Performance vs. Aesthetic Goals: a story of Spartans

Vanity gets you on the elliptical.

Glory gets you across a finish line.

This weekend, my obstacle course racing trainees scaled walls, ran through ankle-deep mud, crawled under barbed wire and jumped over fire to call themselves Spartan Race Finishers.

The Spartan Race Sprint is a three to five mile terrain race dotted with 20 obstacles throughout the course. With everything from rope climbs to 12 foot walls to get over (and a 30-burpee penalty for failed attempts) it’s a challenge that will mentally and physically test seasoned athletes and rookies alike.

Seeing the smiles on the faces of the TSC Spartans, especially those who were first-time finishers, reminded me of how I found obstacle course racing and it became the driving force to keep me motivated in the gym after I stopped playing college sports. It got me thinking about how a lot of Saturday’s finishers started in the gym chasing weight loss, and now were following a whole new fulfilling path of fitness. 

TSC Spartan Shannon Tilton working her monkey bars at Tewksbury Sports Club. She originally started working out for weightloss – now she’s headed for the 12 mile Spartan Beast in December.

Listen to or read any “before and after” testimonial, and with the exception of the person saying, “I couldn’t breathe walking upstairs,” they all have a common thread: they got started because they hated how their body felt, they felt tortured wearing a bathing suit, or their confidence was in the toilet. They wanted to be lean, jiggle-free and muffin top-less.

And there is NOTHING wrong with that. I want everyone to love how their butt looks from squats. I want everyone in the world to rock any piece of clothing (or lack thereof) without a care in the world.

But, most people who have lost weight will agree, the sole goal of weight-loss and body transformation is as I like to say, a mindfuck. It’s a lot of pressure on a sack of cells with emotions and hormones and little mental and physical differences from one person to the next that could make weight loss more challenging for some than others. Add to that, bodies may look super lean one day, and bloated 24 hours later without any change in fat loss or gain. Your body is a little bit different every day, so it’s hard to rely on it to decide if what you’re doing is “working.” Judging your effort by what you see in the mirror or on the scale can be frustrating.

So if you are stuck in a rut, or have no desire to “diet and exercise” for the single purpose of manipulating your body, or just want to feel strong and have fun while ALSO getting some hot-body benefits … may I suggest a performance goal? 

Shimmying across a rope 10 feet above the ground = more fun than the elliptical.

As a trainer at Tewksbury Sports Club, I consider my role more of a coach of a recruited army of badasses, because though weightloss is always the underlying goal, I encourage my trainees to work toward something more quantitative –  a goal that we KNOW we have arrived at when we get there.

If you’ve found yourself bored on the elliptical, sick of your green veggies and ready to give up your “dream body” goal, consider a “performance-based” goal:

Make your goal to do a pull-up. To bust out 20 push-ups in a row. To finish a 5k race, and then beat your time. To hike a mountain in every state. To hold a 5 minute plank. To complete a lift, to squat your own bodyweight. To get back in shape for an intramural league. One of my guys has a plan to run a half-marathon is every state (and he’s KILLING IT). A performance-based will fuel you in a concrete way that “tight abs” never has.

It doesn’t matter how far away this goal is. Dream big. Make it something that sparks your fire and keeps you motivated. Something that comes to mind when you’re tired and want to give up.  Earl Nightingale said it best: “Never give up on a dream because of the time it will take to accomplish it – the time will pass anyway.”

The weight loss and body transformation will come anyway, too – but in a fun way that surprises you. Instead of focusing on the scale everyday, you were focused on preparing your body for a challenge like the Spartan Race, which means you needed to fuel and rest your body properly. You didn’t just “work out” you TRAINED. You developed strong beautiful muscle from more push-ups you could count, from hours you put in doing squats, planks and swings. Your core is tight because you needed it to be strong for the work you were going to do. Your body was beautiful before, but now it’s functional. It doesn’t just look pretty, it performs. Congratulations – now you are an athlete. 

Many of my TSC Spartans lost anywhere between four and 15 pounds during our bootcamp, while focusing on how to make their bodied work better. That’s why I love performance-based goals: they come with the hot body benefits, plus medals, trophies and the amazing “I DID IT” feeling that no one can take away from you.

Which brings me back to those dirty, sweaty, smiling TSC Spartans crossing the finish line together, holding hands in the air. They will go back to their workouts knowing how strong and capable they truly are. Some of them are moving on to bigger races, other will go back to the gym feeling unstoppable for whatever they choose to come next.

Maybe you will cross the next finish line with them:

The next Spartan Bootcamp starts Sunday, Sept. 9 at Tewksbury Sports Club, to train for the mud-free, more rookie-friendly Spartan Race at Fenway Park on Nov. 4. But don’t wait to start training – call Tewksbury Sports Club at 978-863-8990 or email me at to get started on your training now, or to pre-register for bootcamp.

Claim your goal. The start line is here and now. GO.

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