10 Things Fitness Instructors (and the Media) Should Stop Saying

By Michelle May, M.D.
Michelle's Sunrise Hike

Michelle’s Sunrise Hike

I just returned home from an early morning hike feeling invigorated! It had all the elements of an ideal workout for me: A gorgeous cool morning, a beautiful sunrise, a challenging climb, and good conversation with a friend. Pure joy!

I poured a cup of coffee and headed into my office ready to work. I opened my email to find this subject line: Shorts… Tanktops… Swimsuits…

Ugh! An email from a yoga studio advertising a new class. Where is the joy in that? No wonder so many people hate to exercise!

Personally, I do yoga (at this studio!) for strength, flexibility, balance, and focus. I do not do yoga for a “summer body.” In fact, I prefer a strong, healthy body year-round, thank you very much.

I know that most fitness professionals are caring and truly have their clients’ best interests in mind so I wondered why some exercise studios and fitness instructors think this kind of thing is motivating. I searched for “exercise motivation” online and found hundreds of great articles by fitness professionals, and not one of them referenced “Get a beach body!” However, I found lots of that kind of thing on the covers of women’s magazines. My conclusion: It may motivate people to buy a magazine but it doesn’t motivate sustainable change.

Please don’t say…

So here’s my list of other things fitness instructors (and women’s magazines) shouldn’t say—and why.

What: Swimsuit season is coming (or worse yet, bikini-season)!

Why? Exercise is for fun, fitness, and health, and those benefits are year-round and lifelong. Many of us will never wear a bikini again (if we ever did) but we all deserve the benefits of exercise, including stamina, strength, flexibility, physical and mental health, and enjoyment.

What: Work up a sweat so you can have dessert tonight!

Why? Exercise should not be used to earn the right to eat, especially not something that you apparently think is “bad.” I already have the right to eat what I want.

What: Walk off those holiday pounds!

Why? Exercise is not punishment for weight gain. Nobody is motivated by punishment for long.

What: Faster! You want to take off that weight don’t you?

Why? Exercise is beneficial whether a person loses weight or not. If you continue to reinforce the belief that exercise is for weight loss, people will yo-yo exercise when they yo-yo diet.

What? Burn off those chocolate bunnies you ate!

Why? Please don’t steal my pleasure from my exercise by trying to make me feel guilty about something I ate (or that you assume I ate) two days ago. I did, but it’s none of your business and I don’t feel guilty.

What: Push through the pain!

Why? Exercise doesn’t have to hurt to be beneficial. Learning to listen to and trust my body is important for my long term health.

What: I know you hate this next exercise… (or sarcastically saying, “I know you love this next one!’)

Why? Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean I hate it, so don’t plant the suggestion. Tell me why it is difficult and why doing it anyway will make it less difficult.

What: Look great in those skinny jeans!

Why? Exercise is beneficial no matter what you weigh. You are scaring off people who know they will never have a beach body and/or don’t care about that.

What: C’mon! Get those flat abs!

Why? Because I already have flat, strong abdominal muscles. You just can’t see them under my layer of belly fat. But it’s fun to see the surprised look on your face when I hold a plank for well over a minute!

What: Do this move and you’ll look hot!

Why? I’ll get hot but I probably won’t look hot. Besides, you took me right back to grade school: “We must! We must! We must increase our bust! The bigger the better, the tighter the sweater, the boys will like us!” That didn’t work either.

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Download a one-page version of this article called 5 Things Fitness Professionals Shouldn’t Say.

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