Discover more from The Highlander
Make Training Fun Again
Find your way back to doing things in the gym that you love
The Highlander helps strength athletes and enthusiasts live stronger for longer. Join fellow Highlanders on the journey:
Enjoyment of training is underrated.
We all get caught up in the dogma of “have to.” I have to bench. I have to deadlift. I have to run. We do these things even if we hate them. Even if they physically hurt. Even if they don’t get us closer to our goals.
Alberto Nunez, a pro natural bodybuilder from the 3DMJ team, recently talked about a period of his career where he just did lifts he enjoyed. He felt great, and he made great progress. But eventually pressures of “have to” called him back to doing exercises he didn’t love.
Enjoyment of exercise is important. You naturally put in better effort when you like what you’re doing vs doing what you feel like you must. It’s funny how it seems to take a decade plus of training to figure out the value of doing things we like.
Stubbornness about exercises we “have” to do is the epitome of the midwit meme I wrote about a couple weeks ago.
When you start training, you look around and see what other people are doing, you gravitate toward what feels good, and you make gains. Then you get caught in the midwit dogma. You spend a decade figuring out who you are as a strength athlete. You do the lifts you’re “supposed” to care about. Eventually, the haze breaks. You reach Jedi status. You train instinctually, and ironically the training often doesn’t look that far off from what you did in the beginning.
Making My Training Fun Again
I started lifting when I was 16. I was 130 pounds at 5'10”. A light breeze could knock me over.
Our high school just got a brand new weight room full of stack-loaded machines. So I started to go every day. Used every machine for three sets of 10. Got super sore from delayed onset muscle soreness. But I kept going. Then I found barbells. Then I started drinking a gallon of milk a day. In a few months, I weighed 180 pounds.
It was fun. Newbie gains are awesome. So are teenage hormones.
Then I spent a decade doing lifts I “had” to do to get bigger and stronger. I spent a lot of time doing lifts and accessory lifts I “had” to do to compete in powerlifting and strongman. I still made progress, but I went through many periods where progress was slow and training was a chore, not a joy.
I haven’t focused on just doing the lifts I like until recently. I’m doing more machines and cable work than ever including some new things I’ve never done before. I do a handful of compound movements I like. I do a few strongman movements I like. My joints feel great. Training is fun. I’m making great progress. I feel almost like a newbie again.
Make Your Training Fun Again
Fun training is not just about doing exercises you like. Fun training is a holistic idea that culminates at the intersection of three things:
What you enjoy in training
What you need to do to reach your goals
What you’re capable of doing
Doing what you enjoy obviously contributes to fun training, but it’s not the only consideration. Progressing toward goals is also fun. If you only do exercises you find enjoyable, but they don’t progress you toward your goals then you’re not likely to find fun in training. You may end up demotivated by your lack of progress.
The other part of fun training is how your body feels. Sore joints, muscle strains, constant pain. Many of those things come with hard training, but none of them are fun as persistent states.
When you find exercises that you like doing and progress you toward your goals and don’t leave you constantly beat up, you’ve found your sweet spot of fun training.
The way I structured my program is to list a few exercises per body part that I enjoy doing that progress me toward some strength or hypertrophy goal without beating me up too much. A few examples from my list:
There are 14 exercises here. Some I can use for hypertrophy goals. Some I can use for strength or strongman goals. I’ve built the bulk of my training around these exercises and fill in a few other things depending on overarching goals at the time. And I’m having fun.
One of the reasons it seems to take a decade plus to get to the Jedi fun training state is that we all have to gain comfort with who we are as strength athletes. We need to get on stage a few times. We need to hit some PRs. We need to grow some muscle. And we associate all those things with certain musts.
Sometimes there are things you have to do. If you want to compete in powerlifting, you’re going to have to squat, bench, and deadlift whether you like it or not. Oly lifters have to snatch and clean and jerk. Strongmen have to do carries, logs, and stones. Maybe you’re lucky, and you love all those lifts. Then you’re doing the absolute right sport.
But a lot of the time, we can get ready to step on stage, we can hit some PRs, and we can get plenty big doing the things we like. Make your list of exercises you love, build your training around them, and stay stronger for longer.
Disclaimer: The Highlander is an educational Substack about how to live stronger for longer. As with all exercise, and health advice, consult with a doctor and/or trainer. This is not medical advice.
Thanks for reading The Highlander! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.