I’ve been around many different gyms for many years. I have observed so many different people doing so many different things to try to get in shape, and I’ve also observed quite a few things that I think ladies can learn from men. I’ve done it all and seen it all, from Les Mills classes, to running a marathon, to week-long yoga retreats, to every fad along the way, and today I’m going to share with you my easy tips for truly getting in shape, in a way that’s sustainable. I hope you enjoy!
This is so simple, but it’s amazing how little I see it practiced. Personally I do 7 simple weight exercises, then I’ll do maybe 15 minutes of cardio to get my heart rate up, 3 times a week. So I’m in the gym for 30 minutes, 3 times a week, and that’s it. If you like the sound of this and you’re having trouble coming up with specific exercises, try this seven minute workout. That’s 14 standard exercises done without equipment hitting major muscle groups. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do other things which are good for you. For example, I love long bike rides and rock climbing, and I’m a yoga teacher (more about yoga later), and I play community sports. I also love taking long walks and hikes, especially when the weather is nice. Think of these things as extra credit for fun, not what you actually do to keep in shape. When I’m taking a nice long walk on a nice fall day, that’s where I want to be more than anywhere else at that time. Healthy habits like this are great! They just don’t replace a standard routine like in the link above if you’re trying to get fit.
Sorry to single you out ladies, but this is the biggest difference I have observed between women and men. A lot of women (and some men) seem to turn their workout into social hour, with hours of discussions and gossip and catching up. There is nothing wrong with catching up with friends, but don’t do it on your fitness time. Similarly, don’t rely on some TV show to get you through. TVs in gyms are one of the worst inventions ever, not only do they distract you from feeling what’s happening in your body, but you shouldn’t be there long enough to watch anyway. Remember you’re there for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. Do it with no distractions, and no reliance on others. The only thing worse than not working out is turning a workout into a waste of time.
This is another one aimed mainly at the ladies (sorry!) but I’ve found you’re usually the most guilty. I’ve seen classes based hanging from ceilings, hitting fitness balls with drumsticks (seriously), jumping on trampolines, yoga poses on surfboards, and seemingly thousands of others. To make matters worse this stuff is usually expensive! If you have so much fun doing a yoga pose on a surfboard that you’d rather pay to be there than be with your friends and family, then go ahead and do it. But, remember this is NOT your fitness time, this is your chosen fun time. Your fitness time is 30 minutes, 3 times a week, and these fad classes do not replace that. These fads are done in addition to fitness time if you find it to be that much fun. Further they may be nowhere near as good for you as advertised. Subway restaurant is a great example of claiming to be healthy through advertising, while the truth is far from it. Remember, seeing marketing for something doesn’t mean it’s good or bad for you. Marketing only means someone, somewhere is trying to make money.
I promise this is the last one aimed primarily at the ladies! Perhaps this is a shock to some of you, but you do not need exercise classes. Zumba may be really popular right now, but believe it or not the human race survived just fine without it for many years. If you need an exercise class to be motivated, then my recommendation would be to work with a life coach to become motivated again, not to go to more classes. If you are reading all this and still insist that your life would not be complete without exercise classes, then go for it but remember they are your fun time, not your fitness time. You still need 30 minutes, 3 times per week on your own IN ADDITION to these classes, if you choose to do them. And remember there are always choices you can make, for example a bike ride outside in the fresh air instead of a stationary bicycle in a hot, sweaty room sounds like a wonderful choice to me.
Today’s yoga classes often are missing the entire point. This is the result of our culture rubbing off on yoga, instead of the other way around. Yoga practiced correctly is great for you, but you aren’t there for a workout, you are there for your mind. Physical benefits will come as a side effect, but not as the primary reason you’re there. Maybe this is tough to grasp by just reading, which is why I always recommend you at least give it a try. Any class which stresses only the physical part is not yoga, it’s an exercise class, and remember we don’t need exercise classes. If you are going to attend a yoga class then you should leave feeling both relaxed and energized, not dehydrated or zapped. (If you’re reading this wondering how you can feel both relaxed and energized at the same time, then you need to try yoga!) Yoga, practiced properly, will teach you how to listen to your body, how to not push yourself too hard, and how to relax. Long-term, yoga will teach you how to avoid judgement of others and how to make your self-talk better, so I really do recommend you take 1 or 2 classes per week, but stay away from any fad class trying to mix yoga with something else to make it more interesting. Yoga practiced properly creates awareness and change in you, and nothing in your world is more interesting than that.
Bonus! What you didn’t know about yoga
Yoga was “invented” thousands of years ago in India because men would sit and meditate for 8 hours per day and get uncomfortable after awhile, so they created poses to help them sit for longer. Naturally, the Western world ignored the 99% which included sitting and meditating, took the 1% that didn’t, and turned it into a multi-billion dollar industry with rock star teachers, saunas as yoga rooms, sex scandals, $200 yoga outfits, and millions of facebook profile pictures. Be aware of this the next time you see a teacher turning yoga into acrobatics, encouraging you to push yourself the whole time, trying to sell you very expensive clothing, etc.. If you really love your specialized class so much that it beats time with friends and family, and you believe you can avoid injury, then I guess go ahead and do it. Just remember this doesn’t replace your fitness time, it doesn’t even count as yoga time as the mental benefits are lost when you’re pushing so hard physically and/or straying from a traditional practice.
Nothing will ever derail you faster than an injury. If you workout nonstop for 2 weeks and then you’re injured for one week, you’ll be in worse shape than a person who worked out much easier for 3 weeks straight. So, don’t ever push too hard. I see this happen a lot in exercise and physical-based yoga classes, so be always aware. Similarly, if you take a boot camp class that leaves you sore for 3 days, then what is the benefit? You’re better off doing 3 easier workouts than one hard one, no matter how hard you worked on the one. I discovered this myself when I ran a marathon, sure it’s cool to say I did a marathon but the 3 weeks of recovery left me in worse shape afterward than if I hadn’t run it. Anything which is so strenuous that the soreness keeps you from doing things later in the week is often not worth doing, and it likely leads to injuries down the road. Injuries often occur in these super “hard’ classes, and these fad classes, so be aware of that too.
Do not be one of those people who rewards a great workout with some enormous meal. Unless you’re an Olympic swimmer, you are likely burning 300 calories or less in a workout. Make it super-strenuous and you might get up to 400. That is contained in one helping of barbecue SAUCE at some restaurants, not even counting the meal. You will never out-exercise a bad diet, so never go down this path. Create a healthy diet and things will change for you way more quickly than anything you do in the gym, healthy living always starts in the kitchen. Maybe I’ll do another column in the future based on simple healthy dieting, but for purposes here just remember you cannot out-exercise a bad diet.
Whether you’re slightly sick, slightly hungover, stressed at work, stressed at home, there are no excuses good enough to avoid a workout. The link above is a workout that can be done anywhere, including a hotel room, or next to your oven while it’s preheating. As long as you’re not injured, you’re good to go. If President and Michelle Obama can stay in shape with all they do, then so can you. You have time, and you are going to be motivated as soon as you start to see results. Make your schedule and stick to it, no excuses.
As a summary: create a good routine, do it for 30 minutes 3 times a week with no excuses, keep a good diet, don’t overdo it so you get injured, and don’t pay attention to advertising and/or fads. Add in yoga for your mind if you’d like. Anything else you include is only because you find it fun, not because it replaces this 30 minute routine.
About David Kravitz
David is a life coach, yoga instructor, PhD Mathematician, software engineer, world traveler, daily blogger, salsa dancer, survivor, and an all-around nice guy. As a life coach, David works with clients looking to reboot their life. His favorite kind of client, regardless of shape or size, is someone who embraces the challenge of re-building the world they want to live in, and re-creating how they look at life. According to David, those people discover a passion that unleashes their self-worth, better job satisfaction, and stronger relationships. Namaste!