Exercise sucks. Steve Kamb makes it not suck.
Let’s face it – when you’re starting out, exercise does kinda suck! You get all sweaty and red and out of breath, and sometimes it even makes you feel awful the next day. On the surface, it isn’t really much fun. There’s a reason jokes like this exist:
Once you have some experience under your belt, the feeling of progress, of watching your numbers go up and your body change, is absolutely addicting. When soreness happens less regularly, you actually start to cherish the times it does happen.
But for people just starting, there are a million things to worry about. Exercise feels like just another project. It’s another activity you have to do, work that keeps you away from your friends, family, Netflix, books, games, instruments, or other pursuits.
Plus, it’s hard to know what kind of exercise you should even be doing. There are a million questions:
- Running or lifting?
- How far and how heavy?
- What exercises? How many sets and reps?
- How many times a week?
I’ve written about how to indulge while going to the gym, and how to overcome unhelpful advice to “Just Do It,” but today I want to highlight Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness, because Steve does something remarkable.
He breaks down barriers to fitness and makes exercise truly fun.
Steve’s approach to reframing fitness can teach you how to make exercise fun, overcome inhibitions, and fly past your goals – even if you aren’t a nerd and don’t give a shit about RPGs.
Why Nerd Fitness Works
Nerd Fitness draws on elements of classic role playing games (RPGs) to help “desk jockeys, nerds, and average Joes level up their lives.”
Nerd Fitness strives to reframe fitness. One of the most persistent findings in psychology is that our perceptions matter at least as much as actual events. By connecting exercise (something a lot of people think sucks) to RPGs (something a lot of people have fun with), Steve is able to guide his readers to fitness success.
Myself a nerdy kid, I spent hours grinding away in RPGs (starting with Pokemon) to level up my characters. And, as a relevant xkcd observes, it’s easier to motivate yourself to be fit when you connect exercise to real-life level-ups.
Steve makes that connection in two major ways that combine sound psychology, classic RPGs, and the fundamentals of exercise:
- Quests (aka, mini-actions)
- Classes (aka, goals)
Quests (aka, mini-actions)
When you first sign up for the Nerd Fitness newsletter, you get a simple email: “Here’s exactly how to take your first step…”
Already (before you have even opened the email!) barriers are being broken down. One of the biggest challenges in building a fitness habit is analysis paralysis – there are so many options that it’s hard to know what’s best. This 8-word subject lets you know that problem is about to be overcome.
Opening the email reveals a straightforward quest: Go for a 10-minute walk.
Later quests become progressively more challenging – including Nerd Fitness yoga poses, a Nerd Fitness bodyweight workout, and small changes to your diet. There are also much bigger quests, and Steve keeps a log of his “Epic Quest of Awesome.”
But the important part of these quests is that they are initially easy to follow. They tell you exactly what to do and don’t require too much time or effort. They recognize that – for most people – being bombarded with information is stressful and starting at any point is the first step to succeeding.
These quests cut through that noise, meeting you at your level and gradually progressing as you gain experience and level up your life.
Starting small and ending big is a basic principle of habit formation. Nerd Fitness uses it brilliantly.
Classes (aka, goals)
On your third day, after completing two quests, you are asked to choose a class.
Classes are a mainstay of RPGs, and usually dictate a lot of your strengths and playing style. Some classes are better at strength, others at endurance, others at speed, others at…you get the idea.
Classes are a genius way of asking someone to set goals. If you want to get as strong and big as possible, you probably fit into the Warrior class, but if yoga is more your thing you could consider being a Druid.
If this sounds exceptionally nerdy to you and isn’t your thing, that’s fine. But it’s still worth recognizing that having a direction and goal to guide your fitness efforts is incredibly valuable.
The class system is a way to trick people into setting goals. It again cuts through to noise to focus on what really matters, allowing readers (players?) to pick a path and stick to it.
That’s not all
Quests and classes are the biggest parts of RPGs, but there are other psychological elements to Nerd Fitness that help make exercise compelling.
Members of Nerd Fitness are members of “The Rebellion,” and are invited to participate on the free community forums – community and social support is a major factor that helps in building habits.
“The Rebellion” has rules too – guidelines for health and fitness that are much easier to internalize because they’re presented in the context of a fun group and community.
Finally, Nerd Fitness has killer case studies, small pieces of evidence that anyone can achieve fitness and level up their life.
These ideas may or may not resonate with you, but the takeaway message is an important one: Reframe fitness.
If fitness is an activity that you suffer through, you’re doomed to failure.
If fitness is an activity that enjoy and a quest that you work on, you will achieve it and become the hero of your story.
How do you feel about exercise?