Turn Your Fitness Struggles into Strengths

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Quote Credit: Gaspari Nutrition // Artwork: JC Deen (http://jcdeen.com/)

The quote above is actually from a bodybuilding magazine we get at the house every month.  I did some Googling and found out it’s originally from Gaspari Nutrition.

As I read it, I couldn’t help but be inspired – inspired to forget about perfection and to focus on action.  All of my life I’ve been an extreme perfectionist – mostly to the point of obsession and for some of the activities I participate in, its quite crippling.

But the quote made me realize that in the end, it doesn’t really matter – what matters most is that I make a concerted effort, along with a congenial flipping of the bird to the world every now and then, and to Just. Keep. Doing. It.  “It” in this sense, is whatever is important to me (and you) and that I continue to do it with fervor and courage.

Some say obsession is my gift while I’ve called it a curse.  I’m still figuring it out.

We All Struggle

A few weeks back, I did a poll of sorts, and asked you what your biggest fitness struggle was.  With close to 50 comments on the article and a ton of personal emails, it’s clear we all have similar issues when it comes to our personal fitness.

The good news is that all of the struggles we’re plagued with are indeed curable with intent to inflict positive change, a willingness to never stop learning, and a solid plan of action – do not forget this part.  Action.

As I went through the comments and emails, I kept seeing a pattern of certain behaviors.  The funny thing is I could relate to every single one at some point in my fitness pursuits.

Today we’re going to talk about each of them, why we’re having the issues, and an idea of how to go about conquering them.

To kick this off, we’ll start with one issue that plagues just about every beginner and even veterans like myself – the problem with consistency.

Consistency

Many of us, at times, struggle with consistent effort.  With all the media and fitness marketing in our faces, it’s easy to find ourselves constantly switching training routines, and fitness goals every other week.

In fact, I know of folks who’ve made the decision to build muscle, lose fat and run a marathon, all in the span of a few days.  But why?

Mainly because they were never really clear on what they actually wanted.  And this is a major problem.

It’s the classic case of stagnation – if you don’t know where you’re going, how in the hell will you ever get there?

Even if we finally make a decision to do something, we often sabotage ourselves with a bunch of excuses.  What’s an excuse?  Usually nothing more than a made-up reason as to why we can’t succeed.  It’s often based out of fear, and that fear is mostly derived from some irrational thought we’ve conjured up over time.

That irrational fear can be about anything.  It can be about giving something up, or even the fear of what it might mean to actually be successful.

What do we do about it?

If you’re constantly fighting a battle to be consistent – ask yourself “why?”  Figure out what you really want, and then create a big enough reason as to why you must be successful.

Need accountability?  Hire a coach, get a workout buddy, or join a forum with other like-minded people chasing a similar goal so you have others alongside you on the journey.

The main thing is to focus on one day at a time.  There is no perfect diet or exercise regimen.  We all mess up, get sick, go on vacation, etc.  But when you get it right 80-90% of the time, the extra cake, or skipping the occasional workout hardly makes a dent in your progress.

You must actively make a decision and create a big enough why if you want to succeed.

Coaching Ourselves

Some of my favorite responses were the ones about writing our own programming – and I could relate to all of them.  As a trainer, I’ve been guilty of not treating myself as a client and for some maniacal reasoning, believing that I could get away with more activity and less rest.  However I’m wrong. Every. Single. Time.

It’s odd.  You’d think that we’d (as trainers and enthusiasts) have seen enough programming disasters that we’d know to not push the envelope – especially with ourselves.  It’s the opposite, actually.  And it’s all about the irrational mind.  We believe we’re special and somehow above our clients or peers.

We are wrong.

What do we do about it?

I finally got so sick of it that I started handing over my programming to other coaches or at least having what I programmed for myself approved by others before I began running myself into the ground.

If you can’t hire a coach, sticking to a reliable training/dieting resource is often the next best thing.  Buy a training book, follow a certain diet, and use it as your coach.  A similar benefit can be had when joining a forum or online community.

Unrealistic Expectations, Moderation, and Impatience

Many of us tend to get hung up in the all-or-nothing mentality.  Back when I was green, I remember going to the gym 6 days per week and absolutely annihilating every body part.

If I didn’t walk out of the gym unable to move the muscles I trained, I wasn’t doing it right (or so I believed).  Eventually, I crashed and burned and had to turn over everything to my first coach post high school and my life changed forever.

This sort of training got me nowhere.  It kept my CNS fried on a continual basis and left me so sore I could barely sit on the John to clear my mind.

And it was mainly because I thought more was better.  I’ve since realized there’s such thing as a most effective dose.  Going much further doesn’t yield any better results.  It’s the law of diminishing returns in action.

What do we do about it?

The best thing I know is to step back and realize we’ll never be done chasing our goals for a bigger/stronger physique.  We’ll never reach a point of perfect health and just stop.  Health and fitness is a journey without a final destination.

We all have genetic limitations for size, strength, abilities to maintain certain levels of body fat comfortably, and so forth.  I don’t care what the muscle magz or sleazy media tells you.

To continue living a healthy life, it requires consistent effort with our exercise routines, and making conscious decisions to take care of our bodies with nutrient-dense food (and lots of bacon).

As I tell all my clients, regardless of the goal, it’s more of a marathon, rather than a sprint.  Making noticeable, sustainable changes, takes months, not a few days (under most circumstances).

But don’t just take my word for it.  Here’s a recent email exchange I had with a reader about how he’s dealing with his own issues with consistency, moderation and trying to get everything just perfect.

I’ve cut out a few paragraphs for sake of length – important parts are bolded by yours truly.

I wanted to get stronger and leaner at the same time. So much so that I started reading and learning everything. Then I began worrying and obsessing over minor details that don’t really matter. Months ago, I stressed out over so many details concerning weight loss that I became obsessed with the subject.

I actually stopped working out and would lounge in front of my computer for hours reading articles, studies I didn’t understand, and pouring over forums searching for the easiest, most effective way to lose weight. All of this while mindlessly eating anything I could get my hands on.

I began to focus more on information, that I quit taking action. I then gained weight and became depressed and actually hated myself at times.  At one point in July of this year I became so frustrated that I stopped.

I stopped reading, I stopped trying to maintain a clean diet, and I stopped working out. I have been fat all my life and I couldn’t change it so “fuck all this nonsense, I quit!”

A special note here:  my reader found himself caught up in all the details that it actually drove him to quitting something he was at first pretty passionate about.  Read on for more.

In hindsight, this was probably the best thing that ever happened. I became more focused with work and enjoying my family and friends that after a few weeks, I stopped worrying about trying to lose weight and began living life. 

I was even promoted to a Field Training Officer. Now, I get to train rookies when they get hired on. I get to teach young men and women how to survive the streets and go home to their families at the end of the day.  It was during this time I came across your article about how fitness should complement your life, not be the center of it.

Anyway, something about that article resonated in my head.  I had an epiphany. Rather than toiling away in a gym for hours, I want to spend time with my wife and family. The latter is more rewarding.

My favorite part of this section is how he shifted his focus to something in his life that really means something to him – his family, career, and contribution to other relationships in his life.

Once I realized this, I was determined that I would never allow myself to worry to the point of obsession again. Never. I then began to look for a training program. I needed something where I could gain strength. I need to gain strength more than anything right now. I read about Stronglifts and decided to give it a go.  It’s simple, planned out, and all I have to do is follow along.

You know it’s taken time to attain this body that I have now.  And you know what, it’s going to take some time to achieve my overall goals.  I’m okay with that.

All I have to do is stop worrying and reap the benefits over time.

The importance in the area above is that he changed his thoughts (committed to not being obsessive anymore) and made the conscious decision to follow a plan made by someone else as opposed to creating it himself.

Remember in the beginning; he mentioned spending a ton of time learning and reading various articles and studies online.

The last part is my favorite, though when he said “All I have to do is stop worrying and reap the benefits over time.”

Another reader sent in an email this morning, actually.  He’s a young guy who’s been full circle with various information and analysis paralysis.

I gave strength training a shot for 6 weeks starting the last week of June 2011.  That was when I first emailed you if I remember properly.  Then I took 4 weeks of vacation. During this time, I still wanted continue my previous high-volume style of training. Habits die hard.

I resumed the strength training in late August and I haven’t stopped since nor have I attempted to change it.  I’m doing Starting Strength and I will keep doing it till I meet the goals I set.

To make it quick: I found your site and started trusting you. You’ve made my training simpler (but harder).  I stopped thinking about training or reading websites or fitness blogs, except yours and Martin Berkhans.

I almost never think about training anymore.

I chose a path and just followed it. Period.

From now on it just complements my life. It’s one part of life but not my life. It’s (training) just a thing in the big picture.

I included this email not to toot my own horn, but to make an example. I’ve done nothing but simply write a few articles and share my ideas/opinions in hopes of helping someone out.

This young guy is someone who came full circle with all the information he’d been consuming and finally took action to make things happen.  He wasn’t afraid to take a step and apply what he’s learned.

This is what this post is all about.  When you look at the graphic above, it’s very clear.  Despite the struggles we’re constantly bombarded with, we’re not alone, and there’s always a solution.

The solution is not always easy, nor is it the most fun – but whoever said it had to be fun all the time? The most important part is that we make a conscious decision to learn and progress – not wallow in what we believe to be our shortcomings.

They’re just struggles – we all have them.  How will you hold yourself accountable?

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Ps.  In the last few posts, I mentioned the idea of me going to work on a manual for body recomposition.  I’ve been working on the content, training programs, diet calculators and am almost to a point of a pre-release of sorts.  I will give some more information on that next week after I wrap a some stuff up and get a few things ironed out.

Thanks to everyone for their questions and comments from my Fitness Struggles post for all the ideas, suggestions and feedback.

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Comments

  1. Jenny says

    Reap the benefits over time. That is the mindset to have instead of instant gratification.

  2. Sai says

    Long time lurker here, but I just wanna say that this is one of the best posts you’ve put out there! That quote “All I have to do is stop worrying and reap the benefits over time” made soo much sense to me and actually came to the same conclusion myself a couple of days ago; Just put in the hard work for at least a few months and see what it does!
    Cheers, mate!!

  3. says

    I worry a little about the average high school senior who comes in for a one-shot personal training session and wants to build upper body strength after being in soccer for years. He thinks he can meet his goals without further help and I see him in the gym going nuts with the few exercises I had time to teach him. On the one hand, I admire him for being in there and know he’ll see crazy gains just for being a raging mountain of testosterone. On the other hand, I worry about him struggling, going overboard, and either quitting training or overtraining. Of course, now I’m biased, but I think even a few sessions of personal training can go a long, long way toward one’s success.

  4. Henley229 says

    “Whatever is important to me (and you), keep doing it, with fervor and courage.” ~ JCD

    I’ve been thinking of a million different ways to say it, but only one way works best. With my deepest respect and gratitude, Thank You.

    Sincerely,
    Me

  5. says

    But dude. I need to always be eating 7 times a day so I don’t go catabolic. I HAVE to be obsessive otherwise I’ll start to get into the habit of only eating 3, or 4, or 5 meals instead of 7…

    Just kidding.

    Awesome post JC. Back when I had the all-or-nothing mentality, I was going crazy looking for “the best” training routine and muscle-building diet out there. Reading that first person’s email reminded me of myself a few months back. It’s a good thing I got through that phase pretty early haha

  6. says

    “But when you get it right 80-90% of the time, the extra cake, or skipping the occasional workout hardly makes a dent in your progress.” <—-Love this. I'm on obsessive perfectionist to a fault as well, and this helps.

  7. Teddy says

    Excellent article. I can really relate to some of the feelings in those emails and even though since Ive been reading your site (and Martin Berkhans) consistently I have a much better grip on this whole thing, its still great to read pieces like this just to get re-grounded

  8. Bryan Barletta says

    It’s such a great feeling to know that I’m not alone with all these thoughts I’ve had and things I’ve messed up on. The hurdle for me was just figuring out who to turn it over to or which program to follow for diet and exercise. While I definitely lost weight during the 9 months before I started working with JC, I never gained any strength and I’m sure I lost muscle too. Now, I’m adding weight to almost every exercise every time I do it and that’s my main focus, not the number on the scale. Though the change in the mirror SLOWLY OVER TIME has been very encouraging.

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  1. […] system and heart rate variability and how these things relate to stress and recovery.My buddy JC dropped some awesome insight on the everyday struggles we all face pertaining to fitness, progress, and consistency.  He always […]