Ask the Coach: "How Do I Stop Comparing Myself to a Fit Friend?"
A gym-goer wants her friend's "ripped" results, but Georgia's Joni Taylor says there's no way to know how the other half lifts.
Ask the Coach is an advice column to help you keep your mind in the game.
I've always worked out. Right now, I'm taking a progressive HIIT class series online, I run a couple of days a week, and I do yoga practically every morning. I've also been eating more plant-based for a while. I generally feel good about my routine. But recently a close friend started lifting weights and made a few tweaks to her diet, and suddenly she's totally ripped. I should be happy for her, right? Instead, it's almost like I'm annoyed. She's always been kind of lazy, to be honest, and it feels unfair that I've been working at this for so much longer and still don't get those kinds of results. I'm really starting to obsess. I'm thinking about HER routine when I work out and HER diet when I'm picking out groceries. And I'm starting to really hate myself for not being happy for her. How do I get myself back on track and out of this crazy loop?
Judgey and Envious Lately
I appreciate your honesty—those kinds of feelings can be hard to admit. And I've been there, JEL.
There are times when I see someone on the treadmill next to me increase their pace and suddenly, I'm doing the same, punching that button even when a moment earlier I was fine with my speed.
I have to catch myself and say, "OK, what are you doing? You don't know this person. You're on your fourth day in a row, so, yeah, they might hit the speed button a little bit more". I have to reset my thinking in order to make sure I do what's right for me and my body and don't get caught up in what's happening next door.
And I've been on the other side too. I've had people tell me, "I hate you for your arms!" because they know I didn't have to lift weights to get the definition I have. It's genetics. I don't take any credit for it, but that doesn't keep them from getting jealous.
It's normal to feel what you're feeling. You just have to be able to catch yourself in that moment, take a breath, and remind yourself of a few things.
We tend to be harder on ourselves than we should be.
First, when you find yourself thinking it's easier for her, remember that that's only a theory. You don't know how hard she's working or exactly what she's eating. Maybe she's waking up two hours earlier every morning to work out. Maybe she hasn't had a drink in six months.
That said, it's true that different people's bodies respond differently to the same activities. I have a friend who doesn't work out a lot, but when she decides to, man, she can lose weight at the drop of a hat. It's possible that your friend, who may not be as diligent as you, has the type of metabolism where she can pretty easily snap into being, as you put it, "totally ripped".
Then again, it's also possible she's benefiting from the "honeymoon period" of a new workout, when you typically see a lot of results. Remember, when you start a new routine, your body has to work really hard to keep up, so it burns more calories and utilises more muscles before eventually getting more efficient and adapting to the exercise.
I experienced that kind of honeymoon not too long ago. I had recently had a baby and was trying to get back to my ideal weight, and I didn't have access to a gym because of lockdown. So I pulled out an old HIIT DVD (and my old DVD player!) that I hadn't done in 15 years, and just by doing this different type of workout, I was able to shed those pounds a lot faster than if I'd picked up where I left off with my usual routine.
You can try something new too and see what happens. But please, do this only if you're genuinely unhappy with your workout routine. Because it sounds like you've put a lot of time and thought into figuring out what works for you. You seem very disciplined and knowledgeable. And we tend to be harder on ourselves than we should be. So don't give all that up unless you truly want to. Just because you don't look like your friend doesn't mean you've failed.
But if you decide you don't actually like your workout—if you're struggling to stay motivated and dreading every rep five days a week—then by all means, change it up. It's possible that the fact that you aren't enjoying your process is where some of your resentment is coming from.
Either way, take a minute to think about your motivation for exercising and eating well. Are you working out to look a certain way? Personally, that's not enough to keep me going. Working out is a huge part of my self-care. It's my stress reliever, it keeps me mentally sharp, and I know it can help me stay healthy as I get older. Knowing that is what keeps me coming back for more and focused on myself, every single day.
… If you're struggling to stay motivated and dreading every rep five days a week—then by all means, change it up.
Once you've zeroed in on why you're working out in the first place, you'll find it easier to commend your own dedication, how hard you work, and how strong you've become. And that might give you the confidence to relax and say, "OK, I'm doing my thing, other people are doing their thing, and there's enough pie for everybody!" You might even find yourself capable of feeling happy for your friend—and that kind of feeling is a reward in itself.
Joni Taylor is the head women's basketball coach at the University of Georgia. In 2016, she was named Spalding Maggie Dixon NCAA Division I National Rookie Coach of the Year. Her impressive coaching record includes stints at LSU, Alabama, Louisiana Tech and Troy University. A standout player at the University of Alabama, with 716 points, 555 rebounds and 103 blocked shots, she was number four among the school's career leaders and led the Tide to two NCAA tournaments and two WNITs. Taylor has won numerous awards for her dedication to community service.
Illustration: Harrison Freeman