Willy Wonka’s Grandpa Joe seems like a good man at first glance, but let’s not be too generous with our seal of approval. He’s allegedly been bedridden for years and unable to bring anything to the table, literally or figuratively. While he’s stretched out in bed with his wife and in-laws, Charlie valiantly supports these layabouts, after which he can barely scrape together enough money to buy a Wonka bar for himself. They survive on cabbage water while he and his poor mother, a toil-worn laundress, carry the team. And if their sinking ship isn’t contending with enough adversity, Grandpa Joe thriftlessly squanders money on tobacco while Charlie is robbed of his childhood. Though to be fair, he does attempt to quit during a moment of clarity.
When Charlie’s ship finally does come in, a la the golden ticket, Grandpa Joe’s feeble legs magically spring back to life. To pitch in around the house he’s out-of-commission, but for a tour of a chocolate factory he dances around the squalid living quarters, jumping about and clicking his heels together. It turns out that his infirmity is less physical and more motivational. The positive message in all of this is that, if you want it bad enough, you can find a way.
Motivation is the straw that stirs the fitness smoothie. Lack of motivation is the downfall of so many aspirants’ exercise results. It accounts for a lot of quitting, never starting, and lots of yard-sale overstock revealing dashed fitness dreams.
Too much of a good thing has been cited from Shakespeare to Twain, and it stands to reason that excessive motivation can get us into trouble. It can lead to things like banned substances, eating disorders, and going for a 10-mile run during a heat advisory. But the right amount and the right kind of motivation can take you far.
I was taught that that fear was not the way to go when it comes to athletic ambitions or performance. It’s better to chase success than run away from failure. I’m partial to this philosophy; it suited me and benefitted a lot of the athletes who I trained with. But there are stories of Tom Brady waking up from nightmares of being cut by his team even after establishing himself as a superstar. His anxiety fuels his work ethic and commitment, not allowing him to become content. His neuroses have served him well.
I’m not a fan of the whatever-works principle because, although constant anxiety may for example be a viable means to an end, it may also make for a miserable life. To be single minded and driven might bring success, but it often comes with a price. Perhaps it’s a decent tradeoff for the Nobel Peace Prize winners and Olympic medalists, but the average person doesn’t enjoy the million-dollar contracts and endorsements to offset the panic attacks and surplus of anxiety. It’s great to get accepted to Yale Law School, but not with a peptic ulcer.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are two sides of the same coin. Even fear of failure and the excitement of an athletic challenge aren’t so very different. A healthy dose of anxiousness can be helpful, but you don’t need to be a tortured soul or running from personal demons for general fitness. It’s easy to get stuck in the weeds of intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation and human performance, but in this case it’s just more appropriate to listen to your mother: “Go outside and play.”
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was: “Normie! When you’re having fun, your training goes good.” It sounded a lot more profound delivered angrily from one of my old training partners with his Minnesota accent, but regardless of the bad grammar or the accent, he was absolutely right.
Labors of love go a lot better than labors of unrequited objectionable scut work. Human beings aren’t wired to persist indefinitely on abhorrent instructions or remedies. Find something you enjoy doing, and you’ll keep coming back for more. It may be of the game/sport variety; it may be stereotyped exercise; it may be going apple picking, dancing or landscaping. As long as you are physically efforting enough throughout the year, it all counts as a contribution towards fitness.
Another sage maxim that’s stuck with me through the years is: “I’d rather press 300 pounds than have a night with Marilyn Monroe.” This guiding principle was forged by my first coach sometime before Monroe’s untimely death. His reasoning was: I have a much more realistic chance of pressing 300 than getting anywhere near Marilyn. Rather than frustrate myself over something that I know I can never have, why not go after something that I can probably get with enough hard work?
As a weightlifter, my coach was always defined as a rational humanist, and I think that there’s a great lesson to be learned from his attitude. Set the bar high, dare to dream, but you have to be realistic.
— Certified strength and conditioning coach Norman Meltzer, the owner/operator of MW Strength and Conditioning in New Bedford, was known during his competitive weight-lifting career as “the Muscless Wonder” for his lean, mean physique lacking in the traditional bulk associated with strength training. Meltzer’s experience and knowledge has helped pro, college and high school athletes and teams and even regular people improve their strength and performance.
Schvitz’n with Norm
By Norm Meltzer