I have some tough love for you today, fitness friends. It's about your workouts. Can we speak frankly? You go to the gym several times a week, sometimes twice in one day. You attend classes, you get your sweat on, and yet something is missing. You aren't as fit as you should be. What is happening?
As a certified group exercise trainer and indoor cycling instructor, I've taught hundreds of classes. And based on what I see, I think a lot of you are unintentionally shortchanging yourself. Your fitness journey should be constantly evolving and changing, adapting, and growing. Taking a step back and looking at your overall approach will help you work out smarter, and maybe harder. You'll be glad you did.
1. You Aren't Paying Attention
Let's face it, some instructors are better than others. But let's assume you aren't wasting your time with the minority of bad trainers. When you go to a class, are you truly listening to what you are being told to do? Do you pay attention to alignment cues in yoga? Do you check your form in weight training? When your cycling instructor tells you to add resistance, do you?
Listen to what these people in spandex wearing microphones are telling you. They are certified experts who take continuing education classes and spend countless hours outside of class creating a quality workout. They have taken on the burdens of exercise selection, interval timing, choreography, and sequencing from you. You just have to show up and do what they say. You know you won't do it at home — that's why you go to a class. 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?
Sometimes the key to success is recognizing that you can't get there on your own, and allowing someone to help you on your fitness journey means that you'll get to your destination faster. Trust us. We want to get you there as badly as you do. So do what we say, please.
2. You Aren't Working Hard Enough
Here's a dose of tough love: instructors know how hard you are working, and that you probably aren't working hard enough.
Example: you are in an indoor cycling class and your instructor asks you to add resistance to simulate a hill climb. Everyone adds gear, except for you because you are hedging and don't want it to be "too hard." When the music picks up tempo and the entire class is straining to keep up, there you are, pedaling like a demon with no effort — barely breaking a sweat — do you think the instructor can't see that?
Another example: you are in a weight-training situation and even though you've been doing the same moves for months now, you are using the same weights. You wonder why you aren't getting stronger. Guess what? You aren't challenging your muscles when you pick the same weights every time. Pick up something heavier. Try it. What is the worst thing that can happen? It's too heavy and you have to switch back down to finish? Congratulations, you have achieved a higher level of muscular fitness. Do that every time.
Final example: you are in a HIIT class that is working in 45-second intervals. 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 your instructor is scanning the room for safety reasons and can see how hard you are working. Chances are, you are saving a little back, just in case. Stop doing that and you'll see better results, I promise.
3. You Aren't Competing With Yourself
The best way to gauge your fitness is not by watching what the person next to you is doing. Who knows what they had for breakfast that morning? How many workouts a week they do when you don't see them in class? How much of their ability is biologically set before they even walk in the room? It's not about them. It's about you and what you can achieve. Whenever I do drills or set up exercises for my participants, I want them 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. I am going to try push-ups on my toes before I go to my knees."
Don't be afraid to be the hardest worker in the room and stand out because of that. You go to your classes to improve yourself, not to fade into the crowd and be a cookie-cutter human being. You have special strengths and abilities. You may struggle at push-ups but you can plank for two minutes without faltering. You may have spaghetti arms but can crush weighted squats all day long. Be you. Don't worry about anyone else. Stay on your own mat, mentally and physically. Your fitness will blossom. S'truth.
4. You Don't Accept What You Can't Change
In conjunction with the adage above, you have to be honest with yourself and set reasonable expectations. You can't do 1,000 burpees in 10 minutes and you will never change the basic biology of your body. If you are 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, guess what? You probably will too. And no amount of treadmill work will change your DNA. However, you can tone and shape that bottom, heavy or not. You can strengthen and tighten your triceps to help that underarm sag. There are many ways you can improve the body you have. But no amount of exercise 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. How many Jillian Michaels does the world need? Just one. And she is unique and special in her way. The world needs your best you — so go after it. 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 fitness work with food.
At some point, we were taught that we have to earn the right to eat through exercise. And that if we've earned it, we can have whatever we want. And we do. And then some more. And we wonder why we aren't achieving our goals. It's time we stepped back from food. Instead of it becoming a reward system, it should be a means to an end. It should enable our recovery and power our efforts. The reward for the work is not a consumable. It's an intangible. It's something you can't measure. It comes from within us. It's called pride. Satisfaction. Self-confidence. Empowerment. You can't get those things from a drive-through, fitness friends. 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. Leave the previous workouts behind. 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.