***It is important to note that all of our bodies are different and for many of us working out with a personal trainer in a traditional gym setting is actually not a healthy choice, whether that be because our bodies cannot move in such ways or because our bodies need very little physical activity to recover from an eating disorder or a variety of other chronic illnesses that require as little caloric expenditure as possible. Please keep YOUR current body and current situation in mind when reading this article. Please also remember that all bodies are great bodies- that we don’t need to have toned, fit, or sculpted bodies to be beautiful or to feel good enough- we are good enough. Having softness on your body, having fat on your body, is a beautiful thing and it certainly does not indicate our level of health. Live BeYOUtifully, LLC. encourages joyful movement; If you take pleasure in exercising in a gym setting and want to work with a personal trainer, do your best to find someone like Ollie that will be supportive of your internal health and will not encourage a quick fix!***
When Lexie and I spoke over the phone about this blog post we were discussing different professions that encounter pressure with having to look a certain way, more specifically as it applies to men. Being a personal trainer and a male, I guess I have some grounds to comment on my personal experience with body image in the world of health and fitness. So let’s cut to the chase.
When does the pursuit of improving your body become an unhealthy obsession?
A couple of months ago Lexie got in touch with me through a mutual friend to discuss the topic of ‘professions that deal with body image issues’, specifically from a male perspective.
I’m a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach and yoga instructor. Body image is definitely a hot topic within the fitness industry, even more so with the continued growth of social media. We have instant and ever more detailed access to the lives of fitness professionals and enthusiasts all over the world who are trying to portray the best ‘virtual’ image of themselves and at times trying to sell products or a lifestyle brand. It has become much easier to find people who we can look to for inspiration, and self comparison.
I work in a gym and am constantly surrounded by people who are on some level working to change or maintain a certain physical appearance of their body. There are people trying to gain more muscle, get bigger, be more ripped, get slimmer thighs, get bigger arms, more visible abs……I’ve heard it. There are people exercising for better overall health, sports performance, to run a faster 10k and there are some people who genuinely don’t care too much about how their body looks and are just exercising because it makes them feel good and they like it. All of these groups have different goals and motivations, but the majority include some aspect of altering your aesthetic appearance. And that’s not a bad thing……most of the time.
Having the ability to alter your physical appearance is massively empowering and very rewarding. When you see the early results of your hard work in the gym, it gives you even more fuel to keep going. This Is also a great life lesson in cause and effect: If you are diligent and directed in your efforts, then you will see the results you deserve in time. This is why I got hooked on lifting weights and training when I was in high school, it empowered me both physically and mentally at a time when I was lacking confidence in myself. But I wasn’t doing it for anyone else, I was doing it for me. It was more of a personal competition to see how far I could take it. How strong could I get? How much faster could I be? How much did I have the ability change? It was never about impressing others or because people would like me more if I looked different, just because it felt fun to me and made me feel good. And who doesn’t want to look like a superhero?
So when do the efforts towards enhancing your physical body shift from a healthy outlet to being detrimental to your wellbeing? Really it comes down to the individual’s motivation, their “WHY”.
For me this negative path started from a place of insecurity. I was a relatively new personal trainer and was working in a gym setting where you are directly in competition for clients with other trainers. Clients can not tell how knowledgeable you are, how personable you are, how good of a coach and instructor you are by just looking at you or your Bio photo on the gym wall. My thought was “I need to be bigger!” even though I was already in great shape by anyone’s standards and had great credentials (not to toot my own horn). My feeling of being ‘not enough’ was really the major driving force behind my training at this point and I went from training for athletic performance, health and fun, to training with the sole goal of gaining muscle because I thought people would be more likely to hire me if I was a big dude. The problem is that I’m a naturally very long and lean person, my frame wasn’t built for bulk. Over the course of a year or so I gained 15lb and also lost my love for lifting. Yes, I gained a lot of muscle, and I was pleased with the progress I’d made, but the lack of balance in my training and lifestyle left me burnt out and injured. I began to have chronic back issues, hip pain, elbow pain and was in and out the the chiropractor and massage room every few weeks. To cut a long story short, I’d let my ego get the best of me. I had ignored the signs my body was giving me for too long and the pain was its way of saying “No more!”
It wasn’t the strength training and muscle gain that was the issue, it was my approach to the situation. My insecurity made me very impatient, and that was really what lead to my down fall. 2 steps forward, 10 steps back. I learned a hard lesson over the course of a couple of years and had to completely change my approach which breathed life back into myself and my routine once again.
I made a return to practicing yoga and spent almost a year away from lifting weights in any serious manner, while my back and hips regained balance. This practice was a game changer for me in providing the Yin that I so gravely needed to balance out my very Yang tendencies. Completing my yoga teacher training was also a fantastic chance to turn my focus inward and begin to build greater self awareness and mental strength without as much attachment to my own ego. Now my training is pretty functional: centered around being able to deal with physical demands of my job and having the energy I need to be the best possible coach and trainer for my clients. I am no good to anyone if my back is thrown out for weeks on end and honestly, no one cares or is really that impressed by how much you lift. What’s important as a trainer is that you are empathetic to the clients needs and can use the correct training methods to help them reach their goals in and effective, fun and fulfilling manner.
Real Talk. I still want to have a great body, don’t get me wrong. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think having a strong physique can play a huge role in increasing self confidence, but it is not the be all end all. Having a great athletic looking body comes as the result of training your body to perform many different athletic tasks consistently for a number of years. Not to mention providing your body with the nutrition, rest, recovery and sleep it needs to perform physically on a high level day In day out. There is no quick fix to this. This is why most professional athletes look a certain way, it’s the lifestyle that they have chosen to live every day for years on end! Yet you see stuff online or in magazines like “Get the Michael Phelps body in 6 weeks with this workout” and its very very unrealistic. Its bullshit. The shortsightedness of the fitness industry is that its all about quick results, fad workouts and crash diets. Images that make you feel inadequate and prey on insecurities to push products. This is why I get prospective clients who are going on vacation in 2 months and request that they must: lose 30lbs, appear toned and muscular, have visible abs and bigger arms. I see more and more that there is a disconnect between the bodies that people want to attain, and the sacrifices they are willing to make them a reality.
The cost of looking better should never come at the expense of feeling worse. We need to begin moving away from some of the mainstream ideas about fitness, instead promoting and teaching a sustainable, safe, life long culture of being fit and healthy.
CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), Strongfirst Bodyweight Instructor, RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
Onyx Wellness, Michigan
After speaking with Ollie it was evident that due to his own personal experience his focus with his clients has shifted. Ollie shared that he once worked out for ‘the gains,’ that he too fell prey to the standard of beauty that fitness trainers feel the need to portray, but this led him down a dark path with a slew of health problems. It wasn’t until he took a step back that he realized his body was not meant to be ‘bulky,’ nor was he meant to eat thousands of calories per day when he wasn’t even hungry. He took to yoga and left the gym for a year before returning with a balanced mindset and a lighter mood. Many people come to him with an external goal in mind. I feel for Ollie because his livelihood is based on his clients’ satisfaction. He shared that a lot of things that are better for our bodies and our health don’t sell well because they take time. But what if satisfaction didn’t have to be abs or thigh gaps? What if it could be feeling better, feeling more energetic? What if it could simply be satisfaction in knowing that you’re moving your body everyday in a way that feels good FOR YOU? Ollie is doing his best to help clients shift their focus from the external to the internal, from exercising themselves into the ground for ‘quick and easy results,’ to exercising at a slower pace and achieving health rather than fitness- a distinction he was quick to point out to me. Fortunately, he remarked on how he does believe a shift is happening due to the number of people that are getting injured from extreme forms of exercise and low-calorie diets. It’s a shame that it takes people getting hurt or experiencing digestive issues, hair loss, fatigue, etc. to show compassion to their bodies, but knowing that trainers like Ollie exist means there is hope…even in the fitness world! I can only hope the shift he is noticing continues to spread throughout the many gyms in our country and that the positive work he does with his clients carries through to their families and friends.
***AS STATED ABOVE: It is important to note that all of our bodies are different and for many of us working out with a personal trainer in a traditional gym setting is actually not a healthy choice, whether that be because our bodies cannot move in such ways or because our bodies need very little physical activity to recover from an eating disorder or a variety of other chronic illnesses that require as little caloric expenditure as possible. Please keep YOUR current body and current situation in mind when reading this article. Please also remember that all bodies are great bodies, that we don’t need to have toned, fit, or sculpted bodies to be beautiful or to feel good enough- we are good enough. Having softness on your body, having fat on your body, is a beautiful thing and it certainly does not indicate our level of health. Live BeYOUtifully, LLC. encourages joyful movement; If you take pleasure in exercising in a gym setting and want to work with a personal trainer, do your best to find someone like Ollie that will be supportive of your internal health and will not encourage a quick fix!***
Thank you Ollie for taking the time to talk with me, for putting thought into this incredibly necessary topic, and for being a human that cares about your clients’ well being and not just your paycheck.