over your threshold.We don’t believe that you can just exercise, just play, and be healthy and happy and wise. We don’t believe that you can do what comes naturally, go with the flow, enjoy the ride and be successful. You have to push it, bear down, bust a gut.And there has to be an end game. A goal. A finish line. We don’t exercise to exercise. We exercise to lose weight, look sexy. We exercise for rock-hard abs and buns.And we really want those rock-hard abs and buns. Even if our genetics say we are only ever likely to have firm abs and buns. So we suck it up. We tough it out. We give it everything we’ve got and more. We cross that threshold over and again.And then we crash. We don’t stumble and catch ourselves and keep going. When you crash at warp speed, you really crash. You crash physically. You crash emotionally. You crash physically. And you quit.You quit just like those Biggest Loser contestants surely do when they leave the show. Maybe not immediately. Hyper-motivation will keep them gutting it out over threshold for a while. But eventually they will crash. No one can consistently give 110%, no matter how many motivational books they read or speeches they listen to.
My obvious point is that sustained weight loss and good health and even a happy life don’t come from gutting it out. A healthy weight and a healthy you are side effects of a healthy, sub-threshold lifestyle. They aren‘t the end result of short bouts of sprinting followed by long periods of doing nothing. There’s no stopping in life, except for death. If there’s competitive analogy, good health is an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. So be the tortoise not the hare. Plug along at your pace. Find your limits and operate within them. Push them, but occasionally, but not as a rule. Enjoy your exercise. Don’t gut it out. Work within your limits, under your threshold, whatever they may be.Forget about goals, pounds lost, laps run, weight lifted. To steal back a pilfered phrase, “Just do it.” You will enjoy yourself, and the results you want will just happen.Why isn’t all this crystal clear to everyone? Why isn’t it obvious that most people don’t exercise everyday, because they’ve been taught that they have to exercise over threshold like the contestants on Biggest Loser ? Why isn’t it obvious that the biggest exercise problem we have is that we over exercise. We drill it. We feel the burn. We gut it out. We push ourselves over threshold. And then we don’t.In case you just missed it, I’ll repeat myself. Our biggest exercise problem is that we exercise too much. We go like hell, we burn out, and we quit. We exercise like Biggest Losers.But we come by it honestly. That’s our culture. We’re Americans. We’re competitive. We’re tough. For something to be good, it has to be hard. You have to sacrifice, sweat, cry, feel pain, extend yourself. More is better. Not only more exercise, but more work, more school, more house, more car, more everything. We live over threshold. And the we crash Think about our economy right now and ask yourself whether I might have a point.And our President reminds us that this is the way to live. In addition to bailing out banks that failed from operating way beyond their thresholds, Mr. Obama told us just this week that we need to cut back our kids’ summer break and send them to school longer, make them study harder, make them gut it out more. Our kids need to learn over threshold. They need to drink from the fire hose of knowledge. If they don’t, America won’t be competitive with the rest of the world.Bull…t Mr. Obama.As my Drill Instructor used to say, “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken s…t.” That’s a crude metaphor, so I’ll tone it down. You are what you are. And more than enough exercise, class time, studying, whatever won’t change that. Would Einstein have been smarter with more class time? No. But we believe we can make Einsteins out of our kids through “more.” Sorry folks, that’s not going to happen. Buy all the Baby Einstein products you want. They won’t turn little Johnny into little Albert.So why not try less? Why not try enough? Enough work–how effective are you after about 4 hours of hard work anyway? Enough studying–do you really believe that you have an infinite capacity to learn? Enough exercise–how long did you stick to that over-threshold exercise program you just quit?There are hundreds of books out there by some really smart people that tell us that we’d be happier (and get more done too) if we didn’t sweat the small stuff, if we took things in moderation, if we balanced our lives, if we just did enough. The trouble is that we read those books (to get an edge on the competition of course), but then we don’t do what the authors tell us to do. We reject the go-easier-and-get-more-done message as new-age crap. It’s counterintuitive to us. It’s for sissies, underachievers, losers. Never mind all those studies that show multi-tasking doesn’t work. Never mind all those studies that show that our productivity goes south after about 4 hours of work. Never mind all the advice about working smarter and not harder. Sissy stuff! We just keep on multi-tasking, we keep on working 60 hours per week, we keep on exercising above threshold and then quitting, we keep going on diets that we can’t maintain, we keep buying that Baby Einstein stuff, and we keep sending our kids to tutors and coaches and therapists. We are the Biggest Loser nation.Life is nasty, brutish, and short. Some smart guy wrote that long ago. And it was probably true in the Middle Ages. But it doesn’t have to be true for people today. Life just isn’t that hard. Find a groove. Quit striving to be Einstein, Tiger, Venus, or Lance. Quit working out like Arnold. Be who you are and be what you are. Yes, there are times when we all have to gut it out. And sometimes you need to push your limits. But those times should be the exception, not the rule. And we certainly shouldn’t aspire to a life of gutting it out. We shouldn’t aspire to be the next Einstein, Tiger, Venus, or Lance. Those people are born, then made. Not just made. So aspire to be you.In short, ‘you can’t can’t make chicken salad out of chicken s…t.” So aspire to what you can do and what you can be. And teach your kids to do the same. If that happens to be the next Einstein, Tiger, Venus, or Lance, great. If it means rock-hard abs and buns, fantastic. But if it doesn’t, it’s still great, still fantastic. Its’ enough. Life under threshold is enough. In fact, it’s pretty darned good.RDBP.S. If you think that I’m exaggerating go to www.getinsanity.com I just watched their infomercial while riding my trainer. It’s, as they advertise, insane.