Are you training for the right reasons?

Have a serious think about why you’re training, and be honest. I did this recently myself and questioned some of the practices I partake in and the reasons I do them.

I read a book recently by Harrison.G Pope called ‘The Adonis complex’ which looks into the unhealthy relationships we increasingly have with food, exercise and our body image. It was a bit of an eye opener in terms of statistics but the gist of the book was unsurprising and something I’ve picked up on myself when looking at other peoples behaviors.


Many people have unhealthy obsessions with exercise. It seems to be the younger generation’s thing to be obsessed with the way you look (under 30’s?) and more and more emphasis goes into body image and seeking the approval of others. Simultaneously there is less importance on ethics, morals and being a good human being. It’s likely due to the media constantly trying to sell us shit that we don’t need and this usually involves sham sales tactics of creating an insecurity in people in order to make them buy something. A man should look like this, a women should look like this….and this product will help you achieve it. You get the idea.

It’s all about social media these days, being seen in a certain light by your friends (and strangers) and sticking half naked selfies all over the internet in order to gain the approval from others you so badly need to pour water on the flames of truth that you’re likely insecure for some reason or another. I’ll probably get flamed by the naked selfie brigade here screaming “we’re not insecure”…..sorry but however much you say you’re not, you are! Progress photos are great for monitoring improvements but ask yourself why are you sharing these with the whole world on a daily/weekly basis.

I’m pretty sure my dad, my granddad and most other guys of that age couldn’t give two shits about having a six pack or spending 1-2 hours a day working out and missing their family time to get that 17 inch arm to show off on Twitter and Facebook. But then advertising was less aggressive towards these things back then and the big corporations hadn’t then figured out they could manipulate people by playing on physical insecurity (that they created) I guess.

How do you know you have an unhealthy relationship with your body image and/or food?

  • Do you miss social events with friends and family because you have to ‘make the gym’ or train?
  • Avoid eating out with friends and family to avoid ‘ruining your macros for the day’
  • Constantly post half naked selfies on the internet
  • Worry regularly what other people think of your body
  • Weigh every single food item you eat and spend large amounts of your time worrying about macros and calorie counts
  • Waste huge amounts of your time training for aesthetic reasons, as above these may interfere with your normal life.

Some of the above points are not always unhealthy. For example an athlete training for an event may be careful and very particular leading up to an event etc. Also note that  I’m not suggesting that healthy habits and training hard is wrong, it’s absolutely a good thing but there is a line. More importantly is the reasons why you’re training. 

What are good reasons to be training or being very anal about things?

Not many but here are a few-

  • You are a complete fat fuck and should lose some weight in order to maintain health and longevity
  • You have some type of metabolic disease that would benefit from strict dietary intake and exercise

That’s about it and arguably even in these situations there is no need for total obsession

So what should training be about?

  • Health- Weight training is excellent to improve and maintain all health markers
  • Living a longer functional life- Wouldn’t it be good if we could all get out of bed, walk and do normal stuff in our 80’s or 90’s?
  • Training for your sport or hobby
  • Keeping in shape for YOURSELF and not everyone else (so long as it avoids many of the unhealthy points raised previously)
  • Enjoyment of setting goals and achieving them
  • Being the best version of yourself (not aspiring to something unachievable like the pipe dream that is sold to you in the magazines and advertisements)

Health and Fitness Confusion

There are two buzz words used wrongly in the same sentence pretty regularly. The words ‘health’ and ‘fitness’ (I’ve even used them in the same sentence myself!)

This sounds really obvious but anybody looking to improve their health, fitness or sport specific performance needs to fully grasp the difference between health and fitness. This will ensure the training, diet and lifestyle system you use fits in with your goals and you’re not getting sucked into doing things that don’t fit with your goals and wasting your time and effort.

Health, as described in the dictionary, usually is defined as “The absence of disease”

Fitness is “The quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular task”

A person can be very fit but also very unhealthy and the flip side is a person can be perfectly healthy but lacks any specific fitness.

The above said, in most cases a fit person will likely benefit from many health benefits so the chances of being healthy are higher.

Example 1

A marathon runner runs 75 miles a week as part of his or her training. They have numerous niggling injuries. They also have worn their joints down (hips and knees) to the point that this may effect their everyday activities when they’re older. They may also be run down and get a cold or flu fairly regularly. Yet this person is obviously very fit at the specific activity of running, they have decent lower body development and a strong heart and lungs. Somebody able to run a marathon may have diseases too. Lance Armstrong for example got cancer that wasn’t detected for a long time all the while he was cycling competitively- he was fit but very unhealthy.

Example 2

A guy or girl does barely any exercise other than walking to work three times a week, they’re fit in no particular activity and have no real fitness, yet they have a reasonably healthy diet, average body fat levels and no diseases. Ask them to run a marathon or try any physical endeavor that requires fitness and they’ll fail,  they have good health without fitness.

How does this affect your training?

Training should be specific. If you need specific fitness for your sport you should be doing more of the sport and movements that mimic your sport. A marathon runner needs to run 26 miles so training for running this distance requires long steady runs for example as part of their training regime. For health it would probably surprise you how little is required in terms of training, you can likely get all the health benefits that an athlete might gain from as little as 30 minutes total exercise per week. Diet of course need to be dialed towards health to make this work.

In conclusion health and fitness are two completely separate things, some people may only train for health (which is great) but the training you do for health reasons and the training required for fitness are very much different and exercise specificity is key.

Do you need supplements to get big, strong and lean?

You’re thinking of taking some supplements to get more out of your training? You’ve seen all the advertisements and you’re convinced you ‘need’ to start spending your hard earned money on supplements to get the most out of your training?

It’s all in the name really- ‘supplements’. They are designed to supplement a solid consistent diet not to replace it. If you think that taking some creatine and whey protein is going to save you from your shitty diet and training routine then you’ve got it all wrong.

Even with a solid diet there is argument that supplements are a complete waste of money. There is no reason you cannot get your dietary needs from food. I’m not talking about vitamins and minerals here (as a good multi vitamin is worthwhile) I’m referring to gym based supplements such as whey protein and pre workouts etc.

But you need more calories and protein?

I’ve had this amazing epiphany- If you need more calories then I suggest you eat more food, you need more protein eat more nuts, meat, eggs and whole milk. You need more carbs then eat more rice, pasta and oats. This is ground breaking stuff right?

Pre workouts

If you need to take some corporate concoction of god knows what to get you fired up for the gym then you have an issue (and likely too much disposable income). If you are feeling tired and need that kick then caffeine is your friend, drink some strong coffee and you have bought yourself a 5p ‘pre workout’.

Money makes the world go around

Think objectively, all that these manufactures want is your money so they’ll do anything in their power to convince you that you need supplements. But the guy advertising the protein is huge and ripped right? Well remember he’s being paid to tell you he uses the protein powder being advertised and likely is on steroids.

Be selective

Supplements are not always a bad thing and can be used sparingly in the right circumstances……

  1. You have a busy day out of the office and limited space and time available, some protein bars, meal replacement and shakes might be good
  2. You’re training fasted and don’t have access to your PWO meal for another 3 hours, maybe try some BCAA’s
  3. Creatine does (and has been proven) to work, this might be worth using
  4. Intra workout gels for very long endurance events (but not gym sessions!)

So save your money and spend it on more food, don’t be a slave to supplement manufacturers and retailers and make sure you’ve grasped the word supplement.

Functional Exercise

You will have heard the term ‘functional’ being thrown around when trainers, writers and magazines write about the specific movements you should be doing in the gym.

There is a misconception that we should all be doing ‘functional’ movements in order to most benefit our training.

What I mean by functional movements are movements that aid in the function of everyday activities and living in our modern-day society such as sitting up out of bed, moving objects about, doing work in the garden or lifting heavy stuff about at your day job. I don’t think many trainers and experts would disagree with this definition of functional movements or exercises.

So what movements are deemed function movements or exercises traditionally by trainers and a like?

Well typically the big compound movements like deadlifts, squats, bench presses, overhead presses and chins which are all multi joint movements.

What makes them functional?

The argument is they use multiple muscles and joints which mimic that of everyday movements and also movement pathways which mimic that of every day movement pathways which in turn provides skill adaption to these specific movements. This seems logical on the face of it doesn’t it? For example one could argue that deadlifting with a barbell will provide carry over strength for picking bags of cement off the floor.

Flaws in this rationale

Firstly I want to point out that movements like deadlifts, squats, bench presses, overhead presses and chins are some of the best movements one can do in terms of gaining size, strength, general conditioning and aesthetics and improving your functional ability. They’re big multi joint movements that work numerous muscles at once (giving a bigger bang for your buck), they’re very taxing which provides the overload that the musculature, CNS Aerobic system needs for a positive adaption (i.e.- adapting by being stronger and fitter)

That said any exercise is specific. Just because you can deadlift a big number doesn’t mean that the deadlift specifically means you’re more ‘functional’. Yes it means you will have more carry over general strengths for other everyday tasks but who is to say that the same strength cannot be gained using other movements like Leg press, Lat pulls, machine rows etc. The carry over residual strength increases from ANY gym related movement will help you be more functional in everyday life.

Another analogy of this is cycling and running. Although a good runner will develop the muscles of the quads, hamstrings and calves and also work the aerobic system it is arguable that this will transfer to anything outside of running. To become specifically better at running one must run and acquire the skill and physical adaptions that are specific to running alone.

Who needs superman?

Not to blow too much smoke up my own ass here but I’m a reasonably strong guy I can deadlift more than 200kg, squat 160kg and bench 110kg. Does this make me more ‘function’- I doubt it, strength helps to a certain extent and being able pull my own body weight up vertically and horizontally is useful.

However, how useful are my strengths gained in the gym in real life? They’re arguably useless. There might be an occasion when I need to lift a car off somebody but it is not likely. Never have I had a tree fall on me that is positioned on my chest while I’m on my back and I’ve thought to myself “so glad I can bench press some good numbers or I’d be screwed here”. Same goes for lifting everyday objects off of the floor, it is not the same movement as a barbell deadlift really and in all honesty most everyday objects do not weigh 200kg nor would you even attempt to lift such an object of this weight.

The only thing I’ve really gained is friends and family asking me to help with moving furniture and washing machines.

Can function exercises can be dangerous?

I’ll start by saying that if you correctly execute these movements in a slow controlled and safe manner without putting your body in compromising positions then there are no safety issues so carry on.

That being said I regularly see terrible form in these movements in the gym. If you can’t do the exercise in good form, see a PT to correct your form or find an alternative movement. Is it really worth potentially causing a chronic long-term injury for the sake of obeying the “thou shall do squats” commandment? Not really considering most people’s goals are health a vanity related. If you cannot squat with decent form, have a condition that makes squatting painful or have such poor biomechanics which means poor form then don’t do it, use the leg press instead it is no big deal and you’ll still improve muscle mass, strength and conditioning which will make you more functional, with the added benefit that you increase your training longevity. Of course these thing will carry over to everyday movements.

Final thoughts

Do deadlifts, squats and benches they’re great movements. But don’t get hung up on doing them or calling them functional and realize any strength increase in the gym in ANY exercise will help you become more functional in everyday life. Also appreciate that all exercise is specific. Do what you can safely and enjoy the most.