Increase Training Enthusiasm – Break a Fitness Comfort Zone


I am going to assume that because you are reading this article that you really care about looking and feeling better. I am also going to assume that you want to learn something new because your daily 5- minute walk around the block with the dog is not enough of a justification for your daily physical exercise. You might also be saying to yourself, “I am so glad I did those extra 20 minutes of running today, that I am going to treat myself to an extra slice of cake or some ice cream after dinner.” And, one last time, making an ass out of you and me, I will assume that you have reached the inevitable plateau, or Comfort Zone, in your training regime and that you NEED TO GET THE HELL OUT but you don’t know how.

If you are stuck in this Comfort Zone, which I refer to as the “C-Zone,” keep reading. If you are not in a C-Zone, put this article down and then come back and read it in about 3 weeks. You will soon be there. Either way, sit back, but don’t relax. I am here to help you get yourself uncomfortable.

First, think about your current fitness goals. One of the worst things that I can experience while training a client is to ask them what his or her goal is for the day and for the answer to be “I Don’t Know.” If you don’t have a goal for the day, go home. You are not only wasting your time, but my time. You might as well be praying to the workout fairy to come sprinkle some fat-loss dust on you, as you are training without purpose and focus. You need to seriously contemplate where you want your level of fitness to be and what you want to look like and then write down the action steps you are already doing to get yourself closer to these goals. I say “seriously” because we tend to overestimate the amount of activity we do, or the amount of healthy food we eat, and guess what, we underestimate our down-time. Bottom-line, think in terms of specific goals when you write these action steps down in front of you. Maybe your goals are to lose 20 LBS before your cruise, or gain 10 LBS of Lean Body Mass before summertime. Or, maybe you just want to eat a whole hell of a lot better because you have been over-indulging during your monthly business trips and have been slacking on getting into the gym for your normal workouts. What are your action steps that you are doing to get to these goals and it is time to get serious.

Grab a piece of paper and write these action steps down in a list form. Once you are done, draw a box around them and then on top of the box, write the word C-Zone in big fat letters. These action steps have caused this comfort that has put your body in a state of adaptation. Plain and simple, you have stalled any progress by being boring and too easy on yourself. It’s time to step it up and only you know how hard you can push yourself.

Second, draw about 5 arrows from that box of current action steps in any direction (preferably, as far away from the C-Zone as possible) and then a line extended on each line, write a new action step to take each of those current steps to a new level. We will call these your C-Zone Breakers. For instance, if one of your current action steps is that you have cut out desserts except for 2 days out of the week, then your C-Zone Breaker would be to cut out desserts completely. Each C-Zone Breaker represents a new threshold for which you should reach a new level of self-discipline, a new level of pain tolerance and sacrifice. This is a gut check moment and a true test just to see how much you really want this escape from the C-Zone, no pain, no gain. Ask yourself, how badly do you want it? And, are you up for the challenge? I have made a diagram of my personal C-Zone and C-Zone Breakers to give you an example of what this looks like (see below). My fitness goals are to gain about 3 LBS of Lean Body Mass, while losing about 5 LBS of Fat Mass. In order to reach these goals, I am currently doing some action steps that I know will take me at least half-way toward my goals. However, I understand that I my body will adapt, enter the C-Zone, and therefore I will need to “change it up” in the future with some hard-core C-Zone Breakers. Here is Erika’s plan of attack:


Now, you do the same thing. Take a look at your C-Zone and the C-Zone Breakers you have just laid before you on your goal sheet. For instance, one of your current steps that you have parked your ass in the C-Zone is (quoting you): “I go to the gym at 6 P.M. each day, 3 times a week, to workout.” However, you had a gut check moment and, honestly, you end up getting to the gym by 6:30 P.M. on average because work went late and traffic was terrible so you only end up getting in 80% of your workout because you want to rush to get home to eat and relax. You’re distracted and rushed in your workout and have seen no results in the last five months. Your C-Zone Breaker is “I need to get up at 5:00 A.M. to get in a better workout,” as you know you can get in your full hour, and potentially 10 minutes of high-intensity fat burn cardio at the end. It will be painful because you might have to go to bed a bit earlier each night and get up early enough to get in your pre-workout shake, but I promise you will get better results. Whenever I hesitate to wake up in the morning for a workout, or fail to motivate myself to get to the gym, I always psyche myself up by saying to myself “Somebody, somewhere, is working harder than me right now. So, stop whining, suck it up and get working.” Ask yourself, are these C-Zone Breakers really that hard to grab on to? The challenge lies before you and the choice is yours.

Change is not easy. It is hard. Really hard. It takes sacrifice, dedication, and most of all, a tolerance for pain. Everyone reaches that plateau in their training or eating habits because our bodies are a hell of a lot smarter than we are and they adapt. Think about most things in your life right now, your job, your family, money, friends and you are probably in your C-Zone. When is the last time you have tried a new food? Ran at least 30 seconds/mile faster? Lifted 10% heavier? 20% heavier? Have you even been keeping track of progress, or have you fallen into the comfort trap of not tracking your achievements as well? Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France who has an idea or two about getting out of the C-Zone, said, “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” Don’t make excuses, set your pride aside, endure the pain needed to push you that extra inch or two harder, and get ready to do it all over again in about two months your payoffs are going to be priceless in the long run, and you will thank yourself for it. Big Time.

I am a firm believer that anything is possible. As cliché as that sounds, it is very true. That said, these C-Zone Breakers you have listed are goals that you are going to eventually reach and, once again, you will find yourself in a new C-Zone. These C-Zone Breakers are going to take the place of what is now in your square of comfort. Get ready for it and prepare for this adaptation. We will never out-smart our bodies, but we can sure as hell try.

Note The 5-Step Plateau Cycle:

  1. We lose weight.
  2. We reach the C-Zone.
  3. We gain a bit back.
  4. We hit our C-Zone Breaker and lose again.
  5. Repeat Cycle.

Stay on top of this cycle and recognize that reaching your plateau is inevitable, the most challenging part is getting past step #3. But, with a bit of discomfort (everyone loves some pain anyway) and competitive spirit, you can push through and you will see results. You will see results. YOU WILL SEE RESULTS. But, I will warn you. Comfort will soon follow these results, so get ready to push yourself out of the zone again and break it with some pain and, as a result, you will gain a lot of respect from your peers as you are the one that is constantly getting more fit, getting stronger, getting leaner and, most importantly, having the most fun changing up their workouts and training with purpose.

So, look back at your C-Zone and C-Zone Breakers you have laid before you. Think how long you have been in your Zone and know that you should plan to be in this zone for ONLY 1 month-2 months at a time. If you are doing the same thing for a period that lasts any longer than that, whether it be in your diet, workouts, life, you have reached a state of complacency and you need to get the hell out as quickly as possible. Take a personal inventory of your progress and figure out how to break past your C-Zone. Make some positive changes in your workouts and nutrition and, while you are at it, if your results are not positively correlated with the degree to which you are “changing it up,” get a bit bolder with your C-Zone Breakers and embrace the temporary pain for a lifetime cycle of results. Now, shut up and lift.

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About Author

Erika Lilley

Erika was a graduate assistant volleyball coach at North Dakota State University for two years while getting her Master’s Degree in Educational Administration and Leadership from North Dakota State University, and is certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. See my profile page for more information!

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