Fitness Lessons for Back to School

“You’re off to great places. Today is the day. Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!”

Yesterday I had an experience from hell. I went to Target. It was a Saturday so that should have been bad enough but it’s also the weekend before local colleges and most elementary schools begin. I shouldn’t have gone in, I should have just kept driving – but it all happened so fast. Ugh. Never again.

Drinking-Wine-Is-Good-For-You

My relief from yesterday’s madness. Ahhh wine!

In addition to giving me a reason to finish off a bottle of wine at 3:30 in the afternoon, it got me thinking about this time of year at the gym. Late summer is kind of the new New Years at the gym. Summer lifestyles are coming to an end, everyone’s getting back into routines and, with that, the gym perks back up to the craziness that’s second only to the first week of January.

With back-to-school, I thought it a perfect time to offer some lessons on fitness. A refresher for some, new advice for those just getting into the fit lifestyle. Here are my 5 lessons for back-to-school / back-to-fitness:

Lesson #1 – You Can’t Spot Train
“What do you mean I can’t choose exactly where I want to lose weight? You’re saying we can’t work out in a way so I’ll lose weight specifically from my lower stomach area? WTF, Joe?!”

Now that I’m reading that, it sounds really silly. But when I first started working out, I was convinced I could pick certain areas of my body and that’s where I’d focus my efforts – then the fat would just melt right off. I mean, there were infomercials about your perfect body makeover, where you could pick and choose the exact spots you wanted the pounds to peel off. You’re telling me that infomercial was a lie?

My friend and personal trainer I worked with at the time, @joefitness, had the unpleasant task of shattering this dream for me. While you can focus lifting exercises on certain muscles (Joe then proceeded to put me through a lower ab workout so intense I couldn’t do core work for two weeks) you can’t pick a spot on your body and exercise it away. I’ve learned it’s the combo of cardio, weight training, diet and good old genetics that all add up to a person’s overall body composition and appearance. Coincidentally, why I still have a gut. Eh, that’s life.
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Lesson #2 – You Can’t “Out-Exercise” a Bad Diet
While Lesson #1 may have been the hardest one for me to hear, #2 has taken the longest for me to learn. In my early 20s, when I first began running and doing a shitload of cardio, I lost a good 20+ pounds within just a few months. And I never felt like I had to worry about what I ate.

As I continued to keep fitness as part of my lifestyle, I maintained my new, happy weight pretty well – again, without having to restrict eating or worry too much about what I was putting into my body. But it wasn’t until I wanted to start performing better in the gym and exceling as a runner outside of it did I start to comprehend how important diet is, not only to performance but my appearance. The changes have been positive and pushed me further than I thought possible. And overall, I feel better when I’m eating well vs. not.
Lesson #3 – To Lose Weight, It’s Not All Cardio, Cardio, CARDIO
This is probably the toughest lesson to hammer home, especially to workout newbs. Shows like the Biggest Loser really mindfuck people into thinking hours of cardio is the only way to achieve weight loss goals. I’ve been there too; it’s easy to get caught up in the concept of burning calories and imaging that the fat is just burning right off the body too. And with new exercise machines that show you exactly how many calories you’re burning through cardio (most of which aren’t really accurate so don’t put too much stock in them), it seems that cardio is the way to go.

Lifting weights, while it may not give that mental and physical feeling of calorie burn, pays off more in the long run. It does burn calories during plus you get a longer “after-burn” you don’t get with cardio. And muscle mass perks up the metabolism; the more muscle you have, the more your body burns while at rest. Plus, you can’t get that toned, fit look without weights. There’s an old saying, “People who do cardio look good in clothes. People who lift weights look good naked.”

No matter your motivation, whether it’s to look good, feel good or perform better, make weights part of the routine. Personally, I like to remember that lifting weights makes me stronger and a better athlete – and allows me to eat a little (okay, a lot) more.
Lesson #4 – You Won’t Get Huge By Lifting Weights
Anyone who has ever tried to build muscle and make significant gains in the weight room would likely agree – it’s not easy. In fact, building muscle is hard; I’d say it’s probably harder to build significant muscle mass than it is to lose weight (that’s mostly me speaking as a vegetarian but I think most would agree). It takes a ton of work and effort, both inside the gym and outside.

And getting “huge”, like bodybuilder huge – that’s a process all its own and it’s not going to happen to you by accident if you start lifting one or two days a week. Bodybuilders follow an extra-special, extra-strict combination of diet, hard workouts, more diet and a full lifestyle change. It’s a science, really. And if that’s not the look you’re going for, don’t worry. It’s not going to happen.

Workout-In-The-Gym

For real, take a rest day. Your body needs it.

Lesson #5 – You Don’t Need To Work Out Every Day
Once you start getting into the swing of fitness, it can become addicting – in a good way. It becomes less and less of a chore or something you “have to do” and becomes just another part of the day, your lifestyle and something you want to do. That’s a good thing, just don’t forget to build in a rest day or worry if you have to miss a workout day.

Rest days can be tough. I myself struggle with them, especially when I’m training hard for an event. All I think about is what I could be doing to further my training. But then I remember that rest days DO further my training and I happily put on sweats and enjoy some couch time.
Are you looking forward to back-to-school/back-to-fitness? Do you have any basic lessons or refreshers you’d like to offer? As always, please comment or tweet them to me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.

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