Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate. The world wasn't formed in a day, and neither were we. Set small goals and build upon them - Lee Haney
image by: artisticco
Ever learned something new? Of course you have, you’re sitting upright and reading this in English, so already we’re looking at three things I’m assuming you weren’t able to do when you were born. Too simple? Okay, do this for me. Close your eyes and try to remember the first time you did any of the following:
- rode a bike
- drove a car
- learned to play an instrument
- learned a new language
- had… relations
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it wasn’t a very glamorous first attempt. Seriously, don’t lie, or I’ll ask your parents/driver’s ed teacher/guitar instructor/Spanish teacher/high school girlriend for the truth.
But honestly, did any of us have that high of expectations? I have three kids. I’ve already watched two of them learn how to ride a bike and have seen plenty of scraped knees and high-speed tire-to-tire collisions. In a few years I’ll master the art of sitting in the passenger’s seat when they learn to drive, wondering at what speed it becomes more life-threatening to tuck and roll out the door than it does to remain in the car. I might get to see one of my kids angrily drop his guitar when he keeps messing up his AC/DC solo because he can’t quite get the pentatonic scale just yet. Maybe I’ll overhear one of them that their llamo es Ethan and “donde esta el bano?”. And that last one… will never happen because my kids are never moving out of my house and I will chaperone them everywhere they go forever. Shut up.
Seriously, we spend the better part of our lives learning new skills and failing at them, and you know what? It’s accepted. It’s understood. We don’t have to like it, but it’s a part of life. We aren’t born with the ability to drive a manual transmission sports car while playing the solo to “Back in Black” and singing the lyrics in Spanish (unless you are, in which case you’re my hero now and forever).
Yet when it comes to getting in shape and everything that comes with it, we have an innate fear of sucking. We quit REALLY EASILY. Raise your hand if you’ve ever started a diet and quit before the first day was even over because you didn’t realize that a potato wasn’t a vegetable and OH MY GOD I JUST BLEW EVERYTHING OH HEY IS THAT BURGER KING?! Or we join a gym on January 1, and have stopped going after 3 weeks because I don’t have gunz like Schwarzenneger yet and I can only squat 50 pounds and I AM SORE IN PLACES THAT I THOUGHT WERE ONLY USED FOR BABIES TO COME OUT OF AND I’M A GUY SO WHY DOES IT HURT LIKE THAT?!
Somewhere along the way, as a society we all just sort of decided that this is a thing we’re supposed to be good at. But it’s not. Want examples? Sweet, I’ve got plenty.
Ever wonder why some people do these big transformation competitions come out the other side looking like they were carved from granite, while you did it and came out with hunger pangs and sweat stains in all of your “going out” t-shirts? It’s probably because the first guy has done this like three times before, he’s been logging his food since Nixon was president and he can tell you exactly how many grams of fiber are in a cup of quinoa off the top of his head, while you’re still trying to figure out if green beans are a vegetable or a legume, and what the hell is a legume, and how do you pronounce it anyway? Is it le-GOOM or le-GYOO-me?
Trainers and gym rats are also terrible at this when they’re talking to somebody new to the gym. I remember a few years ago, I was working with a new client who was a very in-demand electrical engineer and we were doing his first training session. In a single sentence, I asked him to grab a pair of 25lb dumbbells, told him to load 10lbs onto each side of a barbell, and grab hold of a TRX. After much, MUCH confusion, I saw him try to put a spring collar onto one end of the bar. First he tried to slide it on, and when it wouldn’t go on, he then tried to pound the collar onto the bar with his palm, before finally giving up with the most dejected expression I may possibly have ever seen on somebody’s face in a gym. It was at that moment that it dawned on me that I had basically spent the entirety of our time together asking him to do things that he had no idea what they meant, and I never even stopped long enough to teach him first. Even though I KNEW it was his first day in a gym. Ever. I was the living embodiment of what happens when you assume…
I used to make that mistake when helping clients with their nutrition too. Their first nutrition consultation I was giving them protein goals, talking about their macros, bringing up cycling carbs around their workouts, only to find out two weeks later that they hadn’t made any changes because I never explained to them what protein is and they were too intimidated to ask.
Those situations might sound funny to some of you, and they might strike a huge chord with others, depending on which side of the fence you sit on. If you’re a fitness enthusiast, you probably assume that everybody knows exactly what you’re talking about, because you’re so deep in the Matrix that you forgot what it was like to be new. If you’re new, you’re so used to your fit friends talking to you in a way that you can’t understand, but they make it sound so effortless that you feel like an idiot if you have to ask them, “what… what’s a kettlebell exactly?”
This is a call to those of us in the fitness world to do a better job of making our world a little less intimidating to those entering it for the first time. I know if I took a guitar lesson for the first time and the instructor said, “okay, I want you to do a run in an A pentatonic scale and I want you to make sure your vibrato is nice and clean, and maybe give me a pinch harmonic or two to really drive it home”, I may have ended up in the corner chewing on my guitar and weeping. Yet that’s basically what I did to the client I mentioned without realizing it. Ever since, I’ve embraced the concept of teaching the basics and never presuming. More of us should do the same.
And if you’re brand new at this and feel overwhelmed by everything that you feel like you’re supposed to know but don’t, know this: when I was 8 years old I drove my Huffy straight into a pine tree at what felt like 30 miles an hour. Eventually I figured it out. So will you. Let me know if you need some help.
Source: Zach Trowbridge, Fitness is a Skill, and It's OK to Suck at it, All Strength Training, March 29, 2016.