If simply exercising the way we’ve been told to for so long led to long-term health and fitness goals, it’d all be a lot easier, right? Everyone would pay their $10 / month to the big box gym, we’d all go a few times a week, and we’d all be happier and healthier.
Well, as most of us know, it’s not that easy.
And despite what you might be thinking, it’s not because you’re not “trying” hard enough. You probably are trying. It seems like you’ve been trying forever. It might be something you’ve wanted for so long, but it’s always just out of reach. So what gives?
Well, there’s a lot of common beliefs around fitness that just aren’t true. Things we’ve all believed for so long that may be keeping us from our goals to be happy, fit, and healthy. Myths that we’ve been brainwashed into thinking are true. Things that may have worked for us in the short-term, but just aren’t giving us the same results anymore.
I’ve put together a few that I used to believe, and once I changed my mindset around them, I became fitter and quickly started to accomplish my goals.
Thinking soreness means you got a good workout.
We’ve all done it. Gotten up the day after a tough workout, felt the burn in our muscles, and felt that feeling of accomplishment right along with it. DOMS (or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) one to two days after a workout means it’s working. The more sore you are, the better workout it was, the better off you’ll be…. right?
That’s just your body’s way of attempting to recover and get back to homeostasis. Your body’s natural tendency is to repair itself (it’s so smart that way!) It’s having you feel that pain so that you rest more, so it can build itself back to normal. But this is not necessarily leading to you getting stronger or better at the gym.
If getting a “good workout” to you means building muscles, getting stronger, and getting fitter, then DOMS isn’t always the best marker of that. As I said, that signal means your body is trying to recover. Not build and adapt – two things essential for getting fitter.
Being sore probably means you pushed a little too far and too hard. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes that’s okay. But to achieve long-term fitness goals, you want to push yourself just hard enough to add stress so you can adapt –not fully recover. You want to elicit enough of a response to add an incremental improvement in fitness. Otherwise you’ll go down the road of overtraining, injury, and other negative consequences.
Choosing workouts based on the highest calorie burn.
I remember doing Insanity workouts daily for close to a year. If I wasn’t lying on the floor, drenched in sweat, the workout was not over. It was not good enough.
Somebody told me that insanity burned the most calories, so I figured “if I do this every day, I will look like the women on the video who did the program”.
I also assumed that if I ate less than my daily caloric needs for the day (on top of a crazy workout) there’s no way I wouldn’t get six pack abs.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t end up with abs. I was overtrained and “skinny fat”. Because I was eating less calories and working harder at the same time, my metabolism slowed down to match it. My body now required less calories, even though my goal for working out was to be able to eat more!
I also wasn’t gaining muscle.. I was just tiring myself out daily.
This is why calories-in calories-out doesn’t work. It doesn’t factor in your hormonal response, slowing metabolism, or required nutrients for a healthy, functioning body.
You have to program your workouts to elicit the right responses in your body, which requires knowing what your goals are and creating an incremental way to achieve them.
Not working up your fitness slowly.
These myths all go hand-in-hand if you haven’t noticed. You want to make incremental changes and not try to jump in to what all your favorite fitness instagrammers are doing. It can lead to poor recruitment patterns and again, that damaged metabolism.
For example, if you were completely sedentary and then you decided to change one thing in your lifestyle and start going for a 15 minute walk every day, your body would see an improvement. Eventually, your body would adapt to that and you’d have to start going for a 25 minute walk to see the same response. Eventually you might need to start adding in biking, running, strength training, and other modalities just to get a response.
Once your fit, a 15 minute walk wouldn’t do much, would it? Sure, it’s better than nothing, but you’ll never see quite the improvement as you did when you were completely sedentary.
Now, if you were completely sedentary and you started a 45 minute per day HIIT program, your body would see a big response initially. But what then would it take to keep that response going? You’d need to push it to a 60 minute per day program, then 90 minutes, then maybe adding in two-a-days…then what?
You went from couch-sitting straight to the top of the spectrum and now you have no room to improve. Your body will adapt to the stress you’ve given it, sure…but there’s a cost to that. Again, overtraining and lack of proper adaptation are huge risks here. If you start out too quickly, you will not gain the long-term benefits of exercise.
Thinking fitness and health are the same thing.
Being healthy doesn’t necessarily mean being fit. You can be a completely healthy person — free of disease or signs of disease, have a healthy metabolism and hormonal balance, have a good relationship with food , be free of stress, and live an overall happy, healthy lifestyle.
If your goal is health, fitness can surely enhance that. But having a six-pack, competing in triathlons, working out constantly, whatever extreme you can think of — these are all things that can actually be UNHEALTHY. You can very easily overtrain, create stress and injury, and damage your hormones when fitness goes too far.
It’s actually very hard to find the right balance. It does take effort to work towards that balance, especially if you start out too hard too fast. Many people (myself included!) end up having to regress their exercise programs once they’ve gone too far.
Focusing on the destination rather than the journey.
No, life doesn’t miraculously get easier when you’re in shape. You don’t become happier when you’re the size and weight you “want” to be. You won’t hit a point where you can stop working out and eat like crap and still look like a fitness model. You can’t workout or diet really hard now and continue to see the benefit once you’ve gone back to “normal”.
If you want to look healthy and fit, you have to build a lifestyle around it. Unless you’re genetically gifted enough to reach your aesthetic goals without living a healthy lifestyle, there’s just no way around it.
There’s no crash diet, magic pill, perfect workout that will make you happy. The journey to get there by making yourself better, proud, stronger — that will bring you joy. The weight on the scale won’t need to change once you start seeing how your life improves in other ways, it will just be an amazing side effect for some ☺️
And if you have true fitness goals and it’s not all about the way you look, you have to program your workouts based on your goals. If you want to build strength, work up your weights, sets, reps, time, skills, etc. each week. You will see improvements over time. If you want to run a marathon, focus your movement practices around running and cross-training. If you have other fitness goals, find an incremental way to achieve them. Build slowly.
And if your goal is to enjoy life and manage your weight, pick the workout that’s most fun and appealing to you. It doesn’t all have to be about gaining and improving. You can choose a way of life where movement can be fun and healthful.
And on top of it all, be sure to fuel properly for all of these things! If your goal is weight loss, maybe an exercise program isn’t the most sustainable way to do so (despite common belief!)
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes. If doing the same workout or following the same diet is driving you crazy, try something different! Stop listening to the commercials and ads and the fitness culture that says more is always better. Question what you’ve been listening to. If you don’t know where to start, ask! Ask me. Ask someone who seeks balance. Ask someone who has experienced what works and what doesn’t. Ask a qualified personal trainer or coach. There’s a better way, you just have to look for it.
Seek something new. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?