I recently turned 30 years old. Of these 30 years, I spent a good 15 of them obsessing about health, wellness and performance.
Sporting success was my top priority in my late teens and early 20s.
Unfortunatley, this myopic desire for success led to massive health problems. Thus my attention turned away from performance and instead focused on health as I reached my late 20's.
Today, with good health (you can learn more about my story and how I recovered HERE) I am much more balanced with my goals.
I have fixed my 'health woes' and have scratched that performance itch so I can move on to other interests.
But 15 years immersed in the health and fitness world, especially with all my ups and downs, has taught me a lot. A lot about health, a lot about performance and a lot about the world we live in.
Now I don't claim to be full of wisdom at my age of 30, but I do know I there are many lessons I have learnt that I wish I knew 10-15 years ago.
As I went for my daily morning stroll on my 30th birthday, I made a list. A list of all the heath and fitness mistakes I had made over the past 15 years of my life. A list of lessons I had learnt. A list of my flaws.
Today I am sharing this list with you. Perhaps you are a 20 year old guy with a thirst for sporting success, or maybe you are somewhat older than I, but your health and fitness experiences are not as ripe as mine.
No matter who you are, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.
So here goes. 11 health and fitness mistakes I have made in the past 15 years, including the takeaways for you to follow.
'You can sleep when you're dead' the saying goes. Like most young adults, I used to live by this saying.
Who needs sleep, it's a time waster. I could be playing, learning, eating, training... doing something productive with my time.
Sleeping is a waste of time. Right?
Unfortunatley there is a consequence of following the 'sleep when you're dead' logic. And that is you will be dead so much sooner!
The day I started prioritising my sleep, was the same day my terrible health started improving.
As my sleep improved I noticed my training performance improved. My immune function strengthened. My energy was stable. I needed less stimulants. I got more out of my day.
I got more out of life.
I don't want this blog to turn into a 'how to sleep better' article, as I have written extensively on that topic HERE. But the best thing you can do to improve your sleep is to prioritise it.
Prioritising my sleep led to amazing health and performance changes in my life.
My advice my younger self is simple:
"Stop wasting money on all those fad supplements, and complicating your diet and training program in an attempt to eek out an extra 2% performance. Instead, prioritise your sleep and sleep more. It's free, it's easy, it's effective and it's bloody good for you"
I love supplements. I have written an entire article on What You Need To Know About Supplements here.
I am happy dedicating some of my income to supplements. I know they help my health and performance.
But I once got sucked into the supplement industry - I had pills coming out of my ears. It got to the point where I didn't even know what I was taking or why I was taking them.
If I saw it in a magazine, I had to buy it. If someone at the gym was using it, I would order it. If it was on special at the health store, then it was a no-brainer!
I figured, more is better right?
Unfortunatley this is not the case. But more importantly, many supplements are junk. Again I cover this in detail in my article on supplements.
But as I will explain many times in this article, quality trumps quantity.
Rather than using a shotgun approach - throwing a heap of rubbish against the wall and hoping something will stick (while wasting a ton of cash and potentially doing a lot of harm) use a sniper approach.
Find out what you are deficient in and treat accordingly. If you are deficient in something, ask why, what foods am I missing from my diet, what am I doing wrong?
Also, understand that some types of supplements are better than others. Some can do more harm than good.
Some are absorbed at higher rates. Seek out the good brands.
Spend money on a few quality supplements that you know will benefit you, rather than dozens of inferior supplements that may or may not work. Quality over quantity.
Again, I still use supplements today. I use them with my clients (and we start with a fair few while they improve their health), but don't get caught up on the supplement hype.
"Do your research when it comes to supplements. Ask yourself before buying 'Do I really need this? What am I taking it for? What does it do? And is there a better option?"
This ties in with not sleeping enough. I was often tired, exhausted even. My body ached, and I didn't want to train but would force myself to exercise.
I would tell my body to 'be quiet'. Numbing it with painkillers and energising it with caffeine and pre-workout supplements.
I would joke about going on a 'sleep holiday' - a week of sleeping, naps and not much else - yet still stay up late at night anyway.
I acted as if I knew best. That I was smarter than nature. That the warning signs my body was giving me (chronic fatigue, aches and pains, low motivation to train etc) was a result of my body getting soft. I needed to push through it and tell the body who was boss...
As I share in this story that approach well and truly backfired.
Today, I pay close attention to what my body is telling me.
Tired? I have a nap.
Sore? Don't train and get some Red Light instead.
Low HRV score? Tweak my training protocol.
Hungry? Eat more.
Not hungry? Don't eat.
It's amazing what happens when you work with the body.
"Pay close attention to the signs and signals the body produces. It can save you a whole lot of pain and suffering down the track"
I had achieved some sporting success. I had read a few books. I had done some courses.
I knew everything there was to know about health and fitness! At least I thought I did.
You don't know what you don't know. Looking back I knew nothing. But because I didn't know that I didn't know anything, I thought I knew it all!
Unfortunatley, this mindset meant many lessons that could have been learnt early in my life were delayed.
Delayed until I was forced into learning (either from injury or illness) or until I accepted the fact that I hardly knew anything (and much of what I did know was flawed anyway).
My advice to my younger self is simple:
"You don't know anything yet. And what you do know is probably wrong. Never stop learning. The moment you think you know it all is the moment you need to learn more"
I remember going shopping once with a friend. We were in the egg section, I got the cheapest cage raised eggs I could find. 25c an egg. Perfect.
He got the expensive free range organic eggs. 0.90c an egg. We were both on a tight budget - university students with part time jobs.
I couldn't understand why he would pay three times the price for an egg. A plain, simple, boring egg.
My how things have changed! Today I go out of my way to buy organic, local, free range eggs. And thats just eggs, I drive across town once a week to buy raw milk. I buy spring water rather than drinking the free tap water. I buy my meat and vegetables from trusted farmers at a much higher premium than I could buy them from at my local store. I'm saving up to buy a $10,000 toxic bed!
As I have learnt more about health, our food, and how our bodies perform with high quality fuel, buying 'healthy' food at 2 or 3x the price is a no-brainer to me today.
The extra nutrients, the lower amount of toxins, the better taste... I could go on. I see organic food as true 'food'. And conventional, mass produced food as pseudo food. Synthetic food almost.
As for the price difference? It's an investment in my long term health.
"Organic food is not just for earth loving hippies. There is a strong health benefit to eating better quality food. Spend the extra money on quality food, your body and health will thank you for it in the future".
I spent two years bodybuilding. The goal of that sport is to look a certain way.
All the time in the gym lifting weights is not to increase your strength or improve your fitness, it's to help you look good on a particular day for a group of judges.
Bodybuilders are amazing athletes, their drive and discipline is second to none. Seriously.
But bodybuilding is a sport. The athletes accept the downsides of this sport. They know they're not doing it to improve their health.
And they know that winning a show doesn't mean they are going to have amazing health.
Just like a racecar driver knows his sport could lead to a dangerous accident. Or a boxer could suffer brain damage later in life. These athletes are not partaking in these sports for health reasons.
Unfortunatley, the public links 6 pack abs with health. And don't get me wrong, if health rates improved, we would see more 6 pack abs on the beach. But having the muscles does not mean you have the health.
There are many 'recreational bodybuilders' in the world. These are gym goers who train and diet like a bodybuilder but never compete.
To be honest, this is a large portion of active gym goers. They're not going to the gym to improve their health. They're going to look better.
There is nothing wrong with this. The problem is when the desire to look better comes at the cost of health. Worse is when people associate looking a certain way as being 'healthy'.
And this was me many years ago. I figured if I had 6 pack abs and big muscles, I would be healthy.
Everything would take care of itself. How could someone looking muscular and lean not be healthy?
Unfortunatley I now know this to be a complete fallacy. My health suffered the most after my bodybuilding success.
Months after my body was being praised in bodybuilding circles and by my peers, I found out I was extremely sick.
The same belief can be applied to fitness junkies. How often do you hear about the middle aged runner who dies of a heart attack?
It's important to understand that aesthetics does not equal health.
Nor does performance equal health. Sure health can help improve aesthetics and performance, but it doesn't seem to work the other way.
Ask yourself - what is your primary goal - to look a certain way or to feel a certain way?
"Understand that focusing purely on body image or performance may have detrimental effects on your health. "
Today when I lift weights or train it's for a reason. I understand why I'm doing a workout, and why I'm doing a particular exercise.
Unfortunatley, in my youth there was no logic behind my training.
It was simply a belief that 'training is good' and 'more is better'.
I spent hours upon hours in the gym. Looking back, a lot of this was wasted. I could have achieved the same result with a fraction of the work output.
Heck, I could have achieved more with less.
I never questioned why I was training the way I trained, and what I was trying to get out of a particular session.
I simply trained hoping to get a result. Because thats what everyone did right?
When I actually stopped to ask myself 'what do I want to achieve from this training session?', and then asked the next obvious question 'how is the best way to achieve this', my training transformed.
I started to follow training protocols that seemed crazy at first, but of course they worked, and they allowed me to get more from training and train less than ever before. (Note you can read more about this HERE).
"Ask yourself these questions before you exercise: Do you know what you are trying to achieve from your workout? Do you know why you do the training you do? Is there a better way (safer, easier, shorter, less painful etc) to achieve the same result?"
I dreamt of sporting success. I would train like the professionals would train. Multi-hour sessions. Twice a day sessions. Back to back to back maximum effort sessions.
If thats what the best did, and I wanted to the be the best, then I should do it as well.
However, there is a a problem with this. Training is one side of the coin. What happens in the hours after training is just as important when it comes to performance (or health, or fat loss).
Professional athletes are paid to train. That is their job. After training they get a massage, have a great meal, sleep and relax.
Us non-professionals don't have these luxuries. Often we sacrifice rest to train. We have extra stressors from our work that paid athletes don't have.
We finish the gruelling morning session to race to work, stress out over projects and deadlines, eat on the go all before rushing off to another training session.
Meanwhile the pro we're trying to mimic has spent 8 hours napping, relaxing, reading and eating quality food.
We don't have the some recovery systems in place, and thus our training should not be the same as a professional.
"Understand that extra training requires extra recovery. As you train more (or harder), you need to spend more time on recovery"
As I wanted to excel at sport, I would always listen out for the latest supplement, latest device, latest diet that was going to boost my performance.
As a result, I spent (wasted) a ton of cash on supplements that didn't work, or gadgets I never used. I got sucked in again and again and again.
I went through a time where I would listen to a podcast that convinced me that I had to buy this gizmo if I wanted to improve my health and performance. In hindsight I realise that these podcasts were merely 1 hour sales pitches for an affiliates product.
My shopping list grew as my savings plummeted.
But worst of all, I never saw the performance enhancing benefits that were promised. Looking back, there is a only a handful of products that I still use today, meaning there are a lot of products that didn't work.
"Stop wasting time and money on all these fads and gimmicks. Focus your resources on better food, better sleep and learning instead."
I like doing lab tests. They're important for uncovering underlying health problems, and they're also great for those of us who want to improve our health.
The problem is when we over do it. When we (or should I say 'when I') start spending tens of thousands of dollars on lab testing it almost becomes an addiction.
I would spend more time and money learning about my body than I was on fixing the problems I discovered.
It's as if I hoped to find a big problem that would explain all my health woes.
I don't regret spending all that money on lab tests, as I leant a lot about my health and about testing which has helped me with my coaching practice.
But looking back it was a bit over the top.
It's important to do some testing - to find out what you are working with. But it's how we use that information that's most important.
Rather than using it as a stepping stone to do more tests, we need to use the data to fix the problem.
Again, please don't get me wrong, I think doing lab tests are crucial when it comes to fixing or improving your health. I send all of my clients to LetsGetChecked (use discount code ALEXFERGUS to save) to do some testing when they start with me. The problem is when you do too much testing (and it starts costing too much! I must admit, if LetsGetChecked was available in New Zealand, I would have saved a ton of money!)
"Pick one or two good tests, fix the issues that they find, and do follow up tests at a later date. Don't spend thousands of dollars to learn something you already know (that you're sick) until you are ready to do something about the issue"
There is a saying that I wish I knew 10 years ago, it goes 'You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick'.
I never understood the importance of environment for our health.
How things like gut health, wifi and mold impacted our health.
I never new this stuff. We weren't taught it in school or in my Fitness courses. More importantly, I never questioned that changing my health would require a change of scenery. Removing toxic people from my life.
Moving from a toxic home.
Removing toxic thoughts from my mind.
Your environment is everything. Even the food we eat signals to our body the type of environment we are in.
It took me a long time to understand this connection between health and environment. When I opened my mind to the fact that our environment is just as important as our diet and training regime, my health started to improve as a result.
"Look beyond calories, look beyond your diet. Where you live, who you live with, how you live... all these things play a huge role on how our body functions. Make sure they are supporting your health goals.
There is a great proverb that reads:
"Knowlegde is learning something every day; Wisdom is letting go of something everyday"
The biggest takeaway from my 15 years of mistakes and lessons was accepting the fact that I was wrong. I was wrong about many things.
Acknowledging this enabled me to start a fresh, and view health and wellness with new eyes.
I don't regret the mistakes I made over the past 15 years. Sure I wonder what my health and life would be like if I didn't make the mistakes.
But then I realise, these mistakes, these lessons have shaped me, have helped me become who I am today.
And more importantly they have opened my mind to health and fitness. To question more, to explore topics that I previously would have laughed at, to understand that normal does not mean good.
I am grateful for these mistakes, these experiences, these lessons. I am also grateful for the teachers I have encoutered along my journey.
These lessons have not gone to waste. With the power of the internet, I can now share these lessons from my computer in New Zealand with the world.
Hopefully a 15 year old kid with eyes on sporting success stumbles upon this article and learns from my mistakes.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I hope you were able to learn something from my mistakes (please share what you learnt below, I'm eager to hear).
If you did find this interesting and if you would like to know more secrets from over 10 years in the health and fitness industry, please head to THIS page. There I go much deeper into my story, from sporting success to chronic fatigue, and reveal key secrets that you can use to truly optimise your health, body and performance.
These secrets are much more detailed than what I have covered in this article, and I promise you will gain a lot from watching.
This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is a ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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