The punishment culture

The punishment culture

So much intensity and teeth grinding in the beginning. Nope, I am not talking about the first scene of Fight Club. But the reason why most people struggle to make strength training a lifelong habit.

We’d do much better by shifting the overall training culture away from the “no pain, no gain” nonsense. Away from the punishment culture.

Except for the chosen few, the punishment culture strategy doesn’t work in the long-term.

It doesn’t work for the 40-year-old mother of two who has done no strength training in 15 years. Or the 50-year-old man who’s 20 kilograms overweight and feels insecure about his body. And it sure as shit doesn’t work for the 60-year-old who’s struggled with back pain for the last 20 years.

What happens when these three people walk into a gym or to an outdoor bootcamp session dominated by the punishment culture? I tell you what happens. It’s likely that all three walk away feeling like they just shared a hug with an earthmoving truck. But they keep showing up because “no pain, no gain”. Right?

They keep showing up until one day soon, they don’t. They’ll wake up one day (they all share the same bed), and the thought of another punishing workout is too much to bare. The relentlessness tiredness buries the euphoric feeling that every trainee chases. And they quit.

How did we get here?

The problem has (at least) three sides. There is a certain stereotypical way non-fitness people look at strength training. Most people who join a gym or an outdoor bootcamp have stereotypical expectations of what strength training is all about and what it involves.

Arnold Schwarzenegger popularised bodybuilding in the 70s. There’s no denying that a lot of good things came out of it. He got non-fitness people interested in strength training. But unfortunately that 70s “no pain, no gain” mindset still dominates non-fitness people’s idea of training.

Crossfit, P90X and other hardcore training styles have kept this punishment culture alive. They’re marketable. Even if the most marketable training styles are not the most sustainable option for most people.

Then there’s the stain of the Biggest Loser.

Comparing that tv show to a real-life sustainable lifestyle change is about as accurate as showing someone Rambo III and drawing comparisons to what it was like to go buy milk from the grocery store before online shopping.

Which brings us to the side number two. Trainers often feel pressure to cater to these expectations. At least young, new trainers do. I know I did when I first started.

But the biggest issue is the fitness industry’s lack of empathy for people who are not that into fitness and strength training. We think that you enjoy training as much as we do. Sure, you might fall in love with strength training, eventually. Or at least to not feel the same way about training as you might about colonoscopy.

All of that takes time. If we crush you to the ground from the get go, you never stand a chance to enjoy the training. That’s the third side, for those counting at home.

All of this is to say that the punishment culture is a self-reinforcing cycle. Until we decide to break it. It’s not as marketable. But it’s definitely more sustainable for most people.

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