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Lessons I’ve Learned My Years As a Fitness Professional

April 18, 2016 3 Comments

10649526_10204719642448105_1656565395078887234_nA few years ago I wrote a post titled “10 Things to Teach Your Kids (or Yourself) About Fitness.” As a father who makes his living as a fitness professional it got me really thinking as to what do I want my little boy to really understand regarding exercise. He’s going to encounter the real world someday that is waiting to sink its teeth in him and bombard him with bad information and I wanted to be able to provide a solid foundation for him to fend off evil. As I was pondering those thoughts, it also got me thinking about what are some of the more powerful lessons I’ve learned all these years myself. After all, I’m the one teaching, coaching, and training others. Who does he have to learn from better than me? Have I learned some lessons through my own experiences and not just through schooling, textbooks, seminars, journals, etc.? You betcha! And I share them with you in the hopes that these lessons will help you too! Perhaps you’ve already learned them!

  1. Don’t Follow The Herd. I was young and naive once. I read the popular bodybuilding magazines; tried the popular supplements; worked out to work out; thought I could mimic the workouts of those well above and beyond my fitness level. The end result? Without any real direction, goal, or focus, it’s like a chicken running around with its head cut off. Eventually it will all just stop and leave you in a potentially worse position then where you started. Fitness is not a “one size fits all”. Find what you enjoy but be sure it’s in line with what will get you to your goal.
  2. If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, IT IS! I know it’s cliché but when it comes to all things health and fitness, there is another “guru”, book, program, video series, MLM scheme out there trying to make a dollar on you, the emotionally charged consumer who’s looking for the panacea in a bottle. They go to great lengths with deceptive facts and pseudoscience to make you think “this is what you’ve been ignoring all along.” Know why? Because it’s a bunch of bull*&^%! The sirens should go off in your head right away and when they do, heed them and move on.
  3. To Rest Is Not A Sign of Weakness. There are schools of thought out there that say there is no time for rest; you rest when you’re dead. Well, if you don’t rest you will be dead, perhaps both literally and figuratively. I often get asked how many days I exercise to which I answer 6-7 days, but some of those days may just be some sort of sustained physical activity, not a particular organized exercise endeavor. And some days, I may do nothing but sit on my ass and read or watch a movie or nap. But I don’t get weaker or soft. In fact, I usually come out fresh and recharged, ready to keep going.
  4. Don’t Train/Exercise Day to Day. Having no plan or goal for your workouts is like driving in the dark without lights – you might think you know where you’re going but it will inevitably end up bad. There’s a big difference between training and exercise (a discussion for another day) and you need to decide which you are going to engage. In short, training has a defined goal; just getting exercise, not so much. Too many people go through the motions of a workout all with different goals (lose weight, gain muscle, improve performance, etc.) and expect the same result. If you’re not where you want to be, there’s more to it than just working out.
  5. If It Sucks, It Is The Best. It took me a few years to appreciate, but my hardest teachers/professors were undoubtedly the best. Why? They asked more of me and expected more – they took me out of my comfort zone. They were not interested in seeing me fail, but grow. At ground level, I thought it was hell but when the smoke cleared, I was still standing, tall and proud. When it comes to exercises, the hardest ones are usually the best. I’m not talking about exercises that are hard just to be hard (i.e. stupid, injurious, movements). I’m talking about exercises that challenge you, push you; take you out of your comfort zone. The return on investment is greater the more you can put in.
  6. Never Underestimate The Value of Warming Up. At one time in my life, I used to jump right into an exercise routine. I was always ready or so I thought. Now I warm up the engine so that I can hit the ground running and get the most out of the time I committed. If you sit all day, you’re asking a lot of your body to be ready to handle the rigors of exercises no matter how much or how little you do. Warming up prior to exercise does a lot to not only prepare the body for exercise physically, but helps to shift your focus mentally to the new task at hand – leaving the stress you just left behind.
  7. Even I Can Not Eat What I Want. I get this all the time. “You can eat whatever you want. You’ll burn it off anyway.” Don’t I wish. Fitness professionals don’t get a free pass from the laws of nutrition and thermodynamics. I love food. I enjoy eating and I don’t deny myself of anything. I make the choices I do and don’t beat myself up for making them. I have a healthy relationship with eating. I also appreciate and understand there are some things that have a more welcome presence in my health and others not so much. It’s all about balance and not deprivation.
  8. True Fitness is in the Eye of the Beholder. I tell all of my clients and athletes – there will always be someone that is leaner, stronger, faster, etc. Society has their “idea” of what it means to be fit. Big and muscular, lean and svelte, skinny, fat, etc, are all just aesthetic body types – not necessarily an indication to good health or fitness. To measure one’s fitness more accurately is to look at where they started and where they are now because fitness just doesn’t happen; it evolves.
  9. Gimmicks Come and Gimmicks Go. If I kept track of all the fads and gimmicks that have come and gone and recycled again in my 20+ year career, I could write a book. Taking one aspect of fitness, let’s say movement for example, and turning it into a program that doesn’t have legs (i.e. nothing special other than how it’s packaged), and nothing new is being introduced. Exercise equipment (toys) that have a single focus (i.e. any one of hundreds of ab devices) are nothing more than clutter for the tool box. All movement is great no matter how you do it and toys will always be toys.
  10. It Should Never Be a Competition. Back in my early gym days, the usual talk around the weight room outside of girls or sports was, “How much can you bench or squat?” Not that anyone was training for a particular event but it became a small competition nonetheless. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition but your current and aspiring fitness should never be about impressing the Jones’s. It can lead to burnout, injury, or worse, cessation of all exercise. You need to be selfish and not care what others think about you and what you’re doing. For many, the first step on a fitness journey is the hardest but once it gets going, the last thing needed is the pressure or expectation of trying to impress someone else. Do it for you own reasons or don’t do it at all.

I hope that someday my little man follows in my footsteps but all I can continue to do is be his example and share with him all that I’ve learned. My wish is for your continued success as well as we’re all in this together.



Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.


Filed in: Coaching, Fitness, Motivation • Tags: ,

About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

Comments (3)

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  1. Lori V. says:

    Very inspiring Jeff!

  2. Ann R. says:

    Good read, Jeff!

  3. Michelle H. says:

    I really enjoy your writing.

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