A comfort zone may be a settled place, but nothing ever grows there – here is why you need to get out of yours and realise your true fitness potential.
1. Learning curves
Risks, regardless of their outcome, are growth experiences. Making mistakes along the way is an essential part of that growth. Psychologists like to break words like ‘fail’ into re-framed acronyms such as ‘First Attempt In Learning’.
They may be corny, but there’s an element of truth in there. The world’s most successful people can all cite the times they pushed themselves, took a hit, learned from it and got stronger.
2. Stay stronger for longer
Pushing the body to higher intensity exercise levels, in the form of interval training, takes us out of the confines of steady-state workouts and reverses age-related decline in muscle cells when we do.
Research from Oregon State University found that high-intensity interval training showed the biggest benefits at the cellular level among older exercisers.
3. Bolstered metabolism
If your comfort zone for cardio sessions is the indoor treadmill or trainer, step outside to feel bigger benefits.
Exercising outdoors in winter has been shown to help fortify the immune system – cutting your risk of sickness and injury – and research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has shown cold-weather training encourages the body to burn through calories at a greater rate.
4. Improved brain power
Research into risk-taking behaviour among young men by a team at Turku University, Finland, found that far from being foolhardy, men who seek out new challenges have higher functioning brains, with more robust neural networks, thanks to the stimulation of brain-enhancing chemicals in the body.
5. Realised potential
“Challenging yourself with a new fitness routine – increased weights, or longer, harder, faster sessions – forces you to dip into your previously untapped resources,” says Jake Rostron, PureGym instructor and life coach.
“You unleash previously unseen effort, calling upon your resources of energy, motivation and willpower to achieve new fitness goals. You really don’t know what you’re made of until you venture outside of your own familiar world.”
6. New skills
‘Uncertainty helps us learn; stability turns our brains off.’ That’s the conclusion of research by Daeyeol Lee, Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology and Psychiatry at Yale University.
When we’re in a new environment, or a new experience, our brains switch on and process new information. “We only learn when there is uncertainty, and that is a good thing,” says Lee.
7. Sense of accomplishment
“Completing the smallest action that you wouldn’t normally do can have a huge effect on your motivation,” says Rostron. “Overcoming that ‘first try’ will make all the difference, as once you’re over that hurdle, you can go again and again.”
The key, when it comes to breakout exercise, is to ease out of that comfort zone – set achievable but challenging weights to lift or speeds to hit. Achieving those will push you further.
8. Bigger muscles
“Building new muscle occurs out of the comfort zone – through stress and adaptation,” says Rostron. “If you take muscles beyond their normal, easy comfort levels, it stresses them, and if there is no ‘immediate’ obvious outcome, the body attempts to stop you doing that exercise to conserve energy.
“The trick here is simply to realise that the results will come if you stick at it.”
9. New avenues
Get used to breaking out of your exercise comfort zone and you’ll kiss goodbye to hitting training plateaus. “Once you realise your boundaries have expanded, this new expanded limit becomes your new comfort zone,” says Rostron.
“Your brain will remember how easy it was to extend your boundaries and is much more likely to repeat the process the second time round. Now we have an ever-expanding comfort zone and everything is possible.”
10. Hard-earned respect
“As you show more confidence and start completing actions, your peers will become accustomed to the ‘new you’ and place more confidence in your abilities,” says Rostron.
“This has a snowball effect, as positive reactions make you feel more confident, which gives you a boost to do more.”
Words: Rob Kemp