Do what you hate, more
So, you’ve got over the initial hump of making the gym a habit. You’ve been past the honeymoon period where lifting that first weight felt amazing, and you’ve got past the 2 month sticking point where most people give up (normally around the middle of February).
You can call yourself a regular gym-goer and you’ve got yourself a solid routine that is taking you places.
By this point, you’ll know what you like and what you don’t. You like the bench press, because you’ve made really good progress with it. You hate squats, because they always feel frustratingly heavy.
As with any activity, you normally like something because you happen to be good at it.
Everyone had favourite lessons at school: mine were Art and PE, because I could draw and I happened to have a knack for sports.
Natural ability precedes conscious decision-making. You’re not going to find many chemists who don’t have an affinity with logic and science, just as you won’t find many journalists who have a passion for maths. Did they decide they want to be those things or was the decision partly taken just because they realised they were good at these subjects and so enjoyed them more?
It makes sense: play to your strengths.
The problem is adopting this mindset when it comes to the gym at best holds you back, at worst can cause you an injury, and it’s a pretty common one that you can see just by looking around almost any gym.
You can’t just do what you like doing, because you have to consider the body as a unit. Through evolution our physical selves have formed a balance: one muscle pulls the limb one way, an opposite set pulls it the other. The tension of certain ligaments holds another set of muscles in place.
When you look at especially mobile joints, such as the shoulder or the hip you can see how having muscle imbalances could cause fairly dramatic misalignment or stress in certain areas.
Either through overdevelopment or underuse, it’s pretty easy to develop these imbalances.
The classic example is the ‘bad back’ or usually more specifically the sore or aching lower back (lumbar spine). This is endemic through office workers and sedentary people because of muscle imbalance: in a sitting position your hamstrings are constantly in a short and unstretched position, and underdeveloped compared to your quads through lack of use.
As a result the short and tight hamstring can ‘pull’ on your lower back, putting it under stress and causing pain.
What’s the best thing for it? Strengthening and stretching, through exercises like the deadlift and the squat.
For the average person, doing a deadlift for the first time is going to feel uncomfortable, difficult and likely to make them feel weak, because they probably have an imbalance there.
Another example is the hunched shoulder, or ‘kyphosis’ you see in plenty of people, even regular and dedicated gym-goers.
The hunching starts from sitting at a desk or being bent over something all day. It gets exacerbated by going to the gym and only hitting chest and bench press three times a week, with almost no back work (“I can’t see it in the mirror, so I can’t be bothered to do it”).
Not to mention that a lot of the exercises that work the back side of you are pretty difficult (deadlift, squat, pull-up, row).
What do you do when you don’t like something? You tend to avoid it. Even worse, you stick to doing the stuff you’re already good at, and give yourself even more of an imbalance!
It is a lot harder than it sounds, but doing the exercises you hate more is your ONLY long term option for health and progress.
Very quickly you can turn it into something you do like. How?
1. Do it first thing in the session
You’re at your freshest and most motivated right at the start of your workouts. This equals both performing better in the lift and getting it out the way.
2. Schedule your workouts around it
Say you hate dips, because you can only do 3. Instead of heading straight to the flat bench as usual, focus your session on doing a few quality sets of dips, with realistic targets to hit. Then continue the rest of your routine.
3. Work on accessory movements around it
Do exercises that compliment the exercise you hate, and help yourself get better at it. For dips, start doing standing overhead presses with strict form that will help your shoulder and triceps strength that will translate to your dips.
4. Add extra sessions
Ok, so it’s kind of difficult to do even more of what you don’t like but you have to remember that a lot of being good at lifting is practice. Start dipping every other workout to get more and more used to the movement (obviously within reason depending on the exercise, don’t start heavy deadlifting every day).
Within a few weeks, you’ll see drastic improvement. An exercise that was uncomfortable and difficult might still be, but less and less so.
As you put more time into it, you’ll see that progression and before you know it, it might turn into your new favourite.
It happened to me with the overhead press. After avoiding it because I was terrible at it, I started doing them twice a week, first thing in my chest and triceps workouts.
They’re still comparatively weak compared to my other lifts but have come on a long way. My shoulders feel healthier, and it has helped my other lifts improve as well. They’ll never be my favourite but they have a solid place in my routine now.
As always, patience, consistency and time have been the key factors.
Do what you hate more. It’s not easy, but then if it was wouldn’t everyone be as fit and healthy as they wanted to be?
Over to you.