A Beginner's Guide To Mastery

Personal Training in Tucson - The Protocol Strength & Conditioning, Llc

By: Jerry Trubman, Owner and Founder

In most things in life, attaining proficiency in a particular task is usually taken very seriously. In others, not so much. For example, the fitness world often misses the mark. In today’s post, I’d like to take a big-picture approach to answer the “How do I… <insert big fitness goal>?” question and give some food for thought on how to approach seemingly unattainable fitness goals and actually accomplish them. Enjoy…

Let’s use an example of one of the most elusive goals for a lady (or some guys for that matter) to do one strict pullup or chin-up. Your ‘big goal’ might be different, so please feel free to insert that here instead. For most women, especially beginners, working up to one strict chin-up is pretty daunting. We come to a fork in the road, and there are two ways this conversation can go…

1. “I will NEVER be able to do a chin-up. There is no point in trying.” (Usually spoken in a voice that sounds like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh)

2. “That’s an awesome goal! I’d love to get there someday.”

This brings us to point number one: Mindset. From years of experience and thousands of clients, I can say with absolute certainty that the people who had the right mindset frequently accomplished their goals, and those who didn’t often gave up too soon. Henry Ford was absolutely right all those years ago… “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, either way you’re right.”

The second point is equally important: Not giving up. In the example above, I cited that some gave up too soon. Now here’s the crazy part: We’ve actually worked with numerous students who didn’t think they could accomplish the goal, but stuck around anyway. Why? I have no idea. Maybe they made friends with someone in their class, or thought Matt’s beard was really sexy. I don’t know. But what I do know is that after hanging out here for a few years, they’ve managed to accomplish previously insurmountable fitness goals just by consistently showing up. 

Our old location was next door to a quilting shop. Shortly after we moved in, I decided to be neighborly and introduce myself. Once they got over the initial shock of a male under the age of 60 walking in to the store without his wife, and realized I wasn’t trying to sell them something, I got to learn a little bit about their business and various services they offered. Besides selling products related to quilting, they also taught quilting classes.

I wonder what would have happened if I registered for a beginner’s quilting class and asked, “Hey, so how long after taking this class will I be able to make a quilt like they have at those big quilting shows at the convention center downtown?”

I’m pretty sure those ladies would laugh me out of the store.

Seems pretty obvious when we look at a hobby like quilting, right? The quilts at the big quilting shows are made by people who have been quilting for decades. Same goes for most other high-skill activities. With the rare exception of a child prodigy, most people dedicate countless hours to attaining the skill necessary to accomplish the task. As a matter of fact, even the prodigies still need lots of practice. There have been many instances where a gifted musician gets passed over for someone else that doesn’t have the natural talent, but more than made up for it in hard work.

But then we shift this conversation to fitness and we see things like, “Get Ripped In 90 Days!”

Seriously!?

Based on what we’ve been talking about, does that seem right to you? Again, with the exception of a few genetically gifted (and pharmaceutically altered) people, most folks who you see in the ads for those programs worked very hard for many years to look that way. If you were one of the genetically gifted, you would have known by now.

It’s also worth noting that modern-day cameras and photo editing software have the ability to do some pretty remarkable things. I wrote a blog post a few years back illustrating this. I had ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos taken of me.

The funny part was that the photos were taken three days apart. In the first photo, I ate a very salty meal and drank a ton of water the night before the photo was taken, and stood with very poor posture. For the next few days before the second photo was taken, I spent a little time outside getting some sun, and ate normally so my water bloat would go away. The camera lighting was totally different as well. I asked that very little photoshop be used, but if they did you would have been able to see an even more dramatic change. This ‘incredible transformation’ took 3 days and it was used to illustrate just how much of a sham these before-and-after photos can be.  

There is also one more important caveat to the ‘just show up’ principle. The actual program being followed must be designed to consistently and gradually progress from one level to the next. If the program is what Mark Reifkind calls “random acts of exercise” it will unlikely produce the desired outcomes.

The take-home message is this: As they say in the StrongFirst program, “Strength is a skill.” If you treat your training like learning a new skill, your results will be magnified. If you’ve been training seriously for less than 3 years, you’re a beginner. Instead of going for new PR every Friday, hang out at about a 60-70% effort and polish your technique. In three years, not only will you not be broken, but you will be outperforming most of the people who are your size/gender in the gym. It’s really that simple.

Common sense is sometimes not so common. I’ve met people who have been going to the gym (and sometimes even a trainer) for years with little progress to show for it. This is a sad and expensive mistake. This may seem like an oversimplification, but if you signed up for a strength training program and haven’t gained strength, it’s time for a change!

If you’re not sure where to begin and would like to talk to someone, I’m never too busy to chat with you about your goals.

Until next time,

Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached "Team Protocol" to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife Marie and dog Sadie. To subscribe to his blog, click here.

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