Guess what? Your fitness journey is not all about workouts and food.
I mean, it is, but only in the Xs and Os sense of the game.
But fitness is not all about Xs and Os. It’s not as black and white as it seems. Fitness lies in the nuances, the grays, the self-discovery that develops as you get fit.
Unfortunately, people are people, which means everything uncomplicated becomes complicated, and everything complicated gets dumbed down. The result is mass confusion and a series of self-told lies that can distract, or even destroy, a fitness journey.
Today, I want to tell you to stop.
Stop for five minutes and set all your preconceived notions about fitness and nutrition aside. Stop obsessing, stop comparing, and stop tearing yourself down. You deserve better. You are better. And when you choose to embrace the fact that your fitness will not look like anyone else’s fitness, that’s when you’ll truly be ready to set yourself up for a lifetime of fit.
1. I’d have to workout a lot to get fit… and who has time for daily workouts?
To get fit, yes, you do have to prioritize fitness. That does mean regular workouts, but it doesn’t mean long workouts or even daily workouts. Personally, I workout 4-5 days a week for about 30-45 minutes per session. These workouts are usually fast and intense so I can get a big return on my time, but in total, it’s still less than four hours a week of exercise. And truthfully, there are weeks when that time commitment doesn’t work for me. I may only get 2-3 workouts in, or I may have to cut my workouts short, keeping them around 15-20 minutes a pop.
A major problem I see is people approaching fitness with an “all or nothing” attitude. But let me ask you a question: If you could only hang out with your best friend once this week instead of your usual twice, does that make that one time unimportant? Of course not! You understand that when you build a relationship with friends, any time you spend together is valuable.
Likewise, you have to build a relationship with fitness. You may not be able to spend tons of time together every week, but any time you spend together is good and important. So do what you can, when you can, and stop using time as a cop out. It should be prioritized, but flexible.
2. I have to give up everything I love to get fit. But I can’t give up pizza!
Untrue. You do not have to give up everything… especially pizza. I eat pizza about four times a week. True story.
Granted, the pizza I eat is not delivery or DiGiorno’s. It may be made with whole wheat flour, all-natural cheeses, and lots and lots of veggies, but it’s still pizza. And it’s delicious.
I also eat chocolate. I eat fries. I drink wine.
I have learned: a) how to make the foods I like more healthy, b) how to manage the consumption of foods I tend to overeat, and c) what I should and shouldn’t keep in the house to further control mindless eating.
This does not mean I can’t eat certain foods. It just means I consume in a way that’s moderated.
For instance, I make baked sweet potato fries instead of grabbing fries from the drive thru. I never take food home from family gatherings… especially if it’s something I really love and will overeat. And I don’t keep pretzels in the house because I will eat all the pretzels.
After a lifetime of prioritizing fitness, I have learned how to manage my triggers while still enjoying life. It’s possible. It’s possible to eat well, eat healthfully, and still eat the things you love.
If you approach a fit lifestyle assuming you have to give everything up, you’re not going to stick with the plan very long. A life of complete denial isn’t a life you’ll enjoy, and I’d hardly call it “fit.”
3. Getting fit means running. I hate running.
Getting fit can mean running, but it doesn’t have to mean running. Please hear me: You do not have to run to get fit.
Running is great for cardiovascular health. It can build up bone mass, strengthen the legs and core, and improve muscular health, especially in the lower body. These are all great things. But you can enjoy the exact same benefits from dancing, step aerobics, circuit training and playing sports.
If pounding the pavement feels like torture, by all means, don’t do it. Choose an activity that feels rewarding, and pursue it instead.
4. Getting fit means going to CrossFit. CrossFit scares me.
Getting fit can mean going to CrossFit, but it doesn’t have to mean going to CrossFit.
Every well-rounded fitness routine should incorporate some form of strength training. Strength training improves muscular strength and muscular endurance, and depending on the style of training you do, it can also improve power, balance, agility, coordination, speed and reaction time. These are skill-related components of fitness that help contribute to a well-balanced, long-term fit lifestyle.
But if CrossFit (or any other gym environment) scares you, or simply feels outside your comfort zone, don’t feel like it’s a requirement. You can strength train at home with DVDs or online programs, you can join a group fitness class that incorporates body weight training, or you can enlist the help of a trainer who will work with you one-on-one.
5. Getting fit means going to yoga. I’m not flexible enough for that.
Again, getting fit can mean going to yoga, but it doesn’t have to mean going to yoga. Flexibility, like muscular strength, muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance, is a health-related component of fitness that absolutely does need to be prioritized, but its prioritization doesn’t need to come in the form of yoga.
Basic stretching can suffice. Carve out 5-10 minutes a day, about 2-3 times a week, to put yourself through a solid stretching routine that targets all the major muscle groups. The main point is to maintain the flexibility you already have, while slowly improving range of motion around joints where you may have limitations. This means prioritizing stretches that target tight muscles.
For instance, I have very flexible arms and shoulders, but my low back, hips, quads and hamstrings are ridiculously tight. I can breeze through a few upper body stretches to make sure my flexibility is maintained up top, while spending more time on lower body stretches to help loosen up the joints where I’m limited.
Yoga is a great way to enhance flexibility, but it’s not for everyone. If sitting through a yoga session feels about as boring as watching CSPAN, develop your own stretching routine incorporating stretches you enjoy, then stick with it.
6. I’ve been working out for awhile, but I’m not seeing results. Why bother continuing?
Fitness. You think you know it when you see it, right?
Fitness isn’t something you can necessarily see. Sure, there’s the visual component. But that’s not all there is to being fit.
There are five health-related components of fitness:
- Cardiovascular endurance
- Muscular strength
- Muscular endurance
- Body composition
Body composition is the most obvious visual component – the one you can assess pretty easily with your eyes. In other words, when someone leans out, and you can see their muscles, you can probably guess that they’re reasonably fit.
But there are a few misconceptions about body composition:
- That it’s the most important component of fitness.
- That someone with a low body fat percentage is fit.
- That someone with a high body fat percentage isn’t fit.
Body composition is not the most important component of fitness. In fact, for most people, it’s the component that kind of lags behind the other four. It takes the development of the other four to start seeing changes in body composition. This means someone can be getting fit – improving muscular health, cardiovascular health and flexibility, but not yet see changes physically. In other words, someone with a higher body fat percentage can still be fit as it pertains to the other components of health-related fitness.
Likewise, not all people with low body fat percentages are actually fit. Or, more specifically, they may not be actually healthy. They could be overtraining. They could be suffering from an eating disorder. They could be suffering from some other illness. To assume that what you see on the outside is necessarily an accurate reflection of what’s going on inside is a dangerous game to play.
Remember, there are five health-related components of fitness, and they’re all equally weighted. Just because you’re not where you want to be physically yet, doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing changes, and doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. Focus on the first four components of fitness, and pay attention to what you eat, and your body composition will improve.
7. I don’t have abs like her. I must be doing something wrong. I’ll never be fit like her.
What does that even mean?!
There’s nothing I hate worse that the comparison game. If you’re going to compare your abs (or your butt, or your legs, or whatever) to the proverbial “her,” then you better get really honest about that comparison:
Are you the same height and bone structure as her? Do you have the same DNA makeup as her? Did you have the same eating habits as a child as her? Do you have the same eating habits now as her? Do you want to have the same eating habits as her? Are you training the same as her? Do you want to train the same as her? Do you share the same goals she has? Is she even actually healthy?
Almost definitely, you’ll answer “no” to at least one of these questions… unless, of course, you’re comparing yourself to an identical twin… and even then, it’s questionable.
Someone else’s abs don’t define your level of fitness and don’t indicate that you’re doing something “wrong.” Focus on you. Focus on making the changes that are right for you. Compare yourself to you… but only over time.
8. I think I worked out a lot this week. Surely I’m meeting the suggested guidelines.
Hmmmmm…. but are you?
Two, 2014 studies confirmed what’s probably obvious to many fitness professionals: Most people don’t exercise as long or as hard as they think they do. The study published in PLOS ONE found that, while study participants were good at estimating light intensity activity, they were inclined to overestimate moderate or heavy intensity activity, leading them to believe they’d exercised harder than they actually had.
The second study performed on Norwegian men and women and published in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, also found that both sexes were likely to vastly overestimate the time they spent doing moderate- and high-intensity exercise each week. Men overestimated moderate-intensity exercise by 56 minutes a week, while women overestimated by 52 minutes a week. Likewise, men said they performed high-intensity exercise for 20 minutes a week, and women 12 minutes a week, when in actuality, only 2.9 and 2.4 minutes were spent doing intense work, respectively.
The point is, humans have this uncanny ability to mis-remember things. Rather than leave your workout time to chance, hoping or assuming you’re getting enough exercise in, actually track what you’re doing. Use pen and paper, buy an activity tracker, or get a heart rate monitor. Getting honest with yourself about your routine is a surefire way to start seeing results.
9. I’m committed to eating gluten free (or Paleo, or whatever), so I know I’m on track to getting healthy.
Ummmm, maybe? I won’t knock any eating plan (unless it’s the cayenne pepper diet – that’s just ridiculous), but I will kindly point out that it’s not just what you eat, but how much you eat, and in what ratios you eat it.
I’m sure there are lots of recipes for Paleo-friendly cupcakes, but if all you’re eating is an excess of Paleo cupcakes, you’re going to be way off track. #sorrynotsorry
And just like humans tend to overestimate how long and how hard they workout, they’re also likely to underestimate how much they’re eating. Unless you’re ready to really get real about what and how much you’re eating, then I don’t care what eating plan you follow, you may not be on track.
If you have questions, talk to a dietician and see about getting a personalized meal plan made for you based on your personal needs and goals.
10. My personal trainer told me this is how I have to do things to get fit. I hate it, but I’ll keep plodding along.
There are two issues here, and I’ll handle them separately.
First, as a fitness expert, I can and will confidently say: Experts are only as good as their expertise. If your trainer has a general fitness certification – awesome! Feel confident following their advice when it comes to your general workouts. If, however, they are providing guidelines on eating, supplementation, or are trying to train you in a way that is outside of their expertise, kindly tell them to stop, or find a different trainer.
I am not a running coach. I will not train you on how to become a faster runner. I am a Certified Exercise Physiologist with a Master’s Degree in Exercise and Sport Science. I can confidently tell you how to improve your fitness and health for running, I can confidently provide you with general sports nutrition guidelines, and I can confidently instruct you on exercises that can improve sports-related (including running related) strength and fitness. I cannot take you to the track and tell you how to improve your stride or what your running schedule should look like.
See the difference? I may enjoy running, and I may know a lot about running-related fitness, but I’m not a running coach. I can tell you what I do for my own running routines, and I can provide you with running-accessory workouts (like leg workouts for runners, stretching routines for runners, core work for runners, foam rolling for runners), but until I’ve gone through training to become a running coach, I shouldn’t be coaching you on running.
Make sure the trainer or coach you’re working with is only advising you on areas he or she is qualified to advise you on.
Second, if you hate the routine your trainer prescribed, or if your trainer insists there’s only one way to get fit, you and your trainer need to have a serious discussion.
While I won’t claim that you should love every second or session with your trainer, you shouldn’t feel like every session is torture. There should be something redeeming about your time. For instance, maybe you enjoy your trainer, you’re trying new things, you’re challenging yourself and seeing results, you’re spending time with friends. All of these are positive, even if the workout itself is hard. If you find nothing positive about your workout, you need to tell your trainer it’s time to switch it up, or you need to find a new trainer.
Likewise, if the trainer insists her way is the only way to see results, then she’s lying to you. There’s always more than one way. And there’s always more than one trainer. Go find another one.