What My Parents Taught Me

My recent blog on why we work in fitness got me thinking a little further.
Over the holidays my parents spent a month with my wife and I. Don’t worry, not as stressful as it sounds, we actually like them being around. After working on some health and fitness goals with them, I wanted to share some thoughts with my fellow fitness pros.
Maybe some out there won’t agree. I really don’t give a shit. I have been doing this over ten years, have built up an amazingly successful fitness business with my wife, obtained a masters degree, and hold more certs than I can remember (literally, sometimes I forget them). The fact is, what I am about to say really is the truth.
Fitness professionals worry too much and we set highly unrealistic expectations of our clients. We expect them to be us. 
Let’s think about that for a second. Who are we?
We are fitness geeks. We live, breathe, and study fitness. It’s what we do. It’s our passion, our hobby, our career. We read fitness books, blogs and magazines. Our Facebook lists are filled with other fitness people and fitness fanpages. We travel to fitness conferences, visit other gyms – for FUN – and socialize with other fitness professionals and enthusiasts.
We think it is totally normal to not eat cake at birthday parties, to skip nights at the pub. People don’t like coming to our parties because the food is healthy and we don’t really drink much. Vacations filled with fitness classes and workouts being planned around hotel fitness facilities is totally NORMAL for us.
We really are fitness geeks. 
Well guess what: to the other 99.9% of the population we are freaks. We aren’t fun. They think we just need to live a little, relax and eat some poutine. They can’t understand that what we do, we do because we love it. We aren’t being forced. We choose this lifestyle and we like it.
They don’t get it.
I think a lot of the frustration many fitness professionals and enthusiasts have is the fact that we spend so much time trying to get our clients to be like us. When they aren’t – we get frustrated and angry.  
And really, the truth is, they don’t need to be like us. They really don’t.
This is what I recently realized even more during my parents visit. They have not taken care of their health and fitness over the past few years. So of course during their stay my wife and I started planning out  nutrition programs and workouts for them (we are fun to visit, really!).  
Then it hit me. Ten years of being a fitness coach all fell into place. 
They don’t need a nutrition plan. They don’t need a regimented and periodized fitness program. Not only don’t they need it, they won’t do it. Ever. No matter how encouraging we are or what strategies we come up with.
Sure, they could make some better nutrition choices and they definitely need to do more exercise. But they aren’t us. They don’t want to be. My dad wants to eat his two pieces of toast with butter and a coffee for his signature nighttime snack. He has been doing it for 20 years and that might take some time to change.
What I realized is that they need a basic fitness program that is fun and keeps them fit enough to enjoy life. They don’t need to be us.
They want to be able explore on vacation, go for walks, keep their blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels and play with their grandkids. They want to be mobile and happy. That’s it. That’s what they want. And as fitness professionals we should strive to meet those goals. Not attempt to make them bodybuilders, figure models, or athletes.
Obviously, it is important to take care of their movement, joint range of motion, and strength. We want to make sure they are eating a healthy diet so they are around with us for a long time and not reliant on medication to stay alive.
The thing is they have been with us for almost 60 years and they are doing alright so far. Whatever they have been doing can’t be so bad. Is it perfect? No. Are they as fit as they should be? No. But we can work with that.
Let’s be honest. They are set in their ways. Some things I am not going to change. They grew up drinking fruit juice and thinking it was healthy for them. It’s a generational thing. I am not going to get them to give up their orange juice (about as much a chance as they had telling me what to do when I was 16. Lol). So instead, I helped them find reduced sugar options with a little more fiber and a little less sugar.
Little steps. They can do that.
And I realized there is no need for a 12 month periodized program that will turn them into athletes. They don’t give a shit about that. It’s too complex. They will be bored. And I guarantee they will never follow it. 
But a few days a week spending 30 minutes on a TRX and doing some pushups, amongst other body weight exercises and some fun mini circuits they can do together is fun. They will do that. Just enough that they will get stronger and be able to easily hoist the grandkids up.  They will be happy, feel good, and enjoy life. Why isn’t that good enough?
See, I think that most fitness professionals are way too extreme. We expect too much. Well, perhaps I should say the younger fitness professionals. When you look at us over 30’s who have been doing this a long time, well, we are a little different. And when you look at the top pro’s – the Gray Cooks, the Cosgroves, Mike Boyles, and Dr. John Berardi’s, THE people in the biz, you see a really different outlook. One I have adopted myself.
If someone has a specific condition or if someone truly wants to have a six pack or participate in a specific sporting event of course this is an exception to this rule and it’s time to get serious.  But for the majority of your clients, for the majority of the people who come to us, relax a little. They want to feel better, they want to drop a couple sizes, they want to play with their kids and be able to have some fun on vacation.
So don’t look for ‘fitness professional perfection’. Focus on making your clients happy, keeping them fit, sneaking in a few little things they won’t even realize that will improve their health and quality of life. It’s realistic and it’s doing what we are supposed to be doing – making people happy and healthy.

  1. John White says:

    This is one of the most sensible posts I have read. Sometimes people fail at a program, and everyone, including themselves, just write them off as uncommitted, unwilling to sacrifice, etc, when they were really just on the wrong program. Maybe it’s a great program, and maybe they could benefit from it, but it doesn’t match their goals and lifestyle.
    Here it is 2015 and I am now 62. I have been committed to better health and fitness since 2006 when I lost and kept off 55 lbs. I lift, bike, and run regularly. But I have had to modify, not periodizing, but drastically changing my program. I have been hit hard with arthritis and I just can’t lift like I used to, or run and ride as long and hard as I used to. It is truly humbling. But I’m ok with that, as long as I can keep doing something. I am refocusing away from competitive motivation to goals that focus on longevity, mobility, and enjoyment of each and every day. I am just as committed to health and fitness as ever, but my approach is of necessity, and by choice, more relaxed. I guess one could say at this point I’m committed but not driven. I feel like your post vindicates this as a valid and appropriate position for some. Thanks!

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