Many sedentary people embarking upon a fitness journey encounter what I like to call "The Deconditioned Paradox." This riddle dawned on me one day as I struggled to motivate a client to keep going one more minute. He had been begging to quit for 10 minutes. He'd only been going for 15.

My puzzling thought: You've got to spend energy, which you swear you don't have, to get energy.

When you are sedentary, or unaccustomed to exercise, your body simply does not possess the infrastructure to meet the demands of physical activity. You don't have enough muscle fibers, mitochondria, blood volumes, nerve fibers, coordinated neural-muscular function, ATP, etc., to execute your brain's command of: Jog for two minutes, then lift that weight 12 times. Deconditioned people fatigue extremely quickly, overheat, gasp for air and crumble into a quivering heap at the least amount of exertion. As you might guess, this can be very discouraging.

The problem is, the only way to get to a point where a deconditioned person can jog for two minutes then lift that weight 12 times is to ... (wait for it) ... jog for two minutes then lift that weight 12 times! You have to force yourself to spend energy you swear isn't there - push through the horrible moment and just do it. As a result, your body gets a wake up call saying, "We need more muscle fibers, mitochondria, blood, nerves, coordination, ATP, etc." Without the wake-up call, your body doesn't know you need more infrastructure. So it won't make any. And without the additional infrastructure, physical activity won't ever feel easier.

This paradox that you have to spend energy to get energy - especially when it feels like you have no energy - is one of the main reasons sedentary people quit exercise programs. They fall victim to the paradox's discouragement. They cannot fathom a future version of themselves where jogging for two minutes then lifting that weight 12 times is no big deal - much less pleasurable. In their minds, physical activity is freakishly difficult and unbearable - something to be avoided.

As a trainer, I sometimes wish I could magically plant thoughts into my clients' minds - give them a little taste of what's possible. Once someone feels what it's like to spring up a flight of stairs, hop up off the floor, snatch a heavy box from a shelf, or make a quick jog to the mailbox, they'll push through what feels so hard today to achieve that better feeling later. They'd know that being deconditioned can be overcome, that they won't always be that way - it does get easier. But you gotta spend energy (even when you swear it ain't there) to get energy.

As puzzling as it sounds, there's no other way.

NSCA certified personal trainer Shannon Sorrels holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry and an MBA. Her company, Physix LLC, works with Valley individuals as well as groups to improve their overall fitness. Reach her at (480) 528-5660 or visit


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