A buddy of mine - we’ll call him Bobby Ballsofsteel - has been really working at it lately in a dedicated push to pack on a little muscle mass. He’s somewhat of a classic “hardgainer” who needs to really forcefeed himself to gain every ounce. Nonetheless, Bobby’s busted his butt in the gym (I train with him, so I know) and the kitchen over the past few months and has gone from 200 to 210 pounds. This is a huge deal, as we aren’t talking about “newbie” gains; we’re talking about a guy who had already gone from 160 to 200 over the previous two years.
Bobby was super-intimidated about starting to lift back in 2007 because, although he was a great athlete, it was unfamiliar territory for him because he immediately become the little dog at the pound.
It took a lot of guts to start things up - something we see with a lot of people from different walks of life who begin exercise programs with motivation and a desire to change, but a long way to go and a fair amount of intimidation and embarrassment in their minds about where they stand with respect to the challenge ahead. Whether you’re an elite athlete who has never trained in an organized setting, an untrained 14-year old baseball player, or a 55-year-old female who is just getting into exercising to drop body fat, the first step is the toughest - and it’s our job as fitness professionals to make this first step more manageable and less daunting. The problem is that we have outside influences with which to compete.
With many people embarking on an exercise program, there are other people in their lives - maybe it’s relatives, spouses, employers, best friends, or others - who for whatever reason go out of their way to find fault with people for making the decision to start exercising or eating healthy. In many cases, these “disablers” sabotage people’s efforts at the exact time when they need the most support from those close to them.
Usually, the ones doing the “disabling” are simply insecure about themselves. Maybe they are just comfortable eating poorly and not exercising, and they perceive it as a threat when someone close to them starts changing these habits, as it may have a spillover effect to them. Or, perhaps they’re deconditioned and just don’t want to be alone - so it’s easier to try to bring someone else down a peg than elevate themselves. Maybe it’s just that the world wouldn’t be safe with only one overweight superhero as opposed to two. Batman wouldn’t just leave Robin out to dry like that.
And that’s how we come back to my buddy, Mr. Ballsofsteel, and his great progress of late. Bobby came to the gym royally pissed off the other morning, and proceeded to tell me the story of how he had met up with some of his best (long-time) friends the previous night. While it had been good to see all of them, one of these friends - we’ll call him “Tommy the Tool” - went out of his way to remark (in front of the entire group) that Bobby had “gotten awfully big suspiciously quickly.” Effectively, he was implying that Bobby was using steroids (which is clearly not the case if you ask anyone who has seen him regularly throughout this time period). The accuser (or shall we say “disabler?”) practically tried to turn it into a group intervention.
You can imagine what an awkward position this created for Bobby. On one hand, if he had gotten defensive in light of all the hard work he’d put in to do things the right way, they’d have thought he had something about which he should be defensive. On the other hand, if he had just shrugged it off, they’d have thought that the accusation is true and that Bobby just wanted to change the subject. Awkward situation, indeed.
Awkward situation aside, there is a “not-so-coincidental coincidence” that emerged in my eyes as Bobby told me the story. Apparently, Tommy the Tool presented to this gathering about 15 pounds of “not-so-good weight” heavier himself because he’d been on the road for work, eating poorly and not exercising.
It’s funny how our disabler chose to call someone out and attempt to delegitimize someone else’s progress at the exact same time when he was feeling the worst about himself. Actually, it’s not really “funny.” It’s more “predictable” and “pathetic.” You try to take someone down a peg to make your unfit, unhealthy status quo feel more acceptable; it’s easier to take when everyone is miserable. Or, maybe it simply takes the attention off you, Tommy the Tool.
This happens in fitness, athletics, business, academics, and countless other components of our everyday lives. I always tell our athletes that the higher up you go, the more hot air you are going to encounter. Get negative people out of your life and surround yourself with those who are not only supportive of your goals and your progress, but can actually help to set you up for more success.
In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard , one message from authors Chip and Dan Heath is that you will almost never effect quick change a person, but you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts - and do so relatively transiently.
As an example, we’ve had numerous high school athletes who have completely changed their family’s nutrition for the better by applying the principles they’ve learned in nutrition consultations at Cressey Performance . It isn’t that their parents didn’t want to be healthy prior to that point; it was just that the situation in which they cooked and ate was different. Once a young athlete came home excited about nutrition armed with knowledge and recipes, though, their supportive parental instincts enabled him to adopt these new habits, and his enthusiasm and newfound education and resources enabled them to adopt new practices for the family. They were still the same people; they just happened to have new situations.
It’s why I think our semi-private training model at Cressey Performance works so well. Sure, it makes training more affordable, and the programming is obviously very individualized. However, I think that most important thing we’ve done is creates an unconditionally positive training environment where people can support each other - even if they may have different fitness/athletic goals. Success is both visible and encouraged.