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Ten Appalling Fitness Fallacies

Urban Primalist
Berkhan Sayeth

Martin Berkhan descended from the mountain one day bearing his seminal article “Fuckarounditis”.  It is a must-read for anyone attempting to get stronger.  This article may contain strong language by the way.

All you need to fix your routine, really, is to study Martin’s article.  But after symptom #25, Martin ran out of inspiration, indignation, and most crucially alcohol.  Today I presume to expand on his important theme because the epidemic rages unchecked.  Even among those who really should know better by now.
 
I'm just a guy with some body transformation experience and a positive attitude.  But I can't stand this galloping ignorance anymore and neither should you.  Brace your hip extensors for some difficult truths.

 Ten Appalling Fitness Fallacies
 
 

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F=MA

1.  Fitness is a physical pursuit

 

That is the merest tip of the iceberg.  Fitness is the supreme intellectual and spiritual pursuit and includes a physical component.  Practiced properly it improves every aspect of your being, coincidentally including athletic performance.  Your analytical skills, emotional intelligence, and ceaseless ambition are vastly more influential than any aspect of your physique.

Maximizing fitness means taking advantage of every hour of the day. No, this doesn’t mean constant suffering and exertion.  Quite the opposite.  The foundation of all health is a happy and stable life full of relaxation and fun.  Having fun is deadly important.  If you stop having fun the wolves are going to rip you open and pull your intestines like taffy.

Put another way, fitness is the ultimate game and the stakes are nothing less than your health and happiness.  If you think MMORPGs are a good time,
they are merely kindergarten-level preparation for the real RPG: leveling up your own bad self.


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He has an unfair advantage.

2. Hardship is an obstacle to greatness.

This is exactly backwards.  One constantly sees nonsense along the lines of, “She beat cancer and now runs marathons daily!  There go all my excuses!”  Or “He lost three limbs and now he’s the world champion of single-arm pullups!  #soinspiringiwetmyself”
 
Of course the man with one limb is the pullup champion!  It was that or rot in a chair.  Simply getting through a typical day requires badassery on his part that most of us, who consider hardship to be commercial gym music, literally cannot imagine.  Do you think he’s going to hang out on the adductor machine playing with his phone?  Hell no!  His only options are to fight like hell or die in pain.

You know who has it hard?  People living a comfortable life with no health complaints.  People who get by on a diet of junk food.  People who would rather watch TV than get up and move.  People who never had to contend with premature death, illness, poverty, or the capricious wrath of an angry god.

Those people are living an existential nightmare.  They are slowly dying, helpless and alienated, in a soul-suffocating oubliette of their own complacency.  Drop them a rope and they’ll throw it right back in your face.

You know what inspires me?  When somebody who has every reason to be complacent chooses exertion.  The 18-year-old dude with good genetics who squats double bodyweight on nothing more than pizza and sex.  When that guy cleans up his eating, when that guy starts asking for advice, when that guy abandons his comforts and takes full responsibility for improving himself as a man – that inspires me.  And you know what?  He will get absolutely zero credit for it; everyone will attribute his progress to genetics and circumstance.  Yet he will continue striving ever harder because his motivation comes from within.  And that inspires me even more.

Just look around, you’ll find many people who overcame extreme physical and personal hardship to become skilled athletes.  Not to make light of their hard work – quite the opposite – but fitness is nothing compared to their past victories.

But find me one person who fits the dude's description.  You will search in vain.  Unless you decide that you yourself are going to be that dude.  Or dudette.

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Mind your own business.

3. Other people at the gym are too distracting

 

If you are distracted by other people at the gym to the point that it interferes with your training, the problem lies not with them, but with you.

Other people’s training is irrelevant.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re at the gym for the same reasons as you.  They are not.  And for heaven’s sake, if they want your opinion or a spot, they’ll ask for it.

But that doesn’t mean you should just tune everyone out.  You need to be aware of your surroundings and treat others like proper gentlemen and ladies.  That guy standing in front of the mirror with his shirt pulled up, stroking his abs?  Let him have his moment, he earned it.  The guy in the rack next to you doing quarter squats with a floppy back?  Keep out of his line of sight in the mirror so he can stay focused on whatever he’s trying to do.  Save the ruthless judgment for yourself, where it might actually do some good.

Since avoiding distraction is not always possible, you must develop the skill of regaining your focus.  If some glue-sniffer accosts you between sets, treating you to a five-minute monologue about his childhood in Florida and how he hates mosquitoes, accept this challenge with grace.  Then practice switching from gregarious menschkenner to ruthless decapitator in the shortest time possible.  Ideally 2-3 seconds, so that his demise is relatively painless.


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Class dismissed.

4. Food choices don't matter "if it fits your macros" ("IIFYM")

 

Nutrition is complicated.  The state of modern knowledge is positively medieval.  Most realize that reducing that complexity to “calories in, calories out” is ridiculous.  Protein, fat, carbohydrate, and alcohol are all metabolized very differently by the body regardless of potential chemical energy.  So those with a bit more sophistication speak in terms of macronutrients, or macros.  If you want to drive your body composition one way or the other, you set a goal for the four macronutrients and try to hit it consistently.


But that is still a grotesque oversimplification.  If macronutrients were all that mattered, people would get the same body composition results on a diet of whey, sugar, and Crisco as they would with meat, fish, and vegetables.  Stated that way it seems obvious.  But it is shocking how easily people turn to IIFYM as an excuse to eat garbage.

News flash: micronutrients matter.  The very definition of a “vitamin” is a nutrient without which you will develop deficiency symptoms.  Eating a diet of whey donuts is ever so much fun until your teeth fall out from scurvy.  Also, consider minerals.  Is calcium important?  Are sodium and potassium important?  Or is it all good as long as it fits your macros, braaaaaaaaaah?

Micros are not just for preventing disease.  They are necessary for peak performance.  For example, several B vitamins are essential to metabolize fat.  No B vitamins, no fat oxidation.  And they’re water soluble; you can’t just pop a pill and forget about it because you’ll absorb them poorly and piss out most of what you do absorb within the hour.  If you want to burn stored fat, you need to eat green vegetables frequently.

Micros also control hunger.  Make no mistake, hunger is stronger than you are and it will wreck your diet if you don’t treat it with respect.  Meet your macros with whey donuts and you will succumb to hunger long before you approach your goal, and probably even before you get scurvy.

Apologists occasionally defend IIFYM as a compliance strategy.  “Yes,” comes the objection, “it’s true that Oreos are not an ideal source of fat and carbohydrate.  But if I can eat them once a week, then that makes me stick to my diet the other six days because I don’t feel deprived.” 

Grasshopper.  You have fallen victim to the most egregious fallacy of all:

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Only six more days to cheat day!

5. Fat loss diets require deprivation.

 

There is some truth to the Oreo apology.  It’s certainly better to eat garbage one day out of the week instead of seven, and that brings results.  But if you stop eating garbage completely, something amazing happens.  YOU STOP WANTING GARBAGE.  You start enjoying real food.  You come to enjoy real food even more than garbage!  This may sound like a miracle.  But it only works if you stop. Eating.  Garbage.

To fight alcoholism, should you go on a weekly bender?  To fight heroin addiction, do you inject black tar only on Sundays?  Don’t kid yourself.  Don’t spend the majority of your life pining after “cheat day”.  The only way to break a bad habit is to break it!

When you are getting full-spectrum nutrition, maintaining a slight caloric deficit is not difficult.  Add patience, and leanness becomes the most natural thing in the world.  I’m not talking about bodybuilding-contest lean – your body doesn’t want to get that close to starvation and it’s going to fight you with its entire arsenal of tricks.  (Which is all part of the fun.)  But to be healthy, strong, fit, and yes even have abs, the proper diet does not feel like deprivation.  Yes, you are eating less, but you are eating better, and you are happier.  Not just happy.  HappiER.

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You're doing it wrong.

6. Pain is gain

 

You do not make progress by suffering pain.  That is absolutely ridiculous.  Proper athletic training is very like the opposite of pain.  Of course, there is discomfort.  But pain?  Give me a break!

You want pain?  Stub your toe.  Compare that to the feeling after grinding out the last rep of a new weightlifting personal record using muscles you never had before.  That’s not pain, that’s euphoria.

Look, you have to enjoy your life.  Humans were not born to suffer, that’s just convenient bullshit to justify tyranny.  Humans were born to love and to overcome challenges, and we receive bountiful neurochemical rewards when we follow those prime directives.

To get those rewards, you have to go beyond your fake comfort zone.  Complacency is your fake comfort zone.  Push beyond your fake comfort zone and discover a real comfort zone that you never knew existed.  Get out of the damn shire!

If training is still causing you pain, you should probably get that looked at.

 

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Crunches are a useful exercise for insects.

7.  Crunches and sit-ups produce six-pack abs

 

The function of abdominal muscles is to stabilize your trunk while you move weight.  Yes, you can use them to bring your pelvis closer to your rib cage.  Some advanced athletes benefit from that.  But the idea that it produces anything but misery for beginners is nonsense on stilts. 
 
You want to know why so many people are instinctively obsessed with a six-pack?  Because it is the ultimate peacock tail of honest-to-God lean strength.  Unfakeable, so please, don’t try to fake this.

If you want to wave that tail, get strong and lean.  Deadlifts, squats, real food.  Case closed.

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One door conceals the deadly failbeast.

8.  Don't change too much at once, because new habits are best built gradually

 

I’m willing to allow that there might be individual variation on this one.  But frankly, I doubt it.  If you make gradual changes, you are going to get gradual results.  Very gradual results.  Like, waste-years-of-your-precious-life results.  Maybe you have that kind of patience.  Maybe you are terrified of discomfort and change.  Maybe you want to peel that band-aid off ever so slowly while it dangles awkwardly, day in and day out.
 
Getting healthier and gaining strength are already gradual enterprises.  There’s no need to drag them out gratuitously.  When you make as many healthy changes at once as you can think of, you will begin to see results almost immediately.  That will build your confidence and make you eager, even desperate, for more.  You get the hard work over in one solid shove for the briefest possible period of discomfort.

When you’re doing everything as you know you should, compliance becomes easy.  When you start cheating around the edges, you start having a hard time.  Just like a bubble has a hard time when it’s poked with a pin.

Take the sensible route.  Eat healthy now, not later.  Lift a challenging weight now, not once you’ve earned your online PhD in kinesiology.  Rip the band-aid off and get on with your life.

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see also "Samson and Delilah"

9.  Body hair has nothing to do with athletic prowess

 

Some of you were with me until now.  What could a lavish beard have to do with the action of the pectoralis major at the bottom of a max bench press?

Everything.

The beard is perhaps masculinity’s most distinctive secondary sexual characteristic.  Some say that shaving is an insult to your face.  I’m not going that far; there are legitimate reasons for removing some or even all of your facial hair.  But it’s there for a reason.  It has a greater psychological impact than you might think.  And in strength training, you can’t afford to miss a psychological advantage.

Grow a beard – if you can.  Maybe you can’t.  I couldn’t until recently.  It takes androgens which are in tragically short supply these days for environmental, dietary, and other, more unmanly reasons.  Resist beard implants as you would testicle implants.  There is no substitute for the real thing.

Reactions from women will likely range from cautiously accepting to adverse, but you’re not doing this for women.  You’re doing it to make progress towards your goals.  You are learning to trust, accept, and use your body as nature intended.  Observe how your confidence increases.  Observe how your interactions with other males alter drastically.

Then observe how people start giving you grief.  How long you gonna grow that thing?  Why’d you do it?  Why must you make me so very uncomfortable by having facial hair?

This will teach you to give less of a fuck about other people’s worthless opinions, which in itself is a huge fitness and life-skills advantage.

This isn’t just for the men.  Ladies, you can achieve the same advantage to even greater effect by not shaving your armpit and leg hair.  Love your body as nature made you and rock that overhead press.

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Deadlift + squat = unified fitness theory
10. Fitness is complicated.

Look, it’s really not.  We make it that way because we have too much time on our hands and we need to deal with the boredom between max deadlift attempts.  It is true that the human body is so complex that modern science barely understands the major processes.  That is why paleo is such an effective philosophy; instead of trying to master 25th-century biochemistry, you can simply refer to the better understood environment of evolutionary adaptation.  Don’t count micrograms of selenium.  Just eat real food.

Simplify your training in the same way.  Yes, there really is "one weird trick": if you want to gain strength, squat and deadlift with proper range of motion and challenging weight, and then rest.  All else is fine-tuning; knock yourself out.

Benediction

 

These ten worthless fallacies will bedevil humanity for countless generations to come.  But they won't bedevil you.  Go forth with love and overcome challenges.

 

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PS:  As usual, I hope this article was worth what you paid for it.  You can always reach me with email feedback at timothy at this domain.  If you have a problem with any of this, please feel free to troll the shit out of my YouTube channel, that's pretty much what YouTube is for.

 

PPS: I host this web site out of my own threadbare pocket and it remains ad-free for your convenience.  If you want to help a brother out, go to my YouTube channel and click on some ads.  Just recently I was able to pay a parking ticket from that.  Thanks, friends.

Why are you reading this instead of lifting something?

All text copyright © 2010-2013 Timothy Williams