Matt Pearson is a 20-year “Sport and Exercise Science” student at Derby University. Currently a student/ blogger, Matt is aspiring to become a personal trainer, and through this platform, change people’s perception of health, in addition to focusing on all aspects of it.
Firstly, please could you tell us a bit about yourself and your ‘fitness journey’?
“I’ve always had a passion for health and fitness, it started by wanting to look good when I was young kid, as well as a cross between being stronger and fitter on the rugby pitch. Initially, I wanted to look good aesthetically purely to impress girls, and took on this superficial image of ‘health’. It slowly evolved into helping others get fit and ‘healthy’. For example, during 6th form at school, I started writing 6-12 week programs for people who approached me. They weren’t concerned about being socially and mentally healthy but simply strived to look good. Now I want to promote true health in a unique way that inspires others.”
What have been the biggest lifestyle differences from shifting your focus from aesthetics to a more ‘rounded’ fitness approach? What triggered the change?
“At the end of summer 2016 I had a period of really poor mental health and suffered from anxiety (I still do now), which completely altered how I view health. From being in such a dark place, it made me open my eyes up to the world and the importance of mental health, and view health in the 3 ways: mental, physical and social. This definitely triggered and changed my perceptions and goals. As strange as it sounds I am actually really thankful for how it has helped me shift my path and now I know what I want to do with my life: educate people. From this, I now focus more on my mental and social health and try to balance my time more effectively, which in turn has made me much mentally stronger. In short, by experiencing these mental health issues, it has made me realise how important true health is.”
Could you tell us a bit about the two different areas of the fitness industry?
“For me there are two main categories or aspects to the fitness industry, the first area is a very self centred area. I’m not saying bodybuilders are self centred, I have many friends that are bodybuilders. The Expos are huge and many young men are jumping on this wagon, I was one of them. I was heavily involved in it myself, competing as a body builder in a show. But there’s a big obsession to look a certain way, to be the best or be better than everyone else, which makes it very egotistical. In my opinion, this obsession gets to a point where it becomes detrimental to your health because of the extreme lengths people go to in order to achieve their desired body. In prep for the show, I was on seven meals a day, didn’t go out for three months (which for a first year student, is pretty much unheard of), and the one occasion I did, I was on water the whole night. Through dieting to the extreme and depriving my body of calories, I constantly had a cold and weak immune system. This obsession of image completely engulfed my life. I had no idea how much of an impact this one aspect of my life was having of me at the time, but with hindsight I can see how unhealthy it really was. I feel like that’s the fastest growing side of the industry.
The other side of the industry consists of focusing on all aspects of health and really emphasises the need for balancing all areas of your life. This side involves yoga, mediation and a more holistic approach to health and fitness. It explores all areas of health and not just curling a dumbbell in front of a mirror. I feel like its not as big but its still growing.”
What have you taken away or learnt from this shift in focus and goals?
“That as you get older it’s even more important to focus on all three aspects of health. Loving yourself isn’t aesthetic only. You’ve got to be content with what’s going on in your head, and be happy with the support system you’ve got. The majority of us are so lucky, we have good friends and/or a family to support us, and I don’t think we appreciate it enough. Feeling good on the inside is way more important than looking good on the outside. If you can do both, then great, but don’t spend all your time in the gym, not socialising and not eating out with your friends, because eventually you’ll regret it.”
‘Health’ has so many contrasting definitions nowadays, what is its true meaning for you?
“Health is the social, physical and mental wellbeing of a person. That’s what I learnt at school and still stand by it.”
Is this the same/ different for men and women?
“Exactly the same, men and women have different barriers in order to achieve a healthy life, however, the meaning is still the same and they both still involve all 3 factors. A huge barrier for men nowadays is conforming to the unemotional, male stereotype which pressures us all to a certain extent. Suicide is the largest killer of men under the age of 45 and a large proportion of this is down to poor mental health. Unable to feel like you can express your true emotions, they can eat away at you and the pressure to conform to current perceptions of masculinity can be detrimental. In the past it seems to have been women who have suffered more with the pressure to look good or a certain way, but now men are just as susceptible to the pressures of the media, each other and themselves.”
Social media is a huge, ever growing platform for the fitness industry. What are your thoughts on its growing impact and the message many of these very highly influential figures convey?
“Social media is extremely misleading. Don’t let it fool you. There are people that get 5 likes with plenty of friends (support system, mentally strong) and people with thousands of likes that are very lonely people. Couples appear happy when really they’re not, people flaunt bodies and make it look easy to maintain when really they struggle and take things like performance enhancing drugs. Our generation and younger kids look at these photos and think ‘I want to be like that’ but have no idea what they’ve gone through to look that way: years of hard work, supplement use or even performance enhancing drugs, such as steroid use, which is an ever increasing problem. Some public figures convey things well and can inspire, but the majority don’t and appeal to young people with an abundance of false impressions and hope. This is where education comes in; there is a major need to put out a platform showing all sides to fitness, even when it isn’t that ‘pretty’ to look at.”
When you first discovered your interest in health and fitness, did you look to any of these figures for inspiration or motivation?
“Yes, I looked up to loads. Now as I’ve grown and learnt I can see the bigger picture. I only look up to four public figures, and I would only consider 2 of them to be in the bodybuilding industry, but both convey their life well and show the work that goes in. There are very few who inspire me, choose these people wisely, do they stand for the right things?
I am very picky with who I look up to and draw inspiration from, and I think it is often best to look outside your own industry for inspiration. I like the idea of crossing over industries, like looking at the fashion industry for fitness related ideas.”
One of Matt’s recent tweets: “Learn from outside your industry, to stand out within your industry.”
Do you currently follow a fitness program and/or diet plan?
“I’ve implemented a program now that I’m playing rugby again. I make sure I work legs, upper body and core once a week and recover in time for game day. I am bad at sticking to strict programmes as life changes daily, so I put a more relaxed plan together myself. Fitting in going to the gym around my 3 training sessions and 1 match a week, I prioritise the most important things I need to work on, so I can lead a more flexible lifestyle.”
What would your advice be for preventing tedium in training?
“Mix things up, don’t spend all your hours on a treadmill or on a bench press, which for women and men are respectively the easy stereotypical thing to do. Explore different avenues of training, callisthenics or cross fit. Try something new, and constantly challenge yourself in different areas of health. That way you won’t get bored, and you’ll become a better athlete.
I changed my training style recently, so I am hardly lifting weights at the moment but instead working on body weighted movements and callisthenics. I think this more interesting for me as I find it challenging.”
For you, what are the most important aspects of health and fitness in daily life?
“Waking up with the right mind set for the day is the most important thing. If you don’t wake up with the mind-set to achieve and learn then you’ll struggle to train and stick to a plan. Having the right mind set makes everything follow on, training, nutrition, balancing social time. It applies to all aspects of life: achievement in any sense starts with a good mind-set. Although, you have to realise that to properly change your mind-set is a slow process.’
How can people balance their life better?
“Everyone is different, I can’t say what will work for me would work for Mimi, and I don’t think anyone has got the balance thing really nailed. It takes time and practice, but organising and prioritising what you do with your time is a big part of it. Then you can make time for all areas and be more productive. I have a board where I categorise and prioritise all my tasks into ‘urgent and important’ and ‘not so important’, which I find really helpful.”
When does self critique become too much? What do you think about our obsession or focus on self-image?
“Of course everyone has a right to care about their self image, it’s important to care and to learn to love yourself. I think it becomes too much when you’re stressing about how you look to the point where your putting your body at risk, whether that’s eating too little or too much, or overtraining and not letting your body recover. I’ve heard girls say “oh I don’t want to eat that, it will make me look puffy” when really they’ll look no different. It’s all a psychological fear. A gym is a very self centred place, just people checking themselves out whilst lifting weights, we’ve all done it, including myself. I think it makes people more confident which is awesome, but there’s a fine line.”
Is being in amazing shape really that ‘healthy’?
People can be 5% body fat and look incredible but are they healthy and can they maintain that all year round with ease? Not in my opinion. Shredding down to look good is a very tough thing to do. Social media makes it seem very easy, and it doesn’t show the extremes these guys and girls go to, to look the way they do. It is mentally draining, bad for your immune system and hard on your social life. So in my eyes, its not as healthy as it’s made out to be. The greatest gift in life is health, so we need to value it. After all, we have to live in our body, its our ‘house’.
Steve Cook: “Your body is an instrument not an ornament”.
It was Matt’s honesty and openness about topics such as mental health, getting his message across and his complete change in mind-set, that really took me aback during our interview and made him so relatable and inspiring.