7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Fitness Journey

  1. Screw gender norms

So, you’re a girl that’s afraid of being the only women in the weight room. You’re a guy who thinks booty gains are for girls. Whatever the gender stereotype that’s holding you back, throw it out the window. When I first set foot in the gym, I noticed all the women on the treadmills and ellipticals and not a single one in the weight area. I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t want to make a fool out of myself, so I confined myself inside the neat little box labeled “cardio bunny”. This isn’t only a problem for women though. In the same way women focus on cardio and lower body, men have a pressure to have huge upper bodies and build bulk.

In reality, fitness is about balance. Balance between strength and endurance. Balance between muscle groups (upper body and lower body should be equally as strong in both men and women). Balance between fun and discipline. Balance in diet. Gender norms may skew us toward one direction or another. And I say screw that.

While I love to hate on social media, the biggest silver lining in all the issues it brings is that since the dawn of fitness influencers I have noticed a huge shift in the amount of women in the weight room and the number of men willing to do some hip thrusts. Let’s keep that going.

2. Consistency over intensity

Aside from the solid two years I spent only on the elliptical, my next beginner’s mistake was thinking the best way to make progress was with intense workouts. I would spend an average of 4 hours at the gym on any given day, pushing myself to the point of almost passing out or actually puking. Yes, I was kind of insane. Then I would go weeks without stepping foot in the gym.

Growing up an athlete this seemed normal to me. But the second I hit 20 years old my body seemed to develop a will of its own and say, “I’m no longer a teenager. I won’t take this crap anymore” and my joints kind of just disintegrated. From that point on, it was injury after injury after injury. It was a hard lesson to learn that when young you can treat your body pretty badly and it will usually bounce back. The older we get, the less resilient our bodies become. This means that consistency is far more effective than intensity for us mortal beings. And hey, if you already have the consistency aspect down and want to crank up the intensity aspect, good for you. What I wish I knew beginning my fitness journey was to nail down the consistency aspect first, and build upon that foundation.

3. Nutrition is key

I’ve heard the rule that fitness is 80% diet and 20% exercise. Most of us do this the other way around, thinking we can burn off our bad diet (we can’t) or that because we had a hard workout once that gives us the excuse to eat like crap the rest of the week (it doesn’t). We hear that to build muscles we need calories and go far beyond maintenance calories when we only need a slight surplus or really just adequate protein.

Rather than spending two hours meal prepping healthy, nutrient rich food to fuel our body, we’d rather eat that junk food and then attempt to run for two hours to burn it off (and we end up just wasting time and holding ourselves back from progress). We think we can get around our poor diet with supplements or lose weight with fad diets. Or is all that just me?

If you’re wondering what you’re doing wrong in the gym, I recommend first asking what you’re doing wrong in the kitchen.

4. Sleep sleep sleep

I’m a chronic insomniac. I blame that on my lack of progress in the gym. The way we build muscle is by damaging that muscle and then when it repairs, it is bigger and stronger than before. The key word there is repair. The key theme here is recovery. Without proper recovery, the damage is just damage. So prioritize sleep, get a massage now and then, stretch, and reduce stress in your life.

5. Ignore marketing scams

I mentioned fad diets. Why are these so pervasive? Well, there’s a reason advertisers gets paid so much. The other day I was at the grocery store and came across KETO Bars. I looked at the back only to find that one teeny tiny protein bar contained more sugar than it did protein, over 30 grams of it in fact. And yet, from top to bottom, side to side, the word Keto filled the entire front face of the box.

If we don’t have our critical thinking caps turned on at all times, we can easily fall prey to these marketing scams, whether the ones social media influencers promote (you really don’t need whatever supplement they’re selling) or the ones that catch us as we’re wandering innocently down the grocery store isle. Learn to look at anyone with an online presence as an advertiser. Learn to read nutrition labels and ingredient lists like it’s a religion.

6. Take your scale weight with a grain of salt

Let me take you on a flashback. The year is 2018. I’m 4 years into my fitness journey. I’m doing CrossFit, and despite the various severe injuries I’ve sustained from it, I’ve noticed that my jeans that have always been snug are now loose enough they won’t stay up on their own. But wait. My scale says I’m getting fatter. What on earth is going on?

Lesson learned: don’t trust your scale. Don’t equate weight with body fat. The truth is that BMI and weight are no indication of body composition, and when you’re focused on fitness, body composition is important. A better way to track progress is with photos or measurements. Or be like me and don’t track it at all.

7. Focus on the mind muscle connection

You’ve probably read this term on a hundred other blogs. It’s not just fun to say. It’s also a game changer. I’ve found a few components really help with this. First, when I’m working out I like to stay mindful. Most of my friends look at me like I’m crazy when I say I can’t workout with headphones, but the truth is, most music distracts me from staying in tune with my body and noticing what muscles are being engaged and which ones I’m struggling to engage. If I want to target a specific muscle, I like to start with activation exercises specific to that muscle before going in to the actual workout. If I have a hand free, I like to place it on that muscle group to physically feel how much it is contracting. This is key if you’re doing squats in hopes of booty gains, but only feeling it in your quads. It takes several weeks to build this connection up to the point that the muscle contraction becomes more automatic, but the mind muscle connection will remain a key aspect throughout your entire fitness journey.

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