On the face of it, the notion that ‘your constraints are your freedom’ appears to be oxymoronic [1]. Orthodox thinking would lead you to believe that constraints serve only to limit ones freedom, that is, the more constraints you place upon me, the less freedom I possess. And freedom is synonymous with success and happiness. But perhaps, when it comes to achieving your fitness goals, all this freedom is not good.

How’s that? Well, the more freedom one has, the more free will they must possess. Otherwise, they end up in a state of not achieving anything, oftentimes afflicted by paralysis by over-analysis. In the fitness world, programme hopping is often a symptom of said affliction.

What’s more, free will is finite – once you’ve used up the free will you possess, it’s gone. Dan John uses a fantastic analogy, likening free will to a can of shaving gel; ‘it seems you have a one-can allotment and it just runs out without warning’. In contrast, a can of shaving foam is much more preferable, you at least get a few days warning when you’re at the end of the can as it starts to spit and splutter [2].

Paradoxically, if you are always being forced to make decisions about simple tasks (therein using some of your can of free will), such as when to workout, you actually have less time for freedom. This is supported by the scientific literature; in a 2001 study it was found that people who were asked to formulate a plan for where and when they would exercise from the outset were far more likely to follow through with it in comparison to those who were either simply asked to exercise, or those who were asked to exercise and given motivation to do so. The reasoning? Something the researchers called implementation intention, that is, a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act.

I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]

So, this works out as…

I will exercise by doing the boxing class at 6.30pm on Monday evening in Rigs Fitness [3].

In case you’re reading this and haven’t seen the safe and sensible measures we are introducing at Rigs post-covid lockdown, let me briefly overview here:

From Monday 3rd August Rigs offers small group zonal training or private coaching pods. Attend one of our small group classes and you’ll have: your own personal, pre-cleaned kit; your own exclusive training zone; and, you’ll be coached by one of our award-winning coaches. The only, perceived, downside to our new business model is the removal of our Performance membership, meaning that we no longer offer the possibility of ‘open gym’, that is, training without constraints.

Contrary to this being a negative for you in achieving your fitness goals, I would contend that it is, in fact, a positive. Why? Well, your constraints are your freedom.

Yes, you can only workout at certain times. But, can you do all types of training we offered before? Yes. But my goal is weightlifting? Don’t worry, we have 4 hours per week of weightlifting classes across 3 different days. What about boxing? 5 classes, 5 different days. General fitness? 6 classes across 5 days. You want to focus on something as specific as calisthenics (bodyweight exercises)? We’ve got you covered with a brand new class.

By removing the possibility of being able to train at anytime we have imposed some more constraints on your training. This means you now have to use the process of implementation intention, which studies have shown makes it much more likely you will stick to your training habits, and therefore achieve your fitness goals. None of your free will has to be taken up choosing when to train. It’s now ready and waiting to be used to get the most out of your sessions and achieve your fitness goals faster than ever!

 

References

[1] Tom Farrow, Your Constraints are Your Freedom accessed https://rugbystrengthcoach.com/your-constraints-are-your-freedom/[2] Dan John, Never Let Go[3] James Clear, Atomic Habits