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Training for Hiking When You Hate Exercise

“I hate to exercise.”

If I had a dollar for every time a hiker said that to me, I would be on my way to REI for a shopping spree right now!!

Merriam-Webster defines exercise as “bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness.” However, M-W also has this definition, something performed or practiced in order to develop, improve, or display a specific capability or skill,” as in a vocal or math exercise.

The first documented practice of physical exercise dates to about 600 BC, when a physician in India recommended daily exercise to improve health. However, yoga as an exercise was likely used in India as early as 3300 BC, and the practice of martial arts perhaps dates back even earlier. So, as much as we might think exercise has been thrust upon us since the industrial age and, most especially, the digital revolution, humans have been moving for health and wellness for centuries. It should come as no surprise that our bodies were made to move, and that movement is medicine for many of today’s health conditions.

There are many reasons you might ‘hate’ to exercise. For instance:

  • Exercise might trigger emotional trauma. – Is there anything crueler than middle-school gym class? Suppose you had an embarrassing experience performing the President's Physical Fitness Test, running timed sprints, or being cut from the volleyball team. In that case, you may have told yourself a story that you're just not good at exercise, you hate it, and you're not doing to do it. If this is you, is this coping skill true? After all, you love to hike! Does this thought still serve and protect you from embarrassment or bullies? If you no longer need that protection, you can choose another way to think about exercise, like, “I want to move my body to stay healthy!”

  • You’re scared to do exercise. – If you were injured due to exercise or activity and you don’t want to get hurt again, it’s important to understand that exercise might be the thing that stimulates healing and protects you from re-injury. Find a trainer you trust, and make sure you feel comfortable enough to speak up if you want to progress more slowly.

  • It seems pointless. – If you feel like you never get anywhere with exercise and don’t see or feel a change in your appearance or function, you might not think it's worth the effort. If this is the case, you probably aren’t challenging yourself adequately, changing your program and rotating workouts often enough, and giving yourself adequate recovery. Our bodies adapt as quickly as possible and seek efficiency. So, if you keep doing the same workouts or fitness classes, your body will find a way to get strong and fit enough to do that and stay there. To make changes, you have to change things up now and then.

  • You’re not seeing progress. – You may be making progress, but it doesn’t feel like it because you’re not keeping track. Keeping a journal or log of your exercise parameters and perceived exertion will help you see improvements. Noting how well you sleep and improvements in function are also essential to see the usefulness of working out. Some of the functional improvements clients notice are better balance when putting on pants and standing on one leg, getting up off the floor without holding on, and more easily unloading groceries.

  • It’s boring. – When you do the same activity repeatedly, you’re bound to get bored. Just because you don’t know what else to do, doesn’t mean there aren’t other things you can try. Start exploring other means of building activity into your day.

  • You only like to be outside or inside. – Telling yourself you only exercise outside or inside is like saying you only like to drink out of a certain water bottle, and if it’s not there, you can’t drink water. This excuse perhaps was valid at some point, and over time you’ve crafted it into a story your brain believes is true. If you could hike better and further, and take on your dream trails with ease, does it matter where your training takes place? If you were thirsty, would you drink out of your hand if you had to?

Fitness is a multimillion-dollar industry that thrives by marketing and appealing to people’s insecurities and fears based on the first definition of exercise. The industry makes being fit the destination, but fitness in and of itself isn’t the real goal. One should pursue fitness to stay healthy or improve function. Therefore, what if you thought of exercise as that second definition: “something performed or practiced in order to develop, improve, or display a specific capability or skill?” What if exercise was what you did to be a better hiker?

Changing your mindset around exercise is the first step. The second is to recognize that you don’t have to love every aspect of it all the time for it to be effective. That said, it doesn’t have to be miserable, either. Find an activity you enjoy doing and then have some back-up exercise ready when conditions aren’t ideal. For instance, many hikers tell me they can’t do their training hikes because the trails are too muddy and buggy and they hate mud and bugs. When coached to find an alternative, one client found a paved urban path where she could still get her miles in. Or, some hikers hate to go to the gym. No problem! Many of my clients work out from home. You could take an online fitness class, walk in your neighborhood, or blow the dust off your bike and go for a spin.

Recognize that you probably dislike one type or aspect of exercise, not movement in general. Get connected to WHY you should exercise and all the parts of your life that might improve with more movement. Then, find activities that you can enjoy but which also enhance your hiking. Need help? Schedule a consultation, and let’s discuss how The Healthy Hiker Virtual Training Program can help you become a better and healthier hiker!

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