We all know the SNL cowbell skit. If you don’t, then you must have been on Mars, in a cave, with your fingers in your ears for the past 5 years. Watch it before reading this article:
Pretty damn funny. I mean, Christopher Walken and Will Farrell together never gets old, but allow me to break down the sketch for a minute. Notice how sullen Will Farrell’s character is at the beginning. He’s playing the cowbell half-a**, in the background, and getting no respect. In fact, the other members openly disrespect him when Walken comes in. Lo and behold Walken loves the cowbell and, since Farrell stuck to his guns, he’s become a star. All of a sudden he’s banging out every note and is the hero. How often do you think that you’re doing the wrong thing in the gym?
How often do you avoid new exercises for fear of looking stupid? How often do you avoid asking for help because you’re afraid it will make you look weak? Here’s what I see every time I walk into a commercial gym. Semi-fit people sweating away on cardio machines, terrible form on the most basic of exercises with way too much weight (guys) or way to little weight (girls), unqualified personal trainers ‘training’ clients, a couple scattered people with reasonably good form, 1-2 fit people with a notepad and pen being Cowbell Exercisers.
Be a Cowbell Exerciser
I say Cowbell Exercisers because they’re different, they’re weird, and people stare. These people are avoiding the workout version of a Faustian Bargain. The Faustian Bargain as described by Seth Godin is when we trade our genius and artistry for stability.
Makes sense doesn’t it? It’s hard to be different. Isn’t it easier to do what everyone else is doing? Why run sprints and look stupid when you can slowly jog in the fat burning zone or perform 3 sets of 12 reps for 6 exercises on arm day? I’m here to call you to action. Crap or get off the pot. Stability is, by definition, the antithesis to working out.
I’m assuming that you’re in the gym to create a change. You want to lose weight, gain weight, get more muscle, or become better at sports. Usually so you can be sexier to the opposite sex. The body enjoys stability. Its goal is to reach and maintain a state of equilibrium. In order to force the body to adapt you must stress it. If you want to have a strong and lean body you’re going to have to stress it often with high intensity.
3 sets of 12 reps is fine if you want to feel good about eating a piece of cake the night before but it won’t continue to pack on muscle. Long slow runs are fine if you want to get better at long slow runs. If you want to burn fat, then you’ve got it backwards. Remember the lesson above. Your body always wants to reach equilibrium. If you run day in and day out your body will get more efficient and burn less calories each time you do it.
What Did Will Do?
Will Farrell stood out in the cowbell video. He looked stupid. Everybody else in the band looked at him funny but he stuck to his guns.
What was the result? Turns out he was on the right track after all. The producer loved the cowbell and wanted it to be more central. Farrell gave the band a different sound; the sound that the producer was looking for.
Be Like Will
I’m going to lay out 6 steps that you can be a Cowbell Exerciser:
1. Be careful who you follow
- Why did you choose your trainer?
Did you walk into a gym one day and, with a burst of excitement, sign up for the trainer that the sales person recommended to you because of reason A, B, and C. When you buy a car do you buy a Gremlin (see below) because a hot salesperson recommends it to you? Of course not, you do research and make an informed decision. I’m here to argue that your body is more important than any car you ever buy. After all, you only get one body. Over the course of your lifetime you’ll have multiple cars. I’m also willing to bet that a lot of people who work with trainers spend more money on their trainer than they do their car. I know a lot of my clients do. When looking for a trainer or gym ask around, interview the trainer, watch them work with other clients, ask them for references of other clients they’ve worked with and make an informed decision. It could be the most valuable decision you make this year.
- Does your boyfriend train you in the gym?
I shake my head every time I see this. Let’s assume for a minute that the boyfriend is knowledgeable. He has done his own research, has gotten himself into good shape, and works hard. I’m willing to bet he’s never researched training women who have your injury or muscle imbalance because, quite frankly, it’s not him and why would he know how to train anybody that isn’t him.
- Do you read fitness magazines?
JC covered this one in much better detail then I ever could so I’m not even going to try. Fitness Marketing and its Effect on Women
- Do you pick an ‘internet guru’ without looking into who they actually are?
Internet fitness guru’s are a great example of post-modernism. A guru is often a guru because they decide they want to be. They’ve figured out that if they market themselves well with lots of flashing lights and fancy images people will listen, and sadly, follow what they have to say. Often, fitness guru’s are looked upon as experts and their preaching becomes gospel without adequate research. The printed word means less and less everyday so please look into the qualifications of internet fitness types and check up on their references before buying their products or following whatever radical claims they make. Ever try the Crazy Fit system? Or want your muscles to be pulled closer to the bone by Tracey Anderson?
2. Stop caring
Know that most people in the gym will never get measurable and long-term results. It’s unfortunate but true. Stop caring about looking stupid and bang your cowbell with gusto. Try new exercises and work on form with lighter weight until you feel comfortable. As Daniel Coyle eloquently points out in “The Talent Code” the best way to learn a skill is to try, fail, and fail better. Failing with purpose forces our bodies to adapt. You will look different than anybody else in the gym and they might stare. 3 months later when you’re looking great and they look the same I can promise that you’ll enjoy the stares.
3. Stick to your program
Program hopping is a huge problem. During the first 4-8 weeks of a new exercisers life they will get results from anything. Once neural adaptation slows, a more concerted effort is needed. The quality of the program dulls in comparison to consistency. If you find a great program midway then I urge you to make a note of it and try it ONLY upon completion of your previous program.
4. Do your research
There are some great programs available on the internet or published in books. Personally I’ve benefitted greatly from Eric Cressey’s “Maximum Strength”, John Berardi and Michael Mejia’s “Scrawny to Brawny” and a couple of Christian Thibaudeau’s programs. If you’re women I recommend Nia Shanks “Beautiful Badass” workout.
5. Give it your all
Time is finite. Time is also your most valuable commodity. Why spend more time in the gym then you have to? And why spin your wheels doing something that won’t get you results? Put 100% of your effort into your workout every single time. Don’t stick to 12 reps because the paper says so. If you can do 13 go for it!
6. Hire A Trainer
Maybe my opinion is skewed here but is it not worth it to hire a trainer if it will save you hours of valuable time and frustration? Time that you could be using to make money or spend with your family. Find somebody in your area who is good (if you’re looking please send me a message, I might know somebody near you) and purchase some of their time. Even if you don’t want them with you every workout please take the time to pick their brain. We’re here to help you and we’re passionate about helping you succeed.
Jonathan Goodman CSCS is the creator and head coach of the Personal Trainer Development Center. He also acts as the Senior Trainer at Body + Soul Fitness. You can follow him on twitter @Jon_PTDC or find him on Facebook.