3 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting Fitness

Posted on June 19, 2017 in Beginners, Bulking, Cutting, Health, Training

I’ve been reflecting recently on my past seven years in the fitness game, and I have loved it, don’t get me wrong. I’ve spoken before about the many benefits of fitness success that carry over into the rest of your life.

However, I couldn’t help but notice that I have made a lot of mistakes. I’ve wasted a lot of time; time that could have been spent more productively. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes, and I think I can save you a little frustration.

Before we begin, I want to invite you to comment below; let me know about your mistakes, and if you agree/disagree with my big three. What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time?

So, what are the biggest three things I would tell myself if I could go back in time? (Ah, hindsight)

  1. Gaining muscle takes a long, long time, and force-feeding yourself doesn’t speed up the process.
  2. Dietary and training autonomyΒ are crucial for long-term, consistent results. Older guys, I know you think similarly to myself and tend to appreciate the value of long-term results, as opposed to instant gratification.
  3. 99% of supplements are a complete and utter waste of money. Seriously.

Why are these the big three? This knowledge essentially would have saved me a lot of time, energy and confusion. I would have gained more muscle, stayed leaner year-round, and saved a LOAD of money! I also would have enjoyed the journey even more than I have done.

Okay, now we know how important this is, let’s dive a little deeper.

Fitness
I could have been this guy by now, had I avoided these three pitfalls! https://www.flickr.com/photos/95128916@N00/14329182179/in

Number one: Gaining muscle takes forever. I’m not kidding. As a beginner, you will make significant gains, but even then, it’s not exactly instantaneous (despite what the industry will try and tell (bullshit) you).

The biggest mistake I made as a beginner was eating (and drinking) WAAAY too many calories. GOMAD doesn’t work. Force-feeding yourself doesn’t work (obviously).

Now, you can embark upon a “dirty bulk” if you want to, but the reality is that most people don’t like the way they look after a few months of doing so. If you’re tall and skinny, maybe this doesn’t apply.

However, in my experience, bulking too hard only serves to reduce the amount of time spent in a calorie surplus, which is the number one priority for gaining muscle.

In my opinion, the best way to gain muscle is to do whatever you need to do in order to maximise the length of time spent in a calorie surplus.

Number two: Autonomy is the secret ingredient to consistency. Having a freedom-based approach means that:

  1. You never feel too restricted. When people feel too restricted, they lose control and motivation. Every. Single. Time.
  2. You never get bored, and therefore enjoy the process.

Granted, when you’re trying to do something extreme, such as get down to 7% body fat (or lower (!)), or break records in a powerlifting competition, you will feel restricted temporarily.

Other than those rare exceptions, autonomy keeps you flying on the right path with minimal turbulence.

I think it was the legendary Eric Helms (I can’t say for sure) who described this using the pendulum analogy. Push it too far (psychologically), and guess what happens?

You swing back just as hard.

Now, don’t confuse dietary freedom with “Flexible Dieting”, or IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). This is really important:

You are not operating from a freedom-based mindset if you’re tracking every morsel that enters your mouth.

I do advocate calorie tracking especially for beginners. So, am I contradicting myself here? No, and I’ll explain why.

Calories are king. Energy balance (positive or negative) determines whether you are gaining weight or losing weight. Therefore, as long as you track your total calories, you don’t need to track all three macronutrients – it’s too restrictive for most.

Beginners need to track their total calories like a hawk, as they tend to be very inaccurate when guessing. Advanced guys can eyeball calories.

IIFYM does not equal autonomy. Flexibility just means that you are flexible with how you distribute your calories. Freedom is more than just flexibility.

For example, if your total calories are 1500, regardless of your macro set-up you will never feel free with such little food to play with.

More examples of guys who are too restrictive:

  • The guy who cuts too aggressively for his summer holiday, and gains all his weight back within a week; all his hard work has been sabotaged in SEVEN DAYS (!!!)
  • The guy who goes “cold-turkey” on alcohol, beer, sugar, chocolate, or just about anything else. Two weeks later at a friend’s party, he binges. Have YOU ever done this? πŸ™‚ All your hard work has now gone to waste.
  • The guy who sets up his ambitious, regimented new gym routine, with six training sessions per week. Only a small handful of exercises are used. Two weeks later, he hates the gym and never wants to step foot in one ever again. Again, I know many of you reading this have fallen into the same trap πŸ˜‰

Restrictions lead us to sabotage ourselves. You don’t need all these restrictions to make maximal short-term progress, and what’s more, they will screw you every single time in the long-run.

Read this and this, for great examples of certain unsustainable trends (not fads necessarily), that clearly stop working after a while. Despite this, people still argue for their effectiveness.

Being too restrictive never works in the long-run. Don’t try to change our flawed psychology. Instead of fighting it, I think it’s a great idea to build systems around it. Once we know our weaknesses, we can work around them.

Number three: Yes, literally 99% of supplements are indeed a waste. The only caveat is if you’re super busy, even with great time management skills.

I’ve made the mistake of wasting loads of money on supplements that make no difference to my results (again, in the long-term). I hope you don’t do the same.

I know, I know. The marketing and the promises of instant gratification can appear all too endearing. The perceived convenience is tempting. The sexiness of the brand new fat loss supplement, created by your favourite fitness guru can be very appealing.

Just realise that they won’t improve your body composition any more than food (or a lack of food) will.

I used to be obsessed with finding the “perfect supplement” or the “secret ingredient” that would give me that edge over everyone else. I was just yet to find this “magic pill/magic formula”. “One day, I WILL find it!”

Needless to say, that day never came πŸ™‚ Food is just as, if not more effective than any supplement. Food is great.

Having said this, convenience can be a legitimate factor if you’re a busy guy. But I just don’t want my readers to waste money due to the false perception of supplements being somehow superior. They aren’t.

Pre-workouts may give you a short-term energy burst, but they also reduce your recovery abilities. What is the net gain?

Zero.

Protein powder can be useful if you’re very busy. Again though, only if you’re genuinely busy. The key point here again, is to realise that it’s not superior to other protein sources such as chicken, for example.

To summarise, don’t make the same mistakes as I did, and you will be far bigger, stronger, leaner and slightly wealthier. Some pretty huge benefits when you think about it!

More time in a calorie surplus (bulking slowly) = Bigger and stronger

Less dietary and training restrictions/rules = Better long-term results with muscle gain and fat loss, and a happier you

Zero expenditure on supplements = Greater disposable income (supplements are NOT cheap, and add up over the years)

Hopefully, this will improve your fitness journey! πŸ™‚

 

  • Harry Davidson

    I agree that deprivation causes people to binge, definitely seen and experienced that many times. But the question is how do you ensure you’re making maximal progress without feeling deprived? Also, I’m not sure I agree that 99% of supplements are a waste. I’ve seen many guys get shredded with the ECA stack years ago, combining that with low carbs for example.

    • Maximal progress conflicts with deprivation, especially in the context of dieting. It tends to be unsustainable. It’s fine if you’re a younger guy with zero liabilities, but not if you have other areas of life that require constant attention. But yes it’s a difficult balance to strike, and in reality it takes years of experience and self-awareness.

      I agree that supplements can help with SPEED of progress. This could be the ECA stack, or the weight-gainer for the skinny kid. But neither are required to get to the end goal. Also, what happens when you stop taking these supplements? We both know that guys aren’t taking weight-gainers for the rest of their lives, nor the ECA stack. It breeds dependency. Guys need to learn how to get results consistently (i.e. eat the appropriate amount of food) without that crap.