There are five types of people out there who will ruin your progress in the gym. Here they are, plus five great people you need in your crew.
5 People Every Lifter Needs to Avoid
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That's what they say. If that's true, then avoid these guys if you want to make progress in the gym or in your sport.
1 – The Joy Killer
The best kind of criticism is motivating. It makes you think, "Alright, I'm going to try that again, but better this time." You need it to learn and grow. That's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about personal jabs and remarks that make you more disheartened than amped up about what you're trying to achieve.
Weight training, competition prep, dietary improvements – these are examples of things that should make you feel good about your life and yourself. So if a coach or a friend who's in a power position makes you think you're crap when you're earnestly seeking to improve, then find a new one.
There are more trainers and coaches now than ever before and you can easily find one whose training style matches your learning style. Cattiness has no place in fitness. And if someone you're casually training with makes you feel inadequate, cut them out. Be fearless; burn that bridge. Leave the touchy feely, hug-it-outs for life coaches and Oprah wannabes. Have enough respect for yourself to say, "You're fired."
2 – The Dogmatic Expert
This guy makes people feel stupid if they don't adamantly agree with his particular diet or workout beliefs. He often doesn't acknowledge the intricacies involved in the human biology, so he oversimplifies the science, then uses condescending humor to make others feel obligated to agree. Or he'll use a series of multisyllabic words to try and speak over people's heads, even though what he's saying doesn't make any damn sense. Communicating isn't important to him. Showing off is. These guys don't want to admit that some things work for some people and other things work for other people. And they certainly don't believe in letting any of us think for ourselves in order to sort that out.
A lot of people kowtow to these characters because they think this kind of egotism is a sign of knowing a lot of information. If you're ever tempted to join their brigade, think of how David Foster Wallace describes blind certainty: "A close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up." Well, don't be blindly certain about anything fitness related. Open your eyes and see firsthand what works for you, and then you won't have to worry about the people regurgitating their dogma all over your brain.
3 – The Outdated Expert
There are lifters who don't do a lot of reading online, or anywhere else for that matter, and that's no big deal... unless they're coaching people. No studies, no books, no articles, no exposure to instruction, no new ideas. They use the same stale info passed down from a former coach and expect others to thrive on the same script they followed.
When it comes to diet, they sure as heck don't read any books that dig into some of the psychological or biological issues that cause people to overeat or undereat. In their minds, all you have to do is consume exactly what's on their meal plan and go through the motions of exactly what's listed in their workouts. (They'll sell all this to you for $1000, of course.) To them, the thing that matters most is that you get better looking on their watch. They want you to become their trophy, or at least make for a nice "before and after" on their website. They aren't setting you up for long-term health, leanness, and sanity. They're unwittingly setting you up to crash hard once you're done with them.
What's the answer? Read voraciously. Protect yourself by becoming your own best expert. Commit to different dietary approaches and try different styles of training without becoming a zealot for any one of them. Learned helplessness isn't cool and there's an easy way to combat it: gather as much information as you can, whenever you can, and figure out how it applies to you.
4 – The Public Speaker
This isn't the kind that gets paid to talk, nor is this the person who likes to be outgoing at the gym. No, these people simply have diarrhea of the mouth. And they aren't sensitive to social cues. So they'll tell you all about themselves regardless of whether or not you're slowly turning your body a different direction or taking steps backwards. Don't be a doormat. If you're learning too much information about a complete stranger, get blunt.
There was a public speaker at my former gym who would stop me in the women's locker room and hold me captive before workouts. I didn't want to be rude, so I let it continue till it got to the point where I was learning about laser therapy for wrinkles and prescription vaginal cream for menopause. People like this aren't interested in conversation; they're interested in being heard. That's not necessarily a job you need to take on right before workouts. And certainly not during.
5 – Anti-People
They're angry at the world. Like the dogmatic expert, they're not okay with anyone training differently than them or eating differently than them because their fitness is their religion. They flaunt their superiority, ironically, by bashing people who are often very successful and happy with their own diet and exercise.
CrossFit's haters, for instance, are becoming more of a stereotype than the people who actually train in CrossFit facilities. Granted, anyone who identifies as their diet or their workout program will be annoying. Talk to any googly-eyed noob who's started a diet or workout plan and you'll know that's just how it works. They always become easier to relate to as their fitness becomes routine. Experience softens overzealousness. And I actually have yet to see any overzealousness at the CrossFit gym where I often work out.
What I have seen is a lot of guys at commercial gyms wearing what looks like a bodybuilding uniform talking about their upcoming bodybuilding competitions... not that there's anything wrong with that. Just realize every subgroup has its own walking cliche. Not all people who attend CrossFit workouts walk around in knee-high socks and neon clothing. And those who do probably have more important things on their mind than hating someone else for their training of choice.
Photo Credit: Eric Chin
5 Awesome People Every Lifter Needs3>
Outperform yourself, continue making gains, and actually enjoy the process. Do it with the help of these guys.
1 – The Specialist
To learn a thing you must specialize in it momentarily. You won't automatically be proficient at powerlifting, kettlebell swinging, or posing like a bodybuilder if nobody has shown you how. You can't master anything without feedback from a master. That's where the specialist comes in. They correct your mistakes, program your workouts, and help you become more efficient in a style of moving iron. Having one is obviously more necessary for those first starting out in any form of lifting, but even world-class coaches look to other coaches. And even experienced lifters will switch training styles to try something new.
2 – The Influencer
This is the person who plants ideas, like seeds, that slowly grow into bigger goals and belief systems. They give you direction and answer questions you didn't even know you had. Sometimes they show you that what you've been striving for is actually not worth your time. You don't need to see these people every day, or even in-person, to benefit from their influence. They're simply a voice of reason that helps you cut through trivial junk to grow towards bigger endeavors.
On occasion, the influencer will make you mad because you don't want what he or she says to be true. We need to hear those opposing views. Why? Because you learn nothing by surrounding yourself with people who always agree with you. If you're not faced with opposing information, you'll end up doing the same old workouts, striving for the same old goals, or eating the same old diet – things which may have worked at one point, but stopped serving you a long time ago.
Without even trying, influencers can redirect your energy where it matters. Because of them, you get to bottom of things like why you even work out, what actually matters in the big scheme of things, what your next steps should be, and what performance, longevity, and strength really mean to you. Influencers are your best bet for getting a serious wake-up call. If you don't have one or two right now, start looking.
3 – The Bro
Everyone should have one at some point. Guys have their bros. Girls have their lady-bros. They're like an energy drink in human form. Spend a minute with him or her and you're ready to "crush some plates." Your bro knows how to motivate so that staying home is not an option unless you're injured. And even though you can shoot the shit, they still know when to get serious. If you're really lucky, you'll find one that doubles as a specialist or influencer. Sure, you could work out without these friends, but having someone nearby who's excited for your success and sad about your injuries is the best. Training becomes group therapy.
4 – The Workhorse
You need to see someone lifting heavier than you, going harder than you, and using better technique than you. You need this person even if you don't talk to him or her very often. But here's the catch: find a person whose abilities aren't so far out of reach that they seem impossible to accomplish. Make your workhorse someone who is maybe just a year or two more advanced than you, or just a level up in skill and strength. If you catch up to this person, then find a new workhorse to watch.
Having one of these gives you something realistic to aim for. You raise your standards when you see someone doing better than you, but you also stay grounded knowing that this person didn't get there overnight, and he or she is still improving from workout to workout, just like you.
5 – The Reliable Source of Varied Info
Everyone needs exposure to ideas. But it'd be dangerous to trust just one person in this case – especially in fitness, where there tends to be a lot of self-proclaimed experts. That's where T Nation comes in. You choose from a variety of people, who have a variety of perspectives. Then you gather insight from whomever speaks to you, gives you applicable information, challenges your beliefs, and keeps you excited about training. You weigh the pros and cons of what they recommend, test things out, and think for yourself.
Remember, no one person can contrive your exact set of circumstances, your goals, experience level or skill level, finances, preferences, or genetic profile. So it's up to you to search for answers and find out for yourself how they apply to you.