Fitness culture has brought the idea of “accountability” into a new definition for many who are a part of it.
Because many of us prefer to take advice from the glossiest, sexiest sources of online influence, it can really bastardize the overall purpose that fitness should serve for most of the people involved with it: Live a longer, better quality, healthier life that involves moving well, and being strong and fit. Yes – fit.
Because terms like “fit”, “healthy”, “strong” and others related are relatively subjective, the fitness industry has become 50 shades of grey rather than a solid black and white. In many areas, this is a welcome shift in perspective, whereas in others, it can be harmful to someone’s progress. Whether you’re new to training, or a 25 year gym rat who’s seen it all, it’s certainly easy to fall down the rabbit hole of displaying a version of yourself in your training that services you less, while “impressing” them more. And that’s worth questioning – especially if the plan is longevity and health.
Time to get uncomfortable.
If you’re doing this for a healthy lifestyle, Why are you always hurt?
90% of people reading this aren’t competitive athletes or lifters. I know this because 90% of people on the planet aren’t either, and I never tailored this website to any niche.
With that said, the name of “good training” can mislead people into thinking that their precious big lifts must never reach a limit on how much they “progress”. Sadly, “progression” usually takes the form of adding weight to the bar for most people who won’t think outside the box enough to recognize that factors like rest interval, range of motion, tempo, and reps performed, all play a role in progression too. Ask any really strong (and honest) competitive lifter or athlete, and I’ll bet my bottom dollar they won’t say they live a life free of any injury rehab, chronic pain, or joints or muscles that bug them.
And the above are often the examples we use to shape our own approach to training and programming. As a result, the everyman also becomes accustomed to pushing through pain just as frequently in the name of a stronger squat or deadlift. Even in the face of acute injury, most rehab protocols tend to leave someone mentally primed to simply return to the exact practices that got them hurt in the first place. Remember: Programs can’t assess you, so it’s up to you to assess the program instead. Many coaches will say what “should” be in every program, but it all implies a starting point that’s free of contraindications. That’s not realistic – especially if you’ve been hurt before.
The point should be to learn from your injuries¸ if you’ve experienced any. If you haven’t, nip the dogma in the bud. Killing yourself in the gym day in and day out to leave your knees, hips and shoulders in cahoots, let alone to leave you and your muscles in a debilitated mess overall has missed the entire point of training. Getting railroaded by a workout is fine once in a while. But most of the time, you should make it your aim to feel better from the gym, not like you just got hit by a car. If that’s not “hardcore” enough for you, it may be time to stop drinking the Instagram Kool-Aid.
Do you Believe Change is ever a Good Thing?
This piggybacks off of the above section. Being caught up in the “strength training” hype that even good coaches are guilty of overselling, can cause a well-intended trainee to miss out on plenty of other benefits to working out that their bodies would thank them for.
Strength is indeed a paramount training goal, and probably the first thing everyone needs – but make no mistake. It’s one slice of an 11-piece pie, and it doesn’t carry over into everything. To really pursue your health and fitness, it’s going to take a departure from constantly chasing numbers in the most popular lifts in the gym. Nothing other than your stubbornness to do just that is probably what’s fueling your disdain as you read this subheading. Being strong doesn’t mean you’re in shape. It just means you’re strong. Your flexibility, balance, agility, endurance, coordination, speed, body composition and other attributes won’t get their best attention if all you’re doing is changing up your rep ranges in the same exercises at the very most.
Diversifying your training can be exactly what the doctor ordered to take your athleticism, physique, muscle and joint health, and even mental state to better places than they currently might be. Here’s a challenge: How would you perform 2 months worth of consistent, challenging workouts if you only had a couple of lighter dumbbells or kettlebells, a few bands, open floor space, and a bench or two?
Your precious PR’s can go on the backburner. If you’re salty right now, you probably know that you’re strong enough for them not to matter at this point. Get out of the sagittal plane. Change the loading implement. Maybe master some calisthenics. If these things sound like the devil to you, it’s a good thing you clicked on this link.
What will you do if you miss a workout?
The industry’s obsession with extremes and polarized stances has inevitably made many adopt the “go hard or go home” mentality in the case of training. But asking “what’s your excuse?” can only go so far when you’re a real person with a real life and real responsibilities. Motivation images can be encouraging, but they can start doing more harm than good if the outcome is going to the gym through sickness and health, rain or shine, on a full day’s sleep or after an all-nighter. I’m talking about overtraining.
Beating yourself up over missing a single workout speaks first-hand to imbalanced thinking that disregards the long-game approach to fitness and health; the approach that everyone involved with recreational gymgoing should be focused on perfecting. If this sounds like you, use this as incentive to broaden the scope of your training beyond the next 4 weeks or month and a half of your current program. If you want to avoid being decrepit as a senior, the answer is rarely to “go even harder” as a young adult. Training responsibly now will earn you the ability to do way more in the gym when advanced in age. And that could simply mean taking things down a notch in your frequency – or at the very least, not freaking out if you miss the program. That’s not good for your mental health.
Does your Weight, Body Fat Percentage, or Size Prevent you from Doing any of the Following Things?
Recently, I made a post about this on my Instagram, which led to some very interesting dialogue on the attached thread. In a nutshell, I highlighted 4 areas of health related fitness:
Muscular endurance and cardiorespiratory capacity (by way of lasting a 10 minute run or swim),
muscular strength (via basic proficiency at standard bodyweight exercises), and
flexibility (by way of being able to perform quality movement patterns, using good range of motion), with all things being equal.
To be clear, these aren’t “standards”, but rather useful guidelines that can expose issues with a person’s overall level of fitness. If any of the above present a problem to achieve, most likely due to body composition or size, it could suggest the need to pursue change in that department.
It’s very easy to latch on to a polarizing aspect of fitness culture, without looking at things from an objective standpoint that serves a bigger purpose than resting on a few fringe variables. That’s why I think this is an important subheading. Regarding the example above, a default knee-jerk reaction could be to think about its risk of “shaming” any sedentary individual who carries a high body mass and body fat percentage – and not so much the bodybuilder with 8% body fat who can’t scratch his back, nor the elite powerlifter with a 785 deadlift who hasn’t done conditioning work or eaten clean in years. Each of these cases disqualifies said individuals from putting a checkmark beside all those athletic boxes, which goes to show that it transcends the sedentary or clinically obese at health risk.
Claiming “body positive” is fine, as long as it doesn’t come packaged with the habit of sacrificing critical faculties to instead adopt an entrenched position of disagreement. Even if the original meaning and intent of the term “health at every size” has become misconstrued by the masses, it’s still worth clarifying the following to those masses: The idea that “healthy” should only come in one shape and size – that being the incredibly narrow spectrum in which it’s often promoted in popular culture – is absolutely wrong, and everyone needs to know that. But despite the shades of grey in the spectrum of “healthy” and “fit”, there indeed must still exist an underlying baseline of fundamental physical attributes that must define fitness – and that goes beyond mental health alone. Ignoring this truth would rock the foundation upon with training, goal-setting, and progress are built. And it would put personal trainers like me out of a career.
Keeping this in line with the rhetoric of the overall article, my message is simple. Step 1 is to first be self-aware. Regardless of your situation – whether you’re an elite level lifter or competitor or a completely sedentary individual – achieving a baseline of rounded fitness will only be beneficial to you in the long run. And if doing so probably means trimming things down in the body comp department, then embrace that by diversifying your training to challenge those weak points, or by getting started in the gym if you haven’t yet done so. Your joints, heart, and life span will thank you for it in the long run.
Do you REALLY think you can do this all on your own?
Many of the subheadings above can actually build to this one, when you think about it.
If you’ve acknowledged that you need to make a change, or have been going hard in the gym for a while, given you can help it, you’d be smart to acknowledge that hiring a solid professional in some capacity is likely going to do you good. Making a lifestyle change can be a big move, especially when the name of the game is consistency and the object of the game is to never stop playing.
Personal training is expensive, and is certainly a luxury that not everyone can afford to invest in. But for those who can invest in it but choose not to, it’s good to assess your priorities and see where your own health and your commitment to improving it ranks on that list. A good coach can keep you safe from injury, structure your programming and deliver great workouts, hold you more accountable than you might yourself, but most of all, be a voice of reason – someone who will be honest in telling you when to ramp things up, and when to scale them back. Someone who can maintain a realistic approach to setting your goals and how to get there, along with dealing with frustrations along the path to reaching them (because they’ll come).
There are many reasons why people won’t take the plunge and get help from a professional for their fitness. Maybe you can relate to one of the reasons on this list:
- They say they can’t afford it, but know they just aren’t budgeting/prioritizing it enough for it to work financially
- They say they already know what they’re doing
- They’re embarrassed and think they’re not “good enough” for a trainer. They may even resolve to “get in shape first” before hiring a coach
- They’re too prideful and truly believe that they’ve got this
- They don’t think there’s such thing as a “good trainer”
- They feel that doing online coaching, or even grabbing a generic program off the internet is more than enough
Being true with yourself about what’s stopping you from getting the help you need could encourage you to take the next steps. Any of the points above can be justified by a person whose head isn’t right about being committed to their goals.
If you needed legal assistance, medicine for illness, to fill a cavity, or to learn a new language, you would probably never do it strictly alone. Your fitness should be no different. Even if it’s for a shorter duration, getting some foundation via sessions with a great 1 on 1 in person coach can be invaluable to the remainder of your training journey.
These are questions that, as I warned, are going to require some serious reflection while being honest and transparent with yourself to truly answer. They were easy questions for me to think of after 13 years in the industry, because they tend to cover topics that are typically met with the most resistance or denial, from what I’ve seen.
You may love the gym and the entire culture that comes along with it. That, in and of itself, is to be commended. But enjoying the culture and being a prisoner of its futility are two different things. It’s important to remember that whatever stage of the fitness journey you’re at, means you have to make decisions about your training that aren’t for anyone else – be it concerning your programming, reassessing your goals, your commitment, or your level of knowledge.
Whatever those decisions entail, just make sure they’re ones that keep you moving forward in your fitness journey, and not just fitting in with someone else’s agenda.