One thing that always comes up in training is the inevitable fitness comparisons.
“Why don’t I look like that person”?
The best answer is the most obvious one: you aren’t that person.
If that answer doesn’t suffice, let’s examine why fitness comparisons are useless.
The Keys to Improved Fitness
If you consistently lift progressively heavier weights in the rep range of 5-12, get enough rest, eat enough protein, and consume the amount of calories that match your goals, your body will improve its appearance. It has to. It’s not a choice. Stimulus–response.
Extract the key concepts:
2. Progressively heavier weights over time
3. Get enough rest
4. Eat to support goals
Fulfill those criteria and you’ll have success.
What kind of success will you have? It’s hard to say. I have four different ways of grouping people: the genetically enhanced, the genetic freaks, average/normal people, and the non-responders.
We usually compare ourselves to the type of people we are around the most: serious exercisers will compare themselves to other serious exercisers. I think this is the wrong approach.
While overweight people mistakenly believe that everyone at the gym is judging them, that is just not the case. Self-absorbed isn’t the right word, but there is a bit of self-absorbtion going on in that we are concentrating on trying to improve ourselves because there is always someone else that looks better!
It’s rare that an in-shape person compares themselves to an out-of shape person. It doesn’t work like that. In the hierarchy of gym comparisons, comparisons always flow up, not down. We compare ourselves to those who we think look better than us.
In reality, you should never compare yourself to people at the gym because people who exercise and are in great shape aren’t the norm. If lifting weights and eating a proper amount of calories is part of your life, you are probably in better shape than at least 80% of the population.
It’s always a good thing to strive to get better, provided it doesn’t border on obsessiveness, but at some point improvements become relatively inconsequential. It’s one thing for a fitness model to drop another 1% of body fat as their careers depend on it, it’s quite another for someone who works a regular 9-5. It may serve some psychological purpose to drop another 1% body fat, but will going from 12% to 11% really make a huge difference in your life? I doubt it.
If those types of small improvements keep you motivated and healthy, that’s great. Just keep some perspective.
You want to see what everyone else looks like? Go to jury duty.
The Jury Pool
The jury pool can be thought of as the general population. They may or may not fulfill any of the four criteria that I cited at the beginning of the post.
In New Jersey, jury duty will give you an accurate representation of how the rest of your geographical peers look, regardless of socio-economic status. In any jury selection pool, you’ll have a random sampling of people from your county. In Essex County, the pool will be made up of residents of wealthy suburban towns like Short Hills, Glen Ridge, and Upper Montclair; very middle class towns like Belleville and Bloomfield; and lower income areas such as Irvington and Orange.
I served on the jury of a murder case about four years ago, and returned for another stint last month (and thankfully didn’t get called). Jury duty is quite an experience and I recommend everyone do it at least once. One thing I noticed through the whole process was that among “my peers”–beginning with the couple hundred jury candidates down to the actual jury I sat with–very few people were in shape.
The Gym-Going Population
Of those that go to the gym, I’ve come up with the following classifications. Keep in mind that age, sex, and training experience does play a big role. The younger you are, the more male you are, and the more experience you have with weight training, the better off you’ll probably be.
1. Genetically enhanced–those taking illegal “supplements”, “magic pills”, “fruits and berries” or any other euphemism for steroids. Wink, wink.
The only people who should care about the genetically enhanced are those who are themselves genetically enhanced, if for no other reason than to see if they have the proper drugs.
2. Genetic Freaks. Genetic freaks are generally pretty consistent with their training, and take it seriously, yet will grow from anything. They hit the genetic lottery. They could do everything wrong–wrong being a very subjective term, admittedly–and still look good.
Very few people fall into the category of genetic freak so it’s best not to compare yourself to them.
3. Average, or normal, people. Richard Nixon would call us “The Silent Majority” because we don’t make a lot of noise. We are neither written about in newspaper articles about obesity nor featured in glossy magazines and infomercials selling the next “revolutionary” program or supplement.
The truth is that most of us are average, and that’s not a pejorative term. Average people can achieve a visually pleasing body and decent amounts of strength provided they satisfy the criteria I laid out in the beginning. They just won’t ever, no matter how hard they work, look like the genetic freaks, unless they enlist the aid of magical supplements.
Unfortunately, when it comes to looking great, the human body doesn’t care much about positive thinking. Even if your mind can conceive of your perfect body, you probably won’t get it. While the human mind may not have known limitations, the human body certainly does. It’s called genetics. You can go around blaming your parents or just accept the world as it is.
4. The Non-Responders. Non-responders are those who don’t show much improvement in their appearance, and they can be broken into two different groups.
Group 1. Clinically speaking, non-responders would be the ones who don’t experience as much positive gain as other people who are doing the same exact thing. One interesting aspect of research (which is why it needs to be read carefully) is that many experiments show that a few people have amazing results with a particular exercise and/or diet protocol, while some show minimal results. The rest are somewhere in the middle: the silent majority.
Group 2. Non-responders can be non-responsive because they aren’t fulfilling my criteria. They may or may not be conscious of this fact. Usually they are unaware: they don’t know what they don’t know and what they think they know is almost always out of context or just plain wrong.
Interestingly, many non-responders are actually genetically average, and have the potential to really transform their bodies It’s either calorie confusion, poor training program, or lack of consistency that holds them back.
In all my years of training, I have yet to see anyone who didn’t benefit from a proper training program that satisfied the criteria above. Some people respond amazingly well even though none of them are genetic freaks. Others have pretty good results. As always, age, sex and genetics play a big role. That’s just the way it is.