Fire Life


By Michael Krueger

Life is full of disappointments, and fitness training is no different. It’s how we deal with them that determines our ultimate fate. Often, our results fall short of our goals despite our “best” efforts. That’s when I hear people complain, “This shouldn’t have happened,” or “I should be further ahead by now.”

If I do a fitness retest on a client and the results do not meet expectations, the client often looks at me as if to say, “What did YOU do wrong?” I then pull out the client’s workout log book and note the missed sessions, the lack of a food log, and point out the sets he bailed on and say, “Given your consistency and effort, you should feel very good about your progress.”

The client is seldom amused.

The reality is, if you look back at each step that you have taken to arrive at this point, you have no reason to be disappointed because you’re exactly where you “should” be.


Bumps in the Road

You probably have a vision of where you would like to be as far as fitness goes. Perhaps you can see yourself running a marathon, benching 300 pounds, or winning the Combat Challenge. These are all good, motivating images, and they’re part of the formula for your ultimate success. Now, what do you do as time starts slipping by and your results are, at best, mixed? The goal line seems to be getting farther away, not closer, and frustration is starting to build. How do you handle that?

If you understand that progress is seldom linear and if you’re willing to make adjustments going forward, you’ll still have an excellent chance of achieving your primary goal–perhaps not on your original timeline, but that’s OK.

You may find that your ultimate goal was a bit grand for your time frame. Perhaps a 5k or 10k would be a better short-term goal. Or maybe you really need to hone your skills on the training ground before jumping into the Combat Challenge. There is nothing wrong with resetting your sails; the tough part is not being disappointed in the seeming downgrade.


See the Changes

None of us knows what we are capable of achieving when embarking on a new endeavor. So, if you’re new to fitness training, you need to be ready for some surprises–both good and not so good. After years of working out, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve accomplished, but you’ll be even more amazed at how much there still is for you to conquer.

I work with a lot of female clients with varying goals that we’ve set together. My secret goal, though, is to make them strong. They may not believe they can get strong, since they’ve often been brainwashed by the fitness industry into believing that women don’t lift big. As we work on their stated goals, I continue with my strength agenda. Soon, along with their original goal, they have achieved a level of strength they never even considered possible. I work with women who can do ten-plus chin-ups and bench press their body weight for ten reps or more. Once they find they can be physically strong, they’re often motivated to make other positive changes in their life, sometimes without even realizing it.

Because of the quirky nature of physical progress, you’ll experience a range of emotions from being humbled or frustrated to being elated. One day you are on the top of your game, and the next you can’t do anything right. This is where resiliency enters the picture.

When you are disappointed in your performance, you have a couple of options. You can blame someone else; you can blame external forces beyond your control; or you can accept it as reality, figure out how to fix it, and get back in the game. It’s up to you and only you.

I have had people engage my services to, in their words “…motivate me.” It doesn’t work that way. What I do is believe in you and not let you quit when it gets tough. Through hard work and education, you begin to believe in yourself so that you may be self-motivating.

As the workouts progress, I continually show how you are improving. Some trainers like to use harsh words, high volume, and criticisms to “motivate”; I prefer personal engagement, humor, and positive statements. Most people have more than enough negative statements floating around in their head to last a lifetime. The last thing they need is for someone who professes to be there to help them instead reinforce a negative self-image.



We all have hopes and dreams, plans and goals, moments of optimism and of self-doubt. This is the normal and natural human condition. The problems arise when we begin to get them out of balance and all mixed up and confused. Plans become hopes, goals are dreams, and our self-image either goes right down the toilet or our ego becomes overinflated. Soon our expectations get out of whack with our abilities, and we get more than a little bit crazy.

There isn’t anything wrong with having high expectations. Dreaming and planning big are good, provided you attack with the effort and intensity needed to make them a reality. I’ve talked about specific goals before and the upside and downside involved in them. But sometimes a simple, all-encompassing goal to simply to be the best “you” that you can be at this moment can take you a long way.



In the fitness world, there are many forces that drive individuals. Some motivations are external and others internal; depending on the person, either can be effective. Some people can get a kick start on fitness by having their doctor suggest that perhaps they are headed for health problems, while others never give it another thought. Some people are pushed by wanting to be as healthy as possible, others want to be big and strong, and still others are in it for quality of life or simply the joy of working out.

Most people will give the standard reasons of health and personal appearance for what is motivating them. This is usually true on the surface, but deep down inside it isn’t always the case. They didn’t just happen to get overweight and out of shape; they chose it–perhaps not in a conscious way, but through omission and commission they did make it their life.

In my line of work, I hear all kinds of stories from people. Every one of them is as valid as the next. When I first began personal training, I was more than a bit ignorant and arrogant as well. Instead of listening, I would be thinking, “If you would just quit eating so much and work out more, all these issues would go away.” I was wrong, and I’m glad I came to understand that sooner rather than later.

The pain and disappointment I hear from people are enough to break your heart. They really do desperately want to be strong and healthy, to eat well and live a happy and productive life. The problem is they are usually living someone else’s life. They are hearing the voices of their parents, friends, coaches, doctors, and myriad other people, and they are all drowning out their own thoughts and feelings.

Often the things that people think are motivating them are in actuality holding them back. Negative comments are never motivating, whether they come from well-meaning people in your life or from yourself. The “I’ll show them” mindset only makes you angry, and anger is an emotion, not a plan. It doesn’t create the impetus for lasting change. It doesn’t usually even create much temporary change.

I once worked at a place where, when selling training packages, we were told that if you can make them cry, you’ve got them hooked, so sell them big. I hated that philosophy even though they were right–they did frequently buy big. The problem was that they seldom had any positive results. In that case, we were told to tell them they were to blame. Then we were to tell them they need to train more often and sell them even more sessions. It was a vicious cycle of raising expectations, blaming them for the failure, selling more sessions, and then beginning over again.

Now I know better. I take the time to understand their fears and find out what their true motivation is so that we can work together to find a way to use this information for them to gain confidence and their ultimate success. This process promises no quick fixes and no miracles, but we’ve been successful in this approach. It’s more personally satisfying for me and motivational for them than any other method I’ve seen.


Reality vs. Ego

Most people don’t have a very good idea of where they fall on the fitness continuum. People tend to remember the point in life where they were at their best. “I have a 300-pound bench” or “I can run a 4:10 mile” are memories people drag out and present as truth, despite those accomplishments being from 5, 10, 15, or more years ago.

They go to their doctor and step on the scale. They are told their BMI is in the overweight or obese classification. Then they remember hearing that professional athletes frequently have high BMIs because they are carrying so much muscle. They think, “That must be it. I can’t be obese. I played football in college.” Or they get the report on their blood work and physical exam and because the numbers fall in the “normal” range (with medication), they hold it up as validation of their lifestyle, ignoring the fact that poor nutrition and being sedentary are the biggest risk factors of all.

Men will stand shirtless in front of the bathroom mirror, flex their biceps, and say, “I’ll be back,” seeing nothing but Arnold staring back at them. It takes a lot of imagination and denial to ignore the reality of the soft squishy body that reflects back, but it can be done and frequently is. You need to be honest with yourself and admit that perhaps you aren’t in the best shape you could be. Don’t make it a judgment, just accept it as fact and decide to do something positive about it.


Reality Check

It’s too easy to ignore problems and just hope they will go away. It’s too easy to not face your fears or to not acknowledge your hopes and dreams. It’s too easy to life an unlived life simply because you were afraid of disappointments, temporary failures, and hard work.

We all face disappointments in life. We rationalize and pretend it doesn’t bother us, but it does. We try and fail and try and fail again. In fitness, even failure brings some benefit. It doesn’t matter how many failures you have chalked up, so long as you make adjustments and try again. Every failure brings with it new knowledge that might spell success the next time.

Actively, honestly achieved “failures” are the building blocks of future success. The more of these failures you accumulate, the bigger your ultimate success will be. Think big, dream big, work hard, be strong,

… and be happy.


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]