I really didn’t get serious about exercise until I was in my second year of college. I had quit my evening dance classes to make more time for school so I needed to pick up some other form of exercise because so help me there was no way I was going to let myself get fat [a phrase my husband still hears on the regular].
So I figured running on the treadmill was a good place to start. My parents had bought a treadmill when I was really young and I had used it off while I was growing up. But by the time I picked it up again in college, “running” was really walking for 20 minutes after attempting to run for 10. It was pretty bad.
But within a year, I was running almost everyday for 45 minutes to an hour a day [and like actually running]. It wasn’t until after I met Matt that I picked up a weight and to be honest, after almost 3 years of pure cardio, it was absolutely terrifying. Just like most girls who are new to fitness, I was almost positive weight training would turn me into one of those beefed up women that look like they’ve been on steroids for so long you can’t actually tell if they are even a women any more.
And while all of this was going on, I was also making countless dieting mistakes. The biggest being that I was trying to live the gluten free life because I believed all carbs were the enemy while also drinking two peanut butter smoothies a day because I read on Pinterest they would be packed with protein. Was I ever surprised when I realized these “protein packed smoothies” also contained over 800 calories each and a lot of fat. Oops.
Looking back, I’ve definitely come a long way but I’m still far from being an expert. But how many of us actually are? Everyone’s body is unique, and while somethings remain true for everyone [like diet and exercise are the most effective way to lose weight] what that looks like can vary dramatically from person to person.
So, for anyone looking to get into the gym or start making some life changes I’ve put together a list of 5 things I wish I knew before getting into fitness.
1. The best workout program is the one you can stick to.
I used to LOVE running. I would run to the beat of my music because it reminded me of dancing [it’s also quite possible I was just delirious from being on the treadmill for so long]. My favorite part was cranking up the speed of the treadmill as the tempo of the song increased so that I was running so fast it was almost terrifying. One wrong step and I would have done an AFV worthy face plant and been thrown off the back of the treadmill. But I was completely addicted to the rush I would get from running that fast.
But eventually running got boring and it became harder and harder to motivate myself to go. It was around that time that I decided to start weight training. Gradually, I started spending more time with the weights and less time doing cardio and now I’m at the point where even 45 minutes twice a week feels like too much. I just don’t enjoy it the way I used to. BUT I’ve been weight training for over 4 years now and the reason I’ve been able to stick to it is because I’ve found something that works for my body, my schedule, and my life.
The key to long lasting results is consistency. Whether it’s group fitness classes, team sports, cross fit, or yoga, if you want to see results, you need to find a form of exercise that you love and that also fits your life.
2. The best diet is the one you can stick to.
Seems pretty obvious right? But there are so many fad diets out there that it’s so easy to just jump onto the latest band wagon because your co-worker saw dramatic results.
I’ve tried going gluten free. I’ve tried keto. I’ve done pre-bikini competition diets and I’ve done carb-cycling. I’ve even entertained the idea of going vegan. Currently I’m on a relaxed form of the IIFYM diet and to be honest, I’m happier here then I have been on any other diet. I track everything I eat during the week but on the weekends the only thing I watch is that I don’t over eat. I try to limit eating out to less then once a week, and once or twice a week I might have a glass of wine or a cookie [or both].
What I’m finding is that not only am I having really good workouts, I’m also not craving junk food and I’ve stopped binge eating [which is super easy to justify when you follow programs with ‘cheat meals’]. My pants have loosened up, my stomach is staying flat and I have the freedom and flexibility to live my life while maintaining a physique I am proud of. The best part? I’m HAPPY.
And isn’t that what we are all working towards anyway?
Consistency = results. Constantly changing your diet to whatever the new fad is won’t likely lead to long lasting results. If you want long term success, you need to work on creating healthy eating habits and building a healthy lifestyle you can easily maintain for years to come.
3. Progress is SLOW.
Like really slow. No one could have prepared me for how long building muscle would take and if they had, it would have been really hard not to just give up and walk away. And let’s be honest, in a world where the fitness industry’s favorite phrase is “immediate results”, waiting to see progress is brutal. The only way to speed things up is by pushing yourself harder and sometimes that doesn’t even work. There are going to be times where you’re going to question yourself and everything you are doing. And there are going to be times when you think about quitting because well what’s the point?
Reality is these things take time and if you want long lasting results, you need to put in the work to get there. So don’t give up. Celebrate the small victories. Remember why you started and keep finding inspiration to keep going. You WILL get there.
4. Everyone’s fitness journey is different so don’t be so hard on yourself.
While the positives to getting fit and healthy are endless, there is a downside that no one talks about: The fitter you get, the further and further you become from achieving your goals.
Suddenly, the 10 lbs you just lost is meaningless because that girl over there lost 20. Beating your squat/dead lift/bench press goal is no longer worth bragging about because the girl beside you is doing double. And the little bit of definition in your arms isn’t even worth getting excited about because the girl across the gym has the most glorious abs you’ve ever seen.
The hard truth is that there is always going to be someone better then you. And what people don’t realize is that that other girl may have been training for YEARS to squat that much weight. Or maybe she’s been prepping for a bikini competition and has been on a super strict diet for the past 6-8 months. Or maybe, she’s just #blessed.
The thing is, the more extreme your goals become, the more effort you’ll be required to put into achieving them. The people who are really successful have dedicated their whole lives to their fitness and they’ve given up a lot to get there. I’m not at all saying you shouldn’t go after your goals, if you really want something you should go for it! But what I am saying is that if you decide that level of commitment isn’t for you, you should never feel like you’ve failed because you didn’t take it to that next level.
Find a the level of commitment that works for you and don’t feel bad if it appears to be less then what someone else is doing. It’s ok if you never look like a bikini model because your heart just isn’t in it. The only thing that matters is that YOU are happy with yourself.
5. The number on the scale is not a direct reflection of your progress.
Back in college when I looked “my worst” I weighed about 150 lbs. Throughout my running phase, I managed to drop down to 118 lbs and I could not have been more proud of myself. I had finally done it. I was finally one of those girls who’d had an Instagram worthy transformation and to this day, I sometimes wish I could be that girl again.
After 4 years of weight training I now weigh over 135 lbs [it’s probably more then that but I’ve stopped weighing myself because I can’t handle watching that number go up anymore].
There are days when I feel like a failure. There are lots of moments when I question my husband’s sanity because he insists he still finds me attractive and worst of all, I still have days when I look in the mirror and want to cry because I hate what I see staring back at me.
But here’s the thing.
I can [almost] bench press my body weight. I can squat over 185 lbs. And I can dead lift over 215 lbs. I can roll out of bed and run a 5 km race without even trying and I can confidently throw my 40 lb nephew in the air. I have muscle definition in my shoulders, quads, calves, abs, and some pretty fat veins popping out of my forearms.
So yeah, according the scale I’m “getting fat”, but look at how far I’ve come since my cardio bunny days and how much easier my life is. So what I’ve learned is this:
If you are trying to make any sort of changes to your body, you need to look at the bigger picture. Are you getting stronger or faster? Do your clothes fit differently? Has your overall shape changed? Is your butt getting bigger but your waist getting smaller? All of these things are just pieces to the puzzle. The scale can be a great tool, but you can’t base your entire progress off that number and you should NEVER base your self worth off that number.