Should training be fun and enjoyable?

The opinions of many professional athletes, trainers and ordinary fitness enthusiasts range from “only suffering, only hardcore” to “all-out fun and no discomfort”. A reasonable majority, of course, is looking for the golden mean, but – as on any other subject – the loudest are the most categorical.

Kirill Sarychev and Jay Cutler

At one end of the spectrum are the tough workers in the gym: dedicated powerlifters, weightlifters and bodybuilders. They believe that the gym is no place for fun and also like to repeat the wisdom ‘pain is weakness leaving the body’.

On the opposite edge are those who come to the gym purely to have fun, not to exert themselves. They enjoy pedalling on an exercise bike for an hour or two to popular hits or zumba with a fit instructor. In the same category are those who work out at home with video lessons – they do not even think about going to the gym with some iron.

So who is right?

For starters, let’s all admit that each person has their own understanding of fun. Some enjoy filling out a workout diary and waiting for the strength frame to release. Someone enjoys the infernal sting of endless pumping. And someone wants to jump up at 6am to run 5, 10 or even 20km. Not forgetting yoga, pilates, basketball, football and so on. There are plenty of options!

A man of reason should be interested only in one thing: whether all this pleasure helps to achieve the desired (to gain power or muscle mass, to get rid of excess fat, to improve health) or hinders?

Let’s look at arguments for and against the recreational approach, starting with cases when it is better not to abuse “fun”:

1. You have to increase the workload.

To progress in the gym, you need to increase your training stimulus in one way or another. Common sense and scientific research both say so.

Whatever your goal is, you either have to lift harder (for power), or sprint (for speed), or push yourself to the limit (for mass) – not everyone likes such loads. Of course there are exceptions – hardcore romantics who enjoy working to their limits; but that’s what they are – exceptions.

Conclusion: Enjoying a workout is great, especially if you involve lazy friends in the sport. However, if you’re already into it and you want to achieve something, sometimes you have to force yourself to do more, forgetting about the fun. Then you will be changing yourself for the better for a lifetime, rather than just going for ‘fitness’ without achieving any visible change for years.

2. Focus on quality

Weight training is similar to meditation in a way. You need to concentrate fully on performing the movement correctly. And spend some time practicing your technique. All this requires discipline – and the best athletes have it. They are fully dedicated to physical perfection: they eat right, follow a regimen and prepare for every workout. Maybe we are not all like them, but we look up to them – those who perform at their best.

And they do not come to the gym for entertainment. They do not need a loudspeaker soundtrack or an instructor’s encouragement, they just need the inner motivation to become great. It’s not just like that with sports; hard work gives us great artists, composers, dancers and scientists. What matters to them is how they have worked this day, this week, this month. Albeit not always enjoying the process.

To be outstanding at anything, you have to focus on the quality of your performance. And if you choose fitness, you have to dedicate yourself to training to a certain extent and aim for an inspiring, distant goal instead of temporary pleasures.

Of course, not everyone realises this the first time they go to the gym. Take small steps: try to make each approach more technical, choose healthier products and follow a regimen. The better you do everything, the more you will achieve.

And now – disco! The single most important reason to make your workout more enjoyable:

1. You don’t want to go back to the gym

A good trainer knows: in order to get people to come back again and again, a workout has to be not only effective, but also moderately fun. If people (shedding litres of sweat and improving their figure) exercise with joy, they don’t need to make up excuses – they run to the gym themselves!

Take zumba for example – personally I am not a fan, I do not prescribe it to any of my clients until I see that it alone can attract them to a regular workout. Why talk about progressive overload, maximum hypertrophy, burning fat and conquering the world if people need a friendly atmosphere and an energetic rhythm in the first place?

Of course, zumba won’t build them huge muscles or make them a strongman, but they just need to get used to regular exercise first and then decide how to proceed. Many people will only be attracted to fitness by the AMAZING experience.

To improve your figure and health, you don’t have to suffer by giving up all the fun and pleasurable things. Sure, you have to work hard sometimes, but you don’t have to force yourself all the time. Training should be enjoyable enough that you don’t want to miss it, and hard enough to get some results.

And some more of my personal reflections
After analyzing the opposing positions, I would like to share my own personal opinion. I believe that in any training programme (whatever your goal) there has to be something enjoyable.

Yes, this applies to all – powerlifting, crossfit, and anything else. Of course, you do not need to turn your whole workout into a circus, but add something that each individual likes – throwing a medball, an obstacle course or a doughnut after a powerful lifting approach.

Personally, this is what I do with each client: first let them do what they need (heavy squat, joint gymnastics, endurance run) and then add something to their liking.

My job is to give them results. But you don’t have to force them to do things they hate at all, you can pick up what you like. No matter what the client’s main goal is, I prescribe at least one workout for everyone to enjoy. Whatever they choose, they are happy to work out physically and mentally and this only helps the progress of our work with them.

One last thing

Many trainers only talk about the most effective techniques that bring maximum results. And the hardcore iron fans who follow them look disparagingly at ordinary fitness enthusiasts who lack the motivation to work at their limit.

It’s a clown Pukey. Of course, that’s not the purpose of crossfit, but sometimes it is.

But after all, for most people, the very act of coming to the gym and trying to start training is already a significant accomplishment. So why turn a workout into nothing but misery, depriving them of any joy?

Many people don’t need the records or prizes that hard working athletes strive for. Ordinary gym-goers just want to put on a little muscle, burn a little fat and feel good. Iron does not become the meaning of life for them.

Working out is hard in itself. You have to get to the gym, you have to learn how to exercise, you just have to work out. And those of us who have tied our lives to fitness need to help those who lack the passion. If a good joke helps my client to keep exercising, then I will pump not only my muscles but also my sense of humour.

On the other hand, people who come to the gym for fun need to be taught to work hard. If they want to change their figure, they have to change their mindset first. But, of course, don’t shame them for being frivolous – fitness should still be at least somewhat enjoyable.

I’ll finish this way: put enough effort into your workouts, but don’t forget to have fun too.

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