2631: Exercise Progression

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Exercise Progression
They said after I got into a routine, I'd enjoy getting progressively stronger and stop whining so much about how hard exercise was. Well, they were half right!
Title text: They said after I got into a routine, I'd enjoy getting progressively stronger and stop whining so much about how hard exercise was. Well, they were half right!


The arrows on the graph progress from left to right on the axis for "workout difficulty", showing that as people exercise (both normal people, and Randall), their bodies become stronger and able handle more difficult workouts.

The "normal progression over time" arrow in the graph shows how, when normal people unaccustomed to exercise first start out, it is perceived as unpleasant, for a variety of reasons: it takes time from the day, causes them to become sweaty and hot, feels particularly difficult, causes sore muscles, and so forth. Over time, as their body becomes accustomed to the exercise and can take on higher exercise loads, increasing muscle strength and endurance, so too does the brain, increasing both the amount of dopamine in the brain, and the number of dopamine receptors, as well as other positive changes. This means the "enjoyment" rewards from exercise begin to dominate, and exercise becomes a pleasant pastime, rather than a tedious, time-consuming and perhaps painful slog. This naturally causes a related reduction in whining.

The "my progression over time" arrow shows that while his body is becoming accustomed to the exercise just like any other, Randal whines linearly with the exercise difficulty. This could be because he is not neurochemically rewarded in the same way. Randall has implied he suffers from ADD, and this is a common symptom, caused by an excess of dopamine transporters in the brain carrying away the dopamine before it can activate the receptors.

It could also be because there are other downsides to exercising that he cares about more than the enjoyment; for example, if his exercise duration increases linearly with difficulty, and he values his time highly, that could cause a linear increase in whining with difficulty. Or since there is no scale for time on the graph, it could be that Randall has significantly misjudged the timescale of the effect (another common symptom of ADHD), and has only just begun his exercising journey: he may simply not realize that the neurological changes will take longer than the muscular ones, so he is seeing his muscles get stronger but has not yet reached the downturn in whining. Or he might just enjoy whining, and have more strength for lengthy whining sessions as his fitness increases.

Since the strip does not give information about the content of his whining, duration of exercise regimen, etc, the specific cause of the difference in whining behavior cannot be identified from the strip alone, though in the context of other strips, it is likely to be a real effect of neurodiversity.

The title text refers to the common response to such whining by people who are neurochemically rewarded by exercise, and have reached the bottom right of the graph: that getting stronger through an exercise routine will become its own reward, leading to a reduction in whining. Randal's statement that they were "half right", together with the graph, implies that he does indeed enjoy the rightward progression on the graph as he gets stronger and is able to take on increasingly difficult exercise; but that despite their reassurances, his whining has ramped up linearly with the exercise difficulty no matter how well-accustomed to it his body becomes.

To give an idea of the scale of time on the graph, a common rule of thumb is that while gains in strength can be seen within weeks (the stretch of the graph where both arrows rise), it can take months for a neurotypical mind (and its body) to acclimate to a serious change and begin to reap the rewards[actual citation needed] (the falling area on the graph). Military boot camps are 6-13 weeks.

The strip may also be a pun, where the "normal progression" arrow traces out half of a normal curve.


[A graph is shown with labelled axis, and arrows at the tip of each axis. There are two thick arrows plotted, both starting mid-range on the Y-axis, one of them goes upwards at a constant angle of about 40°. The other, which lies over the first mentioned where they overlap close to the Y-axis, first rises a bit before it bends downward and then after having increased its downward bend for a bit it changes to a continuously lower down bending rate and seemingly converges towards a constant y-value close to zero before the end of the graph. Both arrows tip ends at the end of the X-axis. Inside each arrow there is a label.]
Y-axis: How much you whine and complain about doing exercise"
X-axis: Workout difficulty
Upwards arrow: My progression over time
Downwards arrow: Normal progression over time

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The bot appeared to have not created the page, so I created it- apologies for any mishaps that I might've caused as a result. Wielder of the Staple Gun (talk) 02:42, 11 June 2022 (UTC)

I replaced the comic image, which was the 2x size image, with the correct size image from XKCD. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 03:07, 11 June 2022 (UTC)


Witw is a crapdalizer? 03:42, 11 June 2022 (UTC)

I would guess WotSG couldn't think of what to put there and made up a silly nonsense word. It's also an anagram of "lizard caper"... Anyway, I've changed it to something a bit more relevant. (Not sure if I should have deleted the "Please change this comment" part as well.) 05:02, 11 June 2022 (UTC)
Sounds like more of the crapper syndrome we have had. It is confusing with such a comment here, when the word is removed from the explanation, so I have linked to a version of the explanation with the word in place in the incomplete reason. Also please do not add sections in the talk page... --Kynde (talk) 08:23, 11 June 2022 (UTC)
It was by an anonomous user, I tried to remove it but they reverted and it wasn't major enough to warrant an edit war Wielder of the Staple Gun (talk) 17:33, 11 June 2022 (UTC)

Surprised that there was STILL no Explanation or Transcript at 2am EST, so since I fully understand this one (I feel like I wrote this comic, LOL!) I gave it a shot. I feel like they're complete and thorough, but last time my writing was completely replaced, LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:17, 11 June 2022 (UTC)

I was a nerd, but discovered exercise around 2012 and became very active. After the social media political stuff around 2013-2016, my curve shifted from the normal one to Randall's, incredibly hard to do things other than what's supported by the patterns. I don't think Randall's curve is natural, I think he was hit by the influence stuff too. 11:05, 11 June 2022 (UTC)

My solution has been that I didn't increase the difficulty. I found a level I was comfortable with and don't whine about it. Barmar (talk) 12:55, 11 June 2022 (UTC)

I never heard of this "up to six months" rule of thumb. Can someone add a citation or remove it? -- 21:43, 11 June 2022 (UTC)

I didn't write that one, someone added it since I wrote the explanation, but I've heard this Rule Of Thumb many times. The thing is, a "Rule Of Thumb" is as opposed to "written down" :) so it might be difficult to find a citation, except maybe if somebody can find an advice article. Also, it's something that comes from personal experience, it's quite a vague amount. It might be 5 months for this person and 7 for that person, and it depends on frequency and dedication. This is basically "In my experience, in general, on average, it takes 6 months". It SHOULD stay because it's standard advice from any trainer NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:47, 13 June 2022 (UTC)
Besides which, anybody seeking for explainxkcd to be a purely and fully-cited authoriterical work (except on matters of xkcd itself, which is at least our primary role, if not entirely our accomplished one) is already over-optimistic. If I don't think that a trainer would normally mention the six-months thing (either at all or with a differing period more suited for their own purposes of boasting/milking-the-naive-client-for-as-much-as-possible), I still wouldn't argue with the mention of the principle as it stands... 12:18, 13 June 2022 (UTC)

The X axis here is confusing. It's labeled 'workout difficulty' but the arrows are labeled 'progression in time.' 13:48, 13 June 2022 (UTC)

That's because the graphs are illustrating how, over time, people move through a graph of complaint-intensity vs workout difficulty. As time goes on, people can take on increasingly more difficult workouts. 14:14, 13 June 2022 (UTC)
((Repeat of above, probably, as I hit an Edit Conflict from... Someone who did not sign their addition......someone who belatedly signed it and thus ECed me again! ;) )) It's a scattergraph of whine vs difficulty, with points joined to show (in leiu of a third axis) that a progression through the plane of those two variables is timelike. (It would be possible to have a loop on those two axes with a directional (or bi-directional/reversible) transit passage whichever way up or down either value.)
Obviously, it has other interesting consequences/conclusions to it (dt is never negatively correlated with dx on that graph, which is interesting, regardless of dt/dy or dx/dy having clear sub-zero stretches on at least one of the lines/ribbons), but there's no problem with time progressing (at an unknown rate, could still be non-linear while positive) alongside the labelled horizontal incrementing. 14:15, 13 June 2022 (UTC)
I feel like this fact could be included a bit more in the explanation. I, too, had some difficulty in processing the graph because, despite the phrase "over time" appearing within the graph, the horizontal axis is not, in fact, a time axis. Perhaps a description of how the graph might look if time were plotted on the x axis, or alternatively an explanation of why the use of such an axis would be problematic. Dansiman (talk) 17:30, 13 June 2022 (UTC)
Actually, the X axis essentially IS a time axis, as stated in the arrows. Workout difficulty is being increased over time, as it traditionally does. The difference is merely that it cannot have time values ("Day 1", "Week 1", whatever) on the axis because the pace will vary from person to person. As a whiner and complainer, chances are Randall would progress slowly, while someone more devoted would raise it quicker. This isn't comparing "Me on Day 2 vs. You on Day 2", it's comparing "Me at Stage 2 vs. You at Stage 2, whenever that may be". NiceGuy1 (talk) 14:21, 14 June 2022 (UTC)

The second paragraph doesn't look right - the arrow for 'people who are aggressively uninterested in and not accustomed to exercise' would start and stop in the top left corner - i.e. they would refuse to increase the difficulty of their exercise above 'barely any', and would complain a LOT about any they had to do. 14:29, 13 June 2022 (UTC)

My point was someone lazy and disinclined to workout but tries to anyway because they know they should, which is how I believe Randall is self-identifying here. :) Someone exercising for the first time in a LONG time. NiceGuy1 (talk) 14:25, 14 June 2022 (UTC)