Where's Wally. Can you find a panda in the photo? Is he climbing the right tree?
Where’s Wally. Can you find a panda in the photo? Is he climbing the right tree?

This is for anyone who’s decided to turn their live around in 2017 by improving health and fitness. This scenario will play through in gyms around the world for the next 4-6 weeks.

I want to help you to be clear on your goals and to understand what is possible and what’s not.

January 14th

We’ll sit down to talk through your goals. You want to be healthier, feel better and all the usual stuff that follows smart training and healthy eating. You’d also like to ease some of that back pain you’re getting. That’s cool, we can work on that.

Here’s how we approach it: start by eating a bit more protein and vegetables while reducing the intake of food that comes in a cardboard box. Let’s include some resistance training with a plan of progressively getting stronger. Whatever you do don’t resort to only doing high intensity, low resistance, high volume bunny-rabbit-type of training.

For the back pain, assuming that a more sinister reason is cleared by a clinician, we’ll start by looking at your movement patterns. Maybe I need to refer you out, maybe I don’t.

Well, that wasn’t too difficult.

The left hook

But then, to my bewilderment, you throw a deep left hook to my jawbone. As we get a bit further into our chat it comes up that you’d also like to run a marathon under 4:20, get a Terry Crew-style sixpack and sport a pair of guns hanging off your shoulders where your arms are currently located.

Now, you might not realize it but we are dealing with two sets of goals that don’t necessarily go together.

First set of goals you mentioned (feel better, be healthier, eliminate back pain…) are more health focused. While the second set of goals (TC-sixpack, marathon) falls into fitness goals category.

So despite being on the top of my fitness I was unhealthy.

Why does it matter that the goals are from different categories? You see, you can be extremely fit while at the same being extremely unhealthy. I used to sport a six pack (no, it wasn’t what Terry Crews has), I was fit. Very fit! But I kept injuring myself, I caught every seasonal bug from swine flu to borderline bird flu that was going around. And as people can testify, I was a miserable human being to be around. Because despite being on the top of my fitness I was unhealthy.

Ah, the dilemma

When you say that you want to get healthy and next day you join the local high intensity, high volume, low rest “Olympic lifting gym” down the street, there’s a chance that your goals and your activity don’t match.

It’s like wanting to play in the NRL (or NFL) for the pending health benefits the participation in collision sport brings. It doesn’t make sense. That’s a fitness goal, not a health goal.

It’s rare to find a competitive sport that wouldn’t somehow ask you to trade health for fitness and performance. Even darts players can have elbow and wrist tendinitis from too much throwing. Now, now, contain your laughter.

There is nothing wrong with this trade-off but it often gets overlooked. Sure, you can work on injury prevention (fancy term that just means don’t train like a arsehole) but when you chase performance, health will usually take a backseat. It impossible to be on top of them both, at the same time.

When the ego takes over

You can still push performance goals at the gym. Things such as getting to your first (or 10th) pull up, push up or mastering the get up. But this is about you improving yourself. If you keep reaching higher, at some point you’ll have to ask yourself whether the goal of 30 pull ups or 48kg get up is worth the risk.

Think of training as something that you do for tomorrow.

As soon as you turn training into competition against others or let your ego take over, you will risk trading health for fitness. I’ve done both and been reminded of this many times in the past.

So, if you train for a competition or for a fitness goal, have at it. The possible achievement could be worth the sacrifices that you’ll have to make. Just acknowledge it all in advance.

It’s all for tomorrow

Don’t miss out on life because you sacrificed health to break the record of maximum snatches in 5 minutes. Only to get your name on top of the scoreboard, at your local gym. In a year’s time no one remembers it. But you will have to live with the possible consequences for the rest of your life.

Keep in mind that all the training you do is complimentary, it helps you to become better at another task. Whether it’s for a sport or to improve the quality of your daily life. Once the training itself becomes the end goal you will start to run into trouble and possible injuries.

If your goal is to be healthy, think of training as something that you do for tomorrow. To be able to do the activities that you want to do in life. Activities that are outside of the gym environment.

This is not to say you can’t train hard, you can and you absolutely should, occasionally. You just have to be smart and keep the end goal in mind. I even wrote a short guide about it, and it’s great (yes, I am biased).

The idea for this article was sparked after re-reading Intervention.

While you’re at it, you might also like:

Why You Don’t Need to Train Like an Athlete

How Your Training Should Look Like

The Two Big Rocks of Any Successful Health and Fitness Program