Why We Fitness Folk Suck At Coaching Ourselves

Yea, I said it.  Even those of us who know a thing or two about this fitness game fail miserably when it comes time to coach ourselves.  One might believe a fitness professional or even an avid enthusiast possesses enough knowledge to develop a sound training program and a proper diet to propel them toward their goals.  It’s a nice thought, but it’s not always true.

Most of us have the knowledge – we know what it takes to get stronger, build muscle, lose fat, or whatever you’re trying to do in a practical manner.  The problem, though, lies in the way we approach ourselves as opposed to others.

To open, I’d like to cover a question I recently received from a long-time reader:

“Dear JC, Friends always come to me for nutrition and training advice and I always give them great advice, but I can never apply it to my own life! Why is that?”

My response:

”This is the most common issue with those of us fitness folk “in the know” simply because for some weird reason, we somehow believe we are above the rules.  However, both you and I know we’re not. And guess what?  Even I slip every now and then.  Thusly, when I do, I turn my training over to someone else for guidance – and it always works out.”

And here is the deal – none of us are perfect.  We surely aren’t always objective about our decisions we make about our fitness routine, the food we eat, or our emotions associated with those choices.

And it’s true.  About 6-8 weeks before shooting my first video for JCDFitness (feel free to watch below), I was worn out, tired of training and hardly progressing.

So what did I do?  I turned everything over to my brother-from-another-mother, Steve (who is a strength coach and training coordinator at a gym here in Nashville) and followed his rules, instead of mine.

I began to blossom again.  Strength was increasing and my workouts were now effective.  No second-guessing my approach and none of that changing-workouts-every-other-week BS we often succumb to when we fail to be objective.

I’ve thought a lot about this aspect of personal fitness and why even the seasoned veteran sometimes sucks at keeping themselves in check.

In fact, I’ve called upon a few friends and industry professionals to help me out with their thoughts on the matter.  I think you’ll wholly enjoy their commentary.

First up, we have my dear friend, Alan Aragon’s response to the initial question:

Friends always come to me for nutrition and training advice and I always give them great advice, but I can never apply it to my own life! Why is that?’

“I think that in this context, someone not applying themselves in a way they think they should means that they just don’t want it badly enough. The desire and motivation is insufficient. There are many possible reasons for a lack of motivation, but one of the most common ones is the perception that your own habits are “okay” or “passable”.

Contrast that with a guy whose daily routine involves smoking 2 packs of cigarettes, downing a liter of coke during the work shift, and downing a bottle of hard liquor after work. At various points, that person might think – holy shit – I gotta clean up my act.

But the thought dissipates, and nothing changes. On his next doctor visit, the doc tells him flat-out that he may not live to see his kids graduate high school if he keeps up his habits. This might flip the switch of motivation to clean up his act. Or maybe not – sometimes it takes the scare of a heart attack to flip the switch & force someone out of his comfort zone.

The person giving the health advice but isn’t able to follow it is still nestled in his comfort zone.”

Alan Aragon – www.alanaragon.com

Next up we have John Romaniello with his response:

“The real answer is proximity bias: that fact of the matter is, you’re too close to the project–the project being your body, diet and training.  It’s often hard to take your own advice seriously.

The same things happen with friends and especially family.  Your mom may ask you for training advice, but does she take it? No.  She goes back to doing the same yoga-cardio hybrid she read in a gossip magazine.

Why is this?  Well, simply, because someone who knew you when you were in diapers–before you had ANY level of knowledge–has a hard time viewing you as an authority.  Even if this person consciously appreciates your insight, on a deeper, subconscious level, they don’t feel any real impetus to listen you.

The same thing applies to you, yourself.  The only person who’s known you longer than your mom is YOU.  And so even though you can dish out advice, sometimes your subconscious residual self image–that is, your view of yourself and specifically who you USED to be–is so strong that it supersedes your conscious belief in your own advice.

Alternatively, when we meet a trainer or coach for the first time, that’s all we know of them–that they are a trainer of coach.  That immediately places them in a different category.  You never think about what your trainer was like when he was 5.  You never stop to think about all the idiocy they got into in high school. The only thing you think about is the results you’ve seen them get with their client, how confident they are in their abilities, and perhaps how impressed you are with both their physique and their level of knowledge.

In short, you view them as an authority, and nothing but an authority.  Which means you are by far more likely to listen to their advice than your own–even if you know some of it to be wrong.

It’s a strange little phenomenon, but we humans are, after all, strange little creatures.”

John Romaniello – www.romanfitnesssystems.com

And finally, my partner in crime, and fellow troublemaker/bro-slayer, Roger Lawson:

“When we’re giving training advice to others, it’s easy to take them as they are and tailor our advice to their situation. It’s a lot like being The Terminator: we’re scanning them, taking into account their past experience and current tendencies to give them the best starting point for where they are now.

But when it comes to ourselves, that scanner gets jammed and becomes influenced by ego, a sense of entitlement and tales of past glory.

Simply put, we think we’re more awesome than we really are.

The fastest and most effective way to overcome this hurdle is to repeat the following to yourself anytime you get the urge to go off the deep end: I’m not that special. You don’t need an advanced glycogen depletion training scheme to lose 10lbs and you don’t need to do German Volume Training 5x a week to put on some muscle mass.

Create a fictional client whose circumstances strangely mirror your own, and follow the advice you would give to them. There isn’t anything wrong with progressing slower than you might have if you got a bit sexier with your training/nutrition protocols, but there is something wrong with spinning your wheels because you tried something you weren’t ready for and got crushed.”

Roger Lawson – www.roglawfitness.com

So there we have it.  If you suck at taking your own advice, it might be time to drop the ego and get yourself a good coach who can be in charge of the objectivity you may be lacking.

What about you?  Do you suck at coaching yourself?

Update:  Martin Berkhan and I were discussing this topic over email and while he was going to contribute, his piece kept getting long and longer.  So he wrote an incredible article on the topic here: How To Walk The Talk and Unlock Your True Potential.

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  1. says

    What a great topic and I love the responses from the SuperTrainers. Rog Law is hilarious and Romaniello brings up some salient points about the perception of those cls. And Alan reminds me how pathetic my own motivation is to apply basic principles to my own training and dining habits.

  2. Toni says

    I think this rings true for a lot of professions. Doctors wouldn’t perform surgery on themselves, would they? My mom was a hairstylist and whenever I used to ask her why she went to someone else to cut her hair, she always said, “I wouldn’t be objective enough. I need an outside opinion.” I never forgot that. BTW, going to someone else for advice doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing, it means you’re really smart IMO.

  3. says

    This is so true. I just read Berkhan’s long take on this question and I think he hit it right on the head: coaches (and everyone involved in personal development of any kind) are largely addictive personalities and don’t take their own advice, and the solution is treat yourself EXACTLY like a client and/or get your own coach.

    • JC Deen says

      Yea, he did a great write-up. I definitely can attest to having an addictive personality. Thusly, I turn my training over to others when I can.

  4. says

    It’s easier to view others objectively, and to evaluate their circumstances in the same way. We have infinite numbers of thoughts, feeling, emotions, and neurosis tied up with every aspect of our life. (This is especially true for fitness folk as well. Working out seems to attract the obsessive compulsive types.) All of those things make it more difficult to deal with ourselves objectively.

  5. Shama says

    Hi there JC, This is a wonderful piece of work you have done, definitely deserves a chapter or two purely by the value it delivers. my own observation is that whenever i dropped body fat, built six packs etc, the factors which influenced my decision to stick to a program (both diet as well as exercise) were based on fear, competition & a desire to look the best before a certain event. strangely, as each phase passes, disinterest follows too. so what seemed & worked out like magic now becomes so difficult to resume again. sometimes, paralysis by analysis & buying too much in to the current marketing hype complicates our situation. body blindness, accepting our current situation as it is, postponement of a workout/training session all adds up. its definitely a complicated situation as far as training ourselves is concerned. keep up the good work. also thanks to all the contributors.

    • JC Deen says

      I think you make a very valid point here in saying that sometimes the stuff we did to get to a certain point is based out of fear, expectation or whatever other emotion or reason.

      Thusly, when we remove said reason, things can get awry and become rather difficult again. Thanks for this, I will include it in the psychology section of the new product/resource I am working on right now.

  6. Natalia Worthington says

    Good one, JC. What Alan said: “The person giving the health advice but isn’t able to follow it is still nestled in his comfort zone.” … def. echoes for me. Being 10 lbs overweight is still not a big enough motivator for me, but it should……

  7. Tim says

    I tend to agree with John Romaniello’s view on this, though the others were also well stated. It’s far too easy to go onto a forum, find a novice with a question and tell them what they’ve been doing is wrong and they need to do X, eat Y, and avoid Z. Whether or not they actually follow up with our advice is suspect, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

    In my own experiences, I’ve found that spinning my wheels with certain regiments and diets has only left me frustrated and searching for other answers. What it has always boiled down to is keeping things simple and within my fitness and nutritional goals. I know what I *need* to do and know that I’m not a delicate snowflake, no different than anyone else; sometimes one needs the humility to keep their head in check, acting upon your basic instincts and staying humble is another monster.

    Sometimes I do suck at coaching myself but it’s having that harness on your ego that helps, as well as always going back to the fountain that got you to where you are in the first place.

    Nice article, JC.

    • JC says

      Thanks, Tim. Yea, I find keeping my ego in check has been my biggest downfall. It tends to get the best of me, especially when I begin to hit a nice groove of progressiveness.

  8. says

    Great post here, JC. This is precisely why I feel we shouldn’t write programmes for ourselves,

    As an extension to Roger’s opinion, I’d say that most of us write programmes we think are good for us and unwittingly leave out exercises that we might actually be better off doing. This goes back into Roman’s part about thinking that since you know yourself best, your programme would be best.

    I have an issue with people who constantly modify others’ programmes because they feel they know better. Alright, then why aren’t you the expert? If they’d done the programme the way the writer wanted it done, they might actually have gotten results.

    Swallow your pride and listen to others!

    • JC says

      yea, I agree. It’s just really hard soemtimes to swallow that pride and believe for a moment that someone else might actually know what’s best for you…

  9. Nick Efthimiou says

    JC you know first hand that despite being a personal trainer myself, I hired your services to get me on track – it worked, I lost 5 kg during the festive season, and am even leaner now, despite being 2 kg heavier.

    At first I was taken aback by the simplicity of what he advised, but that was what I needed, and you covered all bases.

  10. says

    I also wanted to say that I think we are bombarded with so many different programs from so many experts that we experience an overload of information and in that state we start to question what we know.

    Back when I started bodybuilding some 20 plus years ago and before the internet we did not have this issue of 5X5, German volume, 5-3-1, 6X6, 10X10, density, metabolic training, lactic acid training etc. And those a just a very small sample.

    Its no wonder we sometimes start second guessing our own advice.

  11. says

    Shit buddy I think you just solved my problem that I have been experiencing. Folks I help seem to get results while I am standing still but yet do I follow my advice to a tee, hell no.

    I will do something and if I don’t like how fast results are happening I jump to something else even if I know better.

    But it does frustrate me when people looking for help expect me to be shredded to the bone.

    Nice work buddy. Like Martin’s article and advice to fix things.

  12. says

    Firstly, lovely video my dear. However, I have to request a trimming of the facial hair. The better to see your handsome face, lovey.
    Onto the question at hand, I absolutely suck at coaching myself. I’m pretty good at maintaining, but when it comes time to lean out for an event or a show-fuhgedditaboutit. My objectivity is for poo, and I make unnecessary changes. Too close to the trees to see the forest. I have no problem with following thru and executing the plan, I just change the plan too damn much.
    Thanks for reminding me about that. It’s time I hand over my plan.

  13. Stefan says

    Hit the nail on the head with this one. Scott touched on this briefly in his comment, but i think a major factor is that we get too much knowledge. And then use it to rationalize whatever bad decision we’re about to make; ‘I can have that extra bit of cereal, i need to top off glycogen stores’ Bullshit, you’re cutting into that deficit you should have. Or ‘i can handle a few extra worksets, itll give a greater boost in protein synthesis’, when really it’s just cutting into recovery.

    For those that have read jonah lehrer’s ‘how we decide’, the prefrontal cortex/conscious brain does alot of rationalising for the other parts.. ie. the decision is already made, and you just need to put a reason to it.

  14. says

    People come to me for advice all the time but I always seem to scour the net when it comes to finding my own routines. In fact, that is what I have been doing for the last few days as I try and find a new workout program. I hear what you are saying loud and clear!

    This post makes me think of the overweight trainers that I see in the gym from time to time. Do you think they just lack the capability to follow their own advice or is it really just plan laziness?

    • JC says

      I don’t really think it’s laziness, but possibly more of the “I know too much that I’ve become indecisive” problem we often face. Thusly, I think we sometimes lack the capability to take our medicine, even though we know it’s good for us.

  15. says

    Great post once again! “One who trains himself has a fool for a trainer!” (was it Dan John who said this?) is perfectly true.

    While all the reasons provided by the fine folks in your post are correct, I don’t think there really is one correct answer. Some trainers are too close minded and faithfully married to their philosophy that they end up rotting in their same old ways for too long while some others are too open minded and end up trying every training routine/diet there is (think training ADD here).

    That said, I am more open minded than close minded and realized I was trying too many things too often. Like you, I chose a coach… a good one at that (Martin Berkhan) and have been been training per his rules for the last month. I’ve seen some quality fat loss with modest strength gains.

    Thanks for writing about stuff other than the usual ‘Is sugar bad?’ and ‘What is the greatest exercise for fat loss?’.
    – Raj

  16. says

    Coaches need coaches as much or more than anyone. I personally believe that most of us initially became coaches or trainers out of a deep-seated need to save ourselves.

    As coaches we’re still human, and subject to the same blindspots, lapses, and knuckleheadedness as anyone else.

    I think it is Richard Bach who is credited with saying, “We teach best what we most need to learn.” We may be great at guiding, inspiring, teaching, and holding others accountable, but we need someone else to do those same things for us.

  17. Scott says

    This actually hits home and at the right time. My roommates and I have recently created quite the garage gym and 2 of them asked me to train them. So I set one up with a strengthed based routine with fat loss as the final goal and the other one wants to play hockey so I set him up with a 3 day a week upper, lower, full body routine with a strength base with more unilateral leg lifts than normal. Long story short both of them are seeing great progress and overall everyone is pleased.

    In the mean time I really took a look at how easily I was able to help them and how difficult it has been over the last year to help myself achieve my goals. I took a step back, reevaluated my actual goals, as opposed to the ones Im constantly getting side tracked on cause I read too many fitness articles, and now Im back training how I should be and more importantly eating how I need to be.

    I think for me the biggest hurdle is learning too much. Everything that I have put in my roommates routines is nothing special, but I know it works. I read constantly so all of these new eating cycles and new core training protocols are constantly floating around in my head and Im always interested to see how they work so they automatically make it into my program.


  1. […] Why We Fitness Folk Suck At Coaching OurselvesFeb 4, 2011 … Even fitness professionals have a hard time being objective about coaching themselves. Sometimes, it’s better to hire a coach rather than spin … […]

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