Finding a balance in exercise and play

Jul 25, 2011
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The fitness industry understands only too well that many people will register for programs may be attend a few practices, then drop-out, or some cases simply not show up.  The best of intentions require a long commitment to see the goal fulfilled. For some organizations, their goal is to sell lengthy membership terms – often well in excess of their capacity if all members attended at the same time – in order to maximize profits.  Such business models rely on the fluctuating motivations of their members. Some fitness clubs / groups sports, especially those that have a fitness or weight loss focus, will expect a lack of exercise adherence from many of their participants, and a few – unethically – will not do much about it.

Last week I wrote a blog about reluctant participants in sport. How do you coach them? This week I take a slightly different perspective on the same issue: How do you enhance the motivation (and exercise adherence) of someone that finds sport to be challenging and potentially unrewarding?

It is fair to suggest that some fitness activities are not inherently fun. The underlying premise of most fitness programs is to stress the body and force it to become more efficient and adapt to exercise workloads. But how can you encourage athletes – especially those with special needs – to participate in something that makes their muscles sore, places demands on their body that most would prefer to avoid, and whose sense of enjoyment is found only when it is over? That is a tough sell for many people.

I believe an important and underlying principle of exercise adherence is finding a healthy balance between the physical work and play.  If a sports program is only about maximal efforts that squeeze out that last ounce of energy, or heart rates soaring so high that you feel like you are going to faint, or lactic acid flooding your muscles with agonizing fatigue, or coaches that yell at you like you are a participant in “The Biggest Loser,” it would not be surprising that many people would drop-out of such programs.

Of course a certain amount of effort (and physical challenge) is needed if our body is to become fitter. But including an equal amount of play in your practice can counterbalance the more vigorous demands. Including play in fitness and sports programs does not mean you have to have an abundant supply of rubber chickens to throw around. Fitness activities can sometimes be designed in a way that achieves the same purpose as a more structured event. Example: In Islanders Running Club we have some participants that will struggle to run at a steady pace for several minutes. But when we play hide and seek tag in the forest, hiding among tall grass then running away, these same kids will joyfully run for 20 minutes or more. The emphasis on play makes them forget abut the effort required to run.

Author: Gary Barber