Nick Mitchell is a leading body composition expert and the founder of the Ultimate Performance global personal training gym. He is based in Los Angeles.
How’s your training going? Making good progress? Are you consistently sticking to your tough diet? And are you happy with your physique and typically in a good and positive frame of mind about life? Then great. I am genuinely delighted for you and wish you all the best in your efforts to keep progressing.
But if you are training hard and eating well, but aren’t happy, or feeling pressure to be ‘on it’ 365 days a year, or think you’re missing out on life, then you need to stop and ask yourself what you are trying to achieve and why.
You have to sacrifice a lot of things to look good with your shirt off. Trust me, I know. I missed out on a lot of really important things when I was younger. But I wanted to be a world-class bodybuilder: I was desperate for it and sacrificed a lot opportunities for partying, boozing and sex, in pursuit of it.
Girls used to ask me why I was so into building a huge physique because they didn’t find it attractive. But I was doing it purely for me. I wanted to look like a pro bodybuilder. When I walked down the street I wanted the pavement to crack.
I had the chance whilst at university to spend a term in Chicago and turned it down because I didn’t want to be away from my gym. Could I have trained in the Windy City? Yes, but I was so closed off to the opportunities to do anything other than train, eat and sleep that I missed out on what might have been a very eye-opening and valuable experience. Don’t get me wrong. I have no regrets because it allowed me to do what I do today, but I wouldn’t want my six-year-old son to follow in my footsteps and miss out on the many potential life-enriching experiences I probably did.
Body that pays the bills
Unless you make a living from your physique, which only a very small number of people genuinely do, then you need to have a balance. I sound like my dad now, talking to my younger self, but he was right.
Daley Thompson trained twice on Christmas Day because he wanted to be the best in the world, and these were two extra sessions he was getting in over his rivals. But you are not Daley Thompson. If you can’t take time off to enjoy the finer things in life, then life will pass you by. I believe tunnel vision is essential for true success. But I don’t define success as you having a six-pack, unless it’s a step towards a bigger goal, such as standing on stage or appearing on a magazine cover.
Do it for you
I think everyone needs to ask themselves right now why are you trying to build a better body. If it’s for you, whether that’s to feel more confident, get laid, or just because you love having abs, and you’re happy, then fantastic. But if it’s not for you and for someone else, whether that’s your missus or strangers on a beach, then trust me when I say you will never be happy. Especially if you are doing it to post daily photos on Instagram. Life is not lived on social media.
There is a new pressure on people today because of social media to be ‘on message’ every minute of every hour of every day. They feel like they can never skip a session or ever have a cheat day, and must post pictures of every morsel they eat, because they have to keep up appearances on Facebook or Twitter.
And for what? A dozen thumbs-up and a couple of favourites?
Those people aren’t your friends and family who love and care and support you. They won’t be there to celebrate the good times and commiserate the bad. Why would they be when the chances are you have never – and will never – meet them in real life.
See the bigger picture
My point is this. Building the best physique you possibly can requires an awful lot of sacrifice, as anything worth having always does. So I’m not saying stop training, or eating well. Do that, and do it well, but if you feel under incredible pressure to live up to an unrealistic ideal – because of someone else’s desire or social media – then you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
The road to happiness, for the overwhelming majority of people, doesn’t lie in self-sacrifice and chicken and veg. If it does for you, and you are perfectly happy on that path, then that’s excellent.
But if you feel pressure to be living this life and it’s making you miserable or even depressed, then you need to find a balance that will make you happy again.
Everyone needs to take a step back every so often to reassess and ask yourself some questions. What is your goal? Why is it? Are you moving in the right direction? Are you enjoying it? If so, is there a way you can make it more enjoyable? If not, why? And what do you need to do to start enjoying it? Even Arnold – one of the most driven bodybuilders there’s been – was a big believer in balance. He knew when to push on and when to back off. He was pursuing other opportunities even when still at the top of bodybuilding.
But one thing he didn’t do was take photographs of his egg-white omelette every morning. And if you are that’s exactly why you’ll never have a physique like his.