There’s No Psychological Reward

In 2006 my exercise sessions were done at a fitness center that was popular enough that I was forced to wait until about 15 minutes before closing time to start. I would observe the activity in the room and when I thought I had enough of an opening, I would set the five machines in reverse order and hope that everyone there was more interested in their conversations than in using the equipment that I had planned.

One night as I finished my last exercise and unloaded from the resistance I glanced across the aisle at a man who was seated on a chest press machine looking quite relaxed. He was shaking his head and sort of smiling as he said “There’s just no psychological reward”. I asked for clarification while still breathing heavily. He explained that he observed and understood the protocol that I used, but that he couldn’t find any satisfaction in it; such effort only leading to ultimate failure.

I assured him that I understood his viewpoint and moved on. I wondered later if it would have helped him for me to explain my purpose, but I concluded that this was a classic case of “no explanation is possible”. I convey the story here because I find it an accurate illustration of the distinction between exercise and recreation.

Recreational activity is often confused for exercise. Sports, aerobics, step aerobics, danceaerobics, this aerobics, that aerobics, kick boxing, pilates, yoga, taebo, boot camp, crossfit, p90x, zumba, spinning, running, swimming, just move it, play60, wii, x-box … I could go on indefinitely. Recreation is a good thing. I encourage everyone to get as much as they care to. I don’t understand why people are often offended to hear their favorite activities referred to as recreation? Other activities get confused for exercise also that fit into the categories of work or skill enhancement. The important characteristic is “what’s the purpose?”

The purpose of skill is simply to become more efficient at any given task; from a backhand stroke in tennis to stacking hay bales on a flatbed truck, get the mission accomplished with the least possible expenditure; nothing wasted; nothing extra. The purpose of work is simply to get the object moved from its present state to the more preferred state. The single purpose of recreation is enjoyment. None of these activities have exhaustion for a target. It may be an ancillary effect, but it’s not desirable.

Conversely, exercise has one simple immediate goal and that is exhaustion of strength in order to provoke the reaction of overcompensation. When work, recreation or skill activities are confused with exercise and are taken to an extreme that nears exhaustion the result is always bad. The goal of each is undermined; skill is diminished, work is counterproductive, and recreation ceases to be enjoyable. The worst part is that each becomes dangerous at the same time that its purpose is eroded.

Exercise is not intended to provide a psychological reward. The reward is a physical improvement.

Now returning to the level evaluation list that was begun a long time back. I’ll elaborate on the next five items. Once again read through the list visualizing the process of an exercise session and add a comment with any thoughts.

1)      Avoid distractions
2)      Position carefully
3)      Maintain stationary origin
4)      Mastery over breathing
5)      Proper attire
6)      Avoid firing out
7)      Avoid shifting positions
8)      Avoid re-gripping
9)      Grasp the repetition cycle concept
10)   Avoid momentum

11)   Minimize acceleration

Imagine a slow buildup of your force to just meet the resistance setting and balance it at that level for a fraction of a second and then add the smallest possible increment until movement begins. This is a big waste of energy. It makes for quality exercise. Don’t be in a rush to get movement started, rather exaggerate the opposite extreme. Every change of pace and direction involves acceleration. Realize its existence and master your control over it.

12)   Mastery over turnarounds

Approach each extreme of a stroke with careful precision. Don’t bump into either end. Sneak in to that stroke peak gradually and take the time to definitively meet it before turning around and sneaking back away from it all the time consciously keeping as near as possible the exact same force applied. Reach the bottom out without allowing any sound, but feel that slight difference while maintaining the force in the same direction, and then leave the bottom out without a sound again and not even a hint of jolt.

13)   Constant load

This idea crosses over into minimal acceleration, turnarounds and momentum. Focus every bit of attention on measuring the force applied to the movement arm as if the weight stack is being carried by a strand of wire precisely gaged to be on the verge of snapping.

14)   Mastery over unloading

In the same way that the repetition cycle and the turnarounds are strictly under control, when failure is reached, continue to handle the apparatus as if it’s delicate. The concern here is not for the machine of course but for safety and quality of the exercise. Keep any movement under strict form and make the bottom out silent again. Take that extra second to gradually lower the tension after touching down.

15)   Exit properly

Once you’re unloaded from the resistance mechanism, focus on removing yourself from the machine safely yet quickly. Don’t merge movements together, rather keep them separated. Turn, if needed, then get your feet firmly planted, then stand. Make each one distinct like a robot from a bad sci-fi movie. When you have gained control of your motor functions, step to the next exercise. Your coordination is not expected to be normal at this point. Emphasize the same care as you load into the next. Maybe #2 Position carefully should be first on this list and #15 Exit properly should be second.

16)   Mastery over discrepancies
17)   Avoid changing speed
18)   Mastery over pace
19)   Recognize and avoid energy savings
20)   Exaggerate range and form
21)   Reach legitimate failure
22)   Eliminate facial expression
23)   Move quickly between exercises
24)   Engage squeeze technique
25)   Inroad beyond failure