Few people understand the true purpose of a gym. There is a general miss conception that gyms are filled with a mix of body builders, Instagram models and CrossFitters.
Gyms became popular thanks in part to Arnold who helped open many people’s eyes to just how much they could change the way their body looked by spending time in the gym.
Over the coming years, into the late 80s and early 90s, the heyday of body building, gyms were known for producing freaks of human nature. Male and female. This further cemented the perception that gyms we for changing how you looked.
The 90s is when people began to realize that the gym could also be used to help athletes get better at their sport. Gyms began to see more and more people in pursuit of athletic goals. Gas was poured on the athletics fire by CrossFit in the early 2000s and suddenly facilities that prioritized function over appearance began to appear.
Most recently, some gyms have focused on combining the community feel that CrossFit brought with the popularity of cardio machines and classes that the major gym chains recognized and the birth of franchises like F45 and Orange Theory. Places that give people an opportunity to generate high levels of intensity in ways that require minimal skill and technical coaching support.
Currently the importance of purposeful exercise is recognized as an important component of a healthy and enjoyable life. Much confusion exists around what constitutes purposeful exercise that will have a meaningful impact on your body.
Gyms play a meaningful role providing opportunity for people to purposefully exercise but continue to be viewed as the place for people with aesthetic or performance goals. It needs to be viewed as the place for people with health goals.
For the purposes of this discussion, we will view the impact that purposeful physical activity has on the body, which we will refer to as The Machine. And the impact that purposeful physical activity has on the brain, which we will refer to as The Computer.
Reflecting on our previous discussions as to how gyms are primarily viewed as tool that could be used to impact the way a person looked, exercise would allow someone to build bigger muscles and burn off fat. Changing their external appearance.
People were motivated to attend the gym, driven by the desire to impact their physiology in some way. Trying to change The Machine. Muscles would get bigger, and fat would get burned. This changed the way a person looked.
It did not take long for athletes to understand that by changing their physiology, their Machine, they could perform better and win more. The athletic community also recognized that different types of training would change the body in different ways. Looking at a sprinting athlete standing beside a marathon runner it is easy to understand the different effects different styles of training can have. Despite both being runners, they look quite different.
The more people began using gyms and purposefully exercising, motivated by esthetic or performance goals, it became clear that there is an extraordinarily strong relationship between the intensity with which a person trains and the speed and magnitude that their body will change.
The harder you worked, the more your body would change and the faster it would happen.
Initially, gyms provided people with a way to change how their body looked. Then they were used to change how their body performed. The focus was on changing physiology, the Machine. And intensity dictated how fast and how much the Machine changed.
As gyms were becoming more and more popular, the way people lived also began to have an impact on the Machine. People became more and more sedentary in their work and personal lives and food became tastier and more convenient. People became less active, ate more, became heavier, and ultimately less healthy.
It was well understood that purposeful exercise could change physiology. This had been demonstrated by the bodybuilders and reenforced by the athletes. People accepted that exercise would ‘work’. The next challenge faced by the growing fitness industry was getting people to purposefully exercise at a high enough intensity, resulting in a meaningful change in physiology.
When viewing a competitive physique athlete (body builder) or professional athlete, it is easy to understand there are personal sacrifices required to achieve that level. That part of what makes athletes successful is their ability to endure a level of pain and discomfort regularly enough to push their physiology to an elite level.
The ability to endure pain and discomfort is often pointed to as a key differentiator of those who are capable of extreme physical accomplishment. Elite physical performance requires a person to override the internal drive to avoid pain. Humans are hardwired to avoid pain. This is quite different from seeking pleasure.
Adding to the challenge of engaging in purposeful exercise, humans have a poor capacity for delaying immediate gratification. The ability to delay gratification was studied using the now famous Marshmallow experiment.
In the Marshmallow experiment, young children were brought into a room one at time and asked to sit at a table that had a single marshmallow on it.
It was explained to the children that the examiner would leave the room, returning a few mins later. While the examiner was gone, the children could choose to eat the marshmallow, or they could wait until the examiner returned. If the marshmallow were still there when the examiner returned, the child would receive a second marshmallow and now they could eat two.
The study continued to follow the children into adulthood and revealed that the children who waited to eat the marshmallow, earning an additional one, were far more likely to achieve ‘success’ in life. The children who waited for the examiner to return had a stronger intrinsic ability to delay immediate gratification in exchange for a potential future pay off.
The Marshmallow study explains one of the major challenges people encounter when first beginning an exercise program.
Many begin an exercise program motivated by a desire or need to change something about their physiology. They want to lose fat, build muscle, improve blood measures, get stronger, have more energy, etc. Driven to change their physiology in some way, change their Machine.
Change how it looks or how it performs. Performance can mean athletic performance or overall health performance. Regardless of the stated motivation, the underlying motivation is almost always the same – people purposefully exercise so they can feel better.
The overarching messaging from the fitness industry has also convinced people that to make a change, intensity is going to play a role. No pain no gain, right?
Before we proceed, let us review some of the key characteristics of being a human being.
- We are hard wired to avoid pain.
- We are poor at delaying instant gratification.
Yet here is the deal many are agreeing to when beginning an exercise program.
- Stop doing some of the things you enjoy (relaxing, eating certain foods – instant gratification)
- Start doing things you have avoided (exercise, ‘healthy’ food0
- Endure pain – physical, during and after exercise. Emotional and psychological as you change your routine, making time to exercise.
This will all be in the pursuit of some change in physiology, the Machine. The Machine that responds to intensity but will not noticeably change until AFTER months of consistent, painful, intense work.
Does anyone wonder why it can be difficult to get started on being healthier?
So, what do you do? Bite the bullet, suck it up and simply just do it? That certainly is one option, and it’s one you won’t have any difficulty finding someone to enforce on you.
However, there is an alternative. Remember the two ways your body will change in response to purposeful exercise? Not only does the Machine change, the Computer changes as well.
The Computer has an ever bigger impact on how the machine works. Ever heard of a company that ‘turned it around’? Was on the brink of disaster, embarked on a new direction and became an incredible success. Have you ever heard of Apple?
The company was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1997 when Steve Jobs returned after a 12-year absence to lead the organization. It is now one of the most successful companies in the world.
The next article will explore how purposeful exercise impacts the Computer and how by changing your perspective, you can avoid pain and get instant gratification. Stay tuned.