1. It Can’t All Be Cardio
For the first five years of actively pursing a healthier, more attractive body through exercise, all I did was run. I ran for over an hour every day. Around 8 miles EVERY DAY. It seemed simple enough. Exert THAT much energy and effort, and you’re bound to have a perfect, slim figure, right? Well apparently not. I did lose about 40-50lbs. in the first year or two. But then I quickly hit a plateau. What was I gonna do, run MORE?! Honestly impossible. I was going through running shoes every single month and my shins were splintering into nothing. I had constant blisters on my feet and marks where my tank tops rubbed against my upper arms. Near the end I did switch to the elliptical instead of the treadmill, but not much changed in my body.
2. Don’t Be Afraid of Strength/Weight Training
I only began to make progress again about six years ago when I started doing HIIT workouts. Even though these are still primarily cardio, they also incorporate a lot of weighted, complex movements. I was engaging muscles I never knew I had, instead of just pounding my legs relentlessly. Gaining muscle wasn’t the scary, bulky nightmare I had imagined it to be. Unless you’re lifting ridiculous amounts of weight, you’re likely only going to be gaining lean muscle which will give your body a tight, well-formed shape. Before I just looked like a slimmer, although still soft and pudgy, version of myself. Not only that, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you are going to burn even while resting.
3. You Can’t Beat Diet with Exercise
I really believed in the beginning, that if I just worked out an insane amount, I’d be able to eat as much as I wanted. I fell even more into this trap when I became vegan. You can’t gain weight with vegan food! I stupidly thought. Maybe if you have a naturally fast metabolism, this could work out for you, but if your metabolism is a snail like mine by default, you’re going to have to pay attention to what/how much you’re eating if you want to see lasting results.
4. Good Form Over Ungodly Fast and a Gazillion Reps
After years of just trying to breathe as I ran for miles and threw myself through unfamiliar HIIT exercises, I’m still struggling to undo the poor form I’ve adopted in a lot of my movements. In my eagerness to go as fast as possible to burn as many calories as I could in a short amount of time, I ended up wasting time. The more you focus, slow-down, and engage the right muscles in an exercise, the more beneficial it is going to be in the long run. If you let yourself have poor form, you are not only going to burn less calories, but you’re going to hurt your body and develop bad habits that are hard to break.
5. Listen to YOUR Body to Find the Right Alignment
“Don’t round your back! Don’t round your back! Keep your back straight!” I would always hear instructors repeating this like a mantra whether it be in a workout or a yoga class. I guess for most people, this might be important to hear. If your natural tendency is to round your low back, you’re going to pull a muscle or hurt something. HOWEVER, I’ve only recently come to realize that I personally have an anterior pelvic tilt. This means that my pelvis tilts forward causing my low back to arch. For me “flat back” was an arched back. I couldn’t understand why doing the “correct” form always left me with pain and/or discomfort in my low back. Finally understanding my natural alignment has given me the ability to do what feels like rounding my low back to me, but in reality is just bringing it back to neutral. It has been a total revelation to my workouts. I’m able to engage my core far more and prevent my back from aching after doing certain exercises. Another one I’m beginning to work on is the cue “don’t let your knees cave in.” I have naturally exteriorly rotated thighs. This instruction has caused me to put WAY too much of my weight into my outer feet and lead to a weakness in my inner thighs/an inability to keep my weight evenly spread through all four corners of my feet in my workouts.
Regardless of what an instructor in a video might say (I imagine an in-person trainer may have realized these things before me and altered their instruction) listen to what your body is telling you. It is going to save you a lot of grief and possibly spare you serious injury down the line.