Forget #fitspo and motivational quotes to get you to the gym. Heck, forget all the diets, training fads, and trendy fitness boutiques to help you achieve results. What really works to catapult your fitness and health long-term begins by changing what’s occurring in your head.
All the thoughts that run through our mind about who we are in comparison to another’s physique, or what we’re worth based on the size of our jeans will keep us on the yo-yo train of exercise and diet forever unless we start working on our mindset. This is a tough ask for anyone; it’s a lot easier to manipulate our bodies with diet and exercise than it is to transform thoughts we’ve carried around for decades, especially if they’re limiting ones.
It takes a lot of self-awareness and ongoing practice to ditch the old stories and limiting beliefs we hold about our bodies, lifting weights, and what we should look like. Changing our mindset demands that we become more of ourselvesregardless of how our jeans fit, how our stomach looks after kids, or how the scale changes from one year to another. It’s when we overcome our limiting beliefs that we are able to achieve the fitness and health results we’re truly after.
Here are four outdated beliefs to ditch for good.
Belief #1: You have to spot train to look good
This old way of thinking is the #1 killer of fitness results for women. While there may be specific areas that deserve a bit more attention than others, our bodies don’t function spot by spot.
If you look at how a bodybuilder trains you’ll see that she/he spends a significant amount of time developing every area of the body, not just one. You want to shrink your thighs? Hit exercises that target the entire leg musculature instead of gluing yourself to the adductor machine.
If you want sculpted arms and shoulders, put down the light dumbbells, quit lifting weights on a stationary bike, and start incorporating deadlifts, chin-ups, and push-ups into your workouts. You’ll get a better training stimulus, work more muscles, and still work those arms.
The lesson: If spot treating hasn’t worked for you in the last 5-10 years, then maybe it’s time to do something different. Learn how to lift. Strength train your whole body, not just the itty bitty parts you don’t like. Exercise is not about “fixing” what we hate but enhancing who we are.
Belief #2: Treating cardio like it’s the only fat loss tool around
Recently, a Boston-based strength coach said “Strength training IS fat loss,” and I found myself fist pumping the air in agreement.
Women are sold “cardio for fat loss” routine like it’s the Holy Grail of fitness. Cardio does have its place in training and is crucial for overall health and wellbeing. But it’s not the only thing. If it were, we’d all be sporting a six-pack after a treadmill workout.
Unless your current goal is to improve some aspect of your cardiovascular health or endurance, spending all of your time on cardio is a waste of time. It will sabotage your fitness results more than help it, but thankfully, there’s a better way.
If your goal is fat loss, your game-changing habits will revolve around strength training and nutrition, not going for a run 5x a week. Strength training can also give you a cardio-esque stimulus depending on how you use it.
Lesson: Fat loss is attainable with strength training. Stop pretending like you need to squeeze in more cardio for it to be effective (unless you really want to squeeze it in).
Belief #3: Associating soreness or high intensity with effectiveness
A client of mine recently said she loves being sore because she feels like her workouts are working. I admit, I love a little soreness after a workout, but I know better than to use that to determine a program’s overall effectiveness.
Soreness, or feeling like you have to puke in the middle of a session, are not good indicators of how effective a workout is.
Going hard every workout isn’t necessary. In fact, it’s more detrimental to your overall success in the long-run. If your coach programs a few workouts that feel easy-ish, you either went too light with the weights or it was intentional, like a deload week.
Not every workout will feel super challenging all the time. In fact, you may even find yourself with a little bit of energy at the end. That’s perfectly normal. If you’re hitting compound exercises, cleaning up technique, and doing the right accessory work, you don’t need to beat yourself up every single time you walk into the gym.
The lesson: You should be able to walk out of a training session feeling energized, not completely drained. Stop associating soreness with effectiveness because it’s not the same thing.
Belief #4: You think you can do it all
If staying active is your jam, then you likely want to do all the things — yoga, pilates, CrossFit, powerlifting, running, etc.
I get it. It’s fun to mix it up, and every one of these modalities has something specific and wonderful to offer. However, if you have a performance or physique goal you want to achieve you have to give up the activities that don’t align with that goal, at least for a little while.
When I trained for half marathons, strength training took a back seat for 12-16 weeks. Yet once running season ended, I could pick up lifting again while scaling back the milage.
Same goes with powerlifting. I’ve taken over a year off from training the major lifts so I had more liberty to do weekly beach runs, Pilates, and general strength training. But as I gear up for competition season, I’m less likely to “mix it up” and instead focus on what will prepare me for my meet.
Your workouts should support your goals, and that sometimes means temporarily giving something up.
Lesson: Yes you can do it all but it comes at a cost. That cost might actually deter your results. Let the goal keep you focused on how to train and how to eat. Stop complaining that you can’t do all the things; everything is temporary.
How to Stop Self-Sabotage
With those old belief systems out of the way, I want to leave you with a few tips to end your self-sabotage and start training better for your goals.
Focus on one thing – Stop trying to be great at everything and start getting really incredible at one thing. If you want to look good for your wedding, that’s your focus. If you want to improve your performance in a certain sport, focus on the things that will lead you there. Stop tacking on extra sports, activities, goals that only interfere with your ultimate goal.
Outsource your programming – Unless you’re a trainer or enjoy educating yourself on different training protocols and exercise science, hire someone to handle your programming. You wouldn’t perform a root canal on yourself just because you saw a YouTube video on it, would you? There are countless apps, programs, and coaches out there available to you that can take care of your training and help you reach your goals.
Do exercises that you suck at – Like it or not but the things you’re terrible at are what you need most. Feel wobbly doing a 1-leg RDL? Balance is probably something you need to work on. Would you rather eat dog poop than do conditioning sets? You’re likely in need of a few interval sessions. Stop doing only the things you like. Start training your weaknesses too so you can become better overall.
Stay open to new ideas – It’s unlikely that you’ll train the same way 10 years from now or even 10 months. Stay open to new coaches, new cues, or just different training styles so you can learn a lot about yourself and improve your fitness, and your mindset.