We live in the age of information. At our fingertips lies the collected wisdom of all of civilisation. And a lot of cat videos. There’s so much information it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed.
So where is the best place to start?
I speak to a lot of middle aged men and women every single week and hear all their thoughts on where they are versus where they would like to be. When I speak to them I even make two headings on a piece of paper – Results and Reality. Results is where they would like to get to, and Reality is where they are right now. I then add a third heading to that piece of paper after we’ve spoken about both of these – Roadblocks. Most of the people I speak to are not beginners when it comes to exercise. In fact, many times they have worked with at least one other trainer, and many times with multiple trainers over a period of years. In their heads they know what they’re meant to be doing.
And yet, that end Result still evades them.
The end Result is usually not very difficult. Most people have tried and failed a number of times before speaking with me. They feel like their age is against then as they’re on the wrong side of forty. Or that it must be their genetics to blame. Or maybe even that because they don’t want to take drugs it’s all impossible. None of those things are true. Many times when I hear their goals I tell them that because of the minimum time I work with people for they’ll need to make their goals more challenging as we’ll tick off all of their goals in the first four to six weeks. In other words, they have tried and failed so many times they have lost all hope of even accomplishing things I think of as basic. As an example, many people tell me they’d like to lose some weight – perhaps ten pounds – and say they think it will take them six months. Nope. That’s four weeks for a middle aged man who does everything right.
And because of this enormous misunderstanding of what is required to actually get in shape past forty I thought I would write a primer for mature aged trainees. For ease of reference, this will be broken into three distinct types:
1) You are a beginner and know you are.
2) You’re still a beginner but mistakenly believe you’re not.
3) You’re actually in shape and want to get whatever extra you can extract from your body.
Most people are in category two. Category one trainees are easy to deal with and happy to be shown what to do. They have faith that they hired an expert and make great clients. Category three trainees are fantastic. They’re the ones that you use for marketing purposes with their awesome topless testimonial pictures and race times. Right now, out of exactly fifty clients, I have seven category threes and forty-three category ones. These days I tend to steer clear of category twos as I know I can’t be successful with them until they change their mental state and allow themselves to see where they truly are and what needs to change. Most simply are too attached to a particular image of themselves, what they perceive as their performance, and their ego gets in the way of any real success being achieved to make it worthwhile taking them on as customers.
So what makes a category two mistakenly believe that they are not a beginner?
That’s all. They believe that because they are training hard, and have some experience with that, that they are not beginners. However, and this cannot be stressed enough, just because you have a level of skill or experience in one area does not make you advanced or experienced in another. I can remember working with a pitcher in Major League Baseball. This was a lifelong pro athlete earning $2.5mil a year. He was able to throw a 94mph fastball for eighty pitches, eighty games a year. But he couldn’t do a single push up. Luckily, we both understood why we were there. I was there to help him start his season pain free and he was there to build strength and resilience for the upcoming season. We began at the beginning, as that was his level, and he was fine with that approach. That’s the mark of a professional.
In contrast, many category two clients come along expecting that they know what is right or wrong, despite all evidence to the contrary. Let me make some easy distinctions as to what classifies someone as a beginner:
I cannot stress this enough. If you are overweight you are a beginner. It shows clearly that you don’t understand diet and its importance in health. You also quite likely don’t understand the importance of sleep, general daily activity, training stress, and how to balance all of that so that you make progress. Even beyond all of that, being overweight places a strain on your system and predisposes you to multiple different life ending problems. Seven out of ten of the leading causes of death have to do with these misunderstandings. I don’t care if you can train the house down (although I’m yet to meet anyone in this category who can) your inability to understand that health must come first, places you in the beginner category. Until your mindset changes you will always be a beginner.
The second biggest mindset problem is that you tend to think of yourself as an athlete. Many identify with a particular tribe and will refer to themselves as a runner, a martial artist, or any other activity based label they can find. No, you’re not. You’re a human being and those are merely activities that take up small amounts of your week. Because of this misplaced identity you strive to become as specific as you can at your chosen (usually ill-performed) activity. Let me be clear – if you train an hour a day, which would be a fantastic start for most people ( and amounts to an hour a day of exercise), you’d still only train for less than four percent of your week. Can you really count yourself as a runner if you only spent four percent of your week doing it? If you were more honest with yourself you’d identify as a forty-plus year old office worker who runs daily for their health. Until you make the leap to being honest with yourself about your health, lifestyle, and athletic ventures you will always be a beginner.
The final big sign of being a beginner is your inability to perform basic exercises to a decent level. I can recall a recent client suffering from this delusion telling me how strong he was. Meanwhile, my seventy-eight year old mother who weighs nearly half of what he does, can out lift him. He suffered from all three of these delusions – overweight and not seeing how it was holding him back, focused on performance despite having a health issue that needed addressing, and unable to perform basic lifts to any real degree of competency. Not surprisingly, that relationship finished quickly as I realised I had an unteachable client on my hands. Many of the people in this category would be better off saving the money they want to invest into personal training and spending it on a therapist instead to better unravel all the insecurities and stories they tell themselves about their reality. Their lack of self-perception is perhaps the biggest giveaway as to their true status as beginners.
So what should a beginner do once they have identified their status?
First, and most important – drop excess bodyfat. Seventy percent of the world is overweight or obese. You can be fit but fat but you cannot be fat and healthy long term. The leading cause of death for over forties is heart attack, and seven of the ten leading causes of death are controlled through a good practice of diet and exercise. Frankly, that you are currently overweight says that you don’t actually know how to do this, or have several mental roadblocks stopping you from being successful. I know people will automatically react angrily to this and say, “But I know how to eat right”. To them I ask, how come you’re overweight? Is it just laziness, then?
They say actions speak louder than words. It doesn’t matter if you say you know how to eat right when what you’re showing me is you don’t. Your actions, or lack thereof, speak so loudly and clearly it doesn’t matter what lies you tell yourself as I can clearly see whether you truly know how to eat right or not. If you can tell me how far you ran yesterday but not how many calories you ate or how many grams of protein you had, you are a beginner.
Secondly, when it comes to training at forty-plus, more is not better. In fact, usually better progress comes from doing slightly less and backing off the intensity. I know all the fitness websites tell you to train harder, and you have this burning desire to prove that you can still hang with the kids, but the reality is that you can’t. Biology prevents that. The only thing training at high intensity all the time does for you is either burn you out or hurt you. Getting hurt is nature’s way of telling you to take a break and reduce your overall stress levels to something more manageable. Given the choice between adapting to a workout or surviving it, the body will always choose survival first. Adapting – growing muscle, losing fat, or changing structure within cells takes energy. When you are stressed you don’t have an energy surplus. As you get older, and biology is stacked against you, work pressure mounts up, the kids are being annoying…and suddenly you’re up to the eyeballs in stress. Add in even more stress in the form of some really hard workouts and your body has no choice. Next thing you know you’re training hard but you look like a water balloon. That’s stress.
The only way to make progress is actually decrease stress and training intensity so your body is able to adapt. This is something that is easy to take onboard for either a beginner or advanced client. They trust the process and are happy to be coached appropriately. The category two feels he or she knows better and tries to blast through with more volume and intensity, believing the problem is they’re just not working hard enough, and next thing you know they’re sick or hurt. Again, nature’s way of telling you that you’ve yet again over stepped the boundaries of your abilities and need to slow down.
The thing most people should do is simple – hire in a professional to help them and ditch their own ego. The fact you’ve been on the path for a while and seen no genuine improvement should tell you all you need to know about your actual abilities to objectively decide on what you need to do. However, ego doesn’t work like that and we’re all capable of telling ourselves some fanciful excuses to back up our own cognitive dissonance towards our results.
I got so sick of this with new clients that I created the 28 Day Challenge. It teaches people the most important pillars that support health and fitness, and does so in a way that leads to spectacular results in such a short time frame. I’ve had guys in their sixties run 100mi ultra marathons off the back of the 28 day Challenge, and others drop nearly twenty pounds of bodyfat in the month. I’m not kidding when I say that the program has likely helped more guys in their forties achieve a six pack than any other fitness program you can find. The program is designed to be truly helpful but it also weeds out people that I can’t work with. If you can’t follow the plan for a month I have no desire to work with you for months into the future. It’s an audition to see if you have the right mindset to be successful with your training or not.
The real roadblock to this entire thing is always the same – it’s you. It’s the mistaken belief that you are better and more capable than you really are, despite all evidence to the contrary. Until you fix that six inches between your ears, you always be a beginner.