4 myths the fitness industry wants you to believe
Heading into the festive season, and more pertinently the New Year’s resolution zone, marketing and media departments everywhere are going into overdrive to tap into that annual hysterical cocktail of consumption, commercialism and above all wildly over-optimistic aspiration and ‘self-renewal’ that occurs when one arbitrary number changes to another.
We all know advertising is, let’s say, ‘creative’ in manipulating us for profit; the fitness industry is of course no different.
Here is a short list of some of the most common myths companies chasing your 2015 gym membership want you to believe.
1. Fitness can be easy
The number one thing every fitness product wants to sell to you is the idea that buying it will make the path to being in shape easy.
People are seduced by the promise of quick gains and maximum results with little effort. Hence the popularity of routines that proclaim a six-pack from only training once a week or formulas that will ‘pack on’ muscle. Everything is a new ‘secret’ or ‘revolutionary’ that leads to a ‘transformation’.
This has been going on for decades now and as a result it has become almost common sense to believe that if you find the right routine, or buy the right product, fitness can be easy. If it were that easy, wouldn’t everyone be in shape by now?
Reaching fitness goals is actually very simple. You have to just understand the biology behind it and accept that you can’t have it all.
There is no natural way to eat whatever junk you like and get very lean, even if you train.
There is no natural way to put on pounds and pounds of real muscle in a short time once you have gotten past your 1st year of training.
You cannot naturally build muscle and shed fat at the same time.
You can do all of that, if you take drugs. But if you don’t fancy injecting yourself regularly or damaging you internal organs?
Learning to eat healthy, learning how to train and sticking with a program consistently week in, week out for years is what will make results. It is really that simple.
But not easy. And it never will be.
2. Results can be fast
If you want to play the piano well, is it realistic to think that by playing once a week you can be good in 3 months from scratch?
If there were adverts claiming ‘never played a note to concert pianist in 12 weeks using this formula!’ they would be considered a joke.
Yet this is basically what the popular fitness ‘transformation’ before and after adverts are showing, without any irony.
Learning to play the piano well takes a long time because you have to teach your fingers and your brain a new skill, which takes practice and dedication. There is obviously a limit to how fast this adaptation takes place: you can’t just sit at a piano for 10 hours a day and practice, it will be counter productive because your body can’t assimilate that quickly. Even if you are a quick learner, adaptation takes time.
There’s also no way of knowing how good you can get even with all the practice in the world: not everyone can be a concert pianist; everyone has a different starting level of talent beyond which they can’t surpass.
The exact same rules apply when it comes to being fit, strong and in shape.
Training, either lifting weights or increasing your endurance is also a skill that involves body adaptation over time to become more efficient and more prepared to execute that skill.
Some people are naturally predisposed to be big and strong, others are more naturally good at endurance. Some people can jump higher than others.
How is it that becoming a very high standard pianist in 6 weeks is not taken seriously while becoming lean and muscular in the same timeframe is believed to be possible?
Because fitness marketing has been bombarding the public with misinformation and propaganda for decades.
Achieving a high level of fitness (whatever your goal- endurance, strength, muscularity, tone) takes time. There is no way around it, unless you take drugs.
3. Eating more = more muscle
This one took me personally a while to get past. When you’re a skinny teenage boy who wants to build muscle but knows next to nothing about it it seems logical to believe that you need to eat more to grow.
They’re right, you need to to feed your body enough fuel to make sure it can build muscle after training.
As it so happens most teenage boys tend to eat a lot anyway, mostly without any risk of getting fat: it’s the one period in your life where you can get away with murder diet wise, such is your metabolism.
At such an age you are also going to see some big body changes as your hormones kick in.
Along with the ‘newbie’ gains you get from your first year of training this is the one and only time you can actually put on 20-30 lbs of real muscle in a year, and see a drastic change in a short time.
So far, so good.
The problem comes when you think this can continue as you become older and more experienced in training.
If you are natural, you gains will slow drastically, because in truth you fill out a lot of your genetic potential in your initial transition from being a boy to having a more adult physique. There is a lot of room to get stronger, but as we know muscular limits are finite and fairly conservative for most people (see more on determining your maximum muscular potential).
Building excessive amounts of muscle is really not what your body wants to do. From a purely survival standpoint having too much muscle is going to hinder your ability to go without food as well as taking more energy to move around, with the extra weight and stress on the joints.
Your transformation during puberty or the physical differences between men and women showcase just how powerful hormones are. Your ability to build and retain muscle is only as good as your natural testosterone level.
Of course you have to eat and train to build muscle but the amount you eat is categorically not the limiting factor.
Fitness and supplement companies don’t want you to know this, because if you do, you’ll probably stop buying their products and just stick to regular food. That’s why they use steroid using bodybuilders or fitness models to advertise their products, implying that if you do too you can also be 220 lbs of muscle at 8% bodyfat.
I’m sorry, but you can’t without a needle. And it’s not because you don’t eat enough, it’s because you don’t have the external hormone assistance necessary to do it.
4. You don’t have to compromise anything
I think if you compare today’s world with the one of even 30 years ago, people’s expectations have risen drastically.
Before I believe expectations for life in general were a lot lower.
If you take something like travel as an example the cost and exclusivity of even short trips abroad meant 30 or 40 years ago people didn’t really expect to do it, or at least not very often; long distance even less so.
Nowadays young people from Western countries not only expect to travel, but almost see it as a rite of passage, or a basic right. Trips to Thailand these days are not quite the rare exotic spiritual experiences they perhaps once were.
It is the same with careers. Whereas stability and putting money on the table were the most many people would expect from a job before, nowadays the privileged youth expect and demand stimulating, interesting and well-paid careers.
Evidently on the whole it is a change for the better, because it means opportunities are more available for everyone, not just the gilded elite as in the past (I say ‘more’ because I know there is still a very real gap between the haves and have-nots, but it has closed somewhat).
However this attitude is not necessarily realistic or sustainable. Everything has give and take, there is a balance to be struck somewhere if you want to achieve or do something properly.
More and more I think the fitness industry is a reflection of this ‘I want more without compromise’ attitude.
Knowing that people don’t want to sacrifice anything they promise that their product, their supplements, their routine, is the one that can mean you can be fit while not training too much and still largely eating what you like.
Put bluntly, this is complete bullshit.
If you want to reach your fitness goals, there are no shortcuts. It’s not like getting a career in the media; nepotism doesn’t exist when it comes to your body and its abilities.
You have to work your way up, pay your dues and be dedicated. You’re going to have to make sacrifices and prioritise your sleep, healthy eating and train at times when you’d rather be eating popcorn in front of the TV.
Remember, some people will tell you anything in order to make a sale. The old adage of ‘if it looks too good to be true, it probably is’ is spot on here.
Just like get-rich-quick schemes are invariably scams, get-fit-quick products and services should also be viewed with suspicion.
There is no quick, drug-free way to get great results and be in great shape while half-assing it or not being dedicated.
Short of taking drugs there are no magic supplements that will allow you to beat nature and your genetic make-up.
Above all, you can’t get something for nothing and you definitely can’t have it all.
Gimmicks, fads and the short-term approach never work. Sustainable fitness is a journey, and all you need is the right mentality and dedication which applied over time WILL lead to amazing results.
The best thing is they are both free!
For a beginners template to follow click here.
For an intermediate template to follow click here.
For more about mentality, see this post.