There are certain physiological changes that can be demotivating to starting on an exercising program. These changes take place within the first 1-2 months which is about the time most are willing to give something a try (witness my failure to switch to raw food).

  1. The first change is neuromuscular adaption. The neurological connection to unused muscles is weaker than the connection to active muscles. It goes like this: You want the muscle to move. A signal gets sent that triggers some muscle fibers. Not all of them are activated. The muscle is weak. It can not overcome the force. When a good connection is established, the nerve signal will trigger more muscle fibers and you will automatically be stronger. This is good for about 25% and it takes about a month to establish and so you will see a lot of strength increase in the first month.
  2. Triggered muscle fiber will suffer some microscopic tears. This is what causes soreness. The more tears, the more soreness. This does not necessarily mean that the muscle will be stronger. It will only get stronger if you let it rebuild. Once it is building, you will start gaining muscle. If you are overweight and not morbidly obese (BMI in the 25-30 range vs. over 30), this will cancel out fat loss on the weight scale.

These two factors thus conspire and so in the first month, you will see no weight loss whereas in the second month, you will see little gain in strength. Another 25% gain in strength will take 6-12 months after the first month. In terms of weight loss, a tipping point will be reached however, where the increased metabolism of the added muscle mass will burn fat while you’re not exercising (this is the most significant component; it far outweighs aerobic exercise unless you run 2 hours a day. However, this is countermanded by you being hungry all the time thanks to the exercise. The body really likes to keep a constant weight.

Many prefer aerobics for the exercise routine. First of all, strictly using aerobic exercises is a poor means for getting in all around shape, whereas lifting weight only does have some aerobic benefit. The problem with aerobics exercise for beginners is that unless you’re missing a lung or exercise wearing a gasmask, the cardiovascular system adapts much quicker than your joints and tendons. The former takes a few weeks. The latter takes several months. Hence, a beginner taking up something repetitive, like running or cycling, with great enthusiasm might just end up with knee problems 6 months later because the joint did not have time to adapt as the program was scaled up too quickly. This pretty much ends that program for a long time.

I have now covered the simplest types of exercise, namely lifting weights and putting one leg in front of the other about 5000 times. Most other sports require more skill: coordination, balance, etc. Coordination typically requires uploading the “move” into your spine or wherever that knowledge sits. Unless you’re some kind of athletic genius that can copy a movement 5 seconds after seeing it, this means sleeping on it. The reason is a complex movement requires you to check after 25 different parts of your body in about 0.5 seconds. This can not be done by your brain, but it can be done by the lower functions — which unfortunately are not as smart as your brain and thus require training rather than just education. This is further complicated by some moves that require strength or physical implements to execute well. For instance, even after 3 years of hockey, I still can not execute a proper slapshot.

I think knowing what to expect should at least help to overcome the demotivating hurdles in the beginning and not to get into endurance programs too quickly. It obviously helps a lot if “you have been there before”. Anyone, who has been sedentary all his life faces a greater hurdle (but that’s no excuse) than an ex-athlete that is likely to just need to reconnect his brain to his muscles and shed some some pounds.

Oh, and if I may. I think joining a gym or at least what gyms have become, with a few exceptions, to get in shape is a really poor proposal. McGyms are all about form over function and follow the thinking of a Ford T assembly line of trying to fix different body parts one at a time using various machines.

Join a real sport, damnit! Don’t be a spectator. It’s fun and you will be doing “useful” things like scoring goals or kicking people rather than pulling levers or running on a treadmill getting nowhere. Gah! Doing something as an end in itself rather than as a means to an end is always more effective and motivating.

Originally posted 2009-06-08 09:54:26.