Get With the Program!

So this post started off being about the fact that I signed up for a new training program.

Yep, I'm currently I'm up to my eyeballs in oligosaccharides and polypeptides and phospholipids, trying not to freak out about making my way towards the ACE Health Coach Certification. Which I'm psyched about! It seems to offer a solid foundation for exercise/nutrition assessment, planning, and programming, for any life and wellness coaching clients who should want that.

But for clients who like to do their own thing, they still can. I promise it won't make me all bossy all of a sudden.   I'm still a wishy-washy psychotherapist at heart and am much more likely to ask annoying questions than provide concrete advice.

So will you be hearing more about this shiny new program at some point?  You betcha! Lucky readers! All the details and implications of my educational endeavors will no doubt make for fascinating reading. Blame Malevolent Andrea who alerted me to this thing.
However, my signing up for an official, structured program does bring up a more general question that comes up all the time in a health and fitness context:

Do you get the best results by picking a good program and following it by the book?  Or is it better to navigate your own best path through a field of intriguing but possibly conflicting alternatives?

How to Decide?

Join weight watchers? Buy a copy of a diet book and following it to the letter?  Track your calories or journal about your feelings, find your own recipes?  Should you sign up for a personal trainer and follow their program to get in shape? Join Crossfit? Check blogs and YouTube videos for ideas? Or just go outside and play and see what happens?

Some people combine a structured plan with your their own particular adaptations. This way you can be one of the Paleo people who still patronizes Ben and Jerry's.  Lots of possibilities!

 (Swiped from here if you wanna buy the shirt)

But Which Is Really the Best?

Predictably, I think that ...

(This clever IT person came up with the image).

Here are some of the questions you might want to ask yourself:

What kind of personality do you have?  Are you an enthusiastic, team-spirited joiner? (Or less flatteringly, an easily subjugated drone who doesn't mind being told what to do?)

Or are you a critical-thinking individualist? (AKA a hippie/anarchist/nitpicky contrarian?)

Where you are in the process?  If you are just beginning to strength train and are hoping to go to the Olympics yet have no idea how that might be accomplished, you could wander into a gym and start randomly flinging barbells, but a more structured approach might be smarter.

What are you trying to achieve? I.e.: sometimes you need special expertise or want to end up with credentials.  If you want to become a neurosurgeon, you're probably gonna have to sign up for something official. Google U will probably not get you hospital admitting privileges.

(Image credit: Resurge International)

Are you are self-motivated or do you prefer outside inspiration?  Picture a scenario with concrete benchmarks, an expectant instructor, tests or challenges, and a communicative interactive peer group. Does this make you think: "Wow, finally a great reason to follow through with my commitment to myself!" Or is it more like "Who are you people and how do I get the f--k out of here?"

And finally..

How awesome or hideous are the various options? Sometimes DIY'ers just don't have access to the necessary resources to tackle something new without kidnapping or bribing or someone.  And sometimes "program" people need to figure out their own options if the available program offerings are bat-shit crazy or insanely expensive.

The benefits of each approach are obvious, and this is Cranky Fitness after all-- so instead lets look at the downsides, shall we?

What Can Suck About Structured Programs:

  • They are designed for people in general, not you personally, so they may fail to accommodate your possibly weird individual preferences and abilities and life situation.
  • Programs often cost a lot more money than doing stuff on your own.
  • They frequently have an all or nothing flavor, so if the whole thing doesn't work out you may have to start over from scratch.
  • Sometimes an instructor or author will say something that is obviously horseshit, and then you have to figure out how to keep your head from exploding.
What Can Suck About Figuring it Out for Yourself:
  • Lack of companionship and feedback and personal acknowledgement of your awesomeness.
  • Chronic uncertainty due to conflicting information, which means whatever you choose to do, it's wrong.
  • Lack of peer or instructor accountability to get your ass off the couch or your hands out of the cookie jar or your nose back to that grindstone, should you have a nose that needs grinding.

Choosing Your Approach

This is actually not generally a tough call. People seem to know intuitively which style suits them best.  I suspect most people are combo types, who strike a balance between structured and unstructured approaches depending on the particular endeavor.  But there are definitely folks out there who are strongly in one camp or the other.

I'm a classic hippie/anarchist/whiner contrarian, in case that wasn't obvious.

But sometimes people don't actually know themselves very well. Or they're too eager to ignore the disadvantages of an approach because it's the one that feels most comfortable.  Consequently they end up feeling discouraged and inept because they're always flailing or quitting. So don't be stubborn and clueless like that. You deserve success!

My bottom line advice: if what you're doing ain't working, consider switching it up or combining approaches. 

So if you keep trying to do things on your own but get too confused or don't apply yourself enough to get results, find a way to tweak your routine to add support and accountability. Or just suck it up and experiment with joining a program or going "by the book" for once. It probably won't kill you.

Alternatively, if you keep buying books or signing up for programs or classes but feeling crappy because they don't seem to work for you very well, see if there are any ways to add or subtract or modify.  You will probably not be shunned or ridiculed or pelted with rotting fruit. Or, be even braver: next time instead of signing up for a new thing, consider trusting yourself enough to research and design your own program with your schedule, preferences, etc in mind.  Don't be a sheep all the time.

What about you guys, are you Program People, DIY'ers, or a bit of Both?

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