The health and fitness industry is a really crappy industry a lot of the time.
Pretty much 90% of the marketing that goes into sports supplements or fitness programs revolves around a man or woman with washboard abs, and this isn’t going to change any time soon, because unfortunately; it works.
The problem with this is that the focus is often on the short term benefits of the products - like how they will help you get ripped in 4 weeks (read: not possible) or how they help you ‘detox’ (read: not actually a fucking thing).
When we start on our fitness journeys we buy these kinds of products, thinking they will do the same for us as they have done for the model in the ads, subconsciously or consciously setting ourselves a standard we want to aspire to.
But in actual fact this is rarely what happens.
Not only do we quickly realise that the model in the ads has likely devoted the vast majority of their time to keeping themselves fit, but we find out that there’s miles more work involved in getting that desired physique than we originally thought.
So what do we do? Just Give up? Or do we go all out and devote the vast majority of our time to getting in amazing shape?
Devoting your life to fitness
Realistically for many of us, getting in incredible shape will not be our primary goal in life.
It’s nice to have an amazing physique, it really is, but it’s also a little bit pointless.
Sure, if you’re a physique competitor or a fitness model who makes a living off their physique then the point becomes more obvious. But most of us want other things like to build a business or get married or get a masters degree.
Yet often, those who train strive for these model looks without actually needing to, resulting in us beating ourselves up about the extra few beers on a Friday or chocolate cake with the family.
I see so many men and women devoting their whole life to getting in incredible shape, yet they lack any passion for their day jobs and skip going out with friends.
That is not achieving balance.
So what is balance, really?
Balance is something that’s hugely important and often overlooked when signing up to training plans or diet programs.
These programs emphasise the short term goals and don’t actually teach you anything - merely making you sweaty, skinny and miserable over the long term.
Balance is defined in the dictionary as;
An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady
Perhaps we shouldn’t take this entirely literally, but it does show that without balancing life, you’ll fall one way or the other and it’s probably not going to be that much fun.
I’ve spent a lot of time doing different training plans, having ridiculous schedules, training in different kinds of gyms, living off tiny budgets and more. I’ve also been very weak, very malnourished and certainly don’t have genetics on my side when it comes to training.
That being said, I strongly believe there are three things that stay consistently in health, regardless of other variables in your life:
- Being strong is more important than physique (for both men and women)
- Educating yourself is infinitely valuable
- Long (and short) term mental health is more important than looks
Let’s have a look at these points in a little more detail.
99% of people who join a gym, whether they like to admit it or not, are there to look good.
It’s a really important element of balance in being able to realise that getting strong can be just as liberating as looking great, and is downright more useful.
Focusing on strength instead of physique alone will allow you to start setting goals you can stick to - focusing on how much weight you can pick up becomes almost a form of meditation. And I can tell you now there’s no greater feeling than beating a personal best.
Some people will scoff at this and think that lifting heavy weights is only for muscly guys, but I can assure you anyone will benefit from doing solid compound movements like bench and squat - especially girls.
Start moving your workouts away from 45 minutes on the treadmill and towards free weights - squat, bench, deadlift, military press - your body will thank you for it.
And here’s a not-so-secret-secret: the stronger you get, the better you start looking naturally.
Education is often overlooked in the fitness industry because those who are supposed to teach us rarely do.
How many times have you done a PT session and come away sweating but with no more knowledge of how to actually train than when you started?
To really achieve balance you must be able to integrate health knowledge into your life in a way that eliminates uncertainty when you make decisions about the food you eat or the training you take on.
For example, having a decent knowledge of macronutrients and how each will affect your insulin levels is something that will be forever valuable - yet getting someone else to plan your meals and attempting to stick to this plan long term is not.
It’s easy to learn about this kind of thing, from books like Grain Brain to awesome YouTube videos like Crash Course, even reading one book on health a year can have a big impact. Get a better PT. There are plenty who are willing to really teach their clients. Don’t fall prey to thinking you know everything - keep educating yourself and in the long run it’ll pay of for your health, and the health of your children.
Watch your (mental) health
Kate Moss once said;
Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels
Clearly, she’s never tried bacon.
Achieving balance directly impacts your social life and personal happiness. What is the point in doing something if it’s going to compromise how well you interact with others or if it makes you unhappy?
It’s great to become disciplined to the point where you can control what you eat and when, and it’s a healthy mindset, as that discipline rubs off on your career and motivation too.
But make sure you know when to relax! If you’re eating a roast dinner with your family, don’t say no to dessert; that time spent with them is more important than worrying about the extra sugar you’ll be eating.
Just know when to treat yourself and when not to, as these treats are very important for your overall mental wellbeing.
It’s hard to achieve balance, it really is. The points mentioned initially give us false hope in many ways, and the amount of information out there is confusing when it comes to diet.
I hope focusing on the three areas will have as much impact on your life as they have for me. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, look healthier than ever and I’m still able to go out with friends, study and work hard.
Try not to fall into the trap of starving yourself and doing lots of cardio, because balance is about strength, education and knowing when to treat yourself.