In no particular order, here are 20 lessons I’ve learned in 20 years.
1. There’s no one right way to do fitness.
I used to have very dogmatic thinking around fitness. When I was doing bodybuilding, I thought bodybuilding was the only way. When I was doing crossfit, I thought crossfit was the only way. It took me a long time to realize that the “right” kind of fitness was what I enjoyed doing and could do consistently… and that might be different for someone else. Find what YOU love. Find what YOU will do consistently. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing.
2. The sooner you start, the more “savings” you have.
Just like a financial savings account, the sooner you start, the more savings you have that will compound exponentially over time. The more savings you have, the more “emergency fund” you’ll have access to if you need to dip in over time. This is specifically true in developing lean muscle mass. Start building lean mass as soon as possible to not only stay healthy and strong, but to use as a savings account if something like surgery or an accident happens. You will be so grateful you have that foundation if you need to stop training for a while. If you need extra convincing of this, check out THIS BLOG from the recently injured, Stella Kaufman.
3. Fall in love with the process, not the outcome.
If you’re using fitness as a means to an end, you will remain in a very cyclic, black or white relationship with health and hotness. Finding ways to enjoy the process, no matter how challenging, will get you into the ideal, “mountain has no top” way of thinking. Most people tolerate the process to get the outcome, and when they get the outcome, they stop the process, inevitably to have to start the process again back where they started in the first place. If you can find a way to enjoy the process, it will save you years of repeating the same thing over and over, and you’ll make sustainable, consistent progress.
4. Strength does not equal size.
Being the strongest person in the room and being the biggest person in the room are two very different things. Training for hypertrophy (muscle gain) is different than training for strength (the ability to move load). If you don’t believe me, check out my good friend, Nancy Newell, deadlifting 345lbs at 115 bodyweight. That’s 3 times her bodyweight at a size 2-4. Strength does not equal size.
5. A little competition is good.
Competition doesn’t have to be against someone else. But competition in general can teach us a lot of valuable lessons. The biggest one is how to lose. We’re so terrible at losing, we avoid it at all costs, but losing doesn’t mean failure. It means we collected information. Then we can take that information and find out what we need to do to improve. Competition helps us get better. Get a little competitive, even with yourself. Then get better.
6. Progress starts at the end of your abilities.
While it’s super fun to do the things you’re good at over and over, you won’t progress until you start to push the limits of your abilities. That could mean going heavier, that could mean adding reps, that could mean changing the tempo. Our bodies are really great at adapting. They need to be challenged to progress. If you haven’t progressed in a while, you’re not working outside of your ability level.
7. There’s almost nothing more important than health.
While this is something I’ve learned from training others, it’s something I think about constantly in my own training. I’ve trained many people in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who have been super successful from a financial perspective but neglected to take care of their bodies in the process. So they ended up with lots of money in the bank, laid up with back surgeries, diabetes, not able to play with grandchildren, not able to go on vacation anywhere they needed to walk, imprisoned in their own bodies. Instead of having fun with the money they worked hard for, they have to spend it on medical bills and rehab. Money is AMAZING! Health should still remain a priority.
8. Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is underutilized.
NEAT is all the stuff we do that isn’t formal gym exercise or sports. We spend WAY more time NEAT-ing than exercising. While we need exercise to gain lean mass and maintain healthy body fat levels, it’s the other stuff that we do during the day that really adds up over time. Even if you exercise 5 days a week for an hour, that’s only 5 hours compared to the other 107 hours you’re awake and moving (if you sleep for 8 hours a night). Get off one subway stop early, park further away at the store, take the stairs—utilize NEAT.
9. Scale weight is bullshit and a mindfuck.
While scale weight is one way to measure progress, what it tells us is very limited. Check out THESE photos of 14 different women who have had some pretty extreme body transformations, but their weight has stayed the same. Body composition (the amount of lean mass vs fat mass) is WAY more telling than the scale could ever be. Using something like an InBody Scan can give you much more valuable information than the scale.
10. Quick fixes and shortcuts take longer in the long run.
Have you ever been in line at the grocery store, saw another line that looked like it was moving faster, so you jump over to that line, only to realize the person checking out needs a service rep, so you move into another line and realize that if you would have just stayed in the original line, you would have been checked out already? Me too. That’s what we do with our fitness and food. We bounce around. We want the quick fix. But the best thing to do is pick a path and stay the course because it will get you to your destination faster than trying to jump from short cut to short cut.
11. The goal might not be worth the cost – set goals wisely.
I have wanted to be shredded my whole life. 12% body fat. 14 abs. Thigh veins. But what I want more is to eat pizza with the people I love. I could definitely train and diet down to get there, and I truly don’t mind a little suffering along the way. I kinda enjoy that part. But, why? I haven’t come up with a good enough reason to get super yoked because the cost would outweigh the benefits for me. No drinking. No weekend dinner dates with my fiance. Carefully measuring and weighing every single thing I eat. It would come at a slight detriment to my health physically and mentally, and for what? To have a photoshoot so I could post on social media, then back to just being healthy with some definition, which is where I really want to live? Maybe one day I’ll feel differently, but for right now, I’m happy being healthy and enjoying my life. If you want to check out a cool article talking about this exact topic by someone you know well, check out the Chief Sexification Officer’s experience.
12. Take vacation pics… it’s okay.
Around 7 years ago I was on vacation in Tulum. At the time, I “felt fat” and didn’t take any pictures of the trip. It’s Feb 2020. I have no idea what I weighed 7 years ago. I can’t remember the exact way I felt, but I remember that was the reason I don’t have any photo memories from that trip. What a shame. 2020 me would love to see and remember what that trip was like.
13. Nobody is looking at you, and everyone is just as insecure as you are.
When you’re in the gym, the buffest, baddest dude in there is just as insecure… if not more… than you. Unless you’re being cruised, nobody is paying attention to you. Nobody is thinking bad things about you. Everyone is thinking about themselves and looking at themselves in the mirror. Even the most seemingly secure, jacked people are looking for validation. When you’re feeling uncomfortable, remember, that muscly bro likely could have been a scrawny kid that got picked on, and gaining muscle gave them confidence. Most people still have deep rooted insecurities, even if you can’t see them.
14. Think about food like a romantic partner.
Would you be with someone that you didn’t really like and wanted to cheat on during the weekends? What about someone you can tolerate, but you know it’s not going anywhere? Hopefully you have more self respect than that. But that’s the way most of us think about food and dieting. We pick diets we don’t really like and want to cheat on. We tolerate certain ways of eating but know it won’t last. If you start to think about food like a long term romantic partner, it’s way more exciting, doable, and consistent. Finding what works for you that is sustainable is the KEY to getting a grip on food. If you need help figuring out what that looks like, check out THIS instagram account. It’s legit.
15. Fitness is monotonous.
If you are really in the practice of fitness, it’s the same super basic shit over and over your whole life. We can squat, hinge, push, pull, stabilize, carry, and transmit force. That’s pretty much it. If you can mentally accept that, you can get to the point where you enjoy being a master of the basics, or a fitness virtuoso. Just like playing the piano, the notes stay the same forever. It’s how you play them…the timing, the rest, the intensity that makes it interesting.
16. You are more capable than you think.
Most humans don’t fully understand the vastness of their potential. The things we think we can’t do because we’ve never actually tried substantially outweigh what our capabilities are. I’ve had Ninjas in single sessions take their weight up by 100-150lbs on things like the deadlift or hip thrust. It’s only because they hadn’t considered that amount of weight an option that they didn’t try. When they hit 300 or 400lbs on the lifts, the reactions were always, “I had no idea I could do that!” We are extremely capable humans.
17. Success is doing the work, even when you don’t want to.
It’s easy to want to work out when life is great, and the weather is sunny, and you’re feeling energized. It’s much harder to show up when life is kinda messy, and it’s raining, and you’re tired. There will be many, many days that you don’t want to workout. Things will come up. But as Brian Patrick Murphy says, “The rent is due everyday.” That means even when we emotionally don’t feel like it. Those who are successful at any endeavor show up and put in the work even when they don’t want to.
18. Meditation and flow state have many forms.
Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting in the corner with your eyes closed, trying not to think. If I’m ever losing focus or can’t get my mind right, I go to the gym. I move. I sweat. I zone out. It brings me back to center. Meditation and flow can be a practice of presence, feeling, awareness, and movement at the gym.
19. Training for mental health is extremely underrated.
There are approximately 1 bajillion studies (this, this, this) on what exercise does for the brain. Yet, most of our reasons for working out are aesthetic, which makes sense because #instagrammodels. That being said, training 3 times a week to keep your mind right is probably MORE important than the physical side effects of fitness. When I started training for mental health, I showed up very differently. I didn’t roll in poking on my stomach or looking in the mirror at what I needed to “fix.” I was present. I started to breathe deeper. It felt like self care more than body shame. Training for mental health is a super legit goal in your fitness practice.
20. Our bodies are not our identities.
This is something I’m still learning. Growing up in a world where women are valued for their appearance (and I definitely did NOT look like a typical girl, or a girl at all really LOL), I thought my body was my identity, and I was SOL. But that’s not true. We feel like our bodies are our identities because we live in them. But, if I asked you to describe your best friend, or your mom, what would you say? When our beloved Landen Jones passed away and we were sharing stories, not one person mentioned how much they thought he weighed or toned or not he was. Nobody talked about how much he could bench or squat. Nobody talked about his body at all. We talked about his infectious spirit. His ability to sashay across the room and do a spin and a kick so gracefully. His love of disco and veuve and glamorous things. We talked about how he made us feel when we were around him. I’ve spent so much fucking time over the last 20 years thinking about what I look like and how I’m percieved physically. But I’m learning that more important than my body is the energy that resides in it. Our identities are who we are as humans and the energy we are bringing to the world, not our fleshy meat suits. Most people aren’t going to remember your body when you die. But they will remember how they felt around you and what you brought to the world. Be healthy and take care of your body. But more than that, be a good human.
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