Fitness Motivation and Evaluating Success

It’s easy to get carried away with achieving a perfect muscular physique via working out. But it’s a double-edged sword because your evaluation of success rises and falls with the current status of your body, which can fluctuate quite a bit over time (due to illness, injury, weather, seasons, natural bodily changes, etc).

If you’re making money from your physique (e.g., via modeling or competitions), then focusing so much on your body makes sense. Maybe if you’re single and looking to attract partners, it could make some sense. If you happen to have lots of free time…perhaps it’s still worth targeting.

If none of these conditions exist in your life–and maybe even if they do–it seems to make more sense to focus on physical health, strength & energy than how your body looks.

But doesn’t physical health & energy fluctuate too, even if one works out on a regular basis?

Ha, yes, it’s true.

This brings us to my “secret trick”:

Use whatever positive attribute you can point to as being a direct result of regular exercise to help keep you motivated and continuing to work out.

In practice, even though I usually use my good physical health, strength & energy as an incentive to keep working out, I’ve been known to take visible physique gains into account too if it motivates me to keep exercising–i.e., I use anything I believe is a result of working out to keep me exercising.

Ultimately, I believe that working out is positive in so many ways in my life–especially as I get older–that I’ll do whatever it takes to get me to the gym or exercising at home or on the road.

I still think trying to achieve a “perfect body” doesn’t make sense for most people and can be a source of frustration and demotivating. However, if you happen to notice some increased muscular tone in your back or legs or wherever, might as well throw this observation into your “motivation pot” with any other ingredients you come across (like feeling good!) to keep exercise an active part of your life…:-).


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Angle at which you Hold or Grasp Dumbbells Can Make a Difference

A guy at the gym asked me if I had any ideas why doing bench presses using the Smith Machine bar was giving him shoulder pain. I told him that doing bench presses with dumbbells tended to give me shoulder pain, but not the Smith Machine. However, I suggested he try different grip widths, positioning of where the bar came down to his chest (higher vs lower on chest), weight used, and different bench angles (e.g., maybe adding one notch of incline could help..?).

Now it occurred to me that I too could try some of these variations when doing dumbbell presses to see if I could alleviate the shoulder pain I was experiencing.

Well, finally today, I tried some variations with my dumbbells that seem to make a difference. However:

  • they weren’t the variations I mentioned to the guy at the gym (probably because these variations are only relevant to using dumbbells, not a barbell)
  • I wasn’t using the dumbbells to do bench presses; I was using them as elevated grips on the floor for some downward slanting pushups (with my feet on a weight bench)

First, let me clarify what I was doing. I put on a 60 lb weighted vest and was doing downward slanted pushups with my feet up on my weight bench. Similar to the following, but (as I already mentioned) with the weighted vest and weight bench instead of a wobbly patio bench:


The other thing I was doing differently was putting my hands on slightly elevated dumbbell handles instead of flat on the ground. The dumbbells help to keep me slightly off the ground, which is helpful when I have the weighted vest on because it sags down slightly and tends to hit the ground before I get all the way down to the lowest position of the pushup motion; the slight elevation of the dumbbells alleviates the problem. I also kind of like having the grips because of the extra weight of the vest pushing me down.

In any case, I tried 3 different configurations of the dumbbells on the floor:







The linear configuration was the first one I tried, and–what do you know!–I experienced some of that same shoulder pain I experience when I do bench presses with dumbbells. It kinda makes sense because this is typically how I hold them when doing bench presses, though obviously I’m pushing the dumbbells upwards instead of pushing myself upward off of the dumbbells on the floor; it’s still the same motion relative to my shoulders.

The second configuration I used was the parallel configuration. I didn’t experience shoulder pain, but I didn’t like the feel of it as well; and it seems to work my triceps more than my pecs, when I’m really more interested in targeting my pecs when doing these. I probably need to experiment more with this particular configuration.

I then tried the third configuration pictured (“Angled/Triangle”). This was the winner for me! It felt like it was targeting my pecs more than the parallel configuration was, and–voila!–no shoulder pain. This felt like the most ‘natural’ configuration for doing the weighted downward slanted pushups of all. It makes me wonder if I can do a facsimile of this configuration when doing dumbbell bench presses to eliminate shoulder pain. I’ll have to test that in the future..

So in conclusion, suffice it to say that if you’re experiencing shoulder pain when using dumbbells–whether as handles for doing pushups or for doing bench presses–you should consider holding the dumbbells using these or other configurations to see if it makes a difference!

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Recontextualizing Exercise

Many people view exercise as an optional, time-permitting activity. When life gets busy, exercise is one of the first things to fall to the wayside because it has been assigned a relatively low priority.

Now it’s true that no one is forcing you to exercise or else they’ll take away your food, clothing, or housing, as may be the case with your income-producing job.

However there are lots of things most people do in their lives without such consequences–e.g., mowing your lawn, cleaning your apartment or house, watching television, going to the library, buying new stuff at the mall, playing games, playing with gadgets, etc etc.

Most people make sure to take care of their health & hygiene by: brushing their teeth & flossing, cleaning themselves, shaving themselves, taking vitamins, taking medicine when necessary, laundering their linens & clothing, and so on.

If you consider the many health and well-being benefits of regular exercise, it’s easy to make a case for exercise being a necessity rather than an option if you care about your health and the quality of your life.

So if you’re someone for whom exercise tends to be a haphazard option, I would suggest ‘recontextualizing’ exercise as something you make time for–rather than something you do if you have time for it–so that it gets done on a regular basis.

When exercise is done on a regular basis, it has the best chance of impacting your life in a significantly positive fashion and being well worth the time and effort you put into it.

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