When I was about 13, I ran my grandad over with his own tractor.

He wanted me to start learning so I was more use around the place.

The problem is that getting a skinny 13 year old with chicken legs to operate the clutch on a tractor is much like getting your Aunty Joan to match Ronnie Coleman’s leg press record.

My leg gave out, the tractor lurched forward and next thing my Grandad’s on the way to hospital with my gran slapping him round the face with a wet flannel.

Sometimes, you have to realise that certain tools aren’t for certain people but it doesn’t mean they should be tossed away and forgotten about.

Now there are many amazing fitness coaches in this world, changing lives and running great businesses.

I could name many who have coached me, trained with me, taught me stuff and hopefully taken things from what I have to offer at the same time.

But I’ve also had the chance to step out of the industry a little and look down on what’s going on.

Here is the harsh reality.

The fitness industry as a whole is failing and failing hard.

There are more people certified every single year in health, wellness, strength training and every other branch of fitness (I won’t use the term qualified…), more gyms, more clinics and so on.

We also have greater access to all the knowledge and information we could possibly need to make stuff happen.

Despite all this, obesity continues to sky-rocket, mental health problems are becoming a natural state of life and happiness seems to have disappeared with the dinosaurs.

While the Instagram battles rage over body composition and who has the best six pack, we continue to miss the point that everyone getting into fitness is doing it because on some level they are dissatisfied and unhappy.

All in all, it really is fucked.

I want to address an underlying theme that stops a lot of people making progress beyond the initial honeymoon period due to over-reaction and under-reaction to different methods.

I don’t want to term these things fads because they are all good things when used correctly.

The problem is, most of the time it’s like a 5 year old trying out his dad’s a chainsaw (or a 13 year old driving a tractor).

In the short-term, we over-react and make it THE thing that we get obsessed with.

In the long-term it doesn’t change our life quite how we envisioned, we under-react and forget all about it, slipping back to what we’ve always known.

Here are some over-reactions, under-reactions and useful realities in fitness:

THE KETOGENIC DIET

Since the 80’s we’ve gone through low fat, high carb diets to low fat, low carb, high sweetener based diets and now we’re at high fat, low carb ketogenic diets (or some other low carb diet).

On that note, ketogenic diets and reduced carb diets are not the same thing but we’ll deal with that another day.

The current over-reaction is the belief that it’s the ultimate solution to world obesity and something to make into a permanent lifestyle.

The difficulty of implementing a standard ketogenic diet on a permanent basis makes it unsustainable for anybody with a life and can cause physiological problems including reduced metabolic rate and obstacles to improving body composition any further.

It is also IMPOSSIBLE to follow a standard ketogenic diet and engage in anything other than low intensity aerobic exercise.

Forget it if you want to perform to your best in high intensity training such as bodybuilding, bootcamps, CrossFit, interval training or competitive sport, or you simply want to avoid feeling like shit.

Also the negative rebound effect of coming off such a diet can be immense (physically and psychologically) as large amounts of water weight can be gained in just a few days as soon as higher levels of carbs are present in the diet again.

This can completely throw people off course and cause all sorts of reactions.

The under-reaction is often to say that all ‘low carb’ diets are dangerous and unsustainable, and should be avoided.

I will soon write an article in much more detail on the ketogenic diet but the useful reality is often one of two things.

  1. Those people who say they follow the ketogenic diet but have sugary treats every day to make it bearable, usually aren’t actually following a ketogenic diet. They may get some results, particularly at first but it’s largely down to the fact they have reduced their calories and cut down on sugar – not because they are actually establishing a regular state of ketosis.
  2. A cyclic ketogenic diet is much more sustainable and thus effective in the long-run. This can either be done consuming carbohydrates after intense exercise so that recovery is sufficient but ketosis maintained or through a well-planned weekly schedule managing weight training and cardio work side-by-side with periods of ‘carb referring’ – usually at the weekend.

YOU MUST TRAIN IN ‘BEAST MODE’ TO GET RESULTS

The over-reaction in recent times has been to insist that anyone who wants to lose body fat needs to train like they’ve just done three lines of cocaine, hit up their mate’s anabolic steroid stash and the gym owner just kidnapped their child.

People go from 0-100 in a week when they finally snap and commit to getting in shape.

This usually results in them getting hurt, either through excessive muscle soreness or an actual injury.

The long-term under-reaction is to decide that exercise is bad for you and they are better off just walking and doing some yoga. 

They stay weak and fat forever.

The useful reality is that everyone is different.

Different stress levels, different physical status, different exercises history and so on.

Intense training is not an absolute point of achievement.

It is an attitude that pushes you to do more than you thought you could within the boundaries of safety, using exercise and methods you are ready for.

It is important to take time to find out not just what each individual needs but what they need as time goes on and life throws up different circumstances.

OLYMPIC LIFTING

CrossFit brought Olympic lifting to the masses.

Unfortunately, we now live snapshot lives on social media and seem completely inept at gathering information before we sell our souls to something.

The train of thought went along the lines of “Those Crossfit girls look hot, so I need to do Olympic lifting.”

The over-reaction was for beginners to throw themselves into the fire and throw heavy barbells over their head at every session.

They only have three hours a week to train (if they’re lucky) so practise becomes doing a couple of quick warm up sets before launching into 30 clean and jerks for time like a crazed maniac.

Again, injuries became so prevalent it seems to almost be a badge of honour to walk around with kinesio tape on your shoulders.

The under-reaction is becoming that nobody can be bothered to take the time to safely learn Olympic lifting and it will likely become a minority activity again.

The useful reality is to understand that power training is a highly recommend part of any fitness plan but power training doesn’t have to be Olympic lifting.

If you want to COMPETE at CrossFit or Olympic lifting in its own right, you need to do the lifts.

You will need to dedicate a lot of time to getting good at it.

If you want to jump higher, throw things further or run faster, you can do it in other ways.

Namely jumping, throwing and running.

Given that Olympic lifting is largely about the hips, some heavy powerful kettlebell swings (done correctly) can deliver the same benefits.

“But Olympic lifting training is also good for flexibility”

Maybe, but so are low-intensity stretching protocols and movement work.

If you’re honest and realise that you just to want to develop your physique, understand it is not the Olympic lifting part of CrossFit that causes any significant gain in muscle or loss of body fat.

It may contribute but a more muscular appearance can be gained in much safer ways, particularly if you are training unsupervised.

If that is your priority, focus on tension based training, high intensity work and solid nutrition.

Interestingly, many of the Olympic lifters with the best physiques are Chinese – who are known to do a significant amount of ‘bodybuilding’ style work after their main training.

THE PALEO DIET

This was the over-reaction of the 2000’s!

Everyone had to eat like a caveman essentially living off meat, fish, nuts, vegetables and some fruit.

It sounded good and very logical.

CrossFit again popularised the method but in a ‘shocking’ and largely unknown revelation, Mr CrossFit Games himself Rich Froning stated that he doesn’t follow a strict Paleo diet but “eats what he needs to eat”. 

Clearly it wasn’t the solution to the world’s problems.

A few years after Laurent Cordain wrote The Paleo Diet, he realised that it was largely a crappy idea for those engaged in regular, high intensity exercise (much like the Ketogenic diet).

The Paleo Diet For Athletes essentially stated that we should all eat as clean as possible, consume lots of protein and vegetables, drop some fats in there and eat good sources of complex carbs to fuel and recover from training.

So pretty much what most of us were doing anyway!

The under-reaction has been to both bastardize the paleo diet with raw food bars and the like that have as much sugar as you’re average chocolate bar.

Most athletes just stay on permanently high carbohydrate diets and wonder why they’re often ‘skinny fat’.

The useful reality is that we need to stay as close to nature as possible but ensure we are fuelled correctly for our chosen sport or fitness regime..

Combining a form of the cyclic ketogenic diet, eating clean natural food like our ancestors did and some innovative supplementation methods enables us to perform well and stay lean.

BEING A NOVICE PROFESSIONAL

The elite used to only be accessible by watching the Olympics, heading to the local football stadium at weekends or tuning in to World’s Strongest Man in January.

Now we can see what they’re up to at the click of a social media button.

The over-reaction has been to think that what we see is what we need to know.

We try to copy their training regimen of three hours per day failing to understand the years it has taken to build up the capabilities to do so, and the drugs often required to buffer stress hormones and enable rapid recovery between sessions.

We try to go from a poor, sugar-based diet and no exercise to trying to match the actions of a fitness model two weeks out from going on stage at the Arnold Classic.

The under-reaction when it all goes wrong and doesn’t work (strangely) is to move on to the next Instagram star and copy them instead, or to wrongly believe you just can’t make any progress and it’s not for you.

The useful reality is to have lofty targets but get a good appreciation of where you are at right now and what the next 2-3 steps are.

Don’t jump 100 steps ahead and try to fast-track through the months and years it takes to reach elite status.

Don’t try to be a pro when you’re novice.

FITNESS CHALLENGES

 

Fitness challenges are largely how CrossFit exploded via the internet.

It gave people across the globe a chance to see how they measured up in certain challenges.

Challenges and tests are a critical part of a fulfilling life that continues to inspire you and encourage you be better.

The over-reaction has been to see these challenges as a workout methodology.

I’m a huge fan of Gym Jones following my time out with the guys in Utah.

Their initial momentum came from the physiques of the 300 actors who trained there.

The dawn of the ‘300 workout’ began.

The reality is that it wasn’t a regular workout but a one-off test they did to break down some physical and mental barriers.

The under-reaction to this type of approach is to realise it sucks at the time and so never test yourself or truly push yourself to keep beating your PR’s, due to a fear of failure.

It gets labelled as elitist and just for athletes even though you’ve been tested since the day you started school!

The useful reality is that the top score in fitness challenges is not the priority.

The value lies in having challenges and tests relevant to your goals and improving your own PR by finding the weaknesses that hold you back from the next level.

WEIGHT TRAINING

Various studies into the effects of steady-state versus HIIT reveal that all else equal, HIIT will produce greater fat loss versus the same amount of steady-state cardio.

We also know that too much cardio (or any exercises for that matter) can increase stress hormones which ultimately have a negative effect on body composition as we lose muscle mass.

The over-reaction has been to shun steady state cardio and just to lift weights and do some intervals.

Few people know how to train properly and so either don’t progress or get hurt.

This leads to the under-reaction that many girls and guys continue to just do cardio because they can ‘feel it working’ as they sweat their face off and don’t feel embarrassed at not knowing what to do in the weights area.

At the other end of the spectrum the ‘lifters’ struggle to train as hard as they could because they have a poorly functioning cardiovascular system and little work capacity.

The useful reality is that weight training, intervals and good nutrition should be your priorities, but steady state cardio can have its place even for lifters at certain times of the year.

This is especially the case when you are highly stressed, you’ve been out of action for a while or you are sat in a low oxygen environment and need to get some air coursing through your veins to bring you back to life.

Stressful weight training and/or lactate based interval work might make your situation worse.

Remember that exercise is a medicine with various prescriptions.

CORE WORK

I cracked my spine at 17 and my physio told me I needed to “build my core muscles” to help protect it.

At this point, I had no idea what he meant but duly went about performing a number of exercises that made me look like a spider on the laughing gas.

In my opinion there is still a big over-reaction to the idea of ‘the core’.

In some circles it’s like nobody can touch a dumbbell unless they have proven they have the core strength of an Olympic gymnast.

The under-reaction is that these exercises get very boring, very quickly and because they don’t directly bring that feeling of ‘working out’ people shy away to ‘chase the pain’.

The useful reality I found by actually coaching people is that there are very few people who can’t build a strong enough core by learning to deadlift, squat, overhead press and perform loaded carries with care and attention from a professional who isn’t trying to set world records within the first couple of days.

Sure, activation exercises can be very useful particularly if someone has been sat at a desk all day.

However, spending 40 minutes on TVA activation, when the individual regularly cries into their Cornflakes because they hate how much fat they are carrying, is misguided coaching.

MEDITATION

Meditation has become a ‘new’ thing (that’s been around since the dawn of time).

The over-reaction is to give up everything to sit under a tree in the lotus position for two hours per day before getting bored.

Like a crash diet, the brain struggles to handle the sudden change leading many people assume it really is just for Yogi’s who don’t have a job and want to find a higher power in a field of tulips.

The under-reaction is that very few people then ever take time out to disconnect from technology and their crazy, disruptive thoughts.

The useful reality is that the first step is to simply take small blocks of time before, during and after your busy day to get centred again, become aware of what you’re doing and why and bring your stressful way of being back to earth with some deep breathing.

The chances are you’ll find a lot of value in the 4-5 minute breaks and WANT to find ways to do it more.

Start small by unplugging a certain number of times each day and each week and then look to build in 2-3 ‘meditation’ sessions where you can really slow your brain down, centre your mind and align it with your life.

 

MODERATION?

The natural reaction to articles like this is to say “See…everything in moderation.”

Well, no.

The problem with moderation is that everyone has their own idea of what it is.

For me, having a pizza once a week is moderation.

For the next guy, not having pizza EVERY night or only having 500ml of coke with the pizza instead of 1.5 litres is moderation.

Only one will bring noticeable results on the beach.

Moderation is finding a level of everything in life that overall creates a healthy, fun, productive balance.

It about not over-reacting or under-reacting to anything but finding what works.

You may well have improved some of your behaviours but that doesn’t mean you are in a place that will produce any noticeable results.

The change could still be an under-reaction to the physiological realities of what works and what doesn’t!

So be very careful you don’t get carried away with any one method or forget about anything else.

You’re not useless because you struggle.

There’s also a 99.99999% chance I’m right when I say you won’t ever become the best in the world so don’t bother trying.

What you can do, is build a lifestyle around what we know to work whilst not being obsessed with any one particular method or goal.

The chances are you will realise in a few years that it ruined other areas of your health and fitness and you’ll swing on to something else.

The useful reality is to be good ENOUGH at all things that contribute to health then choose one or two things to really focus on for a while to achieve whatever personal goal you have.