I love my life, plain and simple. To say that I don’t have a good time on a daily basis would be dishonest. I pretty much get to do what I love on the regular, and spend time with family/friends as much as I want.
But my life is not all unicorns and rainbows as the saying goes. In my 26 years on this earth, I’ve been through a lot. I’ve experienced great pain, and suffering. I’ve been to funerals, and visited families of friends who died way too soon.
I’ve lost friends to drugs, alcohol, and brain tumors.
I’ve watched friends suffer the loss of their mothers and fathers.
I’ve lost family members to degenerative disease and cancers.
The truth is this: Life is hard. I know – read my story.
Life’s full of lessons, difficulties, trials, pain, and yes, eventual demise.
We will all perish at one point. We’ll grow old, weak, and frail. Our flesh will return to the organic matter we stand upon. Our bodies will become a feasting ground for worms and various other decomposers.
Now think about this for a second.
Imagine this life of yours was going to end a week from today. What would you do? Where would you go? How would you spend your money? Who would you spend your time with?
These are all important questions to ask yourself, and there’s a good lesson as to what you should be focusing a majority of your time and efforts on when you arrive at the answers.
Why Getting Jacked, Strong and Lean is Never Enough
Recently, I was having a conversation with someone I’ve been interacting with for some time. I consider this guy a friend, and we were discussing various goals as they pertain to strength and aesthetics.
Knowing this guy’s history, he’s struggled with body dysmorphia, fat gain, and what some might call the typical Former Fat Boy Syndrome.
He eventually asked me what I thought about being super ripped (as in below 8% body fat).
In short, I told him that I believe it to be ‘overrated.’
Then he asked if I thought it was a good, long-term strategy to attempt the maintenance of a sub 7-8% body fat physique.
I replied with “no, simply because it’s just not practical, at least in my experience, for the majority of people.”
The reason I said this is because almost all of those I know of who have dieted down to very low body fat percentages tend to experience negative side effects associated with the low calorie intake it took to get them there.
Some of those sides are a drop in metabolism (signified by cold feet, hands, low body temperature and a low pulse rate), a drop in thyroid hormones (as revealed by labs), loss in libido, dry skin, generally being more irritable and cranky, a rise in stress hormones, and let’s not forget about hunger.
I know because when I’ve been under 8-9% body fat multiple times, I just don’t function well. I’m obsessive about my intake, generally less resistant to cold temps, and I have a really hard time getting it up if you know what I mean.
When I’m super lean, my body is much more concerned about keeping me fed, and preserving energy, than it is allowing me to much of anything else.
After lots of thought about this, I’ve made the personal decision that being photo shoot-ready all the time is
- Not worth the effort (basically a waste of time for me)
- A mental headache dealing with my eating/training schedule
In general, I feel the absolute best, am my most productive, and perform optimally in the weight room (and in the sack) when I am anywhere between 10-15% body fat.
This is my lot in life, and I accept that.
I don’t have grandiose expectations anymore of maintaining my size and strength for long periods at a very low body fat percentage. I know I’ll eventually give in to the cravings, and eat my way back up to a healthy weight.
But here’s the message I really want to hammer home for all of you reading.
In this email discussion, we got pretty deep. We got to discuss the why’s and reasons we’re training and aiming to be super lean, etc.
Then it hit me when my friend wrote this in a response:
Thing is, in the past, I always told myself that if I got to where I am now, which is 10-12% body fat, with an athletic build, that I’d be absolutely thrilled.
Except now I’m pretty much there, and it’s kind of like, “meh.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not depressing me or anything, but I guess it just hasn’t brought me the complete fulfillment I expected. Every now and then, I even feel like it’s not enough… so much that if I’m such a fitness dude, I should maintain single digit body fat. It’s like I need to lose that that 5 extra pounds to feel awesome or something.
The bold is my emphasis.
Do you see what’s going on here? I know this guy’s history, and he’s actually made incredible strides with his physique. Most guys his age (under 20) would be jealous of his round muscles, and ab definition.
The problem is we’re under an assumption that building an ideal body will give us all the pleasure and satisfaction we long for.
Here’s your wake-up call.
Being lean, or jacked, or gaining that 10 extra pounds will never ever satisfy you in the way you think it might.
In fact, it just may make you even more upset with yourself. You might be wondering how you can achieve your goal, still be unhappy with yourself.
The truth is, as I’ve found personally, is that it’s not really about building the physique to a certain level. It’s more about what we believe that physique will do for us.
For most guys, there’s a belief that if we get jacked, lean, and have a full row of abs, the girls will fall into our laps begging us to rip their clothes off.
But they won’t. The girls might not even notice our new body.
For all the guys who tell me they’ll get laid more once they have a six-pack, I always ask, “how often are you getting laid now?”
No matter what their answer is, I usually respond with this: “have you ever considered that you’ll probably get laid less when you’re super lean?”
Most never believe me, until they realize for themselves that an awesome body doesn’t always mean more attention. Not to mention the general disinterest in sex when your libido crashes from being so low on calories and body fat.
Wow, this sucks, huh?
Or some people believe that having a new body will mean they are guaranteed success when they go out into the world, or college or whatever their next big step is.
Nope – no guarantees.
For women, I’ve seen them reach their goal weight, or completely transform their body, only to have sabotaged their relationship with food, or develop disordered eating patterns.
The same goes for guys too – I get emails all the time from men who are afraid to eat certain foods for fear of fat gain.
The problem is most of these guys are 5’11” and 140lbs. Super skinny, with hawt abz but afraid to eat and pack on any size because of a little fat gain.
It’s messed up, no?
We Have To Fix Our Heads
This is not a problem with the heart, or with our desire to get things done. If you’ve ever experienced a physique transformation, you know how awesome it is to look back at your records, and see the positive results.
It feels good to set a goal and reach it. You have heart. You have determination.
So what’s missing?
Part of it’s not having other goals outside of fitness, and it’s also due to poorly managing your expectations when it comes to building your physique, and nutrition in general.
Managing Your Expectations: Physique and Performance Goals
Then, once you know your goals, you have to set up a plan.
We can talk about that another time. For now, I want you to think about your personal expectations.
Are you expecting to be the next IFBB pro? Do you want to compete in figure shows?
Or do you just want to be strong, and athletic-looking? Regardless of the goal, you need to first learn acceptance of yourself.
Understand that you are unique in the sense of having your own genetic make-up. Your muscle bellies are short, long or somewhere in between.
If your bone structure is rather large (thick joints, big hands, etc), then you’re on the favorable side of the genetic spectrum.
If this is not you, there’s no reason to give up, or give in, but simply be mindful of what’s possible for you. You may not be the next Mr. Olympia, but you can still amass a respectable physique. It just may take more time, and work than for the genetically blessed.
They say we grossly overestimate what we can accomplish in a year, and severely underestimate what we can in 5 years. I heartily agree. I’m known to bite off more than I can chew. I’m working on this.
Make this a race against yourself, and see how far you can take it. I can’t give you any hard numbers on how much talent, or genetics will affect your results, but I know that working smart, and being diligent will take you farther than any amount of talent can for those who rely on that alone.
In short, set a goal, but don’t put a hard date on it. Have an idea of what you want to accomplish, and then enjoy the daily grind of loading the bar, and getting stronger.
Enjoy the good food you’ll eat, and time you spend with others who are like-minded. Oh yeah… If you don’t have a support group, find one. It can take you far.
The Downtimes – Embrace Them As They Will Come
There will be times when you’re sad, or discouraged. I’ve had many setbacks in my many years under the bar. I’ve had various minor shoulder injuries where I’ve had to completely abstain from pressing.
You can imagine how this may have shattered my expectations of hitting a certain number on the bench press, or continuing my boulder-shoulder construction.
But you know what? You get through it. It’s called a setback for a reason, and I can promise you they will come. Lift weights long enough, and you will eventually experience some type of injury. It’s just part of the deal.
However, the benefit of being strong, muscular, and functional greatly outweighs being puny, feeble and weak does it not?
Set goals, but accept there will be bumps in the road. Nothing worth having ever comes easy.
Having Goals Outside of Fitness
A long time ago, I was taught that if you ever want to attract people or opportunities into your life, you must focus on two things:
- Becoming a better person from the inside out (personal development, reading books, continued education, and generally becoming a more interesting individual).
- Learning to pursue something much bigger than myself.
I’ll give you my personal example.
I’ve always had an interest in becoming a better ME. I know that my contribution to the world starts with what I’m filling my head and heart with.
If I’m not aiming to improve my own life, how can I ever improve or help someone else? How can I ever teach a lesson, or guide someone through his or her physique transformation, if I’ve never taken the time to grow?
So as you might imagine, I highly value the ability to learn on a daily basis – whether it be through daily reading, listening to podcasts, editing my writing, spending time with mentors, or even meditation (something I’ve been practicing since July 2012).
The other important lesson I’ve learned is to pursue something much greater than myself. And that something is what I’m currently doing with my life – my fitness writing, coaching, training, etc.
For the longest time, I was unfulfilled. I was lean, strong, and worked crappy jobs. I was in and out of college, and felt lost as some might say.
This is when I first learned that being lean, or having an amazing body wasn’t the answer to all my frustrations.
When you’re choosing not to go out for drinks with friends so you can stay in to hit your calorie goals, you’ve got your priorities mixed up.
Because of the importance I placed on my fitness and nutrition, I became disappointed when my efforts didn’t meet my expectations. I could never be happy.
Here’s another example.
Most recently, I was quoted in the November 2012 issue of Men’s Health. Now I have to say I’m extremely pumped because this is a big deal for me, as this is my first appearance in a major fitness publication. See that picture below? That’s MY NAME THERE!!
I remember going into the store and picking up a copy on the shelf. I danced a little bit in the aisle as I read my quote, and saw the training program I designed in Men’s Health of all places!
My mother was ecstatic as I met her for breakfast the next morning.
But guess what? That accomplishment didn’t deliver what I thought it would. It didn’t make me feel any different. It was just something I wanted to achieve, worked for, and it happened. I made the friends, and wrote the content.
All in all, I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to major magazines, but I understand that it’s just a part of what I do now. It doesn’t define me, or make me feel a certain way.
Learning To Manage Your Expectations
This is not easy, but I encourage you to think about this. For if you do, it just may change your perspective on many things in life.
Please understand that fitness is merely a part of your life. You’re going to live a long time (hopefully), and you have so much time to realize your potential.
I’m not saying to be lazy, and I’m surely not suggesting you take any shortcuts.
What I am saying is to understand that for the majority of us who are not professional models, actors, or constantly in the spotlight, there is no real reward for having a super lean or jacked physique.
There is no pressure except the pressure we put on ourselves.
So ask yourself the question, “will attaining this physique-related goal make me happy or give me pleasure or [INSERT WHATEVER HERE]?”
If you answer yes, then I’m happy for you. Congratulations.
But if you’re like the rest of us, and answer no, what else can you place your focus that will bring you more fulfillment, as you crush your fitness goals on the side?
Hit me with your thoughts in the comments.