By Michael Krueger
I’ve spoken with potential clients who say that despite all their hard work, they are still skinny/weak/fat or whatever disappointment/frustration/reality they may be experiencing at the moment. They insist that they are doing everything right yet nothing seems to be working.
Right off the top, if you are doing everything right yet nothing works, then you aren’t doing everything right. I’m not saying that you’re not following the latest routine in Muscle and Fitness to the letter or doing exactly what the big guy at the gym does, but that could very well be the problem.
So what’s standing in the way on your road to success?
Let’s Take a Look
If you’ve been training for more than a few years and you still look like you’ve never seen the inside of a gym, it’s time to figure out why. If you’re still weak and you haven’t seen any appreciable increase in muscle mass, you’ve wasted a lot of time on ineffective strength and nutritional programs. If you are still fat, then you obviously haven’t put any productive thought into your diet. You most likely haven’t a clue as to what the nutrition profile of your diet is or what it should be. How much protein are you eating? Where does the fat come from? And the biggest questions: How much sugar and refined carbs do you eat? and Do you have any idea what a serving size looks like?
If you are carrying extra fat, you need to control your diet. If you are skinny with minimal muscular development, you need to control your diet. If you are currently happy with your body composition and you want to maintain it, you need to control your diet. Did you catch the not-so-subtle message? Diet is the most important thing in maintaining your health, increasing your strength, and improving your fitness.
If your training isn’t going well and your body composition isn’t what it could be, you probably eat poorly even if you think you are doing well; that’s the way it is with most of us. Then, to make it a little more complex, eating for a specific goal is different than eating simply to be healthy. The amounts of fat, proteins, and carbohydrates you eat will vary depending on your goal. The overall amount of food you consume will vary as well, depending on what you are trying to accomplish. It’s not simple and it’s not easy, but if you are serious about your fitness, it is something you’ll need to do. If you can’t do it on your own, consult a licensed dietitian to learn what you need to know for your precise goals. Then apply what you’ve learned; you’ll be amazed at what can happen.
Doing long cardio workouts in an effort to “burn fat” and control your weight doesn’t work. It’s not efficient, and it will eventually lead to injuries and emotional burnout. I’ve seen it happen so many times, yet it’s still the mantra of so many “trainers” and mass-appeal fitness programs. Yes, cardio is important to improve your heart and lungs, but it’s not a good way to lose weight. It will contribute some to your overall calorie usage, but when you consider the bang for the buck, it’s not a good thing to rely on. It takes about two and a half miles of running to use up the calories in a standard size Snickers bar. It’s so obviously better to not take in those empty calories to begin with, but people do it all the time. I’ve seen people pound down a “recovery smoothie,” and all it accomplished was to allow them to “recover” every calorie they used during their workout and then some. That being said, it’s a very good idea to replace the nutrients used during a hard workout. Unfortunately, most replacement drinks simply give a slug of calories instead of nutrition. If you’re going to use supplements, learn what’s really in them and what these ingredients can do for you (and to you), and use them in a way that complements your goals. Remember, supplements often contain calories, so if your goal is to lose weight, you need to consider that goal when choosing what to use.
So get your diet in order, and that means eating to support your goal. If you need to lose weight, cut the junk out of you diet. I don’t care how clean you think you eat; there is junk that you can eliminate. If you want to gain muscle, you’ll need to eat more. That’s why it’s so difficult to cut and grow at the same time. It’s been said that to add an inch of circumference to your arms, you would need to gain 15 pounds of muscle. That’s 52,500 calories of good lean protein and quality fats and carbohydrates, not calories from greasy, salty, processed junk. That’s a lot of calories to get from high-quality sources; and trust me, none of them come with a side of fries.
Now that you understand the role diet plays, let’s look at your training. The biggest error I see is that so many people blindly follow a bodybuilding routine even if it isn’t right for their goals. I see fat guys doing curls and triceps kickbacks because they want to have big arms, and I’ve seen skinny guys doing the same thing … they can’t both be right, and in this case neither one is.
A beginner laboring away on single joint assistance exercises is mostly a waste of time and effort. Systemically loading your body with progressively heavier weights will build your body and increase your strength … period. Doing deadlifts and chin-ups will do more to build your arms than all the arm specific exercises put together and in a lot less time as well.
Men see athletes and they want to look and perform like them–perhaps not enough to eat and train for it, but it’s still something they fantasize about and feel inadequate over. So they read the ads in magazines and on Web sites that promise miracles along with next-day shipping. There are some Web sites (such as this one) that have really good information, and 99 percent of the time it boils down to hard work and diet. Simply put, good nutrition, targeted training, and discipline–not some special magic routine or special supplement–will build muscle. It takes a clean diet along with time and effort on big basic exercises to become strong.
Women also fall prey to the same pressures as men, only worse. If they want to get strong, they need to lift and lift heavy, just like a man would. Squats, deadlifts, and presses will accomplish more than any “special fat burning toning routine” touted by a “B list” celebrity ever could. Little pink five-pound “Smartbells” accompanied by some dance moves aren’t going to accomplish much when it comes to building strength. Hard work, consistency, and dedication are what will get you strong and lean like you never imagined.
Women are often told that they can’t lift heavy, and if they do they will get all bulky and “manly.” They are fed images of Victoria’s Secret models and pencil-thin actresses as the perfect body. Being strong, fit, healthy, happy, and self-confident is not driven by, or defined by, your attractiveness to the opposite sex. Of course, because of ignorant people being what they are, fit shaming has become almost as popular as fat shaming, particularly as it’s applied to women. This is so wrong on so many levels that there aren’t enough column inches for me to delineate them all.
Knock Down Your Barriers
So, if you haven’t made the progress you expected, find out why. I’m sure your diet could be better. I’m sure your training program could be more targeted to your goals. I’m sure your consistency could be improved and your discipline and dedication to your goals could be sharpened.
We are all made of the same muscle, bone, tendons, and ligaments. Those who are successful also possess an indomitable spirit …
the only thing standing in your way is you.
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 MKPTLLC@gmail.