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Lessons Learned From Twenty Years Owning A Gym

I have owned a small gym for 20 years. I estimate I have personally performed 50,000 one-on-one training sessions in that time, and my employees have performed tens of thousands more. I have talked with hundreds of clients, friends and family about diet. I have read thousands of articles and dozens of books on exercise and nutrition. I have written hundreds of newsletter articles and blog posts on health and fitness. This experience has not made me an expert but has allowed me to observe all manner of behaviors in the realm of diet and exercise and learn some lessons about what creates success in the quest for health and fitness.

What follows are some of the lessons I have learned over the last 20 years.

  • Lifelong commitment is required. Most people will not stick with it. We use a term called "Six Week Syndrome" to describe most participants in exercise or diet programs. They make a commitment to themselves, start a program with big goals and plans, follow their plan for a month or two and then life/work/family makes keeping that commitment challenging, and they end up bailing on the program and reverting to previous behaviors. This has happened to almost all of us, including myself, multiple times. My most successful clients have made a long-term commitment to their health. They find a way to work out every week, year after year, regardless of everything going on around them. They take individual responsibility. They do not rely on their doctor, their family members, or even their exercise instructors. They use these resources but rely on themselves. They do not make excuses. They work around injuries or other obstacles.
  • Daily habits equal success. Having big goals will not make you successful. You need to have a system in place. It doesn't matter if your goal is to lose 50 pounds, or to run a marathon, or fit in a certain size dress. The people with lasting success losing weight or getting fit created a system with the component habits that happen every day and every week and those consistent behaviors add up over time. (see our blog post from September 2020 about the book "Atomic Habits"). They work out every week. They walk every day. They golf or play tennis every week. They do Yoga or meditation every day. They do not overeat or overdrink (at least not very often). They try to get a consistent amount of sleep every day. It is the little habits done hourly, daily and weekly that make you fit and healthy.
  • A nutrient dense, non-dogmatic diet approach seems to be the most effective long-term solution for health and weight loss/maintenance. There are a thousand diets out there. Many people have had at least short-term success with many different diet plans. There are low fat diets, low carb diets, high fat diets, prepackaged food diets, points-based diets, 30 day cleanses, and many more. Most diets that eliminate whole categories of food are difficult to sustain for a lifetime. You will always be hungry or crave certain foods. Those most successful at long term weight maintenance tend to gravitate to a diet that focuses on nutrient dense foods from all food groups (animal and plant proteins, healthy animal and plant fats, healthy carbohydrates sources like fruits and vegetables) and moderate their intake through smaller servings or time restricted eating, etc. They also shun heavily processed food like partially hydrogenated oils, sugary snacks, highly refined and enriched products like cereals, flour, and commercial breads. Eating nutrient dense foods provide all the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc. needed and will satiate you with less overall volume.
  • You must put stress on your body, but not overdo it. Many exercise programs fail either because they are too low intensity to elicit gains (ex. Steady state jogging), or because they are too high force, too high volume, and/or too high duration to remain safe over time (ex. Sports as exercise, high speed/force exercise studios, etc.). Our bodies prefer homeostasis, so we must provide a fairly severe stimulus in order make improvements. However, overuse or improper form or high forces will cause injury, breakdown, and a weakened immune system. Much of what passes as exercise today actually does more harm than good. Over twenty plus years, I have not found a better fitness combination than occasional (1 or 2 times per week) high intensity, slow motion weight training sessions combined with daily constant low-level movement (Yoga, walking, biking, golfing, etc.).
  • The mental aspect of exercising is more important than the physical. Proper exercise is hard. I do not particularly look forward to my workouts because they are very uncomfortable. People have the best workouts when they can block out that discomfort, along with any other distractions and focus intently on perfect form and maximum effort. This does not mean breaking personal records. Rather, it means getting and staying in control, in a stoic state, until the exercise and the routine are finished. If you can get your head to that point, your workouts and hence your fitness levels will improve.
  • Sometimes things go wrong. Despite our best efforts at smart exercise, clean diet, and a healthy lifestyle, people get sick or injured. While lifestyle choices can contribute to many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, we still don't know how to prevent many cancers and other diseases. Also, even the most fit, healthy person, can have an accident and tear a ligament, herniate a disc, or worse. The fact is we don't know when our lives will end or change dramatically. However, being at the highest health and fitness levels we can be will allow us to better deal with any circumstance life throws our way.

The last twenty years of helping the community achieve health and fitness have been the honor of a lifetime for me. I have learned a lot. I hope we can all keep striving for maximum health and fitness in these challenging times.

Posted February 18, 2021 by Tim Rankin