After spending the better part of a decade navigating through the fitness industry from a novice to advanced lifter to trainer for the last 5 years, it’s remarkable to see some of the trends that have pervaded this space. As consumers we are solely responsible for the information that is perpetuated. Unfortunately, the nature of the fitness space sits on the highest highs and the lowest lows without much thought taken to what may come in between some of the most polarizing topics. The purpose of this article is to share some thoughts with regards to the current landscape. I’ll contrast some of the most overrated things I’ve seen along with some of the most drastically underrated. This won’t be an exhaustive list but will cover plenty. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised…
- Motivation – Hear me out on this one. In theory, motivation is a wonderful thing. It helps sustain our attention and may present the idea of willpower in order to make it through your workouts or adhere to the specific diet that you set out for yourself. When clients come in to meet with me for the first time, one of the most common things I hear is “I’m super motivated to exercise”usually because they just gained some extra weight over quarantine or their trying to kickstart the new year with an overwhelming amount of fitness goals. My follow up question to them is almost always “What will you do when the motivation runs out?” The thing is, when motivation is high, you’ll feel in control and want to conquer everything. You’ll be dialed into your nutrition and spend 6 days a week training in the gym. The reality is this will quickly fade out and is not sustainable for the average person. I’m not talking to fanatical type that lives and breathes fitness. My average client is the person who is balancing a stressful job, kids, and other relationships on top of attending to their health and fitness. This is why I discourage motivation to be the primary force behind your actions. Instead you should focus on discipline, consistency, and habit formation. By creating a routine around your health and staying disciplined you are far more likely to make developmental progress towards your goals rather than riding the high of motivation until you eventually burn out.
- Meal Plans – A lot of fitness folks that are nutrition “experts” will probably get mad at this one. Within the personal training space providing clients with specific macronutrient meal plans is out of our scope of practice and actually illegal in some states. For some reason, people disregard this fact because there is little to no regulation and some grey areas regarding our scope of practice. It’s downright irresponsible, lazy, and disrespectful. Registered Dietitians go through a considerable amount of schooling, internships, and sit for a board exam before they earn the right to apply for licensure. Don’t take nutrition advice from your trainer without consulting with an RD first. What’s more is that the majority of meal plans presented to the average client are worthless. They have too much structure for someone to follow plus they don’t teach the client sustainable habits. Part of the fitness journey is the educational component that involves learning about your body and finding the right foods that work for you. Your personal trainer can’t do this for you. They can help guide you through the process, but they can’t give you the answers to the test. Consider it a long-term goal to understand your nutritional needs and then seek out the support and advice to help you in the process.
- Supplements – Remember that I said overrated and not useless. There is value in supplementation but it should only be used as an aid and not the centerpiece of your wellness journey. Instead look at the gross offenders in your lifestyle that can be modified before you look to supplementation. Sleep, nutrition, and proper programming are a great place to start when trying to assess your habits and see if they interfere with your growth and recovery. Remember too that much of the supplement space is full of overpriced products that have marginal returns. Save your money and invest it back into your sleep and nutrition instead. I’ll make a follow up article discussing the supplements worth taking. It’s worth reminding you that this is another area that a RD can help you. Your local GNC retailer is not the place to give you supplement advice . Food for thought.
- Burpees – Now that I have your attention, what I really mean to say is high intensity “movements” that are masked as exercise to make people feel tired. Burpees, Jumping Jacks, Mountain Climbers, etc. If your primary goal is to burn as many calories as possible during a workout then go ahead and disregard my advice. However, for the majority of people this is the biggest waste of time. These types of exercises are often programmed in between strength exercises and performed to exhaustion. This is a recipe for pain and injury and has no place in a proper program. Let’s also remember that being sweaty and tired are a couple of the worst indicators of a proper workout. You may feel like you have to be beaten up to receive the benefits of exercise, but in fact there are far better performance indicators such as increased strength, mood and energy levels. Ditch that mindset that more is always better along with the notion that burpees will “increase your performance” or some other recycled tagline.
- Switching Workout Programs – We are all guilty of this one from time to time. There is definitely a need to switch your workout program in the long-term so what I’m referring to is the week-to-week, workout-to-workout program hoppers. For the novice to intermediate lifter this can be a serious issue in limiting your growth and progress inside the gym. Mainly in that you aren’t giving your body enough time to learn the motor skills effectively nor allowing the appropriate window of time to elicit any adaptation to the current stimulus. Personal trainers are notoriously guilty of this. Switching up their clients’ workouts every week in order to look unique or escape the monotony of doing the same things over and over again. On the contrary, sticking to the basics and getting really good at them are actually what works long-term. Remember too that exercises are skills. Skills that have to be learned, refined, and engrained. To think that you can learn it all in one week and then just move on is blasphemy. Take time to understand the exercises you’re doing. Why you’re doing them, what value they bring and how you can make them better. You’ll spend the better part of your training career doing this, then just maybe you can sprinkle in some fancy stuff .
- Consistency – Very much contrary to the concept of motivation, this is the very essence of achieving any goal and/or making any sort of progress in life. It sounds so easy but I think everyone needs another reminder about the power of habits. Being ruthlessly consistent isn’t about overtraining or treating yourself poorly in pursuit of a goal. It’s about showing up for yourself day in and day out on a regular basis. You are the only thing that matters here. You are a product of what you consistently do. Keep in mind that although you may think this is a race, there is really no definitive finish line. That’s why consistency matters. You are constantly working on improving regardless of how little the progress may be. You’ll have terrible days where you don’t feel like doing anything and other days where you’re on top of the world. Regardless of the circumstances, stay accountable and learn to be indifferent to the things that make no difference. Think about all the people that appear to be an overnight success. Do you think they just showed up out of nowhere and took the world by storm? They were busy stacking failure upon failure and learning from their mistakes until eventually they hit a break. So next time you’re tempted by a quick fix or easy solution, think more broadly about your options.
- Sleep – Easily one of the most overlooked variables in the wellness space. Especially with various camps preaching about their lack of sleep in exchange for “the grind” or being too busy to give their body a proper rest. People will wear it like a badge of honor. This mentality is toxic and ignores the notion that many fundamental bodily processes are significantly repressed when deprived of sleep. Regulation of hormones, mood, appetite, and energy levels are all affected. Even getting as much as 6 hours a night can have profound effects on your performance. Dedicate the appropriate time to sleep by changing your bedtime routine. I often see people that spend the majority of their night watching television and looking at their phone. Perhaps you’ll have a late night dessert and take little time to actually wind down from the stressors of the day. This can reduce the likelihood of deep sleep and the blue light from your devices can delay the onset of you falling asleep. Spend the last couple hours before bed and prepare yourself by dimming the lights in the house, eliminating blue light exposure and winding down by reading or journaling. You will feel more relaxed before bed and avoid potential stressors that keep you tossing and turning all night.
- Walking – If I went back 5 years to the beginning of my personal training career I would’ve scoffed at the idea of walking for exercise. Until recently I used to explain it away as a low level activity that should be replaced with something with more intensity. This is NOT the case. Walking is a tremendous activity that should be incorporated more into your day. It doesn’t have to be viewed purely as exercise either. It can be utilized as an opportunity to get more sunshine, converse with a loved one, reflect and review your day and so much more. It has an insane amount of value that can easily be attached to other habits. For example, taking a 10 minute walk after every meal would allow you to get 30 minutes of extra activity each day while making additional time to decompress and find clarity in your life.
- Mobility – This is a commonly underutilized part of a well rounded training routine. It’s probably most neglected because it’s not fancy or directly related to aesthetics and weight loss. However by neglecting your mobility you’re leaving a lot of performance improvements on the table. Proper joint mobility and range of motion will help with a myriad of issues such as pain, balance and overall strength. By making sure your joint and muscles surrounding your joints have healthy mobility will be the reason for having long-term sustainability in the gym. Where people tend to develop chronic pain and injuries can usually start with a lack of mobility and proper body functioning. This is why I always have clients utilize exercises like 90/90, Lizard with rotation, combat stretch, and prone cobra before lifting. Mobility can also be a great extension to your off day training. Instead of a day of heavy lifting, try incorporating a 30 minute walk with 15-20 minutes of mobility. This is better to be practiced with frequency. Small amounts of mobility training broken up throughout the day will add serious value to your training.
- Strength Training – The last, most important variable. The most overlooked part of an exercise program. We’ve come a long way since its introduction as bodybuilders only style of training. Albeit the current fitness space has so many bootcamps, group training and high-intensity outlets that I felt like this was worth addressing. When I refer to strength training, I simply mean resistance training with moderate to heavy loads. Unfortunately many fitness programs capitalize on the low weight high repetition model that is promoted as the best way to burn body fat. I disagree. Proper strength training that involves lifting significant weight (specific to the individual) in moderate rep ranges is what helps build muscle long-term. Specifically, it will elicit the necessary adaptations in the body to help increase metabolism, regulate hormones and build sustainable weight management when paired with a proper diet. As I alluded to in my comments on burpees, training for intensity isn’t nearly as significant as training movement patterns with appreciable loading parameters. Remember too that there is value in both. Just because I write for one versus the other, doesn’t mean you should exclude one in your training.