One of the biggest shifts I’ve made personally in my approach to health and fitness over the past year or two is moving away from a focus on physique transformation and towards fitness mastery.
At first, it may not seem like there’s a whole lotta difference between these two things, but there is a difference. And whether you
Ten years ago when I started training, I was after a PHYSICAL transformation. Today, I’m all about fitness mastery. And this seemingly subtle change has made a massive difference in everything I do with fitness and nutrition.
And more often than not, this struggle is due to a few mindset hurdles that need to be jumped.
Here’s 5 of them…
MISTAKE #1: TRANSFORMATION MINDSET VS. FITNESS MASTERY
Physique transformation is just about changing your body.
Transformation is about disparity: you don’t like how you look right now and you want to change. You’re all about the end goal.
The process is a necessary evil; something you just try to ‘get through’ so that you can see the results you’re after.
Fitness mastery is about more than just changing your body.
It’s about autonomy: you clearly define your goals and gain a jedi-like understanding of what it takes to achieve them, delivering a zen-like balance between fitness and the rest of your life that makes the process enjoyable, challenging, and worthwhile.
Because that’s what this whole health and fitness thing really is, a process. It’s not a 12 or 16 week ‘sprint’.
Building the body that you want and living a life of strength, health, and confidence is something you will put effort into and make a priority for the rest of your life.
We’re after fitness mastery.
MISTAKE #2: NOT DECIDING BETWEEN SHIRT ON BIG AND SHIRT OFF LEAN
I’ve been training consistently – as in, 3-5 times per week – for over 10 years.
I started out as a scrawny 155-pound weakling and worked my way up to a brawny 190-pound man. And I’ve “bulked” and “cut” my way back and forth somewhere between those two places multiple times.
Now I reside at a comfortable 170-175. The reason I continued to bounce around between gaining weight and losing it? I was trying to find a balance between “shirt on big” and “shirt off lean.”
When I’d cut and get lean, I felt pretty good without a shirt (or in a tank top), but when I put a shirt on, I felt small.
When I’d bulk, I felt bigger in clothes and like I filled out my shirts more, but when I took my shirt off I felt ‘soft.’
Here’s what I’ve learned from this experience: You can’t choose both – you can’t be the “big guy” and have good muscle definition.
Most guys have been brought up on muscle mags and bodybuilding websites that tell them they can be 200 pounds with 17-inch arms and a ripped six-pack.
Most genetically average guys aren’t gonna be able to have both.
And this isn’t some “slack off and be mediocre” push.
Set big goals.
Aim to push the limits.
Prove me wrong.
But at the same time, don’t let some guy in some magazine claiming to be 210 pounds with 17-inch arms and 8% bodyfat ruin your day when the best you’re able to do is fill out out a medium t-shirt and rock some abs at the pool.
Commit to showing up to the gym 2-4 times per week, tracking your workouts and making sure you’re getting stronger over time and following an intelligently designed workout program for the next 10-20 years and I guarantee you’ll build plenty of muscle.
Always stay lean enough to see some abs. Unless you’re 17 and completely new to working out, “bulking” will just make you fat.
Take what you’ve got (your body) and do the best you can with it. Leave the comparisons at the door.
MISTAKE #3: FAILING TO MASTER THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF NUTRITION
When people begin my Elite Coaching Program, they typically feel like the things we start out talking about are “too simple.”
“Whaddya mean I’m supposed to ‘practice’ eating slowly and stopping when I’m full, not stuffed?
What about carb cycling, pre-workout supps, and protein dosing?
But it does work.
And the real kicker? None of that other stuff – the advanced strategies that most people obsess over – is gonna work as well unless you’ve got the foundational things down.
I’ve had guys lose 20 pounds of fat in 12 weeks without ever counting a calorie, taking a supplement, or directly addressing things like carb cycling.
“It’s the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” -Bruce Lee
What are the building blocks of good nutrition?
- Eat whole, minimally processed foods 80-90% of the time.
- Eat lean protein with most meals.
- Lots of fruits and veggies.
- Eat 2-4 times per day following the above guidelines, eating until you are full, but not stuffed.
- Do this over and over again, day after day, month after month, year after year. No “dieting.” No “bulking.” Just cut back a little to lose fat (decrease portions). Or increase portions for muscle gain.
It’s that simple. Feel free to complicate things if you want.
MISTAKE #4: FAILING TO FIND BALANCE BETWEEN HOW TO “LIVE A LITTLE” AND STILL HIT YOUR GOALS
Most people who take the transformation route eventually run into the issue of figuring out how to run that long term and still have, and enjoy, a life outside of the gym or kitchen.
Too many people adopt an “all or nothing” approach and never figure out how to integrate fitness and nutrition into their lives after the initial transformation ends.
This leads to a never-ending battle between ‘living a little’ and being in great shape.
And you end up caught in-between, in this weird place where you’re either feeling like you’re being overly restrictive and missing out on life – or, you feel like you’re enjoying ‘normal’ life too much and missing out on gains.
Either way, you’re frustrated.
So what’s the solution? The answer takes us back to fitness mastery. Identify the non-essential habits to reach your goals (hint: we just covered these for nutrition and training — it was so simple you may have skimmed over it — see above), and do those 80-90% of the time.
And the other 10%? Live. Unapollogetticahlly and without a trace of guilt. Then get back on track.
MISTAKE #5: CONSTANTLY SEARCHING FOR THE “END-GAME”
Fitness mastery is a lifelong process without a definable end. If you’re just in the fitness game to transform your body in 12 weeks and then be done with it, things won’t turn out well for you.
You’ll end up like the millions of others who are constantly “re-focusing” and “starting the diet on Monday”, because they viewed health and fitness as a short-term goal with an end.
Fitness – building muscle, getting (or staying) lean, improving conditioning – is a habit, not something you “do” for a few months and then move on. You gotta be in this for the long haul.
People who search for the end-game of fitness are almost always driven by external motivators.
They want abs. Or biceps. Or to be more confident. Those things are fine and well but at some point they’ll lose their muster.
Reason being, external motivation is driven by emotion. And eventually, that emotion will wear off.
Emotion leaves you hanging by a thread, always feeling like you’ve got to get a 300-pound bench press or look like this or that fitness model by next month.
You’re always in a rush, trying to get to the end so that you can be good enough, or measure up in whatever way you feel inferior.
People with ‘end-game’ syndrome are the ones jumping on every fad diet and extreme weight loss or muscle gain approach that comes along. They think, “If I can just suffer through this for 8 more weeks (or 12 or whatever), I’ll ‘arrive.’”
But you don’t ever “arrive.” Not really. That’s why most people with this approach towards fitness burn out quickly. They realize significant transformation takes time.
They realize that in the end, they can’t look like this or that person.
That all of their problems won’t be solved by building bigger muscles. And if you get in this situation and don’t have some greater form of motivation from within, you’ll give up.
To make fitness a lifelong habit you have to find internal motivation.
The drive to continue the habits necessary to look and feel great comes from within. It’s not driven by emotion or the need to look “good enough” or anything like that. It’s dictated by your own mind and a force within that drives you to become the best, strongest version of yourself.
With intrinsic motivation, you embrace and enjoy the process.
Sure, the ‘outcomes’, like bigger biceps or better abs or improved health are great – but that’s not the only reason you do it.
You get out of bed early to get a workout in while most are still sleeping or spend an extra hour preparing a healthy, home-cooked meal instead of hitting up a drive-thru because it’s part of who you are.
You set measurable goals that you work towards, but there’s no end game. You’ve bought in, and you know that the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment you feel from the day-to-day grind is well worth the cost of the journey.
Once you lock in the routine and habits of training regularly and eating well, you no longer succumb to the rollercoaster of ups and downs experienced when you’re driven by emotion.
Get to that point and you’ll have very little trouble maintaining a strong, healthy, good-looking body. It’ll be second nature. You’ll embrace the ebb and flow of motivation and results as a natural part of a lifelong process.