Sticking with Fitness Part Five: Do You Need…

Photo by Sven Mieke

Other than a program, motivation and a place to train, is there anything you need to make your fitness regime a success?

According to plenty of people out there on the world wide web, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

You don’t have to look very hard to find articles voicing the benefits of shakes and supplements, specialized shoes, training partners and fitness coaches. And indeed, some people swear that these things are the secret to going the distance when training.

 But how much truth is there in that?

Today, we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of it, and exploring whether they really make a difference. 

…A Gym Buddy?

Conventional wisdom suggests that having a gym buddy is a great way to get results.

Indeed, do a quick Google search, and you’ll find plenty of articles extolling the virtues of a fitness buddy. They’ll tell you that having a fitness partner increases your motivation, commitment, and makes training sessions more fun.

But, in my experience at least, the reality is more complicated than that. While there are circumstances where training with a gym buddy is beneficial, training with someone else can often be detrimental to making real progress.

Here’s the thing: going to the gym is not a social activity. It’s a time for focus, and single-minded concentration on your goals. If you’re training with someone else who acknowledges that, that’s awesome. If your partner is treating your session like after-work drinks, however, you’ve got a problem.

Ultimately, people gravitate towards fitness buddies because they make the gym-going experience seem less intimidating. But, adjusting to working out independently will pay off in dividends in the long run. Working with a gym buddy means you’re tied to their schedule and their progress. Learning to go it alone allows you to set the pace and to own your gains.

…Protein shakes and supplements?

In recent years, the market for protein powders, shakes and supplements has boomed. The fitness community, after all, is a captive audience, and those serious about their training will do anything they can to get results and see gains.

But do those protein powders and shakes really make a difference, and is it worth introducing them alongside your training?

The short answer, at least in this stage of your training, is “probably not.”

Protein powders and supplements do have their place. When you’re a serious athlete, bodybuilder or weightlifter, you’re working at a level where these things make a difference.

But, you’re still at an early stage in your training. Sure, you’re aiming to be the next Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, but you’re not there yet. You might buy into the marketing and feel like taking protein and supplements is contributing to your gains, but in truth, it probably isn’t.

Focus on sticking at your training regime, and on eating a balanced diet that’s protein rich (we’ll return to this in a future article). Don’t let the supplements become a crutch now; save them for when you really need them. 

…A Personal Trainer?

As with gym buddies, there are plenty of articles online that sing the praises of personal trainers.

Typically, they’ll tell you that they’re useful for teaching proper technique to gym newbies, they’re good for helping you put together a program, and that the instant feedback you get from a trainer is very motivating.

But, as with gym buddies, there’s a downside to personal trainers that doesn’t always get voiced.

Firstly, not all personal trainers are created equal. Sure, many of them know their stuff. But others are glorified snake oil salesmen.

For obvious reasons, your snake oil salesperson isn’t going to aid your training. Quite the opposite. Even with the best personal trainer, though, there’s still a big problem you’ll face.

Ultimately, regardless of how good your personal trainer is, it’s not in their interest to teach you to be independent. When you think about it, their business model needs to revolve around them withholding a certain amount of knowledge and expertise.

By drip-feeding you gains, they guarantee your repeat custom. Yes, you’re getting results. But, those results are deliberately limited, and are taking a chunk out of your wallet.

Truth is, in this day and age, you have the resources at your disposal without needing a personal trainer. You’ve got YouTube, you’ve got an endless source of programs, blogs and fitness forums online. And, if all else fails, there’s always the public library.

While you might gravitate towards a personal trainer as your fitness Linus blanket, taking charge of your own fitness regime will be more empowering in the long run. So go it alone, and save yourself an unnecessary crutch.

…Specialist clothing and equipment?

As I’ve already mentioned, the fitness community is a captive market. And, there’s a whole industry designed to capitalize on this audience by promising results.

It’s not uncommon for enthusiastic beginners to splash the cash before their first gym session. You’ve likely seen them, dressed to the nines, brandishing specialized sports bottles and generally looking like they’ve stepped out of a sportswear catalogue.

But, like with protein shakes, the truth is that you don’t need much to get you going.

I’ve been lifting weights for a few years now, and I still don’t wear any specialized clothing. In my kit bag, you’ll find a pair of $10 shorts, an old Metallica tour shirt and a $30 pair of trainers.

As your training regime develops, your needs will change. And, you might find that you need some more specialized gear down the line. But, there’s no point spending the money until you need to. Chances are, you can start working out with what you already have and build up as necessary.

Turns out you don’t need much to get ahead in training. But, drive or not, you won’t get very far without a good diet fuelling your progress. In the next edition of this series, we’ll talk nutrition, and how what you eat can make, or break your fitness regime.