There’s a bit of a fitness epidemic going on these days. It’s running rampant through our gyms, but even more so, it’s running rampant through social media. We’re literally inundated with it. Pictures plastered all over our phones and computer screens of someone that went from horribly obese to standing on stage in a little bikini. Or crossing a finish line covered in mud or standing tall with a barbell of stacked weights overhead. Some have abs and glutes and pecs preordained to make everyone jealous, others just look like average people doing amazing things. All kinds of people from all walks of life with all different levels of fitness acumen have decided that in order to be truly “fit” one must stand and be judged on a stage in a skimpy swimsuit or run miles in a race, beat themselves to a pulp on a course or in the gym, or lift as much weight as they can in the shortest amount of time possible. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against healthy competition. I do compete in bodybuilding shows and I have run a Spartan Race and crossed the finish line by jumping over fire into a watery pit covered head to toe in mud. (and yes, that’s me and my brother in my picture!)
I think those experiences are fantastic, for the most part, and I will do them again. But it’s not my motivation, at least it didn’t use to be. There was a time in my life before I ever started competing when I worked out just because I enjoyed it. Period. Granted, I still enjoy it, but my motivation shifted once I hit the stage and it became all about being more muscular and defined for the next show. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But the problem lies in once again finding my motivation sans competition. Will I always have to compete from now on to give myself that extra push in the gym? Because honestly, I don’t want to compete forever. Some do, and that’s just great, I do not. I want to get back to that place where I just love to workout. So, what I’m looking for is to rediscover my motivation without a goal. When the time is right, I’ll find it. I know this because for over 20 years that’s how I lived my life. But for the past 12 it’s been all about improving for the stage. That’s a long time for something to consume my focus in the gym but I know I can get back to that place before I competed. Well, sort of. I’ll probably always think my quads need to be bigger and my delts need to pop more. That’s kind of ingrained in me now, the search for symmetry. But I need to be okay with not dieting down to single digit body fat to see how far I’ve come.
The problem is that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing people getting ready for something, a race, a show, a competition, whatever it may be, that for some it almost seems that in order to validate the credibility of your workouts, that you HAVE to compete in some form or another. If you don’t, then you’re just adrift in the fitness world, destined to flounder around mindlessly with no direction. Right? WRONG! Here’s the truth, you CAN just workout without a publicly recognized goal ahead of you. It’s okay to workout just cause you want to be able to breathe when you get to the top of the stairs, or just because you want to be able to rearrange your living room without asking for help. It’s okay to want to run or ride your bike just because you enjoy the scenery, or lift just because you love how you feel when you leave the gym. Believe it or not, that’s enough. But too often, I see people that have literally JUST started working out and have never set foot in a gym before. And you know what they say? “I’m going do a competition! I want to be in the best shape of my life!” Okaaay, how about you workout in the gym for longer than 2 weeks before you plan on stripping down into your skivvies and asking a bunch of people you don’t even know to judge all your bits and pieces in fine detail and then point out all of your shortcomings? And if you’re competing in bodybuilding because you have low self esteem, then you’re more than likely in for some troubled waters ahead because once you’ve seen yourself at a low body fat, a non-sustainable low body fat level might I add, then “normal” will now look like “fat” when you look in the mirror. You will NEVER look at yourself the same way again. True story. Some people handle that transition just fine, but for others it leads them down a dark and rather unhealthy slippery slope. And that’s assuming they actually ever see the stage and don’t throw in the towel way before they get there because they didn’t realize it was so going to be so HARD! (contest prep, done correctly, is no joke!)
I’m a lifer when it comes to the gym. I’ve been working out for so many years that it’s just a part of my existence. But even I went through a down time, I think we all do at some point, some more serious than others. But mine came when I thought I wanted to be done competing but my body hadn’t been properly prepped for a return to my old “normal”. I found myself incredibly unhappy with how I looked and how I felt during those 3 years that I was pretending to be ‘retired’. Oh, I worked out the whole time, but my body just didn’t respond the way it used to. So here I go again, back on stage but this time doing it right, with food, with cardio, and with a renewed reason as to why I’m on that stage. I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone. I’ve done well in my competition career in the past, earning my Pro card at the age of 41. I’m not famous or in the natural bodybuilding hall of fame or gracing the cover of magazines, but I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished. But my reasons were different this time. My plan was to just make this about dieting down and then reversing out of my diet post-show. I was going to “reset” my body by building my metabolism up slowly so that I could enjoy just LIVING again without feeling like I needed to constantly count my macros. This wasn’t about winning a show, this was about prepping me for a return to my old normal. I hired a great coach, yes, even trainers need trainers, and I worked hard, followed the plan and with the help of my coach, I competed again. First time back on stage after 3 years, a work in progress mind you but still looking pretty good! But guess what happens? I don’t do that great in either show. Ouch. I wasn’t pleased. I felt a bit bad about myself. I got caught up in the competition with others and forgot that this was supposed to just be a competition with ME. It’s tough to not get caught up in the hype, but I know better! So my point here is that when you start competing in bodybuilding, or in just about anything, you’re opening up a whole can of worms you didn’t know about. And if it’s just your desire to feel good, be healthy, breathe better and put on your jeans without checking your butt in the mirror, then DON’T think that you need to compete to have that. On the contrary, it would be best to NOT go down that road because you’ll be introducing so much more into your life that you may or may not be prepared or have a desire to manage. Seriously, it’s okay to have motivation without a goal. At least without a goal to publicly prove it to the world, or in this day and age, prove it to all your Facebook and Instagram friends, most, might I add, you wouldn’t even know if you passed them on the street! But, if you want to compete in bodybuilding, run a marathon or do a triathlon, then go for it! Don’t just put your toe in the water, DIVE IN! Because that’s what a true competitor does, they go all in. But don’t think for a second that’s the next logical step when you step into the gym for the first time or get on that new bike. Maybe you just need to do this for you. Not for Facebook, but just for you. I do understand the notion of “I just want to do it once to say I’ve done it”. But just be darn sure you’re REALLY doing it for yourself. Ask yourself some serious questions and give yourself HONEST answers. Do I still want to compete if I’m not allowed to EVER post a selfie of my progress, or ‘check-in’ at the gym or the track? If you’re not allowed to tell ANYONE what you’re doing, or what you’re training for, do you still want to do it? Do you still want to spend 1-3 hours in the gym every day working out if no one knows you’re there? Do you still want to weigh all of your food at every meal if no one knows about your sacrifices? Do you still want to stand on that stage if no one is there to tell you that you look amazing? Would you still want to take the whole journey, ALONE? (Because once the dust settles, it’s still just you standing in front of your own mirror once again searching for your self esteem.) But if the answer is yes to my questions, then by all means, do your thing because you’re probably going to be just fine. You’re doing it for YOU, and that’s all that matters. But if you can’t make it without the accolades and the attaboys, then it really doesn’t matter how many people you tell that you’re just doing it for yourself, that’s clearly not the case.
Our entire life should be led with the desire to be fit. Fit enough to go through life being able to do exciting things and see amazing sights because our bodies are strong and fit enough to take us where we want to go, that’s living! That’s a worthy goal in itself. There’s no way to take a selfie of that kind of goal because it’s not specific, it’s just LIFE. And life gives us it’s own challenges along the way. And quite frankly, the rewards of overcoming life’s challenges are far more precious than a trophy or a medal. And besides, you can always post pictures of your pets on Facebook instead.