Stoic fitness

I like fitness and all it entails. I also like Stoic philosophy and all it can teach us about dealing with what comes our way. And, as such, a post on how the 2 work well together seems like a good fit.

Stoic philosophy is often looked at as being about suppressing feelings and being generally Spock-like in all you do. However stoicism is very different than the typical understanding may suggest.

“It would be hard to find a word that dealt a greater injustice at the hands of the English language than “Stoic.” In its rightful place, Stoicism is a tool in the pursuit of self-mastery, perseverance, and wisdom: something one uses to live a great life, rather than some esoteric field of academic inquiry.”

From (well worth checking out if you want to find out more!

But this is a fitness and nutrition blog, so let’s move a long.

Each week I do a Stoic Sunday post on my Instagram, taking one of many stoic quotes and using it to illustrate a point about training or nutrition, and I thought a post here where I can go into a bit more detail would be fun to do.

“If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless and stupid in extraneous matters, don’t wish to seem knowledgeable. And if some regard you as important, distrust yourself.”

In order to make progress, you are going to need to ask questions, learn new things and practice new techniques. And often you are going to look like the novice you are until you have built up enough practice time to make things look the way they should. This idea puts a lot of people off getting started. The fear of being judged and not being great straight away is a massive issue for many, as it was for me back when I started training. But it’s an essential part of the process. You don’t expect to be a great driver after 1 lesson, or pick up a new language fluently after a week, so you can’t expect to master good nutritional habits or nail the perfect deadlift in a few days.

Skill takes time (and both good training and good nutrition require learning new skills), so accept you’ll not be great immediately and do the work anyway. It’ll be worth it in the end.

“Just keep in mind: the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have.”

Particularly in fat loss we tend to focus on the scale and measuring tape as our sole way of gauging progress, the very things we have minimal control in affecting. And the more importance we place on these measures, the less likely we are in achieving long lasting change.

While these may be the outcomes we want, how fast we can achieve them is a little harder to predict. Yes you can argue that a steady 500kcal/ day deficit should result in about a pound of fat loss, but reality is a little different. Your daily calorie burn will fluctuate, as will your intake, no matter what your smartwatch and tracking app says, and your body will actively try to maintain the status quo for as long as it can. So that 500kcal deficit is likely not, and your progress is never going to be as linear as you would like.

By switching your focus to those things within your direct control, your dietary choices, your consistency, your efforts and intensity, your sleep (unless you have young kids…), and your routines, you regain the control over your progress. It may not always be as fast as you would like it to be, but you will make more progress and maintain your results long after you reach your target.

“The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive.”

How many times have you made plans to get to the gym only for you to be held back at work and find yourself short of time. So you skip the session entirely and head home to crash in front of the TV. Or you’ve had a busy day at work and no food prep done. So when you get home you can’t really be arsed cooking so you order a takeaway.

But if you had given a little forward thought to the potential issues that may come up in the week ahead you could have put in options that make life and staying on track just a little easier. Having a few short workouts, that you can do at the gym or at home, stored on your phone for easy access. Or doing a little food prep or having a couple of meals in the fridge or freezer for those busy nights, takes the sting out of many of the issues that may pop up.

“Remember how long you’ve been putting this off…There is a limit to the time assigned to you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.”

If you’ve been putting off starting at the gym, or delaying getting started on upgrading your nutrition because of the effort and time it may take to get the results you want, then you have to remember this: whether you start now or not, time is going to pass. And you can either get started and make some progress over the next 6 months. Or you can keep putting it off and be no further forward after that same 6 months.

I understand that getting started can be daunting. But the only way you can get the results you want is to get started. So make a plan, set your start date, expect that things won’t go super smoothly straight away, and get to work.

“We must also make ourselves flexible, to avoid becoming too devoted to the plans we have formed.”

Someone said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of madness. But how many people do you see doing the same thing over and over at the gym, never making any progress, but doggedly pushing on. Without the ability to learn more, and importantly, putting that new knowledge into place, you never get anywhere. It’s easy to get into a rut with both training and nutrition, because “that’s how you’ve always done it”. And for making progress, that is the surest way to kill it.

You have to be willing to assess your approach and what it’s getting you, then make changes where they’re needed. It’s a constant game of making progress until it slows down, adapting your approach and working some more. Don’t be afraid of change, embrace it and all the progress it will inevitably bring.

Stay strong,



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