Keeping Things Fun

We’ve all heard about ‘keeping things fun’.  Activities and events may be kept at a fun or sub-competitive level for many reasons: to reduce injury incidence, so everyone can enjoy themselves, due to age constraints and physical maturity levels etc.  However, many of us like to up the ante and go all out.  Competition is fun – competing against one another for trophies, bragging rights, or other incentives is an important driving force behind optimal performance for many athletes.

I would like to share a story with you about a client of mine, one who would never benefit from any sort of competitive nature to the workout sessions.  We will call this client Maggie.

The Problem

Since my first training session with Maggie, I knew she would be a tough one – a tough one in terms of having her enjoy the workouts and looking forward to the next one.

Quick background on my gym – the gym I work at was initially a gymnastics facility, with the health and fitness suite being added years later.  Quite a few of my clients drop their kids off at gymnastics, then stroll on through to the gym area for a session with either myself or one of the other trainers.  Maggie is one of these clients – she drops her child off, and instead of waiting around in the lounge, she decides she’s better off booking a training session.  She considers being in the gym a better alternative to sitting in the lounge sipping coffee.  Maggie definitely lacked  motivation coming into the gym though.  I never got a smile out of her or noticed any signs of her enjoying our sessions.  This was unusual as I always try to keep my clients upbeat, happy, and laughing.

Maggie was difficult.  I tried everything – explainingthe exercises, why they were important, how they would improve aches and pains etc.  I used what I know and what I am good at to try to improve the situation.  This clearly wasn’t working though.

Maggie cancelled once then began showing up 5-10mins late to our sessions.

I was going home frustrated; angry at myself for not delivering.

To me, this wasn’t Maggie’s fault; it was mine.  She was the first client I knew I failed at.  Although she was my most difficult client, I never put the blame on her.  She did her part – getting to the gym – now it was my turn.

My next session with Maggie started out pretty normally. There was always some reluctance with pushing herself; she was afraid to sweat.  No matter how many times I explained to her that she needed to put in a bit more effort to see results, she simply didn’t listen.  The look on her face said it all – “I’m not enjoying this.”  Because she wasn’t enjoying herself, she wasn’t pushing herself nearly as much as she should or could have.  As a result, Maggie wasn’t reaping the benefits of the exercise she was carrying out.

I don’t think everyone needs to enjoy exercise in order to experience positive results and maintain some sort of adherence.  There are definitely some people who don’t particularly enjoy the exercise/fitness work they do.  These people carry it out for other reasons – because of the beneficial physiological effects, because they want to look good, or because their spouse keeps saying they are getting a pot-belly.

So What Did I do?

I knew I had to do something different with Maggie though.  In her case, the ONLY way she would exercise and become motivated was if she enjoyed it.

I decided to play a game; one that a fellow trainer had told me about.  It involved maintaining a pushup position, a tennis ball, and Me vs. Maggie.  We assumed a pushup position, faced each other, while each of us had our own respective walls to guard.  The objective was to roll the ball past the opponent, hitting the wall.  The game required lateral shuffling while maintaining a pushup position.  With each goal, the person who conceded would have to carry out a punishment (i.e. 10 lunges, or 10 bodyweight jump squats).

Within 10 seconds of the game commencing Maggie’s face had lit up!  She was loving it!  We were both giggling at what was seemingly a childish and immature game.  Maggie was also breaking a sweat, which I rarely got from her.

The exercise was safe, effective, and most importantly FUN.  This approach had to be used with Maggie, as taking a logical approach to the importance of exercise carried little to no  meaning.

Making  the exercise session fun was the only way to get Maggie motivated.  Motivation and enjoyment led to no more cancellations and the disappearance of late arrivals.  Seeing Maggie smiling and enjoying sessions is something that has brought me great enjoyment as well.

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