Fitness and Free Will

And now for a bit of a digression into the philosophy of fitness.

There is a considerable amount of talk of free will in the world of philosophy. Even though I majored in philosophy, this is one conversation that never really interested me. But my recent research in neuroscience brought me to this subject in a different light.

The study of neuroscience has provided incredible insight into many areas. It has even transformed the way that I look at designing individual training programs for people. The different levels of dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and GABA in your brain can have a big impact on how you should workout in terms of intensity, volume, and frequency, and even the how you structure the order of your exercises.

But one problem is that neuroscience doesn’t leave a lot of room for free will. Basically, you are how you are because of your brain. Even more simply, you are your brain. This fatalistic view can be a bit depressing.

But this made me think. Where might we have free will?

The answer struck me when I was training, as so many good answers do. Free will is in that moment when we say no to the instincts of the brain. It comes in the mindful rejection of those impulses. And this is the heart of getting the body (and brain) that you want.

We think that our freedom lies in our right to say “YES” to things. But it is actually the exact opposite. Free will is all about saying NO.

Free will – and fitness – arises from saying “NO” to:

  • Laying on the couch
  • Eating that dessert
  • Having another drink
  • Staying up late watching Netflix
  • The desire to stop exercising when it becomes uncomfortable

One of the best things we can learn from exercise, and sled work in particular, is becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. And it is in that moment of discomfort, when our brain is telling us to stop, that we can have free will. When your muscles scream at you that they don’t want to take one more step. And yet you do.

That is the time when we get the most benefit from our training, certainly physically, but maybe metaphysically as well.

So just take the next step…


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