The pursuit of a healthy, fit lifestyle and its rewards has to be one of life’s most misleading areas of concentration. In my previous blogs, you’ve read about the psychological ramifications of fitness “obsession” put under the microscope, detailed to whatever extent an unqualified onlooker like myself can. The truth is this: Making a change from leading a lifestyle that’s less healthy to one of a health-conscious individual who consistently and regularly works out and eats clean is commendable. It’ll probably improve the length of your life and the quality of those years to boot – As long as it’s approached with a modicum of balance.
That’s a message that’s often missed by many fitness “enthusiasts”, and what can start as a healthy interest becomes more of a preoccupying obsession that dictates one’s every step. Workouts themselves become jobs, conquests, or both, and the rabbit hole gets deeper as more physical results are seen.
We all have different goals. Some of us just want to be generally healthier, lose body fat, and make wiser food choices. Others want to get about as big as a house. Others still would prefer to be strong enough to lift a house. Each of those goals requires a measure of dedication, consistency and hard work.
I look around my local gym and I see a number of characters, to term things lightly. I’m sure you do too. These people may or may not know that the common denominator of all of the goals I listed above was the fact that they’re goals that don’t belong to anyone else but them. It’s not to say that having certain idiosyncrasies can be a make or break factor when it comes to attaining results, but let me put it this way. When I train (or do much of anything) I’m usually not one to draw too much attention to myself. Less a 15 second celebratory dance with my friends after a filmed PR attempt, the only thing that will let most people know that I’m there is the fact that my size is hard to miss, and hopefully the fact that my lifting skill shows I know a thing or two.
But garnering personal attention is just one of several areas that can blur a well-intended lifter’s vision when it comes to what really matters in the gym for trainees – the lifter himself, and nobody else. This is a topic that isn’t spoken of often, which makes my titled question even more valid for each and every one reading this to ask.
Believe me. Upon knee jerk, I guarantee most will answer that very titular question by saying “absolutely no one!” But a closer look at behavior and actions may make it worthwhile to reconsider. With the following subheadings, I did my best to cover as many demographics that the “characters” I mentioned above would fall under at least one of by default.
So, once more, the money line: Who are YOU trying to impress?
Industry Performance Standards
To be “strong”, you should have a 2x bodyweight squat, and a 2.5x bodyweight deadlift.
No one asked any questions. Someone said it, so that’s the way it is.
I’m not about to bash standards of excellence made by those who were much more well-read and senior than I am. It’s worth noting, however, that many strength trainees will stop at nothing until they can do such standards justice. At the end of it all, it can make them extremely frustrated with themselves when they don’t reach those numbers, and cause them to discount the results they’ve earned to this point in their training, possibly overlooking injuries or major weak points or good form, all in pursuit of definitive numbers that give their training a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
If you’re a powerlifter or Olympic lifter, the numbers matter –a lot. There are weight classes and standards to be met for you to even rank up against others who are competing in your category. But if you’re just a guy or girl who just wants to get real strong, it’s likely going to cause you psychological unrest if you tether yourself to the numbers a training journal uses to quantify your relevance in the strength and conditioning world.
This “textbook idolatry” can easily get the better of a recreational lifter until he realizes that he’s probably not going to have any added benefit to his body’s long term general health if he could deadlift 650 pounds for one rep, compared to the 550 pounds he’s already trained to achieve. Taking into consideration the frame of the lifter opens up another list of caveats to some of these standards, since a 6’8” guy will likely have a much harder time hitting a rock-bottom double bodyweight squat compared to a 5’3” guy performing the same feat. The same rings true for any athletic challenges where weight lifted versus time are measurable competition variables.
And with that, I’ve just broken CrossFit. Think about it.
Anyone Who’ll Look Your Way
You can’t tell me that working out while wearing just enough to avoid an arrest for exhibitionism is “more comfortable”.
Incendiary? I’ve got more.
My belief is that about 10% of the people who actually decide to dress that way to work out, actually genuinely feel more physically comfortable than wearing something that provides fuller coverage with the same unrestricted freedom of movement (it’s the year 2016; clothing like that exists). Maybe it’s true narcissism – or maybe that’s what “balanced self-confidence” should really mean for everyone. Who knows. The other 90% of these exercise nudists are trying to get the attention of someone – or everyone – around them, though they’ll never admit it to be true. Maybe the issue runs deeper, and it’s become a staple for such ones to gather self confidence due to the positive reinforcement it gets from people in person or possibly online (more on that later). So Romanian thong deadlifts it is. And right in front of the dumbbell rack at that.
I’ll be first to admit that not everyone who does this is looking to pick up. Being ogled, cat called, or even politely stopped could be just enough to get the job done and unhealthily foster mental calm.
The fact of the matter is, this makes the focal point of training stray from its intended object in yet another form. The next time you see an exposed gluteal fold, areola, or inguinal region in a gym setting, consider all sides before feeling inspired. There just may be a chance that in certain respects, they’re in a worse off situation than anyone else there.
A quick note: This subheading may sound oriented towards women, but the amount of men who enter the gym to train solely to peacock to those who interest them is a high number. Where they may lack in the scantily clad department they handily make up for in baseless hubris, animalistic noises, and incredibly ambitious lift numbers. Of course, the by-product of all of this fits the theme of our discussion; the message of training for results gets lost.
Your Training Partners
It’s more of a loaded decision than most give it credit for to choose a person to train with on a regular basis. Some argue that training with someone who’s similar in skill level and ability to you is the best way to progress. Others say it’s better to be “pulled along” by someone more mature, skilled, and developed than you, as it’ll accelerate your results by giving you something to strive for. In truth, I think there’s validity in both arguments.
What both arguments leave out, however, is the fact that training with anyone will often spark the silent, psychological pugilism that is played out in your comparing your performances to those of your partner. Some of this can be healthy and a good way to avoid underestimating your abilities as a lifter. Usually, that takes a breadth of experience and time spent under the bar to refine. Throw a newer trainee in a situation like this, and he or she may feel the need to have “something to prove”; even if it might not mean outlifting his or her partner, it could still mean outlifting his or her own capability – in a way that’s harmful to his or her progress or health. It’s juvenile, but we as a species have also been known to have full-fledged arguments over text message or by using rivaling status updates, and put potato chips in our sandwiches while applying the 5-second-rule where needed.
Knowing what’s best for your body – more specifically, when to back off in order to promote gains or focus on weak links – is a skill and practice that’s worth its weight in gold when applied. Impressing other lifters won’t get you far.
A Virtual Following
The morass that is the online training business runs so deep and unregulated that it’s hard to even specify what an industry professional truly is. Sadly, many who do well on the mediums of social forum like Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter, seem to possess any amalgam, permuatation, or combination of the characteristics that make up all of the subheadings above.
I continue to believe people don’t realize the effects that social media has had on human interaction and behavior over the years that it’s been around. It’s been as destructive in some respects as it’s been helpful in others. There’s a social empowerment group designed to protect any insecurity one may have, even if that insecurity revolves around leading a very unhealthy lifestyle. Instead of come to terms with, expose, and ultimately beat a certain insecurity, social media has found a way to make the very insecurity itself something that should be “trending”.
And exercise isn’t exempt from the list. It has gone from something meant to promote a healthy lifestyle, to something that constantly needs to be one-upped, or prized, or validated. The trite “what’s your excuse” images meant to motivate have some validity for their surface point, but the large-scale results of such postings speak for themselves. Most of us fall victim to the Kool-Aid attack by posting “progress photos” of our own to garner reinforcement that I can imagine is only motivating until the next person does the same and gets more “likes” for it.
As fitness professionals with social followings, it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that the quality of the followers earned is directly linked to the way you decide to present (or represent) yourself. If you’re one to go to the gym just to self-take and self-publish salacious photographs in the change room after your workout ends, chances are the people who decide to follow you will only be partially concerned with how much you know as an actual fitness authority. Just saying.
Getting back to the title of this article, it’s worth remembering that a virtual following often comes hand in hand with the distorted moral compass owned by people impervious to negativity thanks to their prolonged overexposure to such social feeds and their total disconnection from reality. Heartless or inappropriate comments are commonplace, since everyone can easily find a bulwark behind their laptop screens. Impressing this crowd is short lived, and the second you stop delivering the goods is probably when you start noticing just how loyal a lot of that following really was.
Making yourself a celebrity by using your body as the primary means of doing so is probably the most cutthroat way of trying to “make it”, and a method I certainly don’t envy. The long term negative consequences of such acts can surely run deeper than skin level.
Take photos. Post training videos. Be jacked or ripped on camera. Make statements on your social media about stuff you’ve learned while training. But do it all with the right intentions.
You, Yourself, and …. You.
In my ideal gym, all the weight plates would be the same size, width and color, every member would be wearing the same thing, and progress would be measured against one’s own previous personal records – nothing else. Sounds pretty draconian, but take a second to imagine the results one would get from training under such circumstances. Staying in your lane and making sure to focus on your own results is what will help you achieve them.
Before this is all mistaken as some holier-than-thou dissertation, I’d be lying if I – a 29 year old male with strength goals, training partners, a social following, and hormones that work just fine – said I wasn’t in some way affected by each and every one of the points I’ve listed in the subheadings above at given points in time. We’re humans, and it’s easy to get distracted and lose focus on what should be the purpose of our gymgoing – namely, reaching our goals. That should mean that we’re not here to please or “impress” anyone. We’re here to work towards reaching those goals in the most efficient and sustainable way possible.
If you’re not here for that, you’ve likely simultaneously wasted your time by reading this, and proven yourself to be a living, breathing example of the distortion of fitness and health today.