What does it really take to build a lean, strong, healthy body?

Ever notice how most of the fitness websites, blogs, and magazines are quick to note how much hard work it takes to get in shape?

You don’t have to search long to find a nice long list of things you’re gonna have to give up and ways you’ll have to “embrace the suck” in your pursuit of a better-looking, stronger, and more capable body.  

I often see other guys posting pictures on Instagram or Facebook of themselves flexing in the mirror in the locker room at the gym with a caption like, “Second workout of the day, gotta stay committed.”

Or I see a dad refusing to eat a piece of cake at his daughter’s 2nd birthday party because it “doesn’t fit his macros.” They choose more time at the gym – or skipping out on significant experiences with people important to them – in the name of “hard work.”

They chalk it up to dedication. Or Being committed. But what I see is a life lost. A person confused. Priorities skewed.

Am I suggesting physique transformation doesn’t take hard work?

Not at all.

There will be times when you need to choose getting a workout in over spending time with family or friends. And there will be times when you need to turn down that cake and make tough decisions to balance “experiencing life”  with reaching your goals and building the body you want.

But whether you decide to pass on that cake – or go ahead and enjoy it – and a thousand other similar choices are framed by two things: Your goals and your view of how much work it takes to reach your goals.

Today, we’re gonna focus on the training portion of building the body you want and talk about hard work.  

Two myths about hard work in particular are causing many people to miss out on important experiences in life and make decisions that may not be inline with their ultimate priorities.


I overheard a high school kid talking about his plans to get “swole” the other day. He said he was gonna hit the gym for 2-3 hours MINIMUM every day for the next few months.

Most of us would laugh at the kid, but the thought that hard work in the gym means long workouts is a common idea. I mean, if 1 hour in the gym builds some muscle, 2 or 3 hours must build more muscle, right?

Unfortunately it’s not that simple (if that’s even simple). The duration of your workouts should be tied directly to your goals and take into account lifestyle factors.

Even if (and I’m not saying it’s true) working out for 2 hours per day was the best way to build muscle, it wouldn’t work out well for the average 30- or 40-something guy who has a regular job, maybe a family, and other stressors of the modern lifestyle. It would be overkill.

There is no blanket recommendation of the perfect workout duration that applies to everyone. First you have to look at your goals and constraints and find the approach that is optimal.

The second factor regarding workout duration is that your results are more about what you do with your time in the gym than it is about how long you’re there.

For genetically average dudes with other “normal” responsibilities in life, 3-4 workouts lasting 30-60 minutes will be plenty effective for building muscle.

Don’t buy into the “longer workouts = better results” lie. Figure out your goals and, taking into account the other stuff in your life and prioritizing accordingly, establish a plan for your training that fits.


I’m gonna pick on Crossfit a bit, even though I’m well aware there are many other styles of training that take training intensity to some extreme levels. I have some crossfit friends who truly think it’s not a good workout unless you puke (or come close to it).

In general, the idea that the more exhausted you are – basically the more your workout kicks your ass – the better it must be.

That’s kinda messed up. I’m of the belief that your training should make you better. The goal of my workouts – and what I tell the guys I work with – is that you should walk out of the gym feeling better than when you walked in.

If you’re training so intensely that you have to crawl down (or up) the stairs for 24 hours following leg day, you’re going too hard. If you’re throwing up during your workouts, you’re going to hard.

I see these “weightlifters” at the grocery store or wherever and they can’t even bend down to pick up their wallet without wincing in pain because they’re sore or they’ve neglected their mobility in the name of gaining muscle and spent 2 hours training their abs the day before.

Or dads who can’t chase their kids around or throw them up in the air because they’re shoulders or arms are so tired and sore from their workout.  

It’s ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong, your workouts should be intense and challenging. But you gotta keep it in check. You’re aiming for momentary fatigue – not chronic fatigue. You’re tired for a minute or two after each set. But you’re not exhausted for the rest of the day.

This may be different for someone who’s competing in a certain area of fitness. But as a guy who’s trying to use fitness to enhance other areas of his life, you shouldn’t be overdoing the intensity in the gym.


Before you go applying this advice (or any advice), you need to be aware of something: Everything revolves around your goals.

I’m talking things like..

  • How much time you spend in the gym
  • How intense your workouts are
  • How detailed and specific you get with your nutrition
  • How you balance restriction with indulgence (and “enjoying life)

Your approach to all that stuff is determined by your goals.

There is no perfect workout or diet plan that works best for everybody. IT DEPENDS ON YOUR GOALS.

Getting the idea it’s important to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve?


Take the advice you find here at Muscle That Matters and apply it to an actual bodybuilder who plans to compete on stage, or an actual Crossfit Athlete trying to make it to the games and you will see someone fail miserably.

However, if you take the advice you find here at MTM, and apply it to a guy with a normal job, maybe a family, and who looks at fitness as one part of their lives and you’ll see a great success.

Why? Because it’s all about the goal.

Spending 45-60 minutes in the gym a few days per week and building a few positive nutrition habits and principles is going to be very effective for a normal guy that wants to look awesome and have a life outside the gym.

The same approach isn’t going to be effective for a guy who plans to compete in a certain area of fitness or who is looking to take his physique to extreme limits. To do that, you’re gonna have to be willing to dedicate a lot more time, energy, and resources – and make a lot more sacrifices – to reach your goal.

I’m not saying either goal is better than the other. But too often I see guys who want fitness to enhance their lives getting caught up in the minutia and life-altering approach that is only necessary if you’re trying to take things to an extreme level.

The happiest, most content people I know – people who have found a way to balance fitness and time with people they love and self-improvement and everything else – are those who have clearly defined what they’re after and developed a plan that fits.

They aren’t distracted, confused, or frustrated by gimmicks or magic pill quick fixes or any of that nonsense, because they know they don’t need that stuff. They know those things are created for people who don’t know what they want and will fall for any new empty-promise that comes along.

They know better. And knowing better provides all kinds of freedom.

Knowing the two myths of hard work that we talked about today help move you towards knowing better and finding that freedom.


First, get clear on your goals. Stop trying to do everything.

You can’t have 17-inch biceps, a perfectly sculpted upper chest, a 2-minute Fran time, and be able to dominate a spartan race on a moments notice.

Trying to do all of that at once will leave you with subpar results in each area. Don’t do that.

Do you just wanna look good enough to feel confident when you take your shirt off? Cool, that’s fine. Or, maybe you want to be lean and strong enough to live an active lifestyle? Nice.

Figure out your “Why”, because until you do, all of the other b.s. is probably going to distract you.

Second, stop sabotaging yourself. Once you’ve figured out what you’re goals actually are, don’t let all of the other “noise” get in the way.

To build a leaner, stronger, healthier body that lets you do what you wanna do and have confidence; you don’t have to live in the gym or work yourself past the point of exhaustion every workout.

Do you need to show up consistently and progress over time? You betcha. But don’t get to the point where you’re taking something good (fitness) that should enhance your life and letting it rule it instead.

Figure out what it takes to reach your goals and be consistent. Work hard -yes. But don’t let the hard work mafia trick you into thinking that getting in shape automatically means marathon sessions in the gym and workouts so intense you need a barf bucket. 


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