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“...As time goes on it will become more difficult to remain casual about exercise. Perhaps tomorrow’s educators will help promote the virtue of vigor in a world where work and love are impossible without energy.” Leonard Schwarz, MD

The Wisdom of Len Schwartz—Beyond Heavyhands

In 1982, I read Len Schwartz’s Heavyhands from cover to cover. Paging through the book after his death, I found that I’d marked almost every page. I also realized that I’d forgotten an important section of the book.

Heavyhands was truly Len’s magnum opus, a brilliant introduction of a new form of exercise using beautifully-crafted hand weights to build total body fitness. Many fitness-minded people are familiar with the basics of Heavyhands. What they may not know or remember is his insightful exposition of “Exer-psychology” in the closing chapter. As a psychiatrist, Dr. Schwartz clearly understood that introducing “the best single-package exercise” was only half the battle. The other essential is motivation, which he called “the most vulnerable link in the complicated chain of events that will get you fit and keep you that way forever.”

Schwartz believed that sport psychologists had not devoted enough attention to motivation and how to prevent quitting. His final chapter is, I believe, one of the most cogent treatments ever written on staying engaged and exercising.

He laid out a series of factors that lead to quitting, beginning with what he called “motivational traps.” These traps, he explained, serve to get us started, but soon become excuses to stop exercising. Many of them involve flawed goal setting.

Motivational Traps

The most obvious trap is expecting too-much-too-soon. “If you require fabulous images of yourself as the body beautiful to make you exercise, your exercise program is already an endangered species,” Len wrote. Your expectations must be realistic and close enough to what you are now to be “attainable in the foreseeable future.” Obvious as that seems, many people succumb to the lure of the “quick fix” time after time. When the fix doesn’t work—it rarely does for long—they, quite predictably, quit.

Closely related is what Len called the single-focus trap. “Since most goals are mixtures of solid ideas and fuzzy fantasies, becoming overfocused upon something you want dearly from your exercise may leave you a bit disheartened and ready to quit when it doesn’t live up to expectations.” He suggests that we “consciously find multiple reasons to exercise, being sure to make them all reasonably within reach.”

While less common, that pitfall also seems obvious. Dr. Schwartz, as one might expect from a psychiatrist, takes it a step further. “Take advantage of these peculiar and frequently irrational drives,” he counsels. “Their only danger is that they may get you into an all-or-nothing effort.” He saw the desire to accomplish something—a number of repetitions, an increase in poundage, or some kind of grace or skill—as “a fantastic source of self-knowledge.” 

“This, or any exercise for that matter, puts you through a very complicated body-mind obstacle course; observing your response to various challenges and stresses is an excellent way of meeting yourself in a different context.” I don’t pretend to understand all that he had in mind, but I know from personal experience that exercise, especially over a long time frame, has much to teach us about ourselves and about life in general.

I’m often asked about ideas or goals that I wouldn’t generally recommend. If it appeals to the person and isn’t dangerous, I usually explain why it wouldn’t be my choice—and then suggest that they might want to give it a try and see what happens. Either way, they learn more about what ever it is—and about themselves.

Dr. Schwartz also took a clear-headed look at boredom, the bane of novice exercisers everywhere.

The Boredom Trap

He offered an important insight: “Elite runners never complain of boredom.” That’s no doubt true, but why? Len said it’s because they chose to run.

“Once you’ve decided that your body is an essential part of you and worth your investment in it, you shouldn’t be blighted much by boredom,” he opined.

“We learn boredom when, as children, we decide that the chores Mama doled out were not what we’d prefer to be doing just then,” he continued. “Somebody else’s wishes instilled into us have a great chance of becoming a bore. Once you’ve identified with exercise, the exercise becomes part of you. And none of us seriously believes we’re bores!”

He also added an important caveat. “Ask yourself if you need to enjoy every moment of exercise,” he counseled. “While I’ve advised you to seek multiple reasons for exercise, it would be a childish mistake to expect every moment of exercise to be blissful in ways that few moments outside of exercise are.”

Exercise won’t always be a joy—it may be extremely hard at times—but it will rarely be boring if you take the time to decide what form is best for you. Develop your own health and fitness plan.  In my books, I call this The Ownership Principle

Make your own rules and take responsibility for the results. Own your exercise plan. Do that and boredom will no longer be a trap.

Can’t find time for exercise? Len had a few observations that may make you want to reconsider.

The Time Trap

He didn’t mince words. “I’m frankly nonplussed by people who can’t exercise because they haven’t time. Do they mean their bodies aren’t important to them or is their time simply more important?” he wondered.

“What’s most intriguing and so utterly frustrating is that exercise, in its own way, creates time—longer life and, once fit, less time devoted to exercise,” he continued.

“Oddly enough, the boredom and time excuses are often used by the same people,” he observed. “One would think they’d mutually exclude each other, because time hangs heavy upon bored people and people who haven’t any time shouldn’t be bored.”

Too bad he didn’t speak his mind!

The bottom line is that exercise makes us more efficient and more productive. For more details on this point, see our article Intervals for Fitness—and Life http://www.cbass.com/Intervalsforlife.htm  

“Freud, who usually worked on two manuscripts at once, always had time for vigorous exercise,” Len noted, driving home the point.

The truth is that we simply can’t afford not to exercise.

Dr. Schwartz then turned from troubleshooting motivational traps to helping people who have resolved to exercise for the rest of their life, offering ways “you can help your exercise and ways your exercise can help you.”

Growth and Beyond

You must need and want to exercise. Progress is the best motivator. I strive to make every workout a positive experience. My mindset is to always move toward a meaningful goal. That allows me to go from success to success. With imagination, careful planning and effort, training can be continuously successful and motivating.

Dr. Schwartz recognized that improvement—or growth—is an essential element of motivation. “Since exercise is for most of us an elective, zero growth may bring us perilously close to termination of the program,” he wrote. Basically noncompetitive—with others—he emphasized improving skills, such as Heavyhands dance and shadowboxing. “Humans simply don’t perform well or enthusiastically when growth stops,” he wrote.

Going beyond growth per se, he also ventured into the psychoanalytic realm (he was a psychoanalyst), discussing exercise and pleasure, intelligence, psychic energy, confidence, fear, and non-proprietorship (the opposite of self-actualization). It’s pretty, well, analytical, and I won’t explore it here, except to say that it’s well worth reading—especially for those on the tipping point between physical activity and sedentary living. (I can hear Len chuckling at my summary treatment of his erudite passages.)

I do, however, want to present an abbreviated version of the his final section on “Drives and Exercise.” It’s a masterful and far-sighted look at the potential of exercise and fitness in modern society. (Being unable to improve or match his words, I will simply excerpt them.)

The Future of Exercise

He artfully probed the parallels and contrasts between the drives or appetites for food and sex, and for exercise.

“[The] potential of exercise has hardly been explored,” he ventured. “I think it’s because as a race we’re still annoyed about having been told to exercise. No one had to sell food and sex. To be advised by the experts of the effects of exercise on longevity, health, and the quality of life without being supplied with immediate gratifications such as those associated with feeding and sex makes exercise a very hard sell.”

“Many have resorted to making promises of quick results as though the exercise hucksters were thinking that to peddle exercise it has to be made as gratifying as its neighbor instincts—those more fixed in the flesh,” he continued.

“I think this unreasonable pandering to the need for instant gratification could prove ultimately disastrous to the Fitness Revolution…The pleasures of exercise can only be properly appreciated once dislodged from the habit of comparing them with other things.”

As you would expect from an innovator and psychiatrist, he proposes an alternate and higher-minded approach.

“It is hard for me to believe, given [the] endless possibilities combining mind and movement, that the growth of exercise is anywhere near its end point,” he opined hopefully.  

“At the outside, a single year of diligent training can produce high levels of fitness in healthy subjects,” he wrote. “After that its maintenance can really become a matter of motor adventure. Not the joy of sex nor the joys of gourmet dining to be sure; rather the joy of motion and skill mingled with the sense of confidence and security that go with continuing fitness. Our work capacities are probably as limited as our visual acuity or the rates at which our nerve impulses travel. But within that capability we haven’t begun to discover ourselves.”  

One of the tasks of Heavyhands, he said, is to produce the highest level of fitness. “That’s the simpler part. More exciting are the choreographies of body and spirit that will make life more interesting in more ways than any of us can yet imagine. Once that happens, the concerns about ‘exercise’ should disappear. Sessions, programs, and strategies strike me the same as do diets and weight watching. They underscore a preoccupied struggle that should one day simply become part of life. The conscious combination of high workloads and skill makes good ‘psychosomatic’ sense. 

“...As time goes on it will become more difficult to remain casual about exercise. Perhaps tomorrow’s educators will help promote the virtue of vigor in a world where work and love are impossible without energy.”

A constructive and hopeful vision from a remarkable man, I believe you will agree. Only time will tell whether it will become a reality.

(If you missed it, you'll want to read our remembrance of Dr. Schwartz: http://www.cbass.com/LeonardSchwartz.htm )

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