Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Grinders Always Win in the Long Run

Yesterday I saw a woman, about 5'6" and 175 pounds, wearing a fancy new gym outfit and doing terribly ambitious and exhausting things: pulling heavy ropes, leaping up onto boxes, etc. I watched this grimly in my wrinkly beige gym shorts (I think they started out blue; I can't remember) while grinding away on my treadmill, just after having completed my standard grunting circuit of unsexy weight machines. Behold my mindless zombie workout, sweat-and-soreness-producing but certainly not optimized nor scientific. No gym balls, pilates, high-intensity interval stuff, trainers, etc..

Scattered around the gym, inevitably, were several other grim grinders. It's hard to focus on us; we blend in with the furniture. We're like the "townies" of the gym, and we range from marginally overweight to haggardly underweight (i.e. don't know when to stop). None of us are fat, but we see lots of fat people showing up and doing very fancy and ambitious workouts. We can’t remember any of their faces because they never stick around.
Think about that fancy gym outfit for a moment. If she were really gunning for weight loss, why make such an investment in her current size? Me, I curate a full portfolio of homely beige-faded shorts of every size, including the exalted and gleaming "32"s, which still retain a bit of color and which I can barely wedge my thumb into.
Here are the best workouts, in declining order:

1. Half-assed, wimpy, short, easy, barely effective workout every other day that you easily commit to.

2. Half-assed, wimpy, short, easy, barely effective workout daily that you occasionally need to cancel.

3. Exertive workout that leaves you sore and aggrieved and with a bad taste in your mouth (unless you're really locked into the long-term groove).

4. A scientifically optimized highly-effective diligently full-body workout that feels like you've climbed a mountain (non athletes are not wired to climb a mountain every day).

The best workout is the workout you commit to (i.e. the "worst" workout). So I think you've got to tailor your workout to commit-ability above all else.

Resuming after a lapse, I always start with #1 (sometimes even less than #1; once I just sat in the parking lot, lazily checked my email, and drove home...and deemed myself successful). I max out at #3, but only after I've really locked into the long-term groove and actually crave it.

Comfort zones are a deep-seated thing, so I protect mine vigorously. Faithfulness/consistency is my overriding objective, followed by frequency, with exertion/calories/pounds/durations/reps/laps only barely relevant. By the time I’m addicted, I hardly notice that I’m lifting heavy weights and running long distances and sweating buckets. It’s the routine that matters, not the content. Hardware, not software.

This is true for most worthwhile human aims. The creator of the stripped-down meditation style I practice makes an analogy to tooth brushing. If you brush with enormous zeal, you'll just irritate the bejesus out of your gums, ensuring that you miss the next few brushings, thus setting you back in the end. And the fact that your teeth won't look any better even after a couple weeks of eager brushing can break your morale.

That's not how you approach it! With gym workouts as with tooth brushing, you need to recognize that while no one or ten sessions makes much difference, a locked-in daily practice - even a grim, grinding, semi-conscious one - can make an enormous long-term difference.

Settle down and do the work. Momentum quickly dissipates; it is not a viable ongoing fuel source. The grinders always win in the long run.

Have I ever posted anything to this Slog that didn't carry the underlying message that "It's all in how you frame things"? Even before I started zeroing in on the whole framing thing?


Anonymous coward said...

In my gym I don't notice any grim grinders. Many of the most athletic people wear terrific outfits. If a new outfit will help you grind better then more power to you.

I got a new swimming outfit and ever since I've gone swimming a lot more. One of the key factors holding me back apparently was the tired old apparel. People treat you better when you wear better clothes. We live in a shallow culture and I find it best not to fight the tide of culture.

Finally, it can take a really long time to lose one waist size. Weight loss seems like a watched pot. You never seem to lose weight when you are paying attention.

As for mindset, apparently a good balance of optimism and pessimism is best.

"The positive side is that those who are in negative frames of mind tend to be more alert to their surroundings, compared with those who are in positive states of mind."

This might explain an old superstition about how when you are in a positive mindset you are less alert than a negative. For example, I lost my oil cap for my car because I was in a good mood and it set me back almost $10. Sometimes a myth, conspiracy theory, or superstition is simply true and becomes accepted as scientific fact.

Display Name said...

Loving everything about this post 'cept this: Think about that fancy gym outfit for a moment. If she were really gunning for weight loss, why make such an investment in her current size? Me, I curate a full portfolio of homely beige-faded shorts of every size, including the exalted and gleaming "32"s, which still retain a bit of color and which I can barely wedge my thumb into. and I really like the tooth brushing analogy and couldn't agree more. I have a gym friend named Amy. She is awesome and drives a screaming red corvette that everyone swoons over. I told her I was trying to lose a bit of weight but that I planned to go shopping for a nice new gym outfit. She told me in no uncertain terms lose the weight before you buy any new clothes. She was very sure this was the right way to do things. Nope. Worse advice ever for me and a lot of other "fatties". Especially women. The new outfit{s} gave me the morale boost to keep plugging away. You could think of it like reframing on turbo like a belt of bourbon that gives me a lift every time I put the clothes on. I go to the gym at night. The crowd is young or like Amy and me they have a youthful mind set. Most everyone has nice gym gear. I do wear inexpensive sneakers. The dudes in particular seem to wear very nice kicks.

Jim Leff said...

To me, the ambitious routine and the ambitious outfit and the ambitious attitude cry out “two week wonder”. I see them come and go. The grinders stick around. We’re not ambitious, we just show up.

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