Why do you go to the gym? If you’re like most people, you simply go to the gym to lose fat, build muscle or a combination of the two. Sure, there are some exceptions to this general rule – people who want to improve their health or athletic performance, for instance – but the vast majority of trainees out there are motivated by the desire to merely get leaner or bigger.
Our initial inspiration to make these physical changes usually comes from feelings of insecurity about how we appear. How do I know? After over 20 years in the iron game, I could provide you with thousands of examples of trainees for whom this is true.
But there is no need to go any further than my own personal experience. I had more than my share of insecurity growing up, and I decided at a young age that being skinny and weak was no way to go through life. That’s exactly why I started training the first place.
The irony is, although insecurity provides many of us with the initial motivation to work to create a change, we must leave that feeling at the gym door if we are to succeed. If you allow that feeling of insecurity to dominate your mindset during the design of your training and nutritional protocol, your regimen will lead to lackluster results, decreases in strength/performance, muscle loss and worse yet, injuries.
Unfortunately, many trainees fail to heed this warning. Controlled by their emotional desire to rid themselves of their insecurity, they desperately engage in extreme workouts and illogical diets that are counterproductive to their goals. Let’s take a look at the two main categories of “irrational program designers,” and then discuss what shifts need to occur to get them pointed in the right direction.
The Desperate Fat Loss Client
These people want to lose all of their excess body fat – yesterday. In a rush to erase all the sins of the past several months/years, they have an intense need to wake up Monday morning and follow some unwise, extreme fat loss protocol. Here are the typical training and nutritional patterns of these folks:
a) Training- the “perception” of a good workout is far more important than training in a fashion that delivers results. The two main criteria for a “good workout” are excessive sweating and extreme elevations in heart rate. To achieve this degree of sweating and panting, workouts typically involve a high volume of sets, reps, and way too much time spent doing some form of useless cardio.
Although these trainees perceive that they just had a “great fat loss workout,” they actually just caused losses of lean muscle and strength, which leads to long-term decreases in metabolic rate. In other words, their training protocol has taken them further away from their goals.
To make matters worse, when results don’t come, these trainees INCREASE their sweat-inducing training parameters, thus inviting even more negative side effects, such as injuries.
This can all be avoided with a sound training program. A routine designed to build strength and lean muscle should be emphasized. Cardio is a good supplement to this approach, but should not be the main focus.
b) Nutrition- Desperate fat loss clients usually get most excited by the latest fad diet, whatever that happens to be at the moment. In their minds, the more extreme the diet, the better. Unwilling to commit to the work and time required to lose fat and keep it off for good, these clients can only get motivated by some shortcut promising, out-of-the-box protocol.
Unfortunately, any extreme diet that is catering more to your emotional wants than your nutritional needs is unsustainable and potentially unhealthy.
Additionally, these diets can lead to muscle loss and can also trigger one’s binge eating tendencies. It’s safe to say that if it sounds “too good to be true,” it probably is.
Instead of jumping on the latest bandwagon, just start by eating all natural, real foods, (i.e. fruits, veggies, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, etc.). This essentially involves cutting out all processed foods and anything containing flour or sugar. Once you’ve done that, you can then move on to determine your optimal meal timing, meal structure, food quantity, and the many other variables that should be considered.
Next, let’s address the famous “skinny man syndrome.”
Skinny Man Syndrome
I know this guy quite well, since I once WAS him! He feels terrible about being skinny and weak, and would do anything to get jacked and strong – except be patient and reasonable. Here are the typical training and nutritional patterns of these guys:
a) Training- they have a preconceived notion that the only way out of Skinnyville is to lift maximally heavy weights and take each set to failure and beyond. And no matter how many times you tell them that they’re preventing their own success, they will never believe you.
The irony here is that a heavy and intense lifting protocol is actually not a bad way to go — unless, of course, if it is emotionally driven, as is the case with our skinny friends. These dudes push it way too far. By constantly trying to add more weight to the bar than is appropriate, they inevitably cause technical breakdowns in form and CNS (central nervous system) fatigue. This leads to a chronic state of overtraining and injury.
Training hard is a requirement, but your intensity must be cycled. There are many ways to cycle intensity. Just be sure that you’re employing some type of logical programming, allowing both for time to really push it, and for time to back off.
b) Nutrition- in an effort to gain weight fast, the “skinny man syndrome” sufferer will eat crappy foods and justify it. As long as the scale in his bathroom says he is gaining weight, he thinks he is packing on muscle. But this poor guy is gaining body fat.
Sure, he will feel bigger in his clothes, but when summer rolls around, he’ll realize that he just exchanged his skinny, weak body for a fat one that is no more attractive than it used to be.
The key to gaining muscle mass is eating enough quality “clean” foods. For a skinny guy, building muscle is a tough process, and without enough clean calories, it just ain’t gonna happen.
Do you fall under either of these self-defeating categories? If you do, don’t despair. Just step away from any emotional-driven thoughts and use the following logic:
1) Realize that your body is a result of the choices that you’ve made over the past several months or even years. It will not transform overnight, regardless of your protocol. Just trust the process!
Believe me, if you’re eating properly for your goals, and if you’re doing the right workouts in the gym on a regular basis, your body will transform! Be patient and rational, take one day at a time, and try to enjoy the journey – the results will come.
2) Know that the fruits of your labor are only realized during rest and recovery. Training provides the stimulus for progress, but it’s during recovery that the progress actually takes place.
So train hard, but don’t fry yourself. Excessive amounts of training cannot be recovered from, and therefore, only produce negative results.
In addition to keeping your training protocol appropriate, you’ll also want to maximize your recovery abilities. Here’s how:
a) Be sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
b) Keep stress levels in check. I’m talking about stress from day to day life as well as emotional stress from old, unresolved issues. Both trigger the release of stress hormones, which encourages muscle loss and fat storage.
c) Work on tissue health. Some combination or stretching, foam rolling, and massage must be utilized to ensure optimal tissue function and prevent injury.
d) Get adequate nutrition! Eating crappy food or not eating enough healthy food will stop your progress in its tracks. For many, it is the lack of a good diet that holds back their progress.
3) Health must be considered, first and foremost. If you’re injured from training too intensely or sickly from starving or gorging yourself, NO progress can be made. Don’t take any stupid risks, stay in the game, and stay healthy!
4) Understand that after your goal is achieved, it does require maintenance. Like anything else in life, neglect will lead to deterioration. Be prepared to make lifestyle changes instead of a short-term unrealistic plan that is doomed to fail.
5) Accept where you are. Go on this journey because you love yourself and want to be the best you can be, instead of doing it because you just hate your body. The more positive energy you can bring to this part of your life, the better.
Now I’m going to ask you the question I started this post with: Why do you go to the gym? Are you training and eating in a way to achieve results, or just to satisfy your emotional needs? Be totally honest with yourself, because the answer may hold the key to your ultimate success or failure.
If you’re following an irrational or extreme protocol to appease your insecurity, stop now. Leave that stuff at the gym door. You don’t need it anymore, and in fact, it is sabotaging your success.
Remember that consistency, dedication, and intelligent diet and program design are the ingredients to success. Follow this advice and you’ll make it happen!
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