Back when I was going to the gym more often, I would see something like this all the freakin’ time…
I have no clue what he’s doing, and I don’t think he knew either.
But far from just being distracting and kind of funny, this episode reminded me of something extremely important:
Don’t Copy Others in the Gym
Sad but true: most people in the gym have no idea what they’re doing. They’re either following some program from a jacked Instagram trainer (more on this below) or copying another guy in the gym who looks like he might know what he’s doing.
Or, you know, they’re my friend from above.
I get it, because I was once in the same boat. I would do random workouts I found in magazines or blogs. I’d copy other dudes in the gym because I liked the way they looked.
Now, almost ten years into the health and fitness game, I know better. And the thing is, we could all know better. We’ve never had more access to more great information than we do now.
And yet…we’re not exactly making progress.
Our obesity rates are growing. We’re taking opioids at an alarming rate. We’re not moving our bodies. Lifestyle-related diseases are only getting worse.
Why is that? I set out to find out.
My goal: by diving deep into exactly why people are lost in the gym, it can provide the tools necessary to set a clear path for your fitness and health journey, whatever that may be for you.
6 Reasons People Are Lost in the Gym
1) No Clear Goals
By this, I don’t just mean “what do I do?”
No, it’s more “WHY am I doing this?”
For example, if your goal is weight loss, ask yourself why you want to lose weight. Or if you want to pack on muscle, then why?
Answering these questions takes work, and sadly most people don’t want to put in that work.
It’s much easier to outsource the work to someone else: “Dammit Nick, just tell me what the Hell to do.”
The more clarity you have about your goals, the greater chance you’ll have reaching them.
Clear up your goals with the help of the 5 Whys. This is a system where each successive why should reveal a deeper, clearer reason behind why something is your goal.
So if your goal is to lose weight, the 5 Whys may go like this:
*Why do I want to lose fat?*
-Because I want to fit into a smaller size of jeans.
*And why does that matter?*
-Because when I’m wearing smaller jeans, I’ll look better.
*Why do I want to look better?
-Because when I look good, I feel good about myself.
*Why do I want to feel good about myself?
-Because when I feel good about myself, I’m more assertive and confident.
*Why do I want to be more assertive and confident?
-Because when I’m more assertive and confident, I’m in control and better able to get what I want out of life.
A goal of confidence and control is way more powerful than simply wanting to look good. This deeper reason will make it easier for you to do what you know you have to do.
Now, there’s no “right” answer these questions. It’s more about the process: spending time thinking about this stuff, digging a little deeper, and unearthing these powerful reasons why you want what you want.
Any fitness journey will have its setbacks. It will suck and you’ll want to quit many times over. But when you have clarity about your deeper reason why, you’ll have a superpower that will keep you going forward no matter what stands in your way.
2) Nutrition and Exercise Science is Complex
You don’t need a PhD in physiology to get in shape, but you do need a basic foundation of how the body works. But most people don’t have even that.
Because even the basic science behind nutrition and exercise is complex and people get scared just thinking about it.
While I certainly don’t know everything, I understand the core principles enough to help others figure them out as well.
So let’s start by looking at two of our most common goals: building muscle and shedding body fat.
When putting on muscle, there are three principles to keep in mind:
Muscle load / tension
If you’re a beginner, it doesn’t matter what you focus on. You’ll get stronger simply by lifting. We call these “newbie gains”. You’re not getting “bigger,” but you are getting stronger.
Bad news time: Those newbie gains don’t last long.
Once your body gets used to being strong, now you actually have to focus on particular exercises.
Once you progress through the “newbie” gains phase, it’s important to focus on exercises that achieve the above objectives. Start with muscle load (use heavy enough weights and add more over time), achieve muscle damage (AKA soreness after a good workout) by doing more reps/sets to, then hit on metabolic stress (high reps that inflame the muscle and swell the size of its tissue).
If you understand these three elements of building muscle, then you’re on the right path to getting bigger, building muscle, and not getting stuck at the “newbie gain” stage
First things first:
Exercise WILL NEVER make up for a poor diet.
If your goal is true fat loss, what you do in the kitchen will always be more impactful than what exercises you do.
In fact, in many cases, you can easily lose fat by only changing your diet without doing anything physically.
Of course, the best route is a combination of exercise AND nutritional changes, but of the two, nutrition will drive the needle far more than exercise.
Outside of that, fat loss boils down to two things: creating a calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories than you burn) and creating the right hormonal balance in your body to allow for fat loss.
Most of the “secrets,” “new cutting edge methods,” and “one weird tricks” out there are simply dressing up these two basic principles.
So forget what TV and hipster diet “experts” tell you. It’s vital to spend actual time researching how fat loss works. Or you find nutrition and fitness experts that you trust.
Either way, it’s not easy, but it’s possible.
3) Ignoring Much-Needed Flexibility Exercises
As complicated as human movement can be to fully understand, there is one straightforward rule and it’s this:
If you don’t use it, you lose it.
For example, spend a decade sitting in a car or chair every day, and you’ll lose the ability to squat well.
Never lift weights or load your upper body muscles with resistance and there’s no way you’ll be able to lift your 5-yr old over your head.
I discuss this very issue in my FREE 5-day video course. Take the 1-min test and find out if flexibility is a problem for you. Then, do the correct exercises that I show you and you’ll be moving better than you have in years.
But do the wrong exercises — or too many exercises too early — and you’ll be in trouble. You can’t put more and more exercise on bad movement and expect no consequences.
You’ll get in trouble eventually. And it won’t be pretty.
If you’re over 35 and have played sports or used your body hard over the last 20 years, your body needs quality exercise so much more than increasing quantities of heavy weights.
You need to prioritize some kind of flexibility and mobility practice into your week.
Ideally it would be a daily thing like this.
I know this isn’t as sexy stuff as tossing weights around, and I know it’s tricky to measure because gains in flexibility take time and are often incremental.
I’m telling you, though — this stuff is SO vital to maintaining a healthy body over the long run.
4) Focusing on Quantity Over Quality
“More is not better. Better is better. Do less, but do it better.” ~Craig Weller
This is one of my favorite quotes ever, because it hammers home the point that doing more for the sake of doing more doesn’t make sense.
So many of us grew up thinking that if we’re not crushed after a workout, it doesn’t count.
The quantity-over-quality mentality completely ignores the individual nature of training.
Quality should always trump quantity. You should never sacrifice good form, especially when heavy weights are involved. Take the time to find out your own specific issues and work to improve them slowly.
There’s a lot to consider when determining what type of training is best for you each day. How did you sleep last night? How stressed are you right now? How hydrated are you?
Training when you’re hurt, dehydrated, stressed out, exhausted, or not recovered from the last workout is as ineffective as not working out at all.
Taking your heart rate every morning and tracking it over time is one of the simplest ways to see how recovered your body is.
I use a neat tool called Morpheus that tracks heart rate and other metrics to determine a daily score of how ready you are to train and what type of training makes sense for your body each day, given how well-recovered you are. It’s been one of the most important part of my training over the last year.
Living in such a chaotic and stress-filled world, you have to consider recovery while training. If you neglect the impact of stress and just keep on piling on more and more exercise, it’s only a matter of time before the body breaks down.
5) Focusing on Looking Good Instead of Feeling Good
More often than not, those who prioritize looking good do so at the sacrifice of their health. And yet, all the mainstream coverage of men’s fitness focuses on looking good.
The magazine cover model. The ripped celebrity. The jacked football player.
Those are our role models.
Why aren’t we considering that every single cover model has to go on some restrictive diet to look cover-ready, or workout for 3 hours a day to get that lean? Or how about how the fact that they only look that lean for weeks at a time because it’s 100 percent not sustainable over the long run?
We’re being sold a bill of goods that’s simply not realistic. Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson, had a great post last year on Instagram where he thanked his team for all the accomplishments.
He has a TEAM of people.
He’s investing big money to make it happen.
He has a group of NASA SCIENTISTS working for him.
His salary is 100 percent dependent on how he looks.
Sure, if you have tens of thousands of dollars to burn and your livelihood depends on it, you might be able to look like that. But does that really make sense?
To me, how someone feels is more important.
How much energy do they have?
How well can they handle stress?
Do they have any bad coping strategies: booze, drugs, etc.?
How do their basic metabolic markers look? Resting heart rate, blood pressure, fasting glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, CRP, testosterone, and other key nutrient levels absolutely must be considered.
If you want to look like The Rock, ask yourself why.
Chances are, you won’t have a great answer beyond “looks” and “muscles.”
That might get you started on your journey, but it won’t last in the long run.
Focus on your health instead. You’ll find your WHY produces a much more satisfying answer.
6) The Rise of the Insta-Trainer
Related to our obsession with looking good is the rise of the Insta-Trainer: someone fit with good genetics who promotes their own system of training without any basic knowledge at all.
The barrier to entry for personal training has never been high, but now with the power of social media it’s been completely destroyed.
There is NO barrier to entry. Anyone and everyone can become a “fitness coach” simply by saying they are.
This is a huge problem.
As someone who’s been doing this for almost a decade, I realize helping someone change and achieve their goals is so much more than just helping them look the part. There’s both an art and a science to it.
It’s really about helping people become more capable human beings. Increasing their ability to follow through on what they said they would do.
That involves a lot of coaching and guidance, which are skills that take time to develop. The Insta-Trainer taking ab selfies all day simply doesn’t have the tool box to help people.
But many will fall for this trap thinking they can look that way without knowing anything about the trade-offs, and without considering the simple fact that their Insta-Trainer’s secret is that they won the genetic lottery.
What To Do Next
Did any of these resonate with you? If so, I’d love to hear which one. Drop me a message here: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to go deeper and figure out how to actually pull all this off in real life, despite your busy work schedule and full family responsibilities, you should check out my mini course below..
I’ll show you a simple system that addresses the mental, nutritional, and physical parts of health so you’ll never be lost in the gym again.
You’ll never have to go on some restrictive diet, because you’ll know exactly what foods work for you.
You’ll know how to manage stress so workouts boost energy instead of drain it.
You’ll know how to plan out your weeks to get workouts in without upending your busy life.
You can watch your first video in less than 20 seconds below.