When I first begun my fitness journey I was ten years old. I was doing pull-ups on the gangway of our boat, that was my home for a short period of time. I was so proud that I could do 5 and I remember showing off my strength to my friends because I thought I was pretty cool being that strong. It felt like if I could be anything, I could be fit and strong.
Right through my teens, I began training in the school weights room. We lifted weights with the standard bench press (my then favourite lift) and the pull-ups bar, while we were in or out of the rugby season. As these kinds of movements bored me, I began looking elsewhere. I looked for that level of interest in martial arts. I looked at in home training programs and I looked at it from books, from deadlift specific programs, or kettlebell specific programs. I found the things that fascinated me and kept on studying and learning.
It quickly became apparent that there were holes in my fitness that I hadn’t addressed. I felt like trying sports such as surfing might help, and they did, because I became less self conscious with the way I looked and more focused on how my body could actually perform. Being someone who was always conscious of how ‘lanky’ they were, as a teen, it was a significant shift in self acceptance that was beginning to develop in me that in truth hadn’t been felt in a long time. Something, all of us will eventually do at some point in our lives. After discovering that surfing was not competitive enough for me, I began looking back to the sport I’d grown up with: rugby. Still, it wasn’t enough. It didn’t capture my fascination anymore. As much as it used to be fun, we as players weren’t getting any better.
Only when I took my brother to this tiny little gym on top of Portsdown Hill that I discovered really what I’d been looking for. A fitness program that covered all the bases of athleticism. One where we developed strength and cardio vascular fitness. Where the movements required a high level of skill and flexibility. Where I was able to feel good, not about how my body looked, but about what it could do. That was the major difference, because this training program allowed me to focus on developing my bodies’ ability to get fitter, and to be stronger, more athletic, rather than aesthetic.
The training program that I discovered was called CrossFit.
Currently to the majority of the population, the fitness industry places the emphasis on the aesthetics of exercise. The images, the plans, the focus is too much on how your body looks, on how your abs look under top lighting, or how you look in swimming trunks or a swimming suit. I certainly for a time felt that getting ‘beach ready’ was more important than ‘life ready’. The frustrating aspect of this focus, is that often leads to feelings of self-doubt, self-consciousness, and envy. Although we have some control over how our body looks, it seems that we have more control over the effort we can put forth today, than the way our body may look in 6-12 months. This was a real and measurable benefit to altering the reason for training in the gym.
This realisation, not only happened to myself, but as we are seeing all around the world (and in our gym) is that the other two balancing reasons for exercise (health and performance) are coming much more into the forefront of people’s ideas as to why they’re training. What we’re beginning to realise is that taking care of yourself, has impact way beyond the way you look. As a coach, some of greatest transformations that I’ve witnessed, have been when the client focuses more their physical performance via setting a specific athletic goal (for instance run the london marathon, or do an assisted pull-up).
In this light, it’s our belief at our gym that, children nowadays, would be more successfully athletic if they were encouraged to focus more on their strength, than their waist size. Seeing increases in performance can far more readily be seen by you and others than losing 1 inch around your waist. Most people will experience comments after 6-12 weeks of following a regular training program about how they look, whereas they might have noticed that their strength had increased already from just week 1 to week 2. Getting these visible signs of being fitter and healthier come far faster when this focus on athletic performance is encouraged.
For instance our teens program is 50:50 girls and boys. The girls often out lift the boys, are more coordinated and more powerful than the boys. Up until the age of 13-14, both girls and boys are on a level playing field when it comes to strength. CrossFit is also one of the few sports where men and women are paid the same in prize money. Girls and boys, who adopt these training practices early in their childhood also stand less chance of injury in other sports, due to the development of more strength than we can usually expect from kids that age. It’s important to remind yourself that there was a time, probably when you were under the age of 6, that you could squat bum to ankle, and stay in that position for as long as you wanted. Try that now without assistance, and you’re part of the small proportion of westerners who can do that.
When looking at obesity rates in the UK alone, 26% of the population are obese and 61% are overweight. The health services, are now beginning to show signs that cure is no longer the solution, and prevention is going to become the new way forward to healthcare in the modern world. Recently, I was reading the recommendations from the midwife on what a pregnant woman should be eating as part of a low glycemic index diet, and more or less all of their foods, were in line with what I as a nutrition coach suggest to my clients. The world is changing, and more and more, we’re going to see that your doctor is going to be requesting a meeting or notes from your fitness coach. That healthcare will be integrated into the fitness industry more closely than we’ve ever seen before. You’re going to find that more and more, that gyms and training schedules will be part of the prescription that doctors give to overweight, or unhealthy patients.
If you don’t agree with me, then speak to members of a gym known for its reputation in producing long term health change in it’s clients, and ask them who has had a bigger impact on their health, their doctor or their gym, and they’ll most likely say their gym. This isn’t to brag, this merely to make the point that when it comes to healthier lifestyle choices, and producing fitter healthier more positive human beings, gyms and coaches, not hospitals and doctors are the real experts in the field.
Ultimately, prevention is going to become the cure. It is far cheaper to invest in £100 a month in an excellent gym program that you use for the rest of your life, than having to suffer the consequences of diseases in later life due to poor health choices. Plus, healthier people, drink less alcohol, eat better food, are less of a burden on the healthcare system, less likely to take sick days and be more productive and have a positive impact on the workplace than less healthy people.
What’s quite amazing about this entire process is that, for someone to adjust themselves to adopting the ‘prevention over cure’ model for health and fitness, the actual changes necessary to make a real and measurable difference are actually quite small. With just a 1% course correction, over time that adds up a measurable difference in health over the long term. Small consistent changes, managed with a knowledgeable and understanding coach can add up to a dramatically different lifestyle and health position in just a few years without sacrificing on the basics such as relationships, enjoying time with friends, and negatively impacting work, which can happen when there is too much of a drastic change in a short term transformation program, as it’s proven some training programs can impact.
It’s a very simple choice, either to make the 1% correction now that’s going to lead a measured gap in your own health over the next 5-10 years or more, or continue on the path you’re on, getting the same results as before, and putting yourself at that higher risk of disease in later life. Notwithstanding the positive impact that just coming to a supportive encouraging, growth orientated environment as the gym we run is is going to have on your day, you week, you month your year, your life. There will never be the right time to truly a make a difference to your health, but now is always going to be better than tomorrow.