I think I started chasing workouts based on their suckiness factor when I decided to join the University of Minnesota’s Crew team. I had just retired from competitive collegiate gymnastics, transferred schools, and was looking for an athletic outlet. My sister’s roommate was on the team, so I decided to give it a shot. I mean how hard could it be to row a boat?
Quitting gymnastics and increasing my beer intake had resulted in adding about 15 pounds to my 5’3” frame. That, and the fact that I was in no cardiovascular shape to run longer than about 10 seconds, made my first day on the crew team so awful.
The Mississippi River was frozen because it was winter in Minnesota. I wouldn’t even see the inside of a skull for weeks.
So I woke up before sunrise on day 1 of my new sporty adventure for a 5am practice. I walked through the underground tunnel system to the workout enjoying the warmth as long as I could. When 5am hit the coach sent us out for run and I think that’s the first time I actually wanted to die during a workout. Remember, it was winter in Minnesota, so it was well below freezing. There was ice and snow and wind and here I am gymnastics girl trying to keep up on a long distance run. It really sucked.
Looking back on this I wonder why I didn’t quit after the first day. I wonder why the fact that it sucked was the same reason that kept me going. It was absolutely miserable and I never even got very good at it - not the running part, and when the river thawed I wasn’t even very good at the rowing part. But I stayed and struggled for two years on that team. Sure, I improved, but it never got easy. It was never comfortable and it was often frustrating. It challenged me more than collegiate gymnastics ever had. Gymnastics was something I picked up easily when I was four. I guess you could say I had some natural talent in that sport. Running and rowing on the other hand required 100% effort because I had zero talent in those areas.
I think I persevered for a few reasons. First, I think I’m wired a certain way. I think I was born with an innate desire to push myself physically. Second, I had a strong desire to be accepted and recognized, so I was motivated to a certain degree by extrinsic factors, like my coaches and teammates. Third - and this is the one I want to expand on for the purpose of this post - there is inherent virtue in suffering.
We all feel satisfied and proud for a job well done. And if the job is really tough, we feel even more proud. Not everyone may have this drive for their workouts, but everyone probably has this drive in some area of their life.
In my experience working with lots of clients over the years, I have noticed that everyone has at least a little bit of this drive. Some people are super willing to push themselves into discomfort, and some people are less willing, but with every person there’s at least a minimal amount of willingness to suffer.
Now, to answer the question at the title of this article; Does fitness have to suck?
No. Absolutely not. Especially if the suck factor is keeping you from beginning a fitness program, or sticking with one. Things that make fitness suck, like deprivation and dumb concepts like “sweat is weakness leaving the body” don’t have to be a part of a fitness program. If there are certain aspects of fitness that make you cringe, then that’s a sign those things aren’t in alignment with you and probably have no business being part of your fitness program.
You don’t need to push yourself to exhaustion, lift crazy heavy weights, join a gym, or even sweat to have an effective workout. Suffering is optional. And it’s not required.
Figure out what you can do to move your body that feels good. That’s it. You might not love it, but I bet you can find something you don’t hate, and that would be a start. I’ve had a lot of success with kickboxing for those clients who have never liked working out. Give them some boxing gloves and all of a sudden they’re punching and kicking and smiling and sweating and maybe even pushing themselves into slight discomfort.
And proud for a job well done.