Fitness: One Size Doesn't Fit All
The world of fitness among professionals is unfortunately still a lot like the cafeteria cliques that Mean Girls describes. But instead of the varsity jocks, burnouts, cool Asians and Asian nerds, we have personal trainers, group fitness instructors, pilates instructors, and other hybrid method instructors.
Too many times there are snobby personal trainers who sneer at SoulCycle and Crossfit, uneducated pilates instructors that think deadlifts are the devil (yeah, you smack them down, Tony Gentilcore & Bret Contreras!), trendy group fitness instructors who preach you need to "confuse the muscles" (what... no.), inexperienced Crossfit instructors who think anything without a barbell is useless, hokey fusion class instructors who turn their nose up at lifting anything above 3lb (ahem, Tracy Anderson, achoo!).
And everyone tends to think that their method of practice is the only and best way to do exercise.
Well, I have the magical answer for you you've been searching for:
There is no one size fits all when it comes to fitness.
In trying to figure out what is best for YOU though, you must first figure out:
1. What your goals are
2. How committed you really are
3. What environment motivates you
4. Any obstacles you might have (medical conditions, injuries, no support system, etc)
Now let's break these four components down a little further.
1. What are your goals? (warning, this one is long)
I want to get stronger.
You're going to need to lift. Squat, deadlift, push and pull. Yes, yoga, pilates, group and barre classes will make you feel stronger and fitter to an extent- but if we are talking about pure measurable strength, you are going to need to pick up some legitimate weight. And do it often.
I've had so many clients of mine tell me how strength training has helped them in their yoga practice and in their running speed. Chatarunga pushups get a lot easier when you're training your upper body, and that chair pose ain't so bad when you're squatting more than your body weight for reps with a barbell.
I want to lean out (lose body fat)
First, get off the cardio machine and stop running 3309284 miles a day. Here comes my cardio & fat loss rant:
Steady-state cardio (where you are going primarily at one speed/resistance for a decent duration of time) does have benefits for cardiovascular health (hence the name, cardio), but it will not get you lean.
You may lose pounds on the scale doing this, but that is primarily going to be lean muscle mass, which is the exact opposite of what you want. Why? Muscle is what keeps that metabolism stoked and it's going to be your best friend in fat loss.
Your body is an efficient, smart machine. The more cardio you do, the more your body becomes efficient at burning calories. That sounds great, right? Nope. Not when the 20 minute run that used to demand 200 calories from your body now only demands 150, even though you put in the same effort. It increasingly becomes a game of higher investments with lower returns- nobody likes that at all.
Countless number of times I've heard women in the locker room talk about a group fitness class they just took but it wasn't very good because they weren't sore the next day.
That soreness you get is called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), which you may have heard of. Usually hits about 24 hours after a training session. Every time you workout, you create small (micro) tears in your muscles- this incites your body to begin repairing those microtears to strengthen your muscle tissue so that it can increasingly withstand muscle damage.
DOMS, or the absence of, is not a barometer for the intensity or quality of a workout you had. It is simply an adaptive response.
This is also why regardless of how "fit" you are, if you do an exercise or class that requires movements you haven't recently done, prepare for some soreness as your muscles have not yet adapted to those movements.
Also, muscles cannot get confused. Have you ever talked to your abs, asking if they were confused with the new exercise? I hope not.
"Lift light weights for high reps to avoid 'bulking up.'" SMACK. To. My. Forehead.
First of all, high volume reps (regardless of resistance) will get you some degree of hypertrophy of a muscle. What's hypertrophy? Muscle growth.
You should like hypertrophy. That builds muscles. Muscles on your body burn calories. Fat burns 0.
I just want to move and feel better/want to just be in better shape, maybe shed a few pounds (not get winded going up the stairs.
Single-joint, isolated movements that ironically bodybuilders and barre use alike like bicep curls, calf raises, and donkey kicks are not the main things you should be doing.
Compound, full-body movements that have you moving in all 3 planes of motion (frontal, sagittal, and transverse) are key here. Group classes, yoga, cycling, lifting- what is best for you will be determined by the other three components discussed later in this post as well.
I want to run a marathon (or do any other endurance-type of activity like that)
Endurance based activities like steady-state cardio, some cross-training like a spin class, then some lighter strength training & recovery work to make sure you're staying injury and pain free.
Intense interval based classes and things like MetCon and Tabata shouldn't be a primary focus whatsoever. You aren't running the marathon in sprints.
2. How committed are you, REALLY?
The results you get are dependent on the work you're willing to put in
People I've done consultations with will say they want to look like Misty Copeland and have a dancers body, or they'll say they want abs like Cristiano Ronaldo. Then they'll say they want to workout 1-2x per week. Dude, there are 168 hours in the week, and you want to spend 1-2 of them working out and expect to look like a superstar? I'm sorry, but that'll take a very long time.
“I’ll try for 4x/week" is setting yourself up for failure and feeling guilty. You either do 4x/week or you should be realistic and say you’ll only do 2x/week- you will just have to adjust your expectations on how soon you'll reach your goals. This is probably one of the biggest reasons why people fail to reach their goals- then one missed workout turns into another.
Lastly, don't lock yourself into something you hate doing!
If you hate spinning on a bike, that promise to go to Cyc 3x/week is going to hold up as well as a New Years Resolution. Find things you enjoy, that will encourage you to stick to it because you like doing them.
3. What environment motivates you?
This one is simple. Do you thrive in a group setting? Are you pushed by being surrounded by a community? Are you better self-motivating with having a set regime? It's important to ask these questions to yourself to see what has the best probability of becoming a habit for you.
I personally love having a training program that I can have measurable progress with. I love knowing I'm getting stronger or faster with whatever my program's goals may be. I used to think I loved group classes but I have a tendency to get overly-competitive and start to sacrifice my form and technique in order to complete whatever task it is at hand- so this I do in moderation. I joke and say this is why I've never done Flywheel- I think I would kill myself trying to top that torqueboard that I'd end up falling off the bike or unable to walk the next day...
4. What type of obstacles are you facing?
Let's first take some physical obstacles, like injuries or health conditions.
Back, knees, and ankles ache? Constantly pounding the pavement, running 30 miles a week probably isn't going to make you feel better- 2.5x your bodyweight comes slamming down on your joints every running step you take. Also, 100 box jumps at Crossfit? Sheer volume of repetitions is doing you more harm than good. You would be better off focusing on building the strength of your core and hips through good form and technique. Maybe you'd enjoy and benefit from some decompressive exercises like yoga as well!
Obviously, with group fitness, it's a group experience so it's difficult for the instructor to tailor to individual limitations- good instructors will do their best to help you modify, for sure, and you should be aware of your own boundaries as well: that instructor may not know you have high blood pressure, then they ask you to hold a minute-long plank- commonly known as not the best exercise for those with hypertension.
Now the more emotional obstacles:
Time. This is an obstacle that is present in everyone's lives yes. No one is going to hand you a free hour on a platter- it is up to you to find a time slot that is least likely to get pushed aside for some other priority as well. Have a schedule, and stick to it- once things become a habit, it is second nature and you won't think twice about missing a workout.
Support system: are you making an effort to eat healthier and stay active, but your girlfriends want to go to a boozy Sunday brunch every week and your boyfriend wants to go out for beer and wings to watch football afterward? Willpower is a limited resource, and it does no one good to just trying to resist all these fun activities. A person's chances at success of transitioning into a healthier lifestyle is if they are surrounded by others that support and encourage it. Surround yourself with like-minded positive influences, and find healthy ways to socialize. Instead of the boozy brunch, check out a healthier restaurant instead. Let your boyfriend go meet up with the guys to do his thing while you get your gym session in, and meet up afterward.
Would love to hear your opinions on what your favorite way to stay healthy and active is, and what you think of all the fitness trend claims!