Blame your parents
You know the old adage of as you get older you realise everything your parents told you was right?
In the main, I’ve increasingly found it to be true: a lot of the stuff that had you rolling your eyes when you were a teenager turns out to be pretty spot on as you get older and you realise more about what life is about.
There is, however, one major thing your parents are likely to have told you that is patently untrue.
You can be whatever you want to be! Work hard and you’ll get what you want!
Ok, so I know that no-one has ever meant this literally when they’ve said it to their kids, and it’s largely used as a spur of motivation to get them to do their homework, but for the generation of us who grew up in the 90’s I think this attitude has had a profound effect on the way the world lives these days.
Today we exist in a no-limits, want-it-yesterday environment where no-one wants to be told they can’t have or do something. But is everyone living and doing what they dreamed or wanted to do?
Of course not, because unfortunately life is inherently unfair: some people work their butts off and don’t get any reward, others don’t have to work and get to enjoy the things they want.
How is this even related to training? What am I going on about?
Although they obviously meant well, you parents lied to you. Just because you want something, and work hard for it, and strain every sinew for it does not mean that you will get it. People do not often get what they deserve, and undeserving people often get what they don’t work for.
It’s because aside from life being unfair, everyone has limitations.
Unbeknownst to you a lot of your life potential is decided before you’re even born. The moment your parents meet and decide to have you is going to decide a large part of what you’re capable of achieving.
In a physical sense, this has a huge impact. You get your genetics from your parents, and no matter what you do, they will be the biggest factor in what you can achieve from a training perspective.
I sometimes get asked by people about what they can do to achieve a training goal. Commonly it is a skinny guy who has been knocking himself out to build some muscle or a big guy for whom diet and cardio doesn’t seem to work.
The last thing I want to do is demotivate anyone, or sound like a huge pessimist. One thing I really respect in people is the willingness to try and do things to change themselves, especially if it is difficult.
But I also want to be straight up, and honest. So I tell them the first thing to remember is this:
You have to recognise your limitations. Just like not everyone is going to be tall enough to play basketball well, not everyone can get the physique they want.
If you’re naturally slim, with a small bone structure then I’m afraid that you’re just not going to be able to build a lot of muscle. If you’re naturally large framed and put on weight very easily you’re never going to have a fitness model physique.
It’s a perhaps unpalatable truth. But the idea of accepting limitations and genetics is something that is avoided in todays ‘you can be anything’ world.
Those guys have probably read and followed the advice of fitness magazines and internet sites that tell them they need to do this or eat that, maybe linking it with the example of a fat guy who turned himself into a model or a skinny guy who put on a ton of muscle and became a champion bodybuilder.
I’m not saying that you can’t make big changes to yourself through application and hard work. Someone who grinds away and manages to lose a lot of weight or put on a decent amount of muscle should be applauded.
But you can’t overstep your genetic strengths and weaknesses. No-ones perfect, and we all have flaws. Just like some people aren’t intelligent enough to study quantum mechanics some people are just not cut out to be physically great.
I hope that I’m not coming across as a pessimist and a being a huge kill-joy. I actually think that if you can face up to it and accept it you can make it a positive thing, by not trying to be something you’ll never be. In the long run having realistic expectations and meeting them will make you happier.
When I was a teenager and starting to get into training and lifting I had no idea about the concept of limitations. No-one told me otherwise. The magazines and supplement brochures all told me the opposite: bust your ass, eat the right stuff and you can be just like athlete XYZ or look like this guy.
The reality is that you have to play with what you’ve got. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all probably know where we are genetically talented, and genetically weak.
But in the fitness world, no-one wants you to believe it.
Here’s an example.
One of the most pervasive ‘labels’ in fitness is the idea of the ‘hard-gainer’ i.e. someone who has a naturally high metabolism that means they find it very hard to put on muscle weight, or any weight for that matter, even when eating a lot.
Setting aside the fact that many so-called ‘hard-gainers’ are probably teenage boys who eat a large pizza a couple of times a day and then complain they can’t put on weight (pretty much every teenage boy has a ridiculously fast metabolism), such people do of course exist: there are a lot of genuinely thin adult guys out there who find it very difficult to add strength or muscle to their frames.
The first piece of advice to these guys should be that, drugs aside, there is no real way to make them big and muscular. No amount of eating or training is going to get you over your genetics, just like stretching for 10 hours a day isn’t going to make you taller.
They might not want to hear it but it’s the truth: to say otherwise would be like promising someone with an IQ of 80 that if they study hard enough they can go to Harvard. It just isn’t ‘written in the stars’ so to speak, your parents didn’t give you the genetics to do it.
But you don’t sell product like this. Instead I’ve seen it be said so many times that they just need to eat more. Eat more, train harder. Want it more. Use this supplement.
This stuff is said with a straight face by someone clearly on a lot of drugs and probably a favourable genetic disposition to build muscle in the first place.
Or they’ll point to a ‘transformation’ where judicious use of photoshop and steroids has got a ‘hard-gainer’ onto the pro-bodybuilding circuit, all-natural.
What will happen to you if you follow this advice? You’ll just get fat.
The truth is that naturally your genetic make-up is going to be THE determinant in how far and well you progress in training. No amount of ‘wanting it’ or ‘training intensity’ is going to make up for that.
Like I said, I’m not writing this to be disheartening. There’s still every incentive to train hard and strive to be the best version of yourself that you can become. That’s one of the most admirable things about physical training: you’re at least trying to get to your potential, which takes a courage and drive most people lack.
As always with this blog I just want people to be AWARE. The human body is an amazing machine but there’s only so much it can physically do. Everyone’s machine is slightly different, and unless you start adding ‘performance-enhancers’ you will hit capacity limits.
Don’t let anyone or anything tell you otherwise: unless you’re prepared to take drugs, there is nothing out there that is going to change it. Supplements, special routines, secret tips or equipment don’t mean anything in the grander scheme of consistency and hard work.
If you’re been knocking yourself out to achieve a training goal and nothing is working then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate and come up with realistic targets suited to your particular body type.
Or you can just blame your parents.