Toned, fit bodies are everywhere. They’re splashed in magazines, they’re at the gym, and they’ve certainly taken over Instagram. No matter where you look, you’ll be confronted with muscular definition and peak athletic fitness. And while it’s natural to want to feel strong and healthy, the way our culture goes about getting there can be anything but.
The sport and fitness industry has topped over $84 billion in the last year, with over $21 billion of that coming from gym memberships alone. There are thousands of fitness gadgets and online training programs, many of which spout unrealistic claims about the kinds of results you’ll get.
Every January, like clockwork, sales of health and fitness equipment skyrocket. People sign up for personal training and coaching in droves. But every year, without fail, by mid-March, the vast majority of people have given up on their exercise routines, and their fancy new equipment sits, collecting dust in their guest bedroom.
We’re told that we need to constantly upgrade and continually seek new exercises, new gear, and new supplements, in order to get fit. Our culture’s obsession with six-pack abs has us all in a frenzy, willing to completely derail our schedules, forego precious sleep, and drop hundreds of dollars, in the pursuit of an ideal physique.
But is this what fitness is really about? And what is it doing to our mental health?
I’m certainly not the first one to say it, but I’ll say it anyway: you do not need any special equipment, nor do you need to spend hours and hours in a gym, in order to be fit, healthy, and strong.
Trust me, as a certified health coach and former research scientist, I’ve seen it all, and the numbers don’t lie. Fitness can be simple. It can be fun. And it doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg, either!
Simplifying Your Exercise
If you’re sick and tired of droning away on a treadmill every night, under harsh fluorescent lights, or wasting your hard-earned cash on exercise equipment you don’t use, you can officially breathe a sigh of relief.
Here are my five tips for simplifying your exercise routine:
1. Ditch the useless products.
Don’t fall for the slick marketing of all those fancy ab machines, butt sculptors, or whatever else they’re coming up with these days. And don’t purchase a huge pack of fitness DVDs, either! You don’t need any equipment to be fit and healthy, except maybe a good pair of shoes. These fitness gadgets don’t work (remember, there is no such thing as “spot reduction”), and when you finally realize this, you’ll be stuck with more clutter and less money in your pocket.
2. Target large muscle groups.
The muscles in our bodies are designed to work in tandem to accomplish tasks, so breaking them down into small, individual parts doesn’t make much sense. Instead of spending an hour doing dozens of targeted muscular exercises like bicep curls, focus on doing fewer exercises that use multiple muscles. You’ll gain fitness in less time, and will have more functional strength and range of motion. Your four key moves? Squats, planks, pushups, and pullups.
3. Go high intensity.
There is something that we coaches call “chronic cardio,” and it’s become an epidemic ever since the 80’s. Slaving away on a cardio machine for an hour isn’t doing you any favors, and could actually be contributing to chronic inflammation and potential overtraining. Not to mention, it’s boring as hell! Instead, give high-intensity interval training a try.
These workouts involve short bursts of intense effort, with rest periods in between, and have been shown to be more effective in improving oxygen uptake, cardiac fitness, and blood glucose regulation. You can accomplish way more in a targeted 15-min workout than you can in a 45-minute jog.
4. Make it fun.
I know you’ve heard this before, but that’s because it’s true: the more fun you can make your exercise, the more likely you will be to do it, stick with it, and see long-term benefits. If it feels like a chore, then it’s not going to do you any good!
From a holistic wellness standpoint, the ultimate trifecta of exercise is one that combines: outdoor time, spontaneous play, and social stimulation. For example, a game of ultimate frisbee in the park will boost your health significantly more than an hour on the rowing machine.
5. Relax the expectations.
We’re wired to compare ourselves to others, but this often creates unnecessary stress and tension in the mind and body. Stop looking in the mirror and feeling upset that you don’t have the chest, or abs, or butt that someone else does.
Stop trying to model your workouts after someone with a vastly different age, weight, body type, or gender than you. And please, please stop using exercise as a punishment! You are unique, and it’s important to find the exercise that makes you feel good, and that works for your body type, budget, and location.
The quest for fitness doesn’t need to be the source of inner turmoil or a never-ending race for an unrealistic standard. It also doesn’t need to involve any fancy, expensive gadgets, gym memberships, or multiple hours every week.
When you can pare down and focus on a few, full-body movements, short and intense training sessions, and make it fun, your fitness (and overall wellbeing!) can dramatically improve.
Our bodies already know how to move, and how to be healthy and strong. We just need to stop complicating everything! Remember, the best kind of workout is one that helps you get the most out of the other areas of your life—not the other way around.