Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Out of Balance

I'm a people watcher. Always have been. I find human behavior and the root causes of that behavior fascinating. That's probably why I added a psychology degree to my other degrees back in college -- the subject was just too interesting to pass up.

Naturally, given my psych background and my career as a writer and editor in the fitness/muscle field, I'm always trying to get into peoples' heads when it comes to fat loss and muscle building issues. With close and extended observation, you can notice certain behavioral patterns and commonalities in people at the gym (and even in internet communities.)

Here's one thing I've noticed. Maybe you've noticed it too in others or even yourself:

Most people trying to get fit, lose fat, and build muscle are "out of balance" when it comes to the "Big Three" foundational elements: training, nutrition, and lifestyle.

In other words, all their attention is focused on one area while the other areas are neglected or outright ignored. (And by the way, we could probably add recovery and supplementation to this list and make it the Big Five, but let's assume that those areas are already part of the Big Three.)

Lose sight of one or two of the Big Three and you get:

1) Slow results

2) No results

Or even. . .

3) Regression

All Training, No Diet

Here's the most prevalent example: chubby guys who train their asses off.

I see this daily. These guys bust their butts in the gym. They train hard and I respect them for that. But why do they have love handles and big, nine-months-pregnant guts that never seem to get any smaller?

Answer: They ignore one of the other areas -- nutrition.

Yep, they train like pros and eat like schmoes. Do that for a long time and what you usually end up with is a fairly strong guy who looks like he's about to deliver twins. There's muscle under there, but you can't see a lick of it. And no, I'm not talking about competitive powerlifters, who have somewhat of an excuse. I'm talking about regular guys.

(By the way, there seems to be a sharp criticism out there of very lean guys who just don't look big in a T-shirt. They're often attacked for looking like they "don't even lift weights." I can understand that; the 140 pounder wanting to "get ripped" and be 130 needs a head check, but this goes in reverse too -- these "big" chubby guys don't look like they lift either; they just look like fatties with manual labor jobs, or as TC once put it: fat guys with great forearms.)

Sure, there are some young guys, genetically blessed guys, and steroid-using guys who can get away with training hard and neglecting diet (for a while at least), but most of us can't. As I always say, we just can't out-train a shitty diet.

And the opposite of this is true as well, just not as common: the hard-training skinny guy who can't gain much muscle because he eats like a 10 year old girl. Most men tend to go the other direction though: training hard but still eating too much crap. Their internal rationalization seems to be "I train hard so I can get away with eating junk. I need the calories anyway."

As a trainer friend of mine says, "How's that workin' for ya?" Judging by the central adiposity and the love handles, not too well. Remember, you're eating to build muscle, not hibernate for the winter, tubby. There is a difference.

All Diet, No Training

Then there's the nutrition snob who trains like a lil' ol' lady.

This person counts every gram of protein, takes a dozen different supplements, regulates his fiber intake, times his carb intake, has a poster of John Berardi in his kitchen. . . then he goes to the gym and wimps the fuck out, just going through the motions and choosing the easiest exercises.

This person knows everything about nutrition and supplements, but just doesn't "bring it" in the gym, so all that meticulous work in the kitchen doesn't do much for him.

Generally speaking, women do this more often than men. A typical woman will adopt the craziest of restrictive diets, but balk at the idea of weight training. The result: yo-yo dieting.

The Lifestyle Self-Saboteur

Finally we have the person who trains hard, eats in a manner supportive of his goals, and takes good supplements, but then pisses it all away by his poor lifestyle choices: no sleep, excessive drinking and drugging, zero stress management. He may not look all that bad, but he's greatly hampering his results. A lot of college guys fall into this trap.

But some lifestyle choices can really come back to bite you. Kinda hard to train and eat right when your Saturday night in the bar turns into a weekend in the bar, and that turns into a four day weekend, and that turns into you drinking alone at home, and that turns into full blown alcoholism.

And eating right and training hard don't have much of an effect if you're sleeping only three hours a night because you're up playing Warcraft.

The tricky part of the lifestyle element is that you can get away with it for a while, especially if you're young, but man, that backlash is vicious and unforgiving.

Look For Balance

I think we've all slipped when it comes to the Big Three. We've focused a little too much on one area while neglecting the others. Most of us love training, but slip when it comes to diet. It can be quite a learning experience.

Most people start off focusing on training, then gradually learn the importance of diet, then lifestyle. I remember being a newbie and skipping right over the nutrition articles in magazines. Gotta read the "Blasting Boulder Biceps!" article first, right? It's pretty natural to be out of balance in the beginning.

I can see this on T-Nation as well. The latest training article might get a ton of replies and views, while the latest Dr. Lowery nutrition article gets only modest attention. That's too bad, because as I mentioned above, diet is the missing element for most folks. But people don't pay much attention to nutrition until they get frustrated by their lack of progress.

The cool thing is, most of us eventually learn to achieve a good balance. We know when we're balanced and when we're not. We can feel it in the gym and see it in the mirror.

And nothing feels better.


Author: Chris Shugart

Related Posts: