My no-BS fitness rules, by James Smith

Personal trainer James Smith AKA @JamesSmithPT is known for his straight-talking fitness advice and no-nonsense Instagram rants. Here, he breaks down where we’re going wrong in the gym…

Self-confessed ‘intentional disruptor and educator’ James Smith certainly knows how to ruffle a few feathers. His expletive-filled social media rants – taking aim at everything from ‘hip dips’ to the diet industry – have won him legions of fans and his book, Not A Diet Book, has become a bestseller, reaching first place in the Amazon, Audible and Apple ebook charts. Having trained clients since 2014, with thousands of coaching hours on the gym floor under his belt, who better to ask for fitness advice? Here, the man dubbed ‘the Gordon Ramsay of fitness’ explains all…

Be careful of ‘Insta-advice’

A lot of personal trainers are successful because of Facebook advert systems, TV exposure or how many social media followers they have. The main takeaway from the personal training course I did was that you can lie on the floor, do nothing and call it a ‘full-body stretch’! And the only thing I got wrong in my first practical was stepping over a barbell. The qualification was about insurance on the gym floor, not being educated. The standards in fitness are awful and there are a lot of trainers with very little knowledge.

Diet is crucial

I see fitness like baking – everyone’s excited about the icing part, but not many people have baked the cake yet. People need to understand it’s important to be aware of calories. Unfortunately, a lot of people at this time of year just go to the gym more, but we’re lucky if we burn 10% of our daily calories at the gym. We need to have a better understanding of this and need to move away from the mindset that you need to run around on a treadmill to have a potato…

…The gym is not

For me, the gym is a place to get stronger, but we can get fitter without it. For most people, losing 5-10kg is easily accomplished without stepping foot in the gym. I did a piece for ITV’s Tonight last year where I partnered up with a 49-year-old lady and gave her 10,000 steps a day, two cookies and 1600 calories, with no gym visits. She lost 17lb in three weeks by parking further from work, taking the stairs and always opting to make cups of tea in the office.

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I had a handful of Rolo’s for (my first) breakfast this morning. I’m not ashamed to say it either 🤣⁣ ⁣ I’m not following any specific fitness programme, I’m tracking loosely / not at all. I’m trying to do some form of exercise each day but I’m busy with more important shit than being in peak condition right now #letmanlive 🤣⁣ ⁣ There’s very little upside of being in your best condition, to me right now… I’m good! I’m happy and I’m enjoying it. ⁣ ⁣ You know sometimes you fancy a Wagamamas? It’s not the best food available but it gets the job done and you can rely on it to be good. ⁣ ⁣ Well that’s me right now 🤣 my cheeks will ache from today’s training more than my quads and I wouldn’t have it any fucking differently. ⁣ ⁣ Goalposts to me should align with being truly happy more so than being truly ripped. ⁣ ⁣ So you can bet I’ll finish those Rolo’s later.

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Think ‘movement’ not ‘training’

The way I see it, taking the stairs or walking up the escalator instead of standing still is exercise, which is what we should be doing. But we’re placing far too much importance on ‘training’. People need to realise that while there are benefits to say, weight training, twice a week is actually fine for a normal person, and focusing on movement is more important.

Sleep is your friend

Sleep is not a sexy subject and it’s deemed ‘cool’ to go to bed late and survive on not much sleep, but we’re overlooking the huge benefits. Obviously some people have young children, or do shift work, but a lot of people sat at their desks all day usually have a structured life balance, which means a good sleep routine is possible. I’m a big sleeper and I often nap, particularly when I’m working my hardest. Maybe if you don’t need a nap in the afternoon you’re not working hard enough!

Everything in moderation 

If anyone is going to be king of the middle ground, it’s me. I don’t have a six pack but appreciate when it’s time to be sensible (and when it’s time to have a gin and tonic). People are putting all their eggs into the basket of ‘I need an expensive personal trainer and Lululemon leggings’ but you can be a little less extreme and just be accountable for the amount you move, and the amount you consume.

Track progress visually

What’s the first thing people do when food comes out in a nice restaurant? Go for their phones. So in a world where we’re all photographers and caught up with how we look, I don’t understand why we’ve overlooked photos as a metric. If you can’t differentiate progress in your photographs, pass them on to someone else to take a look. I’m not saying how you look is the be-all-and-end-all, but often it’s an unflattering photograph (I’ve had those moments myself) that spurs change – it doesn’t come from a body fat percentage.

Assess your tribe

At the moment I’m on my book tour, living with my best mates on a tour bus. I’m averaging five sandwiches a day and loads of sweets – I even ate a cheese string today because my mates are having them! Your tribe is really important. My online academy has about 10,000 members and those guys become friends and training partners because they share similar goals that they might not share with partners or friends. If you pair somebody up with the right person, you can go far.

Swerve silly objectives

People allow stupid, faddy diets and over-ambitious goals to derail their progress. People say ‘I’d like a six pack’ but they’re setting themselves up for failure – I know because I did it. If you set yourself a sensible target over a sensible timeframe with a sensible method of achieving it, you’re less likely to lose motivation. Be realistic – is it worth giving up 95% of your life for a 5% change in bodyweight? For a lot of people, it’s not. Don’t align yourself with someone who has an unobtainable physique either, it’s not a battle you’re going to win.

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