The weight bench lurking in the basement

I have spent the past week moving.  (Yes, it’s been a big month for me: I sold my house, my BDN blog launched, and I moved across the mighty Penobscot). And being me – for better or worse, in this case, worse – I even managed to squeeze in some workouts between hauling boxes and furniture.

That’s probably why during the middle of my Wednesday night Zumba class I thought about taking a sudden, immediate nap on the group ex room stage, during a particularly energetic Pitbull song. And then my face turned beet red and stayed that way for several hours.


But that’s not what I want to write about. During the move I tried to blog about my battle with the broken, dusty weight bench that had lurked for nearly 30 years in the cellar of my old house. The bench was too big for me to get up the stairs and through the door. It was too well put together for me to take apart. In order to get it out of the house, it had to be twisted and mangled into pieces by my bodybuilder business partner.

The weight bench had belonged to my father, who passed away in 1985 before reaching the age of 50, the result of heart disease caused by Type I diabetes.

I kept trying to come up with meaningful metaphors for this weight bench. It didn’t work. Just as the weight bench was a twisted mess, my feelings about it were pretty mixed-up too, but mostly it just made me feel sad.

Here is the thing about that bench: It rarely got used and I have few actual memories of it. But it – and the stationary bike that my dad bought to go along with it, after he finished his post-bypass cardiac rehab class – helped spawn my own interest in fitness.

After my dad’s heart attack, he made a cursory swipe at working out. But once the organized exercise program ended, like most people, he stopped working out. He went about the business of appearing to work out – buying stuff, occasionally doing sit-ups and what he called “deep knee bends” – but he never caught the fitness bug enough to incorporate it into his life without having a specific appointment for doing it.

It’s human nature. I have lots of clients who won’t come to the gym unless they have an appointment with me, despite the fact the gym equipment is here all the time and there are lots of group ex classes available for them.

The question is: Why did the exercise habit stick for me and not for my dad, and not for the clients who won’t come to the gym unless they know I’m going to constantly nag (better term: encourage) them to come in for their next appointment?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. My dad’s disease likely wouldn’t have been halted by working out. He liked how he felt when he worked out, and so do my clients, but that feeling wasn’t enough to create real, lasting change in his habits.

What made exercise stick for me was my “why.” Why did I work out? I had a reason that was compelling enough for me to make sure I made time for it every day, until it became a regular part of my life. A major part of my “why” was the fact my dad had had a heart attack. I was a teen-ager at the time. Seeing him so sick scared me. I wanted to get fit and strong so that maybe I could avoid going through what I witnessed him experiencing, and maybe even help him avoid going through that pain again.

My most motivated clients have strong “whys” – and those whys often have very little to do with aesthetics or weight loss. One is a cancer survivor who appreciates being healthy and fit. Another juggles family, career and kids and craves the stress relief that comes when you challenge your body physically. I train a grandmother who wants to stay strong and fit to keep up with her grandkids and a retired academic who thrives on experimenting with new techniques.

And there are those who especially make me smile – the once-reluctant exercisers who became converts once they developed confidence in their bodies (and themselves) when they realized what they were capable of, and who never want to let that feeling go.

Few of us want to do things we feel like we should do to be “good.” It’s when we have a reason for doing things – something that strikes a chord deep within us – that we have a better chance of sticking with new habits.

Do you have a strong “why”? If not for exercise, then for some other pursuit? What is it?

Wendy Watkins

About Wendy Watkins

Wendy Watkins is a Bangor-based personal trainer, fitness coach, studio owner, and writer/editor. She is the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Losing 20 Pounds in 2 Months. Visit her website at