Why do you work out?
The number one answer that most people give to that question is: To lose weight or to lose fat.
It's no secret that pretty much everybody who starts a fitness program or hires a personal trainer wants to shed fat and lose weight. That's what motivates so many of us to go out and do the workout. We put all our mental and physical energy into hitting a certain number on a scale.
The number on the scale may also motivate us to keep track on every bite of food that crosses our lips. We want to make sure that we won't overeat, because if we do, we won't lose weight.
Shift Your Focus
I know that for me, and for a lot of other people out there, working out hard and eating super strict diet (that a lot of times is lower in calories than it should be) only because we want to see a smaller number on scale can get really frustrating. Being super strict with eating and staring at the scale number will eventually drive anyone crazy.
But let me tell you, there is a better way to improve your physique than running every single mile because of a thinner waistline or limiting your food to a minimum in order to drop weight.
To find out what it is and how it works, you need to shift your focus. Instead of setting goals like getting leaner, skinnier or seeing a smaller number on a scale, focus on performance.
Channel Your Energy Into Performing Better
Focusing on performance means focusing on things that you can do. Your performance-focused goal may be something like this:
Getting Stronger – Being able to do 50 Wall Ball Shots if you can do 40 now
Getting Faster – Improving your 100m sprint time from 16 seconds to 14 seconds
Doing something you were not able to do before – getting your first Pull Up or Push Up.
When you are constantly working towards better performance, you enjoy the workouts more. And as a bonus, the physical changes will come.
On the other hand, when you are working out to “get leaner”, “get skinnier” or even worse, “make up for the piece of cake / last binge”, you start to see the workout as obligation. Obligations are not fun. Sooner or later you get sick of working out and counting calories, you won't see the results and want to quit.
How Focusing on Physique Made Me Run Worse
Back in the days when I used to run a lot more, there was a half marathon in May every year that I always did. It was a fun race with lots of spectaculars and entertainment.
When I first signed up for it, I followed a training plan to make sure I got to the finish in one piece – because at this time, running 13.1 miles seemed like the craziest thing in the world.
I focused on performance. I was prepared because I followed my training plan and I did really well on my first half marathon.
As the time passed, I got really obsessed with running.
My focus shifted from running smartly to running more, from quality to quantity. That was because I had discovered that running more helps me to get skinny. So I did – I ran more and more.
For the next races, I no longer did tempo runs, short runs or take rest days. All I did was long runs. The longer the better.
Did training like this made me faster in my runs? Of course not.
Did it make me skinny? Yes.
But with the price I paid with my health, physical and mental. I lost my period, had a constant brain fog, was tired and had no time for life outside of running, because it took me so much time. Maintaining my skinny waistline and certain number on a scale took all my focus.
If I had focused on improving my performance instead of being worried about my looks, I would have ran faster and kept my body healthy.
Five Reasons Why You Should Focus on Performance
There are five big reasons why working out for better performance is a great idea:
1. It's a sustainable goal. People tend to be more committed to their performance-related goals than aesthetic goals. Using my example, if you want to make sure that you successfully cross the finish line of your first long race, your training will be motivated by this goal.
2. It's mentally healthier. Focusing only on the number on scale paralyzes your mind.
You may be afraid of every piece of food that you put into your mouth, because you are afraid to gain weight from this. You keep thinking of the amount of calories you consumed for breakfast or burnt off on your workout.
When you focus on performance instead, you can stop the craziness around eating and burning calories. You will learn to eat to perform better, because you realize that food is your friend that helps to achieve your goals, not an enemy that is fighting against them.
3. It boosts your confidence. Say that there's a performance-oriented goal that you really want to achieve, may it be your first push up or running your very first 5K.
You keep working on it and boom, one day, you are there – you just did it!
That's an amazing feeling that you have so much to take away from and use in other aspects of your life. You build confidence that helps you to get over other hurdles and obstacles in your life outside of the workouts.
4. It keeps you on the right track. The more you achieve, the more you want. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your focus.
Say that your focus is on losing weight. You want to lose ten pounds. You work hard, eat less and one day you will see the desired number. But then you realize that you are not satisfied with it; instead, you want to lose more.
So you keep working out more and longer while eating less, because that has already made you skinnier. But the fact is, you can't do this endlessly. You can't eat less and less and workout longer and longer – that's just not possible.
Also hitting your performance-oriented goals will make you want more, but that's a good thing. If you channel your energy into running faster or doing more pull ups, you are committed to work smarter (remember, smarter doesn't mean more!).
You will also learn to eat better because without proper nutrition you won't be able to achieve these things.
5. Your physique will change. Finally, we are back to where we started: Having a nicer physique. In addition to all the four reasons I listed above, focusing on performance comes with a cool side effect:
You will start to see results in your physical body.
The Positive Side Effect of Setting (and Achieving) Performance-Focused Goals
Yes, you will start to see results in your physique when you focus on performance.
Let me explain.
Say that someone puts this weird thought to your mind, to do as many burpees as you can in seven minutes.
At first you may think that this idea is insane. Why would you bother to do anything like this? Because that's impossible anyway, right?
It's really not. There are things that seem impossible but only until they're done. So are seven minutes of burpees possible. It's a tough challenge, but tough and impossible are not synonyms.
But then you think of it and decide… What the heck. I'll try.
You make your way through those seven minutes, working as hard as you possibly can. Those seven minutes probably leave you breathless and they may hurt a bit. While you are doing the workout, you may think: I will never do this again.
That's what most of the people think after crossing a marathon finish line. But for some reason they do sign up for the next race. It's the feeling of achieving something they thought is extremely hard or impossible.
The same will likely happen to you and the burpee challenge. After the first I hate it and I will never do this again you'll get curious: If I kept training and tried the same challenge next month, would I do better?
You will start training with a different, achievement-oriented goal in mind. And this is where you start to see results in your physique.
The physical changes are a very positive side effect that you get from getting stronger, faster and more capable of doing different, challenging things.
By constantly working on improving your performance, also you physique will move toward healthier, leaner, more muscular – the things that most of us want to see.
The moment when I did my first unassisted pull up was amazing. I was so happy and kept running around in the house, jumping for joy.
If I got to choose to be able to do one unassisted pull up or to lose five pounds, there's not even a question what I'd choose. Pull up, any time.
Because it's not a particular number on a scale that makes me confident and happy, it's the feeling of being strong and being able to do something that had seemed impossible.
Working out because of aesthetic reasons might motivate you for a while, but people tend to commit more when they have performance-related goals in mind. Also, we should work out because it's enjoyable, it gives us confidence and keeps us healthier, not because we want to see a smaller number on a scale.
Put the physique to side for a moment and focus on all the great things that your body can do. Keep working on your strength, speed and skills and forget about how you look, especially about the number on the scale. The physical changes will come when the focus is right.
For me, I can only stay motivated if I run to get happy that very day. Focusing on either weight or performance doesn’t work for me. Both come too slowly.
I’m glad that running makes you happy. Yes, it would be hard to do it every day if it wasn’t enjoyable!