While we have certainly made great strides in the female fitness world, there is still a TON of room for improvement.
Below are some of the most common mistakes I encounter regularly with clients and patients (and been guilty of myself) in the past 9 years of my experience training myself and other women. It’s time we create some change!
One of the most important components of cultivating a healthy lifestyle is constant auditing. Always striving to get better. Below are 10 ways you can improve your healthy lifestyle to ensure you get the most out of the precious time and energy you are putting in to taking care of the one and only body you will have for life.
1. Training for aesthetics only.
This is #1 for many reasons, most of which are near and dear to my heart because this was my #1 mistake when starting out. I was never able to be consistent or actually achieve anything and I never understood why. Why? Because my intentions stemmed from hatred for the current state of my body. I didn’t want to nourish my body. I wanted to punish it for causing me so much pain. Change it for being different than the world told me I should look. But I was missing the point. My body wasn’t the culprit, it was these crazy expectations I had for my body. I wanted my body to be something it wasn’t intended to be. I was doing my own body a disservice. And I know I’m not the only one.
Ask almost any woman in the gym for what drew her into the gym, and most will tell you they want to change something about the way their body looks. While it is not inherently wrong to want to change something about your body, it can often facilitate an unhealthy relationship with training and healthy eating, especially when it comes from a place of hatred, disgust, and frustration. All of those were the emotions that fueled my hundreds of attempts and failures at cultivating a healthy lifestyle.
By solely training for aesthetics, not only are we doing our bodies a disservice, but we are also putting pressure on something that is dynamic. Our bodies are supposed to fluctuate and change. Putting this pressure on our bodies becomes an issue because there is a tendency to attach happiness and well-being to how we look. I have seen women completely change their attitudes for the ENTIRE day depending on whether or not their stomachs looked “flat” in a picture or mirror (also guilty as charged!). We cannot control the way our bodies looks our whole lives, and why should we want to?
You were placed on this earth to provide the world with talents and skills that involve much more than how your body looks.
2. Overemphasizing cardio.
Most women live on the treadmill or elliptical in the gym. This is typically due to one of two reasons: 1) they are operating from an oversimplification of calories in:calories out for weight loss mindset, or 2) they are too afraid or intimidated to step foot into the weight room.
Much of this stems from the 1980s aerobics fads. But the secret is out and so are the training fads from the 80s. This is definitely a fad that has faded more, but I continue to see it lingering around too often.
Cardio is important, but it is merely a tool, one piece of the big puzzle. A balanced training program will include just enough, but not too much, cardio training. Why? Because it is possible- and common- to overtrain with cardio. It can create hormone imbalances, facilitate insulin resistance, wreak havoc on cortisol (especially if you are already stressed regularly and not eating to support your training habits), and even lead to weight gain, ESPECIALLY when paired with cutting calories and undereating.
When it comes to cardio training for general health, we rarely need more than 30 minutes a few days per week. Yes, cardio is important and should not be overlooked. But, you can totally lift weights in circuits with little to no rest to elevate your heart rate and kill two birds with one stone.
3. Not lifting heavy enough.
Our bodies adapt to the specific demands we impose upon it. If we are lifting small pink dumbbells over and over without progressing, our bodies will also not progress. If you want to be strong, you need to train for strength! This means lifting a weight that is challenging for you. Three pound dumbbells are not enough!
One of the biggest issues in healthcare, particularly for females as they age, is fractured hips. This often leads to severe disability and further complications, leading to a shorter lifespan. Why does this happen? Women are prone to developing osteoporosis, especially after going through menopause. Hormone changes and sedentariness are the perfect storm for this disabling injury. The good news is that we can prevent it! By building our bone density as much possible before menopause, we will be less inclined to develop osteoporosis and have much stronger and more resilient bones overall. Bones will literally grow more dense with strength training. As we use our muscles to move the weight or perform the exercises, these muscles are transmitting forces to the bones, stimulating them to grow thick and strong.
Another problem I see as a physical therapist in elderly women? The loss of strength in older females leading to the inability to perform basic activities such as getting up off of the floor or toilet. If we naturally lose some muscle mass and strength as we age, imagine how much quicker we will reach disability if the strength bank is already running low. If that doesn’t make you want to go pick up some heavy things off of the floor instead of those pink dumbbells, I don’t know what will.
Lifting weights should feel like a struggle. Embrace the struggle.
4. Core training all wrong.
Abs: the most common thing I see women “training” in the corner of the gym or under the stairs on a yoga mat. Also, one of the first things I educate my clients about. The purpose of your abdominals is to keep you upright, to resist motion through the spine so you can protect your back and generate more force through your arms and legs. With that being said, it doesn’t make a whole ton of sense to train abs with crunches, bicycles, standing side crunches with a weight (my personal least favorite), and all the other ab exercises involving a ton of crazy shear forces through the spine.
Instead, train anti-movements for the spine. These are things like dead bugs, stir-the-pots, pallof presses, bird-dogs, unilateral exercises, weighted carries, etc.
5. Performing sloppy repetitions.
Women of the world, we are naturally the more bendy gender. We have more flexibility. Which is awesome. But, that also means it’s easy for us to be pulled into positions without effort. Especially with weight. This is problematic during weight training because we can get into positions with a load that we don’t have the best stability in. It also means we have a tendency to use momentum during exercise, rather than pure muscular strength. With the use of momentum comes a lack of control and extra movements at joints that shouldn’t be moving during the exercise. The less extra movements we have, the less risk we are for pain or injury, and the stronger we will be in the joints that are supposed to be carrying out the movement.
Crisp, clean movement = happy joints.
How do we fix it? Practice the law of irradiation. Learn how to properly create intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize your core. Use your muscles to pull you into each part of the exercise.
The tl;dr: don’t be sloppy with your repetitions and you will get stronger.
6. Unbalanced training schedule.
This is two-fold. Most women I know do not incorporate rest. This means both rest (active recovery) days as well as understanding that NOT EVERY WORKOUT NEEDS TO FEEL LIKE YOUR REGINA GEORGE AFTER SHE GOT HIT BY THE BUS. There. I said it.
Most women feel that they need to wring out their shirts with sweat or their workouts weren’t effective. This mostly comes from a lack of understanding how exercise and the body works. Think more about exercise as a request for change in the body rather than “calorie-scorching”.
The effectiveness of your workouts does not correlate to how much you sweat or how close to death you feel when you are finished.
It’s perfectly okay to actually walk out of the gym feeling refreshed rather than beat down. In fact, some of your training sessions should probably feel comfortable, especially when your body is feeling less than optimal and run down. This means you need to let go of your “all or nothing” mindset. Get comfortable with adjusting your workouts as necessary if you want to make this a lifetime habit. Adaptability rules. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. You’ll be surprised at how different you will feel by respecting how your body feels and training accordingly- like your body is no longer betraying you!
This is a big one. (Well, if we’re being honest they all are, but nonetheless, this one is very important as it can lead to negative repercussions that are very difficult to mend). Most women think they need to exercise more and eat less to lose weight or achieve their goals. That couldn’t be further from the truth and we need to move far away from this oversimplification of how the body works. Many women who utilize this approach end up with all kinds of hormone imbalances, and many often gain weight! Instead, we need to think about eating to fuel our activities throughout the week.
This is especially true when it comes to consuming protein. Women rarely consume enough, despite the emphasis that has been placed on it in the recent years.
Don’t oversimplify your eating plan by just counting calories. Make sure you are eating enough to fuel your body with the energy and nutrients it needs.
9. Underemphasizing stress management and sleep.
We all know we need to manage stress. And get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Just like we all know we need to eat more vegetables and less McDonalds. However, the practical application and the prioritization has been lacking, especially in the recent years with the hours in front of a blue screen increasing drastically.
High stress + lack of sleep + overtraining + undereating/under-nourishing your body = hormonal wreck.
And we wonder why it’s so hard to lose weight, reach goals, or feel good.
We all need a stress management practice daily to function optimally. That can look like anything from prayer and meditation, to walks outside. Anything that allows you to unplug and desensitize yourself from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Something that helps you check back in with yourself and how you are feeling.
And when it comes to sleep, 7-8 hours is a general rule of thumb to strive for. And most importantly, this needs to be quality sleep. No interruptions. No drugs used to induce (yes, over-the-counter melatonin counts as a drug- it totally messes with your natural circadian rhythm). You should feel rested when you wake up.
10. Taking advice from fitness gurus & instafit models.
I get how tempting it is to think you need to follow all the fitness models. They all have thousands of followers and seem so “fit” – obviously they know what they are talking about, right?
WRONG. I wrote a blog all about how to find a coach that’s best for you here. Sometimes it’s hard to decipher who is educated and knowledgeable compared to those who care mostly about their online presence and looks rather than their clients. And unfortunately, much of the female fitness world is filled with women (and men) who will spend more time trying to achieve a particular look than learning and bettering themselves to provide the best information for their clients.
No, you don’t need to try all the crazy glute exercises you see on Instagram. Nor do you need to try wraps to shed a few pounds. Or try anything else that is a quick-fix. Find the people who are telling you the hard things. Who empower you with knowledge and information. The ones who are real and honest. Those are the coaches who will go above and beyond for their clients and provide you with the best, most evidence-based research to help you create a healthy life that you love. So you can reach your highest potential.