I have some tough love for you today. It's about your workouts. You go to the gym several times a week, sometimes twice in one day, and yet you aren't as fit as you should be.
As a certified group exercise trainer and indoor cycling instructor, I've taught hundreds of classes. Based on what I see, I think a lot of you are shortchanging yourself. Taking a step back and getting honest about your approach will help you work out smarter, and maybe even harder.
1. You Aren't Paying Attention
Some instructors are better than others, but let's assume you aren't wasting your time with bad trainers. When you go to a class, are you listening to what you are being asked to do? Do you pay attention to alignment cues in yoga? Do you check your form in weight training?
Listen to what the people in spandex wearing microphones are saying. They are certified experts who take continuing education classes and spend hours creating quality workouts. They have taken on the burden of exercise selection, interval timing, choreography, and sequencing.
Sometimes the key to success is recognizing that you can't get there on your own. You wouldn't ask an accountant to do your taxes and then scribble all over the return as she was filling it out would you? Trust your instructors. They want to get you there as badly as you do.
2. You Aren't Working Hard Enough
Here's a dose of tough love: instructors know how hard you are working, and that you aren't always tapping your potential.
Example: you are in an indoor cycling class and your instructor asks you to add resistance. Everyone adds gear, except for you because you don't want it to be "too hard." When the music picks up and the entire class is straining to get up that hill, there you are, pedaling like a demon, barely breaking a sweat.
Another example: you are in a weight-training situation and even though you've been doing the same moves for months, you're still using the same weights. You wonder why you aren't getting stronger. Guess what? You aren't challenging your muscles when you always choose the same weights. Pick up something heavier. What's the worst thing that can happen? It's too heavy and you have to switch to lighter weights to finish? Do that every time if you want to see results.
Final example: you are in a HIIT class. There are people that are going to go half-speed the entire time. And there are people that are going to stop working halfway through the interval. You know how I know? Because I CAN SEE THEM! Don't be self-conscious; no one is staring at you while you work out. But the instructor is scanning the room for safety reasons and can see how hard you're working. I promise that you'll see better results when you put in the effort.
3. You Aren't Competing With Yourself
Stop comparing yourself to the other people in class. Who knows what they had for breakfast? How many workouts a week they do when you don't see them? It's not about them. It's about you and what you can achieve. Whenever I teach class, I want my students thinking, "Today I am going to do more than I did last time. I am going to add more gear. I am going to hold my sprint longer. I am going to pick up the eight-pound dumbbell instead of the five."
You go to your classes to improve yourself. You have special strengths and abilities. You may struggle at push-ups but you can plank for two minutes. You may have spaghetti arms but can crush squats all day long. Be you. Don't worry about anyone else. Stay on your own mat, mentally and physically. Your fitness will blossom.
4. You Don't Accept What You Can't Change
You have to set reasonable expectations. You can't do 1,000 burpees in 10 minutes and you will never change the biology of your body. If you're bottom heavy, you will likely always trend that way when gaining weight. If all the women in your family get saggy underarms by the time they are 40, you probably will too. However, you can tone and shape that bottom, heavy or not. You can strengthen and tighten your triceps to help that underarm sag. But remember: there is no amount of exercise that will completely transform you into someone else — and you shouldn't want it to. You were made to be you, unique and special. You can be the best you possible, and that should be your goal. Once you accept that, you can stop fighting your body and start working with it to achieve your goals.
5. You Reward Workouts With Food
We all do it. Now that I've worked out, I can go have that bin of pasta I've been craving. I can hit the drive-through for that burger and fries "because I've earned it." You haven't though. You've earned the right to refuel your body. You've worked so hard to achieve a higher level of fitness, to lose weight, to feel good about yourself. And yet you sabotage it, sometimes daily, by rewarding your workouts with food.
It's time we stepped back from food. Instead of it becoming a reward system, it should be a means to an end. The reward for the work is not a consumable. It's an intangible. It comes from within us. It's called pride. Satisfaction. Self-confidence. You can't get those things from a drive-through. If you want the burger, eat it. But don't confuse yourself about why you are having it. You haven't "earned" it. You've allowed it. And that's OK, once in a while. The next time you see that neon sign calling to you, though, think about where you are really headed, physically, and whether that detour is worth it on your path to well-being. If not, keep driving.
Best of luck on your path to greater health and wellness. Remember, you can start each day fresh. Take each class like it's your last. And be kind to yourself: you've only got the one body, so help it go the distance.