By Michael Krueger
Let’s get this out of the way first: There are many effective diets and ways of working out. Despite what the magazines, the infomercials, and the big guy at the gym might tell you, there is no “best” way. The different philosophies run the gamut from good to bad to dangerous, but it’s still up to you to find the way that works for you.
I’m fairly disciplined about fitness, and over the years I have found what works for me. I don’t impose my way on anyone else because they are not me. But because of my experience, I lift, do cardio, and eat in ways that others might consider heresy. I work with my clients to find what will be effective and sustainable for them, not for me. So, if your way of doing something is a little unorthodox but it’s effective for you, who can say you’re wrong?
On that note, let’s look at the world of the overly serious, wound a little too tight, self-important fitness nut.
The Insecure Trainer
A lot of people panic when they see someone doing something in the gym in a way other than the way they do it. They’re filled with concern and apprehension, because if someone is doing it differently than they are, maybe that means that they’re wrong. This fills them with indecision, confusion, dread, and self-doubt. Some of these same people will immediately change the way they do things and adopt this other way of lifting, assuming these other people must know a “secret” they don’t. Others will march over apoplectic and alarmed and in no uncertain terms tell these people that they are doing it “wrong” and to stop it right now. The rest will quietly fret and worry. None of these are effective strategies. If you see something different or odd, just let it go. There are as many ways to do a lift or run a routine as there are people training. I’m not saying they are all good ways, but it’s not my body so it’s none of my business.
On a professional side note, I have on occasion offered unsolicited advice to exercisers when I felt that they were doing something in a way that was putting their health or the safety of others at risk. I have been thanked, but I have also been told to do things that I don’t think are anatomically possible. For the most part, I’ve learned to bite my tongue and say nothing.
I’ll bet that if we were doing something as simple as a bicep curl I could come up with more than two dozen variations on that single movement. Just think of the possibilities–dumbbells, barbell, curl bar, fixed machine, cable machine, back supported, seated, anchored elbow, alternating, and the list goes on and on.
When deciding to choose one particular variation over another, ask yourself some questions. What are you trying to accomplish? What is your level of expertise? Years of training? Equipment? Time availability? Previous injuries? Motivation? Then there are your inherent physical gifts to consider. If you have short arms with good leverage, you have an advantage over someone with long lanky arms. How strong is your grip? How good is your balance? How stable is your back? These are all questions that will affect your choice or at least should affect your choice.
There are so many possibilities that you just have to accept that there isn’t one perfect way. I suggest that you try different approaches until you find one that works for you. Then, if it stops working for you try something else … but definitely stop fretting about it.
The Self-Proclaimed Expert
It isn’t usually the new trainee who is giving out advice and taking it all too seriously; it’s the one who has been working out for awhile. Of course, there is always the “born-again exerciser” who is so high on working out that it’s all he can talk about and will give advice to anyone who is unlucky enough to be caught in his obsessive clutches. He can be annoying, but it’s hard not to smile at his enthusiasm and, for the most part, he is harmless.
That first example, though, the long-term exerciser who is a true believer in whatever philosophy, school, sport, or cult he believes in and who tends to give loads of unsolicited advice, can be a real problem. He is frequently lacking when it comes to real knowledge but is frequently teeming with “BroScience”–not to mention supplements, torn muscle shirts, and attitude. Anyway you look at him he is a nuisance and, unlike the newbie, not always harmless.
The first issue with him is that he assumes everyone is terribly impressed by his lifts and his physique. The next thing is, he’s sure that everyone has the same goals as he does. He (it can be a she, but it’s usually a he) then proceeds to tell you in a somewhat rude, condescending way what you should do; how much weight you should use; and, of course, that you’re “not doing it right.”
For the most part, just ignore him, and though it can be hard to do, it’s well worth the effort. If he insists on interrupting and getting in your face, you have little choice but to report him to management. This might seem drastic, but if he can’t take a hint and is left unchecked, he can do a lot of damage. He can instill doubt in a beginner and is often insulting; frequently disruptive; and, in some cases, dangerous. He can be the most toxic thing in the gym short of a MRSA infection.
If you see your own behavior in any of the above examples, stop doing it, because no one likes it.
The Food Police
The easiest area to get caught up in being overly serious and strict is in your diet. I know that most people don’t have the problem of being too rigorous when it comes to planning their diet, but it can and does happen, particularly when you are just getting started.
I know people who take their food with them wherever they go. These “Tupperware Toters” wouldn’t think of eating in a restaurant (or what anyone else prepares, for that matter), and they are more than happy to tell you why, and in great detail. They will talk about the poison you are putting in your body and what you should be eating instead. Now, to be honest, they are probably right on many points, but who asked for their opinion?
You probably have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a quality diet. You know that processed foods contain stuff you wouldn’t want your pets to eat, much less you and your family. You know that sugary drinks provide zero nutrition, rot your teeth, and have no place in your diet. You know to avoid additives that sound more like chemistry projects than food and the more natural and fresher your ingredients, the better.
That being said, never eating stuff that isn’t specifically part of a “good diet” is tough, not much fun, and probably mostly impossible anyway. This isn’t a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” by any means but rather a nod to the reality of our culture.
You can have a good time and still eat well. Moderation is very important; don’t eat like a piggy. It’s also true that a poor choice once in a while won’t ruin a track record of good nutrition any more than eating a salad once in a while will redeem a diet full of junk. So remember, now that summer is here and family and friends are getting together for barbecues, reunions, and fun and games, it’s still important to maintain your nutritional standards as best you can; but you can do it without being a pompous jerk, too.
Finally, there is a certain level of seriousness that is necessary for fitness success. The focus, discipline, and commitment that get you into the gym when you would rather not, out for a run when the temperature dips below zero, or to avoid a second piece of cake or another cookie are part of that seriousness. But the joy; camaraderie; and, yes, fun of training are equally important to your success.
So when you’re eating with friends and family, don’t worry too much about nutritional content; just enjoy yourself. When you’re training, smile more than you grimace, and always be grateful for your health and fitness. Remembering these simple tips will go a long way toward getting you fit while keeping you happy and humble.
And above all, don’t take yourself so seriously.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at [email protected]