And yet, for the most part, they've been unsuccessful. Even guys who've been training recruits for decades will guess wrong, thinking a guy will ace the course who falls apart in the first week, with one they figured would quit around his twentieth pushup gritting his teeth and making it through to his Ranger tab or SEAL Budweiser.
I can identify. As a personal trainer, anyone who comes to you, by default, is looking to self-impove, but you're only with a client 2-4 hours a week, out of 168 hours total. That's more than enough other hours to undo all the good stuff that you've done with your trainer. Whether they'll do well or not is ultimately down to them, and it's not something that I, anyway, after 25 years in the game, can see coming through the door.
Being a successful client is more than just doing what's expected in the hour with your trainer, but how you act in all those other hours away from him/her.
What is it, that makes a person capable of carrying through with difficult tasks, especially when they're spaced over a long period of time?
In his seminal work The World's Most Dangerous Places*, Robert Young Pelton talks about the Camel Trophy race, where adventurers (or those who thought they were) from around the world compete to travel some of the world's most inhospitable terrain in yellow Land Cruisers, enduring extremes of temperature, tropical insects, stress, sleep deprivation and fatigue for many days, and all for the reward of a tin trophy and looking deeply macho.
“What kind of people make the cut? Triathletes, joggers, weightlifters and racers shouldn't even waste the postage to enter. In general, white collar workers, physical fitness nuts, city dwellers, businessmen, and sportsmen do very poorly in the ill-defined non-competitive expedition enviroment. People with military experience, medical personnel, photographers, blue collar laborers, and people from rural backgrounds do very well.”
When I lived in Seattle and finally found a gym I could work at long-term (another instructive story in its turn, take my word for it,) I started, as I had mostly done before, as one of the trainers that took new members through their three complimentary free personal training sessions. I saw people for whom it seemed clear that they'd rarely get in spitting distance of the training area, others who looked to wear our free weights into slag...and I could never be sure about any of them.
Emblematic of this was Carrie (I still now remember her last name, will leave it out), who came and sat in the little cubicle/office we used for new members, and proceeded to just impress the hell out of me. She was blonde and looked like a farmgirl, broad shoulders, capable posture, like someone you'd want in your bunker when the aliens landed, to help carry on The Resistance and to dig ditches and sow crops in the aftermath. She repeatedly stated her ironclad determination to get in rockstar shape and how she was setting aside X number of hours each week to make it happen.
Carrie laid out her physical and athletic goals, I said that I could help make those happen, and when she left I thought, man, she'gone tear this gym UP.
Never saw her again.
Yeah, yeah, maybe she found another workout place even MORE hardcore, where she hefted large rocks in between bouts of wrestling grizzlies when she wasn't eating barbed wire and live ammunition, but...maybe not.
I've competed in dragon boating now since '06, and have had to endure my share of embarrassments and setbacks, most notably when, in '11, our badass Canadian coach Pat Barker (in response to an overly high self-opinion of mine) almost spit out her coffee laughing, then telling me that I was nowhere near the top five strongest paddlers in our club (lit a fire, I'll tell you!), but I've also seen a number of people come to our newbie paddles, declare that they love it and they'll be back next week to burn up the Ashleigh, never to be seen again, presumably because either time constraints or from the singular asymetrical diagonal back pain with which dragon boating greets its newest devotees.
I clearly remember the last such fella I myself encountered, older guy who kind of looked like Lee Marvin in that long rawboned way, had one of those basso profundo voices, woulda made a great extra in a WW2 epic, wore a jaunty little straw hat on the boat and declared, “Oh no, you guys can't get rid of me now,” and that was, about..May (2015), I think, haven't seen him since.
On the Net, you'll see bandied about the (spuriously, I submit) detailed and footnoted opinion that once you're out of shape and overweight, you're stuck there, and that everyone who attempts to lose weight ultimately fails, unless they become obsessive about food and exercise. I don't agree, putting it mildly, but I do agree that, much like taking care of your teeth, nails and hair, caring for your musculature and respiratory system is an ongoing task, not something that can be done for a bit and then over. For many people, ongoing exercise and exercising (some) constraint on their diet is too much of a task, and for others, it's like putting on a comfortable sweatshirt. Can we tell who's in which camp?
Well, not from hearing people talk, sadly. Besides Ms. Carrie, I've had innumerable people over the years tell me how they're going to tear up the gym once they come back next week, and they don't come back next week. Or how they must, absolutely, lose weight, then drop all mention of diet within a day or two.
You hear 'There are no bad students, only bad teachers,' which I think is a load of donkey kong, in large part because I've been that bad student; I didn't really get my scholastic act together 'till I was past college and I could directly correlate what I learned to doing the job I was paid for, well. Hell yes, there're bad students, doing Nintendo and bong rips instead of assignments, screwing off in class, just like there are terrible teachers. A good teacher/trainer can reach people that others can't, but nobody bats 1000. Some people just will not be taught.
One client in particular stands out, mainly because of how he exited the bathroom where my gym's scale is, yelling “This is bulls—t!” at the top of his lungs, over how he hadn't lost any weight over the past week. His wife trained with me later that day, and casually related how, at their daughter's birthday party the night before, hubby had eaten ¾ of the cake. Yeah.
Now, you can eat cake or not eat cake, that's up to you. Same with exercise of whatever kind. But if you have goals, you'll eventually have to ask yourself if your actions are in congruence with them. As the classic samurai text Hagakure says, 'When your own heart asks, what will you answer?'
I believe Pelton's classes of those who succeed in adventure races hold a clue to success – the blue collar/farmer/soldier types, one part of their workaday lives they have to meet with, like it or not, is being there and sticking things out, often over an extended period of time. You know, the Woody Allen thing about Just Showing Up, On a farm, the sun will always come up in the morning and bring with it chores that need doing, whether you want to or not. In the military, you have to complete assigned tasks, even in peacetime, whatever your mood and inclinations. Gurney Halleck's observations on mood, as 'a thing for cattle or making love,' apply here.
(That's him, up at the top, as imagined in the first 'Dune' movie, played by Patrick Stewart.)
In a couple of fatloss diets, I've seen this presented as the Grind; if you suddenly tighten your diet, even a bit, the first couple of days can bring 'wow' results, as your body dumps water and glycogen and the scale weight goes down a bunch. Past that original thrill, you'll have to buckle down and keep going even when the results aren't so striking.
Now, I submit that The Grind doesn't have to be a grind, and I generally never call it that when addressing clients; exercise doesn't have to be unpleasant, boring, nausea-making, any of that, and eating for optimal health isn't about deprivation, hunger, and existing on tasteless gruel. But it is, to be sure, a way of living, something that's ongoing. I've seen Weight Watchers declared a scam, because of how many people lose weight on their system, then leave its rules, gain weight back, and then come back, but I'm not sure that that's WW's fault.
I just recently got a foster kitten a distemper shot and then a booster, he won't need another for 3 years, but that's not how diet and exercise work. I don't think that WW is an ideal diet, and if they told people that they only had to maintain for a couple of weeks then they'd be all set, I'd be on them like bad taste on polka dot boxers, but I don't believe they do.
I'm frequently asked
- What's the best way to weight train? And how often?
- What's the best cardio exercise to do? And how often?
- What's the optimal diet?
I have my opinions on all of these, if we were going all Count of Monte Cristo, with the client in a cell eating what I shoved under the door, exercising per my command under threat of flogging, but my usual answer is
“First off, whatever you can stick with. Now, let's you and I figure what that is.” Although my training system has changed quite a bit over the years, one thing I was saying twenty years ago still rings true, that for any one person, there might be a way of getting in shape that may be better than other ways, a little or a lot, someone with a mediocre program who shows up and gives it their all three times a week will be light-years beyond someone with the greatest program evah who only rolls in when they feel like it, and then only to half-heart their way through.
Who's going to be who? Ask me two weeks into their training.
*My copy is from 1995, and it's still worth reading, if a bit depressing. It certainly showed me that there were conflicts going on around the world that I had no idea of. And he talks about the 'World Trade Center attacks' in the context of the relatively innocuous bombing in the 90's, which is in retrospective almost..quaint. Thinking about picking up this latest edition, as Pelton has quite the entertaining writing style.