What is Fitness Psychology?

Hit the weights a few times a week, walk more, don’t eat crappy food, control your portions, drink more water, etc., etc. We all have a basic idea of what we should be doing right? So why don’t we actually do it? Bookshelves, websites, and infomercials are full of the hottest new diet and training programs that are finally going to get you results. Trust me, it is not the diet or training programs that are the problem — it’s you.

There is a huge disconnect between what we know we should be doing and what we actually do. How long have you actually stuck with a program before searching for the next best thing, an easier way, etc.? And how consistent were you with that program?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that the fitness gurus don’t want you to know. Most programs — if they are at least somewhat based on basic physiological principles and get people to be more structured — can get you decent results. While some are more efficient than others, and us fitness geeks can argue over the superiority of one program to the next, the truth remains that they all can at least partially help you reach your goals.

If that’s the case, than why are so few people getting results and so many more people are still overweight? The reason is most people aren’t following the programs consistently enough. Lets be honest, there is more than enough information out there in today’s fitness industry. People would better be served focusing on the motivating factors that are going to help them stick to a plan (whatever that plan may be) rather than trying to find the latest, greatest fad diet or training protocol.

That’s where fitness psychology comes in. Fitness psychology borrows principles from sports psychology and behavioral psychology to help individuals reach their physique goals. This is a huge aspect of fitness that is often overlooked by trainers, nutritionists, and medical professionals. You can give someone the best advice in the world, but if they don’t follow it than the advice is meaningless. The more I become involved in this industry, the more I believe that psychology is the most important piece of the puzzle.

The value of sports psychology is recognized in the athletic realm. The 4th quarter, the 9th inning, the last round, the last set, the final 100 meters; its heart, determination, drive, will power, and mental strength that separates the champions from the rest of the pack. At the top levels all athletes have superior physical skills, it is those who master the mental side of the game that consistently triumph over the competition. A strong will can conquer over superior skills any day — it happens all of the time.

Sports psychology is an established scientific field that deals with the mental aspects of athletic competition. Professionals use techniques to make sure athletes are mentally prepared for competition. They use techniques such as goal setting, mental visualization, and motivational strategies to ensure athletes perform up to their peak potential.

Most people are less concerned with performance and are more concerned with appearance. They don’t need to beat any competition (unless they are bodybuilders and figure athletes), they just need to overcome their own personal roadblocks to losing fat and looking good. But trust me when I tell you there is a huge mental component to the “fitness game”, perhaps even more so than in athletic competition. If you are not mentally prepared to achieve your physique goals, you will not be successful. It takes a strong will to be consistent with fitness training and nutrition regimens.

I wish it were as easy as just waking up one day, deciding to get in shape, and then “boom”, magically it happens. It certainly is not. If it were that easy everyone would be in shape. What’s easy is skipping a work out when you’re not feeling up to it or work gets busy. Its easy to cheat on your favorite foods when you’ve had a stressful day. A little more jiggle with your wiggle doesn’t seem so bad when a bowl of ice cream is staring at you right in the face waiting for you to make your move.

You need strong motivating factors to help you stay the course. Just “wanting to get in shape” or to “lose some weight” is not enough to get the job done. Fitness psychology can help you look inside yourself to find the real, personal reasons that will motivate you to do what most people can’t, or won’t.

We all need to spend less time looking for external solutions (trainers, nutrition books, internet gurus) and start looking for internal solutions to our health and body composition problems. You know fish and vegetables is a better choice than burgers and fries, but what’s going to motivate you to make that choice.

The importance of finding true motivating factors can be demonstrated with some extreme examples. Lets say I put a plate of your favorite food in front of you. I don’t care what it is — pizza, lasagna, burgers, ice cream, etc. Lets also say I held a gun to your head and said if you eat that food today I’m going to pull the trigger. Guess what? You’re not going to be eating pizza today.

There are some people who have an extreme food allergen to peanuts. Just being around nuts can cause extreme reactions, even death. You know what those people don’t do? They don’t eat peanuts.

Obviously we don’t want to have to resort to extreme measures to get the job done. Fitness psychology can help you find what personally motivates you in your every day life. Like with fitness training and nutrition, you can’t just take a haphazard approach. You need structure and professional guidance to learning effective mental strategies for success. Don’t just write it off as a bunch of BS. Spending some time learning fitness psychology principles can make the difference between achieving long term, permanent results and spending years spinning the wheels, getting nowhere, and/or yo-yo’ing back and forth.

In subsequent articles on this site, we will share with you some of the fitness psychology principles we’ve learned over the years that have helped people achieve fitness success.