By Liz Barnet
As summer approaches, we can look forward to seasonal specialties like time spent at the beach or on vacation, plenty of weekend plans with friends and family, and the opportunity to just kick back and relax a bit. But also on the horizon lies the impending stress caused by juggling much-needed vacation and travel, while trying not to interfere with your best-laid fitness plans. Or despite the abundance of fresh summer produce, the potential to actually eat and drink less healthfully thanks to sunny happy hours and weekend beer-beques… err, barbeques.
As a fitness and health coach, every single year without fail, I notice clients follow the same pattern: they totally stress out about slimming down for the summer season, maybe up their workouts, or even decide to hop on a juice cleanse — when really health should be a lifestyle year-round, not just for summer. Then, on the flip side, if flat abs aren’t in sight by the time July 4th rolls around, many adopt a what-the-hell mentality and just start to indulge with reckless abandon. Maybe you decide to throw in a few extra workouts to “make up” for less than stellar choices, but continue along the all-or-nothing path, until by September, you are so ready to get serious about being healthy and fit again!
I’m not passing judgment, but the real issue becomes the endless cycle of guilt that goes along with this needlessly stressful process.
If you are reading this, you are probably at least marginally interested in fitness, whether that means your non-negotiable thrice weekly 6am run before work, near daily boutique fitness class, or working out one-on-one with a trainer. While dedication and consistency are absolutely key, so is being flexible (and not just in the touch your toes way!).
Fitness has been at least part of my profession for over 10 years; I’ve watched as the industry has grown from offering a monthly gym membership-only model, to the birth of boutique fitness studios and the increase in engagement in services like personal training. While I feel so blessed to have been along for the transformational ride, I’ve also noticed a disturbing trend. As “fitness” has infiltrated the public interest, its definition has become somewhat limited and specific. If you’re not participating in one of the aforementioned options (gym, studio, formal training sessions), apparently, you’re not “doing” fitness.
If people don’t get into their favorite Friday morning class, they might decide to skip working out completely that day — and then that weekend. Or if the gym is crowded and there's not a treadmill open for a planned 30 minute run, someone might opt to throw their hands up and leave, opting instead for Netflix and Seamless. Have you ever decided to do a double at the boutique fitness studio du jour, only to spend the rest of your day in a near comatose state on the couch?
"If people don’t get into their favorite Friday morning class, they might decide to skip working out completely that day — and then that weekend."
Whether it’s because all of the obligations of summer are throwing a loop into your routine, or perhaps just that you’ve found yourself less than motivated to hit the gym with your typical vigor, I want to encourage you to change your mindset about what “fitness” means and how you approach it. There is a widespread misconception that unless you are doing all the things all of the time, it’s not enough. You have to somehow manage 3 strength training sessions, 2 steady cardio endurance workouts, 3 high-intensity interval sweat fests, a couple of yoga classes, oh, and also don’t forget about the all-important foam rolling requirement. Just thinking about all that exhausts me!
"Have you ever decided to do a double at the boutique fitness studio du jour, only to spend the rest of your day in a near comatose state on the couch?"
Don’t get me wrong; all of the above modalities have their place and purpose. And if you have a routine that works for you — meaning you can manage it schedule-wise, you feel motivated to commit to it, you enjoy yourself while you do it, and your mind and body can recover adequately — then good for you. But if not, change it up.
Skip your weekly Saturday morning spin class to luxuriously lay in bed an extra hour. Forego your 6-mile treadmill run for a walk around Central Park with some friends. Hell — JUST WALK! Skip the cab, get off the subway early, take the stairs for crying out loud. You know that all counts, right?
"I want to encourage you to change your mindset about what 'fitness' means and how you approach it."
It’s important to acknowledge what your body needs and then do that. Maybe sometimes the thought of going for a run nearly drives you into a tizzy. But can you walk? Or if your schedule is so insane there’s no way you’re going to make your spin class, can you take the stairs all day instead, and bang out some push-ups at home?
From my perspective, way too many people are making working toward being healthier and more fit way too hard. It can be overwhelming, and also foster a cycle of guilt and punishment. I was speaking with a friend who had a chronic problem of signing up for fitness classes, only to late cancel. Sometimes work got in the way, but sometimes she really just didn’t want to go to that spin class, or spend her evening burpee-ing away. So not only was she stressed about not getting her workouts in, she was guilty about late cancelling classes!
"Forego your 6-mile treadmill run for a walk around Central Park with some friends. Hell — JUST WALK! Skip the cab, get off the subway early, take the stairs for crying out loud. You know that all counts right?"
I asked her what classes she looked forward to, and she said Pilates. But, she expressed concern that it wouldn’t burn enough calories, or be enough of a strength workout, and certainly it wouldn’t challenge her cardiovascularly — that it wasn’t good enough. I told her to just ignore everything she thought she should be doing, and focus on what she was interested in.
She reported back that not only was she much happier and less stressed, both her body and mind feel much more balanced. She’s also been opting to find more ways just to be active, like walking to work and being sure to get up and move around during the day. She’s been making the effort to cook herself breakfast in the morning before work, and feeling great about it. But, that day she slept in and had to buy a coffee and bagel on the way to her office? No stress, because she knows more often than not, she’s making the best choices she can for where she is at right now.
So if you find yourself stressing out about not working out enough, or doing the exact right type of workout, consider taking a step back and asking yourself what feels good to you right now.
For me, today hot yoga sounded great, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll want to take a long walk around the reservoir. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I know it will fulfill both what my body and mind need at that moment. Check in with yourself, you wont regret it.
Liz Barnet is a Fitness + Food Coach who enables and encourages her busy clients to implement specific, sustainable changes that add up to big health benefits. Each client has a unique set of goals, abilities, and limitations, and Liz works to design a customized strategy to meet his or her needs. Liz believes that by making fitness + food approachable, interesting, and fun, clients are motivated to commit and much more likely to succeed long-term. Liz feels that in fitness, food, and in life, it's all about the progress, not perfection.