If you are reading this newsletter, you share a common interest in achieving or maintaining a level of physical fitness, personal appearance, self-development, and presentation that meets your unique internal standard. My wife and I have always been driven to be fit, and she is more diligent about her efforts than I am. You probably wonder why she isn’t writing some of these articles? I am working on it, she is a true treasure to our local community. That said, it is truthful that we are often complimented on our achievements. This is especially true when we travel, as people see us in a novel light rather than the everyday couple that works out together at the local gym.
I am certain that most of the readers receive similar compliments from people, especially new acquaintances, as only about 15% of the U.S. adult population is recreationally active after they enter the workforce. Overweight and obesity were thought to be holding steady for several years, with credit being handed to school lunch programs or some other regulatory nonsense. In fact, obesity and overweight went up, and shockingly so considering how high it was to begin with. Over half of some demographic populations are obese, and there has not been an explosion of muscle building in the last six to seven years. The factors for this are complex, but the economy, safety, food choices, associated health conditions, sleep habits, passive recreation, etc all play a role.
Raise your hand if you have been told, “it must be nice to be able to eat whatever you want,” or “I wish I could look like that,” or even “Yeah, but it is easy for you to be in shape.” Uggh, I get frustrated with such comments. Granted, there is a small percentage of people that are capable of looking like cover models without making any effort, and others that can afford to have others push, prod, poke, or surgically excise any problem areas. However, 98% of us achieve our physical state through our efforts. Constant, consistent, dedicated, disciplined effort that often requires sacrifices most people could not comprehend; certainly do not adhere to. There are surveys that look at food eaten outside the home (e.g. restaurants, fast food, etc). Most people run to the drive through for breakfast and lunch, and grab dinner out with the family or have it delivered. Expensive and unhealthy for the most part. The “healthy” dine-out options follow the low-fat and low-salt guidelines which are not beneficial for health or weight loss, and do not promote good lifestyle habits when obtained in a paper bag or on a plastic tray. Don’t even get me started on diet drinks.
The “secret” is not a secret, it is work. I grumble most days as my wife and I generate at least one load of dishes daily, sometimes two – for two people. She does all the cooking, though I help as I am allowed (I call myself her sous chef then, LOL). My responsibility is the shakes and hard boiling eggs. We are preparing to compete in our first competitions in over a decade (more on that in a later article), so we have not eaten outside of home prepared meals for ten weeks now. We have even gone to the extent of buying a food scale to be more accurate about our intake. The good news is we were over-estimating what we were eating, so the meals got a bit bigger. My wife can give an accounting for our macronutrients, and calorie counts, and has developed some tasty options given the restrictions we placed on ourselves. Given how long it has been since we competed last, we entered our pre-contest too early, so we have been really challenged by the duration of the hypocaloric, low-glycemic load diet – it will be 12 weeks by the time we go onstage. Next show, hopefully a national as we are competing in a national qualifier, we’ll wait until ten weeks out.
Even people who are in the gym think that size, shape, or symmetry just happen. Too often, I am in my mindset, working to push myself past the point of comfort, to my very tolerance limits, and someone wants to talk or ask a question. Dude, I have weights in my hand. Or they think I am going to take the same five minute break between sets as they do – my workouts are alternating body parts kept at a near-constant level of activity, no breaks. My workout is the equivalent to a work session for me. I know most people look for social interaction, but that is not my mental state in the gym. From the day I entered a gym, and this was the late 1970s, I was indoctrinated by the old school coach driving players to the point of vomiting or injury. Yes, I am smarter than that now, but I would rather old school it than follow what I have seen as fitness trends for the most part. Granted, crossfit competitions look fun, and I wish MMA was around when I was growing up.
As for the “push it to your limits” mentality, I would never apply the same to others, but I know that if I never ventured to the point where I had gone past my tolerance, I would be lollygagging through life in the same comfort zone style as most people do today. My grandparents lived in areas that were more frontier like than anything we know, and they descended from pioneers and pilgrims. Attitudes were very different then, and the expectation was that the individual made his/her own fortune or misfortune. People forget the American dream is the reward for hard work, remembering only the reward. Sad.
The body responds to controlled exposure to an adverse environment to grow or strengthen. Do it recklessly and injury, over-training, or serious harm can occur. Fail to stimulate your body to develop and changes will not occur. It is a law of conservation that the body does not waste energy making changes that are not necessary and require additional metabolic energy. And, if you do make a change, say get bigger and stronger biceps, and stop providing that elevated challenge to the muscle, it atrophies (shrinks) down to the least necessary amount of mass.
So, that was kind of a rant, it takes mental effort to follow a diet that will provide the building blocks to grow. It takes physical effort to stimulate the body to adapt to an elevated load or demand. And it takes commitment to make it stick. Where is the easy part of all of that?
I don’t say this to attack people who offer what they consider a compliment. They truly do not know any better and are typically sincere. I don’t despair those who follow a comfortable fitness orientation (not lifestyle) as they have a desire to achieve what many readers have obtained, but have not had the proper training or examples in life to provide the “road map” to success.
What I do want to do, is take this time to reach out and congratulate all the readers who make the efforts, regardless of what results have been achieved SO FAR.
Now, before you think that this is all this self-glorifying spiel, I want to encourage you to consider one thing. How can you use what you have achieved to influence others to achieve the same for themselves if that is their desire?
Great leaders lead by example, and you have already accomplished that part if you are adhere to the lifestyle of fitness. I was talking to a friend in the gym who commented on the changes my wife and I have made over the last ten weeks. He mentioned that he always thought we were in great shape, but can see definite improvement (because our body fat levels are getting pretty low). I thought for a second and said “You know, I am not a year-round bodybuilder. I am a lifetime fitness enthusiast. Bodybuilding is demanding and I am not sure that I am healthier or as healthy as I was around 9% body fat (sitting in the 4% range right now). But it was a goal we set before ourselves (my wife and I) and it has really given us more purpose to how we eat, train, and live.” It started me thinking. How do other people get away from the short-term goal mindset of 12 week programs, or set a standard based upon the infomercials and media, and develop a love for fitness like we have?
So, here is my plan, and I hope you will consider it in your local community. My wife and I love the way we live. It is not a sacrifice, and even getting ready for this show, though grueling, is a fun challenge that we will know we have accomplished. I am going to try (after the show is over) to be more engaging with people to get them to see how resistance training and exercise is fun, physical fitness and appearance is rewarding and not judgmental, and eating clean – with occasion for dining out or social outings, can be enjoyable and affordable. My wife leads fitness and yoga classes and has really inspired people to incorporate resistance training, clean eating, and a positive attitude into their life. I have had a number of men confide that they try harder when they see what I have managed to achieve, especially those near my age or older, or those who saw the period when I was debilitated by my injuries and subsequent surgeries.
In the local grocery, people look at our purchases, ask about what we eat, and tend to explain away their chips, pasta, and frozen pizzas. It is a great opportunity to provide an “elevator presentation” on steering away from sugar-laden beverages, or high-calorie convenience foods. Big national campaigns do nothing to change the behavior of individuals. It is individuals who change other individuals. If you are “just” a normal everyday person who has embraced a fitness lifestyle, share what works for you and encourage others by example or joining in the casual conversations that happen in check-out aisles or air travel, etc. If you gain a level of confidence, offer to lead a small group of family, friends, or acquaintances in walking clubs, or meeting once a week to talk about diet or health news.
My wife and I are discussing some things we can do. One that would be obvious, and has been requested, is to have a one or two hour seminar on our preparation for the competitions we are preparing for. We did many things right, a few mistakes, and continue to learn from experience. There is no reason we cannot teach from our experiences, and hopefully inspire others to make a similar effort. Clearly, most will never compete, but having a time-line and goal is often the best incentive.
Once a small community is formed, the strength of the group will fortify all those who participate and make regular efforts. Imagine if this time next year you saw ten or twenty people who are happier, healthier, and inspiring others because you took a little time to share and support. We have worked hard for what we have accomplished. Part of the result when taking the “hard way” is that you have forged a trail that may be easier for others to follow. I hope this touches some of you to reach out, even just to that one or two people you see always there in the gym, trying, but making the mistakes we made when we didn’t know better.
Oh, and those compliments on vacation? Well, in all honesty, they make us smile. It is nice to hear a sincere compliment. So keep them coming!
About the Author
Daniel Gwartney, M.D. took the path less traveled and combined his passion for health, fitness, and bodybuilding with the knowledge and experience learned during his medical training. A former world-ranked natural bodybuilder, appearing on the covers of Muscle Media 2000 and Ironman Magazine, and a regular contributor to several of the top bodybuilding and fitness magazines, he provides unique insight into the application of fitness into medicine and medicine into fitness.