I Can, I Cant
One common question I receive is, "What do you do for maintenance?" It always takes me by surprise because the concept is alien to me. Maintenance? Granted, when I started this lifestyle, I would have loved to have some "vacation" waiting for me at the end, and I was certainly thinking about how I would "relax things" when I achieved my peak physique. Along the journey, however, I learned a true lesson in life: there is never any "maintenance."
Consider this: the average adult loses several pounds of muscle as they age. This has been studied in thousands of individuals over decades. As a person reaches their golden years, they begin to lose muscle mass. So what is maintenance? Is it losing muscle mass? I don't think so. Even gaining enough muscle mass to counteract the natural loss is "progress" in my book - you must train hard, intensely, and consume the right foods in order to just "maintain" your lean mass. The net result is maintenance of your physique, but the training style is far from "maintenance."
The same thing applies to training in general, even for younger individuals. It is well known that the body is quick to adapt to training. This is why the periodization model of training (which essentially involves changing the way you train over time) is so effective: it constantly manipulates parameters of training to prevent the body from adapting. Because the body is so good at becoming efficient, the longer someone trains, the fewer gains they are likely to make and the more intense their training must become. The converse to this is that because of the high intensity of training, most must rest more to recover as their training advances. Lee Haney once mentioned that he would be happy to put on one pound of muscle in a year. Once again, there is no such thing as maintenance - even doing the same workout will eventually produce fewer results, and send you backwards instead of keeping you at the same place!
What does this have to do with the "I can, I can't" syndrome? The question I always have in return is, "Why do you want maintenance?" Inevitably, people become tired of living a certain lifestyle. Whether it is due to boredom, over-training, or some other reason, it happens. My own father asked me just recently, "Are you still training? It's OK if you aren't - working out is something you do for a while and then take a break from." The problem is that if you are too focused on a specific goal such as "body fat" or "weight," then it becomes easy to hit that goal and slip into maintenance mode. If your goal, on the other hand, is total health, then it must become a lifestyle change because there is no maintenance. You don't reach good health just to fall back out of it.
The people who yearn for the maintenance mode wake up and tell themselves, "I should go work out." This is an inner conversation and while it may not seem significant, it is. "I should go work out." This implies a sense of "urgency" - it is not a desire, but a need being fulfilled. There may be a negative consequence if the action is not performed, so it should be done. Instead of positive reinforcement, this borders on negativity. After weeks of doing something I "should do," I, too, would probably want to hit some magical "maintenance" phase so I wouldn't "have to" do it anymore.
The alternative to this is to work out because you want to. "I want to go work out." This is a subtle change to the inner dialogue, but it makes a tremendous difference. Now there is no implied consequence for not doing it. It's not a finger wagging in your face, telling you to do something. It is an inner desire - the action is tied directly to a reward. If you want to do something, there is typically a reward involved - whether it is the satisfaction of accomplishment, the great feeling of good health, or some other positive emotion that springs from the activity.
This reminds me of vegetables. Vegetables? When I started to eat healthy, I knew that I should be eating more vegetables. I did not really like vegetables, and the few that I did eat came packaged with a ton of sodium in a can. I yearned for my "free day" and my "breaks" between programs so that I didn't have to eat vegetables. I still sucked them down because I knew I should eat them, but I did not want to eat them.
Somewhere along the way, I began to enjoy the journey and realize it was about much more than the destination. It suddenly was not just about losing fat - although that was certainly a bonus. It was about living life. It felt good to be in shape. I could tie my shoes and not run out of breath! I could play basketball with my son! We had a great time and being healthy just felt great. I made a conscious decision to tie the sensation of good health into the activities that blessed me with it. One such activity was eating vegetables. While I was still eating them because I should and not because I wanted to, I constantly reminded myself that they were part of what helped me become so healthy.
As time progressed, I began to truly appreciate the benefits of vegetables. I studied their composition and learned about phytochemicals and other components that promote good health. I realized that these were something I'd need to eat for the rest of my life, so I'd better enjoy them. I took some steps towards this. First, I moved from canned veggies to frozen veggies, but added my own seasoning and steamed them until they were mush. Then, I simply steamed them less, to acquire a taste for the crisp, raw flavor, and I seasoned them less. With raw vegetables, I started by dipping them in salad dressing. I then reduced the amount that I "dipped" and the amount of times that I dipped, and eventually acquired a taste for raw vegetables.
I did not by any means reprogram my entire set of tastes. For some odd reason, I still cannot eat raw tomatoes or mushrooms, and I still want to plug my nose when I eat Brussels sprouts. But, for the most part, I enjoy vegetables. I eat them now because I want to ... not because I should. And that means they are not a burden to me or something I need to take a break from - in fact, when I have a "splurge" meal, I often find myself enjoying a nice plate of roasted asparagus because I want to.
The same inner talk can take place with your training as well. You don't enjoy cardio? Neither did I. I hated it. I did it because I knew I should, not because I wanted to. Then a funny thing happened. I had a fight with a hill in my neighborhood. It was one of those straight "up and down" hills that I couldn't quite make it to the top of. Every time I went out to jog, I set my sights on that hill, and every time, it would defeat me. I had all but given up one day when I realized that I was following the same pattern over and over again - I would start to go up that hill, then I'd feel the nausea kick in. And instead of pushing myself to my limits, I would just talk myself into stopping.
While cardio was still something I did because I should, that hill was something I wanted to conquer. So I detached my mind from that feeling I got and instead decided to see what my body was made out of. I felt disconnected from my legs and arms as they slowly pushed me up that hill, but when I neared the top, I knew I had it in me. I refused to let my mind distract me ("Oh, Jeremy, wouldn't it be nicer to just stop and walk right now?") - I ignored that negative self-talk and pushed through. I conquered it.
The feeling of ecstasy at having accomplished this little task on my own was incredible. I savored it, and then an interesting thing happened - I began to crave it. So the next time I performed cardio, I thought about how I could push myself more than I expected. In the past 18 months, this is how every cardio session has been. I don't feel satisfied unless I know I pushed myself to the limit - if I have anything left at the end then I am disappointed. As I step onto my treadmill, however, I realize that things are different now. I'm not stepping on because I should; I'm stepping on because I want to.
Do you truly believe that you have the power to change? Doubt can do many things. I had doubt. I told myself I wanted to become lean. Here, "want" was not powerful enough. Why? I did not think that I should or could become lean; I just wanted to. But I was only hoping and grasping - a part of me did not think it was truly possible. This creates a negative-feedback loop. When you only want to succeed, then subtle decisions affect the outcome. For example, if you are underneath several pounds of iron in the gym and getting ready to push out another rep, but your arms ache so bad you can barely grip the weight, what are you going to do? If you only want to succeed but don't truly believe that you can, you might decide that the pain is not worth it. So instead of pushing that last rep, you decide to terminate the set and rack the weights. It's okay, it was just one rep, and it wouldn't have been worth it anyway, right?
What am I asking for? I just mentioned moving from "should" to "want" and now I have an issue with "want"? That's right. For certain decisions in your life, it's not enough to want them. You must make them happen. Yes! It's not a possibility, but a certainty. Instead of wanting to obtain your peak physique, understand that you will. When you have made the decision to stop wanting and start creating, then you will cross yet another barrier. When you are underneath that same set of weights, you'll realize that racking them is not an option. Why? Because you will earn your peak physique, so you must get that last rep in. It IS worth it, because by pushing 110% each and every time, you will reach your goal.
This is what changed my fate. Originally I hoped to reach it, I wanted it, but it just wasn't there. When I started changing my perspective, when I focused on my inner dialogue and changed it, this is when I experienced success. I didn't train because I was supposed to; I trained because I wanted to. I didn't eat healthy because I should; I ate healthy because I wanted to. And I wasn't hoping to build my peak physique; I was doing it. So when I looked in the mirror, I didn't think about what I could become, I thought about what I was becoming. I'd look at my stomach and see the abs I would create, not the ones that I wished I would have. Only that thin line between "want" and "will" made the difference between "maintenance" and success for me.
I want you to avoid negatives, like "I can't," because you can. I want you to think positive. But I don't want this to be a mere cliché. The words hold no meaning when they are not backed by action. The things you say, feel, and yes, even your own, private thoughts are what sculpt your reality. Every day you have internal conversations with yourself. Instead of letting the doubt creep in, focus on that dialogue and change it. Simply rephrasing your thoughts as "I want to" or "I will," rather than "I should" or "I hope," can make a tremendous difference - in fact, just changing the way you think may be the one last step for you to reach your peak physique.
Jeremy Likness is an International Health Coach and motivational speaker. After losing 65 pounds of fat, he discovered his true vision to coach thousands around the world to better health. A Certified Fitness Trainer and Specialist in Performance Nutrition, Jeremy is the author of the internationally-selling e-Book, www.losefatnotfaith.com/" target="_blank">Lose Fat, Not Faith and the companion www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0009NZL8Y/" target="_blank">5-CD set. Jeremy has been published in major online publications including Tom Venuto's Fitness Renaissance and Bodybuilding.com. Jeremy's approach is unique because he focuses on fitness from the inside out. Visit Jeremy online at www.naturalphysiques.com/" target="_blank">Natural Physiques.