The truth about training results
I’ve got good news and bad news for you. If you’ve been training for a while, it might not actually be news for you, but it might be something you don’t want to hear.
It’s something that has taken me a long time to realise and accept. I’ve been in denial about it for a pretty long time actually, right up to a couple of years ago.
It’s not all my fault; everything I read or heard from the fitness industry was keeping me in denial. Even as the truth became more and more obvious, they encouraged enough doubt in my mind to keep believing.
Ready? Here’s the hard truth about training and results:
No matter how hard you train, for how long, you won’t improve yourself that much compared to the average untrained person.
Your room for improvement, your potential, is actually very limited.
What do I mean? I mean that you can train until you’re sick everyday for ten years, be dedicated to a fault in the quest for pushing your physical boundaries and seek out every natural method, supplement or routine for improvement and after all that you won’t be superman when compared to someone who lives a normal, sedentary life.
You’ll be noticeably stronger or fitter than them. But head-turningly so? Measurably in a way that is worthy of all that effort and sacrifice?
It’s because training is a process of diminishing returns. You can make significant gains (in muscle, strength or fitness) in the first few months. The first year results are still on an upward curve. After that results will slow and slow until they pretty much grind to a halt after year 3.
After year 3, you’re pretty much just maintaining what you have.
This is the truth. The human body is an amazing machine, but it doesn’t go that far, and it certainly won’t reach the heights you associate with pro athletes, models or the ideals of physical fitness you see in the magazines.
Yes, some of that is genetics. But really, truthfully, a lot of it is because of photoshop, drugs, judicious advertising and the usual marketing propaganda.
Advert tag lines which mention limitations don’t really sell. Just look at every Nike advert, they’re all about how sacrifice and ‘hunting your goals’ will get you unbelievably far.
It’s a good sentiment to have, but the extent of the results you’re led to believe are possible is straight out of never-never land.
If you’re new to training this probably sounds ridiculous. Whenever I see a YouTube video from one of these self-proclaimed ‘natural’ gym gurus you can bet a million pounds there will a commentator outraged that said gurus natural status is being questioned.
“Of course they are natural! That’s what 10/20 years of hard work will do for you!”
If you’ve trained for more than a few years then look back on your results since you began- if you’re honest with yourself then you know that after a few years, results almost came to a halt.
The truth is that you fill out most of your potential in the first few years of hard training. The rest of the time after that, you’re just moving in miniscule increments towards a potential you’ll never get to.
When I was 21 I had been training properly for around three years. I remember imagining how far I’d get by age 26, or 30, inspired by the supplement companies and the magazines, all telling you how this routine was the new secret or how this model got their results through decades of hard training.
You can certainly get impressive results if you put time and effort into your training consistently. Just don’t expect to get anywhere near the poster boys and girls of the industry, at least if you’re planning on staying free of drugs.
For example imagine if you start off as a skinny 160 lbs. Can you get to 180 lbs of mostly muscle in 5 years? Absolutely.
Can you then get to 200 lbs of mostly muscle in the five or even ten years after that, if you train just as hard? No, because you filled out most of your potential in the first 5 years.
People, including younger me, don’t want to believe it. And the industry doesn’t want you to believe it either, because that way they can keep selling you the ‘new’ formulas, routines and ‘revolutionary’ secrets to perpetual growth and improvement.
But as I said, you don’t have to take my word for it. If you have been training hard for years and have never taken drugs look back on your progress and be honest.
Have you improved drastically since year 3? Have you really, honestly significantly changed for the better after that? But have you been just as dedicated, and worked just as hard?
The good news
If natural training really is like that, then why bother? Why do I keep going back in there, week after week, year after year when I know that at this stage I am basically maintaining what I’ve got?
It’s because for me training is only partly about the physical side of things.
I really believe that if you want to succeed in anything in life, what you really need to achieve is quality consistency.
Anyone can do something well once. Anyone can be enthusiastic about something at the beginning. Anyone can try hard for a short period of time.
If however you persevere and push for quality consistently you eventually develop a mindset where discipline and structure are fundamental to your mental stability.
In other words, the activity becomes more a mental progression than a physical one.
I know that right now I haven’t got huge physical improvements (at least in terms of strength and muscle) to look forward to, no matter how hard I train. A lot of my lifts have stayed practically the same for years now, and I certainly haven’t put on any significant muscle for a very long time. Nor am I likely to.
As long as I stay natural, that is the truth.
Where’s the good news? The good news is that if you stick with it training becomes a mental necessity that can positively spread discipline and tenacity to other areas of your life.
The good news is that if you realise and accept your limitations you are well-prepared to ignore all the false information and scams that are put in front of you everyday.
The good news is also that the process of getting to that standstill in results is instructive in itself. When I say by year three you stop really improving I mean year three after having put in three hard sessions a week for 156 weeks of those years.
If you haven’t been doing that, you still have room to grow.
If you do reach the point of low returns you’ll have exhibited a determination and tenacity that will have helped to forge a strong self-discipline and work ethic. Regardless of the fact that you’ll never get to that 180kg benchpress naturally, having that mindset is priceless.
That’s why I’m still there, week after week. That’s why I celebrate the increasingly rare small PRs. And still, it takes a lot of running just to stand still.
I’m ok with that, because some things are worth doing just for the sake of it.