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Edition 69: 4 Major Mistakes People Make Chasing Physique
Rightly or wrongly, many people exercise for aesthetic purposes. If I said looking lean and fit has never been a factor in why exercise became part of my life, I would be lying. Sadly though, with this type of endeavour, there are the unfortunate connotations such as societal pressures, anxiety and low self-esteem, even though for many exercise might only be about wanting to feel better intrinsically and know that steps are being taken to look after the physical self. Either way, for such a common endeavour amongst the population of gym goers, there is so much going wrong at every step of the fitness journey that people, when better educated about health and exercise, should not be having to struggle with.
So here I will try to articulate 4 particular themes where I think people are frequently going wrong, specifically when trying to improve physique through exercise:
1. YOU’RE IN IT FOR THE WRONG REASONS
Starting with where I began. I would say this is probably the most common mistake which sets the tone for all of the following pitfalls. Finding your ‘why’ is in my opinion, the most important thing you do before you embark on any kind of fitness journey. Your ‘why’ is your anchor. It comes from deep within you and is based on your deepest personal beliefs and aspirations for who you want to be.
Assuming those core values involve you being the best person you can be for yourself and others, we sadly see a yearning for ‘self-love’ and ‘self-care’ that we do not know how to give ourselves. Everyday I see people in the gym hating on themselves. Doubting themselves. Using exercise to punish themselves. Training without conviction or purpose. You have to want to exercise. Not because I said so in this newsletter, or someone on instagram or TikTok inspired you for a fleeting 10 seconds. But because you believe it is important for you to look after your body regardless of what it currently looks like, how much you weigh, or how many followers you have.
The rewards of long term commitment to training should not be for anyone but yourself and your soul. Yes, done correctly, training will often be uncomfortable - I’m not saying you need to enjoy the entire process. Occasionally it will be very tough, mentally and physically. And sometimes, you will even be required to go to ‘the dark place’ - the disgusting hell hole where you find out who you truly are and you won’t enjoy one second of it, trust me.
But the reality is too many people hate exercise, hate being at the gym, hate pushing themselves and don’t really know what they are doing and why - and I am telling you now, there is no personal trainer, no training plan, or special ‘magic’ diet pill that will get you where you need to be until you can come to terms with the fact you have to want to take care of yourself, for you and you only.
2. STOP IGNORING BASIC TRAINING PRINCIPLES
Specificity. Progressive overload. Reversibility. Variation. Recovery.
Everyday I see people who want to get stronger who don't strength train. People who want to see progress who don't progress intensity or volume. Who outrun all of their hard work with a lack of effort and consistency. Or train consistently boringly, with no element of variation / differentiation in routine. Only training one energy system and never any others, operating at one speed and one intensity for weeks, and months or even years.
You can't expect progression if you don’t progressively increase intensity or approach failure. Why are people surprised when one great training week followed by 2 smelly ones = average (or zero) results? They haven't realised we don’t need to reinvent the wheel or do anything fancy. In fact, to most peoples dismay, the answer is pretty boring and simple - keep turning up, following one good (not great) week, with another good (not great) week, and letting the compounding effect do the business, increasing difficulty by very small amounts week on week, and focusing on being good consistently rather than great occasionally.
If you can ensure you are ticking off the principles of training over a long, long time, planning effectively, and staying committed, you can achieve whatever you want in the gym.
3. ‘PERFECT’ DIETS ARE RARELY THAT
When people rightly target the nutritional aspect of their objectives, their efforts are often laudable. From my experience, the people I have discussed diet with have been very consistent with cooking healthier meals at home. But just because you are cooking healthier meals everyday, that does not mean you are necessarily maximising your physical progress through your diet.
Why? Because even adding daily consumption of fruit and veg and drinking more water, for most people still doesn't address the elephant in the room for progress in the gym.
Almost every client I speak with about diet isn’t consuming sufficient protein to provide the catalyst for muscle synthesis following the hard work they are putting in at the gym. Furthermore, if you’re trying to get stronger and give out better efforts in the gym, where is the creatine supplementation? A compound we can readily consume in moderation every day and we know will improve our physiological adaptations to exercise. Where is the muscle glycogen replacement following the training session? Many people are often neglecting to consume carbohydrates properly in the hour or two following a session - nutrient timing isn’t the be-all-end-all, but it is an important consideration being largely ignored. These basic errors are surprisingly common, but guess what these basic errors have the potential to be if you address them?
4. DOING ALL CARDIO & NO OTHER TRAINING?
My final bugbear.
I really feel for people grinding themselves into the treadmill and cross trainer and bike for hours on end, waiting for the ‘magic’ to happen. Don't get me wrong, some people live for endurance training, because it is their sport or long term hobby. If you really enjoy the endurance life that’s awesome, but if not? You must be pissed at the amount of hours you are giving to this arbitrary cause society presented us with in the 80’s and still can’t let go of - 'do hours of cardio to burn fat' - right, whatever mate. The lure of slow steady cardio is tempting because it is exactly that. Slow, steady and not requiring any particular exertion other than its duration. But if we're being honest, this is just people avoiding the real work, the real boulders of progression among the pebbles of low intensity movement.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is important to exert yourself to see meaningful progress at a reasonable rate. Regular cycling, cross trainer or slow jogging is a great supplement to a solid STRENGTH programme which also includes SPEED, POWER, and THRESHOLD training (this is to say again it is not the specific activity but the lack of varied intensity, energy system use and muscle fibre type recruitment that is the issue).
This infatuation with slow and steady ties in with people not really wanting to be there. When you address the ‘why?’ And you really deep it - you should be marvelling at the machine that is your human body, and what it is capable of when nurtured and tested to its limit. Why wouldn’t you bump those boulders to the front of the queue ahead of activities that are boring as hell and take triple the time? Have some fun with it and see what you can do?! Or have you already decided what you can and can’t do? By all means *carry out regular cardio* because it’s good for your body and soul, but based on what I see people keep saying they want aesthetically? There are far better ways to spend your time.
“People are focusing so hard on the 80% that contributes 20% to their success, they are forgetting about the 20% that will contribute 80% to their success” - Pareto's Law