The fitness industry – a place that is both amazing and awful in equal measure.
In many ways, my time in the fitness industry has quite possibly been the greatest of my life. I reached heights I never imagined possible in so many areas.
- Creating my best physique to date
- Writing for a fitness magazine
- Creating new relationships all over the world
- Meeting some of the most intelligent people who helped take my knowledge and critical thinking skills to another level
- Opening my mind to possibilities that I would have dismissed in my previous years in this industry.
While there was a lot of good that I learned being in the fitness industry, there’s a yin to that yang.
Here’s what I’ve learned about the fitness industry, broken down into various categories of my experiences and growth in nearly 20 years of being in the industry
I hope my experiences will help you navigate the fitness world or at least get you thinking.
My experiences are by no means “right” or what you will or have experienced.
If there’s anything you agree/disagree with about what I learned, shout me in the comments section!
Each year passed with more proof that I should believe in myself because I truly can achieve anything. That is an ongoing process when you’re in the right circles of the fitness industry.
You can advise people, you can try and help, but sometimes people just aren’t going to agree with you.
They may not want to for whatever reason. Are they wrong? Not really. Are you wrong? Nah.
Sometimes you can spend a long time trying to convince someone of something but maybe they don’t want to hear it or a better way suits them and their lifestyle.
It used to ruin my day thinking how ignorant these people were but I was the ignorant one.
To assume they wanted my help when maybe my methods weren’t right FOR THEM.
There were so many people who actually did want it, you can get lulled into a false sense of thinking your way should be the only way.
Spend time on the people who want your help and will make the most of it, while also respecting that maybe what someone is doing isn’t scientifically optimal, BUT it’s working and fits with their lifestyle.
Following on from above, I found that I waste and “leak” a lot of energy on these trivial matters.
To be in the fitness industry, you need to grow thicker skin and understand it’s not personal.
If people make it personal? Well then that’s no longer you with the problem.
I learned to be more open minded.
For example, years ago a YouTuber called Ian McCarthy made a video calling out the popular HodgeTwins and talking about IIFYM/Flexible Dieting, my knee-jerk reaction like most people was “Who the f*ck is this kid? Talking shit about how you can eat Pop Tarts and be shredded?”.
A year later, I was proof that you can indeed include your favourite foods, having earned my WBFF Pro Card using the flexible dieting he was talking about.
The irony is funny, but the lesson I learned here is not to be so damn emotional about a way of eating. Nutrition has become like religion online.
When I stopped being so emotional about it, I developed my knowledge further in a single year than in all the previous years combined being in this industry.
I realised, most of us including myself don’t know shit because our ego gets in the way.
Another thing I discovered is that my favourite thing about competing is still the help and inspiration I am able to provide others.
Since learning what I have from people in the industry, I had about 3 clients at once all tell me how great they are looking since working with me, hitting PR’s in the gym.
The feeling that gives you as a coach is priceless.
My goal back in 2012 was to just get up on stage once but the amazing support made me realise competing was way bigger than myself and it gave me the bug for it to continue in to 2013 and push further.
If you told me when I started in the industry I’d become only the 5th ever WBFF Pro Fitness Model from the U.K, I would have laughed my ass off.
HYPOCRISY IN THE FITNESS INDUSTRY
A HUGE pet peeve of mine is the hypocrisy you’ll see in this industry.
Some examples off the top of my head are people who preach “Clean Eating” to the absolute death and adamant that there is a difference between “clean” and “dirty” foods.
Writing long statuses about how we should avoid unpronounceable ingredients and not include them in our diet…
Oh, but wait!
When it comes to promoting their supplement sponsors or friends in the industry, all of a sudden their morals change.
Protein bars and trans-fat laden flapjacks or fit tea supplements with tons of unpronounceable ingredients suddenly become acceptable because they’re made by your sponsor!?
Get the f*ck out of here.
Don’t get me wrong, I think you’d be hard pressed to find many single foods or ingredients on their own to be bad for your health. I also love that these guys have sponsors…make that paper.
But how about stop sending mixed messages to the public or drop your sponsors since they clearly go against your values?
I realised this happens regularly in the fitness industry with influencers on social media.
I hate it. One of the worst parts of the fitness industry. Integrity over everything.
FRIENDS IN THE FITNESS INDUSTRY
It may sound a bit “hocus pocus”, but at every time in my life when I was ready to step up to the next level, the opportunity always appeared before me and there was no better example than in the fitness industry.
Without being corny, I feel like being a part of Team 3DMJ was home all along.
It was a natural next step for me in context of where I was in my life both physically, professionally and mentally.
I can attribute most of the knowledge I gained, critical thinking skills I developed, and fun I had in the fitness industry to learning from those guys.
Network with people in the fitness industry who you can relate to, have great critical thinking ability and who help you grow.
This is difficult to find and it’s even more difficult not to get duped by pretenders in the fitness industry because of the huge egos and charisma of some of the characters within it.
CONTEST PREPARATION IN THE FITNESS INDUSTRY
Contest prep can be so self-absorbing. Even if you have a prep like mine that was so much more relaxed than the average competitor.
Even if you don’t realise or mean it to be, contest prep is an extremely self absorbed endeavor.
Over the years, my goal when I competed was to consciously make sure that my prep affected fewer people – i.e. stop bringing it up in conversation at every opportunity and stop being annoyed when people don’t understand why or what you are doing.
Of course, you want to keep the positive elements that inspire others, just without shoving it down their throats.
The world doesn’t revolve around you when you are in contest prep (or ever) – Nobody took a gun to your head and asked you to compete.
Be aware of your actions when you’re prepping. Other people exist!
There can be a huge sense of emptiness when your contest season is over. This ties in with my point above.
It’s been about you for however many weeks you’ve been in prep (in my case, 35 weeks) and suddenly it’s over.
Everything you worked for, all the excitement, all the noise just suddenly dies down and you’re left contemplating, “What’s next”?
For me, it made me realise i want to take the next year away from MYSELF and make it about others.
My coaching service has given me an avenue to do that and help others have a phenomenal year like I did, but I also want to take the personal relationships in my life to the next level as well.
Don’t Lose Your Friends Over the Industry
Seriously, I have the best friends and family anybody could wish for.
When I was competing, I wasn’t the greatest friend, son, brother etc to many but for people to stand by me and cheer me on regardless is a testament to how blessed I am to have such solid characters in my life.
Make sure you pay that back if you’re going the route of the fitness or bodybuilding competitor in this industry.
The best part of competing by a long shot are the relationships that I’ve formed on my travels.
Different people of all races, creeds and cultures just enveloped me in positive vibes.
I have friends for life from competing and that’s priceless. I’m blessed to be able to experience such a wide variety of people.
The U.S. attitude is SO much different to the U.K attitude. I find it a lot more positive and I’ve repeated this to many but I get a LOT more love from the U.S than I do from the U.K.
My friend explained it as a more positive “winners” mentality over there and I’d have to agree.
I notice over here that people in the industry watch what you’re doing and are aware but won’t say anything (and this is a huge generalisation of course, I do have amazing support here too), where as the people in the U.S. usually wear their heart on their sleeve and will give you props, ask how you’re doing or say congrats without a thought.
The U.K fitness industry is a lot more cliquey/bitchy I noticed.
This isn’t something I wanted to learn or notice, it just is what it is. Take it or leave it. I’m sure many would disagree but that was my personal experience.
I learned in the fitness industry who I can trust for information.
With lots of trial and error, I understood to look for a combination of
- the capacity for critical thinking
- a passion for finding out the truth regardless if it means they have to hold their hands up and say “hey, I was previously wrong. New data shows xyz…”
- humility – the ability to change their mind as new data emerges
- intelligence/education (honestly, I look at this last these days. Some of the worst offenders and charlatans in this industry are highly educated.)
Some of the best names to follow for good information in the fitness industry
- Eric Helms (and the rest of the 3DMJ coaches)
- Layne Norton
- James Kreiger
- Brad Schoenfield
- Lyle Mcdonald
- Alan Aragon
- Dr Spencer Nadolsky
- Menno Henselmans
I know there are plenty of others I may have missed out and who I will discover down the line.
Following on from my last point, the most disappointing thing I discovered this year is that you can be the smartest, most intelligent person in the industry, but as soon as you show bias to what you WANT to believe, your education and intelligence mean jack shit.
There were a few people in the industry this year who I used to look up to but can’t take seriously anymore due to their inability to look past their extreme bias. What a waste.
I learned that there is a lot about my industry (especially the fitness/health/aesthetics part of it) that I have a strong dislike for and there are some things that I simply won’t do to get ahead.
Sponsorships with companies that sell overpriced, over-hyped garbage is a massive no-go for me.
Kissing peoples asses who are well connected in the industry despite disagreeing with their values or what they stand for is another thing I see happen a lot.
I made my route in this industry through legitimately coaching people into great shape and calling the bullshit that goes on in the industry so the public were aware.
I say what’s on my mind too much and rub people in the industry up the wrong way.
I’ll gladly pay that price for having the freedom to speak up though.
Take a path through the industry which you are happy and comfortable with. There are many.
Fitness Influencer’s Social Media Isn’t Real Life
Social media fucks relationships up. I’m not talking about the obvious relationships with your loved ones, but potential future relationships too.
I have found people who have disliked me because we’ve had a debate or disagreement on social media before they’ve even met me.
There are SO many people who take it personally that you eat differently or have different beliefs to them.
I’ve literally noticed people who used to “like” my social media stuff instantly stop and also stop communication because we didn’t agree with each other in a harmless debate previously.
I make it a point never to do this. I could disagree with 9/10 of someone’s posts but if I agree with that 1/10? I will still give them props.
Stop being such a bitch because someone disagreed with you. In real life we all have a lot more in common than we think.
Social media isn’t real life. Know the difference.
STEROIDS IN THE PHYSIQUE + FITNESS INDUSTRY
I want to spend some time telling you what I learned on this “taboo” topic in this industry. Of course, that’s steroids.
I’ve never made any bones about the fact that I am not a lifetime natural – I used in my late teens so bare that in mind.
Honestly, 99% of people would be more than satisfied with what they could achieve without the use of drugs. PERIOD.
I’m so happy I managed to break free of the negative mentality I had as a teen when idiots in my gyms got into my ear and convinced me that steroids were needed to grow any kind of muscle.
I had a very healthy “naivety” as a 16 year old and felt like I could get as big as I wanted – Anything was possible.
While some would argue that naivety is bad because it means you can get duped by unscrupolous marketers, especially in the supplement industry, I don’t think it’s as dangerous as convincing teens that you MUST go on steroids or it’s all pointless.
I’m happy to say that I have that slightly naive mentality back now at 29 years of age.
I still see people who have no idea of what they are doing in the gym but are lulled into a false sense of thinking they do, because the steroids are the bridge between their lack of knowledge and self belief.
Put it this way, if suddenly all steroids were removed from this planet, you’d soon see who ACTUALLY loves to train, knows their shit and has the confidence in their ability to build muscle vs those who would quit because they’ve convinced themselves they can’t train without or it takes “too long” without assistance.
I know my lcoal gym would be 90% empty if this scenario were to ever take place.
This isn’t an attack on anybody who uses. How could it be, when I’ve used?
There are many, in my eyes who have earned the right to use, have a deep understanding of what they’re doing and I have nothing but respect for them.
Their fat free mass index is way higher than the reported average of a natural athlete (which is 25.1) so that’s always impressive to me.
But then there are some who have never built muscle naturally and just jumped straight on due to their impatience (I too built a little muscle but hit a plateau when I was 19 and assumed I’d hit my “natural” limit LOL) and then take the attitude that, “Well everyone is on steroids anyway!” or go around accusing others who have had 5,6,7,8 or even 10+ years of consistent natural training under their belts – I’d love to see a shift in the industry to change this exact attitude.
Or those in the industry who are on national magazine covers that promote “health” when they (and I) know full well they are on a copious amount of steroids (This industry is smaller than you think).
That’s where I have a huge problem. I’ve often heard, “What does it matter that someone takes steroids? A good physique is a good physique!”.
Yes, agreed, so why are we so secretive about such a common part of the industry?
Don’t the people who look up to us and help us make a living deserve to know how you achieved your physique in full?
I personally think they do (in the U.S, I understand there is the more severe legal implications to think about too, so I understand not being so transparent from that point).
I’ve always spoken out on this topic to hopefully educate people before they decide to make any rash decisions.
One of my proudest achievements in the fitness industry has been paying it forward and changing a few peoples’ mentality who thought they needed the juice but are now experiencing even better results naturally because they simply got their shit together.
They started focusing on the foundations which have been seemingly lost in the modern day.
Hopefully it will mean something coming from somebody who has been on both sides and has far surpassed the strength, size and condition naturally than I ever had when I used all those years ago.
Does the Fitness Industry Teach Things That Actually Matter?
I learned and admittedly it was hard to get my head around this after believing it for 11 years, but Clean Eating doesn’t exist LOL.
You can throw any scenario at me, you can throw any food at me and I will give you a circumstance where it can be considered good AND bad!
If you think a single food contains magic properties that will make or break your physique, well, I hope santa brought you some more “magic” foods when he came down your chimney this Christmas ;p Which brings me to..
My word, do people focus on the menial BULLSHIT in this industry! Don’t get caught up in the cult-like behavior of some people.
- Hormone balancing
- clean foods
- bad foods
- demonising ingredient names they can’t pronounce
- gluten free
- demonising dairy
- timing nutrients to perfection
- training/eating for a hormonal response
- KETO dieters (far and away, the worst offenders in the fitness industry for cult-like behaviour)
…and the list goes on.
One of my biggest take-away’s (punny…) from the fitness industry is to just GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THINGS THAT MATTER.
To achieve what I achieved with my physique and turning Pro as a fitness model, I didn’t focus one second of my time on any of the above
If I didn’t need to focus on that stuff to reach a pro level of physique, do 99.9% of people need to focus on it either?
So What Matters For Dieting and Nutrition?
I learned to reverse engineer everything that I had been taught by this industry and simplify. I’d urge you to do the same.
This isn’t a diet or nutrition article but here are the basics. They’re not sexy and that’s why the fitness industry keeps trying to reinvent the wheel:
- A good place to start for both health and aesthetics is to realise that calories in vs calories out determines weight change
- Then understanding that the macronutrient composition of those calories will determine where that weight is mostly gained or lost from (Muscle or fat).
Obesity tends to be the cause of most diseases today.
This is the simplest, most studied truth – I don’t care that some Dr is telling you it’s some other meaningless, esoteric shit to try and sell you a program.
The truth isn’t sexy or marketable.
Unfortunately this line of thinking won’t win you too many friends in the industry, or sell very many courses or coaching plans…oh well, some people appreciate it and those are who matter to me.
Science is here to make things SIMPLER, not harder. It’s a beautiful thing.
In the fitness industry, I learned that some will use science to draw their own complicated and incorrect conclusions that mean nothing to anybody in terms of real world results and practicalty.
(Though it does increase their ego knowing extra useless fun-facts!)
How Does the Fitness Industry Approach Training?
Similarly to diet and nutrition. By over complicating shit for the majority of us.
I took training back to basics 101 and dumbed it down the further I got into my fitness career. I get better results too.
- Giant sets
- quadruple drop sets
ABC or whatever other gimmicky training is out there.
Going with the theme of my time in the industry was focusing on what matters.
I took a scientific approach to training and simply focused on:
- overall volume
- progressive overload
- trying to get stronger in each phase of training
There is no secret, magic workout regardless of what trainers in the industry want you to believe.
Simplify your training.
Stop changing workouts every 2 weeks.
Get stronger, use optimal volume ranges and eat for your goals. Done.
As a follow up from that, I notice so many competitors posting “Fitspiration”. Apparently inspirational quotes to do with fitness.
Most of them are about how desperately hard they’re working towards their goals or competition.
Guess what? The judges don’t care that you threw up training legs, the judges at your show don’t care that you did a 1000 reps on arms to shock them, the judges don’t care that you did one extra rep than me past failure and the judges definitely don’t care how “clean” you ate during your prep.
When it comes down to it, you will be judged on your physique and you’ll realise that working SMARTER beats working harder for the sake of it or for the sake of impressing your IG followers, EVERY single time.
I learned again that you don’t need to take each set to failure to grow.
Getting shredded and contest ready the way I did pisses people off – There were people who thought they “sacrificed” more than I did who didn’t get anywhere near as lean as I did.
An example of this is someone I know who ate chicken breast and brocolli for practically every meal, didn’t get anywhere near contest condition for his show ASSISTED and now takes the piss out of my “pop tarts and ice cream” diet (Which it isn’t but ignorance is bliss as they say).
I did try to help him and explain my concepts but this is where focusing on what MATTERS counts.
It tells me a lot about someone when they either get upset about the way I got ready for my show or they get curious and say, “Ok..I’m listening, explain how you did that?”.
Again, I’m never saying my way is the only way, but when people are so emotionally attached to their way of eating, they stop learning.
Don’t be that guy or girl if you want to take your physique to the next level.
The Fitness Industry and Body Dysmorphia
I learned to accept that I won’t be, nor do I want to be “photoshoot” ready all year round.
Being a competitive fitness model, especially if you’re on social media can distort your perception of how you should look year round.
I’ve learned to accept that I have a higher body fat set point than some athletes, especially around my abs which is everyone’s general measure of leanness.
But I also learned that I’m ok with NOT being shredded year round because it brings me greater balance and joy in my life.
From a physical stand point, I suffer a lot being around 5-6% bodyfat.
Most people would, I imagine, especially as a natural athlete because your testosterone is reduced to a quarter of what it is at normal, higher body fat levels.
I would never go through that feeling of lethargy, low mood and generally feeling crappy just to stay shredded year round. It’s not worth it.
I learned that the higher in body fat I am, the hornier I get (to a point – it goes the other way when you put on too much body fat).
It’s truly ironic when you are shredded as f**k and at your physical peak but you’d rather eat a cheesecake than have sex.
The image of all of these ripped guys on Instagram, comes attached with an assumed high libido to fight off all the women (or men) they attract. It’s not the case (well, it probably is for most when they are topping up their testosterone artificially)
The funniest thing I heard recently was from a work colleague and really good female friend of mine. We started working together during my contest prep and we’d always talk about who we found attractive.
At about 8-12 weeks after my contest season was over she jokingly said to me, “this Altu, he is like an animal!”. She went on to say she preferred me this way as I seemed more full of life.
I noticed it too. I just had more energy and my mood overall was so much better. This ties in again with why I DON’T like staying shredded year round) and don’t worry, the story doesn’t end up with me in jail.