“Can I look like the person in the magazine?”

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I wish the answer to this question was yes, but it would be a disservice to sell you on something only because I know it’s what you want to hear. I want to preface this blog by saying in no way, shape or form is this blog intended to discourage people from their exercise goals. In fact, I am attempting to lay a solid foundation for a healthy lifestyle by helping to set realistic, attainable, and most importantly, maintainable goals.

You would be surprised at the number of people who bring in a picture from a fitness magazine and say, “I want to look like that.” I can’t say I am disappointed with their enthusiasm, but I don’t hesitate to try and bring them back down to earth. It can be challenging, but setting realistic goals is very important to anyone’s long-term success. The conversation with the typical “born-again exercise enthusiast” goes something like this:

The Conversation:

Client – “I want to look like this.” …as they hand me a picture of a model torn from the latest issue of Shape Magazine.

Me -“Have you ever attempted an exercise program before?”

Client – “Yes, once 10 years ago. But after my son was born I really haven’t done anything.”

Me – “Ok, how many days per week can you dedicate to exercise?”

Client – “I’d say three to four…but three is probably more realistic.”

Me – “Do you have access to any equipment outside of the gym? Another gym membership? Weights at home? Access to cardio equipment? Do you have a physically demanding job?”

Client – “No, but I can do body weight exercise at home. I have a space in my basement.”

The Reality:

This conversation happens much more than you realize, and that 20 second exchange gives me all of the information I need to know. I am all for clients looking healthy, happy, and ripped. Heck, I would love to be on the cover of Men’s Health smiling with a big thumbs-up and a six-pack, but it’s not in the cards for me. No matter how hard I work in the gym, or on my diet, without the use of illegal drugs, I will never break into “fitness model” status. This may sound discouraging to some, but allowing people to think they can reach those heights without explaining the true cost can be just as bad as refusing to help them at all.

The Truth:

The truth is fitness models get paid for a reason. It’s their job. They depend on being fit in order to make a living. They DO NOT miss workouts, they DO NOT drink alcohol, they DO NOT stay up late, they DO NOT eat out…the list goes on and on. If you are willing to give up all of that, dedicate 6-10 hours/week to exercise, another 5-10 hours to healthy cooking, another 10-15 hours to calculating every last calorie, macronutrient and serving size, then maybe (yes MAYBE) you’ll have a shot at becoming the fitness model/actress/actor/athlete you are picturing in your head. But is 365 days/year of dedication to a miserable and demanding routine really worth the two months of Facebook pictures in your summer tank tops? To some, yes. But to most this sounds absurd.

We ARE different:

We also need to set aside all of the things we actually CAN control (exercise & diet) and look at the limiting factors we are dealt from birth. Everyone’s physiological response to training is the same (or at least very similar). The one thing most people fail to realize is that although INTERNALLY our bodies are responding to exercise in the same way, the outward appearance can vary greatly from person to person (and at different rates). Much of this is attributed to, but not limited to, the following:

• Total number of fat cells in your body

• Genetic distribution of those fat cells

• Total number of muscle fibers in your body

• Genetic distribution of those muscle fibers

• Muscle “architecture” (type of muscle fibers and the point at which the tendon connects to the bone)

• Body type (endomorph, ectomorph, mesomorph)

• Ethnicity

These are things we do not have control over. No matter how many crunches, curls, push-ups, or planks….No matter what extreme diet we choose to do next, we can’t (naturally) change those things. If you can accept what you were born with and make the best of it, you will feel a sense of accomplishment even the most muscle bound, cardio-crunching individuals often fail to feel.

Take Home Message:

Before setting a goal that is at the top of the mountain, set a goal that is on top of the next hill. When you get there, you can look back, realize your potential, and continue ahead to the next incline. If this trend continues, eventually you will reach the top of “your” mountain. No, it may not be Mount Everest, but I can assure you it’s more impressive than you give it credit for. If you can accept this, I promise you will make more progress than 99% of people trying to scale the cliffs of Everest. Though it CAN be done, most people end up back at the base feeling hopeless and defeated.

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