Why you can't get ripped - because your strength is your weakness.

Train your weaknesses, but fight your strengths. Those words have been said to me more times than I can remember as an aspiring athlete, and now they are often in my head first and foremost when I work with my clients.

The thing about training is that it is supposed to build the body up, to make it better. If we are only making our ego feel justified then we’re not really doing that, are we? Imagine that fitness has four categories, for ease of reference. Let’s call those Strength, Flexibility, Endurance, and Body Composition. There’s obviously more, and some qualities fit in a few of those categories, but this definition will do for now. Let’s say you’re good at one of them as this is pretty typical. Maybe you’re really strong, but carrying some extra pounds, and if you could see your feet you still wouldn’t be able to touch them, and a walk around the block gets you breathing hard and sweating. So what do you do for training? Well, you lift weights of course!

And that’s the problem. It’s hard to constantly work on weaknesses. It’s no fun to do clams, or Ys and Ts, and it certainly won’t get you sweaty or develop a pump. This is especially true if your weakness is body composition related. Training – whether it’s for strength endurance, or flexibility – is “easy”. Easy in the sense that you only need to focus on it for an hour a day or so. But diet is something that is with you 24/ 7 until you hit your goal. There’s no relaxing if you have body composition goals. And eating well is just no fun! At this time of year there are plenty of social events, particularly if you’re in the US. Family gatherings, work parties – it’s a constant stream of potentially poor decisions from now until January for many. So what’s the answer? For our imaginary strong man, it’s go to the gym and lift weights some more.

But does that really address the weakness?

One of the tings about being Australian, yet having been educated globally, is seeing how poorly many Australians behave in the workplace. Turning up late, barely doing the minimum at their job, and deliberately trying to screw employers out of money. Have a think how many times you may have heard something like this, “I didn’t feel like coming in to work yesterday so I took a sick day! High five!”. Yeah, high five to you for being lazy and expecting someone else to do your work. Somehow, in our twisted way of rationalizing things we see that our laziness was us displaying a strength. How is shirking responsibility a strength? And why do we try to portray it as such?

This is a classic example of someone continuing to ignore their weakness – their laziness, or even their dislike for their job – and stick with their strengths, which would be their ability to either lie to the boss about the cause for the day off or their lack of concern for doing the right thing. In the gym this is seen by continuing the high load training and ignoring the fact that their cholesterol is sky high, their waist line bigger than their shoulders, and being so stiff they can’t tie their own shoes up. Who cares what your deadlift is if you die of diabetic complications at fifty?

Of the four elements listed above – Strength, Endurance, Flexibility, and Body Composition – only one is easy. That’s strength. It requires the minimum amount of time expense, and the minimum discomfort. That’s why people attach themselves so strongly to it, and continue just lifting weights when it is clear, even to themselves when they are alone with themselves. The first step in the process has to be recognising and admitting to yourself that you do actually have a weakness and it is time to address it. Allowing your weakness to be perceived as your strength is folly that will only end badly. Whether it’s from overly tight muscles, a heart that doesn’t work well, or high levels of visceral fat and an acidic environment for disease to flourish in, you need to work on these things.

But they’re hard. Having your heart rate elevated for long periods of time is painful. Just ask my clients who entered Spartan Race with me. They were used to hour long sessions, broken up with frequent bouts of rest. But to go long and fast means to endure that feeling of being awful for long periods of time. Mentally that is tough to cope with and breaks many. But the rewards are greater recovery, lower levels of body fat, and a feeling of general well being that can’t be replicated solely through lifting. Likewise, sticking to your diet is tough. The world is filled with delicious temptations and freinds, family, and co-workers who will do their best, whether accidentally or not, to undermine you and ruin it for you.

But address these weaknesses and you will find that not only will you have kept your strength, but you’ll have improved everywhere else too. All round fitness – being lean, strong, mobile, and fit – has an amazing impact on all areas of your life. From your performance at work to your social interactions to your sex life, being truly in good shape has a big impact.

So work those weaknesses. Whether it’s your diet and body composition, or needing to do more aerobic work, get out there and attack them. Be diligent in your practice of the skills necessary to succeed in those areas as you are in your strengths and you’ll find success “easy”.