What Comes First: Hard Work or Fun?

Our culture rewards quickness;  We want information for free, solutions that work, and rapid results.  This fast paced society relies on technology optimizes speed, turn over, revenue, what have you.  Whatever we want, we want it fast.  In the words of Goose and Maverick:

When it comes to fitness, we’re constantly bombarded by programs and equipment that offer abs in 6 minutes, total body results in 90 days, and a cleanse in 7 days.  I think I’ve got those programs beat; yesterday I watched a client smile within 5 seconds of pushing the Prowler for the first time.  That’s right, a sub 5-second smile.

The smile factor isn’t something that I’ve seen in fitness advertisements, on gym billboards, and it’s not something that is frequently addressed in the fitness world.  It’s not as sexy as talking about performance enhancement or metabolic conditioning, but I think it’s just as important when we consider long-term behaviors and attitudes in a health-enhancing lifestyle.

Before this becomes a Stepfordian make-sure-you-always-smile, let’s not kid ourselves; results matter, and it’s my job to make sure that people reach their aesthetic and athletic goals. We’re going to work smart, we’re going to work hard, and have great time in the process.  Fun and hard work aren’t mutually exclusive, and our skewed view of effective exercise doesn’t jive with this.

Now, I could tell you that she was pushing the Prowler, throwing & slamming medicine balls, and paused when necessary to bring her heart rate back down.  By my (biased) observations, she was busting her ass harder than anyone else at the gym, but I’m more excited because she was one of the few people who were actually smiling.  For the ~15 minutes that we used this Prowler/ med ball circuit, she felt like an absolute bad-ass, and she totally was.

It regularly strikes me as interesting that when people sample a ‘new’ exercise like pushing the Prowler, making waves with Battling Ropes, or throwing medicine balls, they smile immediately.  Seriously, I’ve never have someone say, “Wow, you know that really sucked, and I never want to do it again.”  Usually, it’s a combination between, “That’s fun!” and “That’s harder than what I was doing.”  Wait, what the hell am I talking about?  I thought hard training and fun weren’t mutually exclusive.

They can be.

The big-box gym world of infinite step mills, machines, and group exercise classes doesn’t necessarily lend itself to hard work or fun, and I think it could be a chicken-or-the-egg argument.  What’s the order; do we naturally do things that are fun, then learn to work hard, or do we have fun after we’ve worked hard?  Which one is it?


In general, it seems that those who train regularly get satisfaction from training hard; there’s a masochistic pleasure in beating yourself up, and it makes you happy to bust your butt.  On the contrary, it seems that more sedentary people enjoy themselves more when having fun is the primary goal, and they can work hard while having fun.  At the end of the day, regardless of which you focus on, you’re still active, which makes you healthier, and this is good.  You can go for a leisurely walk in the park, haul ass up and down a hill until your legs feel like jello.  The health impact isn’t significantly different; just moving, even at low intensities, leads to marked improvements in health.  However, that’s rationalizing the minimum effective dose; occasionally necessary, but you can do more.  Based on my language, you can probably figure out which one comes first for me; I’m in the camp of , “Go bust your ass, it will be fun.”

I can’t tell if I like hard training because it works, or because I find it enjoyable.  I find it personally rewarding to perform pull-ups and deadlifts, to sprint, and to push the Prowler.  It may have been an extra rep, a heavier barbell, more fluid gait, or a heavier sled.  Most of the people that I train with have the same mentality, and my favorite training partners are the ones that push the envelope and call me out on ugly reps or light weights.  On the contrast, most of the people I work with aren’t concerned with the philosophies and physiology of training; they just want to look better and feel better, and there is nothing wrong with that.

My client doesn’t care about how much the Prowler weighs, or what her recovery heart rate was; it’s my job to think about those things.  Her job is to work hard and have a good time.  I really don’t believe the Darwinian chicken-or-the-egg deal, or my own hard-work-or-fun version.  Our brains naturally want to have fun, and our bodies naturally want to work hard.  You can get the best for both with proper exercise selection and sequencing, and to me, that’s functional training for the real world.

4 Replies to “What Comes First: Hard Work or Fun?”

  1. This is a fantastic post Harold. I’ve seen too many first time lifters enter the gym only to be inundated by well-intentioned (and often self-serving) trainers who implore them to go “balls to the wall.” With their muscles beaten to a pulp and their confidence shot, many of these first-time lifters avoid the gym altogether or return infrequently. For trainers of inexperienced exercisers, the emphasis should be on retention–that is, can you keep the client coming back for more? Perhaps the most effective ways for trainers to achieve this objective is by making the workouts as fun. I’d even go so far as to say that if a client wants to do an hour of calf raises and bicep curls because that’s what he deems fun, let him have at it.

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