Why do we train?

There are so many reasons people train: sports performance, aesthetic goals and confidence, mobility, health reasons such as diabetes…and the list goes on. I think I’ve probably put myself in most of these categories at one time or another, but I’ve never felt truly ‘at home’. Seeing as it’s very important to me to have specific goals, I thought I ought to work this out once and for all so I actually know the reason WHY I’m going to the gym! Hopefully this rambling train of thought will help some of you guys work out what you really want for yourselves.

In the past I’ve put myself in these categories:


When I first started doing regular exercise I was about 21 years old and studying Biology at the University of Southampton. A couple of close friends on my course had started going to the uni gym so I decided to join them, primarily with the goal of putting on some muscle and ‘looking better’. To give you a reference point, when I started uni my weight hovered between 9 and 9 1/2 stone due to some rather poor health a couple of years prior. For a 5’10.5 lad that made me pretty skinny and I was a little insecure. So anyway, I wanted to put on weight and feel more confident…and I had some limited success, but my uni diet of processed food and copious alcohol did stunt the process somewhat. I obviously didn’t want the results that badly.

I returned to aesthetic goals numerous times over the past 10 years, but they never had enough pull for me. On their own the visual goals were not enough to motivate me to keep going when it got tough. I think what kept bringing me back was the pressure to look a certain way, especially when working as a personal trainer. The mass media really is a bastard.

Sports performance

Shortly after I started using the gym at uni I also began to play rugby, but as the Biology faculty had no team I ended up joining the Law team (shout out to the Legal Eagles). This gave me a new motivation to gain weight, as even though I played on the wing and therefore speed was paramount, it was also useful to be heavy enough not to blow away in the wind every time I was tackled. I also started working on my overall fitness and conditioning to help me play the sport better. However, rugby was only a casual hobby for me and again I wasn’t serious enough to put in the consistent effort necessary to get decent results. Junk food and booze still reigned supreme.

I’ve also attempted training for specific fitness goals more recently. I signed up for a sprint triathlon last year, then did almost no training and dropped out last minute when I realised that I still couldn’t really swim (open water could well have killed me, even at 750m). I also registered with the BDFPA (British Drug Free Powerlifting Association) with a view to competing at a regional level, and again never followed through. Quite simply this was because, despite my best intentions, I really didn’t give a shit about competing in either a triathlon or a powerlifting meet.

Health reasons

Now this is waaaayyyyy more vague, which could be why I found I fitted more into this category. I had always wanted the health benefits that went along with my other goals (more energy, longer life, less chance of illness, better functional fitness for playing with the kids etc) but last year I settled on this as being my ONLY goal: to be healthy. I didn’t care at all about how I looked, and I didn’t care about performance (both lies). I was finally happy, because I had removed all discomfort about not achieving my goals. Because I didn’t have any.

But was I actually happy? Unless you’re tracking your bloods or other health markers, then how do you know if you’re becoming more healthy? Sure, you might feel better, and don’t get me wrong that’s awesome, but without something more specific are you going to keep going when it gets tough? Removing the rugby posts and the scoring doesn’t make the players feel better because there is less pressure. It just makes everyone feel a bit depressed.

It was just this week that I accepted a slightly different position: I had been bullshitting myself yet again. At every point so far I had been adopting other people’s goals and trying then on for size rather than thinking about what I actually wanted for myself…and fitness goals have to be a very personal thing!

So here’s where I am now: being healthy is still my number 1 priority, but I’m not kidding myself that that is all I care about. I DO care about how I look! And let’s be honest, who doesn’t? To varying degrees of course, but everyone has a desire to look a certain way. And I DO care about performance! I want to be strong and fit, and I want to see measurable progress in these things. I need to accept that I can still strive for these things all together, as they all compliment each other. I also need to realise that if I’m not achieving my goals, removing the goals is not the answer. I always tell people that you have to ENJOY what you’re doing in order to get long-term results, and here’s the thing: having goals which challenge you really is part of the fun!

As a coach one of the most important things I’ve learned from this process is that everyone has different driving forces behind why they train, and they all have equal value. And, like me, some people haven’t yet worked out why they are doing it, and that could be the main reason they aren’t making progress: they don’t know what progress they want to make! It’s one of my primary jobs as a coach to help them figure this out for themselves, as this will substantially increase success rate.

What goals have you had that really motivated you? And what goals have you had that didn’t?


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