I’ve been in the fitness biz for roughly ten or more years. The only other thing I did that long was teach English. (And lucky for me, my new students actually want to be in my classroom.) In my experience as a leader in fitness, I’ve come to realize many things: some are funny, some harsh, and some heart-warming.
1. Everyone knows everything.
Last week, I watched this guy approach a girl who was deadlifting and tried to correct her form. Her form, by the way, was fine. But he thought he knew better. (Or he was trying to flirt with her which could also be a “most learned” category. Men will absolutely flirt with women in the gym while simultaneously pretending they’re NOT staring into the Zumba class.) But as for the girl’s deadlift? Some people do have excellent technique tips, and if you want to learn how to do something, there’s always someone ready to tell you how to do it. And no matter who you ask (or don’t ask), they’ll all give you a different method, progression, YouTube video, website, or book to read. People can’t WAIT to give you advice or try to show off. (Or use it as an excuse to flirt with you.) If you don’t mind it though, good for you! Pick up some advice and move on. If you’re the one giving advice? Be warned. Don’t give unless someone asks.
2. And no one knows anything.
Sometimes you find that the more people think they know about exercise, the less they know. That guy I referenced in number one? He thought he knew the best way to deadlift. Do you know how many ways there are to pick up a bar? There are actually 19 different deadlift and squat variations and T-Nation boasts the 9 Best Deadlift Tips are right here. What about Romanian Deadlifts? Conventional? Do you know the difference? Which one is best?! Each time someone thinks he or she has the BEST method of performing, eating, or training, it doesn’t mean it is the best for everyone. There are a lot of know-it-alls in the weight room, but what’s important is that we realize that just like everything else in life, there’s more than one way to do something. Just because we “think” we know best, doesn’t always mean we do. I know I’ve been wrong a few times–but that’s also how we learn.
3. Women can always lift heavier than what they think they can.
I train women every day. It kills me when they pick up a 5 pound dumbbell. Why? They think they can’t lift heavier because women aren’t supposed to be strong like men, right? Big weights are for guys, or worse, “I”ll bulk up if I lift heavy!” EVERY time I ask a woman to try a heavier weight, she’s shocked because SHE CAN DO IT! Well of course she can! Who’s convincing women that they’re weak? I LOVE seeing a woman throw a heavy kettlebell around or bench press 30 pounds more than she thought she was able. To see those faces light up followed by the words, “I can’t believe I did that!” makes my day immensely better. I’ve seen my bootcamp women press a 50 pound dumbbell overhead and I just recently witnessed one of our Strong Figure Ambassadors overhead squat 230 pounds. (That’s not a typo either.) Women: challenge yourself and pick up the heavy weight. Even if you need tips, SOMEBODY will be there to give you plenty of advice. We know it all, remember?
4. Men always think they can lift more than they actually can.
I’m not being mean, hopefully just funny. But if you trek into almost any weight room, you’re almost guaranteed to find someone trying to lift more than what he should. I think my husband actually told me several years ago that women can usually lift 20 pounds more than they think they can and guys try to lift 20 pounds more than they actually can. I still use this piece of advice when I coach women. Lift more, ladies! Men, take your time to build up slowly.
How do I not a write a book here? Listen. If you eat like crap all the time you’re going to feel like crap. If you’re under-hydrated, you’re going to feel like crap. If your potassium is low or your iron levels off, you’re going to FEEL.LIKE.CRAP. And you know what happens then? Your workouts suffer. You don’t see results. You might build muscle but you won’t see your six pack. That whole “abs are made in the kitchen” bit? It’s true. Unless you’re a 20-year-old male, you’ll never get away with losing weight and getting fit by binging on sweets, splurging on cheat meals, and consuming too much alcohol on the weekends. If you already need to lose it, you won’t find it in the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. That said…there is such a thing called sanity, moderation, and “within reason.” If you know or learn how to eat smart, for your specific goals, you can also live life and have your beverage and fave treat. Work hard in the gym, harder on your diet, count your macros, eat your Paleo–whatever works for YOU, but stick to it, and you’ll reach your goals much faster.
6. Running is terrible for you but walking and sprinting are two of the BEST things a person can do.
I cringe when I say this because there’s a cult of runners who outnumber even the CrossFit cult. (I can say cult because I’m sure I belong to more than one fitness cult.) Many of my bestest peeps are runners. A few of my friends and ambassadors are ultra runners. (If you live in the weight room, that means they run like, 50+ miles, for like, 15+ hours at a time. I know, crazy, right?!) But here’s my take on running (and it’s scientifically backed so don’t attack me). If you LOVE to freaking run, run. I’m not going to stop you and I never will. Some people are genetically built for it (a very small percent of the population) and running suits them just fine. They’re great at it, and they could care less. And they’re healthy and fine. That’s fine by me. Run, people, run. BUT, and here’s my caveat: if you’re reading my material because you want to find your abs, get your arms to stop jiggling, and make the cellulite on the back of your thighs disappear, then SPRINT short distances, walk longer distances, and lift some heavy ass weight. These three will build your muscle. Muscle burns fat cells and tightens your skin and makes you look awesome. Steady state cardio does not. Yes, it builds your heart. But interval training (AKA–SPRINTS) make your heart even stronger. If AESTHETICS is your main goal, lift, sprint, throw, carry, push, pull, and even walk it out.
7. Number six pisses off people almost as much as when we say “You need to eat meat.”
My husband convinced me a LONG time ago–when I hardly even knew him and I was also experimenting with a vegetarian/vegan diet (I tried each for one week and hated life)–that meat was important for my aesthetic goals and my now, my performance goals. Meat IS important for strength, for muscle building, for protein synthesis and branched chain amino acid release into our blood supply…you can’t just get this from eating quinoa and beans! Here, let me turn this over to Erik. His passion for meat matches my passion for fitness:
Erik: Ha. Steph misremembers my early recommendations of eating meat. She forgets the part about how she complained and complained and complained about all things nutrition before I finally spoke up and suggested more protein. I am so afraid of being the know-it-all in number one that I NEVER give unsolicited advice. Speaking of number one, if a person is about to herniate disks in his back due to God-awful form, should we step in?
Sorry for the digression. Meat is awesome. It is a phenomenal macronutrient, it saves our Earth, and it makes you bad ass. People who eat meat are simply better people (click here to read why).
Eat too many carbohydrates and you will likely gain body fat. Eat too much fat and you can also gain body fat (although this is more difficult). Eat too much protein and you will poop. Seriously, it is virtually impossible to get fat from eating protein (great article here explaining why).
We evolved to eat meat and do not let vegan propaganda tell you otherwise. The brain actually depends on it. Over 30% of your brain is made up of an Omega 3 known as DHA. You would have to eat pounds and pounds of flax seed oil to meet your DHA needs. DHA is very common in animal oils — particularly fish oil (read more here).
And don’t even get me started on amino acids and muscle acquisition. Gaining muscle is hard enough, why on earth would we make it harder and not eat the single best muscle builder on the planet — MEAT!!!
One thing I find to be common everywhere, every week, every gym, every comment in a blog post: someone is terrified to do something new. I took a friend with me to CrossFit Tuesday morning and she texted me 14 hours before our workout about how nervous she was. Did I mention she’s already following a powerlifting program at the local 24/7 gym AND takes my bootcamp class 2-3 times a week? Why is she scared of CrossFit? CrossFitters LOVE new people! I’ve never met nicer people. It IS kind of funny because CrossFitters definitely come off as cocky and full of themselves–there’s a bit of pride that comes along with doing things like muscle-ups and 5o unbroken pull-ups. But the minute you say you’d like to give it a try? The cockiest little sucker of them all will become your BFF in a snap. And the weight room in any other gym? Of course it “seems” terrifying. But here’s a hint: there are more websites and YouTube channels that will tell you how to do ANYTHING you come across in that weight room. Just look at the machine. Most of them have a name on it accompanied by instructions. If it doesn’t, watch a few people use the machine first (don’t do what looks crazy, do what the majority of the people are doing). Every gym I’ve ever been in will give you a tour of the machines and every single person who works there will tell you how to use them. ASK someone. I once ended up teaching a 20 minute squat clinic at the gym because one guy just came over to me and asked me how to do it. I had fun and felt pretty awesome when done. Long story short? Everyone started where you are right now. Everyone doing it now loves to help others. Gym rats are gym rats for a reason–they love what they’re doing and cannot WAIT to tell everyone and teach what they’ve learned. Don’t be afraid to talk to people! (People, by the way, who do NOT have earphones in. Those are the ones who don’t want to be bothered.)
9. Your worst day in the gym is always someone else’s best day, and you should never take for granted all that you are capable of doing for yourself and for others.
Whether it’s my worst day or I’m talking to a fellow athlete about a missed lift, a crappy conditioning workout, achy joints, whatever…sometimes I have to remind myself or the other person, “Hey. At least you’re here. At least you can do what you’re doing. Some people would kill to be here or be this strong or perform this lift. Be grateful.” Too often, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype that “every day is beast mode.” There will be bad days. Crappy lifts. Low energy. Monthly cycles. Just as there are great days, shitty days are plenty. These are the days where we get to sit back and say, “Today was not my day, and that’s OK!” and we can probably even generate a list of “whys.” Poor sleep? Bad diet? Dehydrated? Bad day at work? Personal problems? Mind distracted? Life happens. And while I’m on the topic of self shame I should probably say as well, WOMEN: Stop comparing yourself to other women. I’m definitely guilty of this sometimes. We should all start appreciating who we are, where we’ve come from, and what we can do now. 10 years ago, I never thought I would be right here, right now, in this position of authority, much less even in shape. So as long as you’re being the best YOU that you can be, no one can ever take that away.
I mentioned earlier that I run a bootcamp class. I also run a weight room circuit training class, I help coach CrossFit, and I personal train. When someone says to me, “I just did 100 kettlebell swings, nonstop, with the 25 pound bell!” I want to shout with excitement! Because that person started the class with a 10 pound bell. And when I see a female clean and press that 50 lb dumbbell and look at me to see if I saw? Again, my day is glorious. When the guy who struggled with planks and burpees suddenly “gets it”? We all celebrate. Or the time the girl posted on Facebook that she never thought she’d be fit, but she beat her baseline test by almost FOUR minutes?! What about the time a friend wrote a page long letter on how I helped him recover from illness? And I say “friend” because all these people are now more than just exercisers whom I see daily, but they’re all MY FRIENDS! If I do nothing else, I’ve left a healthy impression on the minds of all my amazing friends, and I can’t begin to say how thankful I am for the chance to do so. I might have poked fun of a lot of things throughout my list, and honestly, you’ve got to have a sense of humor here. But when it comes down to it, watching someone else succeed because I helped him or her, really just takes the cake for me. I’ve learned a lot, but maybe the biggest lesson is that no matter who we are or what we’re doing in life, we have the ability and potential to help, motivate, and inspire someone who is searching for change.
All photos link to original source.