"It's Too Hard"
Posted June 25, 2022 by Matthew Romans
I recently taught a continuing education course for other exercise instructors; this is something that I do a few times a year, because I think that knowledge is useless if you don't share it with others. This most recent course was titled, "It's Too Hard", and the class discussed some strategies to use when working with clients that have difficulty giving a maximum in their workouts, and how to deal with trainees that are on the verge of quitting because they believe that exercise is too hard for them. The scenarios that I just described will happen to every instructor at some point in their career, and it is important from the very beginning of the relationship to work to gain the respect and trust of the client. An open line of communication is paramount, and it falls upon the instructor to clearly and carefully explain the hows and whys of our exercise philosophy so that this type of situation can be addressed properly.
Exercise is supposed to be hard. We are trying to make physiological changes that do not come easily. The human body's desire is to maintain homeostasis, so it needs a very significant reason to mobilize its hard-earned resources in order to make physical improvements (building muscle and bone, improving metabolic and cardiovascular conditioning, etc.). We do not yet know what the exact percentage of effort is that is necessary to stimulate these changes. However, we do know that there are only two true mathematical measurements of effort: zero and 100 percent. Naturally, zero effort is not going to do anything for us, but giving 100 percent effort ensures that we have done everything we can to give a reason for the body to adapt. In one regard, we are fooling our bodies into thinking that the workout is some sort of life-and-death struggle. Your muscles don't know or care that you are lifting and lowering the movement arm of an exercise machine; for all they know, you're wrestling with a grizzly bear. The reality, of course, is that you are in a completely safe and clinical environment, and that your instructor is carefully regulating the variables of exercise frequency, intensity, and duration to get the proper dosage.
In my conversations with other instructors, I have learned that many of them face the same challenges that I occasionally face, in terms of persuading clients not to quit or inspiring them to work more intensely. Some clients will stop themselves short of pushing to and beyond momentary muscular failure. They have it stuck in their mind that they are only willing to work so hard and have difficulty controlling their emotions and handling the exertional discomfort that comes from intense metabolic work. I am proud to say that this phenomenon is quite rare at Total Results; our clients are extremely disciplined and work very hard. Some of that is due to the fact that they know what to expect right from the very beginning. I explain very thoroughly during the initial consultation what our exercise philosophy entails, and I define what the expectations are on the part of the client and the instructor so that there is no confusion. On a few occasions, people have said that this is not for them and do not wish to pursue things further, but by and large our clients do their homework ahead of time. It is for this reason (and others) that I believe that Total Results clients are much more intelligent than the average fitness enthusiast.
The Total Results exercise philosophy is built around the inroad theory. This means that if we want to make physical improvements, we need to fatigue the musculature beyond a certain depth. Crossing over this threshold stimulates a growth mechanism (the release of human growth hormone) which spurs the body to make changes. Pushing to and beyond muscular failure ensures that we trigger the growth mechanism and have used as much of our momentary capability as possible, but it also helps us to maintain our insulin sensitivity by emptying the glycogen ( the stored form of carbohydrate, our body's primary fuel source during intense exercise) from our muscle cells. This is the stimulus that we seek. Bear in mind that not every client's maximum effort is the same. There are genetic variables which play a role, such as neurological efficiency, muscle belly length, age, tolerance for discomfort, and a few others. An 80 year old grandmother is not likely to generate the same depth of inroad as a 30 year old triathlete, but everyone is capable of giving their best effort relative to themselves. It's important to note that you can still derive benefit from Total Results exercise even if you stop short of muscular failure, but the rewards will not be as great as they are when you "empty your tank." This is a topic that will be discussed in a future article.
Remember, exercise is supposed to be hard. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be nearly as worthwhile as it is. There are physiological reasons why our workouts are brief (20 minutes or less) and infrequent (one or two sessions per week). This isn't just something we can get away with, it is a biological necessity. We want to stimulate improvements without wearing you down to a nub, so that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything for 20 minutes. Anything in life that you want to achieve that has true meaning is going to be difficult. Don't give up, embrace the challenge!