As long as you don’t quit — the more you screw up, the more you’ll succeed. It’s a pretty brilliant way to start thinking about anything, because as long as ultimately giving up isn’t in your game plan, progression is inevitable. And long-term progress towards meaningful goals is one way to define success.
I write about it and I talk about it, but the main reason why I write and coach is because I’ve made all the mistakes I want you to avoid. The mistakes I’ve made, and learned from, lay the ground work for why I get up every day. As such, I’ll lay down some of the biggest ones here in hopes you can relate if you’ve been there – or prepare you if you’re just starting out.
1. Thinking it couldn’t be done.
That change I made over 14 months is pretty substantial — life changing honestly. But I’ll tell you what, many times I tried to get into this thing and do it properly, and I often thought it just wasn’t meant to be when I failed – like it wasn’t possible.
And at the risk of sounding like it’s just a new bicep or more tone all over the place that brought about this significant change to my life, it’s not. I have more energy and feel healthier than ever, I imagine I’m much more fun to be around, I’ve basically started two businesses heading in the right direction, I network with a lot of confidence — and I’m, well, much more confident in general. Succeeding with this stuff has a way of opening your eyes to all the other possibilities.
This stuff is hard, that’s why it’s great. I couldn’t have done it on my own, it’s just too much thinking on top of the doing. And too many psychological and emotional swings to make all the decisions yourself — most people sabotage themselves in fitness. Beating on themselves, being impatient, and giving up after a glitch in the process.
In the end, if you’re going to make some sort of substantial change that’s actually gonna last – maybe you’ve failed before – you have to know whatever it is you’re trying to do is possible.
Trust me, whatever it is you’re trying to do in fitness –it’s possible. I took about 15 years to find my way. Beauty is, now it’s mine for the rest of my life. I feel like I’m in control because I dealt with some time when I didn’t.
The first step is knowing it’s possible. Trust me, it is.
2. Underestimating How Long It Would Take/Timelines
Have you ever been in conversation with someone about to reveal something embarrassing about yourself, maybe something you just did, and you laugh before the reveal just so the person you’re talking to kinda knows something funny’s coming. Just so they’ll be laughing with you and not at you. That’s all that was.
When I signed up for online coaching the goal was to get from 210-215 (the above picture on the left) to about 190 (maybe 185, I thought). I ended up hitting a low of 176. And although I was lean, I wasn’t even as lean as I thought I’d be at 185. Hell, that picture of me on the right is 192 (added some muscle recently), and again, I’ll be lean once 192 turns into 175-180. Keep in mind, I’m 6’1, so I have a little more surface for extra weight to hide than someone who’s, say, 5’8.
What I thought would take 6 months is going to take about 16-18. And big deal, what I thought I’d have at 30 is what I’m gonna get at…yep, still 30.
Go in with the attitude that you’re going to get what you want, no matter how long. You have way more time than you think. And if you do it right, you have control over it for the rest of your life.
It’s only natural for you to want it now, but you’ll have to get over that.
2B. Underestimating How Long It Would Take/Perspective
I seriously got to the final editing and had to write more on this. I don’t know for sure, but I think this one is probably the biggest player, at the root of at all, that can keep you from getting the results you’re after.
I think perspective is a key piece. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone.
For guys, they almost ALWAYS overestimate how much muscle they carry. Like I talked about above, about how I misjudged how much weight I had to lose — most guys do this. They think underneath a mere 5-15 pounds of fat they’ve got this toned up physique implying a significant amount of muscle mass. In some cases, this may be true…but in most cases they’re off by a good 15-20 pounds of muscle. And at the risk of sounding like I think everyone wants to be a bodybuilder — that’d be an 30-50 pounds of muscle.
For girls, it’s similar but maybe a little bit more exaggerated in that guys have no problem once they see they need more muscle they go right to it. On the other hand, girls are more prone to thinking the weight loss game never ends. They can come in at a normal weight – or even underweight – but with a little chub on the belly or thighs and they think the game is won by continuing to diet down to a lower and lower weight.
The truth is, almost every women’s body composition goals would benefit immensely from a period of 5-10 pounds of muscle added. Meaning eat more and build more strength. This is not an easy sell but I wish it was. To top it off, adding that 5-10 pounds of muscle could take some time – more time than losing 10 pounds of fat does for sure. And if you’re a girl, I bet you’d love the feeling of 5-10 pounds of muscle.
And again, at the risk of sounding like I think you want to be a fitness model or, gasp, a bodybuilder, that’d probably involve anywhere from 20-30 pounds of muscle.
On top of that, yes females, it is a little harder for you. There’s a lot more um, going on, and it’s gonna make your fitness goals a iittle more challenging — or at least it’s going to force you to ask yourself for more patience.
This is partly why I encourage women as much as possible to attach themselves a little more to strength.
The route you see to your goals may not actually be entirely correct. Usually this means it’ll take longer. Going in to this thing with accurate perspective will do nothing but help your chances of making it all happen.
3. Thinking I knew More Than I Did
I knew these would be uncomfortable to write but this one sucks. If I go to a party or meet anyone and what I do for a living comes out, the questions start. I don’t mind this per se, and I dig the fact that I get to give people information they think is valuable for free – but sometimes I see me.
I talk to a person that spends a good 10 minutes telling me how much they know when it’s at least pretty clear they don’t. The thing about most things in life is that if you haven’t actually done it, then you don’t actually know. You learn by doing what you know or what you’ve learned, not by talking about it. It’s great to know how much protein you have to eat or building a base of strength is an often forgotten piece of the puzzle – but no one’s really listening until you’ve done it.
I’ve known a lot of the basic principles to do well in fitness for a long time. But it only looks like I have over the past few.
Talk about it as little as possible. Do.
4. Not Dialing in Technique and Movement
Clients are always surprised when I make a quick correction to their movement, and just like that, they feel the exercise in the right spot and the exercise got harder. It can be the difference between an inch or a couple degrees in a joint angle.
I still send videos to a coach because I know the little things matter big time. I know someone else has a more unbiased eye and sees the things I’d rather not — or just can’t see.
In the past, I’d settle for good enough – or what I thought was – if it allowed me to lift weights that satisfied my ego or made me look like I knew what I was doing. Now, if I find out a lift isn’t perfect, I readily dial back the weights in order to correct it first because time and time again I’ve seen it’s the right thing to do.
I don’t rag on anyone at the gym who isn’t doing things really well. I don’t expect anyone to just know how to do it all. If you’re in the gym, you’re trying…likewise if you ask a question you think is stupid.
But the truth is, there are very few people doing things correctly enough on the gym floor to truly get fit before they get hurt. For many years I was that guy.
And boy did I get hurt and hit plateaus — annddd quit after 2-4 months repeatedly.
Proper movement matters so much more than just injury prevention too — it’s intrinsically tied to teaching your brain proper movement, posture, and to adding tone and definition in a manner that is balanced and aesthetic. Not neanderthal-ish like the “bench press every day for the last 10 years guys” that I see every now and then coming in with banged up shoulders.
You need to get serious about proper technique to move forward long-term. Little things matter big. Check. That. Ego.
5. Not Investing in a coach
Thinking a simple investment in a gym membership is going to be enough for you to see significant results in health and fitness is like paying cover at a bar and thinking it means you all of a sudden know how to dance.
If you wanna dance really well, you aren’t learning for free. You’re either investing immense time in learning and practicing, which I did only to fail over and over still. Or you’re paying someone who’s done it and coached others.
I meant learning in the gym, by the way — not the dance floor. I can’t dance worth shit.
When I was 18, I hired an online coach. Now, looking back the guy wasn’t a coach, he was just tossing a program at me with some numbers to hit nutritionally. But I was 18, naive, and I treated the program like it was gold. For those 8 weeks, I saw a dramatic change.
For the past 14 months I’ve invested in a coach who actually coaches. I’m held accountable and get chased down if I don’t check-in within a couple days. I have someone who gives me feedback on my technique and takes pretty much all the thinking away.
Getting dramatic fitness results isn’t easy either way, but for me, this investment makes it all very realistic despite my hectic and unpredictable life. I expect for the rest of my life I’ll be investing beyond the gym membership.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a serious and motivated seeker of fitness goals is to try to do it on your own. Need help?
6. Paying no attention to the other benefits
I was 14 when I got my first gym membership. Would you believe me if I said the reason I got it was because I was interested in preventing disease, improving my mood, or the varieties of teaching the gym can teach in terms of patience, work ethic and consistency?
You wouldn’t. And you’d be right – it was entirely about girls.
I mean, I was an athlete with 12 years in the gym until I truly started to approach an understanding that I could not only improve my performance, but also my resilience to injury through better training and programming. I literally fixed my fuckin’ body after I had destroyed it through sports.
You can actually train your body to move better, be stronger and feel younger. My body feels better than it did at 13, 18, and 25. COMBINED.
Whatever that means.
Seriously though, I think you’ll do much better if you can find as many different benefits as you can – ones that are continuous and go beyond vanity. You may enter a gym with the sole reason to drop some weight or just generally look better – and nothing wrong with that – but I bet you’ll do better if you look passed it too.
Exercise in general, movement practices and strength training have become a vital component for basic health because otherwise you don’t get it — and your body was meant to get those things.
Find as many motivations as you can. Preferably ones you work at for a life time (like anti-aging) but also have immediate benefits (mood and energy).
7. Not eating enough protein
I’ll start this one off by addressing the argument that some have that too much protein is bad for you. Although these stories don’t provide for a massive sample size, they do follow suit with enough evidence to make them worth telling.
In my career so far, I’ve had one client that sticks out who debated with me for upwards of an hour and a half about how eating anything beyond 100 grams of protein in a day was encouraging poor health. This woman, 65 years old, who’s hair was falling out and who’s skin appeared aged 95 years was arguing against science. She wasn’t exactly winning on the anecdotal side of things either.
In contrast, the people I meet who typically look younger than they are, with a certain level of muscle tone always seem to talk about lean proteins and an emphasis on overall protein intake when we go over their nutrition details.
Look, we have a basic need for protein for health purposes – our entire body is made of it. Your cells, DNA, skin, muscles, hormones and all kinds of other important biochemical players are made of it. And speaking of muscles, if you’re going to work them in the gym and expect them to recover and grow and get stronger, your body needs more protein on top. Likewise, if you just want to tone up a little.
And the first time I saw real results in the gym, it coincided with the first time I really got my protein up and started basing meals around it.
It may be the hardest habit to get into because there’s really no way around the fact you’ll have to up your cooking and prepping game, but it’s worth it.
There is no argument against the fact that to get more toned, you’ll need to work on getting protein up. You’ll also see benefits to energy and health.
8. Not understanding how to make programs
At worst, I’d head into the gym without a plan whatsoever. I’d hop on some machines, maybe do some arms and shoulders for 3 sets of 12, then leave. If you’ve done this, you know it won’t work. It lacks the direction and organization required to make continuous progress.
Not that there isn’t any benefit to it, it just won’t be what you’re looking for. It also isn’t any fun to consistently expect yourself to come up with random assortments of exercises and not make the progress you could be. Waste of time.
If bad enough, it’ll lead to injuries and pain.
You may not even know how much of a topic “program design” is. The subject is so broad and has so many possibilities college curriculums could create a series of courses spanning a 4 year degree. And then you’d have to learn the art of actually executing the design part. A client asked me once I started talking about it if there were actually different ways I could design programs for different goals.
Endless, really. And every individual is different on top of that.
There’s general principles to good program design but also an infinite number of directions you can play with for specific goals and specific individuals.
There’s no one way but there are certain arts to creating programs based on scientific findings that best suit for your individual goals. Exercise selection for building muscle will be somewhat different than for athletic performance or someone solely interested in strength. And I program differently for fat loss too.
Hopefully I dive into program design in a blog post soon.
I’ll stop here because I can’t really think of anything else. Maybe having the appetite of an elephant, but I really haven’t solved that one yet.
As always, thanks for reading.