Twenty years ago, I started my career in the fitness industry, but exercise was already an integral part of my life long before that. I have been exposed to many formal and informal learnings over the years including advice, tips, tricks, methods, methodologies and multiple schools of thought on anything and everything related to nutrition and fitness.
But the best advice I’ve ever received, and retained long-term, comes from the mouths of experienced, knowledgeable, hands-on trainers and coaches, most early in or before my fitness career. Sometimes you hear something and it just clicks. Here are some of the words of wisdom that have been incredibly helpful throughout my personal development and my coaching and professional coaching career.
“Lean and green”
One of the first tips I got from trainer Dan Potts, in response to my question on how to lean (lose fat and gain muscle). This is the abbreviated version of “Lean Proteins and Green Vegetables”. A born and bred vegetarian, eating protein has never been at the forefront of my fitness goals. I ate healthy, yes, but was limited in my muscle gains by a lack of protein. It was early in my career and the first time I really understood the importance of targeted nutrition to achieve certain fitness goals. This was before counting macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) became common practice. I’ve advised clients and revisited it myself again and again – making nutrient-dense but low-calorie lean protein and (mostly) green vegetables the staple of a diet to get back to leaner body composition.
“Fitness is like the stock market”
Early in my career, I was working hard and starting to burn out because I wasn’t giving my body (and mind) enough time to recover. I thought if I backed off in any aspect of my diet it would mean I wasn’t trying hard enough. (I didn’t quite understand yet how crucial rest and recovery are to a successful exercise program and anyway, I wasn’t about to apply it to myself.) This advice came from one of my early mentors in the fitness industry. She reminded me that when you invest in the stock market, you can see the value of your investment go up and down. But as long as you stay inside, you’re likely to come out on top. His great point was that I didn’t need to constantly train hard to get the long term benefits of training. Mixing different intensities, taking days off, and doing lighter weights with higher reps and vice versa would allow my body to recover while still being active. For the most part, I’ve stayed in the “market” ever since.
“Hunger is your body burning calories”
It was at a time in my life when my body’s metabolism was raging. I was younger and did long/intense strength training daily as well as endless cycling and running. I ate all day every day yet I was constantly hungry. I was also very skinny (some might say a little too thin.) When a trainer at my gym gave me this advice, it clicked because it makes sense physiologically. My body was burning a lot of calories and my food intake couldn’t match which resulted in my extreme thinness. I wouldn’t advise anyone to allow themselves to be hungry all the time (except to achieve very specific short-term goals), but hunger is a tool that can be used deliberately to aid in weight loss. and change body composition. These days, allowing hunger is often implemented through intermittent fasting or no snacking.
“Dan Potts Leg Day Story”
Many years ago, Dan used to do heavy leg workouts on Fridays. He trained so hard and approached it with such intensity that he had come to stress beforehand, to the point that he started having trouble sleeping every Thursday night. Until one day he was driving to his gym, on his way to his leg workout, dreading it as usual. At a red light, he looked up and saw a Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair. The veteran’s legs were missing. In an instant, Dan experienced a total attitude adjustment. Not only did he stop stressing or dreading his leg workouts, but from that moment he embraced Leg Day realizing that every moment he could work his legs was a blessing and a gift. And it was his only choice to work so hard and endure tremendous discomfort to achieve the gains and goals he wanted to achieve. (I don’t have a picture of him squatting at 600 pounds, but I’m including the ad for fitness equipment, above, in which his legs were featured.) Think about it. I’m reminded that I have the power to change my attitude and perspective at any time, and sometimes I really need that reminder. Do all of us.
Here are some of the best health and fitness tips I have ever received, words of wisdom and experience that still resonate with me personally, and which I have used and developed to guide and advise others in my professional career. I should be so lucky if over the years I have been able to have such a profound impact on one of my own clients, athletes, friends, family, and you, my readers.
— By Pritam Potts
Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After more than 16 years coaching athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, TX. She writes about health and fitness, grief and loss, love and life on www.advancedathlete.com.