Commentary: Keys to wholesome gains

A flexed arm is seen in front of the J.B. O'Keefe Fitness Centre at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B. in this photograph on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

The fitness industry is growing and so are its misconceptions. You don’t need shredded abs and a huge chest to be fit, but that’s not what the industry would have you believe. Most people who are spewing this misinformation have attained their bodies by using various steroids and actively try to tell you that you can attain their physiques naturally.  

They would have you believe that by buying “X” supplement, you’ll gain 30 pounds of muscle like they did, but exclude the part where they were on a regimented testosterone cycle for the entirety of their program. Steroid use is not the problem – misinformation is. Educated adults should be able to do as they please with their own bodies as long they don’t harm others.

With its growing popularity on social media, many fitness enthusiasts feel discouraged when they compare themselves to these inhumanely strong and fit influencers. It’s important to be strong and fit, but there are limits that aren’t highlighted. 

To this, I offer a more holistic approach which I believe would ultimately improve one’s relationship with their body and fitness goals. Wholesome fitness encourages you to accept your body and strive to make manageable, sustainable gains over an extended period of time.

Everyone knows the mantra “hard work and dedication,” but this will seldom work if you’re dedicated to working hard in the wrong way. Many new gym members will allow themselves to be influenced by professional athletes and will feel frustrated when they cannot see immediate results. 

The first step to having a healthy relationship with fitness and muscle training is to accept the fact that it is a lifelong journey with no end. Say you do finally attain your ideal physique – great. Now you must work equally hard to maintain it. Acknowledging the fact that your “fitness journey” is the destination will help you build sustainable habits which will translate to continuous progress in some way or another.

But how do you achieve these goals? Obviously, I can’t map out the specifics of how one builds endurance, size and strength. But I can offer a rough framework to operate that would help block out the misconceptions propagated throughout the sport/hobby.

The first tip I can offer is that you need to be progressively overloading the muscles. This means you should be increasing a given facet of your exercise on a continuous basis. Maybe you do three bench press repetitions once a week – next time aim to do four. Or increase the weight or the number of times you do the three repetitions. This will allow you to track your progress in a linear fashion and although it’s the best formula to enhance your physical output and performance, it’s equally beneficial for the mental side of the activity. You see yourself improving day-to-day even when it doesn’t feel like it.

The second key to making wholesome gains is to be consistent. You wouldn’t take concise notes half the time and expect good grades, so why would you do it in the gym? Fitness is an endless practice, so consistency will allow you to relentlessly move forward – pairing nicely with my first tip of progressively overloading the muscles. For one to work, you must do the other. It’s better to get three small workouts in within a week than one massive one where you can barely move afterwards.

The third key tip I offer is an even more general rule as we all require different things when it comes to our diet. I can, however, offer some universal rules to apply to your consumption habits now that you’re on your way to consistent physical activity. The rules are simple: drink water every day in a regimented fashion. A lot of people will only drink water when they feel thirsty, but that’s your body telling you it’s already dehydrated. It would be like throwing wood into a fire that is almost dead rather than feeding it every so often.

But your body doesn’t only need water, it also needs food – good food. People often develop an unhealthy relationship with food by getting caught up with specific calorie intakes and “macros.” I won’t tell you that these are ineffective ways to maintain fitness levels, but you don’t necessarily need to be doing it either. You should aim to eat approximately 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight everyday as well as eating a serving of fruit and vegetables per meal. Most food should indicate the nutritional benefits on the back of its packaging so that is where you will find its protein contents as well as other important facts such as total calories.

If you want to lose weight, eat slightly less calories than you need per day (a simple google search will tell you how many calories you burn in a day.) If you want to gain weight, eat slightly more. Never use starvation as a punishment as this can lead to serious health problems, namely eating disorders of various kinds. If you ate too much or too little the day before, the best thing you can do is eat the proper amount you need today, not more or less. Be kind to your body and it will do amazing things.

Fitness can be trained as intensively or passively as one likes, but I recommend everyone do at least a little. STU has a tremendous facility which comes with our tuition, so why not take advantage? Exercising in a gym helps enhance focus at school, increases your serotonin levels and it will make you feel better in mind and body alike. 

Don’t be discouraged by the aggressive and daunting landscape of the professional fitness world and understand that your journey is for no one else but yourself. Get in the gym and watch it work wonders.