Monday, July 28, 2008

Stay Motivated and Lose Weight by Training Like an Athlete

Copyright © 2008 Charles Carter

One of the challenges to people who are looking to improve their fitness is staying motivated until they reach their fitness goals. With about 9 in 10 people wanting to change their appearance (make that: lose weight) as their primary objective, getting all the way to the target weight and keeping those extra pounds off can prove to be much more difficult than some had originally bargained for.

One of the big obstacles that people face is the fact they have been out of shape for years when they decide to finally do something about their fitness, and once they do start working out, the fact that the results that they seek may take awhile and can feel like hard work will test their motivation to the limit. One of the big reasons people hire personal trainers is that, in addition to the education they can receive from a professional instructor, the trainer can create workouts that are consistently fun and engaging as well as an atmosphere of support. And this can keep a person taking on their fitness motivated all the way to the finish line.

As a personal trainer myself, I believe that one of the best tools to keeping a person really motivated all the way to their goal and target body weight is to set very specific guidelines as to what that goal is, and have the person working out be very excited about what reaching that goal can mean to them. If a person wants to lose 20 pounds, we will discuss in detail what losing 20 pounds can do for their life and how they will feel and be different when they get there. And we come back to this reason over and over again during the period of working toward that goal.

One thing that I found, though, in my career as a trainer is that frequently just having a goal about weight loss is insufficient to keep a person motivated all the way to the end. The reason is that the process of weight loss in a healthy way can be a slow one. Even if a person had a great week of training and eating well, their body may not have changed a lot anyway. That can leave them with a feeling of being unsuccessful, even though everything that they did that week was positive and will benefit them in the long run. So, I was left with the problem of having a person doing everything they need to be doing really well and actually feeling like they were successful even if they hadn't lost a lot of weight in a particular week.

The key is to get all people in the process of improving their fitness thinking like athletes, even if on a smaller scale than someone training for the Olympic Games. I believe that all people have the ability to experience their athleticism on some level, even those that have been out of shape for some time, and when they make a connection to their bodies that allow for this, they can get hooked on that experience and want more of it. They will see that improving their fitness itself feels good and can be fun on its own, and that it would be something they would enjoy doing whether they were losing weight doing it or not. Once a person gets to this level, the irony is that they will lose all the weight they want anyway because they are actually at a point where they will stick with the exercise.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to be a trainer in a couple of "weight loss" competitions sponsored by a local TV station here in Phoenix. Each of the two years that I participated, I worked with a person who was competing against three others to see who could make the biggest successful lifestyle change over a 5 month period. What the other trainers and I found over the length of the competition was that the people who ended up losing a significant amount of weight were the ones who got to the point that they realiozed that the weight loss was actually secondary in motivation to them feeling fit, athletic and healthy for the first time in a long time. All of the trainers worked with their clients using some techniques that were athletic in nature, similar to how an athlete on a sports team would train, with jumping and running drills, using medicine balls, playing basketball, etc. All of the successful participants said that once they realized they like feeling like they were athletes, they knew they would stick with the program for the rest of their lives.

I use the term "inner athlete" to describe this way of thinking, and I know that it works. Rather than having a client do just cardio, we may set a goal to have them do their first ever 5k road race in 3 months, and their cardio trains them for that in addition to helping them lose weight. Or they want to do a great hike in the coming summer, or their kids are now playing sports and they want to be able to play with them, so I do sports drills with them so they build the skills that any athlete at any age would want to have. These are the things that people like having whether they are losing weight or not, and the fact that this type of exercise helps them lose weight makes it all the better.

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