Lead Photo Credit: Arien Chang Castan
The question is, "How's it working for me?" Here's why you have to answer it honestly, even if the answer stings.
We all know that guy. He's the guy that eats lots of junk food and stays lean. He can do nothing but bench press and build perfect pecs. He can do tons of cardio and not lose muscle. He can drink like a fish and avoid getting a beer belly. He's the guy who can do a lot of things "wrong" and still look good and heave impressive weights. But here's the thing...
You're probably not that guy. Most of us aren't.
Too often in bodybuilding and fitness, regular guys (and gals) idolize and follow the workout and diet advice of one of "those guys." But the thing is, he may be the only guy that strategy has ever worked for. In fact, he may not even use that strategy himself. It was just something he tried once and wrote an ebook about, only now he's locked into that brand.
Maybe "those guys" have injected the equivalent of a border-town pharmacy into their butts. Have you? Well, then maybe their workout and nutrition plans are going to affect you differently.
Ironically, "those guys" often can't even tell you what they're doing to get their impressive results. I once spoke to a bodybuilder and asked him about his biceps training. He outlined a pretty standard plan of curl variations, nothing special. Then I saw him train.
He started every workout with close-grip chin-ups. Now, this definitely had an effect on his arm development, but he doesn't even mention it when asked. Maybe he thinks it's just part of his warm-up. Or maybe he just likes to get his "swole on" even if it's leg day. Point is, he doesn't even realize what he's doing to get results.
I also heard a male fitness model suggest that you should do cardio before bed to "burn up all the food in your stomach." Aside from the brain-curdling inaccuracy of that statement, what cardio before bed actually does is elevate cortisol levels at exactly the wrong time and interfere with restorative sleep.
But the pretty fella has great abs, so people listen to him. Heck, it may not even "work" for him, but everything else he does makes up for it and he can't differentiate between what's really working and what he's simply getting away with.
This isn't to say you should ignore the advice of big, strong, ripped folks. Much can be learned from those who walk the walk, and much can be learned from anecdotal evidence and observation. The lesson here, rather, is to be objective.
We've seen a lot of hucksterism in the last 20 years. The "paleo" expert who actually doesn't eat paleo. The intermittent fasting guru who doesn't even intermittently fast anymore. The "expert" who says there's only one way to train and yet doesn't even train that way himself and has never trained that way. The natural bodybuilder who, well, isn't.
How do you avoid falling prey to them? Simply looking in the mirror – or taking regular progress pics – can go a long way. Your mind may have been infected, but your physique is immune. After following their methods, do you look the way you want to look or not?
Let's call this "waving another guy's weenie." See, in bodybuilding and fitness, bragging and waving your tallywacker around is common. "I do this and look at me!" That's fine. But what we're seeing these days is something different.
We're seeing fat guys telling us how great their diet plan is, weak guys talking about the superiority of their strength training system, and skinny little dudes saying that only the science-based plan they're using is proven to build muscle. And yet they look like crap and aren't pushing and pulling any impressive weights.
In other words, they're not even waving their own weenies around. They're waving "that guy's" weenie.
It's the most powerful question you can ask. But it can be tricky too. First because everything seems to be working in the beginning. The most destructive diets, the ones that will surely backfire and leave you worse off in the long run, will work... for a while.
Second, we're pretty good at deceiving ourselves. The problem is, we want very badly to believe that our efforts and sacrifices are paying off. We've invested, and it's tough to admit, or even see, that sometimes what we're doing just isn't working. We drank the Kool-Aid, and even though it tasted awful, we swallowed and smiled. Let's stop doing that.
The psychological strategy here is to disinvest. Be so objective about your diet and training plan that you're like an outsider looking in, evaluating a stranger. Toss the ego out the door and really look into the mirror and into your training log. Is it working as well for you as it is for "that guy?"
No, no, don't spout off about that guy's physique or cite a bunch of studies. What's YOUR physique and performance like? If the plan has been given adequate time to work, then ask, "Is it really working for me?"
Disinvest. Stop it with the talking points. Be ready to drop that very appealing, very scientific-sounding diet that's just not working for you. Be ready to try a new training system that better fits your needs. Be honest with yourself. Only then will you reach your goals.