Before going any further with the mystic change-for-life-fitness plan I’m proposing, we need to calibrate ourselves on a couple of points to avoid the disappointment of mismatched expectations.
When I say that personal trainers, badly equipped gyms, shaming magazines, and processed diet foods have different goals to you, that they’re out to keep you dependent on them rather than enabling you to get fit without them, that’s my view based on the way I see the world. It doesn’t mean that millions of people haven’t achieved their goals using the above tools, and done so quicker than trying to plot a path all on their own. What I am trying to say is summarised perfectly by Rob McElhenney, the creator of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, describing his radical body transformation.
“Look, it’s not that hard. All you need to do is lift weights six days a week, stop drinking alcohol, don’t eat anything after 7pm, don’t eat any carbs or sugar at all, in fact just don’t eat anything you like, get the personal trainer from Magic Mike, sleep nine hours a night, run three miles a day, and have a studio pay for the whole thing over a six to seven month span. I don’t know why everyone’s not doing this. It’s a super realistic lifestyle and an appropriate body image to compare oneself to.”Rob McElhenney, September 2018
To me, treating fitness as something that you spend the rest of your life doing, and iteratively perfecting that process yourself – tailored to your body – without the fad diets or fitness cheerleaders is the best way to do so: it’s cheaper, more reliable, and under your control. But it also involves learning many new concepts and solving your own problems.
And frankly, that isn’t for everyone. So let’s be clear, there are two things you need to ask yourself before you start getting fit:
- what sacrifices am I prepared to make?
- what are the likely results of that sacrifice?
If you’re prepared to count calories to the gram and deny yourself any pleasure from food; if you’re prepared to work out for a number of hours that are incompatible with a fulltime job; if you’re prepared to spend lots of money to get someone else to solve your fitness plateau and motivation problems, then perhaps my way of doing things isn’t for you.
Most people though, I’m guessing, will have a fulltime job, and lots of commitments to family and friends. And if you’re reading this you most likely don’t have a solid idea of how much you can sacrifice, or how to define the fitness that you want to achieve. Allow me, then, to set the boundaries of roughly what to expect.
In terms of results that can be achieved, that’s pretty much defined by you, but to give some examples of what this 40 year old man can do, my only encounter with distance running was a half marathon completed in under two hours with only a month of preparation; I’ve hiked up to Britain’s second highest peak with full camping kit (about 20kg); and I’m a few kilograms short of bench pressing my body weight, and at just under 6′ can deadlift 140kg (in terms of lifting, I consider myself very much a work in progress but that’s not bad); and I fit into 32″ jeans. Fitness training is just one thing I do, however, and a more committed person can expect to achieve much greater feats than mine. Certainly someone less stereotypically Scottish with a love of desserts and whisky should expect more.
What should you expect to sacrifice then? Simply put, exercising for an hour at least three nights a week spaced two days apart; being able to tweak your diet to cook from scratch more, eat less processed food, and more complex carbs and protein; a focus on rest, recovery and taking other things like alcohol and caffeine in moderation; and spending some money on joining a good gym / purchasing a rack and free weights, and potentially some food supplements. This is the bare minimum and corners cannot be cut from this.
Where the time and money come from, I cannot help you. To quote the misconstructed proverb attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Citadel, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” All I can tell you is that getting fit to any moderate level, even to that which I enjoy, is worth it. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself, paying you back over tenfold in increased energy and happiness, and improving your life in inenumarable little unexpected ways.