We interviewed a young woman who had just undertaken a 4k obstacle course, for the 2 Guys on Fitness podcast this month.
For those unfamiliar with this kind of event, 4k obstacle courses are similar to those you see on TV shows on Saturday night, where contestants jump across pools and navigate rope bridges. They are popular with charities and community groups and with those gym-goers who enjoy a challenge as part of their workout.
What interested me about the interview (which will feature in an upcoming edition of the podcast) was both the satisfaction the interviewee got from the mental challenge of the 4k obstacle course and how she viewed her fitness lifestyle in general.
I think it can be easy to look at fitness training as being all about the visual aesthetic (as implied by the use of language in this very sentence!), which it can be of course. Building and shaping the body can certainly deliver aesthetic results, especially if undertaken with focus and discipline over a period of time. With the right dietary control and benchmarking and it can also bring financial rewards (see my previous post on Instagram).
But for me, as with the subject of the interview above, working out and the fitness lifestyle itself is more rewarding when it involves a challenge and mental engagement.
Thinking whilst working out, whether on the gym floor or when running and playing team sports, is as central to a solid workout as is exhausting muscles and developing lung capacity. In my experience, when the mental engagement stops and the workout becomes a mechanical routine is the point when gains are no longer being made.
Such mental engagement does not need only to take place whilst exercising or afterwards when reviewing the progress that has been made. Before exercising, or indeed before commencing a week of exercise; planning what will be undertaken, what goals should be met and which exercises will be undertaken, can help balance a workout and put in place the important building blocks to deliver the progress needed.
Plus, there is another benefit to going down this road, which our interviewee also touched upon, when looking for fitness challenges which require cognitive engagement and mental engagement. Placing these requirements central to a workout also builds the person and his or her mental resilience. Or, to put it another way, it aids in the development of a person’s character, which in turn makes that person stronger.
And stronger people tend to have more fulfilling lives.