By Amy Marturana
When it comes to fitness, just getting up and moving is better than nothing—whether you hit the gym, go for a run, or livestream fitness program workouts you can do in your home, moving and challenging your body (and working up a good sweat) has major health benefits. But if an added goal of yours is to lose weight, build muscle, burn fat, or otherwise change your body composition in some way, actually sticking to a regular routine or following a program can make a world of difference.
Recent data from ClassPass says that on average, New Yorkers take 35 different fitness classes a year. Yes, 35. While trying something new beats boredom and keeps your body working in new ways, it also makes it tough to ever find your groove. Just hitting up a random class every now and then but never really committing fully to anything makes it hard to set and reach goals. There are a few reasons why.
Jumping around haphazardly from one class to another makes it impossible to really figure out if a workout is right for you.
“The first time you go to any studio or class, you’re probably getting 50 percent of the benefits from that particular workout,” Kira Stokes, NYC-based celebrity trainer and creator of the Stoked Method, tells SELF. “So much of your mind isn’t focusing on the physical part but more on the mental part of what you should be doing, who you’re listening to, what’s their coaching style. You’re figuring out the instructor’s style and the format of the workout,” she explains. If you’ve ever taken a new fitness class, you know that feeling of being just one step behind. If you never go back, you’ll never actually know if you like it.
Stokes compares it to a relationship: “If you don’t give yourself enough time to try a fitness method or philosophy, you’re not giving it a fair chance,” she says. “You need to allow your body to understand and let a class or program resonate with it,” so you can decide whether or not it’s right for you.
A lack of direction also makes it very tough to improve and track your progress.
As a beginner exerciser, you learn basic skills. “You have to go through and learn that skill well enough to be able to demonstrate your current strength level in it first, let alone get better at it and get stronger,” Ryan Hopkins, personal trainer, co-founder of Soho Strength Lab, and the creator of SELF’s 2017 January Fitness Challenge, tells SELF. Getting comfortable in a specific type of class or workout takes time, and when you’re only doing it here and there, it’s tough to ever really get better and progress. And the process of adding more work and turning up the intensity is what changes your body. “Doing more and more reps as your capacity goes up, and at same time increasing the intensity so you’re always working at a difficult level, that’s what’s disruptive for you,” Hopkins says. Disruptive = body-changing.
But that doesn’t mean you should be doing the same exact workout every time. You need change in your routine to see change in your body.
“When I say you should stick to one program, I want to be clear, I’m not saying only go to SoulCycle,” Stokes says—or any other single type of workout. Your regimen should include a variety of exercise types that challenge your body in different ways. That could mean committing to a selection of different classes—like HIIT and yoga as well as cycling. Or, as Stokes’ method prescribes, classes that intentionally mix it up. “I’m talking about finding studios or programs or trainers that have developed a system of workouts that challenges your body, within one program, in a different way every time you go.” Her Stoked Method includes a class focused on full-body weighted circuits, a class focused on lower intensity heavy lifting, a barre-type workout that’s all low-weight high-rep, among others. Each class follows a set format, but she tweaks the specific exercises each time.
Not too much, though. “You need to cross-train and your body responds to change, but it doesn’t respond to that much change,” Stokes says. She suggests finding classes that are slightly different every time—that’s the right amount of change you need. “No two workouts should ever be exactly the same. If you’re going to a workout and it’s like clockwork and you know what to expect every single week, then that’s not a wise choice,” she says. They should follow a consistent format, but change a bit every time—even if that just means a few of the moves alternate each time.
Hopkins says that at Soho Strength Lab, the workouts stay consistent at first so clients can increase intensity incrementally, and then they change things up. That can mean the “exercise, the number of reps, the time of day you work out, anything,” he explains.
If you’re following a program from home, like SELF’s January Fitness Challenge (it starts on January 2, so sign up now—it’s free!) the same principles apply. The program should have structure but never just be the same old workout over and over again.
Having a well-rounded routine adds more variation, and gets your body working in all the ways it should be.
When you’re thinking about what your own fitness program should look like, make sure you’re showing all your body parts some love. For example: Plan to run every Monday, go to your favorite barre class every Tuesday, a HIIT class on Thursday, and yoga on Friday. By choosing a variety of workouts, you’re working your body in multiple ways and hitting on everything from strength, to cardiovascular work, to flexibility. The key is finding those specific classes you really like, that challenge you, and that you show up at week after week.
Whether your personal fitness program is a schedule you developed or a formal program planned out for you, sticking with it will bring results.
It also helps to appreciate that committing to a consistent routine comes with added benefits, like trainers and class-goers that are along for the ride and help keep you motivated.
Another benefit of taking the same classes week after week is that you form a relationship and sense of community with everyone else who shows up at the same time same place. Knowing your #fitfam will ask you why you weren’t in class is great motivation for not skipping. Being held accountable by others helps us let go of excuses and stay on track, and if you’re truly looking to make a change, that’s key. It can also be really fun and rewarding—and that’s how fitness should feel.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that when it comes to changing your body composition, fitness alone isn’t going to cut it.
Working out regularly is great for your body and mind, and is and should be a goal unto itself. But if you have another specific goal—like losing weight, or lowering body fat percentage, or building muscle—you’ll need to pair your workout routine with a strategy and healthy nutrition plan. The aim should be to fuel your body with nutrient-dense, whole foods as much as possible. For certain goals, like weight loss, you’ll also watch to focus on portion sizes. We wrote a primer about how many calories you should be eating for weight loss, in case it’s helpful for you.
Additionally, other lifestyle factors like getting good and consistent sleep and minimizing stress are also critical to helping you make the changes you want to see. When you get poor quality or not enough sleep, your nutrition suffers and so does your ability to push your body in your regular workouts. Stress can have similar effects. As can various medications and health conditions. The truth is that weight loss, fat loss, muscle building, or other body composition goals are never just about one thing—in order to make changes, you need to look at your life and habits in a holistic way.
And one last thing to keep in mind: Losing weight or changing your body composition can be really, really, really tough. It can require a huge amount of both mental and physical energy and effort, and in many cases, sometimes that effort will not ever be enough to reach specific goals you might have in mind. We profiled a trainer in the story Why It’s So Hard—And Sometimes Impossible—To Get Six-Pack Abs, who recounted the trauma she put her body through in an attempt to achieve six-pack abs. She ended up injuring herself pretty badly, and making herself sick and miserable, all for an aesthetic goal that she never even accomplished. Decidedly not worth it.
Ultimately, health is the most important thing. So set realistic expectations, and really take some time to think about your goals and why you want to accomplish them before you set out to do so. And above all, be kind to yourself.
Source: Self | not affiliated with Aetrex Worldwide