As a physician and wellness expert, I am convinced that physical activity, exercise, and fitness are more important than weight, and even nutrition, for your overall well-being. However, some of the messages we hear about fitness are counter-productive and de-motivating. Though likely unintentional, certain statements made in exercise classes, personal training, social media, and fitness marketing can undermine a healthy relationship with food and physical activity. Let’s talk about my list of things I wish fitness professionals would stop saying and why!
Don’t rain on my workout parade!
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 in an email from a yoga studio advertising a new class:
Shorts… Tanktops… Swimsuits…
Ugh! Where is the joy in that? No wonder so many people say they hate to exercise!
Personally, I do yoga (at that 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.
Fitness professionals know how to inspire activity!
I know that most fitness professionals are educated, caring, and truly have their clients’ best interests in mind, so I wondered why some exercise studios and fitness instructors focus on appearance for motivation.
I searched for “exercise motivation” online and found hundreds of great articles by fitness professionals, and not one of them referenced “Get a summer body!” However, I found lots of this sort of “motivation” on the covers of women’s magazines, social media, and other marketing pieces.
My conclusion: Messages about calorie burning and changing your body may motivate people to buy a magazine or click on a link, but it doesn’t motivate sustainable change.
Why then do some exercise class instructors and personal trainers say things that focus on calorie burning and changing your body size? Perhaps they believe that’s what some people come to their sessions for, and I’m sure some do.
However, in the long run, if people aren’t seeing the promised results in the mirror, they’re more likely to quit exercising, even though the non-appearance related benefits are well-documented.
When you focus on all the other benefits of physical activity, people will shift their perspective and begin to feel more motivated for intrinsic reasons.
Fitness professionals, please don’t say…
So here’s my list of other things fitness professionals and the media shouldn’t say—and why.
1. What: Swimsuit season (or worse yet, bikini-season) is coming!
Why? Exercise is for fun, fitness, and health. 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.
2. 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 you apparently think is “bad.” I already have the right to eat what I want.
3. What: Walk off those holiday pounds!
Why? Exercise is not punishment for eating. Nobody is motivated by punishment for long.
4. What: Faster! You want to take off that weight don’t you?
Why? Exercise is beneficial whether a person’s weight changes 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.
5. 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.
6. What: Push through the pain!
Why? You won’t hear well-trained fitness professionals saying this because listening to your body is important for safety! That doesn’t mean you won’t need to push yourself past your comfort zone at times for optimal benefit but exercise doesn’t have to hurt to be beneficial. Learning to listen to and trust my body is important for long term health.
7. What: I know you hate this next exercise… (or sarcastically saying, “I know you’ll love this next one!’)
Why? Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean I hate it, so don’t plant the suggestion. You can tell me why it is challenging and why doing it anyway will help me.
8. 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 wear skinny jeans and/or don’t care about that.
9. 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!
10. 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.
If you’d like to post a short version of this list at your gym or share it with other fitness professionals, download a one-page version of this article called 5 Things Fitness Professionals Shouldn’t Say.
This article is updated from a previous version.
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