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I've been thinking this week about milestones on the path of Intuitive Fitness. Uncovering your own motivation is a big one. Yet, there's another milestone that I most enjoy seeing people experience.
It's the moment they first feel deep confidence in their own approach: “It’s working. I can do this. It’s only a matter of time”
I’ve become fascinated by how more people can experience this faster. It’s hard to enjoy and sustain exercise if you lack belief in it: “Is this what I should be doing? Is it enough? Will it get me where I want to go?
These thoughts lead people to switch between activities hunting for a silver bullet. The doubts diminish our experience, motivation, and momentum. The uncertainty nudges us toward an external authority to tell us what to do.
Cultivating confidence is crucial to Intuitive Fitness. It gives us the belief to look within and increases our capacity to listen to our body. Plus, it makes exercising more enjoyable.1
But confidence is complex and often fleeting. I’m not sure it’s possible to be confident all the time. Tony Schwartz says that “insecurity plagues consciously or subconsciously every human being I’ve met.”2 Yet, once we have experienced confidence in a domain, it becomes easier to recapture. With exercise, it’s something we should intentionally and continually nurture.
Foundational Training Principles
One thing that irks me about the world of fitness is the use of jargon. In exercise circles, it's common to hear people say things like: “concentric movement” and “sagittal plane.”3
These technical terms are valuable bits of knowledge but often not shared in the spirit of teaching. Instead, the “expert” highlights their own knowledge and reinforces confusion in everyone else. Rather than increasing confidence, it makes people more unsure of themselves.
A good exception is my friend, Sam Martin, a PT with a deep commitment to educating and empowering others. In this spirit, I want to demystify the jargon and equip you with an understanding of key concepts.
There are two training principles that I believe are particularly valuable in helping people intentionally cultivate confidence.
The Principle of Specificity
You get better at what you do. Your body changes based on the unique nature of your training. This is also known as Specific Adaption to Imposed Demands (SAID). It means the body adapts specifically to the type and level of stress it faces.
For example, lifting heavy weights for low reps creates stress that leads to increases in muscular strength. Lifting low weights for high reps creates stress that leads to increases in muscular endurance and size (hypertrophy). Similar dynamics exist with different forms of running.
As David Allen says, “you can do anything but you can’t do everything.” It's crucial to understand the tradeoffs inherent in the choices we make. This enables us to create conditions specifically designed for the change we are trying to support.
The Principle of Progressive Overload
One more rep, five more pounds, slightly less rest, or a more difficult body position. These are all forms of progressive overload and drivers of improvement in training. We challenge the body by gradually increasing the stress (weight, volume, intensity, etc) and encourage adaptation.
The most famous example is the story of Milo, the ancient Greek wrestler. He lifted a newborn calf every day as it grew. Before long, he was lifting a full-grown cow. His strength grew consistently along with the increased stress of the growing animal.
The challenge is understanding how the variables involved combine to create stress. We can exercise relentlessly and not advance to a specific goal if we don’t create progressive overload in an intended area. Just because a workout is hard doesn’t mean it provided the specific stimulus for the growth we seek.
A common example of this occurs with classes that combine activities and rotate exercises in rapid succession. These workouts improve overall fitness but not necessarily individual exercises or specific outcomes. This is great if it aligns with your goals but frustrating if it doesn’t.
The beauty of being a beginner is that you don’t need to worry about optimizing the type of stress as much. When you’re early in your training journey, you’ll see significant progress across areas at the same time. Any form of resistance training will likely lead to increases in muscular strength, endurance, and size. Cross-training classes can unleash a wave of progress.
Yet, I think it’s worth starting to intentionally play with the principles of specificity and progressive overload. By experiencing these, we start to develop confidence in our ability to drive specific adaptations. We begin to feel how different forms of stress feel in the body. We gain a deeper understanding of our physiology and our ability to change.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. The goal isn’t to achieve dramatic change overnight. It’s to experience the way designing variables and increasing the level of stress results in sustained progress. It’s to cultivate belief in our own ability to influence our fitness and taste that sweet feeling of confidence.
Playing with these ideas
Here are some prompts to explore these ideas in your own life:
Reflect: How confident are you that your current approach to fitness will enable you to achieve your goals/intentions? How do you think exercise might feel different if you cultivated more confidence?
Experiment: Pick one arena in your own exercise to play with specificity and progressive overload. It can be as simple as doing one set of max push-ups per day or as intense as exploring how far you can run/bike/row in a set time. Do this for a few weeks and see what happens.
Experience: Bring awareness to how it feels as you start to progress in this one area. Notice if it increases your confidence about fitness more broadly.
I’d love to hear any reflections, ideas, or questions you have in the comments or by replying directly to this email.
Thank you for reading. Please consider sharing this with a friend if you think they will be interested in Intuitive Fitness.