I share a trait with a lot of small business owners I’ve met, which is a constant low-level anxiety that tomorrow I’ll wake up and no one will want my services. My specific thinking goes something like this: there’s such an abundance of free and high-quality information out there that surely no one will pay me to help them with their fitness journey.
The thing that serves to ameliorate that anxiety the quickest is the collection of questions people ask me when they find out what I do. These questions let me know that people are still confused about the basics when it comes to fitness (like what to eat, what not to eat, and how to move), in part because the industry itself is guilty of peddling so much misinformation in the name of profits.
I’ve put together a short list of things to keep in mind when you’re trying to navigate the fitness journey for the first time. This isn’t about telling you what to do so much as it is about telling you where to find what to do (and not do).
1.) Know the difference between businessmen first, coaches second and coaches first, businessmen second. If your personal Facebook feed is anything like mine, you’ve got friends who are involved in one multi-level marketing scheme or another selling you fitness products like smoothies, wraps, and meal replacements. Multi-level marketing is a process whereby people earn money not just from the products they sell to you, but also from a percentage of the money the people whom they recruit into the industry make from selling products. So there’s an incentive not just to sell you stuff, but to recruit other people to sell you stuff. One way to know that you’re dealing with a businesswoman first and a coach second is whether or not part of their financial incentive is to recruit other people into their business.
2.) If someone tries to convince you that you can’t get fit without them, then move on. With time, focus, and dedication, you could learn all that you would need to know to get fit without the help of a coach. You don’t need me. Many people have limited time, limited focus, and developing dedication. These are the people who might “need” me–and even then for a limited time. Other people who need a coach are those with more advanced physical or athletic aspirations. If you have general fitness goals, however, you can learn what you would need to learn to get started from the wealth of free information available to you on the web.
This message is a lot different than the hard sell you might get when you sign up for a new gym membership. The way I was taught to sell training when I first started in the industry was to gather data (body fat, circumference measurements, weight, etc.) and then proceed to make people feel terrible about that data before convincing them that the only way to change was to work with me.
If a coach truly wants to help you get fit, they’re going to do their very best to make you feel good every step of the way. That has nothing to do with the coach being a nice person (although they might be), but everything to do with your longterm success. What we know about the science of change is that if you feel good about the process then you’re much more likely to stick with it, and thus more likely to achieve your goals. A trainer who body shames you and tells you that you need them doesn’t have your longterm interests in mind.
3.) If someone tries to convince you that the journey is about having fun, then move on. Think about all of the things in your life that are worth the most to you. Your children. Your relationships. Perhaps your career. Academic achievements. Volunteer work.
How many of these things would you associate exclusively with fun?
I’m here to tell you that your fitness journey won’t always be fun. The results will be fun. Your new body will be fun. But the journey itself? Not always fun. Learning how to cook can be frustrating. Struggling through a difficult set or exercise can be humbling. Missing a playoff game on television because it starts at 9 PM on a weeknight and you have decided to prioritize sleep can feel like so much adulting.
Fitness is rewarding, but it’s not always fun.
4.) If someone tries to convince you that the journey is brutally difficult all the time, then move on. No pain, no gain is basically a lie. Exercise shouldn’t be painful in the way that an injury is painful. Training should be uncomfortable, but painful usually is a recipe for injury. If I’m pulling deadlifts from the floor for 50 repetitions across 5 sets, that’s uncomfortable but it’s not painful. If I’m sprinting up a hill as hard as I can, I’m definitely uncomfortable, but I’m not in pain.
The fittest people I know are constantly putting themselves in uncomfortable positions such that what is uncomfortable today will no longer be uncomfortable next month. But pain? Nah. They’re not in pain. Sometimes they’ll get sore, but they’ll eat well and sleep well to recover. If your workout regimen leaves you in pain all of the time, you might just be pushing yourself too hard–or are under the guidance of a coach whose ego is driving her programming rather than your needs.