8 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Into Fitness

hiker atop mountain

I’m probably eligible for an award for learning things the hard way. Case in point: I started training when I was eleven years old – lifting weights and doing calisthenics in my parent’s basement, usually late at night. I worked hard, but I still made every mistake in the book. I completely wrecked my body, and ended up spending nearly three years of high school and college in physical therapy, and I still wasn’t better when I left!

By the time I was an adult, I could have literally written the book on how to screw up your fitness! Fortunately, things are different now, and I’ve learned a thing or two since then. And so, today, I’d like to share eight things I wish I knew before I began my fitness journey so that, hopefully, you can avoid the mistakes I made.

1) Achieving excellent health and fitness is not a short-term endeavor.

It’s not a temporary diet or workout program that you go “on” for awhile and then “off” once you’ve achieved your goal. You’ll struggle constantly if you follow that formula. The truth is that achieving a high standard of fitness requires a total lifestyle change. It’s all-encompassing, and it starts with changing your day to day habits.

So, keep in mind that training doesn’t end when your workout is over. You’re always training and always recovering, whether you’re paying attention or not. You must have a short-term and long-term focus to succeed.

2) You can either be really good at something, or pretty good at many things. But you can’t be really good at everything.

Despite what some major fitness companies claim, you can’t be the best at everything. So, stop trying. Too many people make the mistake of chasing two or more conflicting goals at the same time. And just like the old saying goes, “if you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither of them.”

It would be much better if you clarified your goals and picked the most important one so that you can focus on that one thing until you achieve it. Of course, if your ultimate goal is “well-rounded fitness,” it will take some strategy to achieve it.

3) It never gets easier. You just get better.

There is no easy way. But here’s the thing: even if we’re told this again and again, many of us don’t want to believe it. We want to believe that there’s an easier way, and that destructive belief holds us back.

So, accept the truth that change is hard, and so training must be, too. Ask yourself if you’re up for the challenge. But more importantly, become a person who embraces things like hardship, difficulty, and challenges for the opportunity they offer. This is what it takes to succeed for more than a few months. And you can practice this every time you workout – building not just your body, but your mind muscles, too.

4) There are many ways to get “in shape,” and what works for someone else may not be right for you.

Being in shape means different things to different people, and certain people are built better for certain tasks. Some people are really good at lifting heavy things. It’s how they’re built. Others have a natural proclivity for endurance. And for some, it’s speed or power, among other things. Plus, we tend to enjoy the things that we’re good at. So, if you’re built for strength, you’ll probably enjoy something like weightlifting. If you’re build for endurance, you’ll probably enjoy running or triathlons more than the strength athlete. If it’s power, you may like kettlebell or clubbell training, martial art, or another sport.

The good news is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fitness. So many different things “work.” So, if what you’re doing isn’t working for you, or you just don’t enjoy it, consider some of the alternatives. There are many fun and interesting ways to train. And once you find one that you like, you’ll never look back.

5) One of the best things you can do to achieve your health and fitness goals is to find someone who has achieved exactly what you want, and do what they do (i.e. model their approach).

If you want to get stronger, do what weightlifters and strongman athletes do. If you want endurance, become a runner or a triathlete. If you want a ripped body with six pack abs, do what bodybuilders and other physique athletes do. If you want to be an all-around athlete, train like a warrior and look to our military for ideas and inspiration.

Our culture has a tendency to constantly be looking for the next best thing. When in reality, when it comes to training, there is nothing new under the sun. Those who achieve extraordinary health and fitness do what’s always been done – the simple, boring basics that just plain work.

6) More is not always better. But better is always better.

Quality always trumps quantity when it comes to physical training. Unfortunately, most people learn this the hard way.

Sure, there are some benefits from all exercise regardless of the quality – even if you do it mindlessly, use poor technique, and force things (etc.). But if you do low quality work for long enough, the consequences will accumulate, and you’ll have problems down the road. And eventually, you won’t be able to ignore them.

So, if you want to be in this for the long haul, you’re going to have to do things right from the start. That means using good technique, avoiding pain, taking care of your joints, doing the warmups and cooldowns, getting enough rest, and many other things.

7) 5×5 vs 5/3/1?  Interval training vs steady state cardio? Conventional deadlifts vs sumo deadlifts?

It all works. I wasted so much time researching and trying to optimize my training program and tweaking things here and there. But here’s the thing: even the best plan in the world will never be perfect.

And in the end, what you do isn’t nearly as important as how you do it. For example…

5×5 vs 5/3/1 – both work well, but effort trumps programming
Intervals vs Steady Cardio – both work well, but consistency is more important than programming
Deadlift stance – hinges on your body type and structure, mobility, flexibility, and conditioning level, among other things

So, figure out what’s best for you instead of just jumping on the latest bandwagon. And get the basics down, like working hard, consistently.

8) There’s more to life than having a great body – a lot more.

So, don’t let fitness take over your life to the point that everything and everybody else suffers. Fitness is meant to enhance your life, not take over it. So, keep everything in perspective.

The way I see it, this body is going to die no matter what I do. That doesn’t mean I should totally neglect it, though, because I’m best able to live according to my purpose, values, and priorities – and do my duty, take care of my family, serve others (etc.) – when I’m in a state of excellent health and fitness. And so, my health and fitness is a high priority, but not my top priority.

If you can figure these things out for yourself, then you will excel in your health, fitness, and quality of life.

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3 Responses

  1. Erre

    Hello John! I’ve just run into your blog and I love your writing style. Thanks a lot for the hard work.

    I’ve tried several times to start a routine and ended up screwing up some part of my body. Do you have any article on the safest excercises (I’m aware that the technique is essential)? I just want to tone up and maybe gain a little bit of volume.

    Keep it up :)

    PS: I’m not a native speaker, sorry for my English.

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