You didn’t gain weight or reach the point you are at with your fitness level overnight, so logically your results won’t be achieved overnight either. Any pro in the fitness industry, from powerlifting to bodybuilding will tell you that remaining consistent with your programming and nutrition, and having patience are the most important factors in determining your success. You often hear the phrase “Trust the Process” regurgitated from trainers and gym goers, as well as being plastered on locker room walls, water bottles, and gym gear. “Trust the Process” is a reminder to stay focused, patient, and on course. Follow your trainer’s recommendations, no questions asked, and you will wake up one morning with your goal body. Those recommendations can be in the form of your training, nutrition, and even supplementation. Hopefully your trainer is someone who has been certified by a recognized organization, but that doesn’t always guarantee that the advice they are giving you is in your best interest.
One of the goals of bodybuilding is to reach extremely low levels of body-fat in order to showcase hard earned muscle. Dropping body fat can be achieved in a variety of ways, some of these being more detrimental to your health than others. Studies have shown consuming far less calories than your body’s BMR (basal metabolic rate), the baseline amount of calories that your body burns at rest, can have negative impacts on your metabolism (1), reproductive health (2), and bone health (3,4). A few years ago at a NPC Nationals competition, I overheard an athlete after she came back from the stage saying that she almost passed out during pre-judging. She said “My trainer only had me eat fish and asparagus for 12 weeks”. She had low body fat, but she was clearly not healthy. In fact, she almost passed out on stage. If your trainer suggests eating the same food for 12 weeks, alarm bells should be going off. Not only is that insanely boring to eat, but you are going to be deficient in several micronutrients if you eat the same thing day in and day out. Sources of protein, carbohydrates, and fats carry different vitamin and mineral contents as well as different amounts of said macronutrient. For example, six ounces of halibut has 160 kcals, 32 g of protein, 3 grams of fat, and zero carbs. In contrast, six ounces of salmon has 150 kcals, 29 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, and zero carbs. Beyond that, halibut has more Vitamin A, but less sodium, potassium, and iron than the salmon does. You may be able to supplement with a multivitamin to help cover some micronutrients, but it is still recommended to eat a balanced and diverse diet (5).
Stepping onstage doesn’t have to be your end goal with training. Maybe you are training for a race, powerlifting competition, strongman competition, or a personal event like a wedding or vacation. No matter what your goal is, your training should reflect that goal. If you ever question why your program has a specific exercise, rep range, or cardio length/type, your trainer should be able to answer your question with evidence backed information. Not bro science. Not because it looks cool on Instagram. You should also be able to ask for exercise adaptations or substitutes if you don’t feel comfortable or experience pain beyond typical muscle soreness. “Trust the Process” should never be used as a replacement for “because I said so”. Weightlifting incorporates complex movements with added resistance and the risk of injury is always present, especially if you are new to the gym or a movement. As a beginner in the gym, your program should not look identical to someone who has been powerlifting for three years. Yet, you trust your trainer to get you results so you go along with it. If you have never deadlifted in your life, and you see ‘deadlifts off of 4 inch blocks’ or ‘barbell sumo deadlifts’ – those alarms are ringing again . Your mobility and movement patterns as well as your ability to properly perform the movement without resistance should be assessed before you are ever introduced to training methods that are meant to break plateaus and sticking points, or extremely technical compound movements. There are so many progressions that you can and should do to prepare and build up to before being thrown into the big lifts.
“Trust the Process” doesn’t just affect newcomers and aesthetic athletes. New exercises and training methods appear almost daily it seems and trainers are often excited to try them out. Blood Flow Resistance (BFR) or Occlusion training has gained a lot of popularity in recent years; though it has been used for decades. BFR is a scientifically proven method originally used to treat the elderly and post operative populations. The concept is to restrict venous blood flow to either your upper extremities or lower (DON’T ever do both at once) using elastic straps that are wrapped to a perceived tightness of 7 out of 10 (6). In doing so, you are able to stimulate the muscle using lighter weight and therefore reducing stress on the joint. I personally think BFR is great training tool to mix things up and experience the ever sought after ‘pump’. However, when asked if the straps worked, your response is “oh I don’t know, but my trainer tells me to use them”; which is something I have actually heard, sound the alarm. Maybe the technique wasn’t explained clearly, or the straps aren’t to the correct tightness, or the amount of weight you’re lifting isn’t right. In any case, if you aren’t able to distinguish any benefit or result from something you have been told to do you need to ask questions.
Instead of “Trust the Process” being used as the golden standard of fitness, I think we should use “Trust But Verify the Process”. You hired your trainer or selected a training program for a reason. You believe that they have the knowledge and background to get you the results you desire. But you also need to have personal responsibility and ask questions if you are unsure or conduct a little research on your own… Playing the naive card and saying “I did it because my trainer said so” even though you have doubts, is a cop out and can lead to some dangerous consequences. There are many fantastic and incredibly knowledgeable trainers who would be happy to sit down and explain things to you in a way that doesn’t include spewing scientific terms they memorized from a study manual. Invest in these trainers, and invest in your health. Your health and fitness is up to you, regardless of what your program looks like.
- 1 – Leibel, R.L., Rosenbaum, M., (2010) Adaptive Thermogenesis is Humans. International Journal of Obesity. Oct (34) S47-S55. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2010.184
- 2 – De Souza, M.J., Hill, B.R., Legro, R.S., Leidy, H.J., Lieberman, J.L., Williams, N.I., (2015) Magnitude of daily energy deficit predicts frequency but not severity of menstrual disturbances associated with exercise and caloric restriction. American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism. 308 (1) E29-39. http://dx.doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00386.2013
- 3 – Loucks, A.B., (2004) Energy balance and body composition in sports and exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences. 22 (1) 1-14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0264041031000140518
- 4 – Ihle, R., Loucks, A.B., (2004) Dose-response relationships between energy availability and bone turnover in young exercising women. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. 19(8) 1231-1240 http://dx.doi.org/10.1359/jbmr.040410
- 5 – Hu, F.B., Neale, E.P., Satija, A., Tapsell, L.C., (2016) Foods, Nutrients, and Dietary Patterns: Interconnections and Implications for Dietary Guidelines. Advances in Nutrition. 7(3) 445-454 https://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.011718
- 6 – Beardsley, C., Egerton, T., Blood flow restriction training. Retrieved from https://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/blood-flow-restriction-training-bfr/
- Featured image from Flickr – Farhad Pocha – Creative Commons License