Twenty years ago, I started my career in the fitness industry, but exercise was already an integral part of my life for long before that. I’ve been exposed to a great deal of formal and informal learning over the years, including advice, tips, tricks, methods, methodologies and multiple schools of thought about anything and everything to do with nutrition and fitness.
But the greatest advice I ever got, and retained long-term, was from the mouths of experienced, knowledgeable and hands-on trainers and coaches, most of it early on or prior to my fitness career. Sometimes you hear something and it just clicks. Here are some of the words of wisdom that have been incredibly useful throughout my personal fitness development and my professional training and coaching career.
“Lean and green”
One of the first pieces of advice I ever got from Coach Dan Potts, in answer to my question of how to lean out (lose fat and muscle gain). This is the abbreviated version of “Lean protein and green vegetables.” Born and raised vegetarian, eating protein was never at the forefront of my fitness goals. I ate healthy, yes, but I was limited in my muscular gains by a lack of protein. This was early on in my career, and the first time I truly understood the importance of targeted eating to achieve certain fitness goals. This was before counting macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) became a widespread practice. I have advised clients, and revisited it myself again and again—making nutrient-dense but lower-calorie lean protein and (mostly) green vegetables the foundation of an plan to return to a leaner body composition.
“Fitness is like the stock market”
At the beginning of my career, I was working out hard and starting to burn out because I wasn’t allowing enough time for my body (and mind) to recover. I thought that if I backed off in any aspect of my regimen it would mean that I wasn’t trying hard enough. (I didn’t yet truly understand how crucial rest and recovery are to a successful exercise program and regardless, I wasn’t about to apply that to myself.) This advice came from one of my first mentors in the fitness industry. She reminded me that when you invest in the stock market, you may see the value of your investment rise and fall. But as long as you stay in, you’re likely to come out ahead. Her excellent point was that I didn’t need to constantly work out hard to get the long-term benefits of working out. Mixing up different intensities, taking days off and doing lighter weight with higher reps and vice versa would allow my body to recover while still staying active. For the most part, I’ve stayed in the “market” ever since.
“Hunger is your body burning calories”
It was at a point in my life where my body’s metabolism was absolutely raging. I was younger and doing daily long/intense strength workouts as well as endless biking and running. I ate all day every day yet I was constantly hungry. I was also very lean (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 serious calories and my food intake couldn’t match it, resulting in my extreme leanness. I wouldn’t advise that anyone allow themselves to be hungry all the time (with the exception of reaching some very specific short-term goals) but hunger is a tool that can be used to assist with deliberate weight loss and altering body composition. These days, allowing hunger is often implemented by way of intermittent fasting or no snacking.
“Dan Potts Leg Day story”
Many years ago, Dan used to do heavy leg workouts on Fridays. He would work out so hard and approach it with such intensity that he came to stress about it beforehand, to the point where 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 stoplight, he looked over 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 about or dreading his leg workouts, from that moment forward he embraced Leg Day with the realization that every moment he was able to work out his legs was a blessing and a gift. And it was his choice alone to work that hard and endure tremendous discomfort to realize the gains and goals he wanted to achieve. (I don’t have a photo of him squatting 600 pounds, but I am including the fitness equipment ad, above, that his legs starred in.) As someone who has worked out intensely but also bemoaned plenty, this story gets me whenever I think of it. I am reminded that I have the power to alter my attitude and my perspective at any time, and sometimes I really need that reminder. Don’t we all.
This is some of the best health and fitness advice I’ve ever received, words of wisdom and experience that still resonate with me personally, and that I’ve utilized and expanded upon to guide and advise others in my professional career. I should be so fortunate if, over the years, I have been able to impact as any one of my own clients, deeply athletes, friends, family and you, my readers.
— By Pritam Potts
Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16-plus years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at www.advancedathlete.com.