I just got back from nearly a week of vacation, during which time I limited how much time I spent on the internet. It can sometimes feel like I have to stay caught up with the unending stream of controversy and opinion in order to remain somewhat informed, but what I’ve found is that I can drop out of the information superhighway – lol remember when they used to call it that? – and then when I drop back in everything’s pretty much the same, and only the details have changed.
One thing did manage to wriggle its way into my consciousness, and while other people have ably torn it to shreds, I noticed something that I didn’t see anyone write about that I thought was important to talk about. I’m referring to the article on Bodybuilding.com titled How Lean Should You Get? The accompany graphic – the Fat vs. Muscle Matrix – got a lot of people seriously pissed off, and understandably so.
But here’s where my hackles really went up:
“If I have a female client at 19 percent body fat, I let her know she’s done. We shift the context to fitness-related goals like mud runs, training for a kettlebell certification, running a 5K, doing a tactical strength challenge—really, whatever fun and cool things you’ve always wanted to be able to do. You may get leaner from here, but it’s not necessary, and it’s not the goal.” I have two main issues with this. First, there’s the practical side of things, which is that people are actually going to be way more likely to stick with whatever physical activities they do if they actually…wait for it…enjoy them. Crazy, I know! People wanting to do things they actually enjoy, and not wanting to do things they don’t like doing. Who’da thunk it? I must be some kind of goddamned genius.
But seriously, I am so grateful I didn’t have a trainer like this guy when I first started trying to get fit and healthy. See, my path was like this: I found a thing I liked and wanted to be good at, which was running, and so over time, I started shedding the habits that weren’t helping me (like smoking and drinking excessively) and picking up new habits that did help me (like getting enough sleep and eating lots of green things).
It’s been a few years since then, and while I’m probably not “lean and hot” as per the standards of bodybuilding.com, I do consider myself to be pretty damn fit and strong. (And yeah, I like the way I look, too.) Best of all, I’ve trained myself and my body to do some really challenging things in the process, everything from open-water swimming to running a Boston qualifying time to busting out pull-ups and push-ups. That’s the shit that really pumps my ‘nads. Everything else is just icing.
If this had been presented to me as though I had to reach some arbitrary body fat percentage – and make no mistake, 19 percent body fat is totally arbitrary – before I could sign up for a mud run? That mud run would remain un-run to this very day. How do I know this? Because every time in my life that I tried to get in shape, I tried to focus on losing weight/body fat, and I’d get bored and annoyed so quickly that I’d quit within weeks.
But when I had exciting goals to focus on? I found it a lot easier to stay engaged and excited about what I was doing.If you’re trying to keep someone in this whole health and fitness thing for the long haul, dangling the “fun, cool things” as rewards in some far-off, distant future is likely not going to cut it. It might work for some people, but it wouldn’t have worked for me, and I really don’t think I’m some kind of anomaly here.
My second issue is more philosophical, which is that I’m really not a huge fan of this idea that you aren’t allowed to do fun, exciting things until your body is a certain way. It just seems so dreary and sad to me, and also so fraught with the potential for devastating loss and regret. I mean, what happens if you’ve always wanted to learn how to do Olympic lifting or you wanted to train to run a 5K, but you put it off until you reach that magical weight/body fat goal, and then you end up in some kind of terrible accident, or you are stricken with a life-threatening illness, or any number of life-disrupting events? This may sound dramatic, but this kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME. Our lives are not guaranteed, and so if you always wanted to learn how to do aerial yoga or be a runner or train to be a powerlifter, GO DO IT.
Don’t wait for that magical moment to arrive because as far as any of us knows, it may never actually get here. If you want to try something, you should go ahead and try it. If you want to have an experience, go ahead and have it. You don’t need to wait for your body to be a certain way before you try cool, exciting things. Your life is yours to lead and yours alone, and the hell with anyone who tells you otherwise.