The internet. I’m a fan but our relationship is tumultuous. One moment I’m reading an excellent Dean Somerset article on weight loss while simultaneously watching 80’s movie trailers, the next I stumble across one of these “motivational” posts on Tumblr or Pinterest. You’re likely familiar with the filth. Typically filled with delusion, self loathing, and shame, I just happened to stumble upon this little gem:
I mean… Come on!
Today I feel like ranting. Those of you close to me might be asking yourselves, “When doesn’t Taylor feel like ranting?” While that may be valid, today marks a special day — an extra special rant. I want to take some time to dive a little deeper into six of these popular fitness “motivational” memes and photos, hopefully showcasing the dangers of their shameful rhetoric. We’ll certainly have a few laughs at the silliness of it all, but in the end I aim to develop in all of us a little more empathy and a little more compassion towards the individuals bombarded by these images. If you hang on until the end, I might even call out someone on whom you can cast your blame. And so, allow me to pour an additional finger of bourbon so we can get started!
1. “It takes 21 Days”
Seemingly innocent, beautifully simple. It will take you three weeks to make quality exercise and dietary choices a habit. Let me ask you a question. Is the only dependent variable in the cementing of a habit the passage of time? I’m genuinely asking here guys and gals, because there’s a good deal of vexes and vices I’d like to give up three weeks from now!
In the Summer of 2016 I celebrated my decade anniversary with resistance training and physical culture. After 10 years of training 2-6 times a week, 45-50 weeks a year, I’m here to tell you that maintaining a movement practice and lifestyle largely considered “healthy” takes work (healthy is in scare-quotes because sometimes we put the kids to bed, have too much ice cream, and binge watch Netflix shows — sue me). Like any discipline, health and wellness is cultivated and raised over a long pursuit of consistency. Don’t let that paralyze you! Log your twenty one days and use that momentum as a jumping off point.
2. Sore or Sorry
You choose. Red pill, blue pill. Success, or failure.
Okay, two thoughts:
a) Is soreness really my only post-training option for a physical state? Can I not be stronger? Happier? Or possibly this earth-shattering revelation: Better?
b) Should I be ashamed if I’m not sore? Author/researcher Brené Brown puts it this way, “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” If no one has told you this in a while, allow me… Your worth as a human is in no way correlated to your exercise frequency, exercise intensity, or for that matter, dietary choices.
While soreness is an unquestionably good stimuli, it certainly isn’t the only marker for letting us know we had a tough training session the day or two before. We should be looking for other indicators alongside of perception of soreness to gauge when to hit it again. Furthermore, we shouldn’t always expect soreness to be present. In the same way your personal value isn’t corresponded with your workout choices, soreness isn’t associated with exercise intensity. You could have a fluff training day and be tight as hell the day after, or go through a rough session and be loose as a goose twenty-four hours later. Carry no shame and track your training intensity with more cerebral measures.
3. I call this one: “Covered Up”
Oh honey, where to start? Assuming this is aimed at motivating individuals on a torrid pursuit of their “Beach Body”, I would say yes, you are going to have to work hard to alter physical composition; however, is beating yourself to a sweaty pulp the answer? Caloric expenditure, alongside sustainable caloric deficit, will equate to weight loss. Equally, strength and hypertrophy training will shape muscles leading to aesthetic changes over time.
With that said, don’t go to the gym because it will get you a more desirable body. Get your ass in the gym and clean up your eating because you actually want to. Associating the food you eat with a particular pant size, the ounces you sweat to a number of visible abs, or the weights you lift to your appearance in a swimsuit will only cause trouble down the road.
“Okay Taylor, so what should I do?”
Do the fitness thing and eat well, but not for any one person or one end. Do it because it satisfies multiple desires of yours. To be confident, independent, perform better, feel awesome, learn new skills, and yes, even to look better naked. So go rock those curls for the girls or rows for the bros, but also train for your longterm health, keeping you around to read my blogs till the end of your days.
4. “Keep Going”
As a provider of fitness to general population clients, one of my general rules is don’t hurt the people who pay you. The general algorithm is this:
Work Them + Recover + Get Results = Client Retention
Think of it this way, beauticians that botch haircuts don’t stick around for very long. Yet somehow, coaches who injure clients or athletes seem to escape paying the piper. In fact, a program’s worth is sometimes valued at how much it made you suffer, not how much it made you succeed.
In a militarized fitness scenario, where the only marker for quitting is pain, there’s typically a strong correlation between that program and inadequate results. As an antithesis, when training takes place within someone’s capabilities 90% of the time, circumstantially and infrequently pushing beyond limits 10% of the time, we not only see great results, but that individual can come back and hit it the next day. Simply put, when you’re nursing injuries, fatigued, or busy puking, you’re not training. It is only by consistently stringing together training sessions that you’ll see results. Don’t pour it all out in one session so you can’t hit the gym for another month. It’s a fast way to get no results and an even faster way to get bedridden.
5. “Forget Skinny”
There’s a lot of buzzwords and connotations in this one and many of you are feeling all the feels right now. Maybe I can help by breaking things down.
a) Forget. First off, never forget. Remember were you started, recognize what it took to move the needle, and enjoy your progress regardless of your goal.
b) Skinny. In this context, the quote is grandstanding on the notion that skinny is bad, skinny is the old, and a “fit badass” ought to be the new desired norm. Trouble is, people can’t train their bodies to places that their physical structures haven’t already pre-defined. The fellas over at bonytobeastly.com recognize this. A website and training program for gentlemen who would likely self describe as “wirey” lays out what it means to have an ectomorphic build.
“Skinny isn’t a trait, it’s a state. Marco [one of their founders] was skinny, he gained 63 pounds, and now he’s a pretty strong looking dude. However, he still has a bunch of the same traits that he did back when he was skinny—a small stomach capacity, a small appetite, small muscle bellies, narrow bones, etc. That’s because he’s an ‘ectomorph’—someone who’s naturally skinny.”
Applying this to the “motivational” quote above, someone reading the phrase, “Forget Skinny” might just be naturally skinny, or ectomorphic by design. This doesn’t preclude them from obtaining their own state of “fit” or mastering all sorts of badassery. Equally so, an individual outside of an ectomorph’s general shape, say an endomorph or mesomorph, might be somewhat constrained by their given body type as well. I for one won’t be setting any limits on them either, let alone “forgetting” their shape/type altogether.
c) Finally, all pure, unadulterated badassness died when they stopped making Lethal Weapon movies. Murtaugh and Riggs forever!
6. “Nothing Tastes As Good…”
There are many witty retorts available on the internet in response to the phrase, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. The statement, originally credited to Kate Moss, as been met with the likes of, “Doughnuts. Doughnuts taste as good as being fit feels” and “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels… except bacon, chocolate, pasta, pizza, and quite a few other things”.
While I don’t enjoy the phrasing, I understand the general thesis of delayed gratification. Trying to say, “Momentarily withhold treats or less calorically valuable, processed foods in order to align your dietary choices with your body composition goals” doesn’t look as crafty when laid over an image of a bikini clad model. Even if it did, I don’t think people would hear it.
When it comes to diet and lifestyle, we don’t want to make small changes and stick to them consistently. We want to go Vegan and start doing Hot Yoga eight days a week. We want to do a Whole30 and run a marathon in the same month. We want to go low-carb and squat “every damn day”. As weird and unfortunate as it might be, all of that absurdity tastes better to us than consistency feels.
As a last note on this particular image, food is just food. Sure it’s fuel, but it’s also fun. If you have a body composition or performance goal, yes, you must be aware of food’s interplay with those desires. However, making broad nutritional ultimatums across large, diverse populations is foolish. If you ever give me a sideways look for the few bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch I eat a month, shit will get real.
How do we fix this and who is to blame?
This might surprise you, but I am to blame — even if just partly. I am professionally involved in an industry that has gotten really good at misinforming its participants. Fifteen years ago, we were fully on board with taxing foods high in saturated fat (remember all that tub-based, low-fat margarine?). Fast forward to today… Fats are the heroes and sugar is the devil worthy of tariffing. In the past, we spent a good deal of time convincing you that squatting, and deep, loaded knee extension was terrible for your joints; only to flip the script, now shaming anyone on a selectorized machine. Lastly, and most tragically, the very worst of us have invaded your living spaces, and your basements, with our gimmick products and infomercialized merchandise.
At it goes on, and on, and on, and on…
I’ve long wrestled with the fight against images like the ones above. Their message is direct, effective, and can be spread to ubiquity. When some nineteen year old from Finland with defined abs and 85k Instagram followers shares, “what you eat in private, you wear in public”, it catches a lot of eyes. How can you fight that?
People, we’ve got bullshit to battle! Instead of sitting on my hands, paralyzed by the repugnancy around me, I’ve decided to take action. These DE-motivational images are flooding the screens of hard working men and women who don’t have the skeptic filter required to process them, laugh, and move along. Therefore, I see my (and your) roll as two-fold.
1. Put out quality information.
Here at MSP, our pursuit is most chiefly education. Not only teaching individuals to move better, but instructing them to be self advocates, wading through the health and fitness space with autonomy and clarity. This is why we write blogs, film videos, and share with you the items we share. It’s all in an attempt to literally drown out the bad “noise”. My personal hope is that by speaking into complicated fitness and wellness topics, I might be the catalyst that allows someone watching Dr. Oz to say, “Pfft! What crap! That’s not how you use coconut oil!” This way, people are less susceptible to being misguided, misinformed, or worst of all, derailed from their health journey because of misinformation overload.
You can do this too! The fuel for these images and general rhetoric is seemingly innocuous sharing on social media. Be a person who chooses their health and fitness posts wisely. Care about what you share and who you are sharing it to. We’re all creating an internet footprint, be cognizant about how yours will look to those around you.
2. Start, and likely stay, local.
Would I have a good time talking about fitness on a national morning news show? Uh, did Grizzly Adams have a beard?!? It would be unquestionably enjoyable to have a massive audience hear my message of battling the misinformation, however what’s the effectiveness of such a campaign? Probably in one ear, out the other. The way I see it, taking a person to person, grass roots approach is a strategy not even 85k Instagram followers could dissuade me of. If I’m wasting my time amassing YouTube subscribers, what good am I to the awesome patrons of MSP Fitness? Our clients, as well as the individuals you surround yourself with, have real questions and are looking for someone to offer some sensible insight.
So I encourage you to join me in self education and self awareness. Begin by developing a filter of skepticism. Nothing heavy-handed or obtuse, but instead, take a position of questioning and inquiry. Next, humbly battle all the fitness and health rubbish out there with the information you’ve gleaned from your own investigating. Keep in mind, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail so wisely and patiently navigate tough waters. I.e. don’t spout off to your mother-in-law regarding her daily “detox” shot of apple cider vinegar — the higher the horse, the harder the fall. Finally, keep it local. Establish relationships, build trust, and showcase your worthiness to be heard through non-verbal actions. Be an individual of doing, not telling, and you’re well on your way to people seeking your sage counsel on hot topics and current fitness controversies.
I’ve left you with a charge. Something implementable and something I trust you’ll hold me accountable on. Remember, what I haven’t done is give you license to comment on your cousin’s fitness-based Facebook updates unchecked. Be in relation with folks, do your own research, and join me in the fight against the fitsanity.
If any of the above information resonated with you, we probably see eye to eye on matters of health and fitness. When it comes to finding a coach or training facility, sharing a wellness worldview is crucial. Maybe you’re attending oversized group classes with little direction. Or possibly you’ve got a personal training helping you with your program, but somethings just not working. Maybe you’re just in a rut? Whatever it is, MSP Fitness has the solution for you!
Our facility located in St. Louis Park, Minnesota is all about giving you options to pursue fitness and smash your goals, setting new ones along the way! We’ve been serving the West Metro, South Minneapolis, and larger Twin Cities community since 2009, offering private, semi-private, and group training options.
Best way to get a hold of us? Allow us to get a hold of you!